There’s a single baby in a high chair, bracketed on each side by her parents. They eat dinner and cake and sing “happy birthday,” followed with the opening of a handful of birthday cards. The family of three opens gifts on the floor. It’s 1987, and this is a video of my first birthday party. Minimal decorations, no guests, no theme, just two parents and a baby enjoying the day together. What’s wrong with this?
Quite a bit, apparently. Chalk it up to first-time parent enthusiasm or whatever, but birthday parties for babies, 1-year-olds especially, are getting increasingly more grandiose. And they seem to be way more about the parents than the baby, considering a 1-year-old, like a cat, generally enjoys the wrapping paper better than the actual gifts.
One thing that seems especially over-the-top is the birthday baby registry. I get having a registry for a baby shower: new parents are obviously in need of a lot of stuff they don’t have. Registries are helpful for letting others know what you need and what you don’t. But by the time a baby is 1-year-old, I’d like to think most parents have the basics covered. I’d also like to think that the people attending the party know your baby well enough to pick out a gift she or he will like. If not, why is that person on your guest list in the first place?
I remember reading a message board in which moms admitted to planning baby’s first birthday when baby was still a newborn. There are entire books on throwing birthday parties for infants. There are elaborate Pinterest galleries. And I have yet to attend a first birthday party where there were fewer than 25 guests. Seriously, people nowadays put more thought into their baby’s first birthday than I had put into my wedding.
Honestly, this stuff is cute, but as a rational adult I can’t quite justify using all of these resources on a baby. There are parents with children fighting to survive horrible diseases and families living in poverty and here we are, throwing massive gatherings for our special snowflakes. And as our children grow older and fatter and more spoiled, what are we teaching them each year on the anniversary of their births? That the world will always cater to them? That they deserve a hundred presents each birthday just for being here? And we wonder why American children are notorious for their sense of entitlement.
I must sound like a total scrooge. I swear I’m not against celebrations. I’m just determined not to be one of those parents who shells out the big bucks for an elaborate first-birthday party.
So what am I going to do? Originally, I thought I’d request that our guests donate to a child-related charity in place of giving gifts. After all, my daughter’s far too young to know she’s “supposed” to get presents on her big day. But then I realized there are certain people (read: baby’s grandparents) who enjoy expressing their love through gift-giving. Baby’s just old enough now to react positively to new things, so I’m sure my parents and grandparents are looking forward to seeing the joy a new toy brings to her. So I realized I couldn’t deny friends and family this opportunity.
But at the same time, I’ve already begun my journey to become a minimalist by weeding through two of our closets, our big bookshelf and baby’s toy chest. The last thing I want to do is add a bazillion more birthday toys to the clutter. The solution? Limit the number of people invited to the party. We’ve selected only immediate family and just four of our friends who have seen baby on a near-weekly basis since her birth. This will amount to baby receiving five gifts at most, six if my husband and I give her something.
I made the invitations by hand using old colorful cardstock that, let’s face it, was otherwise just going to collect dust. They’re by no means elaborate or expertly-designed or even uniform, but they’re cute and they get the point across.
As for the food and decorations, I’m having a tough time keeping it simple. We’re making a light lunch for the group. There will definitely be cake (watching an ill-coordinated youngster smear frosting all over her face is the quintessential element of the first birthday). We decided to have the party at home rather than renting out any kind of facility. All of baby’s toys are here, and we can toss her in the tub after she’s done using cake as face paint.
Of all the different ages, I think the first year is the best year to keep things small and intimate. My daughter will undoubtedly want a themed birthday as soon as she can vocalize it, and as she gets older she’ll want to add everyone in her class to the guest list. But while she’s pint-sized and still highly susceptible to overstimulation, I’m perfectly happy to keep it simple.