The birthday cake I remember best wasn't my own. As with so many things, it was my older brother's cake that became the object of my desire. It was one of those supermarket bakery specials: nice and big and round, loaded down with butter creme frosting. What made this one unique was what came on top. It had a half dozen miniature astronaut figures all scrambling about the creamy surface of some distant planet, and right in the center was their ship. It may have only been six inches tall, but to me it appeared to stretch several stories into the sky. What made it even more impressive was that once it became unmoored from its icing, you could load the nose cone with caps that would snap when it hit the sidewalk.
I know that I was an ungrateful little twerp for never fully appreciating any of the cakes that were set before me over the years. It saddens me now to think of how I pined for that one perfect confection. I remember thinking that I could just ride my bike over to the local five and dime and buy my own cap rocket and astronauts. I knew right where they were, but there was still something so serendipitous about having all that cake delivered with all that fun right on top. It was more than my imperfect world view could stand.
And so the years passed. Now I watch the fabulous parade of cakes that passes in front of my son. I have learned a valuable lesson from him. He gets in on the design stage, and routinely supplies one of his own toys as the centerpiece. He's had Rescue Heroes and Bionicles, and last year his mother even managed to pull off a baked version of Speed Racer's Mach Five. There is a crew that gets together weeks advance to plan and fabricate, and even when sometimes their vision outstrips the eventual product, they always have fun putting it together. That's really the important thing: on your birthday, you really should be allowed to play with your food.