The Unforgettable First Birthday

One Mom's Story About Planning a First Birthday Party

Boy's first birthday
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I started planning for my daughter’s first birthday party when she was about six months old. I started with Internet searches for girlie themes and ideas and then poured over craft books and magazines for more inspiration. At the time, I was feeling pretty ambitious and even thought about what sort of cake I would bake and how it would be decorated. I consulted friends to see what types of parties they had for their kids or what kind of parties they were planning to have.

What I found was a wide range of ideas of what a first birthday party should be. I had one friend who wanted it to be family only, at home, with a simple cake and just a few presents. Then I met a woman at a Kroger who told me she had a carnival themed party for her one-year-old, complete with pony rides, a popcorn machine, and clowns. The carnival idea was cute, but way out of our budget. Not to mention that my daughter and her friends were at an age where clowns would’ve terrified and popcorn would’ve choked them.

So I decided I would try to fall somewhere in the middle. I would invite her playgroup friends, but ask them not to bring gifts. I would rent a bubble machine (toddlers are fascinated with bubbles!!) on the cheap from a local DJ, but skip renting any “live” form of entertainment. I still planned to make the cake myself not only to save money, but to make it special for her special day.

I needed a theme. With my daughter’s strawberry blonde hair and my love of all things retro, it was decided that a Strawberry Shortcake theme complete with red and pink everything would be prefect. The idea for her cake was coming together, too. I would just make a round, layered out-of-the-box pink cake with pink canned icing; strawberry flavored.

To incorporate the color red I would use red fruit leather and cut out circles for polka dots. I was pleased with my creativity and began scouring local party stores for supplies.

I went to one place where I did a mental tally of just the basics I would need and it added up to nearly $75 dollars. Yikes, I would certainly have to scale back my plans a little so we would be able to afford to buy her a present, too. I have a good friend with a coveted membership to The Flower Factory and she assured me I would find the supplies much cheaper there. The Flower Factory is a wholesale warehouse in Centerville open only to business owners but recently they’ve begun allowing members to bring in up to two guests. Having never been there I’m sure my idea of what was there was a bit lofty. To me it seemed like a mythical shopping Mecca where I would find anything and everything I ever wanted.

It wasn’t quite like that, though I did manage to get my supplies there for $25 dollars. Just four days shy of the party I still had not bought the ingredients for a cake. We had family coming in town for the celebration and I was busy with scrubbing down the bathroom and removing all the cat hair off our furniture before their arrival.

So, I decided to give in and order one from a bakery.

Bakeries I’ve encountered tend to have trouble thinking outside the box, and as a result, I never should’ve mentioned my idea for a Strawberry Shortcake themed party. As soon as I did, the girl who was helping me got out a book and showed me picture after picture of different Strawberry Shortcake themed cakes. They seemed a little garish to me, but after a short time I was swayed and we picked the one that came topped with a plastic statue of a Strawberry Shortcake Doll. Defeated, I went home and called my mom.

She was shocked that I hadn’t figured out what my daughter was going to wear to her party.

“She only has one first birthday, you have to dress her like a princess.” She said this to me over the phone as I rolled my eyes. My mother had raised four girls and not once do I remember her dressing any of us as princesses. But after the cake selection I had resigned to the fact that I could not control every detail of the party. It wasn’t her wedding, after all. So we headed to the mall where I found a “princess” dress complete with a pink tulle skirt and a birthday cake with the number 1 on it. Done.

All of this was leading up to a party that my little girl would most likely forget within a few hours after it ended. I reflected on the last year, my first year as a parent, and thought about how much my life had changed. Just in the physical sense, there was so much that was different. I now counted waking up at 9 AM as sleeping in. And thanks to a combination of bedrest, genetics, and eating lots of take out, I had gained 90 pounds during my pregnancy.

Since giving birth to my daughter, I have only lost 30 of those pounds. Recently, after taking a year to adjust to being a parent, I’ve been able to add exercise into my daily routine. Now as soon as I get the eating sensibly part down, I may one day lose the rest of the “baby” weight.

As a parent I am forever changed intrinsically, too. Even as a married person, before a baby I always thought of myself, first. My schedule now revolves around naptime, playgroup, and my daughter’s whims. Gone are the days of last minute day trips to Jungle Jims or all day hiking adventures at Clifton Gorge followed by dinner and drinks somewhere in Yellow Springs. My husband and I do make time for each other it’s just a lot more rare these days than it used to be (as a result we tend to really enjoy the precious time we get to spend with just one another).

Despite how a baby has completely turned our lives upside down, I could never imagine a second without her.

When I’m exhausted and tripping over toys at 6 AM to get up with her, my mood instantly changes when I reach down to pick her up from her crib and she smiles and coos at me. Right around the time she turned one she also began saying “Mama” and I know she’s referring to me.

The birthday party itself was sort of anticlimactic.

We got some cute pictures, and despite my misgivings about its design, the cake was fantastic. Probably what everyone will remember most is sort of disturbing. I had trouble lighting the candle on her cake so it took several tries with a cigarette lighter before we actually got it lit. And then as soon as I put the hot lighter down, to my horror my daughter picked it up and proceeded to burn her forearm with it. So now my sweet little girl has a lighter burn scar on her left forearm. At least we will always remember the party, and I will never forget this first year.


Megan Kerns is the stay at home mother of 1-year-old Penelope Mae. She is originally from Kansas City, Mo., but currently lives in Dayton, Ohio, with her husband and their two cats.

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