Our daughter turned 13 last week and my husband has been calling her a “Baker’s Dozen” since she blew out the candles. “I think that translates into 13 birthday cakes,” she said coolly. “And that nickname is going to have to stop.” (Enter: eye roll).
Like most 13-year-olds, she has an argument and an Instagram account — both of which are brimming with competing levels of creativity and angst. The phrase “Bakers Dozen” originated in medieval England when bakers were penalized for selling short weight in their loaves. To avoid hefty fines and punishment, bakers would throw in an extra loaf with each dozen, the 13th loaf included to ensure they met the established weight of the sale. So basically, “Baker’s Dozen” refers to medieval insurance — at least for bakers (since I have not heard of a “Monk’s Dozen” or a “Medics Dozen,” I can assume the town brewer and local apothecary did not suffer such scrutiny). Wheat was the currency of these times.
Time is the currency for parenting and birthdays, the timekeeper. In full disclosure, I am a birthday weeper. It does not matter which of my four children or which particular birthday: The tears are as punctual as Mary Poppins at teatime. In between the lights going out for the birthday cake candles and the lights going on for the birthday cake cutting, it is customary for me to wipe away a few untamed tears while I search for the ice cream scoop in the silverware drawer. Birthdays are the ache at the end of a long exhale, reminding me, no matter how celebratory, time is being spent quickly. For years, I baked ambitious, if not recognizable, cakes for the kids’ birthdays. Our photo albums report I spent an entire decade dedicated to sculpting cake animals with no identifying features other than oversized feet and intimidating teeth. My crowning achievement was a three-foot-long chocolate cake in the shape of a fish, complete with rainbow scales and, you got it, a full set of incisors. I ask you: Is there anything more rewarding than home video footage of your four-year child standing over glowing birthday candles and asking, “Is it an angry trout, Mommy?” No, I can assure you. No, it is not.
But, 13-year-old girls no longer want cakes shaped like roadkill. They want a tidy slice of New York cheesecake with berry compote on the side and an iced chai latte with pumpkin cold foam. This makes my heart ache. How can we be ready for compote and what exactly is cold foam?
At 13 years old, she is more lovely than I ever could have imagined. She is compassionate and witty, disciplined and wise. She seeks justice in every conversation and connection in every relationship. And I know I am biased, but when I catch my daughter reading in the dimming sunlight, with the long shadows spilling off her shoulders and long hair, I cannot help but think of Helen of Troy. Her face makes me understand how someone would start a war over such beauty. “The face that launched 1000 ships.” Indeed.
I am not ready for her to launch and for the health of my heart, I have decided to treat this 13 year like the 13th loaf in a “Bakers Dozen.”
Before the onset of teenage drama, before
the role reversal of me asking for her time instead of she asking for mine, before the highlighted hair and formal dances, the driver’s license, and the broken curfews — I want an extra year. I want to braid her hair before bedtime, hold her hand in the grocery store, watch her lick caramel off an entire apple, listen to her sing Taylor Swift breakup songs, and whisper secrets to her puppy.
I want to bake a really, really ugly birthday cake for her one more time.Thirteen will be the extra slice. And I guarantee, it will be savored.
Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.