Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Birthday blast off minus this astronaut January 11, 2023

Isaac posing with his solar system birthday cake. Note the diagram in front of him, the design he and his mom created before making the actual cake. Besides space, Isaac loves art and math and geography and…he’s only four. (Photo credit: Amber, image edited)

EVEN UP UNTIL THE EVENING PRIOR, I held hope that I could join the mission. But it was not to be.

I missed my grandson Isaac’s space-themed fourth birthday party on Saturday because I was still sick with a nasty cold*. Oh, how I wanted to be there for the celebration. But I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t in all good conscience expose anyone to this virus. So I hugged Randy goodbye, told him to have a good time and broke down crying.

Until that moment, I didn’t fully realize how much I had been anticipating this gathering of family to celebrate a little boy’s big day. Not any little boy. But my beloved grandson. To miss his party proved beyond disappointing.

I busied myself during party time by taking down Christmas decorations, reading, compiling a grocery list for Randy, basically doing whatever to distract myself from the celebration unfolding 35 minutes away.

Occasionally Randy and Isaac’s mom, our daughter Amber, would text a photo. The space-themed table décor. The space-themed gifts Isaac loved, including a fleece blanket from Eclectic Alliance in Faribault. And the space-themed birthday cake Amber created with the input of her son who is an expert in all things solar system. I’m not exaggerating.

Amber used this photo of her brother Caleb’s solar system birthday cake as a guide in creating Isaac’s cake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2001)

It was the cake, though, that meant the most to me, even if I wasn’t there to eat it. Earlier in the week Amber requested a photo of her brother Caleb’s long ago solar system birthday cake. The bakery where she typically buys her kids’ cakes was temporarily closed, thus she would need to make Isaac’s cake.

This photo shows a page in an altered book created for me by my friend Kathleen (following my mom’s death a year ago). This page is dedicated to the birthday cakes mom made. That’s me at age two with my clown cake. That’s my mom, late in life, to the left. And to the right is the vintage cake design book that inspired Mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

I was thrilled. I grew up with my mom making all of my birthday cakes, the designs often chosen from a “Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cake” booklet. I followed the tradition, crafting my three kids’ birthday cakes*. And now this was continuing into the third generation, albeit maybe for just one year. Time will tell.

Together, Amber and Isaac designed the solar system birthday cake—a round cake (the sun) ringed by cupcakes (the eight planets). Isaac had strong opinions about colors and lay-out. Uncle Caleb texted from Indiana that when he celebrated his seventh birthday with a solar system cake, there was one more planet. Pluto.

In the end, I got Mars, set aside especially for me per my request. Randy also brought home three slices of sun and left-over pizza. When I bit into Mars, I tasted the sweetness of the cake and the love that went into creating it. I may have missed the actual party, but my loving family texted messages (“The presents were a hit”) and photos during the party and then saved some cake for me. In the absence of presence, I was still included in the mission of a special little boy blasting off into another year of life. We have lift-off!

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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*I tested negative for COVID twice. Symptoms differed from COVID, but I wanted to be certain. Note, if you’re sick, please stay home, because you will make someone else (like me) ill.

*My two daughters on several occasions made their younger brother’s birthday cakes when they were all still living at home. There’s an eight-year age gap between youngest and oldest.