White crystals rain down and cling to the clumps of butter as I slowly pour the sugar into the mixing bowl. I turn the mixer on, mesmerized by the whipping, the butter turning pale and dense as it absorbs the sugar. I add the eggs, one by one, beating for a long time in between each one. I take the extra time to make sure everything is blended. This chocolate cake has become the tradition for my family’s birthdays.
My thoughts shift to a time when I would have been thinking about the half a dozen other things I should be doing while baking a birthday cake, trying to complete the job as quickly as I could. Not this year. This year, I am enjoying every minute of it and stretching out the process. I even relish the dreaded task of greasing the cake pans and lining them with carefully cut out circles of parchment paper.
My son is turning 13. When we told him he had to cancel his birthday plans, he just shrugged, taking the news in stride. We broke the same news to him one year ago. His 12th birthday party was derailed by a manufactured problem, one created by negligence, incompetence, and malice. This year the cancellation was unavoidable, caused by a legitimate problem.
Last year, instead of a birthday party, he was handed a few short weeks to say goodbye to his friends, his school, his activities, his home -- his life as he knew it. His birthday party was only the first of many events and celebrations to be cancelled in what I refer to as our lost year.
One year later and he’s started to rebuild his life. He appreciates that his mom can make his favorite birthday cake, that he can pull out a board game to play with his family, that he has a sofa to sit on to watch a movie while in quarantine, and that he now sleeps in a real bed again. He’s been taught a lesson early in life about what’s valuable, a lesson many of us only learn later on, and some of us not at all.
I watch news reports where politicians reassure children that they know life is difficult now, away from their friends, their school, and their regular activities. On social media, people are dealing with missed family vacations, celebrations, even the routine of regular medical and dental appointments. Social gatherings are nixed and extracurricular activities cancelled. Social distancing has become the new buzz phrase. Everyone’s lives are thrown into chaos. My family members share knowing looks with each other because we’ve become so familiar with all of these over the past year. We’ve been holding the dress rehearsal for this event for a year.
As the batter turns brown with chocolate, I think about the last year, what we’ve accomplished in spite of everything. We have a place to call home again, and for that I am grateful. We will finally have the opportunity to tell our story where it matters – we will replace fantasy with fact and crush lies with the truth, revealing impure motives and leaving the monsters with nowhere to hide.
And for me, my biggest source of pride -- I finished writing my book, the story that will expose the shameful hypocrisy of individuals whose only job was to be impartial. People in four different countries have learned my family’s story over the last several weeks, as I share my book with test readers. One comment sticks with me, from a reader who told me that I’d, ‘burst her Canada bubble.’ I am raring to broadcast the story with the world, but will wait, as I’ve been advised to do.
I spread the icing on the cake, in an even layer, not rushing. Patient. Careful. Meticulous. The perfect cake. I place thirteen candles on top and set it down in front of my teenager. He’s waited for two years for the revival of this simple birthday tradition. His smile says it all. Some things are worth waiting for.