School Bus Cake: A Mom's Amusing Reflections on Birthday Baking

By Melanie G. Snyder

March 6th: "I need a treat for school on my birthday, Mom. An AWESOME one!" my son casually informs me with three days notice.

Full-scale maternal conflict kicks in. I don't have time to bake awesome birthday treats. Yes, I know, that's what grocery store bakeries are for. But here's that maternal conflict part; if I send Styrofoam-trayed, shrink-wrapped cookies to school with my son, how can he ever gain enough respect to be elected Class President someday?

He rattles off the list of what the February birthday kids brought:

1. Monogrammed rainbow-frosted cupcakes,
2. Three-dimensional dinosaur cookies, and
3. A soccer field cake, with personalized child-shaped cookies. All homemade.

Well. MY son will have an awesome homemade birthday treat too. A project we can do TOGETHER. It'll be educational, fun and will yield a culinary masterpiece that will get me elected "Mother of the Year".

Never mind that all he wants is the black-frosted Batman cake with the replica Batmobile in the sparkling glass case at the grocery store.

March 7th: I find directions for a school bus-shaped cake with candy windows, wheels and headlights. I show him the pictures. He wrinkles his nose. "I'd rather have the Batmobile."

"Look at those candy decorations," I say, appealing to his sweet tooth.

"Yeah," he says, brightening a little. It's decided.

March 8th: I read the directions TWICE. He inspects the selection of candy decorations. We bond as we measure, mix, and pop the cake in the oven. Soon the timer goes off, the cake is golden brown, and it's decorating time. We recheck the directions. The lengthwise cut goes without a hitch. The stacking of layers is tricky, but we manage. Likewise, the cut of a small section off the top.

While my back is turned to get the icing, the cake starts to lean. I try to straighten it. A chunk of the top layer crumbles and falls.

"Oh well, the bus will just have an extra long front hood," I say.

He nods and gives me the kind of worshiping smile that becomes all too rare as young boys grow up. I study the instructions again, take a deep breath, and commence frosting. Where a creamy-smooth surface should appear, there are crumb-studded blobs. Soon, large chunks of the cake are sliding onto the counter.

He puts his arm around me. "It's OK, Mom, it will just have an extra, EXTRA long front hood, right?" he asks.

"Hmmmm," I mumble.

I try frosting from the bottom up. Before you can say "school bus cake", everything collapses into yellow-orange goo. The kitchen gets silent, and he looks at me with a mix of hope and disappointment.

"Can you fix it, Mom?"

Defeated, I shake my head.

Then, with an amazing display of good humor and maturity well beyond his years, he says, "Well, we gave it our best shot! Should we go get that Batman cake?"

March 9th: He takes the coveted Batman cake to school. I don't even bother peeling off the price sticker. It's a huge hit. My husband mumbles something about a school bus wreck on his way out the door. My thoughtful son senses my disappointment and says nothing.

Meanwhile, I'm rethinking this whole maternal conflict thing. Next year, I'm buying adorably decorated cupcakes and transferring them into my own Tupperware containers. No one will ever know.

Melanie is a local freelance writer and occasional baker in Crozet. In addition to contributing regularly to AlbemarleFamily, she has been published in Guideposts for Kids and Cricket Magazine.

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