When I was in grade school I read Number The Stars by Lois Lowry about little girls living in Denmark during the Holocaust. Since the Nazi occupation, resources are scarce but the little sister, Kirsti, longs for a “big yellow cupcake, with pink frosting.” For some reason, I have never forgotten this detail.
My daughters both have summer birthdays so they miss out on the fanfare of having a school day birthday. Instead, we celebrate their half-birthdays. Today we celebrated my sweet Savannah sunshine’s four and a half birthday. I sat in a tiny purple chair and read a few of her favorite books to a bunch of wide-eyed, pink frosting-covered, grinning little faces.
Milestones always make me sentimental, even arbitrary ones, like a fifteen-minute preschool half-birthday party, but I genuinely believe in celebrating as much as we can, while we can.
When I was in first grade, I remember the exact moment I heard my teacher say the word “war” as it related to the Gulf War. As a Senior in high school, I remember silently watching Mrs. Goldberg scrawl the name “Osama Bin Laden” across the chalk board on September 11th. My own first grade daughter overhears words in the media like “protest” and “gender inequality” and “racism.” Though I grew up hearing about military conflicts, my own children are growing up amidst wars between all kinds of people, and it’s nearly impossible to tell if anyone is winning.
But my little four and a half year old is still blissfully unaware of such topics. She thinks the President’s name is Donald Trumpet and once asked me to help her fill out a postcard to send to the White House because she overheard concerns of people losing their rights, but she heard “writes” and surmised he was stealing crayons and various other items. For real, we actually sent a postcard we tore out of a Highlights magazine to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue asking the President to please stop taking things from people and also give Savannah her fictitious stuff back. She doesn’t worry that someday someone could come into her school with intention to hurt people for no reason. She thinks skin tones come in colors called “brown” and “blonde.” She doesn’t live in fear of friends or family being deported. She doesn’t worry that she’ll be denied an education because she’s female.
And she loves cupcakes.
So as silly as it may sound, I made these symbolic cupcakes to mark an arbitrary milestone with a bunch of preschoolers today. Because I can.
And that’s something to celebrate.
“Mama, is there anything to eat?” Annemarie asked, hoping to take her mother’s mind away from the soldiers.
“Take some bread. And give a piece to your sister.”
“With butter?” Kirsti asked hopefully.
“No butter,” her mother replied. “You know that.”
Kirsti sighed as Annemarie went to the breadbox in the kitchen. “I wish I could have a cupcake,” she said. “A big yellow cupcake, with pink frosting.”
Her mother laughed. “For a little girl, you have a long memory,” she told Kirsti. “There hasn’t been any butter, or sugar for cupcakes, for a long time. A year, at least.”
“When will there be cupcakes again?”
“When the war ends,” Mrs. Johansen said.
She glanced through the window, down to the street corner where the soldiers stood, their faces impassive beneath the metal helmets. “When the soldiers leave.”
-Lois Lowry, Number The Stars