Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Surviving (and Enjoying) Baby's First Birthday

A child’s first birthday party is the exclamation point on a year full of firsts. First bath, first tooth, first Christmas, and in some cases first steps. It’s no wonder we’re driven to make the celebration unforgettable even when baby won’t remember.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent planning my daughter’s first birthday party last year. Countless. I obsessed over every detail of her Ladybug Picnic… right down to what time of day is most appropriate to release live ladybugs (early evening in case you’re wondering–so they can settle in, nibble on aphids and avoid becoming a swallow’s dinner). When it was all over I realized I’d had been too busy to truly enjoy the birthday girl’s special day (that’s what inspired me to launch
MerryB Events).

With that hectic day in mind, I thought I would share a few suggestions and survival tips for planning your child’s first birthday party.

The best locations for first birthday parties are places your child is familiar and comfortable with, such as your home, a friend's or relative's home, or a playground your child frequently visits.

Schedule baby’s celebration for the time of day when she is the happiest and well rested; mornings are usually good for this age (how about a birthday brunch?).

If you don’t want guests to linger or interfere with naptime, include an ‘end time’ on the invitation. “Please join us from 2:00 – 4:00 pm.”. Courteous guests will honor your request for the party to end at a specified time.

Keep the party brief—two hours max (one hour is even better)—and open gifts after the party is over, when the excitement of the celebration is history.

Choose a theme you like for the guest of honor–the simpler, the better. There’s plenty of time for princesses, pirates and all the details that go into planning those kinds of events. For first birthdays, I prefer themes that are basic yet out of the ordinary and incorporate a sophisticated flair (because let’s face it, first birthday parties are really for the parents!). Stripes, polka dots, your child’s first initial, the color chartreuse, inspiration can be found everywhere.

If you're serving food, don’t make everything yourself. For instance, make the finger foods and order the cake. Better yet, order everything to simplify further. Birmingham has many great caterers and restaurants that offer party menus–let them do the work so you can spend more time enjoying the party. (On a side note: Most upscale bakeries will bake a little ‘smash cake’ for baby to destroy all by herself. I like Pastry Art in Homewood, AL and Louise’s in Hoover, AL, but there are many to choose from around town.)

Hire a photographer or ask a friend to take pictures for you. Unless you have an event planner coordinating the day, you’ll be very busy and having someone snap pictures will ensure you capture every beautiful moment of your child’s birthday. Prepare a list of all the shots you want ahead of time and give it to the photographer before the party begins. Take pictures of the cake and of baby in her special outfit before guests arrive.

Keep the older kids entertained with games and activities. A bouncy house is always popular and requires very little effort on your part. If smaller children will attend the party, set out a basket of age appropriate toys to keep them occupied.

Ask guests to contribute to a time capsule to be opened on your child’s 16th or 18th birthday. Simply add a line to the invitation that reads ‘Please help us create a time capsule for baby by bringing a small token to commemorate 2009.’ You could request this in lieu of gifts. Display all the treasures during the party so your guests can enjoy the collection. Afterwards, seal everything in a beautiful container or sturdy box, including pictures from the day, the candle, handprints, an invitation, etc. Then put it in a closet and surprise baby with it at her Sweet 16 party.

Display a beautiful photo of baby in a frame with a large mat (glass removed). Have guests write a message on the mat to commemorate this very special day. This will be cherished by you and your baby for years to come.

As a thank you gift for guests (or to simply commemorate the occasion), consider creating a ‘smile book’ that documents memorable moments from baby’s first year. Shutterfly and other online photo suppliers offer a variety of affordable photo books to choose from.

Most of all, remember this is a day to celebrate the birth of your child. Keep the party simple and brief so you can do just that. Obsess over ladybug eating habits another year (or have someone like me do it for you).

Don’t forget to plan some special quiet time at the end of the day just for Mom, Dad, and baby. After all, you survived your first year together and hopefully there are many more to come. Cheers!

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