My darling, delightful daughter turned 12 yesterday. I am only one year away from having two de facto teenagers in the house. I'm only 52 weeks away from the much-dreaded/highly anticipated (depending upon your family station) teen years and all the hormones and acne and antics thereof. I am only 18 score and five days away from realizing no one will ever again take my word as final, my opinions as golden, or my perspective as valid.
Shall we pray?
In truth, my girl is a joy. She's got worries (oh boy), but she works it out -- admirably. She's navigating the cliques and classes of middle school with aplomb. She's smart and able and funny and athletic and giving and loyal. And while she doesn't hesitate to lay the world's woes at my feet, she's just as quick to spin around and ask, sincerely, about my day.
Because I've been "there" (and wouldn't -- not for love, money, or even perfect hair and lush eyelashes -- ever go "back there"), I ache for her. I want her to be resilient -- while being open and kind and confident. I pray that she'll have an abundance of common sense while indulging an unending willingness to take risks. I want to know that she'll always think of others -- and always see herself as blessed.
Plainly, my "List," which I think all parents have, goes on and on.
But on this, her twelfth birthday, perhaps I can skip my usual verbosity (or is it "verboseness," or perhaps "loquacity"? ) and narrow my birthday wishes for her down to four.
1) I hope she'll always have a friend. A friend makes good times better -- more memorable, more funny and more fabulous. A good friend listens and shares and instructs. In bad times, a friend helps you know what to do and and how to feel -- whether it's sorrow or anger or good, old-fashioned revenge. Because she's not mired down in it, a friend can help you steer out of the darkest dilemma. I'd also remind my daughter that, in a pinch, a good book can be a good friend, indeed. But even more important, I'd take comfort in knowing that, if she has a friend, she is a friend. What greater aspiration than that?
2) I hope she'll always have laughter. Laughing is fun. Laughing lightens the heaviest loads. Laughing makes you feel good. (This is factual. Research indicates that a good giggle session increases serotonin and the release of endorphins.) Even when she least feels like it -- when she's certain she's the object of ridicule or the subject of gossip -- I hope she'll laugh. I don't even mind if it's that asylum-worthy, eardrum-bursting hyena squawk. (Since she reads this, she knows what I'm talking about.)
3) I hope she'll always have a cat. Cats are role models. They are soft and finicky and independent. They are graceful and fierce and demanding. They command respect. They are what we want our daughters to be. I love dogs. I love that our rescue dog, Josie, loves us to a fault, will do pretty much whatever we ask, and can lick her own, ahem, tail, but is that what we want in a young woman? I think not.
4) I hope she'll always have hope. Believing -- no, knowing -- you can handle a situation means you're halfway done. Having faith that an answer can be found means you're well on the road to finding that solution. Holding out for what's good and what's right -- because you know that something good and right exists -- gives you faith in yourself and mankind and your Creator.
There are, of course, other things I think she needs to do. She needs to learn to drive a stickshift. She needs to fill up a passport before it expires. She needs to -- just once -- propose a toast and shatter her drained champagne glass in the fireplace. And because she's got not one, but two X chromosomes, she'll need one more thing.
Is it coincidence that chocolate can elicit the return of friends and laughter and hope, and, when the wrapper is crumpled just right, bring a cat scampering into the room?
Maybe that's why my beloved 12-year-old daughter requested this favorite cake for her twelfth birthday -- chocolate cake with chocolate chips with chocolate frosting.
Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Cake
3 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup corn oil
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
8 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 scant cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Make the cake. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans. (This is a delicate cake, so be sure to prepare pans well.) Sift first five ingredients into a large bowl. Mix water, oil and vanilla in a separate, small bowl. Make a "well" in dry ingredients, pour in wet ingredients and whisk well. Scrape batter into prepared pans, dividing evening. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chocolate chips over batter in each pan.
Bake 25 minutes, or until layers test done. Cool in pans on racks for 15 minutes, then turn cakes out and allow to cool completely.
Make frosting. Beat butter in large bowl (an electric mixer is best) until fluffy. Gradually beat in three cups of powdered sugar. beat in six tablespoons milk and vanilla. Add cocoa and remaining sugar, gradually. Beat until blended and fluffy, using remaining two tablespoons of milk, if necessary.
Assemble cake, with layers chocolate-chip-side up and about 2/3 cup frosting spread between each layer. Spread remaining frosting over sides and top of cake. Tastes even better the next day -- for breakfast!