As I made partying into a career by becoming a journalist, the question of whether or not to throw my son a first birthday was a no-brainer for me. Obviously, he needed to have a party! A party at which he could run around with his friends and try cake for the first time (so please excuse the messy top in the photo above, he’s not normally that grubby!)
On reflection, he may not have realised what was going on and the money we spent on the party could have paid for a weekend away in a five star hotel but I don’t regret a thing. I’ll be honest and admit the party was just as much for me as it was him as I didn’t find motherhood easy at the start (and it still makes me really sad to read back my old blog posts). At the start, the first week seemed like miles away, as did the first month. In the early days, I used to crack open a bottle of fizz every single Saturday to celebrate the fact that nothing major had gone wrong that week. I still enjoy the fizz now, of course, but to relax and wind down, not to celebrate keeping my son alive.
I’m more confident in my abilities and judgement these days. I just didn’t believe in myself at the time, but after a full-on year I know I can cope with a lot. And that was partly why I wanted to have a party to celebrate how far I’ve come as a mother. I am proud of myself!
I hope to get round to writing an open letter to Rory on his 1st birthday at some point as it’s been one hell of a year. These photos show just how much he’s changed:
How cute is he? I love him so much.
When he grows up, he will either love my attitude to parties or be embarrassed of it as I have an inability to follow the ‘less is more’ concept. I either do something wholeheartedly or not at all and it was this attitude that I adopted when planning Rory’s birthday party. I was so organised that I sent out personalised Save The Date cards in February for an April party. They were very cute cards:
I also started shopping in February / March, as I did a lot of online shopping including things for kids’ goody bags from China (told you I can’t do things half-heartedly) and wanted to make sure there was time for things to arrive. Being prepared stopped me stressing on the day and I also wrote lists of timings and things to pack so that I didn’t forget anything at the last minute. For anyone else planning a 1st birthday party, these are all the elements that I thought about:
(1) The Venue
Come on, do you really want people traipsing through your home? Do you want to worry about where they’ll sit, whether or not they’ll take their shoes off and whether or not your bathroom is clean enough? Do you want to wash up after them? And isn’t it hard enough having one baby crawl around and destroy anything within reach, let alone a baby and all his friends.
I love the feeling of being able to walk away when a party is over and go back home and for that reason, I knew I wanted the venue to be somewhere else. I also what that ‘somewhere else’ to be as central as possible as my friends live all across London and the South East. I did an NCT course in Putney, meaning 5 babies would be coming from the Putney area, but it’s not the easiest location for others coming on the train. So I found a website listing venues that others had hired for 1st birthdays at TagVenue.com and worked my way through the list. I really liked Beaufort House in Chelsea, partly because I’m a snob and it would look fancy on an invite and partly because the room is very large, comes with a soft play mat and you can set up a fully-stocked bar for thirsty parents.
However, in the end I chose the gorgeous tea shop Drink Me, Eat Me in Hammersmith. It was easy for everyone to get to, the room could hold approx 40 people and they staff were so friendly. Plus I’m a sucker for a good entrance / outside as first impressions do count and how pretty is this shop front?
(2) The Number of Babies / Adults
I’ve always been a fan of the more the merrier when it comes to parties, but some parents prefer smaller, more intimate tea parties. Do what feels best for you but make sure you take the size of your venue into consideration and remember that each child usually comes accompanied by two parents. If your room holds 30 adults like ours did then inviting 10 kids will mean 20 adults plus you need space for your own extended family. This means 30+ adults and kids, which will make that room very crowded especially if you have entertainment. For adult parties, it’s a good idea to over-invite as you’ll always get a few dropouts but this policy doesn’t apply to first birthday bashes as they’re still a novelty to parents with babies. Be careful! Some of our parents / elder family members ended up sitting in the main café rather than in the private party room to free up space.
Similarly, if the venue is large and you only invite a small amount of people then it could feel cold and empty. If you chose the venue before you chose the guest list, consider inviting more people to add some extra happy chatter.
I’ve always known that timing is everything and just as important as location as if it doesn’t fit into people’s schedules then they won’t make the party. With babies, it’s especially important as you have to consider nap times, meal times and energy levels. One option was to have the party mid-morning, just before lunch, which I did consider but had to rule out as grandparents and aunts and uncles were travelling to London from Dorset and would have had to get up super early to make the party.
Although energy levels are lower in the afternoon, I hoped that by holding it in between a lunchtime / afternoon nap and tea time would mean that all guests started and left the party with energy. So the time we chose was 3pm – 5pm and it worked perfectly. After a good tea and fun with all his friends, Rory slept like a log that night.
(4) The Cake
A birthday party is just a gathering without a cake and at a kids party it’s especially important because cake is an extra special treat for most children. Rory has quite a healthy diet (although I’m not super strict) but he’s never had cake before. My husband and I decided that his first taste of cake could be on his first birthday so we wanted to make it really special.
When kids are older they can usually tell you how they want their cake to look and I’m sure I should make the most of it while I get the chance to choose rather than being given the Ultimatum ‘Peppa Pig / A Pirate / Thomas The Tank Engine or my life is over.’ But a cake is the glue that holds a party together – it’s a focal point – and so I didn’t want it to be just anything.
At first, I liked the idea of a big rainbow tiered cake that was bright and colourful as I wanted my party venue to be bright and colourful;. But then I spoke to Emma Power from Powerful Cooking, who could have made a fabulous cake like this, but she suggested something extra special. Why not have a teddy bear shaped cake and then have a teddy bear’s picnic theme for the entire party? Invites could be like a Teddy Bear’s picnic, we could make an area of the room look like grass and sing Teddy Bear themed songs. Thanks to Emma, I not only got a cake but the theme for my whole party and it was easier to organise with a theme in mind as I knew exactly what I needed to do rather than buying things at random. Rory was happy with the end result and by the time we’d taken this photo, he’d already smeared some into his face, dribbled down his top and was reaching for more, which is the sign of a hit!
As you can see by the smile on my face, I loved it too!
(5) The Entertainment
I’ve noticed from years of experience at showbiz parties that memorable events have a unique activity or a special detail that sets them apart from the rest. It’s not enough being the film premiere after-party or nightclub opening party in itself, there needs to be something that gets all guests talking / Instagramming. Whether it’s a fire-breathing magician, carnival dancers or climbing into a giant snowglobe for pictures, there just needs to be that little something that you can give as an excuse to do for when you’re bored of making small talk.
Ok, we all know 1 year olds can’t talk, let alone make small talk but two hours is a long time to fill and I’d be mortified if any of my guests left early. And if eating takes up approx. 30 mins, what would we do for the remaining 90? There’s a limit to how much small talk parents can make especially if you’re seeing the same parents week after week because all their babies were born around the same time.
Anyway, to make sure Rory’s party definitely wasn’t boring, I booked an hour’s entertainment from Rory’s favourite baby singing / drama class – Hartbeeps. From his first class when he was 8 weeks old it always made him giggle and smile and the classes were different every week keeping parents as entertained as babies as you never knew what props / songs you’d sing next. I knew I’d made the right decision when I found out they had different party themes to choose from and one was Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
I couldn’t have asked for a more professional entertainer, who was brilliant with the children and made them smile before the official entertainment had begun. She transformed an area of the room into a magical green carpeted forest, brought tons of finger puppets and bears and teacups and a sparkly, sequin sunshine blanket that captivated everyone. Even the grandparents in the room joined in. It’s not easy to hold a baby’s attention span for an hour but she managed it and the time passed really quickly. Rory was smiling and laughing and it made it feel like it was his party, as well as a celebration that I’d managed to keep him alive for a year.
This is something I thought about last minute and wished I thought about earlier. Originally, I asked the venue for a table that seated children with tiny chairs around it as the base for the picnic style food. I figured that everyone else could make use of picnic blankets and sit on the floor until I caught up with my in laws and my own parents a couple of weeks before the event. A sudden flash of panic leapt into my head as I realised these people were 70 something and couldn’t be expected to sit on the floor or stand for 2 hours.
Fortunately, I called the venue and they kindly said they would bring in some extra chairs to go near the picnic blanket so those who were less flexible could sit on a real chair. It just about worked but in hindsight, I wished I’d also had an adult table laid out with booze and adult style treats. We had booze, obviously, but the seating for the adults was all a bit random and some escaped to the main café where it was cooler and missed most of the fun.
(7) Kids Food
Do you make your own or do you bring your own and pay a small surcharge to the venue? We had this option and it was a really hard decision as I half-wanted to go to town on the Teddy Bear theme and cut food into shapes and make everything super healthy for the babies. But then I knew that they were having cake anyway and that everything homemade would need to be transported to the venue and so I went for the easy option of getting the venue to supply everything. When I saw the menu, I saw that it was picnic style food anyway – sandwiches, veg sticks, mini sausages, marshmallows and cookies – and for £6 a head it was excellent value saving me lots of time and worry. Plus the laid it out beautifully on a table like the one above and everyone got to take home a balloon afterwards.
Remember to ask all parents if their kids have allergies so you can cater accordingly and don’t over cater as when kids have lots of entertainment and new people to mingle with, they don’t eat as much. We did have a lot of food leftover, which we asked guests to take home if they wanted or we’d have been eating sandwiches for days.
(8) Adult drinks
Us parents do a fabulous job and need to be rewarded! A little bit of fizz never hurt anyone and with special deals on Champagne often at Aldi and Lidl, it makes Champagne just as affordable as prosecco and so much nicer! Lay it out in an area where children can’t knock it over and make a spectacle of it, giving it almost as much prominence as the cake so that people know where it is. With 10 babies in the room, most adults will be craving a drink.
However, remember that you will need glasses to serve it from and check if the venue has an ice bucket. If not, you may have to buy and bring your own like we did if you don’t want to keep going back and forth to the cafe’s fridge. Also, make sure soft drinks are available. I actually forgot to do this and had to ask the cafe for jugs of tap water at the last minute. Ooops!
To toast or not to toast? This is your opportunity to thank those special people who have kept you sane over the past year. Milk it!
I would have found it difficult to cope without the support of my parents and in laws and would have been bored at home without the friends I made due to having a baby and tried to express that in the speech. My husband delivered it and it was really touching as he talked about how proud he was and how becoming a parent had changed him forever. Speeches are an opportunity to show that you don’t take people for granted and if delivered at the end of the event, make everyone leave on a high.
(10) Goody bags
I strongly remember opening goody bags on car journeys back from parties when I was a child and squealing with excitement as I pulled out different toys and sweets. I wanted to thank all Rory’s friends for coming and figured it could be a way to keep things entertaining during the party if there was a problem with the real entertainment (although I needn’t have worried about that).
I bought white paper bags from Amazon and stuck on Teddy bear stickers to write on children’s names. For fillers, I started off shopping at Party Pieces, which has a 1st birthday party bag filler section and bought spin top carousels, plastic bath ducks and bubbles (all babies like bubbles, right?)
Can you see some paper planes in the bags? Those are from a set of 100 pinata toys from Amazon. I have to admit, I went a little bit mad at Amazon, also buying baby maracas and cute xylophones. These do come from China so if you want something similar, order them 4 weeks in advance to allow for shipping time.
There were also a couple of older kids at the party so I added pencils, notepads and small toys to their bags. By personalising them, I made sure all children left with age-appropriate toys and I think everyone was happy.
Bring on Rory’s second birthday party! I can’t wait to put on an even bigger and better event, although it will be hard work beating this one.
What did you do or what are you planning for your child’s birthday? Tweet / Instagram us – @babyvipsblog – we love to chat!