sophie’s choice



I understand that is a cliche of a title for this post and I tried talking myself out of using it a few times but in this case it just sort of stuck so I guess sometimes a cliche has a place.

Amy, one of my bff’s daughters Sophie turned 11 this week.  Her birthday party was yesterday.


Sophie and her Mom

Sophie has Down Syndrome.  Let’s just get that out of the way on the front end.

And she is one of the most amazing, inspiring, magical people I’ve ever met.  I’m not just saying that because it’s PC or some other such bullshit benevolence about someone with a disability.

I’m saying it because it’s a fact.  Not just for me but for many.


Sophie has performed in the ballet The Snow Queen the last few years

That girl has surpassed so many limits placed on her, she puts us all to shame.  For example, she learned to sign VERY young as they said she’d never speak.  I’ve been speaking to her off and on on the phone over the last week as she was specific, very specific about the kind of cake she wanted me to bake her for her birthday party.

Sophie’s accomplishments have been so far reaching in their inspiration that a story about her landed on my favorite radio program This American Life written, and read by Amy.

Listen here.

Did you click and listen?  Ok do it after you finish reading.  I’ll repost the link.


Sophie pours my tea at the Ritz

“Chocolate on the bottom, vanilla in the middle, chocolate on the top” Sophie instructed me about her 11th birthday cake.

Let’s back up.  At first she said she wanted 11 layers–for obvious reasons.  Which sent me in to immediate cake PTSD symptoms from the last time I made her cake.  And attempted 8 layers I think…or was it 6?  9 for her 9th birthday?  See, I’ve blocked the trauma.

I went over to make the cake that time in Amy’s kitchen.  Let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty and none of us want to remember it — ok I lie, we do.  We remember it in a way of hilarity you do about a fiasco once all is said and done.  A tinge of cringe followed by a pause, eyes roll to the left, then laughter that’s often served with a lot of head shaking and hands to the forehead.


I was cocky about that cake.  I kept saying “oh easy, we can do this”.  I mean it’s from Sweetapolita.  That chick is foolproof.

In retrospect I’m thinking this cake came out of Amy’s old kitchen before the gorgeous remodel.  Which means her old oven.  Ok maybe my memory just wants to blame that oven.

I was impatient.  It was a lot of batter, a lot of hours, I was probably a lot of some kind of messed up at the time.  I wanted to start stacking those dark chocolate layers on my gorgeous faultless swiss meringue buttercream as soon as possible.

Sophie of course was right by my side.


although we are making bath bombs here

I think it was about layer 5 that it started happening.

The meltdown I mean.


And yes, I’m referring to myself primarily in response to that innocent- taken-for-granted cake who just couldn’t take the rushing anymore.  She just decided to stop yielding and start falling.  There’s something to that you know.  That whole surrender business.

I thought I was in control, but no, she decided to show me who was boss.

Not allowed enough time to cool down, she began disintegrating before my very eyes;  top layers sliding off and bottom layers turning to cake and frosting mush.  In seconds.


Right in front of Sophie.  And Amy.

At some point Amy realized this was going South fast and grabbed her keys and moved in to action.  She said she was running to the store to grab long toothpicks or some other such scaffolding.

It was too late, we all knew.  We were in flight or fight–she was fleeing and I was fighting–with those dark chocolate layers of happiness that had turned on me.


Sophie was the only one remaining calm.  She found the whole thing fun, a game, hilarious!  And it was her cake!  Her birthday cake!

I couldn’t stand her joviality–just could not stand it–so I calmly but sternly directed her to leave me alone for a few minutes to protect her from seeing me pick up all 8 layers and fling them …somewhere.  In hindsight, she’s probably the only reason I didn’t do that, thank God.

Finally her denial wore off and she realized she needed to leave the kitchen.

Sophie, I’m serious, you need to give me a minute here.

She had probably never seen that look on my face nor heard that tone of my voice.

She calmly walked toward the door leading from the kitchen to the rest of the house, paused and pivoted.

Oh no, I thought, she’s coming back.  The tears and swear words were pushing hard against my face and my resistance was melting like swiss buttercream on the porch during an Arizona summer day.

This part, the part that happened next, I will never forget.

Sophie walked calmly and deliberately toward me as I glared at the cake, jaw shaking, eyes piercing.  Watching it dissolve to the table, helpless.

She said nothing but lifted her tiny closed hand to the edge of the long wood table and opened it softly, silently, releasing something.  To this day I don’t remember what she put next to me.  It could have been a piece of gum, a barrette, a small toy, a miniature lip gloss, a wrapped mint.  It was something that caught her eye as she attempted to exit the room;  something she thought I might need.

Quiet as a whisper she deposited that little remedy and then pivoted right back and silently exited the room.


I remember sitting there staring at that tiny piece of soul Prozac as it looked back up at me saying you are loved.

And everything’s going to be alright.

Let’s put this in perspective now shall we?

As I reflect, I know I was going through a rough moment generally that day.  It happens from time to time.   I typically take on a creative project as my kind of therapy and something like this was just the ticket.  Had it all gone smoothly I mean.

It’s tough-squared when you think you are doing something positive to lift yourself out of a funk then you end up failing at that too.  Especially something as special as baking a child’s birthday cake.

Sophie’s cake.

But something inside me pivoted with that small sweet gesture from that dear diminutive sage.

I breathed.  I smiled.  Different tears sprung to my eyes.

I rallied.  I figured out solutions.  I salvaged at least 4 of the layers.


And that little cake that couldn’t, then could, became glorious I must say.


Amy said to me last week “it was the best cake I’ve ever eaten”.  It garnered all kinds of oohs and ahhs from the party goers.  I have to say, it was a bit of a rock star.


there is that cake and the birthday girl in all their glory

Sophie remembers the right things and forgets the others.  That is one blessing of her “disability”.


the piglet birthday party–dozens of piglet cupcakes

She remembers I love to bake for her.  And forgets that it could mean a meltdown and near disaster in her own home.


She remembers the love I think.  And she goes for it.  In all ways.

This year she, being 11, was very specific about what she wanted.

Imagine her, being so ambitious for me, asking for 11 layers.


Amy and I both looked at each other and laughed; remembering.  You know, that laugh described above–the one with the pause.

But Sophie was all like “what?  you can do it!”.


she knows who can do what

When it was clear that this wasn’t going to be attempted she quickly transitioned to requesting 3 layers.  But those three very specific layers.

She demanded to speak with me on the phone every time Amy and I talked over the last week “Chocolate/Vanilla/Chocolate kathymonkman”.

Oh and chocolate frosting.

Got it, I’d say.


I spent much of two days, last week/weekend leisurely crafting her requested cake.  And I must say I was in Kitchen Heaven the entire time.  Using my new expanded kitchen island too.

I went with the same recipe (yes I do get back on horses that throw me) and same bulletproof Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

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And I took my time.  I played my favorite music.  Leisurely reviewing Rosie from Sweetapolita’s tutorials; I relaxed.

And I poured all the love I have in my heart in to that cake for Sophie.

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Her confidence in me was tossed in to that mixing bowl over and over as my own puffed up just like that meringue.


This time it was easy, graceful, joy filled and luxurious.

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As I built those layers I was reflecting on the life I’ve been building for myself in the last year or so.

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Also easy, graceful, joy filled, luxurious.  And sturdy.

It’s a good life.

Maybe I’m just starting to see it through Sophie’s vision.


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Sophie teaches us all good things–all of us in her Kingdom.


I call her the Queen because she skipped right over Princess.

She’s always been the Queen.


And I, for one, am lucky to be one of her Subjects.


In case you don’t want to scroll back, you can click here to listen to the This American Life piece by Amy about Sophie.

To read more about Sophie’s adventures, visit Amy’s blog:

Girl in a Party Hat.