Thursday, 26 April 2012

Lydia's 1st Birthday

A child's 1st birthday is generally a pretty big milestone.

For the parents, it signifies the end of the first full year of being parents. A time to reflect on all the highs and lows they've been through together with their child since the birth. The screams, the laughs, the messy bits and the intriguing process of getting to know your child. A process which, although ultimately rewarding, can also be incredibly frustrating.

Lydia in her birthday
It is only when I look back on the last 12 months of being a father that I truly appreciate the wonder of how quickly a child develops. The tiny, wriggly pink thing that the nurse placed in my arms on the 21st April last year somehow managed to learn how to eat solid food, roll over, sit up and crawl, not to mention smile, laugh, frown and cry in frustration, all by herself. It's amazing to think just how much a baby develops in their first year outside the womb, learning through copying his or her parents or simply by trying things out themselves.

For the child, it's just another day. At this age they do not understand the concept of birthdays or presents, or why people would suddenly fuss over them. They would wake up in the morning and expect to do whatever they would normally do - go to the park, play with their toys, make a mess with their lunch, and so on.

Unbeknownst to the child, the parents often have other ideas, and this was the case for Lydia.

We decided at the beginning of the year that we wanted to throw a birthday party for Lydia, inviting pretty much the whole of both sides of our families and some close friends to celebrate the big day with us. My parents, sister, brothers and their wives all agreed to come over and stay with us for the birthday weekend (fortunately Lydia's birthday fell on a Saturday this year). Joining the party from my wife's side were her parents, sister, brother-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and some of her close friends. All in all, we expected around 40-45 people to show up.

We rented a log cabin in the woods not far from where we live, and spent the Friday evening and Saturday morning getting it ready for the party, hanging banners and balloons on the walls and ceiling. We told guests to come around 3pm-ish to have an afternoon tea-style party, and so all was set for the big celebration.

Lydia woke up that morning and I'm sure she must have wondered what was going on. Both my wife and I went in to give her birthday cuddles, and then the my family guests joined in. We gave her our presents, which she completely ignored. She then proceeded to play as she would on any other day, albeit throwing in some extra monkeying-around with my family. Basically to her, it was just a normal day with a few extra people to play with.

Eventually, after a nice lunch, the time came to head over to the cabin and get the party started. Well, the time came but the birthday girl wasn't ready. Lydia decided to have a longer nap than normal, so in the end we showed up almost 45 minutes late.

Now, I'm not sure if this happens with every other child of her age, but when Lydia saw the large number of people gathered in the cabin all looking at her when we entered her immediate reaction was to be afraid. She whinged and buried her head in my shoulder. Not exactly the entrance we had planned!

Gradually, Lydia began to settle down and accept her surroundings. She became more comfortable with the number of people there, and played quite happily. She also ate quite well, so things were looking good. Then came the birthday cake.

Lydia's birthday treats

We lit the candle and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" as we brought the cake over to Lydia. This, however, wasn't met with the smiles we had expected, as Lydia burst into tears at the end of the song. I think the poor little mite was overwhelmed by everyone focussing their attention on her, and the firey candle placed in front of her probably didn't help matters.

It took her a while to calm down after this, but she eventually managed to eat some cake and then head off to play with her friends (a few other babies of her age came along to the party). We then decided it was time to open all the presents she received for her birthday, but sadly Lydia was not interested in this.

We tried to get her to tear the wrapping paper of some presents, but all she wanted to do was crawl around on the floor. In the end, we gave up and let her do what she wanted to do while we opened her presents ourselves.

Lydia playing with her friends

One present she received, from Chris' sister, was a little wooden table and chair, ideal for her to sit at and play (or later use for drawing, writing, etc.). She seemed to like the table as she repeatedly skirted around it - she can't walk on her own yet so the table gave her an object to use for standing up.

This present was appreciated by Lydia and her friends, as you can see in the photo.

Finally, with Lydia beginning to tire, the party came to an end, and we headed back home for the evening. She slept very well that night, presumably due to her birthday taking a lot out of her.

Although our guests seemed to enjoy the party, it was quite a stressful day for my wife and I, as I think we had placed too much expectation on Lydia. We had hoped she would be smiling and happy from the beginning, and for her to really enjoy being spoilt. What we forgot was that she is only 12 months old, and wouldn't understand the reason why we took her to a room full of noisy people, brought a flaming cake to her and forced her to tear paper.

On reflection, a child's first birthday is a good occasion to bring the whole family together, but it is definitely not something the child can be expected to appreciate.

My advice to other prospective 1st birthday party throwers would be to really think about what you do. A 12 month old baby might be easily scared by the sheer number of people at their party, or by the continuous noise of that many people being in one room together, or even by a lit candle. I would advise other parents to keep the number of guests to a minimum, and ideally have the party in a familiar setting (their own home being the ideal venue). This would reduce the chance of scaring or overwhelming the child, making it a more enjoyable day for them and a more relaxing day for the parents.

Don't get me wrong, I am still happy that we had a party for Lydia's 1st birthday as it was a chance to bring both families together and spoil our daughter. Having said that, I don't think we'll do something similar for her 2nd birthday next year...

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