My son recently had a birthday. Since our area is still amid a significant COVID outbreak, we decided to keep the birthday party to just the family this year. Without the prospect of celebrating with a bunch of friends, I wanted to make sure that we did something special and memorable.

I asked my son what kind of cake he wanted, and he described it in passionate detail: “I want an ice cream cake - strawberry ice cream - with yellow cake and white frosting and I want it to say Happy Birthday with my name on it in red letters.” His face lit up in a way that I kept thinking to myself this was going to be an easy task to bring so much joy. I opened my laptop, put in the custom order, received the confirmation and all was set to go. When it was time to pick up the cake, the order was ready as expected and delivered precisely how I ordered it. Another part of the birthday deal we had was that my son got to pick out what we had for dinner for the entire weekend and tonight he picked food from his favorite, family run Italian restaurant just down the road from our house. On the way home from the cake pickup, I swung by the restaurant and picked up the food right on time. Things were going exactly to plan. This was as efficient as a parent errand run could ever be. When I got home, I popped open my trunk and grabbed the ice cream cake and went to the refrigerator in our garage. The freezer was full, and I was going to have to shuffle some things around before I could get the cake in there. Rather than mess with that I decided to put the cake in the fridge momentarily so I could get our nice and hot dinner into the house. I planned on coming right back out and moving the cake into the freezer. I had it in my mind that I would be right back, except life happened. I got distracted. I called my daughter downstairs to come help me with the food. I told my son to go wash his hands. I told my wife the food was on the counter. I was trying not to drag my wet shoes through the kitchen since it had just started raining. I was parenting, managing, juggling, prioritizing like we do a thousand times a day.

The birthday party time (the time to eat cake) was set for 2 PM the next day. Around noon, I was heating up some of the delicious pizza left over from last night, and I thought I should move the cake from the garage freezer to the indoor freezer in preparation for the party. As I descended the stairs from our house into the garage to grab the cake, I immediately felt a sense of dread and panic. I remembered everything from last night, but the thing that I do not remember doing was coming back down these stairs to move the cake - because I didn’t. As I opened the fridge, I hoped beyond hope that somehow, the temperature inside the fridge would have magically dropped, defying physics and explanation to keep the ice cream cake frozen. Not surprisingly, none of that happened and I opened the door to find a perfectly melted ice cream cake.

How could I have been so stupid? I literally had one job and I failed in such an epic, careless, stereotypical dumb dad kind of way, it was astonishing. I was mad, sad, angry, disappointed, and depressed all in the blink of an eye. With little time to spare, I took a few moments to compose myself and then quickly jumped in to Plan B and went back to the store to grab a close approximate back-up cake. When I picked up the cake the day before, I had noticed a freezer case by the register that had a few strawberry ice cream cakes as I was waiting for my custom cake to be retrieved from behind the counter. Little did I know, that was the cake I would also take home. See? My memory does work! As I picked up the cake from the freezer, the employee behind the counter happily asked if I wanted anything written on it. If I wasn’t so time constrained and in a public place, I probably would have wept right there on the spot. Little did they know, but this employee just saved me from making another mental blunder of forgetting my son’s request. I answered “could you please write ‘Happy Birthday Vince’ in red letters”? Within two minutes, I was out the door with a cake that looked close to what I originally wanted, but I was not going to continue to beat myself up. In the end, my son loved the cake. Even though it wasn’t exactly the way he described it to me, he said it was one of the best cakes he had ever had which I consider high praise from a 7-year-old.

In retrospect, this experience perfectly summed up what life has been like in this pandemic for all of us. Parents are scattered trying to remember “all of the things” on any given day: lunch boxes, assignments, charged Chromebooks, water bottles, masks, jacket, gloves, shoes…the list goes on. Some days we do, some days we don’t. We are all bringing the best version of ourselves to work that we can muster even though there are days we feel like we are failing at everything no matter how hard we try. We are consistently dealing with tempering our expectations, planning for the worst, hoping for the best. Pivoting. Shifting. Even though I failed miserably at giving my son the cake he asked for, I reminded myself that the only way I would truly fail was if I didn’t try at all. We all fail and that is okay. It is what we do in the face of failure that makes us stronger and more resilient. Acknowledge the failure and then move on - don’t dwell on it. Failed a certification exam? So what? Take it again. Made a mistake at work? Sure, we all do. Try again. Completely underwater at home, in life? Ask for help - everyone has been there, and we are all there now. If there is anything that working in technology or being married for over 17 years has taught me is that no one knows “all of the things” and we all need to give each other some grace. We’re human which means, we’re not perfect. Sometimes when everything goes wrong, we still wind up with cake.

Also, kudos to Cold Stone Creamery for the awesome cakes. I can only vouch for how the second one tasted, but the first one looked to be perfection.