The Most Lovely Gross Cake

Our anniversary cake made by Amelia.

This past Thursday my husband and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. In honor of the celebration, my seven year old daughter wanted to bake a cake for us. A kind gesture on her part led us to celebrating with the most lovely gross cake I’ve ever eaten.

I wasn’t planning on baking a cake so I didn’t really have anything on hand. I found a random tub of cream cheese frosting and a box of French vanilla cake mix. Not the tastiest combo, let me assure you. I knew we had sprinkles, as my young children like to put sprinkles on everything they eat. Because they are young children, I think this idea is divine. Life should involve more sprinkles.

So my seven year old took over the kitchen to mix and bake the cake. I helped pull apart the eggs and put the cake in the oven. She was so excited. I suggested that we should call my husband to pick up a different flavor of frosting, but she would hear none of it. I smiled weakly and we waited for the cake to bake.

After dinner Amelia and I frosted the cake. She was dancing on the step stool in anticipation…..and then came the sprinkles. She said she could do it by herself, a popular theme these days. I stepped out of the room to help her brother with something and returned to find the cake covered in sprinkles. I mean the center of the cake was indented from the weight of the sprinkles. Amelia applied what I’m guessing was one pound for each year we’ve been married.

I told her the cake looked lovely.

We set the table, put in nine candles (it is not a party at the Wardy’s unless there is fire….long story but luckily no one went up in flames like last time) and sat down to enjoy dessert.

It was the grossest cake I’ve ever had.

My husband and I took several gulps of our milk and avoided eye contact so as not to burst into laughter. The sweet of the French vanilla cake with the sour of the cream cheese frosting and the fruity of the sprinkles was a lot to take in. We tried to be very sincere in our eating and enjoying of the cake. Amelia and Benny were in refined sugar heaven.

It was the most lovely gross cake I have ever had. My loving husband was sitting next to me, my beautiful children across the table from us. The table still showed splats of sauce from the spaghetti dinner we had just eaten, during which the kids made up songs about noodles. The vase sitting next to the cake platter held a dozen long stem roses my husband had surprised me with the night before, along with a love note written in Hershey kisses on the table. The table is the first nice piece of furniture we ever purchased, so of course it holds carvings of the children’s names and Outlet Man. The chip you see in the red plate is a souvenir from a dinner with friends from South Africa, the plate dropped in a fit of laughter during a tale of being bitten by a hippo. Being bitten by a hippo isn’t funny unless you know my friend Andrew and hear his story. His scar is awesome.

So while I ate my lovely gross cake I thought about how rich my life is, chipped plates and all. I thought about how I spent time talking about rampant sexism in the media and the scourge of eating disorders and bullying and violence against women during my work week. I thought about how my children see my husband and I love each other well and have never seen violence in our home. I thought about how they see my husband respect me and how they see me stand up to sexism every. single. time. because females have worth and my kids will grow up knowing that. I thought about what wonderful schools they go to and what a great group of bully-free kids we have around us. I thought about them being raised with a mom who has a healthy body image and doesn’t turn down dessert, even a gross piece of cake. And I thought about being thankful that I’ve never had my leg bitten in half by a hippo. I thought about all people deserving of the right to marry whom they love.

Life can be crazy and sometimes it is evening exhausting, but I recognize the value in enjoying a piece of lovely gross cake surrounded by the people I love most in this world.


Love Wins

When I spoke to my 6yo daughter on Sunday about the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, I focused on the brave teachers and good people who rushed to protect the children. And I talked to her about being a leader in a situation when her teacher is trying to keep her safe, like reminding her friends to be quiet for teacher, or holding the hand of a friend who is scared. I told her that even when something awful is happening, we have to try to be the very best we can be.

When the football game we were watching ended, our neighbors said goodbye and headed home, and for a brief moment life felt normal. Then my four year old son asked why President Obama looked so sad. I turned off the tv as Amelia’s head shot up from the toys she was playing with because we had told her this morning we did not want Benny knowing about the shooting.
Mr. Pigtail Pals started to explain to him that the president was sad because he was talking to people in a town where a sad thing had happened at a school. Benny started to ask a second question when Amelia walked over to him and said, “Benny, sometimes bad things happen that we don’t understand. If something ever happened at your school, even if you are scared, try to be the best that you can be. Stay quiet and wait for me, and I will come running for you.”

Benny rested his head on his big sister’s shoulder, safe in the knowledge of his four year old world that his big sister is his hero. I hated to have to tell her today about this event, it is something that should have never happened and something no family should have to live through or have explain to a child. The details were left out — like the fact it was first graders just like her who were the children killed or that a principal just like her own went running towards the gunman.

But I do not regret telling her the little bit that I did. Because what my husband and I could not make sense of this weekend and are really in too much pain to cry or talk about, our six year worked out what our brains needed to understand.

Love wins. Even in the very, very darkest of times, love wins. It may not change things or make everything right, but it is what will get us through.

“Generations of Women, Finding Beauty Among Themselves”

A couple of days ago I shared this post with you from our guest Lee Skallerup Bessette. In some very moving passages she shared with us how easily a legacy of self-loathing and insecurity can be passed down between generations, and how she is determined to give her own young daughter healthier, more loving messages.

I don’t know what kind of woman society will value when my daughter is a teen ten years from now. I do know that I have to somehow figure out how to love myself. Everything that I saw, everything that I still see as a fault, I have to learn how to embrace it as a strength rather than a liability.  I already think that she is perfect in every way, and that won’t really change. If I want her to see herself that way, too, I can’t just tell her, I need to model it for her. That way, maybe I can break the cycle of women who see perfection all around themselves and never in themselves.

I am the mother to a daughter just a little older than Lee’s, and her words above made me teary. I hear and see too many women and girls out there that do not love themselves. I see it online, I hear it when I talk to girls, I read about it over and over again, I see it when the women in my fitness classes are self-conscious about their bodies, I hear it when my girlfriends talk about weightloss and dieting. It boggles my mind how controlling this is in our lives.

I love and appreciate my body. I am grateful for my health and my strength and my curves and my softness. I have muscle in the places I want it and softness in the places that show I am a woman who has had two children. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a beautiful woman looking back. I accept my entire body, even the places that would be considered “flaws”. Yes my former flat stomach is gone, and in its place is stretched out skin from when I was full with my children. I suppose I could give time to thinking about this, but I am too breathless at the magnificence of the two human beings my body made from scratch to really notice. I have defined beauty on my own terms.

Mothers have the responsibility to teach their daughters their own definition of beauty. Beauty is something WE own. Beauty is something WE give life to. Beauty is something WE create inside each of our familes, around each of our circles of women. It is not something that can be sold to us or packaged or photoshopped or glued to a billboard. It is OUR responsibility to not only define beauty on our own terms, but to then teach it to our daughters.

Recently my good friend and life coach Andrea Owen put forth a question to her Facebook community, “If you could have one wish this holiday season for a specific group of people, what would it be?” The asnwers given by such warm and caring people moved me. My answer: “For all of the girls out there who are insecure, unloved, and full of self-loathing to understand they are more beautiful than they will ever know.”

That is my wish. A girl’s heart is not meant to be beaten down and twisted and starved so that the companies who sell us things can turn a profit from this culture of insecurity they have manufactured. Each girl is born with a heart that is open to the joy and awe this world can bring to those willing to see it. As mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, grandmothers, and mentors, it is our job to protect the hearts of our daugthers. The health and happiness of the girls in this world rests on the shoulders of the women who care for them.

As the heads of our families, women need to define beauty on their own terms. All of our families are different, but each is beautiful. Each family has traits and physical features that repeat themselves with each generation of girls born to them. We honor our daughters by giving them a legacy of loving these traits and teaching these as the definition of beauty.

This time of year, when families from all over come together to celebrate various holidays and traditions, create a culture of beauty inside your own family:

  • Review old family photo albums and show your daughter how she looks like grandma and grandma looks like great-grandma, and share stories about their lives.
  • Spend time laughing and talking and sitting and playing and cooking and sharing with each other. The face is most beautiful when smiling. Create smiles.
  • Play dress up and take silly pictures. Sillyness looks beautiful on everyone.
  • Make time for family traditions, as your daughter will pass these down to her family some day.
  • Sing. Dance. Sing and dance. Dance, dance, dance.
  • Play flag football or shoot hoops or go sledding or ice skating. Show your daughter the joy of what her body can do.
  • For little girls, color or finger paint self-portraits or family portraits. If she is old enough, ask her to say three nice things about each woman and help her write them by each likeness.
  • For older girls, find a special dish or vase and fill it with little scraps of paper upon which you have written things and people and actions and places you find beauty in.
  • For adopted girls who may not share physical family traits, create a piece of art in silouhette, filling the form with wishes or funny family jokes or words that reflect her character. Family isn’t about genes, it is about heartbeats.
  • As a whole family, use ribbon and noodles and markers and colored paper (or scraps of wrapping paper) and whatever art supplies you can find to create self-portraits or collages with verse about what beauty means to your family.

We live in a culture that focuses on physical beauty. Our collective definition of beauty and those that fit inside of it needs to be expanded. As mothers, we need to take back the control over the messages that reach our daughters. If each of our daughters came from a family that had defined their own beauty and taught that to her, well oh my goodness. My wish would come true.