How far would you go for a smile?

… musings on the creation of pure delight…

So really, honestly how far would you go to see someone you love light up like a Christmas tree, fourth-of-July fireworks, and birthday candles all at once? 

A friend of mine calls it “creating delight” and it is all-at-once thrilling and satisfying and just plain joyful.  It begins in that moment when you really truly hear another person, when you recognize that you know what would bring them joy. 

ingredients & candlesNot the moment when you think of the “perfect” gift on your own. (“Hey!  Dad loves the ties I buy him, if I got him another for Father’s Day he could wear it with that blue shirt!”) 

Not the moment when you listen to someone, add your own theories, perceptions or worries, and then come up with a gift you think would be good for them.  (“Sweetie, I know how much you want to finish school, so I’ve enrolled you in night classes and I’ll watch the kids while you study.”) 

Not the moment when you are wildly excited about the possibility of a gift or good deed but so absorbed in your own creative genius that you actually forget to pay attention to what the person really needs or desires.  (“I got you the little flowerpots to match your kitchen and you can plant the seeds by the window, and then while you’re cooking…”  “… um, Mom?  I’m allergic to plants remember?  Mom?  Did you hear me?”)

marbles & lettersIt begins when you are not thinking of something that would make you happy, but of something that would create delight for another person *even if you don’t understand why on earth it would!*  I love those moments.  I have often found myself seeking out such opportunities.  As I was planning my son’s upcoming birthday party, I had such a thought.

Alex turns 10 next week.  My big guy, my love.  We’re going to have a real birthday party (at the cooking school I mentioned in my first post, “I am no warrior mom …”) and with that will come birthday decorations, friends & family, presents, games and of course cake!  Several years ago we abandoned full-blown birthday parties for Alex because they seemed to be fun for everyone *but* Alex.  They were often crowded, loud & chaotic, no matter how organized we were or who had planned it all out, and most of the time they caused severe sensory overload and dramatic meltdowns.  This year, however, Alex has been obsessed with celebrating birthdays (particularly Mom Mom’s birthday at the end of this month) with parties.   He also has made several close friends at school and has been asking to invite them.  So party it is.

Tonight I found myself pondering the possibilities of a cake.  I could do cupcakes with different letters to spell a message… a traditional cake from the bakery decorated with a superhero theme… something with his actual picture… different flavors or colors… When all of a sudden wham!  The idea hit me so clearly.  (Which apparently is often associated with this cooking school place.  Heck, were it not for that first birthday party, I might not even be blogging!  Go back and read all about my inspiration!)

wafer cookiesBesides pretty girls who appreciate his goofy sense of humor, there are only two things that come immediately to my mind that (at least this year) could make Alex stop what he’s doing, sit up and take notice.  One is a Reese’s peanut butter cup.  The other is a well-constructed marble run or rube goldberg machine.  In order to make a cake that will get more than a passing glance from Alex, it will have to be something which will truly delight him and have significance in his world.  Which means it will have to somehow be a marble machine.  (Or yes, a gigantic peanut butter cup.  But I’m trying to lean more toward the fascination factor than the tummy-ache factor, okay people?)

k-toos & pretzel ringsAlex knows I love him, but I think he sometimes doubts I “get” him.  Whenever I have truly heard him or taken into consideration only his feelings and deep-down desires, I have been blessed with the most amazing smiles of recognition and connection.  I am addicted to them, and I’d do almost anything to elicit one.  Sometimes it takes a few minutes for Alex to comprehend a gift (like that famous pause on the old TV show “Friends” when Ross and Chandler watch as Joey’s mind deciphers the punchline “and … there it is,” the smile of recognition lights on Joey’s face) but once the pieces come together, there is that unmistakable “You did this for me?!  Wow!  You really know!!” eye contact, hug and grin.

The beauty of creating delight is that you don’t even have to know how you will accomplish the task you set out to do.  You only need to recognize the moment when the idea springs to mind and respect it in its own right.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  If you know in your heart you want to do it and it feels right, just begin it. 

ingredients & candlesYears ago I decided to make my first quilt from scratch for someone I loved very much.  My friends said, “Wow.  I didn’t know you knew how to make a quilt!”  I said, “I don’t.”  They said, “You do know how to sew don’t you?”  I said, “I earned half a sewing badge in Girl Scouts 20 years ago even though the skirt was kinda crooked.  Does that count?”  They rolled their eyes and laughed it off, another crazy project by an overambitious dreamer.  But I can tell you today, I dreamed that quilt right into being.  Somehow the resources and materials and ideas and people I needed magically appeared at just the right time.  All I knew in my heart was that the gift would create delight; I focused on only that.

So what does this mean for my weekend?  It means that I’m going to be taking all of the ingredients pictured on this page, and one way or another, creating a preferably-workable-definitely-edible marble run on top of a sheet cake.  Yup.  I can picture the smile now, there’s no turning back, I’m already high on the promise of seeing those big brown eyes light up….

Um… does anyone out there know how to bake?

all ingredients

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Casdok
    Dec 02, 2010 @ 06:26:44

    Fantastic idea.
    Those moments are priceless 🙂


  2. Trackback: Happy Birthday Alex! « Autism Home Rescue
  3. Alain
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:47:14

    We always go nuts on the birthday cakes, too. They’ll never understand birthdays, otherwise!


  4. Trackback: Happy 11th Birthday Alex « Autism Home Rescue
  5. Trackback: :~) Quote for the Moment (~: « Autism Home Rescue
  6. Julia
    Jul 08, 2014 @ 14:03:21

    I know this was a long time ago, but I a scouring the web for ideas….my son wants a marble run cake so bad! Do,you have a pic?


    • cathykal
      Jul 09, 2014 @ 13:28:17

      Hi Julia,

      There is a picture at the bottom of the next post “Happy Birthday Alex” ( which shows the finished cake. I had grandiose plans for this cake in the beginning, but ended up just making a sheet cake and literally building a marble run with plastic pieces on top. Obviously the plastic parts weren’t edible, but I decorated the tops with icing and candy, and used gumballs for the “marbles” and he loved it. You can even put some of the parts through the corners of the cake to make the marbles come out in different spots. Hope this is helpful. Good luck!



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