Birthday Blowout

January 15, 2009 12:28 PM by

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By Sheri Kasprzak

When we threw my son Gabriel a first birthday party, I anticipated an icing-covered face and adorable grin. Instead, every photo taken that day shows child who’s far more confused than happy. Did I overdo it? Probably.

Your baby won’t remember her first birthday, but you’ll still want to commemorate this special milestone. So how do you plan a party that satisfies your need to celebrate and honors your child’s need to, well, be a baby?

“Year one is great to celebrate,” says Vicki Lansky, author of Birthday Parties: Best Party Tips & Ideas for Ages 1–8. “But it really is for parents, grandparents, and the adults.” Think of the first birthday party as a celebration of your first anniversary as a parent, as Lansky says in her book, rather than as a party for the child.

The Short List
Some families believe in having a small gathering, while others want to invite everyone they know, from immediate family members to friends, co-workers, and distant cousins. We were in the latter category. And in retrospect, this was most likely a bad idea.

A large party is usually the last thing your baby needs, agrees Penny Warner, author of Baby Birthday Parties. “That first birthday is such an exciting and eagerly anticipated event, it’s hard not to invite everyone you and your baby know to celebrate,” Warner says. “But large gatherings can be hard on your baby with all that attention, as well as tough on you with all that work.”

If you feel you absolutely must celebrate with everyone, Warner suggests two different celebrations—for example, a quiet family gathering for relatives at home and a festive picnic at the park for the babysitting co-op. “That way, you have a better chance of really enjoying this milestone birthday—and so will your baby,” she says.

Many moms find this rule helpful when planning kids’ birthday parties: The number of child guests shouldn’t exceed your child’s age plus 1. For a first birthday, that means just two other babies.

Simple and Sweet
Debbie Vilardi of Commack, NY, invited 10 guests to her daughter Lydia’s first birthday party and only five to her son Sammy’s. “Both were catered, at least partially,” Vilardi recalls. The guests were limited to grandparents and aunts and uncles, and the menus were basic, such as a spread from a local deli and a homemade cake. A similar menu of purchased food, such as rotisserie chickens and pre-made salads can keep both adult and child guests happy—and workload to a minimum.
Or try a more grownup way to commemorate with a simple champagne and cupcake party. Adults can enjoy bubbly and strawberries while the little ones dive into cupcakes and carbonated juice. This keeps the budget small and the work light.

It’s All in the Timing
Above all, a shorter party can keep your child from getting overwhelmed. Lansky recommends 30 minutes to an hour for a first birthday party, allowing time for the traditional presents and cake—an essential. “Don’t forget your camera,” Lansky adds. “It makes for great pictures.” In fact, if you’re OK with sweet and simple, you may want to serve just cake—it’s an excellent way to encourage a small, short gathering and it makes for the cutest pictures. Plus, you can splurge on an amazing cake.

In addition to trimming the party’s length, parents can avoid exhausting their child by timing the celebration to the normal schedule, Warner says. “If you go with the big bash, choose a time of day when your baby is happiest, and avoid nap time or baby’s downtime,” she recommends. “Keep it short so your baby doesn’t wear out. And while everyone wants to wish baby well, avoid passing him around. Give baby some space and quiet time.”
Remember, no matter how the party pans out, you’ll have fun memories of it to share with your child as he grows. I may not have given Gabriel the ideal first birthday celebration, but years from now, when he looks at those photos of so many people gathered in his honor, he’ll know how important that day was to his parents—and how special he is to us.

The Present Problem
Gifts can get out of hand, especially when your little one is grandchild number one. Fortunately, websites have sprung up to help you give relatives another way to celebrate baby.
FreshmanFund.com connects to your child’s 529 college savings plan, so cash gifts can be deposited directly; you can also do this with college funds set up through Upromise.com.
At EchoAge.com, you can choose a charitable cause, email a donation invitation to the birthday guest list, and encourage invitees to give money instead of gifts. The resulting pot is split—half buys something special for your child and half goes to charity.

Sheri Kasprzak still has more than a year to plan for her second child’s first birthday—the new baby is due in February. She wrote about breast engorgement in the July 2007 issue of Pregnancy.

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