Gather ’round and let me tell you a story of Ye Olden Days, when kindergarten in Massachusetts was not even part of the public school system. I, Wiggles, matriculated at The Red Door School Kindgergarten in Framingham, MA, where my older brother Peter Pupcake was king of the playground and a talented artist in all juvenile media. I, on the other hand, mainly played dress-up by myself in a back hall and referred to my own artwork – and rightly so – as “scribble” whenever Mummy attempted to praise it. Frankly, the only way they tricked me into being there at all was that I followed my beloved leader Peter wherever he went.
Though I generally loathed formal education from the get-go, I was jazzed about my birthday celebration because Mummy hauled in stacks of mini cupcakes, absolutely delicious confections of vanilla cake and orange icing. Yummy and pretty, my ideal.
All went swimmingly until it was time to depart. Not a cupcake in sight. And, believe me, as a devoted Jewish Mother, Jeanne had brought scads more little delicacies than even a pack of four and five year olds could devour.
Wiggles: “Where are my cupcakes?”
Mummy: “Um, Miss X (one of the teachers) took them home.”
Wiggles: “But they’re my cupcakes. My birthday cupcakes.”
Mummy: “You know, her husband’s a student and they don’t have a lot of money.”
Can you imagine she’s telling this to a four year old? Could I care, let alone process these comments? As Hot Pants’ jeweler likes to say, WAIT!
Wiggles: “If she had asked me, I would have given her some.”
At the time, I considered this the height of reasonableness, and, my dears, I still do. Am I not sharing, that most prized of all early education virtues?
Mummy: “But they’re gone. She’s taken them home.”
Wiggles: “I want them back. They’re mine. I’m going to ask for them back.”
By this point, Jeanne was frantically hustling me to our car. Not that removing me from the scene of the crime did much good. I repeatedly informed her that I intended to ask for the goodies back. So much so that she kept me home from school for a week.
Crazy as it sounds and crazy as I know I am, the Great Cupcake Incident colored my life. My birthday, in particular, felt damaged. There was a rash of “surprise” parties during the year everyone turned sixteen, and I hightailed it from Bergen County, NJ up to Rochestser, NY to visit camp friends in the hopes of avoiding the ritual celebration. (Not that I was so popular that anyone was chomping at the bit to provide this joy to me, but, still, one never knows.) I’d already suffered through a 9th grade surprise party that I had specifically told my bosom friend Diane not to throw, since in junior high I knew I had no network of friends and she’d be forcing her friends to be there. She was a dear heart to do it, but it’s safe to say rarely has the honoree been as sour as I was at that ill-fated fete. Meanwhile, up in Rochester, my camp friends rassled up a cake and invited their friends, who were puzzled, to say the least, that I’d shmushed my frosted name off the cake. Such a charming teenager.
My fury at the kindergarten teacher who’d stolen my bday delights raged on and on and on. No one was safe from my scathing recounting of the great tragedy I had suffered through, though clearly not risen above. Now, I don’t want to say I’m slow, but it wasn’t until my 50th (when I commissioned my own cake with the inscription: “Happy Birthday, Wiggles, You Old Hag”) that I realized how misdirected my rage at Miss X had been. She didn’t take my cupcakes like a thief in broad daylight, my own mother had given them to her. Given how upset I was – for a whole week afterward insisting I intended to confront my poor teacher – why didn’t Jeanne do something? How about buying me a coupla more cupcakes? Or even unraveling their journey and giving Miss X a new stash to “return” to me? Something, Mummy? Anything?
Believe it or not, at the ripe old age of 56, this story has a happy ending.
While up in Boston to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of one Benjamin James Shufro, Cousin Wil’s son, Hot Pants pulled a fast one on me. Not hard to do, as I am, as reported often here, slow on the uptake. The scene: Chinatown, a fabulous Chinese restaurant in Stoughton, MA. The time: that groggy spell post-feeding frenzy as family, slumped in a group food coma, sat around the table.
Hot Pants: “Wiggles, does Cousin Marijane know about your birthday cupcakes?”
That was all the prompting I needed to launch into the full-tilt horror of my stolen treats. Everyone at the table leaned in, though some of them had heard this tale of woe ad nauseum.
Hot Pants: “Wiggles, I think you’ve suffered long enough.”
And from the bag which she blithely had passed off as cannolis she’d been asked to lug from NYC, she unveiled a big box of….mini cupcakes of vanilla cake with orange frosting.
What followed next can best be described as keening. From deep in my soul I moaned, in utter shock, awe, jubilation. If you want to know how extraordinary my sister is, here’s your proof. Hot Pants transformed my life in that moment.
Of course, Jeanne promptly set off a new trauma by running over and exclaiming, “I told Hot Pants to do it!” To which H.P. heatedly replied, “That is a lie! You did not do that, Mah!” (Stay tuned for that fiasco to unfold.)
Meanwhile, I am, truly, a new version of myself. Somehow more open and loving and, most of all, calm. “Thank you” seems puny, but, believe me, Hot Pants, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart. It took some time, but I got my cupcakes back!