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What We Are Really Celebrating on the First Birthday

Before I had my own kids, I was, like most people without children, an expert on parenting. I knew how I would limit screen time, facilitate sharing and instill a genuine preference for wheat bread over white.
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Before I had my own kids, I was, like most people without children, an expert on parenting. I knew how I would limit screen time, facilitate sharing and instill a genuine preference for wheat bread over white.

And I knew I didn't want an overblown bash for the first birthday. "When parents go crazy on the first birthday, it's about them, not the child." I made this argument regularly because I knew everything.

I clung to this stance of wanting a small, family-only party for most of my twin boys' first year (when I actually had the energy or cognitive ability to think more than five minutes into the future). But as the occasion approached, what began as simple plans evolved into something much different than I had envisioned.

It all started with a theme. My husband loves golf, and I thought a little "hole in ONE" (get it?) party would be adorable. But as one visit to the land of Pinterest will tell you, themes aren't meant to be subtle. They are designed to come into your home, destroy everything in their wake, and ensure every inch of your being submits to their plans for world domination and cupcake toppers.

I ordered a personalized banner to hang from the fireplace, so now Etsy was involved. I probably don't have to tell you that there were matching food labels.

From there, everything gets hazy. I had a menu of fruit par-faits, golf ball skewers (mozzarella balls and tomatoes) and Masters-style pimento cheese sandwiches. There was a vase centerpiece filled with golf balls sitting on a faux grass tablecloth. I paid extra shipping for that when I realized the cheap white tablecloth I'd bought ABSOLUTELY. WOULD. NOT. DO.

I salvaged a few victories to maintain my sanity. I kept the guest list to close friends and mainly ones who had kids around the age of my sons. The cake was the standard golf-themed sheet cake from the local grocery store. Invitations (though also from Etsy) were emailed. And there were no party favors.

Party day arrived, and after a morning filled with stress and regret for not following my gut and sticking with the small party, we had a perfect afternoon celebration. It was chaotic and loud, and the boys were surrounded by love and friendship.

I'm not sure why my perspective on celebrating my boys' first birthday changed. It's easy to blame it on societal pressure, but I have plenty of friends who have small, family-only birthday parties for their young children. Everyone in my circle knows I don't cook or craft, so expectations were low, if not nonexistent (the way I like it).

I think it had more to do with a desire to celebrate us, the parents, for making it through Year One of parenthood. For so much of that first year -- amid the haze of exhaustion, fear and raging hormones -- I just wanted the babies to be 1. I thought that at 1, it wouldn't be so hard. At 1, I would have figured out this whole parenting thing; I'd finally feel equipped to be a good mom. I just needed to hold on until then.

While this fog of doubt and anxiety abated gradually over the year, reaching the first birthday was a victory for the frazzled, tired, petrified, lonely and hesitant mother of newborn twins who, 12 months earlier, was convinced she would never feel comfortable in her new mom skin. I still haven't figured out parenting, but I understand now that you never fully do, and accepting that is as close to being an expert as you get.

What I didn't realize before I was a parent was that yes, the party -- however big or small you make it -- is all about us. But it's not to show off or add to our Pinterest board. It's about celebrating the equally amazing and challenging journey of survival as parents through the first year, as well as reveling in the special lives we are so honored and privileged to witness every day.

Still, I think I got the themed party out of my system. I have new resolve to stick to my plan of family-only celebrations for the next few birthdays, as well as to try not to rush through any more years. One day there will be classrooms (most likely two of them) full of kids I will need to invite. We'll be at a gym or a bounce house compound, and the boys' focus will be on their friends, as it should be.

So when Birthday 2.0 rolls around this April, we will keep it small and celebrate the precious gift of life as a family.

If only I could get this adorable theme of baseball spring training out of my head.