Keep it Simple: Celebrating First Birthdays

My first child’s first birthday was epic. We had everything short of a run-of-show and valet parking. It makes me cringe a little bit (OK, a lot) to think about the amount of extreme excess my husband and I went to to celebrate our son, who has absolutely zero recollection of this massive party and, quite frankly, would have been equally as pleased playing on the floor with some ribbon and an empty box.

I remember it like it was yesterday: I blinked, it was the middle of May, and GASP! I had yet to order my custom invitations, and not a single one of my friends (because first birthdays are all about Mom and Dad’s friends) had been notified of my son’s birthday, and they all were waiting around with baited breath, right? So I quickly emailed my friends to save the date and assured them the invitations were on their way. The theme revolved around little yellow rubber bath duckies. I found the perfect invitation, and my journey into another party-planning dimension had begun.

I spent the next few weeks renting tables, chairs, linens, and of course the Port-a-Cool. Cha-ching! Imagine a massive fan that also blows a cool mist at the same time. It’s magical. Don’t judge until you’ve spent five minutes on my porch on June 4th with the sun beaming down on my metal patio cover. We call it the sweat lodge. One word: sweltering. Seems like a great place for a birthday party with young children, huh? This was only the beginning. My husband and I spent weeks planting flowers and sprucing up our back yard until the sun set each night. We may or may not have been that couple who broke every watering rule possible until our grass was as luscious and green as ever. I hereby apologize to my fellow San Antonians for the massive reduction of our Aquifer water supply in the summer of 2011. Shame.

Obviously, a rubber ducky-themed birthday party screams for excessive decor. The beverages were served from two rubber ducky inflatable bath tubs; the children’s snacks were served from metal buckets in coordinating colors; and the blue Jell-o was served in a clear square dish with little rubber duckies floating on top to look like a bathtub filled with water. (I know, I know, too much.) Oh, and P.S., don’t let Jell-o sit out in the sweat lodge when it”s 115 degrees outside, because heat and Jell-o make for one messy bathtub. Trust me.

I’ll be the first to admit this party was ridiculously over the top. Believe me I will always love a good theme party, and if over-the-top parties are your thing, then BRAVO! I have friends who whip up the most precious parties with the most adorable details, and I will always admire their talent. However, after weeks of little rubber duckies haunting my dreams after my son’s party, I have come to accept that we’re going to stick to low-key gatherings from here on out. When it came time to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday a few weeks ago, we did just that.

Keep it Simple: Celebrating First Birthdays

It was small, short, and simple. I had two jobs: bring my family and grab a cake. How easy is that? We celebrated with our immediate family after she woke from a nice little afternoon nap, and it was perfect. I was able to really soak up the moment and even snap a few pictures here and there. I have only a few pictures and an invitation to show for my son’s first birthday party, and honestly I just have memories of how stressed and hot I was throughout the entire event. I don’t remember even singing “Happy Birthday” to him, although I’m told it happened.

If you are a new mom or dad thinking about your child’s upcoming birthday, or maybe one of those people who just needs a break from the pressure of planning the perfect party, don’t despair! Here are a few reminders I’ve found most helpful when it comes to planning and executing a low-key/low-stress birthday party:

Keep is SMALL, SHORT, and SIMPLE! 

I have two young children (ages four and one), so I can certainly understand how this may not apply to older kids; but I’ve found that limiting the number of children invited and the length of your party works wonders for everyone involved. I believe a quick hour-and-a-half is ample time for a young child’s party: it allows the children to get some fun in without overstimulating the birthday girl/boy with tons of people and attention simultaneously. I think we often forget that as fun as it is for the parents, all the attention and activity can sometimes be a lot for young kids. A small, short party is a simple party, and that, my friends, is worth every penny!

No gifts, please. No, really. NO GIFTS!

Let’s keep it real: when a baby is one year old he can literally entertain himself with rug tassels and an empty bowl. Guests—especially those without children—often don’t know what to bring for a baby, and quite frankly, your infant or young toddler will never know the difference. If a mom says, “No gifts,” then believe me, she means it! The last thing most moms need is more stuff in their homes, so do them a favor while their children are still young. I promise they will thank you!

Another great option is to encourage your guests to make a donation to your favorite charity or even bring an item that you can donate yourself. We opted out of gifts for my son’s party and asked guests to bring teddy bears that were later donated to a charity that is near and dear to our family. It worked for us and gave very clear direction to the majority of our friends who attended and at the time had no children.

Assign a designated photographer and take LOTS of pictures! 

This is a moment you never want to forget, and if you’re busy entertaining it can be challenging to remember to snap photos of everyone. Hand over the camera and let someone else capture the sweet moments for you so that you can enjoy every minute. Don’t forget to stop and take a picture with your husband to mark the moment when you can finally say you survived another year! (Way to go, Mom and Dad!) Relax, eat some cake, and hug your precious birthday baby!



Christin is a wife who is desperately learning to cook for a husband who LOVES to cook. She’s the mother of big brother T & little sister C and two yellow labs, Duke & Delta. Christin is the middle sister of three girls who are the best of friends and talk a million times a day. She was born in Houston but grew up in San Antonio. Christin likes to say she’s Texas born but SOONER bred. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she returned home to San Antonio in February 2006, where she met her husband just a few weeks later. She has always had a small crush on photography but over the past few years it has developed into a love affair. In her spare time she loves to photograph and write about her little world on her blog Growing Up Gish!


  1. Great tips Christin!! We’re working on Audrey’s 1st birthday now, and I needed this reminder to keep it simple to make everyone happier!

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