Baby's turning 1. Are you going to plan this big event like you planned your wedding? Invite every single person you know? Alert the press? Yes, a lot of parents get carried away putting together that first birthday party. Really, though, what you want is a day of relaxed fun and celebration, without the prep stress. Follow this simple checklist and you can make it great without dipping into your baby's college savings fund to pay for it.
First Up: Pick Your Place
Having the party at home is convenient if you can fit all your guests in your house or backyard. More plusses: Your baby will probably be more relaxed at home than in a new setting, you can escape to the nursery to cuddle and nurse if she is overwhelmed, and you won't have to pack two emergency outfits just in case you need them (and you will). The cons: Having guests over means cleaning your house spic and span before, and then picking up the mess after. If it's a nice time of the year, consider an outdoor venue like a park shelter. Or look into rooms at local restaurants (many give discounts for daytime bookings) or community centers.
Now Figure Out The "When" Part
Before nap? After nap? Play with fire and hope he doesn't melt down? At this age, it's a crapshoot: Many a birthday baby has slept through the majority of his party, despite the most careful planning. So just choose a time that works for you, and be prepared for the possibility of having to put Junior down for a nap. If you're not at home and the baby's getting wiped out, excuse yourself for a few minutes, then go for a quiet walk with the stroller or sling so baby can drift off to dreamland. You won't have a hard time finding someone to hold a sleeping birthday baby if you are busy visiting with guests! And remember, even well-rested babies may be wary of the attention or even get freaked out by regular party customs. "Jason screamed and cried when we sang 'Happy Birthday' at his first party," says Lee Allport, a mom of two who lives in Orlando, Florida and blogs at My Sentiments ExactLee. "But we stroked his arm and then another child jumped in and blew out the candles! I figured, hey, this is real life, unscripted. Not to mention it made a classic video!"
Pssst… Try An Evening Bash!
If your guest list is full of adult friends and there are few (if any) kids on it, consider skipping the traditional daytime party and have an evening soiree. After the meal, serve birthday cake for desert—then enjoy some grownup time (remember that?!) with friends and family after your sweet baby is tucked in for the night.
Time to Send Out Invites
Cut costs with a Web invite; ones like evite and punchbowl have great choices, and will also keep a running list of RSVPs and send pre-party reminders to guests. Get creative about naming the event, if you'd like, "Our son is Ozzie, so naturally his first birthday was The First Annual Ozzfest," says Amy Kraft, a mom of two from New York City who blogs at Media Macaroni. For your great grandma (or anyone without email), print out their invite and pop it in the mail. Be sure to get them out about four weeks before the big day.
What's a Great Party without Food?
Go with easy nibbles like fruit trays and veggies and dip, and have diced options for your baby's compatriots. For summer parties keep it simple with grilled burgers and a salad bar. In cooler months, try a mac and cheese bar with fun fixings like bacon bits and salsa. Stay clear of any nuts, shellfish, and popcorn since you never know what Uncle Bob might decide to offer the Birthday Boy. Oh, and don't stress about the food—no one accepted the invite for the spinach dip.
Let Them Eat Cake… If They Want To
Not all babies dig into their birthday cakes with gusto. "I had everything ready for a super-cute romping into frosting—I made my little girl a pink puppy dog smash cake," says Kim Young, a mom of three in Carbondale, Illinois who blogs at Mom Tried It. "Cassidy tentatively touched it with a finger, pulled back, said "NO!" and shook her head. Then she reached over and pushed the cardboard beneath the cake. It landed on the floor…upside down. I was tempted to pick it up and give it to her, but she really wasn't interested and I didn't want to have a very mad one-year-old! She's my third kid, and I knew there was no sense in forcing anything—it almost never goes the way you want it to!"
Put Someone Else on Photo Duty
No matter how awesome the party is, the one thing you'll ultimately be left with is the photos (and, perhaps, an extra pound from too much birthday cake). Consider hiring a photographer, who can come over early and take family portraits then capture the party. A few ways to find one for a reasonable price: see if your local high school or college has a photography club where you could tap a promising novice. Also, some pros who are looking to get their businesses off the ground may offer deals; ask friends. You might even tap a shutterbug relative to be the designated photographer, free!