Before having Baby I watched as friends ramped up for their child's first birthday. Cakes were made in interesting shapes. Plates, cups, and candles were purchased to match. Goody bags were constructed. Games were planned. Cute invitations were designed and sent well in advance.
Do not let the passive voice fool you; these mothers (primarily they were the ones entering the koo koo crazy town of birthday parties) frantically ran around trying to get things together. The parties were, of course, fabulous, reminiscent of Martha Stewart Living meets Sesame Street. I was, of course, impressed, then terrified. If I indeed had a child at some point, would I be up for all of this. I mean, my partner is a natural planner and generally loves to put events together. However, I could not see myself making a butterfly cake and butterfly goody bags and buying butterfly napkins...not me. I bought Baby a onesie that reads, "Young Punk." I'd prefer to throw our wishes for the next year into the ocean (using biodegradable paper, of course) after a picnic repast of organic fruits and cheeses.
The trouble is, even though Baby won't remember the day, she will scramble to see pictures of it at some point, and there had better be some. My low-key, hippie-dippie ideas don't make for impressive, "you are so loved by many" pictures. Also, her pictures won't compare to my anxiety-about-the-future's vision of Baby's 1st grade friend Hazel's pictures, whose daddies had Buddy the Cake Boss ship a seven tiered zoo motif cake from New Jersey.
I started researching. What is appropriate for a one-year old who can't walk, talk, jump, throw, paint, or pet animals without harming them? The possibilities are not exactly endless. Also, they cost. A lot. For about $400, we and twelve other people could have a room where older kids would be entertained by (insert theme staff here) and then be served pizza. The cake is not included. Baby would primarily do what she always does, which is crawl around, pull herself up, and babble. She'd just be doing it for $200/hour.
Then there's the cake issue. Up until now, we have been excruciatingly careful about what crosses her lips. Here in California not feeding your baby organic food is tantamount to child abuse while back at home in Chicago it is seen as putting on airs. We have mostly done organic, betraying our roots, and she has not had any refined sugar yet. So, on her birthday, I am supposed to let her grab hunks of white flour and sugar and shove them into her mouth willy-nilly? I mean, I know every party has a pooper and it might be me, but c'mon--she's one! Then there's the "smash cake" theory: nowadays, babies are supposed to be given a separate cake into which their whole face is welcomed. This is a photo opportunity, so if the baby is too prissy, then family members, eager to get the shot, might do a little pushing and prodding to get the baby to comply. Really? REALLY? Do I have to do this so that Olive's pictures don't make Baby come home crying, saying that we don't love her enough? I'll barely be ready for that when she's 13, much less three.
Like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury before me, I was under pressure. My partner and I entered into birthday peace talks. Baby babbled.
Turns out our apartment and budget made some decisions for us: we could hire no entertainment, rent no rooms, and seat few guests. The part would be an open house.
In terms of sugar, we settled on carrot cake cupcakes, Baby's with no-sugar whipped cream frosting. The cake, however, will have sugar. She will love it if she's any child of mine.
Bottom line, childhood milestones seem to be taking on a manic life of their own. Preschool graduations? $200 dresses to move from 5th to 6th grade? Huge trophies for small-people sports? The more we up the stakes, the smaller childhood seems to get. We all want to remember how simple things were, how pure. In adulthood, we covet ease and spontaneous joy and wonder. Though I understand the motivation and the pressure and the desire to make things especially special for my especially special baby, I will endeavor to just let her enjoy the love around her, the laughter, and the cupcake.