As my son approached his 1st birthday, I eagerly anticipated his first party. Because he was our firstborn, throwing a huge party not only seemed like a celebration of him, but also a “we fucking made it through the first year of parenthood” party for us too.
Motherhood caught me with my pants down and that first year was rough, dammit. I was going to throw the biggest bash ever, if for no other reason other than to practice my cake-decorating skills, something I hadn’t done since his birth.
And what a party it was, I tell you. I picked a theme and ran with it, to the point of ridiculousness. Not only did I bake and decorate an Elmo cake from scratch, but I also made several dozen Sesame Street-themed cupcakes. I spent weeks picking out personalized party favors for the toddlers who would be attending, and I planned a party spread that rivaled Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. I planned games and had a tight itinerary that ensured the parents and babies in attendance would have the best time ever.
We invited 40 people, and they all came, bearing armloads of gifts and blessings for our lucky little guy.
I have no idea what I was thinking.
Elmo cakes have red icing, and when you give a newly minted 1-year-old a smash cake covered in red icing, it’s a disaster of epic proportions. Trust. I cleaned red icing off his high chair for weeks, and it was days before the stains were wiped from his chubby little cheeks.
As my son grew and my daughter came along, birthday parties in our home withered away to pathetic displays of desperation. When I found myself looking at the calendar and realizing my daughter’s 8th birthday was just three days away and I had nothing planned, I realized how far the mighty had fallen.
The differences between the birthday parties you throw when you are a new parent versus the parties you throw when you are a seasoned professional parent are vast:
Invitations take a dramatic turn for the worse.
New Parent: Artfully arranged photo invitation done on high-grade card stock, purchased two months in advance, and hand addressed. With coordinating stamps. And RSVP cards.
Pro Parent: An Evite sent the night before begging parents to show up so that their soon-to-be 9-year-old won’t realize her mother forgot about her birthday.
And party food menus are glaringly different.
New Parent: Everything served is related to the character theme of the party. Everything from the crudité (yes, toddler parties require artisanal platters) to the sparkling drinks that have cute theme-appropriate names and are labeled with calligraphy. Food is purchased days in advance, prepared by hand, and artfully arranged to perfection on carefully decorated tables. Plates and silverware all match, according to theme, of course.
Pro Parent: A 6-foot sub is thrown on the picnic table and some Christmas-themed paper plates are thrown next to the giant sandwich, next to the paper towel holder you snagged from your kitchen counter. And the beer is in the cooler. Get it yourself — I’m busy cutting the store-bought cake that says, “Happy Birthday, Suzie,” even though my kid’s name is Addison. Hey, it’s all that was available at 10 p.m. last night. Don’t judge me — it all tastes the same.
Party games are a far cry from what they used to be.
New Parent: It’s game on, bitches! In the course of a two-hour party, toddler guests will enjoy a sand art table, pony rides, a magician, pin the tail on whatever theme you are rocking, a photo booth, and an apple-bobbing station.
Pro Parent: Fuck games. Seriously. How about you play “Go run around with your party guests until I yell, ‘It’s time for cake!'”?
Gifts become an issue.
New Parent: “OMG, he needs all the things! I will make a registry so that no one overlaps and everyone will have plenty of choices! Educational games! Ironic T-shirts! Wooden toys made by companies with hipster names! Impossibly cute outfits that he’ll never wear again!” Thank-you notes are handwritten the day after the party and photos of the child enjoying his 86 party gifts grace Facebook.
Pro Parent: “Please don’t buy my kid one more fucking thing because it means I’ll have to clear space in our already overloaded toy room, and OMG, please just come and drink wine with me and help me survive having 15 10-year-olds in my house all at once.” Real friends don’t require thank-you notes. And there’s one blurry picture on Facebook of you looking sweaty and frazzled and proud next to your kid as they blow out their candles.
Over the years, I’ve let myself off the hook and realized that planning the perfect party has nothing to do with the decorations and the food served. The best parties I’ve thrown for my kids have been last-minute and filled with the people who mean the most to us.
Sure, the pictures may show a lack of balloons and matching linens, but the wide smiles and excited expressions on my kids’ faces have made me realize that less is definitely more when it comes to birthday celebrations. And never having to deal with red-icing hell again is a bonus too.