First Birthday Party

“[Parents] Magazine recently did an informal study of the subject, asking 2,264 readers how much they expected to spend on their children’s next birthday. Twenty-six percent said less than $75, 49 percent said $75 to $200, 19 percent said $200 or more, and 6 percent said they didn’t know.”

Party Paupers, Kingston Daily Freeman, February 15, 2010

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: The idea of throwing any kind of lavish celebration for a child’s first birthday seems excessive to me. Yes, it’s an exciting milestone, and it’s certainly an occasion that should be spent with friends and family…but does it call for ice sculptures? An infant who has just learned how to clap her hands will not be impressed by the state of the art sound system you set up in the backyard. Nor will she enjoy being surrounded by succulent canapes while she eats Cheerios one at a time. Hired entertainment will frighten her, and she will confuse the guests with herself. Your baby will spend the rest of her life making small talk with strangers at parties. Can’t you give her one more year of freedom?

I am particularly confused by the concept of hiring an entertainer to work at your baby’s birthday party, when babies are expert entertainers who work for free! Or, for eighteen years of food, clothes, and shelter. I guess it’s a trade-off. But why watch a grouchy, overworked clown make squeaky balloon animals when you can put a piece of cake in front of a one year old and watch him cover his entire head with it? Long before we had television, humankind has had The Baby Channel—and it’s endlessly amusing! A hired puppeteer needs a stage and endless props and equipment to entertain a crowd. A baby just needs to be awake.

Little kids also provide plenty of entertainment—and on a modest budget, as they’re easily amused. You can delight a group of five year olds with a rented pony, but they will be equally enchanted by a bunch of helium balloons, which are also an easier clean-up.

Ultimately the question of what to do for your baby’s first birthday is of less importance to your baby, who will be unlikely to remember the event. But your adult guests will remember—and if your celebration is over the top, they’re more likely to wonder why you bothered than to be impressed with your parenting skills or your blinding love for your offspring. Nothing says ‘trying too hard’ like a child’s birthday party the size of a wedding. Save the festivities for the kids who are old enough to understand why they are happening.

HOWARD MEGDAL: If one-year-olds weren’t meant to have elaborate, lavish birthday parties, why do they make baby tuxedos?

While it appears your baby may not remember much before the age of five, how much of that is the chicken-and-egg scenario? If my parents chose not to go into debt to celebrate my FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY-a moment signifying that I had made it through a year free of SIDS, putting all kinds of toxins into my mouth, and showing a strong affection for pulling heavy things off of shelves-I’d repress that memory, too.

And I didn’t simply have a baby to share the deep, abiding love of my wife and immediate family. I did it so I could show off my baby to close extended family, important friends, moderately close more extended family, above-average acquaintances, friendly co-workers, partially-estranged hyperextended family, frenemies, people I may know on Facebook, people I met on my way to interview prospective caterers, and this girl who keeps bugging me on Friendster.

And those folks gotta eat. And dance. And get their pictures taken with C-level celebrities.

While I know that getting the 23 individual rental cars for the 23 clowns who performed might seem excessive- those guys do tend to carpool- I felt that it would only improve their performance. And be more dramatic. And let people know that not only had I conceived and brought a baby to term, but that I was willing to borrow against my house to show people just how much I love my baby.

And while my child may not be ready to speak quite yet, or avoid soiling herself, or know that you don’t suck on kitchen cabinetry, I want her first words to be, as she confidently adjusts her Fisher-Price monocle: “I’m worth it.”

Then she can go to your child’s birthday party, where everyone is relying on company and in a particularly cliched touch, balloons, to have a good time.

Don’t worry, though. She won’t remember yours. And neither will anyone else.

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