the sweet, icing-stacked horror

When I was in elementary school, I would look forward to my birthday with great anticipation, not only for the obvious reasons (presents, party, cake), but also because it was the single day of the year when I would be the focus of my classmates’ attention. It was the privilege of every b-day kid, whether she was cool on the playground or not. Come birthday, everyone was your best friend, because the occasion warranted a total cessation of productive activity for cupcakes. Always cupcakes, and almost always the fluffy store-bought kind with the freaky, air-brushed icing. They often came adorned with a plastic decoration, party-themed or emblematic of the season, be it Halloween, Valentine’s Day, or St. Patty’s. Although I enjoyed the standard fare from Publix, my heart always sank a little when I saw the familiar box with a cellophane window on the top. Those cupcakes were OK, but I always knew what to expect. No surprises.

For that reason, I insisted that I set myself apart on my birthday by bringing in homemade cupcakes, which meant my mother was baking cupcakes for 30 the night before. I would “help,” but the work really fell to her, and no matter how tired she was from her own day at school, teaching or tutoring, she never failed to deliver wonderful, straight-from-scratch goodness. One year, we even flaunted the other mothers’ laziness, adorning each cupcake with a unique plastic decoration, which I had painstakingly collected over the years from other classroom birthdays.

So, I was saddened but not surprised that, given the rising numbers of obese kids, schools have begun to ban the cupcake birthday ritual. As I watched the report — first on the straight news, and again on The Daily Show, I felt lucky that I was able to experience those homemade treats free of guilt. I enjoyed every last bite, and when it was my birthday, I usually got to eat more than one.

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