When I first found out I was pregnant, even before I told my family and friends, I joined a Meet-Up group in downtown DC of first-time moms-to-be to share my excitement, fears, experiences, and questions. There was a core group of about fifteen women, with due dates ranging from September through January, and we remained friends and confidants even after our babies were born and the group officially disbanded.
Now our precious first-borns are marking their first birthdays. It has been a tough year for many of us, with lots of ups and downs, but our healthy, happy, growing children are all cause for celebration. Of course, the babies are too small to remember their first birthday parties, or to eat cake, or to jump in bouncy houses. Some don’t open gifts on their own yet (not my son, he’ll open any wrapped item), others don’t like strangers (again, not true of my son, who seems to prefer new people to his parents), and most are still prone to overstimulation when confronted with lots of noise, people, or interaction. And yet, it seems like a parental rite of passage to throw these babies a first birthday party (or two!), whether they want one or not.
We are well in the midst of “birthday season” now, and I have already attended a wide range of parties. There was the picture-perfect Wizard of Oz themed celebration, with lawn tents, catered food, and the whole family dressed in themed outfits. The little handmade details turned me as green as the Wicked Witch of the West with envy, knowing I had neither the space, time, money, or energy to go to such lengths for my child.
Then there were Gymboree parties, with structured playtime, sing-alongs, bubbles, parachutes and pizza. These seem great for older kids, but my son just got trampled and overwhelmed. Similarly, one party that featured a clown was not a hit among the 14-month-and-under crowd, who mostly cried and/or clung to their parents.
A few of my friends eschewed a big party in favor of a quiet family dinner or outing to enjoy their child and reflect on the year gone by. I was jealous of them, too, for having the moxie to buck the social pressure for a party and focus the time, money, and energy they saved on their child. That is what we will do on my son’s actual birthday, but I still felt I needed to host some kind of celebration as a public acknowledgment of this occasion.
As it turned out, my son’s first milestone birthday party was reminiscent of that held in honor of my last milestone birthday. Which is to say, he got the kind of party I enjoy. This past Saturday, I laid out a spread of treats and finger-foods and opened our home to any friends able to stop by between 10am and 4pm. It went well, with a steady stream of people but no more than twenty-five at any given time and a natural lull around noon so my son still got a nap. It was completely unstructured (we only got around to opening gifts two days later), but I was able to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile and my son was in his element, surrounded by friends, his favorite toys, and balloons.
Was it selfish for me to throw my son the kind of party I wanted for his first birthday? Possibly, but I figure he will be asking for the parties he wants for the next twenty years, so I may as well save my resources for those. Who knows, in the future, my baby may not want me at his birthday parties at all …. So I enjoyed this one, and I think he did, too.
Incidentally, one of the biggest stressors whether hosting or attending a birthday party is getting gifts. I am very uncomfortable receiving gifts, for myself or on my son’s behalf, since we really do not need or want anything. And giving gifts to a child is far more stressful than giving them to an adult. Adults are socialized to be polite upon receiving a gift; kids let you know instantly whether you made a good choice or not. And their parents can be even harder to please, with some carefully controlling what their child wears or plays with, making it hard to come up with an “acceptable” gift, much less the perfect present.
I learned a valuable lesson on Saturday (albeit too late to help me much this birthday season, but I will keep it in mind for next year). Two non-parents who attended my son’s party brought alcohol – not for the baby, obviously, but to congratulate my husband and me on surviving the first year. Sipping a glass of that gifted wine now as I type this, I believe it is truly the perfect baby birthday gift. Does anyone else have thoughts on baby birthday gifts? What was the best present your tot received?