Parenting: What to do for baby's 1st birthday

September 2, 2010

How much effort should you put in for an event the child will experience most in looking at old pictures? Should you invite everyone you know and all your family, or just folks with kids of a similar age? How much should you spend? Do you have to have entertainment and gift bags?

We attended a few other first year bashes before our own and found that parties ran the gamut. One party was held in a tent at a hotel, with catered food, an open bar, a music class and lovely parting gifts of sand pails filled with goodies. Another was far simpler - a few finger foods, beer and soda but no wine and a cake from Costco (which, by the way, was delicious). But both hit the mark of celebrating the child in a room full of loving family and friends.

While what you do is in the end up to you, there are some helpful guidelines. BabyCenter.com makes a salient point: The guest of honor is only one. He probably can only take so much of strange faces, commotion and being touched constantly. For all the effort you put into arranging things, your child is probably going to be extra clingy and needy that day. That means the simpler and easier you set things up, the better they will go for you.

That means a plan that doesn't involve too many people, too much set up or too much time. Maybe save the big blowout for a few years from now. But this time around go for intimate over glitzy. And don't kill yourself. A few decorations and a simple buffet are fine.

In a poll, BabyCenter found that 61-percent of parents spend $200 or less on parties for 1-year olds. So just because the kid down the street had a fire truck arrive, face painting and a house transformed to look like Sesame Street, don't feel like you have to meet that standard.

Other websites suggest keeping themes to just a few balloons and color coordinated paper plates and cups. As for parting gifts, websites suggest something small and simple - board books or a small safe toy. If you want to do more, the dollar store has lots of options. But as my sister, the wiser parent of us two with two sons of her own, pointed out, people already have a lot of stuff in their house. Unless you have something great, your parting gift can easily end up yet another tchotchke that gathers dust until it gets thrown out, making it a waste for both you and your guests.

Here's one great tip to keep in mind: grab a sibling or friend and ask them to be your photographer. You tell yourself you'll take lots of pictures, but it's hard to remember as you're being in the moment with your child or attending to your guests. On our big day, I discovered both my camera and my husband's camera had died, leaving us with our iPhones and hopefully some copies that friends and relatives will share. Some is better than none, but I wish I had asked my sister, who has an excellent high-end digital camera, to come prepared to be our official shooter.

For our party, we put up two banners and a fringe decoration on his high chair. I'm married to a chef, so the food was a high end variation of simple things - meat skewers, Caprese salad, roasted corn salad, and a pan of paella. We put out beer, soda and a kickin' Sangria. We ordered the cake and our favorite mac and cheese. All delicious, none of it elaborate.

We did get the music teacher from our son's school to come, which was worth it since he was great at engaging little kids from infants to pre-schoolers. We decided against parting gifts, instead putting out a massive candy bowl, which both kids and adults seemed to like.

In the end, it was nice enough that I felt like a good host and simple enough I got to spend most of my time enjoying baby Rocco and our guests. I look forward to including pictures of him with icing on his face and in his hair in my embarrassing toast at his wedding!

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