Compensation, covered in frosting

I have endless guilt when it comes to my children. ENDLESS.

I have guilt over the genetic things I either know or fear they’ve inherited from me or their dad. I’m not even talking about deadly disease sorts of things—I feel guilty that Chickadee’s needed glasses since she was a toddler or that Monkey needed a palate expander and braces.

I have guilt over every difficulty they ever experience, whether it involves me or not. I feel guilty when they’re mad or sad or frustrated, because if I was a GOOD mother, I’d be able to fix it.

I still—coming up on six years later—have guilt about divorcing their father, even though I have always believed (and continue to believe) that this life is the far, far better alternative for them, even with its inherent issues.

I’m aware that this may not be 100% logical. But this is what happens when you’re raised Jewish.

(Kidding! I mean, I hear Catholics are pretty good at the guilt thing, too.)

My point is, I HAVE GUILT. Always.

Mostly I have learned to live with it. On really good days I can even look one of them in the eye and say, “Oh my. That is a very sad story. Your life is horrible. How do you stand it?” That’s like the Zen level of parental comfort, when you feel secure enough in the goodness of your children’s lives to taunt them. Really. Those moments are fleeting but comforting. (Well, for me. Probably not so much for the kids.)

Anyway. All of this is a preface to what I’m about to tell you.

Part of the reason I started freelancing was because I wanted the flexibility it would afford me to be here for my kids. I’ve always been able to take them here and there and go volunteer at school and such, and that’s really important to me. So when the room mother for Monkey’s class asked me if I would be willing to help with the class cake, of course I said yes.

[Our school does a cake auction to raise money. In addition to, you know, actual DELICIOUS cakes baked by real bakers, each class decorates a cake to enter, as well.]

I contacted the teacher to find out what “theme” the class had chosen. She told me they’d be doing “under the sea.” We discussed things like gummy fish. We made an appointment for me to show up for decorating.

And then somewhere between that conversation and now, I LOST MY MIND.

Because a sane person would just bake a sheet cake and come in and let the kids stick gummy fish on it and call it good.

But if you are ME, you figure out how to make a pirate ship out of cake, then you figure out how to modify it so that you can put a small, sunken, somewhat wrecked pirate ship on TOP of a sheet cake which will then be decorated like the bottom of the sea. And then you spend an evening shopping for things like graham crackers (sand!) and cereal straws (wooden beams!) and fruit roll-ups (seaweed!) and then you find yourself baking the THREE cakes that will need to be ASSEMBLED into the one sunken pirate ship cake and also wondering if maybe that store across town where you can buy bulk candy has any LITTLE EDIBLE SKULLS.

And then you realize that AFTER all of that, you have to go help 20-something third graders decorate it, and so then you add a few underwater caves and buy “just a few more things” they can use to make it look really cool.

Cake supplies: $30.
Guilt: Hundreds of dollars in therapy.
Being able to say, “Remember that time I made that jacked-up pirate cake and brought it into your class and let you and your classmates stick three pounds of candy onto it?”: Priceless.


  1. Erin


  2. Erin

    OK, that was a bit of a rude comment, I admit. Let’s try this one (see? I have guilt, too):

    Pretty, pretty Mir, I believe I speak for all of your audience when I say that we would absolutely love to see pictures of this fantastic creation! Would you care to share?

    *bats eyelashes*

    There, that’s better, isn’t it? :)

  3. Katie in MA

    I *love* the posts when you stand up and shout: “Dude, I am SO AWESOME!” They make me feel a little awesome-er, too. :)

  4. Jean

    This will require photographs and complete instructions because somehow, I will get sucked into do this in a few years for my son :)

  5. Jen

    Yeah. I have to do the class valentine’s day cookies and I made these cake sandwich cookies and cut them out with heart shaped cutters and spent WAY too much money and time on something that we all know they’re not even going to look at before they gobble as many as they can before the bell rings. Could have just shoved some oreos at them. Sigh. At least it will look awesome and you are totally pretty and rock the class mom thing…

  6. Ariel

    I was raised Mormon and they are heavy on the guilt too. I mean, its been 7 years since I’ve gone to that church and I STILL feel guilty for a hundred things I know I shouldn’t feel guilty for. I’m totally being thrust into outer darkness for the coffee I’m drinking :)

    Yeah! for sweet frosting penance!

  7. meghann

    Guilt is universal, was raised Protestant here.

    I felt guilty back when I had just one child, that maybe I was being selfish in not letting him grow up with siblings. And now that he has 3 siblings, I feel guilty because none of them get as much one on one time as they would if they were an only child.

    I think guilt is caused by some hormone released when you give birth, that stays in your body permanently. Or until you go senile, which for me, is in about 40 years.

  8. dad

    Alas, the world may have more guilt than love. So like “the last of the just” you have to pick up the deficit on the love side.
    I want pictures of the that pirate ship sitting on the ocean floor as well as after its destruction at the mouths of 30 third graders…and send a piece here.

  9. Beachgal

    I’ve made that pirate cake! My son LOVED it. That was for his third birthday. We had so much fun making/decorating, but didn’t go ALL out as you’ve described. He had no clue we’d made it, and we brought it out he was so happy. I would love to see pictures of how yours turned out!

  10. StephLove

    Sounds like a truly awesome cake. I, too, wish to see photographic evidence.

    Speaking as a child of divorce, it definitely had its drawbacks (oh heck it still does), but ultimately I think I was better off growing up with parents who were happier with their new spouses than they would have been with each other. And I understood this from a pretty young age. (I was almost 11 when they split, almost 12 when he remarried, & 17 when she did.) I know you already know this, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to hear it again.

  11. mamalang

    You are an awesome mom. Crazy, but awesome.

  12. Lori

    you are a great mom, Mir! Someday they will tell their children all the incredible things you did for them!

  13. mamajama

    oh my gosh. I take on WAY too much all the time, but it does make for good memories:).

  14. Aubri

    Oh please, Mir? Pictures PLEEEEEAAAASSSEEEE?????

    By the way, my mom could have written that post up there… The bright side is, when your kids are in their twenties (me, yes… I know… I’m a child!) you can have conversations with them… and they will know what you mean about the guilt thing. Then they’ll hug you, and tell you not to worry, because you really were always wonderful, and they always knew that.

    My mom and I have these conversations a lot.

  15. AimeeInOhio

    Just have to de-lurk for a bit to say how much I LOVE your blog, Mir. Each time I read it, I feel as though you’ve managed to sneak inside my brain and steal my thoughts – weird, but comforting to know I’m not alone! And to top it off, I, too, have a HEAD FULL of long, naturally curly hair – so can FULLY appreciate the occasional splurge to get just the right cut! Sometimes, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right?

    As for the pirate ship – why do we do this to ourselves? For my daughter’s Cinderella birthday party last fall, I had the insane idea to make her a Cinderella castle birthday cake – complete with towers, windows & over 400 itsy, bitsy, teeny, tiny fondant flowers. After over 18 grueling hours of cake decorating, the masterpiece was complete. Not sure what was better, my daughter’s reaction to the cake, or my family’s reaction to the fact that I WILLINGLY spent the better part of my waking hours in the days before the party decorating it!! I will never do another one, but damn, it was worth it!

  16. Michelle

    That actually sounds like a pretty fun project. You know, kind of a challenge. I’ll bet it looked awesome! (Picture?)

  17. cam

    I feel the guilt, too… and I only have the Flying Spaghetti Monsters and his noodly appendages to blame.

    Can we guilt you into posting pics?

  18. exile on mom street

    Are we going to get another photo of food in Monkey’s braces? I could print it out and put it on my fridge to help with the diet thing!

    Folks around here think I’m some sort of baking goddess because I don’t use a mix (often).

    You though, you are a baking NINJA!

  19. Ann from Minnesota

    Photos please!

    Speaking of guilt, I thought I and my fellow Catholics cornered the market on that. I assume guilt for everything and everybody – I just can’t stop! Oh, how I wish I could be callous and self-centered, just to see what it feels like…

  20. bob

    One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that I don’t have all of the answers, and I can’t take away all of their pain. Knowing this doesn’t lessen the pain – or much of the resulting frustration.

    I hope you never have to learn this lesson the way I did. I still feel the pain of it, even knowing he’s much happier now.

  21. bob

    I didn’t really articulate what I meant to.

    What you are feeling is the result of the love you have for your children, and maybe you can focus on that instead of the results of it – which you sometimes have little control over.

    And the fact that it will cease to be your problem (and become their therapist’s) in a few (seeming short) years!

  22. Gem

    My kids do a summer sailing camp each year. They do this where we go on holidays so to say the facilities are basic would be the understatement of the year. At the end of each course they are all supposed to bring in a cake, ideally home made and decorated on a sailing theme. When it was just my sons they could care less so I got away with a store bought cake and paper sails stuck on top. Then my daughter got old enough to do the course. So can you imagine being guilted into try to bake a cake in an ancient oven with no thermostat and then make coloured frosting for the sea and sails when there as only green food and yellow food colouring in the village shop. It was an “interesting” creation to put it mildly. She thought it was wonderful though so I felt (temporarily, because I am Catholic!) like a good mother!

  23. Lori N

    Ok, how’s this for guilt? I read your entry here & feel guilty because in order to do this for my little guy I’d have to search all over creation for peanut-free, egg-free candies to decorate the egg-free cake I’d be making. But there would be extra stress because the cake wouldn’t stand up to any grand designs because egg-free cake, while yummy, just doesn’t hold together like regular cake.

    But I would still say YES! to the teacher & then promptly lose my mind. We mothers are like that!

    (Whether my guilt stems from faulty genetics or improper eating while pregnant – take your pick – I feel guilty about both, deservedly or not!)

  24. Jamie AZ

    Wow! We definitely NEED to see pictures of the cake! I’m sure we’ll never get away from all the guilt though – that’s why wine exists, right?

  25. Zuska

    Okay, now I’m feeling guilty; I had planned to make cupcakes for Z’s class for Valentine’s Day, and the class mom called to remind me that I’d volunteered to “bring in Dunkin’ Munchkins.” And I decided that was a MUCH easier option than making and decorating cupcakes – something I would have obsessed over and spent hours on. And now I’m feeling guilty for taking the easy way out. Although I still will…probably.

    We must see the finished product!!!

  26. Keyona

    Goodnees, I have a friend just like you. But guess what? I think she rocks! I live vicariously through her. Being a full time working mom sucks sometimes but having friends that can make your 5 year old a castle cake.

  27. ML

    I often wonder if they’ll remember the episodes of boxed mac & cheese in front of the TV, the “pirate ship cakes at school”, or the whole wacky, manic thing. And which one will take more therapy to get over…?

  28. JNo

    We must be related. The guilt (not Catholic or Jewish – midwest guilt over EVERYTHING) – I thought I was the only one who felt guilty for everything. “my son is guilty about stuff because he’s seen me do it, he freaks over being late because I do, allergies – check” . . . . thanks for making me feel “normal”.

  29. Barbara

    Oh my. That is a very sad story. Your life is horrible. How do you stand it?

    If I could, I’d give you ‘dispensation’ for all the terrible things that you did and cause you guilt. (That’s a Catholic term.)

    When your children are teens, you will long for the days when making a cake was sufficient for making a meaningful memory. But you will only long for a short time, ’cause you will be consumed with guilt over wishing they are already grown and out of the house. You’re welcome!

  30. Angela

    Guilt is universal. I’m going to send this to my mother: she thinks she has the market cornered on guilt.

    The cake sounds awesome, and I will echo every other commenter in asking for pictures. Pretty, pretty please! With whipped cream and a cherry on top!

  31. Debbi

    But it had to look awesome! :-) Share pictures if you can. And mama guilt is just part of the job.

  32. Karishma

    oh dear lord. lol you are completely insane, but also very very pretty and actually, totally magnificent. i also vote for pictures of this crazy creation.

  33. Karen

    I love life lessons in Mastercard format.

    On the guilt topic….I have some time recently to think. I think parental guilt does not serve us or our children. I think of the things I endured as a child with parents to guide me through them. Without all the bumps and road blocks I faced as a child with parental guidance, actually made it possible to be a productive adult. Kids need to experience so many of the things we feel guilt over, so that they can one day grow up to happy, healthy adults. So next time that guilt starts to creep in….remember, you are teaching them how to deal with things when they are all grown up, how to be a good parent and how to get around lifes road blocks. I read your blog at least twice a week and more often when my life allows. You are the type of mom that all kids deserve to have. So tell that guilty voice to go sit in the corner and be quiet till you decide to buy one of those cakes at the auction and consume it yourself.

  34. Grannycilla

    I only recenty discovered your blog, and after going back into the archives to Jan 06, I am finally CAUGHT UP!!!! As a curly haired girl who raised her son and daughter after divorce, I can SO relate to many of your posts. Unfortunately I have not found MY Otto, but I do have lovely grandchildren!!

  35. Gaylin

    Hey Lori N.
    google Wacky Cake – great eggless chocolate cake that does stand up to decorating etc. You can cut back the sugar to 2/3 cup by adding 1/2 smashed ripe banana.

    I am 49 (no kids) and my mom is 73, she still feels guilty about her parenting skills from when we were little and often says she doesn’t know why we still love her. Duh, she is our mom – foibles and all.

    Okay, so there were mess ups, but what I remember is 2 layer birthday cakes! eating EVERY dinner together as a family, laughing so hard we spewed food.

    It is the little things that count – like having the flu and barfing on my brothers feet and my parents laughing – and then cleaning it up.

    Mir, you are pretty, you are a good mom. Keep eating cake.

  36. Karen

    Where are the photos of this cake?

  37. ~annie

    Even us heathen urchins raised in barns have guilt. Especially of the “ruined Critter’s life because I kicked her Daddy out when she was only a baby” variety. But after 16.5 years I’m getting over it.

  38. All Adither

    Oh, I have serious guilt too. Over EVERYTHING. And I’m agnostic.

  39. Sheila

    And… now I feel guilty for not ever making a Pirate Cake, plus also extra guilt for not ever wanting to. Nor do I scrapbook, journal, make my own baby food or iron my husband’s shirts.

    Perhaps I should have given this SAHM gig more thought…

  40. Megan

    Ariel’s absolutely right – Mormon’s have a special kind of guilt called “righteous pressure” and even after you resign or go inactive or whatever you still find yourself thinking, dang, a REALLY GOOD MOM would have FIVE different kinds of cookies for the winter party and hand-watercolor forty-leven valentines too!

    I had to giggle a bit though because today’s guilt? Was about ear wax. Yup, ear wax. REALLY GOOD MOM’S don’t have children who turn up with brick-like ear wax. Sigh.

  41. Jenni

    Not to get all sappy on you, but I promise you (from someone who lost my mom when I was 29) they will remember the big extravagant failures and snort with laughter later.

    The memories of things that turn out just fine will fade away.

  42. karen

    Gotta SEE IT!!!!??????

  43. tripleblessings

    You are an AWESOME mom, and so very pretty, and please o please can we see pictures of the cake? pretty please with gummy fish on top?

  44. Ladybug Crossing

    Mir… you make the rest of us look bad. Stop with the guilt!! FYI: I’m NOT making an under the sea cake – like ever – and if I did, I wouldn’t let a 3rd grader NEAR it! That said, I AM planning a valentine’s party for the middle school… for Friday. Yes, I’m crazy – not guilt ridden, but definitely insanely crazy.

  45. ChristieNY

    Sounds amazing! I’d love to see pics ;)

  46. Laura

    I found the cutest pictures of a birdie cupcake on the Wilton site & hired the lady at the cake decorating store to make them for me. I could have done it when I was in high school, not sure if that talent is like riding a bike or not. It was just less stressful that way. I’m all about what’s easiest for me.

    My Catholic grandmother overloaded me on guilt as a kid. I’m impervious to it now.

  47. Heather

    Can we see the cake please? :)
    I have guilt too and I’m sure it’ll only get worse when I have kids :P

  48. Leanne

    And if your kids are anything like mine, you say remember when … and they have no idea what you’re talking about.

  49. Hecticmom

    Shoot – I have guilt for even taking the time to read blogs. I should be doing something TO MAKE MY CHILDRENS LIVES BETTER DAMNIT!

    I have the guilt too man…. About everything…

  50. mama speak

    I think something’s wrong w/me. I was raised Catholic light; means we go to church occasionally, some say Christmas & Easter, but usually too crowded so that’s not when we go. My understanding (at least w/the Catholics) is that you put a $20 in the basket on Sunday & all is forgiven.

    Why yes this is a hand basket and we are headed South. Why do you ask? ;-)

    The Martha Stewart in me MUST see this cake though.

  51. Brigitte

    Heh, I end up being over-ambitious with cake appearances too. Which makes them look far worse than if I’d just kept it plain and left it alone.

    But now I’m reminiscing about a candy store I’d frequent as a teenager. They had tiny, white chocolate skulls filled with raspberry jelly. Mmmmm!

  52. kristy

    I’m impressed by your cake making/decorating skills, even without seeing pictures! You are a great mom!

  53. Marsha

    I made the pirate ship cake and it turned out awesome.. I then put the ship cake in a hole in the middle of a white sheet cake, iced the sheet cake blue to make it look like the ocean…. By the time it got to the place where the party was, the ship was actually tilting to one side and sinking… but I am so mad I didn’t think of the stupid GUMMY FISH for the ocean now….. G U I L T…. The kids loved it more cuz it was sinking by the way. boo on you.. for making me feel guilty on the Gummy Fish thing…. waahh

  54. Aimee

    Everyone is going to think you are the coolest mom — and you ARE. Guilt notwithstanding.

    And yes, pictures please!

  55. ben

    My favorite line from Spanglish: “We’re Catholic, we *know* guilt.”

    I’m reading your entries backwards, so funny to see everyone wanting to see pictures, after I just looked at them.

  56. Kris

    Here’s how you deal with guilt over genetic factors —> Blame their father.

    Works even better if their father was adopted and you have no medical history on him.

    I’m just sayin’…

  57. Jennifer Morgan

    I’m the mom who made 20 giant sugar cookie hearts — onto which the first graders could then heap frosting and sprinkles, the better for their sugar comas, don’t you know — and then volunteered to help them make melted waxed paper/crayon shavings “stained glass” hearts in the approximately 5 minutes they had to do so. I freelance for the flexibility also, but somehow, it just seems to make me more harried! I know I have fond memories of things like this with my mom; I’m just hoping my kids have those same kinds of memories.

  58. ImpostorMom

    Overachiever + Guilt = Sunken Pirate Ship cake

    Oh yeah and we totally need to see a picture of that thing.

  59. Headless Mom

    Hey, at our school they lot the kids decorate the cakes.

    I have the pictures sitting in a folder just waiting for me to post them. A star and a snake.

    I 59th the picture request. ;-)

  60. getsheila

    Oh dear, I seem to have stumbled on the Ace of Cakes blog by mistake. [wanders off looking confused]

  61. Miriam

    You must be my long-lost twin! I get ribbed all the time about my kids’ birthday cakes…I tend to go a little overboard! AND, as the room mom for BOTH of their classes, I spent a FORTUNE (despite the fact that on every other front I am the cheapest.woman.alive) on V-day stuff, including personalized mailboxes for each child, decorated chocolate covered marshmallows for treats, and homemade (by me, of course) Valentines. Self-inflicted…YES. Exhausting…oh dear! But totally worth it. Right?! Say yes, cause I need you to!

  62. Kate

    Sure doesn’t help reading backwards, but good to know
    the background of that beauteous,tight, pirate cake too.

    When I became a Mom, there was definitely new meaning
    to worry and guilt, so it’s not exclusive to anyone,

    however, after my accident, with my altered state in my
    brain, for almost 8 years now, I have never experienced
    guilt again. It’s amazing.

    The worry – well the worry is forever, but honestly
    I’ve seen kids in braces and glasses, and then seen
    them grow up looking pretty darn ‘hawt’ :)

    Is that a word? Genetics have also provided me with
    a rare absomal gene that produces major grief with my
    kidneys, and never once, have I ‘blamed’ my parents,
    for anything and I found out that one when I was just
    becoming a teen. Although I didn’t see it then,
    I do know now that I am a much better person, much
    more compassionate than I ever would be, had I followed
    my fairy-tale like existence without the adversity
    of my health problems. Doesn’t mean I wish they weren’t
    there, and I doubt this will help you will guilt, but
    I sure hope that you can lessen that, and if you figure
    out a way out of the worry, please email .

    I’m in.


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