I have a friend who has been on a mission lately.  She, like me, is the mother of three.   We have developed a friendship of sorts, over the last couple of years, talking sometimes while I wait in her foyer for my kids, or she waits in mine for hers, or while we both wait to pick up our kids from their common extra- curricular activities.  One afternoon as we were waiting on the deck of the local pool for the kids to finish up at a pool party, she asked me quietly, in a conspiratorial tone, “What do you think about bringing cupcakes for your kids’ birthday at school?” 

“I hate it,” I said, and I do, for so many reasons.  I told her that in the last place we lived, the school had banned birthday cupcakes. 

Her eyes lit up.  “That’s what I want!” she said.  “I want to ban birthday cupcakes!”  She had a gleam in her eye that told me she meant business.  She went on to tell me that one of her children had some pretty severe food allergies, and that birthday cupcakes had been the chief cause of several bad reactions. “I’m trying to start a movement” she laughed, “Do you want to join?”

“I’ll join your movement,” I said, I didn’t have to think about it, not for one second.  Life would be so much easier without the thrice yearly school birthday celebration, which I must organize in addition to the friends birthday party, and the family birthday party. I also have the bad luck that two of my children have birthdays that fall during school vacations, so I’m expected to throw a school party on their half-birthdays.  Sigh.  I can hardly keep up with the scheduling and shopping for their actual birthdays. 

“Let me know what you need me to do.” I told her. This was a movement I could muster the energy to get behind!

“I’ll be in touch” she called out over her shoulder with a smile, as we took the hands of our little ones and started walking toward our respective minivans.”I’ll let you know what I need.”

“What was that all about?” asked Angel #2, looking at me sideways, through squinty eyes, just the way I look at her when I suspect she is up to no good.

“Oh, nothing” I answered, attempting to keep my facial expression neutral but feeling at once guilty and elated.  The Angels have always loved having cupcakes at school as another way to celebrate their birthdays.  I felt a little bit bad about working against what makes them happy, but I couldn’t help being in favor of an idea that’s good for their health and would save a lot of my time and energy, not to mention money.  For me it was a no brainer. 

I was surprised, no stunned, to hear a few days later that not everyone agreed with me.  One of the moms at the bus stop, someone I happen to really like, said angrily, arms crossed over her chest, that there was a mom at school making noise about a cupcake ban. ”It’s a free country,” she said.  “I ought to be able to bring cupcakes if I want to!” she said.  I burst out laughing, thinking she must be joking.  She wasn’t.  Based on the tornadic look on her face, I’m sure I offended her.  I apologized, as I often must, for things that come out of my mouth, and told her I respectfully disagreed.  What I didn’t say was that I live in a free country too; I thought her freedom to bring cupcakes to school infringed on my freedom to choose what my kids eat.  I hope she and I are still friends, but at this point I’m not so sure. 

A few days after that, I met a different friend for coffee.  Guess what the main topic of conversation was?  You’re right!  Birthday cupcakes!  Parents seemed to care about this, and they seemed to be choosing sides.  My coffee friend was also in favor of birthday cupcakes. She said she didn’t mind bringing cupcakes because it made her kids happy.  Her kids would be upset if they couldn’t celebrate at school.  I felt another quick flash of guilt (my primary emotion these days).  I knew the ban would make my kids unhappy too.  I knew I was for the ban mostly because I didn’t want to do the work of three additional birthday parties a year.  I so wish I was the enthusiastic-about-school-parties, smile-in-the-face-of-extra-chores, energetic-without-caffeine sort of mom, but I’m not.  I’m more of a feel-good-if-the-kids-are-still-alive-at-bedtime, can-hardly-stay-awake-to-be-the-tooth-fairy, try-to-think-of-ways-to-get-out-of-the-fundraiser sort of mom. I suspected better parents didn’t mind the whole extra project of birthday cupcakes.  But I’m not winning any mother of the year awards, because I do mind.

But then I checked my guilt.  Just because I was feeling lazy about my kids happiness doesn’t mean all those cupcakes are good for them.  Honestly, (I’m quoting John Rosemond here) “it’s a child’s birthday, not the second coming of Christ.”  Is it reasonable for my kids to expect three birthday parties a year, or am I encouraging the growth of their already inflated feelings of entitlement by doing it?  Is my perception that all the other mommies joyfully do whatever it takes to make their kids happy a true one, or do the other mommies, like me, fantasize that the PTA would take this one small thing off the to-do list?    Besides, wasn’t a cupcake ban the best choice for the kids’ health? I knew I should make the choice that’s best for the kids.  So what if that choice also had the positive side effect of un-sticking the “bad guy” label from my lapel for a few minutes.  It’s a win-win really:  not only would children be healthier both physically and psychologically, but the big bad school administration would accept the role of villain in my place, just this once.        

In any case, the idea that seemed like manna from heaven to me was upsetting to other parents.  My friend’s little ban-the-cupcakes idea was turning into a controversy.  As the few weeks passed between my first conversation about the issue and the vote at the PTA meeting, I heard a lot of moms say they were in favor of cupcakes.  I heard it in the grocery store line.  I heard it in the Starbucks line. I heard it from the next aisle at the Home Depot.  I realized two things.  One, the moms around here don’t have enough to worry about (there are death, disease, homelessness, and starvation in the world, and we’re all worked up about cupcakes) and second, my support of the cupcake ban was more galvanized than ever.  

There are so many good reasons to find some happiness causing alternative to food treats for birthdays.  The first, and clearly most important of these, as my ban-the-cupcakes friend knew all too well, is the issue of allergies.  Lots of kids are allergic to nuts; even more are allergic to Gluten.  At the very least, allergic kids get left out of the celebration, which doesn’t feel good.  At the very worst, it’s possible for a child to die from birthday cupcakes.  No joke here, no sarcasm.  Nut allergies and other food allergies can be lethal.   Do we really want to take that kind of risk?  Even for happiness?

Good nutrition and health are another issue to consider.  Think about it:  If each child has twenty-five children in his class, that’s twenty -five more chemical laden artificially colored cupcakes with two inches of shortening and sugar gracing the top per year.  Add that to all the other junk food our kids eat, like Halloween candy, Christmas candy, and now Valentine’s Day candy. (Valentine’s Day used to be about paper cards, now the cards are required to have a piece of candy taped to them.)  Then comes Easter, which has somehow morphed from hiding colored eggs, the kind that come out of chickens, into another day of gorging on high fructose corn syrup. There is no doubt in my mind that soon MLK Day, President’s Day,  Saint Patrick’s Day, and gosh-darn Confederate Independence Day will be candy holidays too.  Plus, it seems like everywhere we go, some well meaning person hands my kids a coke, or a lollipop, to be nice.  It never seems to end.  Couldn’t we just skip the birthday cupcakes?  Seriously, it’s not like the kids will go without sweets.

Even if it’s okay with you to exclude children who are unlucky enough to have allergies, even if it’s okay with you if your child has all those extra servings of junk food, let’s consider the time and energy spent by school staff on Birthday cupcakes.  My kids attend our neighborhood public school, nothing fancy, but the staff there is made up of highly trained, highly skilled, highly qualified professionals who get paid next to nothing.  Most of them hold advanced degrees.  I suspect the teachers at your kids’ school are the same.  Do we really want them to spend their precious time and expertise serving, supervising, and cleaning up the mess from cupcakes?  I don’t.  In these lean educational times, fraught with early release and furlough days, I want the teachers to spend their limited time teaching, not waiting on my children.  I want my children to spend their limited time at school learning, not being waited on.

Besides, there are so many other healthy and educational ways to make kids happy on their birthdays!  Songs, a special hat or badge, or having the kids all write a birthday message to the birthday girl or boy are some suggestions.  I would be happy to come to school and read my child’s favorite book to give them a treat for their special day (or in my case their special day plus six months).  How about we replace cupcakes with a non-food treat?

Then I got the E-mail from my brave ban-the-cupcake friend.  She gave me the date and the time of the PTA meeting and asked that I show up to speak in support of the cause.  Surprise, it turned out I couldn’t make to the PTA meeting because my schedule was already full.  (My three kids had three basketball practices in two locations and it was my husband’s bowling night).  It was just as well; I express myself much more clearly in writing, and after  all I had heard, I was feeling mildly intimidated by the opposition.  I know from experience that political dissent against the PTA has the potential to get very nasty.  So, I wrote a letter instead.  I gave my opinion, emailed it to my partner in crime, and told her she could use it any way she wished.   I don’t know if she used it or not, but low and behold, cupcakes were banned in a unanimous vote!  I guess I’m not the odd mom, out after all. 

The icing on this particular cupcake is that the Angels weren’t unhappy at all.  There were no fits or tears.  None of them mentioned it.  They didn’t even notice that cupcakes had disappeared from the classroom, which inspires me to start another movement.  Do you think they’d notice if blue ”juice” and candy bars disappeared after Saturday morning sporting events, to be replaced by a crazy little thing called a healthy lunch?

Anybody want to join?