In Search of Cupcakes

My daughter’s crying is boring a hole into my brain.

Back when I first had babies and researched babies compulsively, I read an article explaining that a child’s cry ignites in its mother the same neurological and biological stress response as an emergency siren. In other words, a mother alone in a room with a crying baby might as well be trapped in an office during a fire drill.  Which is exactly as fun as it sounds.

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me assure you that I have tried to comfort my daughter.  I have snuggled her cheeks, offered compromises, attempted “redirection” (Where is your baby?  Does she need a nap?  Mommy would like some tea!  Can you set the table for a tea party?).  These suggestions have been rejected (NO!  I didn’t SAY I wanted to play TEA PARTY!) and the crying continues, so I have decided to walk away.  But our apartment is small.  And my daughter is barely three.  So she follows me plaintively, moaning.  I have honestly lost track of the genesis of her discontent, but I am sure it had something to do with me saying NO to something.

As one friend remarked recently: “You’ve gotta give that girl credit for staying on message.”

This is what some might call a tricky time for our little family.  There has been a great deal of change, most of it welcome, arguably overdue even.  My husband has taken on a new position at work.  I have left work in the official sense and launched a consultancy, which means my time is my own (sort of).  I will admit that it’s sort of dreamy, this being self-employed thing.  And I am grateful for the flexibility: LittleMan started Kindergarten at a new, far bigger elementary school.  Babygirl will graduate from daycare to preschool in a matter of weeks.  March on, Time does.

But change is change, and no matter how necessary or positive, it creates a wake that rocks the family boat.  The new school starts an hour earlier than the old school, so a morning routine which has not wavered in two years is turned upside down.  The new school is full of strangers, where the old school was full of friends, and children who once marched into classrooms with confidence become clingy and sorrowful.  It is only the beginning, and before we even notice what has happened, the new will morph into the normal, but for now we muddle through the transition: run late or run early, soothe and prod, scold and hold.  Little bodies teem with unsettled energy and sleep is difficult all around.

On the morning of Babygirl’s third birthday, LittleMan sobs and clutches at me in the playground at Kindergarten while Babygirl wails at my knee that she is suddenly thirsty.  The kind, possibly slightly overwhelmed teacher takes LittleMan’s hand and pulls him from me, and as he is gently tugged inside he turns, red-faced-mouth-open, and reaches his free arm for me like we might never meet again.  I feel sick to my stomach as I lean down to explain to Babygirl that we don’t have any water but we’ll get some when we pick up the cupcakes for her to take to school.  To which she responds: “I don’t WANT to take cupcakes to school!  I don’t WANT to share!”

I have the best intentions about these cupcakes.  There are several posh little cupcake factories near the new school but I decide instead to head to the trusty pastry shop in North Beach I have frequented for a couple of years.  The warm, almond-y smell of fond memories greets us when we enter and I finally start to relax, until I look through the glass and realize there are no cupcakes today.

Babygirl asks for a cookie.
“How about we do birthday cookies instead of birthday cupcakes?” I suggest.
“I want cupcakes,” she responds.  So much for staying on message.

There is another independent bakery a few blocks away, so we load back into the car and drive over there.  It is closed until 8:30 — an hour that wouldn’t have seemed problematic a few months ago but since the new Kindergarten starts at dawn we are still barely at 8am despite our North Waterfront Bakery Tour.  I turn to Babygirl.  “Mommy’s not winning any awards today, girlfriend,” I say.  “We’re going to Safeway.”

The North Point Safeway smells like stale Chinese food from the food court mingled with processed sugar wafting from the bakery, where I am headed.  There is one, lonely package of a dozen cupcakes, blobbed with red, white & blue frosting and adorned with toppers screaming “USA!  USA!”  I carry it to the counter.

“Do you have any cupcakes with, like, pink frosting?” I ask, holding up the patriotic package and gesturing towards Babygirl bouncing around my feet.

“I wanna hold the box!” she yells.

“All the cupcakes for the holiday,” says the baker.  It takes me several moments to process his response as I suddenly wonder if these cupcakes are leftover from July 4th…but wait, what day is it…and isn’t it September next week…am I that far gone right now?  These cupcakes, I am thinking, have held up freakishly well.

“Labor Day,” prompts the baker.

Labor Day.  Of course.  I always bust out my bunting and baked goods on Labor Day.

“Okay,” I sigh.  “C’mon, Babygirl, let’s pay.”

I am perusing the party napkins mournfully when the baker chases me down, flourishing a package of plain vanilla cupcakes.  “You want I put pink sprinkles on them?”

“YES!  Yes, I do want that, I would love that.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.”  I turn to Babygirl: “We’re going to put pink sprinkles on vanilla cupcakes!  That is so much better!”  We scurry after the baker, who hands her an M&M cookie while we wait.  I am so stressed out at this point that I don’t protest — she is about to eat pink sprinkle cupcakes, after all — and in fact I eat more than half the cookie.

The cupcakes are finished and Babygirl begins to jump around again.  “I wanna hold the box!  Lemme HOLD it!”
“No, Lovey, I need to pay and then we have to cross the big busy street to the car.  Mommy is going to hold the box.”
“NOOOOOOO!  I wanna hold the cupcakes!” she screams.
“Can we hold it together?”
“NO!  I hold it myself.” She bursts into tears.

I make my way to the cashier, pink sprinkle cupcakes in one hand, water bottle in the other (she’s thirsty, if you recall), and poor sad Birthday Babygirl trailing behind me.  We make it across Bay Street and I let her carry the cupcake box for the last leg, down the block to our parked car.

“You can carry it into school, too,” I assure her.
“Okay, but remember: No Sharing,” she reminds me.
“That’s not really the point…” I start, but then I decide to just buckle her in and drive.

All the friends and teachers greet Babygirl with cries of “Happy Birthday” when we arrive.  With barely a backward glance, she marches her box of cupcakes back to the kitchen where they will be served later.  I will leave the sharing conversation to her teachers for now.  “I love you, Babygirl!” I call back to her.  “Have a fun party with your friends today!”

I am headed out the door when her Skechers Twinkletoes flash down the Victorian hallway of the daycare apartment.  My Babygirl rushes my legs with a tight embrace, and I bend over her blond head and hug her close.  I remember, for a fleeting moment, when this enormous personality in my arms was barely ten days old, snoozing in the pre-dawn.  (Ironically, that was also the last time I struggled with Third-Birthday Cupcakes.  Third birthdays and I, it seems, are not a good match.)

I’m honestly not sure I’ve gotten any better at this.  But my life is fuller.  My plate is fuller.  My heart is fuller.

Maybe I’ll cut myself some slack today.  Maybe I’ll be happy just to raise a Safeway cupcake to my Babygirl.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I can feel your frustration, Jaime! You have the words and the means to convey feelings precisely. I look forward to these posts. It makes me feel closer to you and your little family.

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