Each year on Super Bowl Sunday our church hosts a Male Bake-off. It's a pretty big deal, with some of the entrants spending weeks planning their desserts and hours, if not days, preparing them. Matt has entered every year but one since we have been members, and has come away with some kind of prize from every contest. His aspirations are always high, with the Weirdness Cup or Poison Control award his goal. His dreams are often fulfilled and his desserts are, mostly, memorable. (Many people still talk about the Cat Box cake over ten years later.)
Isaac entered the contest for the first time last year and received First Place in the Boys category for a peanut butter pie we had seen in an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network. Matt came away with his second Weirdness Cup in a row for . . . something. Isaac was hooked and when the contest was announced this year he started talking about wanting to win First Place again.
The catch was that he and Matt had already decided on the desserts they would make -- Candy Sushi for Isaac and Pineapple Rum Cake for Matt. We thought the Rum Cake might have a fighting chance for something other than Burnt Offering, but we doubted that Candy Sushi would garner a First Pace trophy. So we began preparing Isaac for something less. We talked about how he would feel to get a Weirdness Cup like his dad, or to get the Most Creative Award. We even showed him the Burnt Offering trophy that morning, which had a lot of coolness points with its blazing inferno and fireman.
So, I vacated the house while the dessert prep was taking place last weekend and we hauled the sweets to church Sunday morning. I should probably mention that it is written in the rules that certain entries will automatically win something, with kids being assured of a trophy. It is a contest, but it is also good fun. I should also probably mention that we are good friends with two of the three people who judged the contest this year and I was babysitting their 5 month-old son while they judged the contest. But their ethics are impeccable, really.
As the awards were being announced, I watched Isaac to see how he was reacting. The Boys category passed and he was not recognized. No big surprise . . . Matt and I were sure Isaac had a lock of Weirdness Cup. Matt won Men's 1st Place much to our, and everyone else's, surprise. Then the Weirdness Cup was awarded, but not to Isaac. I was a little worried, but there were a few other trophies I thought he could get. Then Most Creative went by as did Poison Control and Burnt Offering. Not much was left and I was getting anxious. There was always the possibility that they had left him out of the list and I did not want to consider the ramifications.
When it got down to the last two prizes, Judge's Award reserved for the judges' favorite dessert, and Best In Show, I just knew we were going to have a meltdown. I felt horrible. Worse than Isaac because he did not realize at that point that his chances for a trophy had passed. I ached for him and his disappointment. I don't want him to grow up expecting to win or feeling like he deserves it just because he enters. I want him to have a healthy view of competition, and losing is part and parcel of competing. But the Male Bake-off is safe, at least for a few years. It was supposed to be a sure thing, and when it looked like the safety net was failing I realized how hard it would be for me to see him disappointed. I did not feel prepared to comfort him or know what to say to make him feel better. He would be hurt and there was nothing I could do about it. At that moment, it hit me how hard being a parent can be. I have realized it before, but the reality can dim. Right then, it was crystal clear.
It seems silly that I was that worked up over a baking contest trophy. Especially now with Isaac's Judge's Award sitting on his dresser downstairs. It turned out that the one judge that we did not know absolutely loved the Candy Sushi, especially the cocoa crispy version with the candied bacon. (Our friends are vegetarians and deferred to the third judge when this decision was made.) But I hope that Isaac and I both learned a lesson from this year's contest. I will never underestimate the power of doing something different and daring that makes you stand out from the crowd. Isaac's dessert was definitely unique among the chocolate confections and more traditional desserts and it paid off. And I hope Isaac will remember that being able to have fun and laugh, even at your own expense, during the process is more valuable than the ultimate reward.