This piece was originally written July 12, 2009, just after my daughter’s second birthday.
I just know that if Beach Party Barbie were alive, she wouldn’t be my friend. Even before I took her out of her pink-bedecked box with the plastic window in front, I admit I detested her perfect body, her long, silken blonde hair, her unrealistically shaped body. If you ask me, every woman secretly hates Barbie, at least a little bit. Doesn’t she represent an unattainable goal, born of an era when women were judged by their looks rather than their brains and hearts.
Today, I attempted to make a Barbie cake. I remember seeing these cakes in bakery windows, Barbie’s arms reaching out, as if to greet her adoring fans, as she stood on a paper doily, cloaked in rich buttercream frosting, a strapless gown artfully piped onto her body by the baker’s steady hand. I wanted one so badly, but birthday cakes in my childhood home tended toward the practical rectangle or round variety, decorated with homemade frosting and candles.
For my daughter’s second birthday, I knew I was destined to make her a Barbie cake. But like I said, Barbie and I don’t get along. I think she may have been sneering at me behind those thick, glossy lips of hers. The cake baking was a near disaster, with the batter nearly spilling out over the edge of the cake pans: then, the cakes came out the wrong size, and when I inserted Barbie through the middle of the cakes, her chocolate “skirt” only reached mid-thigh. Then there was the frosting, which I carefully whipped and cooked in my double boiler, meticulously setting my kitchen timer so that my “seven minute frosting” was authentically cooked for seven minutes. I tried to do everything right, but it came out all wrong. As I was globbing on the lumpy frosting, watching it drip sadly down the side of Barbie’s bundt skirt, I had to bite my lip from bursting into tears. My Barbie Princess cake was more like a Barbie-Floating-in-a-Toxic-Cloud-of-Misshaped-Pink-Asbestos cake. This would never do.
I think my husband’s exact words were, “Don’t bail on Barbie!” He knew I was ready to give up. I had given it my best shot, but Barbie won. Her glassy eyes stared at me in a victorious glare, and I knew she had defeated me. Even inside the clump of chocolate mess I had attempted to create, she still looked magnificent, long blonde hair billowing defiantly over my asymmetrical mess of a cake. I started thinking things like, “There’s always next year. Next year, I’ll get a better Barbie.”
My husband can do many things. He knows how to build things, how to fix things, and how to deconstruct and rebuild things. But watching him work magic with pink whipped frosting positively makes my heart go pitter-pat. Like a sculpture, he took Barbie, set her straight, fashioned a bedazzling stage for her out of a cardboard box and some foil, and he made all my Barbie cake dreams come true. And as I watched him, I realized that in some ridiculous way, this Barbie cake represents all my shortcomings, and why, for some unexplicable reason, I was lucky enough to have married the one person in the world who knows just when to step in, smooth out my imperfections and add a few sprinkles on top, just to add sweetness.
My daughter’s birthday cake was not a disaster after all. She loved it. She shouted, “PRETTY!!!” when she saw it. But you and I know that the Barbie cake wasn’t for her; it was for me. I had my childhood dream fulfilled today. I thought I could do it myself, but I needed some help from my very own Prince Charming.
Happy birthday, sweet daughter. Next year’s cake can be just for you.