Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Birthday Cake and other disasters

Tonight, husband is watching Coyote Ugly. He is very excited. Thinks a bar like this in our area would be a fantastic idea. I am just thinking: I never knew Tara Banks looked so hot long, long time ago?

Oh, mother in law of mine.

I feel pretty ungrateful right now, to be honest. My mother in law is nice. She is helpful, and is very good at things I am not good at. Such as cleaning, cooking and playing educational games with my daughter. So I was, of course, very grateful when she came down all the way from North Wales (and that’s far if you don’t know.. It takes the same time in a car that it would on a plane to Baku) for my child’s birthday party.

After usual stressing out and planning every little detail, it all sort of worked fine. I have to say sort of, because there was some ghost child I did not account for. However many times I counted all the children coming to my house, I ended up getting 11. I had two Excel sheets with all the names written down. Twice: one at work, and one at home. Both had 11 children on them. In the end, there were 12.

But other than that, it all went pretty well.

Except for…the birthday cake.

The etiquette around here is to buy a pretty, often tasteless, cake with thick icing and themed decoration of your child’s choice. The cake gets brought out at the end of the party, with the usual singing and blowing off the candles, but the kids do not actually eat the cake right there and then. A hostess would cut it into chunks, wrap in tissues and place it in party bags to take home with them.

In my usual obsessive manner, I had spent days searching for the perfect cake. Considering my daughter is a girl and has turned 4, it had to be pink and ideally fairy or princess themed.

The fairy one from Tesco seemed too small to me. Waitrose did not have any pink ones. M&S one was too big. In the end, I found one that was just right.

Do you want me to cut the cake up? - asked my mother in law at the end of the party. Gratefully, I agreed. When I returned in 10 minutes, I noticed something that to an Azeri host would mean a disaster.

My mother in law was struggling to squeeze a large portion (more than a half) of the cake into a metal tin. She had that much left, after cutting off 11 pieces.

There they were, right in front of me. Wrapped in pretty tissues, shaped like little flat squares: a size of a business card holder.

The Azeri hostess inside me was mortified. If I ever did anything like that back home, other moms would bitch about me for months after. Here, things might be slightly more merciful. I am sure everybody noticed just how stingy my portions of the cake were. British mothers are polite, but not blind. However, manners would (hopefully) stop them from discussing it in the open.

I knew not to say anything to my mother in law. Should I have questioned the size of pieces at that stage, I would have looked like a very ungrateful daughter in law. She was trying to help. And what do I do? Complain. So I did not say anything.

But I just wanted to know why. There must be some logical reason behind this. Nobody really wants half of a birthday cake left.

So, I resisted for 24 hrs, and then I said something anyway. Because that is just me, unfortunately. I get something boiling inside me, and have to get it out in the open.

I told her I was surprised to see how much cake was left. She of course, got defensive, and explained that, by the time we had a piece each, and sent two pieces to the cousins in North Wales….......

Of course! The cousins! So that is it, I thought to myself, simmering down.

She just wanted her other granddaughters, even though they are well past the pink icing age, to get a piece. And that, of course, never crossed my mind. I would imagine at the age of 14, pink icing is not something they think about.

Nevertheless, I felt guilty, and, at the same time, annoyed. Because, the problem is, I don’t do hints or hidden agendas very well. In my head, things are easy. If you want a piece of cake for someone else, you ask.

I would gladly rid of that tasteless cake anyway. It is not like it is my mother’s Napoleon.

But whether it is a British thing, or just my mother in law’s thing, she would unfortunately, never chose that simple route. Instead, she would keep her real motif a secret, and have some elegantly planned secret plot.

And I am still learning the intricacies of communication when it comes to different cultures. And mothers in law.


  1. I guess you'll never know if this is a British thing or your mother in law's thing.
    And I'll give you a tip: when having guests over, always add one or two more guests. My grandma used to do it that way. She said she always counted an extra portion for "the angel". She was a wise woman I'm starting to know better just now, seven years after her passing away.

  2. Gabriela,

    "One or two" seems like a reasonable idea.
    Azeri way would include 10 very hungry angels at least! :)) I loved your grandma's saying. More please.

  3. aww don't worry :) Grandmas have their own ways of doing stuff. I can write for hours about my own Azeri grandma lol. The most important thing is that she came all the way from North Wales to celebrate the birthday of her granddaughter :))))

    and btw, is your mother in law Welsch? They have really cool accents!

  4. Sabina: No, not Welsh just live there.

  5. just a mother in law thing ...believe me xxx

  6. Why would you want 4-years olds to eat any more of that unhealthy cake? With all the icing and fake cream, they wouldn't be able to digest large pieces anyway, and even if they would, that won't do them any good.

    I'd say, NHS owes one to your mother in law...

  7. @Riyad: Oy! As we say in Russian: Whose friend are you, mine or the bear's? :)))

  8. I think is very much grandmotherly of your MIL to think about her other grandchildren. Maybe we'll understand when we are her age and are grandparents ourselves. However, I think she should have told you about her plan beforehand:) But overall, I agree with Riyad - who wants their kids to have a late night sugar buzz anyway:) So, I think the parents were thanking you for the "stingy" pieces:)))))))))))Happy B-day to your daughter again!

    PS: Why not link to cake Napoleon from my blog?:))))))))) Sorry for a little self promotion here.

  9. @Farida: Done! I am sorry, I should have totally thought of linking the napoleon to your blog, can't believe I have not done so! And it has a picture of it too. :) You are right to suggest it. We have to self-promote. Nobody else will do it for you! :))

  10. @Farida: You have a very cool site! The photographs are amazing...

  11. Heven't been reading much of you recently. Happy Birthday sounds a bit late, but I wish you and your girl all the best:)You sounded sooo Azeri in this post.

  12. Scary, I was in your place 3 years ago, when I did even worse than you! I baked a birthday cake for my daughter myself! There were couple of russian moms who tried it and loved it! But american moms didn't understand it really :)))
    It was the first and the last time I did it.
    About your mother in law... I was touched. Ithink it is actually cute... May be because it is not my mother in law.