About 2 months before Jake’s first birthday, the panic set in. How were we going to celebrate?? Should we invite just family? How much family? Friends with kids? How many kids could we fit in our New York City apartment? What food should I make? What will the theme be? It was overwhelming–so many important decisions.
My husband, Adam, thought I was insane. “You want to have a party for a 1 year-old?” he asked. “Of course! He’s turning ONE! We have to celebrate.” I wouldn’t dream of having it any other way. But why?
The idea of not having a party for Jake had never occurred to me. Sure, he wouldn’t remember a single thing. He wouldn’t even know what was happening. He’d probably enjoy his first taste of cake, but he could do that without a large group of people staring at him, cameras pointed at his chocolate-covered face.
“He’ll get presents if we have a party. It’s a good chance for him to get clothes and toys that we don’t have to buy” I justified. “People will send him gifts anyway–you know that”, was my husband’s logical response. Always so rational, that husband of mine. “But the pictures will be adorable and we’ll always be able to look back at them!” I wouldn’t let up.
I recently spoke to my aunt Helene, who is an author researching her third book. She found that the infant mortality rate in Southern Italy (where my family is from) at the turn of the century was 50%. 50%! Accordingly, Italians threw a huge party for their one year old. It was a celebration of surviving that first year of life. I learned that my own brother’s 1st birthday party was attended by over 40 people. And this was in the ‘70′s—far from the turn of the century.
Perhaps in some ways, the need to celebrate Jake’s first was less about him, and more about us. We survived his first year of life. There were some dicey moments, especially at 2am, 3am, 4am, when I doubted my ability to survive the next day, let alone the next year. Perhaps, as Helene showed me, it was just cultural— centuries of huge 1st birthday bashes are ingrained in my being, and I have no choice but to obey my genes.
About an hour before our guests started showing up (the headcount would be 17 in our Upper West Side living room), Adam watched me run around like a lunatic, making quiche and pasta salad, filling candy dishes with M&Ms, and organizing the make-shift bar on our counter top. “Why are we doing this again?” he asked. “It’s going to be great. You’ll see. I just need to get through the next hour.”
And it was great. While Jake enjoyed his cake and frosting and got some cool gifts, he surely remembers nothing. But he survived his first year. And so did we.