Birthdays. We all have them, and most of us love them. The older we get, it seems the excitement gets less and less, but once you have children, it comes back. But not for your own, for your child. And is there any birthday more important, more momentous than the first birthday. But who is that first birthday party really for? Anna, is here to share her story of her son, Sam’s,  first birthday.

UNWANTED ADVICE: THE FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY

Nothing induces as much eye-rolling as a cardstock invitation to a child’s First Birthday Party, especially when it arrives two months prior to the actual party, as if it’s a formal occasion. It’s not like the bride, err, mom, needs to know how many guests ordered chicken and how many guests ordered beef. No one has commented on the food-stained maternity sweatpants and hooded sweatshirt that you’re still wearing one year after your child was born, but mailing a formal birthday invitation two months in advance will certainly get the tongues wagging.

With respect to the birthday invitation, is there really a need for twelve photos of the same kid? Yes, people get it. When he was born, he looked like a jaundiced Dwight Eisenhower once. (In our case, an Asian American one.)

Then the Baby transformed into Jon Bon Jovi.

And now the bundle of joy looks like a more slightly waddling Daniel Dae Kim.

Ok, the transformation is extraordinary, kinda like the tale of Benjamin Button.

Your best friend may ask, “Is there a good reason why the invitation folds out to a poster?” Uh-oh. Perhaps you should not have sought design advice from your child’s accomplice: Grandma. “Well, who wouldn’t want to replace their loved ones’artwork and/or inspirational quotes in their cubicles with a dozen images of our baby? May I have extra copies?” Plus, such a poster tells a story… a story of how you stumbled on to some Shutterfly codes and spent too many hours cramming twelve photos into a 5” x 7” card.

As weeks go by, don’t despair if friends fail to RSVP promptly. They meant to respond, but they had used your invitation to scoop their cat’s hairball into the trash, or folded the invitation up to make their dining table more level. Nevertheless, the thought of a First Birthday Party will fill any rational person with dread. Can anyone really expect non-blood-related individuals to celebrate with and select a thoughtful gift for an individual that won’t remember a thing? Perhaps one friend will re-gift last year’s office Secret Santa gift to your child. It’s ok. Accept the re-gift graciously. You should be happy that your friends reluctantly responded to your eighth Evite reminder.

Next, menu-planning may be tricky for a First Birthday Party. Naturally, thirty percent of your guests may none or few teeth, be picky eaters, and have sensitive digestive tracts. Another thirty percent of guests may take high blood pressure medication, be picky eaters, and have sensitive digestive tracts. The remaining guests may only partake of “ethnic” cuisine on a quarterly basis, so you should really label that Siracha “Not Ketchup. HOT!” It should be noted that when you mix zooming kids and grown-ups holding unwieldy (overpriced) paper ware, you can be sure that food will end up on furniture, floors, and other people. It’s safe to say that Taiwanese stinky tofu and beets are out.

Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about the palates of new parents. If they have multiples, kids with colic and/or reflux, or their kids are what Dr. Sears lovingly calls “high needs,” they will eat anything. They have not eaten a meal to completion since they left their birthing center/co-op/ hospital. No one else will enjoy the slightly congealed cheese cubes as much as they will. “Your cooking has really improved,” they will say gratefully, storing food in their cheek pockets. Shortly thereafter, they will begin “resting their eyes” on the couch amid the chaos. Politely remove plates from their limp hands and cover them with a baby blanket.

All should take pity on and applaud the guests that get suckered into babysitting other people’s kids at these parties. They are the responsible ones abstaining from icy beers, carefully shielding wee eyeballs from sharp corners, and finger-sweeping small objects from little mouths. They try, with dignity, to hold a conversation with a 20-lb baby that wanders away two minutes into their cheery questioning. One will inevitably ask you, “Is it ok for (insert child’s name) to be playing with the toilet? Alone?” and dash off before you can answer. Favor bags are in order for these special people.

Speaking of favor bags for a First Birthday Party, realize that the six month-old attending your party will not be interested in the fluorescent toy BB gun that you tucked into her favor bag and then covered with choke-sized pieces of confetti. Yes, the plastic toy weapon came in a jumbo pack marked “bargain,” but how about a nice, hairy ball of lint? Those are very popular with kids that age. And shouldn’t you put that party favor money into your child’s college savings account?

Lastly, you may recall that no one in the last year wanted to see you unless you brought your baby with you everywhere. You may have erred once by showing up solo and gotten thoroughly chastised by disappointed friends, “Where’s the baby? Why didn’t you bring him?” By now, you may be tired of your child getting all the attention, and it’s too early to wear matching sweatpants that say “Juicy” on your bottoms. If you desire attention now, start talking about your “vision” for the party. You saw this amazing wedding dessert table done by a catering company for around $20K, but you think you can do it for $50 with the help of three people. Remember that time during college when you held back your friend’s hair as she puked? It’s time to call in that favor. Enlist your female relatives and unsuspecting friends to make balloon garlands, Martha Stewart-worthy cupcakes, cookies, rainbow-colored macaroons, mini parfaits, and a sculpted chocolate tree with cellophane-wrapped treats suspended from the branches. Then descend into babbling nonsense by sacrificing your rare sleep hours to hot-glue your own little Sesame Street favor bags:

Concerned friends will start advocating to your life partner that you need more “you time” so you can “regain” your identity, which is a code for your sanity.

Thankfully, when I committed some — ok, most — of these offenses, no one, to our knowledge, disowned us or revoked my feminist card. It was fun to see old friends and have them over at our home finally. My friends from different circles actually liked each other! (Whew!) They joyfully discussed their favorite Sesame Street characters from childhood, before Grover became Super Grover. Everyone enjoyed the Asian-style food and the dessert bar. In addition to filling treat bags with cookies, macaroons, brownie bites, cupcakes, and candy, guests even asked for doggie bags for our homemade Mango Cucumber Soba Noodles and Chinese Chicken Salad. The only leftovers? Some partially eaten chicken nuggets that I found by the couch later that night. The First Birthday Party was a success!

That night, I emailed my parents a short video of our friends and family serenading our terrified son with the Birthday Song. (I carefully edited out the part my son burst into tears after we made him touch the cake frosting.) I braced myself for my parents’criticism. My parents never celebrated their birthdays. After all, their birth dates were not their real birth dates. Back in their native country of Taiwan, the infant mortality rate was so high in rural villages, my grandparents didn’t report my parents’respective births until they were much older. My father never learned his real birth date because he was orphaned at a young age. “Birthday parties,” my hardworking and practical parents said, “are a waste of money.” My siblings and I never had birthday parties. The experience didn’t sour me on birthdays. It was just one of those things that we didn’t do and other families did.

Anticipating my parents’obligatory call the next day, I brainstormed answers to my parents’weekly questions, “When are you going to get a job? Are you thinking about going back to school?” To my surprise, although my father was 2,714 miles across the country, I could see him beaming as he said sincerely, “We watched the video repeatedly. It’s wonderful that you were surrounded by so many people that care. We wish we could have been there.”

Let’s face it. First Birthday Parties are more for the parents than the child. The instant that my husband and I became parents, our entire worldviews changed. When we looked at other people, we remembered with more compassion that they, too, were someone’s child once. And, for the first time, the months and years ahead of us suddenly seemed too short, making our hearts swell with gratitude for the present. To watch our baby blossom into a healthy, happy child was to know that we, too, had grown in the First Year. At a playground, a grandfather told me wistfully, “Children are wonderful. They make us young again.” It was worth all the effort to share, through our son’s First Birthday Party, those feelings of childlike wonder, joy, and nostalgia with the people we love.

4 thoughts on “ANNA, STEP UP TO THE MIC

  1. What a beautiful baby! I chuckled about your parents’ comments about the video. My parents were swapped by some aliens who put look alikes in their place when my son was born. Things that my siblings and I were never ever allowed to wear, buy, play with, etc, were all of a sudden the staples of life for my son. Many nights I wondered what happened to the people who raised me? I wonder if I too will change when I am a grandparent.

  2. I want to know the recipe for the mango cucumber soba noodles!!! :)))
    You know, it’s funny…my parents were flabbergasted with the concept of a “nursery.” In Japan where “space” is a hot commodity, the concept of a baby getting their own room is just plain crazy. Co-sleeping is the norm(Gasp! But the baby’s “independence!!!”) and I have friends who slept in the same room as their parents until they were teenagers.

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