Babies and birthday parties

Yesterday I attended the 1st birthday party for my great-grandson.  It was at a park near Seattle, a 2 hour drive from where I live, but I am glad I went.  The weather, which had threatened to be unkind, cleared off and there was a brisk breeze and intermittent sun.

I am not a lover of birthday parties.  When my children were small I reluctantly produced them until my eldest daughter reached an age (about 12  — she was really competent) that I could say, “make a birthday party for your little sister,” and then take myself upstairs to hide until it was all over.

That daughter, my British daughter, had 4 children of her own, and what with all her early practice, was a much better party giver than I. Perhaps her best birthday event was a cowboy birthday party for her son, James.  It was held in her garden (his birthday is at the end of May) and she procured dozens of little plastic cows which she hid around the garden. There was a prize to the child who rounded up the most cows. She is imaginative with decorations and she says the secret to a good cake is an upmarket cake mix.  In those days the standard birthday party fare in England was not cake and ice cream, but cake and jello.  The Brits were somewhat backward in refrigeration.  At parties for older children parents did not attend, but when they came to pick up their offspring they were offered a glass of wine.

That daughter tells me, though, that the best 1st birthday parties she attended were given by her friend, Isabelle.  The 1st birthday party of each of Isabelle’s  3 children was a party for adults.  These parties were held in the garden with lots of fine Champagne and plentiful canapés.  She invited all her friends, with or without children.  Babies were not the focus of the party.  Some were present but they were incidental.

Yesterday’s party was centered around babies, modern baby culture, baby insignia and baby equipment.  The guests, aside from relatives, were parents and babies from a group that has been meeting since the babies were newborns, so all the babies were about a year old.  There was a wonderful racial and ethnic mix.  Our baby was the only all white baby in the group.  There was a lot of cute baby stuff — toys, balloons shaped like monkeys, baby seats, baby carriers, baby strollers.  There was a cake, entirely made from scratch, shaped and decorated to look like a cartoon monkey.  It must have taken our baby’s mother, Maria, hours to make.

There was lots of food, all organic, to please the grown-ups.  James, baby’s father, made barbecued chicken and lamb and hot dogs and hamburgers.  There were excellent healthful salads.

The babies paid no attention to each other.  They were only marginally interested in food.  Our baby seemed to prefer fruit salad and barbecued lamb to cake, though he enjoyed the feel of the cake, especially the elaborately arranged frosting, between his fingers.  What all the babies really wanted was to practice walking and to touch and feel and grab everything.

I was with my daughter, the grandmother of the baby (who had 4 children), and my other daughter, the great aunt of the baby (who had 3 children).

my pretty daughters

my pretty daughters

We happily ate the delicious food and watched the way it’s done these days.   I thought of my own childhood.  I was alone a lot as a kid, since the birthrate was very low when I was born in the pit of the depression.  My world was a world of adults.  Children, it was said then, should be seen and not heard.  My own children were born at the end of the baby boom, and still there was not much in the way of organization centered on babies that I knew about.  I had friends who had babies and we compared notes and helped each other out with baby sitting.  As I watched my grandchildren grow up I saw the development of a lot of baby and child centered social structure.  There were play groups and swimming lessons and “tumbling tots” and more.  I think a lot of new theoretical structure has developed around the rearing of the young.  I wonder if it actually changes anything.

It was an afternoon of quiet enjoyment. My British daughter had come from her home on a narrow boat in England for the occasion.  She and I drove back to my house, chatting together about family and birthdays and babies.

chicken, lamb and hot dogs

chicken, lamb and hot dogs

Today I eat cake

Today I eat cake

blowing out the candle

blowing out the candle

Today I feel cake

Today I feel cake

Time to take a walk with Daddy

Time to take a walk with Daddy

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13 Responses to Babies and birthday parties

  1. Which to talk about first–beautiful, rosy daughters, darling babies, or the whole American way with children?

    Because my own single-childhood had been absent much in the way of birthdays, I enjoyed doing them on for our two. My daughter has great memories which pleases me.

    But after the recent Princess Party, put on by a friend of hers, I’m hoping to skip showing up at these in the future. Excessive princess pinkness, makeup for 5 year old little girls. I ask you: what’s a feminist grandma to do?

    It was simpler when Dr. Spock was the main advice-giver to parents. But the avalanche of books on dos and don’ts starting in the 1970s has only seeded confusion.

  2. pauline says:

    This was delightful (and delicious!).

    I think the parental planning and executing of every playdate, performance, and participating sport takes something vital away from a child. How will they ever learn how to think for themselves or solve a problem if everything is planned and done for them? I much prefer my own unstructured (though supervised from afar) childhood to the overly planned ones of my grandchildren. Still, my grandchildren are imaginative and delightful to be with and my son and DIL are good parents. Perhaps we all prefer our own familiar ways to whatever seems “new”.

  3. Rain says:

    That was interesting look at birthday parties. Growing up in the country, I only remember one for me and it was not a good memory. I did them for our kids but fairly simple with just their friends and family. When they are one, it’s definitely for everybody else and not them. Nothing wrong with that. The gathering cow idea sounds like fun 🙂

  4. Tessa says:

    Lovely post, Anne, and congratulations to Duchess on her grand-baby’s birthday.

    Kids’ birthday parties in Ireland were always marathon affairs, involving parents and lots of booze. They would start around 3.00 or 4.00 pm and go on until the last parent staggered home, long-out of it tot happily sleeping in a carry cot. So I was delighted, when I came to Canada, to learn that they began around 1.00pm and ended promptly at 3.00, when the parents would arrive en masse to take their little darlings home. Unfortunately, the party-givers also vied with each other to put on the most impressive gig and hand out the most generous loot bags, whereas, in Ireland, so long as there was cake and jelly for the kids and lots of savouries and alcohol for the parents, the party was fine. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, really, but overall, I preferred the Canadian version because it was so brief – in, out, party over.

  5. Tabor says:

    I was the oldest of five and therefore I think I only had two birthday parties (at least that I remember). One when I was in sixth grade and then I wanted one in 8th grade and my mother said I had to plan it. I actually celebrated with a friend whose birthday was on the same day. Half at her house and half at mine. When I lived overseas we had a big 1st birthday for my daughter as that was the tradition. When a child lived past that first year it was considered quite important.

  6. Hattie says:

    My daughter had very elaborate parties for her first child, including an extravaganza involving renting out a swimming pool complex, but the parties have become more modest of late.
    It got to be too much work after a while, with another child, everyone working, and not so much time or income.
    But that does look like a nice celebration.

  7. Freda says:

    What wonderful photos! Takes me right back to when my children were growing up and I had the energy to think about parties. We lived in a rural area of the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides) at the time and our house was always a focus for the children in the village. Mostly parties were informal and yes – jelly was included. In fact, jelly and ice-cream made it a party! Nowadays I tend to avoid the grandchildren’s parties, in any case there is a lot of going out to pre-made parties at ice-rinks, museums and sports centres. Btw – I love the idea of the cowboy party and rounding up the hidden cows!

  8. Your daughters ARE pretty and the baby is adorable! I’ve always hated giving birthday parties too, but of course I did it. Once they get a little older it’s easier to tell them they can just bring a friend to Disneyland (or some such place) to celebrate their birthday instead.

  9. wisewebwoman says:

    The wee lad is gorgeous, Anne, As are the fine stock from whence he came!
    In Ireland where I grew up, my birthday was in the summer and I never had a birthday party until my 21st. I can’t even remember one so no big deal was made of them I guess. I was the eldest of six so parties would have been a huge intrusion on my mother whose health was never the best.
    I threw parties for my daughters, but they were modest and involved a lot of noise and the shocking – to me – custom of favours being handed out just for attending.
    Your GGson’s on the other hand sounds like an awfully civilized affair and should be repeated annually until the display of his walking gait has been reduced to shuffling at age 95 or so.

  10. ernestine says:

    I only remember one party when I was growing up and it was not to happy of an occasion. Your images are beautiful as well as your daughters, granddaughter and the little one. I can smell the food cooking on the grill. I love food cooked on a grill. Not an inspiration to cook for one on a grill 🙂

  11. Kay Dennison says:

    What a glorious party abd what a lovely family you have!!!

  12. I loved reading about the baby party! Your photos are charming, too. And it’s true, your daughters are pretty! But the great grand child stole the show! What a sweetie!

  13. Lucy says:

    I have to say hearing about this leaves me heaving a sigh of child-free relief! Mind you, the thing with the cows was a stroke of genius – wind them up and watch them go!

    Kids’ parties here are pretty modest affairs, a couple of bottles of coke and orangina and a pile of lurid sweets seems to be the norm. In fact I think this does show a bit of a sad want of imagination, but generally the rural French seem to be happy with very little when it comes to entertainment. British friends here with children, coming from a more competitive and consumerist culture have very popular parties with games which they organise and a cake and things like a bubble machine and the paddling pool out if the weather’s nice. I have the impression that their little Breton guests probably think they’ve died and gone to Disneyland.

    Your daughters are very lovely, and the baby very sweet. Glad you enjoyed it!

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