Today, Rylie would have been 15 years old. She’d have been a sophomore in High School. I’ll be honest, it’s hard for me to really picture her in high school. There’s a part of me that can extrapolate that vision since we have some photos where she looks way older than she was. But there’s a large part of me that can only picture her as her almost 13 year old self… It’s a weird thing to see her friends grow and mature, yet have her forever frozen in time.
Frozen, may not be exactly the right word, since I can go back in time and see her as she was over the years. As I think of her on her birthday, I can’t help but go back to her first birthday party…
We were living in Michigan at the time and as a first time mom with a kiddo turning one, I wanted nothing more than to throw the best first birthday party. The funny part about a first birthday party is that it really seems to be more about the parents than the child. I don’t think any of us can actually “remember” our first birthday. Yet, I know countless parents who throw over the top soirees for their little ones.
I wouldn’t say that we went over the top; it was really just family and some neighborhood friends that came over for Rylie’s party. I didn’t have Pinterest inspired buntings and decor. There were not any games or favors for the guests, but I did want it to be “just right”.
In preparation for the party, I cleaned the house - sweeping, mopping, dusting, and shoving everything that ‘didn’t have a place’ in a closet (silently crossing my fingers that no little people would open said closets). We went to Costco and bought large quantities of meat to grill and prepared side dishes. In an effort to make the event super sweet and loving, I started a scrapbook which had pictures from Rylie’s first year. I put it out for guests to look through and had full intentions to add to it each year and have it present at subsequent birthday parties (ha, ha!).
I made a 9x13 sheet cake, specifically for Rylie. It was intended for her sweet chubby fingers to dig into and make the obligatory first birthday cake mess.
Everything seemed to come together for the event, but since I had a one year old and family in town for the party, I’ll admit I was a bit frazzled. Not long before the party was scheduled to start, I was running around doing last minute preparations. I frosted Rylie’s cake in bright pink frosting and wrote “Happy Birthday Rylie” on it. I set it on the counter, while I attended to a few other tasks and waited for Ziggy to return from a last minute trip to the store.
As I picked up a few rouge items that found their way out of the closets and drawers, I walked past the kitchen and saw our 90 pound yellow lab with his paws on the counter and pink frosting on his snout. I lost my mind! My father-in-law came running when he heard the choice words escaping my mouth and we shooed Pilsner away from the kitchen.
I stood staring at my 9x13 cake, tears flowing and not-so-silently cursing the dog. Finally I determined that I could cut off the part he’d gotten into and reshape the cake. So I set about the task and refrosted the portions that had become exposed in the trimming process. I moved the now more 8x8 cake to the back of the stove and went to change for the party.
A little while later, I heard some suspicious noises and found Pilsner was still able to reach the cake and had taken to eating more of it! More words were uttered and tears were shed, but I was determined to save the cake. Rylie’s cake was shrinking.
It happened again… apparently when one is focused on throwing a perfect party, one loses common sense and doesn’t realize that said yellow lab likes pink frosting…
Each time Pilsner got into the cake, I lost my mind a little more.
Ziggy likes to tell the story with a slightly different flair. Although he wasn’t at home to witness the magical shrinking cake and the very pink faced dog, his dad met him in the driveway with a word of warning. My father-in-law took the ice and beer from Ziggy and shoved him in the house to deal with me - the crazy lady that was convinced that the party was going to be ruined! I mean, how could I possibly throw the perfect first birthday with only a 4x4 cake for my little one to gorge on?!?
Luckily Ziggy has a way of calming me down. He reminded me that she was one and truly didn’t need a huge cake to make a mess in. Then he pointed me towards the cute cake we’d ordered for our guests and gently reminded me that no one would leave the party without a slice of cake. Then he set about rescuing the dog from my wrath.
This is a story we like to tell a lot. While it’s less about Rylie, it still is a fixture in our memories of her. Sweet Rylie had no idea that she was supposed to have a big pink cake to dig into. She was just happy to sit in her high chair, the center of attention, and stare at the pink square in front of her. With encouragement from the crowd, she tentatively stuck her fingers in the frosting and tested it out. Much to her delight, and probably that of most little kids, she was met with cheers. She gave us a skeptical look, but with some more encouragement she dug in. It wasn’t often that she got to indulge in that level of sugar.
While a cake doesn’t make a party, it sure has the ability to make the celebrated person feel special. Tomorrow, we’ll be at 105 West Brewing from 5-6:30 collecting items for “Birthday Bags”. We’re building these bags with goodies that can help struggling families create a special day for their loved ones. For more details on what we’re collecting and when we’ll be at the brewery, check out www.ryliesark.org/events. Stop by, have a beer (tips are donated to Rylie’s ARK), and let’s tell some cake stories!
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.