Elisabeth and I recently attended one of her little buddy’s first birthday party. It was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” themed and it was so freaking cute. I have got to give this mom props. She is moving in a matter of weeks. She has no furniture but “stick furniture” – the stuff the base loans you once they have packed up and shipped out all your real stuff. Besides being sans furniture (and most major kitchen appliances, I would assume), she was and is undoubtedly dealing with the major stress of organizing and executing an overseas military move. Yet she pulled off a seriously awesome first birthday party for her little guy.
Colorful lanterns hung from the ceiling to look like the little caterpillar! The food served was all the food the very hungry caterpillar ate – strawberries, oranges, sausage, cheese, cupcakes! I mean come on! So cute! So creative! Even birthday boy Jonas had an adorable little onesie that corresponded with the theme. I was admiring her handiwork when I realized, We are crazy. The whole lot of us.*
This mom is probably one of those women who pulls together cute and creative theme parties effortlessly. I’ve seen some of her baking creations, so I assume she is talented in these sorts of things. But while coordinating a move? And without a Kitchenaid? My goodness! That is love for child right there.
If it were me, and I were moving, I would also have thrown Elisabeth as rockin’ a party as possible. Even though she wouldn’t remember it. Even though it would probably cause me unhealthy levels of stress. As it was, Elisabeth’s party fell just days after Damon returned home from deployment and on a holiday weekend. What was that about unhealthy levels of stress? Yet I’d be damned if she didn’t get a memorable first birthday party. (Um, a second first birthday party. She also had a party when we were visiting the states. She is so the first child.) I blame – as I often do on this blog – Pinterest. Because Pinterest has placed unreasonable expectations on moms. And so has Martha Stewart. I blame her, too.
It was early November when the birthday anxiety began – a mere three weeks before Elisabeth’s milestone first birthday, and I hadn’t planned a thing! Then I stumbled across a Martha Stewart Living article highlighting her granddaughter’s first birthday party. My eyes bugged out of my head. Three cakes!? Marzipan animal figures!? (There was, natch, a how-to guide to making these marzipan cake toppers. Thank you for that, Martha. That’s exactly how I want to spend my time.) Let’s not forget the parade of stuffed animals down the center of the table, the personalized menus, and the “menagerie of animal sugar cookies” that served as party favors. Even I recognized that this was ridiculous for a first birthday party, but still, Martha had gotten inside my head.
As I began fretting about Elisabeth’s unplanned party, I started to ask myself, What Would Martha Do? This became a dangerous game, because whatever Martha would do was immediately countered by what my mom would do. With Martha occupying one part of my brain and my mom the other, I began to have conversations like these in my head:
Martha: You should have invitations professionally made.
Mom: Don’t spend money on invitations. It’s a first birthday party.
Martha: You’ll need a theme, and a coordinating menu.
Mom: Elisabeth is never going to remember any of this.
Martha: Don’t forget matching decor!
Mom: You’re being stupid.
Welcome to Crazy Town.
With Martha and Mom battling it out in my head, I had to find a middle ground. I decided a theme was not optional. Themes are hard for me. As you know, I’m not the creative type, yet I value uniqueness. I finally settled on Adventures in Onederland. Get it? One-derland? Okay, so maybe not so unique, but whatever, I had to make a decision. An Adventures in Wonderland – excuse me, Onederland – party was on.
At this point my husband (still on deployment) emailed me suggesting we have a co-party with Elisabeth’s friend Elias, who is just two days older than Elisabeth, and suggested I coordinate with his mother, Claudia. I loved the idea of having a co-party planner! Surely this would help diminish the stress of throwing the most amazing first birthday party ever. But did I really want to invite Claudia onto my crazy train?
Claudia was my sponsor before I moved to Japan. That means she graciously answered my endless list of trivial, insignificant, oftentimes moronic questions related to the move. Basically, she was familiar with the slightly obsessive side to my personality. But this – this party planning Martha monster inside me – took obsessive to a whole new level. I decided Claudia wouldn’t judge me too harshly, and so we embarked on this first birthday blowout together.
I took to Etsy and ordered a Onederland themed package: invitations, cupcake toppers, birthday banner, cute little cards that said “Eat me” and “Drink me”, the whole shebang. I sure as hell wasn’t going to make any of those things on my own. Please. I also ordered Elisabeth an Alice smock, which might have been a little over the top, but, well, she only turns one once.
Next we had to plan the menu. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out a menu to appropriately coordinate with the Alice in Wonderland theme. Mushrooms and hookah just didn’t seem appropriate. So we went with kid-friendly basics: string cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and cupcakes. In my Martha madness, I actually searched online for Alice in Wonderland cookie cutters for the sandwiches. In a moment that I like to think bonded us forever, Claudia admitted that she had, too. But apparently there isn’t a huge market for those. To make up for my lack of character-shaped sandwiches, I made frosted sugar cookies with “Eat Me” written on them as party favors* – take that, Martha!
We also served real food for the grown ups. And booze. Lots of booze. Because let’s be honest – first birthday parties are really about the adults. I highly doubt Elisabeth will ever grow up and berate me for what I did or didn’t do at her first birthday party. (Though I may berate myself.) She won’t remember. But the parents? They’ll remember. Well, some of them will. The ones who consumed half a bottle of Captain might not. (I’m not naming names, but it wasn’t me.)
I’ve always loved hosting parties. In college, my roommate and I threw some some epic parties.** In my yuppie period, I enjoyed opening my home for cocktail parties. But things have changed. As I stood slathering Peanut Butter onto Wonder Bread, I realized my days of sophisticated drinks and fancy appetizers were gone. Bye-bye, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. Hello, mass-produced PB&Js. And you know what? That’s okay. A party is a party. Despite the fact that this shindig was to start at 4:00 and at 4:05 I was still scrambling around the house hanging the damned birthday banner and prepping food, it still came together. Sure, it wasn’t as pretty as Martha’s may have been, but I bet it was way more fun***.
*People seemed to miss the “Eat Me” and “Drink Me” references. Watch the movie.
**No kegger we ever threw in college created as much mess as this bunch of babies and toddlers did. My house was wrecked.
***Did Martha’s granddaughter’s first birthday party end at 2:00AM with a rousing game of Cranium? I think not, my friends. I think not.