THE BLOG
09/10/2014 11:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How NOT to Throw a First Birthday Party for Your Child

Alessandra Macaluso

Penelope turned 1 a couple of weeks ago -- and we didn't throw her a first birthday party.

*GASP!*

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Are we total a-holes?! What happened here? Don't I love throwing parties? Aren't I the self-proclaimed (albeit slightly intoxicated) Martha Stewart wannabe with a B+ in Pinterest? (Well, can you give me a C+ at least?)

If you know anything about me by now, it's that nothing excites me more than cracking open a case -- er, bottle -- of Cab and attempting a craft project, and you know I'm the first to share it with you whether it's a great success or a total fail.

And a party -- a FREAKING PARTY?! Well, you know that just makes my little head spin. After all, wasn't that me who, just one year ago, made these adorable (if I do say so myself) milk bottle and cookie to-go boxes for my niece's first birthday?

To tell you the truth, I thought about my daughter's first birthday party before she was even born. I saved invitation ideas and imagined where it could be. I Pinterest-ed the crap out of that party. Don't you know me by now?

But you can't predict what life is going to throw at you. We had a few strikes against us when it came to throwing a big first birthday party for P:

  1. The most obvious reason is that we do not live near any family whatsoever, so throwing a big bash would be tricky;
  2. The second is the minor detail that my husband quit his job and is in the midst of forming his own company with a partner, so things are a bit up in the air right now;
  3. He's had to travel frequently lately, and with very short notice, which would make any particular time and date tough to commit to. Nothing gave me more anxiety than planning a large, out-of-state party, complete with a venue, invitations and RSVPs, and then having to cancel the whole thing because he suddenly needed to up and go on a business trip; and
  4. Since P has a summer birthday, we knew that lots of families would be away on vacation.

Add to this the fact that both my parents and my husband's parents live in different parts of the country, and things suddenly become tricky to pull together. Not to mention that, if we had a large party, while we'd be busy running around like lunatics, our daughter would be busy remembering none of it at all because, well, SHE'S ONLY ONE YEAR OLD.

So, we decided on a trip to NY where a large portion of both our families live, and had a nice, small dinner with immediate family to celebrate her first birthday. (Now is probably a good time to mention that we both come from big Italian families, and that dinner with immediate family still accumulates to 25 people. That's not even including those who live out-of-state and couldn't be there. We are having a separate celebration with them at the end of the month, so this worked out.)

We then planned a couple of different times and places where we would be with Penelope while in NY -- the park one day, and a happy hour another -- and let our extended family and friends know, so that we could hopefully see as many people as possible. We wanted to make things casual without the pressure of gifts.

It WORKED!

We didn't get to see everyone, but we did see many, and we had a freaking blast. P ate lots of cake (because even with no big party, you still need CAKE, I mean come on), and she had stress-free parents toting her around with not a single worry of party favors or piñatas. (Not that I have anything against a piñata. I actually never met one I didn't like. But, at least for this year, we left that guy on the shelf.)

We decided to save the Pinterest-worthy parties for a time when she can remember them, and maybe even join in on the planning herself.

So, here are my four steps to throwing a "non" first birthday party for your child:

STEP 1: Confuse the shit out of everyone. "What do you mean you aren't throwing her a first birthday party?" "When are you having her first birthday party?" "Where will the party be?" Everyone will ask you these questions and you'll be forced to repeat your reasoning, and if you're anything like me and always feeling guilty, you'll question yourself every time you answer and wonder whether or not you are ruining your child's first birthday and life for years to come. I imagine this will be the ebb and flow of all parenting phases from here on in, wondering if we are making the right decisions while balancing what is best for them and our family as a whole, so I'm getting used to this feeling and welcoming it as best I can.

STEP 2: Get over the guilt. Acknowledge that you are not in fact ruining your child's life and memories for years to come. Stick to the best decisions for your family and everything else will fall into place.

STEP 3: No matter what you do, involve cake, because well, CAKE.

STEP 4: Have fun. Even without a large party, you can still include a few details to commemorate your child's first birthday. My sister got her an adorable first birthday hat, and we sang to her. I was given a voucher for an adorable banner from BuildASign.com with her picture on it, which we hung in the restaurant.

Her birthday fell on a Wednesday, which was the day we had our "happy hour" from 4-7 (read: the hours before "meltdown" time). My sister brought a cake and we sang, and of course Penelope was more than happy to get cake on her face, shirt, hands... exactly what she should do on her birthday.

When it came to the big birthday bash, we had to sit down and assess what was possible, what was not, what we needed to stress about, and what we needed to enjoy, and as we did this, a large party seemed like less and less of a reality. And this was 100 percent OK.

If a first birthday celebration is defined as a huge bash with clowns, a balloon artist, face-painting, invitations, and Pinterest-worthy goodie bags, then no, we did not throw her a first birthday party. But what we did do was provide the best gift we could give her on her birthday: stress-free parents, lots of love, and of course, CAKE.

A version of this post originally appeared on Alessandra's blog, punkwife.com.