I’m completely amped on super sugary super milky super yummy coffee, which I rarely drink, so I thought I should take advantage of the buzz to get something on the page.

This weekend we celebrated my beloved leap year baby’s birthday with a big ol’ bash complete with eleven kids (only one of whom was over the age of three), their grown-ups, cake, ice cream, balloons, and sangria, which I think only my husband, my mother-in-law and I drank.

Question: is there some rule that you’re not supposed to consume alcohol if you’re partying with your toddler? We do it all the time, but is this another one of those uh-oh you’re not supposed to do that or you’re a bad mommy secrets that I never knew about?

Just asking.

The party was a whirlwind. I don’t remember it very well, and that’s not the sangria’s fault. I remember balloons bobbing around my living room. I remember Aidan and his friends building a truck together with no parental guidance. I remember snippets of conversation, with my friends Alysia and Camilla, with Sascha’s mom, Annette, with my mother-in-law (“You alright? I hope you’re not bored!”). I remember blowing out candles, ’cause Aidan doesn’t know how yet, even though we practiced, and cutting cake and scooping ice cream. I remember having very flushed cheeks (that was the sangria).

It was all a big, happy blur and I think everyone had a blast. And then suddenly, like a vacuum cleaner inhaling every last dust bunny in the house, they were all sucked out the door. (I remember handing out gift bags of bubbles and stickers and healthy breakfast bars.) And we went on to open presents—puzzles and cars, mainly, plus a Plan Toys parking garage from us and a painting kit from his grandparents—and it was on to dinner, bath time and bed.

All of this was normal and great. The part that was off the charts was my total insanity leading up the event. I’m not talking about all the little details. I was pretty organized in the way I crossed things off the list: Food. Check. Party favors. Check. Balloons. Check.

My psycho behavior came with the cake.

Three days before the party, I called Baskin Robbins, which is where I’d planned to order the same delicious chocolate mint cake we had last year, pretty much my favorite dessert since I was a kid. But this time it would have Lightning McQueen and Mater on top, since my son is obsessed with them. I asked when I needed to order it and they said 48 hours before since it was for a Saturday. So, Thursday I called back and put in an order, and the guy called me back to say they couldn’t make the cake because the person who makes the cakes was on vacation and no one else could make them.

In a state of total panic, I texted Harlan who’s off shooting in NY for two months and he was no help at all (“You and my mom could make a cake,” he said, and made a joke about forgetting the cake and serving pancakes instead. Very funny). Then I emailed a mom I’d met through somervillemoms who makes amazing looking custom cakes, one of which had Lightning on it. She told me it would cost $75. Ouch. More texts to Harlan.

I called every other Baskin Robbins in the vicinity and learned they all use the same fucking cakemaker who was out of town—are you kidding me?—then Cold Stone Creamery who could do a lovely cake, but it would cost me $55 and I’d have to drive into Boston to pick it up. They said I’d have to order it by 8.

By this point, my in-laws had arrived from the airport and over dinner they forbid me to either drive to Boston to get the cake or spend $70, so I tried again to enlist the help of Harlan, who said get a cake from Rosie’s—quality bakery up the street—or from Shaw’s, the grocery store around the corner. They’re three-year-old’s. They just won’t care.

Right there is the main point. They’re three-year-old’s. They just won’t care.

Oh, but I will, and that’s the problem. This is my kid and this is his one and only third birthday party and not only do I want this cake, this party, the whole shebang to be perfect for him, but I also want it to be perfect in the eyes of his friends’ parents.

I called Rosie’s. They said it was too late to custom-order one but they had plenty of cakes in the store. The biggest size served 15, and there were twenty plus coming to the party, which made me nervous. (I was forgetting that the majority of those people were pipsqueaks who get pipsqueak-sized servings.) I let the Cold Stone deadline pass.

Can we take a step back and consider the craziness here?

Next morning we went to Grandparents’ Day at Aidan’s school. When we came home, my in-laws agreed to watch Aidan so I could go out in the pouring rain and run birthday errands. I got plates, silverware, party favors, a “Happy Birthday” sign, etc., then ran by the grocery store. I’d remembered that they had Carvel ice cream cakes in the freezer department and I’d decided that’s what I was getting. I chose the cutest one, ran by the florist department to put in an order for balloons, and bought the cake.

Wow, what a relief, right?

Not so much. The moment I placed the cake on the passenger seat beside me, I began having doubts. The cake had two kinds of ice cream but no cake. It wasn’t really a cake at all! It also was super-artificial looking (“vanilla-flavored ice cream,” it said) and kind of neon tacky. This cake was certainly not going to impress the other mommies and daddies. I started rehearsing the disclaimer I’d have to deliver to every single parent at the party if I was gonna save my reputation.

I shoved it into the freezer. The freezer door popped open, as if rejecting the so-called cake.

My mother-in-law said the kids would love it.

I cringed.

That afternoon, she and I ran more birthday errands. Bought him PJ’s and a T-shirt at Twinkle Star, the adorable kid shop up the street. Got the wine. Did a quick toy store run. Also stopped by both Rosie’s and Shaw’s to see what other cake options existed. Just in case. Kicked myself because I’d missed the deadline to order a normal cake from the grocery store. They also offered Lightning and Mater. Decided I’d blown it completely.

I resigned myself to embracing the tacky ice cream cake. I rationalized. I rehearsed my, “Oh my God, you won’t believe how insane I got about this cake!” speech. I literally couldn’t sleep for obsessing about cakes. Harlan called me before bed and I told him I’d bought a cake but wasn’t happy with it and he said, “I can’t have this conversation.” He was right. I was loony tunes.

The next morning, I woke up still debating and regretting and beating myself up.

Honestly, at this point don’t you think I have a screw loose? Come on, honestly, I can take it.

I’ve always been bad at making decisions. Don’t even get me started about my winter coat drama! And it’s worse where my kid is concerned. If I told you about the stroller drama, you would definitely have me committed.

I started to worry that there was really something wrong with me.

But still at 7am on the day of the party I called Shaw’s and asked if I could return the cake.

As soon as my in-laws came over, I headed out, cake box in hand, and returned the damn thing, still wondering if I was doing the right thing, but feeling gradually emboldened. Then I went to Rosie’s and picked the prettiest one—chocolate cake, white frosting—told them how to spell my son’s name and handed them an orange Matchbox car I’d bought at the dollar store for this purpose and asked them to put it on top. They did a beautiful job.

I returned home with a big smile on my face, happy with my cake.

The kids loved it. I know they would have loved the cheap, tacky ice cream cake, too, but I had to make the decision I could feel good about, right?

My friend Alysia assures me that she also agonizes over decisions pertaining to her children. Sure, whether or not to vaccinate, how long to breastfeed, what school to send them to…but cake?

Tell me the truth, am I a total lunatic?

What insane measures have you taken in the name of doing what’s best for your child?

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