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).
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.