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moMENts by Patrick Hempfing

I’ll remember this birthday. 

I had a fine day with the usual goodies – a few presents, a birthday kiss from my wife, Mattie, lots of birthday cards, a big hug from my daughter, Jessie, and a cake, well sort of. Before I dive into the icing of this story, I want to emphasize that the cake is not the most important part of my birthday. In other words, I’m not complaining about my “sort of” birthday cake.

A couple of weeks before my birthday, Jessie and I were shopping when she spotted Colorflame candles. I had never heard of these, but for only $2.75 I could purchase a box of 12 candles that burn red, purple, green, blue, and orange flames. Jessie quickly gave her sales pitch. “Dad, these candles are awesome!” I must admit, I thought they were pretty neat, and they even came with a dozen candle holders, but I couldn’t see spending 25 cents per candle, plus tax, no matter what primary or secondary color they would display. Somehow, though, Jessie’s eyes twinkled exactly the right color, and a few moments later, I stood at the cash register with my wallet open.

Each year, Mattie and Jessie make a Jell-O cake for my birthday. They bake a white cake. After it cools, they add boiling water to gelatin mix. Next, Jessie stabs the cake with a fork and pours the fruit-flavored liquid into the holes and it seeps into the cake. For icing, they mix powdered sugar and Cool Whip. I make a wish, blow out a few candles, and we dive in. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

A week before my birthday, Mattie asked if I would pick up Cool Whip when I did my grocery shopping. I knew the plan. Yum, Yum. I responded, “I’d be glad to, Dear.” So I added Cool Whip to my grocery list and purchased it during my regular shopping trip.

Two days before my birthday, Mattie, after checking the pantry, said, “I thought Jessie said we had a white cake mix. I don’t see any. Would you mind picking up a box? And if you want a certain Jell-O flavor, please buy that, too.” I replied, “No problem, Dear,” and purchased the cake mix and cherry-flavored Jell-O that evening.

The day before my birthday, Jessie began to sniffle and cough. I grumbled to Mattie, “Oh no, she’s coming down with a cold.” When I woke Jessie for school on my birthday, sure enough, she had a cold. The plan called for Jessie to bake my cake when she returned home from school to give it time to cool. Then, when Mattie came home from work, Mattie and Jessie would mix the Jell-O and make the icing.

When I picked Jessie up from school, I could tell her cold had worsened. She loves to work in the kitchen, so I knew she felt lousy when she turned down the opportunity to bake my cake. She suggested that I call Mattie and ask her to come home to bake it because she didn’t feel up to it. Rather than bother Mattie, I decided to bake my own cake while Jessie rested. No problem; this stay-at-home dad’s job description covers just about everything.

Mattie came home tired. Jessie’s cold, on her scale of one to ten, had hit twelve. The birthday boy had a white cake, but no fork holes, Jell-O, or icing. Mattie offered to finish the cake, but I said, “Let’s just celebrate my birthday tomorrow.”

The next day, Jessie felt better. She stabbed the cake, and with a little help from her mom, finished it. Jessie placed Colorflame candles in their holders and inserted them into the icing. She ran around the house and turned out all the lights. Then I struck a few matches to light my candles. As Mattie and Jessie sang “Happy Birthday,” I stared at the colorful flames and made a wish before blowing them out.

I’m glad I bought the candles. I didn’t mind making two trips to the grocery store for the ingredients. Heck, it didn’t even matter that I had to bake my own cake and didn’t get to taste it on my birthday. The smiles of Mattie and Jessie were sweeter than the icing on the cake. It wasn’t sort of a good moment, it was a great one.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Independence Day! May your family’s smiles glow brighter than fireworks. 

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting, and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and writer. www.facebook.com/patricklhempfing. Follow Patrick@PatrickHempfing