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Roses and Rainbows

The rainbow cake. I had to hear how the rainbow cake was received

One of the slogans from my Bobby’s repertoire was, “Men lerent zich oif de eltsta — one learns from the eldest.” And indeed, my mother still shares her first parenting flop. Of course, it happened with her eldest, for true to Bobby’s words, it’s the firstborn on whom parents gain experience.

At the end of pre-1A, my happy-go-lucky sister came home from school and excitedly removed an envelope from her pink, furry briefcase.

“Ma, our graduation is the day after tomorrow!” She fanned the paper in front of my mother, high enough to be safe from her younger siblings’ hands. “And we have to bring something for the graduation party. There’s going to be tons and tons of nosh!”

“Wow! That’s so exciting! I can’t wait to see you on stage and hear you sing your solo. What would you like to bring?”

She didn’t even pause to think. “Potato chips. The rippled ones.”

That very night my mother asked my father to pick up a family-size bag of potato chips on his way home from Maariv.

The morning of the big event, my mother curled my sister’s hair to perfection. Proud as punch, my sister stepped on to the school bus carefully, stiff-necked so as not to ruin her corkscrew curls.

All was good until my mother arrived at the graduation party and noted the table overflowing with homemade goodies. One oversized bag of chips stood out like a sore thumb among layer cakes with fondant letters spelling out warm wishes, cupcakes topped with graduation hats, and cookies with the words “mazel tov” drizzled on them with melted chocolate.

It was the first and last time my mother relied on the local grocery to cover for her when food was required for a school party. After that, it was praline (with real nougat cream!) pops — siddur-shaped ones for siddur plays, clown-shaped pops for Purim parties — stuck into a Styrofoam pot plant holder and wrapped in cellophane, or a bouquet of peanut chew roses.

All our classmates looked forward to what we’d bring to every school party. We’d labor for hours the night before a teacher came back after maternity leave, pressing fresh peanut chews into mini rose-shaped Bundts and then banging on its underside with all our might so the molded roses would drop out (those were pre-silicon days).

After the neon-colored tablecloth was laid out on the teacher’s desk, our peanut chew roses took center stage. It became a tradition: “We’ll put the peanut chew roses in the center, and then we’ll have a pitcher of ice coffee…”

When my eldest started preschool, I knew two things: she’d never take potato chips to a party, and she’d have the wonderful feeling of being the bearer of a coveted homemade goodie.

It didn’t take long for my daughter to fan an invitation in front of my face. Praline chocolate pops and peanut chew roses danced merrily before my eyes. “So what do you want to take to the party?” I asked.

Still nostalgic for my Succos delicacies, she said, “Rainbow cake. And Mommy, it’s also parshas Noach.”

An alef-beis mesibah and parshas Noach and Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan! Was there ever a more appropriate time to bake a rainbow cake?

After double-checking I had food coloring in the pantry and stocking up on margarine, I got straight to work.

I baked three cakes — one green, one pink, and one yellow. I smeared the colored cakes with raspberry jam, stacked them together, and poured melted chocolate over the sides. Once it was cool, I cut the cake into squares and wrapped each one individually in a cellophane bag. I fit all 30 bags into an attractive box and prepared it on the counter.

The next morning, my daughter chose her prettiest Shabbos dress and hairband and proudly pranced to school holding the box of cake, but not before I instructed her to stand by the wall holding the box, pressed down on my Rebel, and captured this major milestone for posterity.

It’s as if I blinked, and the school day was over.

Eyes shining, glittery alef-beis crown perched on her streaky blonde hair, my daughter stepped into the house. There was a clear bag overflowing with nosh in one hand and an aluminum pan with cookie dough shaped into alef-beis letters in the other.

The kid didn’t come up for air. “Mommy, look what we made!” she said. “We need to bake it in the oven. And look at this ruler. The morah gave us this as a present. And this necklace.” She held out a chain necklace threaded with alef-beis charms. “It’s removable.”

But the rainbow cake. I had to hear how the rainbow cake was received.

“Nobody liked it,” she said, unfazed. “Only my morah liked it. And also I ate it.”

“But Frumie, it’s yummy. Our whole family loves it. Did they even taste it?”

She shrugged. “Some girls squished it. A few girls tasted it but didn’t like it. But my morah, she loved it. She said it’s yummy.” (Ten points to a morah with a heart. Bless her.)

I’m really lucky my daughter’s made of Teflon. “So who brought the best thing?”

“Ruchy brought candy. It pops in the mouth. You wanna taste?”

I politely declined.

She perked up again. “And Leah’la brought potato chips. I love potato chips.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 769)

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