The diaper cake is a "novelty" gift presented at baby showers, which are ever popular in the United States. The idea is to give the expectant mother who already has everything--or at least will be gifted everything, a multi-purpose, practical item combined with, well, duplicates of everything she will be buying or getting anyway. Needless to say, the way to hell is paved with good intentions and the diaper cake is a recipe for fail. Baby showers, or their equivalents, have been around for thousands of years and I'm sure that there are many customs stranger than the diaper cake associated with them. The diaper cake, however, is a product of the disposable era and (as far as I'm concerned) should be disposed of, quickly.
The basic idea is that a diaper cake resembles a larger version of a tiered wedding cake. And unless you're one of those people whose rich parents are paying for the reception, your wedding cake will have a hard time matching a diaper cake in size and volume. Hidden inside the cake will be supposedly useful items like baby clothes, care items, and other such objects.
As the name suggests, the key ingredient of a diaper cake is, you guessed it, diapers (or nappies as you might call them) arranged in tiers. Each tier is made up of diapers, rolled up in a cylinder and tied with twine, rubber bands, or tape, and then bound together in a bigger cylinder to form an even tier. The amount of diapers required is a function of the size of the base or tier and the size of the diapers themselves. Three tiers with the base less than one meter in diameter seems to be the accepted norm but opinions vary regarding whether it is best to use a single, small diaper size for quick use, or whether to make the gift last by contributing several different sizes.
Each tier is wrapped with crepe paper or a similar crafty substance and ideally is covered with cardboard for the next tier to rest on. Anything from two tiers upwards is possible, though no doubt there are insane well-wishers who would deliver a cake on a forklift if they could get away with it so it's really open-ended. At the top there is supposed to be another frill borrowed from the wedding cake but the groom, having served nature's purpose, is no longer welcome. Instead there will be some sort of baby or birth themed object or figurine.
For the truly and morbidly curious, here's a "recipe" copied (verbatim) from someone who was spamming Craigslist with an offer of diaper cakes--sorry, DIAPER CAKES--right before I flagged their talcum-powdered ass. Literacy is clearly not a prerequisite for the manufacture of this object.
INGREDIENT'S FOR CAKE
2- BOXES OF NEWBORN DIAPERS (84 CT)
3- BURP RAGS
1- BABY TOWEL AND WASHCLOTH
1-3PEICE OUT FIT
1-2PEICE OUT FIT
6- PAIRS OF SOCKS
1- FLANNEL BABY BLANKET
1-DUCKY TOY (ON FRONT)
1-DINO TOY (ON THE SIDE)
1 STUFFED DUCK ON THE TOP
Right. You read it here first.
I have never asked for or wanted a diaper cake. Not being in a biological position to be the expectant mother, though, I have little say in the matter. Fortunately I associate and breed with women who have the sense to eschew baby showers for themselves so I am poorly positioned to become the recipient of one of these extravagant monstrosities. However, there are so many well-meaning souls hovering around these baby shower things (the same people who insist that oh-you-must-have-a-shower-leave-it-to-me) that the diaper cake has become a major threat to growing households everywhere. Unfortunately it is easy to make, has a very satisfying size to effort ratio, and is easy to tear down and rebuild if the first time doesn't work out. But let me share my reaction, should one of these beasts demand space in my house:
[INSERT SCREAM INDICATING HORROR AND DESPAIR]
The typical diaper cake may contain a hundred diapers or more. These diapers may not be used until weeks or months after the shower. In the meantime, I have a stack of unpacked diapers sitting around gathering dust and dust mites. I don't like dusty diapers. These diapers, unless you've spoiled the surprise and consulted me (me hypothetically being the hypothetical preggo), may or may not be the sort that I intend to use. If you've been trying to keep down the cost with diapers from the dollar store, guess what, THEY WILL NOT BE USED. Them being loose, I'd be ashamed to even donate them. Oh, the waste. Even worse if I'm some eco-freak who plans on using cloth diapers.
Since it probably did not occur to you that I don't plan on swaddling my newborn in hyperallergenic buttwear, it probably also did not occur to you that the bulk of the knick-knacks wrapped in the diapers should also be of a certain quality and type. Call me picky but, well, yeah, I *am* picky. Damn right I am. I also really thank you for your gift of aloe vera wipes from Walgreens but I already have a box of ordinary, scented Huggies, which I greatly prefer. As for the dangly toys in primary colours, do you have any idea how many of those I already have? Right! I have so many that they've overflowed the house and are hanging off my rear-view mirror where the fuzzy dice used to be.
Now, guess what else? You were projecting your wishful thinking regarding the baby's sex (especially if you're one of the expectant grandmothers) and have lots of pink and purple even though we have no blessed idea what it's going to be. You did not have the wherewithal to invest in green and white, did you? Now, I'm not the sort of fellow who's afraid of making a baby boy gay by dressing him in pink (though I know guys who would have a stroke seeing their little man dressed in a glorified doily) but, for peace's sake, I'd like to avoid the social disconnect involved in explaining that "Bubba" is the baby in the pretty mauve dress.
My message to the prospective giver of diaper cakes is: be kind--don't present the mother-to-be with a giant object that, even after its gleeful disassembly, will take up more space than the child and be as likely to horrify as it is to please. An envelope with a gift card won't be half as fun, nor will it fill a fraction of the time you and your pals could spend oohing and awwing over the content of the cake, but it will make me and mommy so much happier. It will also cost you much less.
Some of my readers, especially the Europeans who are still mystified by the notion of a baby shower, thought I was joking about diaper cakes or that it was a kinky variation on the urinal cake. The 411000 Google hits for the term, however, support my major menace theory. Not only are diaper cakes real but ready-made ones can be bought at places like Amazon and Toys "R" Us for around USD 50 upwards. (Update, three years later: The number of Google hits has risen to TWO AND A QUARTER MILLION and there are entire web sites dedicated to nothing but the manufacture of PURE EVIL. Don't say I did not warn you!)
As I said--if you're going to give your money to one of those enterprises, please invest in a gift card from one of them instead. On the other hand, if you gave serious thought to the two-tiered "Hawaiian Pink Orchids with Pink Tulle & Raffia" ($69.99, free shipping!), I don't think you're the kind of person I want to have anything to do with my child so please just go away. You're scaring the baby.