A couple of weeks ago I used one of your mixes—specifically, the tie-dye one—to bake a cake with my 10-year old son, Jack. I noticed a part on the box where you asked people to write to you about their stories and experiences and loving family moments.
I figured, why not? Maybe we’d win some kind of prize, or even better, some free cake.
But before I get to us baking the cake, I have to give you the back story.
It was Super Bowl weekend, and my husband, Joe, was in Las Vegas visiting his brother. I was home with our four boys and one daughter.
On Friday night I could not sleep a wink. It was very, very windy here in New Hampshire and I was afraid it would actually blow the house down. I kept getting up to check on the kids, and around 2:00 am the alarm in the house went off.
I’ve never actually heard our alarm go off in the middle of the night, but when it does, it apparently shouts, “Intruder. Intruder. Please exit the premises.”
I sprang out of bed and ran down the stairs, my heart racing. My ivory silk nightgown was streaming behind me, and my wavy blonde hair was loose and flowy.
All of this is exactly true, except I was wearing a baggy blue tank top from the Gap outlet that cost $3.00 and a pair of gray sweatpants with a hole in one knee. And my straight, baby-fine hair was standing perfectly on end because I’d gone to bed with it wet. It is blonde though.
Turns out a door had just blown open by the wind. No intruder.
The next morning, we had three basketball games. I cheered and clapped and chatted and smiled and waved, all the while dreaming of the nap I was going to take as soon as I got home and put on Despicable Me 2 for the kids. But when we walked in the door a couple of hours later, the house smelled horrendous. And I do mean horrendous. Typewritten words on a page simply cannot do this odor justice.
Turns out our puppy, Wolfie, had a little, uh, problem in his crate. When I let him out, he did that wet-dog shake that dogs do when they get out of the lake or the pool or a bath. Except he wasn’t covered in water, Duff. It was not water, and after that adorable shake, the not-water was on the walls and the chairs and the kitchen cabinets.
By the time I gave Wolfie a bath and took the crate apart and washed it down and cleaned the cabinets and barricaded him in the mudroom so he wouldn’t go all over the house, I never did get a nap.
Later that afternoon I had to get two boys to two birthday parties in two different towns. On the way home, I decided to make it easy and pick up Chinese food for dinner. We love Chinese food.
I could barely put one foot in front of the other by 8:00 that night. As I was ushering everyone into bed, my pink daughter, Rose, asked sweetly if she could sleep with me since Daddy was away.
“Oh, I don’t think so, honey. Let’s sleep in our own beds and get a good night’s rest.”
But while I was brushing my teeth, I felt a pang of remorse. Of course I should let her sleep with me, just this once. They’re only little for but a minute, Duff.
I tiptoed back into her room and bent over her bed. She was so sweet and drowsy. I stroked her hair and whispered, “Rose? Honey? Come on, come sleep with Mommy.”
We arranged our pillows and her special green blanket and snuggled. And just as I finally closed my eyes and dozed off, she sat straight up in the bed and got sick everywhere.
After I cleaned her up and stripped my bed and started the laundry and shushed the puppy, I asked her a question.
“Um, sweetie? Didn’t your tummy hurt when you were eating all of those boneless spare ribs?”
“No, Mommy. It didn’t start to hurt until I got into your bed.”
“Uh huh, I see.”
And that, my Ace of Cakes friend, is the back story.
The next day—Super Bowl Sunday—Jack wanted to bake the tie-dye cake.
Let me tell you a little bit about Jack.
He is the second of our five children.
He’s tall for his age, and he has blue eyes.
He likes his hair very, very short.
He is extremely literal, and he speaks in a kind of halting, robotic tone. He mixes words up sometimes.
He can tell you the address of every person in his class, even the teachers, because he memorized the school directory.
He has autism.
Jack wants to own a bakery when he grows up. Constantly, he watches cooking shows and scours in the Internet for recipes and taste tests and kitchen gadgets.
Mom. The Magic Chopper. As seen on TV. This we need.
He has a tendency to, shall we say, obsess over some things. Like baking. And cakes. As in, he’ll mention it forty-two hundred thousand times in one afternoon.
And if you think forty-two hundred thousand isn’t a real number, well, you’ve never met Jack.
It starts out almost like a warm, welcome rainfall.
Ah, yes. Cake! What a good idea, Jack!
And then the rain picks up. It begins to pelt your skin and sting your eyes.
Cake cake cake you said we could when will we make the cake the cake the cake.
Before you know it, it is thundering and lightening. The rain has turned to hail, and you want to hide under the kitchen table until the storm passes.
CAAAAAKE! How will we do it how will we make the colors how how when how.
The directions on the back of the box said to use every bowl in the house and mix up a million different colors, and as soon as there is egg and oil all over the counters, then you drop a dollop of batter into the pan one at a time.
Once the first dollop spreads through the pan, you drop another on top of it and let that one spread.
So on and so forth.
Except Duff, it did not work. It did not work! The dollops of batter did not spread.
Just then, the winds began to change. There was a drop in barometric pressure right there in my kitchen. And Jack became the human tornado; jumping and flapping and screaming.
Not working it is wrong wrong wrong.
I am so lost in moments like this. Nothing—not diarrhea shooting out of a small puppy or fifty-five basketball games all at the same time or a sick, feverish little girl—unmoors me the way autism does.
You see, with my son, the stakes feel so very high.
I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him and scream.
Stop it stop it stop it! It is only a CAKE!
At the same time, I wanted to seize the moment and teach it all: flexibility and confidence and perseverance.
I wanted to tell him that sometimes, the things we want the most in life—colorful cakes and bakeries and 10-year old boys who do not flip out over the least little thing–well, these are the very things that demand all of your patience, all of your love, all of your courage.
But mostly, I wanted to hide under the kitchen table.
I didn’t do any of these things. I didn’t scream or shake or hide. I was too tired for a teaching moment.
If his tantrum went on much longer, if his rage continued, I knew something precious and raw and real was going to break loose inside of me.
So I slid the pans in the oven and closed the door with a bang. “Jack,” I told him very firmly, almost harshly. “We will just have to wait and see. Go read the school directory for a little while.”
A few hours later, the warm rain began again.
I braced myself as he slid the cake-cutter through the frosting and lifted the first piece.
“It worked! It is a rainbow. Like for the box.”
And looking down at the colorful slice of cake on the plate, for the first time all weekend, I knew sunshine.
Duff, I’m guessing we probably aren’t going to win a cash prize with this letter, or a lifetime supply of cake mixes. But that’s okay.
I only hope you read our story. And the next time you mix up some batter and slide your cake pans into the oven, you’ll think of a young boy named Jack, who wants to be a baker just like you.
Carrie (Jack’s Mom)