They’re for the adults. Evidence: coolers of Coronas over ice, an ice bucket with Chardonnay, potato salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, fruit salad, salad salad. I mean, it’s even acceptable for the birthday girl to sleep through her own party.
How’s work? Any plans for vacation? Did you hear about all that flooding? Small talk and big talk, but mostly small talk in lawn chairs chasing shade.
This gathering and mixing of both sides of the family plus friends usually happens just a handful of times in your life, kid. First birthdays remind me of high school graduation where everyone huddles around you and asks, So what are you going to do with your life? Just minus the pressure for you to, you know, answer the question.
All that you’re expected to do is to keep a pink frilly dress relatively clean from spit up, wear a paper hat with a string long enough to take a picture, and sit in your everyday high chair now lined with a colorful triangle banner and try not to cry when the paparazzi emerge.
Have you ever stopped to think about why the paparazzi emerge? What the biggest question of a first birthday really is? Let me spell it out for you: Will she like the sugar, or not?
Now, if she’s hesitant and doesn’t like to dunk her hand into the smash cake and looks clueless about what to do with this pink icing that feels funny on her hands, then we force her to smash it. And if she loves the sugar, well then that’s when the rules to limit sugar consumption begin. Trying to fight for a front line view of the great smash cake moment looks exactly like the hundreds of crazy Tiger Woods fans I saw on TV hovering and swarming around his one tiny golf ball.
First birthday parties are also for the tiny hoverers, the miniature swarmers who hang on tight to the high chair jumping up and down, fighting over who will blow out the big 1 candle. They’re for the ones who run over in new sneakers through the grass, Watch what I can do!, and sprint back to the playground to show off a new move running up the slide and barely avoiding tumbling backwards back down.
They might be there for the juice boxes and the cupcake tower, but I like to think they go to bed that night with a little more than a sugar rush. We can all hope that it’s ingrained in them one first birthday party at a time. That life is worth celebrating. That you are worth celebrating, even when (and especially when) you don’t know how to answer the question of what you plan to make of your life.
Maybe the juice box lovers didn’t stop to look at the dining room table with pictures scattered, documenting a first year of successful living. This is when she wouldn’t sleep. This is when she learned to smile.
But I like to think that the scattered memories, and the room full of salad clutchers and smash cake hoverers and off-key choir members armed with iPhones, will get tucked away in their memories without even realizing.
And that it will all add up to something beautiful one day.
How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.
–Bill and Gloria Gaither, “Because He Lives”