My Tibetan Monk Cupcake Lesson

Image
They were necessary and then they weren’t. Om.

Tomorrow is our youngest son’s birthday. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, but the little guy will turn 12 at 11:18 tomorrow night. When I was pregnant with him, Denver was hit with a massive, March snowstorm. We were trapped indoors with a toddler for three days with 54″ of snow in our yard. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, dying to get out, and stubborn as a mule, I refused to let my husband do all the shoveling and my fat, reflux-tortured, pregnant self landed a sentence of five weeks on bed rest. While I was reclined on the sofa, I would rub my belly and tell the little being in there that he (I was determined he was a he) could not be born before May 21st because I had been promised another Gemini son and this Gemini mother was determined to get what she was promised. I repeated to him over and over the date of May 21st and told him I did not want to meet him before that date. Luke, being a natural-born pleaser with minimal patience, arrived as ordered on May 21st just before midnight. Since then, I’ve spent my days ensuring I am as good to him as he has been to me.

Yesterday, Luke requested birthday cupcakes for his classmates. Noting that one classmate is allergic to gluten, Luke asked that I provide gluten-free cupcakes so George could participate in the party too. I thought about heading to the bakery to purchase cupcakes, but decided that today was a perfect day for baking. It was cold and rainy yet again, and our house would benefit from a hot oven and the smell of baked goods on such a gloomy day. So this morning I headed to Target and swiped up gluten-free yellow and devil’s food cake mixes, butter, and powdered sugar and headed home to commence baking.

I ended up with 48 cupcakes and, while they cooled, I whipped up some homemade, vanilla buttercream icing. I pulled out the natural food coloring and tinted the frosting Luke’s favorite color. Using my pastry bag, I lovingly piped beautiful swirls of orange. I stood back to survey my work. For someone who bakes as infrequently as I do these days, I thought I’d done quite well. As I was getting ready to pack them into cupcake tins so I could haul them to school in the morning, an unwanted thought began knocking on my brain. I tried to barricade the door so it could not get in, but it was powerful and the door came down under its weight. Due to food allergies, no homemade baked goods will be permitted in the classrooms anymore. Son of a bitch.

That was the first of a plethora of expletives that escaped my mouth as I stood there facing 48 cupcakes that could neither go to school nor in my mouth. I had spent three hours mixing, baking, transferring, cooling, measuring, monitoring, beating, coloring, and decorating this confections. Three hours I could never get back. Three hours I could have used wisely on other necessary pursuits. My chagrin escaped in a semi-controlled, adult tantrum, witnessed only by my dog who decided it would be in her best interest to vacate the vicinity post haste.

The meltdown moved on like a fast-moving thunderstorm on a hot summer’s day, and I took a deep breath. I remembered the Tibetan monks who create and destroy sand mandalas as part of their symbolic meditation on the transitory nature of material life. The monks use colored sand to create intricate works of art. For days and sometimes weeks, they work tirelessly as a group on these stunning creations, chanting and meditating over them to bring out the healing energies of the deities represented within the mandala. Once the mandala is finished, in an equally ordered and painstaking manner, they dismantle their work of art, pour it into a jar, and release the sand into a river so the healing powers held within each grain of sand can flow toward the ocean and disperse their positivity.

This afternoon, the cupcakes were my mandala. I diligently created them. And during their birth, I had been fully present in the moment, incorporating all my love for my son into my task. The cupcakes were not about me, and they were not for me. They were an act of love, positive energy, and goodwill. I chanted a mental Om, scraped the superfluous icing into the disposal, washed the dishes, and wiped down the counters. I packed up 24 cupcakes and launched the rest into the trash lest they end up in my belly. We will share the spoils with friends tomorrow. But today I will recognize this experience for what it is, a sticky-note reminder that life is full of discomfort, disappointment, suffering, and change. To find peace, I’ve got to learn to let go and let my inner Tibetan monk guide my thoughts. I wonder how I can get him to the surface more often? Maybe he likes cupcakes?

Sherlock, The Princess Bride, and the Flushed Frosting

Who puts frosting in the toilet? Satan!
Who puts frosting in the toilet? Satan!

Some curious things happen in our house. Random things. Bizarre things. Things I never would have imagined would occur in the world I occupied before giving birth. These things are enough to give a mother pause. Tonight I walked into our downstairs bathroom and found cupcake frosting stuck to the side of the toilet bowl. Yes. Frosting. That sweet, creamy, confection of the gods. The horror! Frosting is the best part of a cupcake and should never be jettisoned for any reason on any occasion. Ever. And, discovering frosting in the toilet is not simply peculiar. It’s borderline sacrilegious. If one were to dispose of extraneous frosting (and I doubt such a thing exists), a logical resting place for it (aside from my belly) is a kitchen waste receptacle. Questions raced through my mind. How could this happen? Why would anyone get rid of frosting? Why would they throw it in the toilet instead of a trash can? Which of my traitorous compadres would perpetrate such a heinous act? And who the heck said anyone could have a cupcake 30 minutes before dinner? Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch is boss), but the game was afoot. I had a mystery to solve.

After taking a few photos to document the crime scene, I began examining the evidence. The frosting was no doubt from the Halloween-themed cupcakes my dad and his wife brought over yesterday. Each small cake was decked with orange, purple, and black frosting, which was topped off with a plastic ring in the shape of a mummy, a green monster of Frankenstein, a jack-o-lantern, or a friendly ghost. I dug through the wastebasket and uncovered the cupcake wrapper. A ghost ring rested next to it, its circular boo-mouth expressed shock but, since dead men tell no tales, remained silent. The cupcake had been yellow cake. I made a mental note. It took no time to ascertain that the frosting had been eliminated due to its tell-tale, raven-black color. As we had discovered on Sunday when we were all suddenly sporting black, sugary mustaches, that ebony frosting can be a bugger to get off your skin, teeth, and tongue. The culprit, sneaking a snack before dinner, would be wise to avoid a bakery-begot beard. Sidestepping it was a sneaky stroke of genius. Obviously, this was the work of a seasoned cupcake crook. I determined that the cupcake wrapper was slightly stiff. The crime had been committed more than 20 minutes ago. I flashed back to my whereabouts during that time frame. I’d been upstairs purchasing Halloween costumes online. I’d given the guilty party an open window with no supervision. I noted that next to the wrapper sat a discarded Stonyfield yogurt tube. Very interesting. I left the bathroom and went in search of suspects to question.

Steve had been out photographing autumn during the cupcake-ingestion time frame, but I approached him with the evidence to see if he would give something away. He, of course, denied culpability, and I was inclined to believe him because he was the only one who avoided the sweet treats the day before. He couldn’t get past the black frosting. It freaked him out. I made him stick out his tongue anyway so I could check for frosting residue. That test came back negative.

I next approached Joe because he was the one who originally had asked me for a cupcake after returning home from school and, well, with his ADHD he’s got some pretty steep impulse-control issues. Joe is also a notoriously incompetent liar (his nickname from me is Saran Wrap because he’s just that transparent). If he’d done it, I’d know immediately and could move on to more important work, like starting dinner. He told me it hadn’t been him. I made him stick out his tongue as physical evidence just in case. No dye. I was inclined to buy his innocence story anyway because he is a chocolate cake guy. He only digs into the yellow cake once the chocolate is gone, and there were chocolate cupcakes on the counter to be had.

I walked downstairs to corner Luke. To be honest, I really suspected it was Luke anyway. I began my interrogation.

“Hey Luke…did you have a cupcake today? I found black frosting in the toilet downstairs,” I said, stating the facts right up front.

“No,” he replied, looking a bit concerned.

“If you did, you’d best come clean. I’m looking for the truth here and, if I find out later that you did it and you’ve lied to me, you will lose your iPad privileges.” I was speaking as gently as possible, but giving him that don’t-mess-with-momma look that usually instills fear.

“I didn’t do it.” he insisted with a slight growl. The suspect was becoming rather agitated. “Why does everyone think I did it?”

“Let me tell you why I think it was you,” I grilled on. “1) It was a yellow cupcake and you’re the only other person in this house who eats yellow cupcakes beside me, and I know I didn’t eat it. 2) I saw you go into that bathroom this afternoon after school. 3) There was a yogurt wrapper in the trash along with the cupcake wrapper, and you’re the only one who eats that yogurt. Are you positive you don’t want to be honest with me right now and save yourself?”

“I didn’t do it!” he barked, now with a definite, defensive posture and willful stubbornness.

“Well…for someone who didn’t commit the crime, you sure are reacting violently to the accusation, sweetie.”

“ARGH!!!!” he yelled out in frustration and ran up the stairs and away from me, indignant and annoyed. I guess I had twisted the knife a bit too far.

I returned to the bathroom, wiped the frosting (which was leaching dark-blue dye into the toilet water) from the bowl, washed my hands, and vowed to put the mystery behind me.

When we sat down to eat dinner twenty minutes later, though, I couldn’t help myself. I brought it up again. I prodded, shared my knowledge of the crime scene, and asked for a confession. I guaranteed freedom from impunity. I just wanted to know who tried to flush the stupid frosting and why they decided to flush it rather than leaving it in a trash can. It was driving me nuts. I always catch the criminal. Despite my perfect record for ferreting out the miscreant in our home-based mysteries, no one caved. There was no teary-eyed confession to be had. My perfect record was dashed. Dammit. I began wondering if they had made a blood-brother pact to carry the secret to their graves simply to best me, to pull one over on their crazy mother. Well, they’re about to learn that I refuse to give up. I am smarter than they are. They’re no match for my brains. They’ve fallen victim to one of the classic blunders. The first, of course, is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is never go in against your mother when frosting has been wasted.

They may think I’ve given up. They may think this is behind us. But someday I will get the truth, probably on my death bed…and then I will most likely laugh out loud hysterically and keel over just like Vizzini.