Scribble celebrated his first birthday a few weeks ago with a party at our home. We had a wonderful time! Now I’m celebrating being finished with the planning!
I shared a few weeks ago our plans for a budget-friendly and stress-free party that was, most importantly, fun for Scribble. We were able to make all of that happen!
Because our theme was ice cream social, we had a lot of flexibility in how to decorate. Everything was simple– streamers on the walls, balloons suspended by fishing wire, felt circles stitched to ribbon, and vintage candy dishes filled with colorful treats. Setting up the decor was probably my favorite part of the whole experience. I knew I wouldn’t have time to put all the decorations up on the day of the party, so I started hanging balloons and streamers and setting up the buffet table a few days early. It was really fun to get to enjoy the decor for days in advance and after the big day!
We nixed our original idea to repurpose jam and pickle jars for bubble solution, since we didn’t want to inconvenience any parents by giving their child a breakable favor. So instead we offered make-your-own sundae favors: chocolate and strawberry scented homemade play dough and “sprinkles” for the top (actually just confetti)! I used this recipe, and added strawberry drink mix to make the strawberry “flavor,” and added cocoa to make the chocolate “flavor.” Then I packaged them in brown paper bags — the regular kind you can buy by the hundred at the grocery store. I cut off the tops to make the bags shorter, and stuffed them with scraps from the crepe paper we were using throughout the house.
We had an ice cream table with tons of flavors– including homemade sweet potato and avocado ice cream, chosen because they were Scribble’s first foods. We did an ice cream social as a way to save money on food and to avoid the stress of catering the party ourselves. The plan really worked! We didn’t have to make anything other than the ice cream, which I had done weeks earlier. So all we had to do on party day was pour toppings into dollar-store parfait dishes, pour the syrups into squeeze bottles, and pack the ice cream into ice-filled galvanized tubs we borrowed from friends. Everyone seemed to enjoy the theme. Ice cream is the perfect treat on a scorching summer afternoon in Georgia. A few families had multiple children’s birthday parties to attend on the same day as Scribble’s, so I was glad to be able to offer something different from what they would likely have at the other events on their schedules.
Our lovely cake was a gift from Scribble’s grandparents. Duck is Scribble’s favorite word, so we decided to make the cake duck-themed so he would recognize the decor!
In a previous post, I mused about whether or not it is worthwhile to spend money and time planning a party for a baby who won’t remember it.
In the end, it was important to me to bring our family and friends together. I have frequently heard that first birthday parties are “for the parents,” but ours was designed to give our extended family the chance to enjoy some one-on-one time with Scribble. For me it was a whirlwind of tasks and coordinating; as I expected, I didn’t have enough time to spend with everyone. But our guests got to spend time with Scribble, which is what was important to us!
It will admit there were a few times when I became an insufferable grump in the days leading up to Scribble’s party. And one regret I have is that I spent a lot of his actual birthday cleaning in anticipation of the upcoming weekend. Fortunately, the weekend before his birthday we visited with family who could not attend his big party, and had a small celebration with them. I really enjoyed the relaxed pace of that weekend, and I encourage anyone who is planning a big party to build some down-time into your schedule so that you can fully enjoy the occasion!
It was also surprisingly gratifying to put together this party from the ground up. For a whole year now, all my attention has been focused on this little boy. And only six or seven months ago, when Scribble’s sleep was at its worst, and I was nursing around the clock, I couldn’t imagine how I would summon the energy to pull off seemingly simple things like a birthday party, or even squeezing into a party dress.
And although we didn’t have much time during the party to spend with Scribble, both Mr. Sketchbook and I enjoyed the process of preparing it for him. We had so much fun blowing up balloons, selecting pictures for the slideshow, and hanging decorations in the wee hours of the morning before the big day.
It is hard to put into words what is special about a first birthday party, but what stuck out to me was knowing that all the work and uncertainty of the first year is behind us. No more worrying about how to breastfeed, when to introduce a bottle, how to pump, whether or not to cosleep, what to register for, when to introduce solids, what bath soap to use. I am so thankful to be done with all those decisions! Of course, parenting a toddler has already proven itself to be a much bigger challenge than I ever anticipated. But I feel so much more equipped to tackle that challenge than I did last year when I brought this little boy home. So it seems fitting to end the “project” of Scribble’s first year, and the beginning of an exciting new chapter, with a festive celebration!
All told, we managed to spend around 200 dollars on this party, including food and compostable tableware for fifty guests, decor, Scribble’s birthday shirt, printing and posting the invitations, and favors! This figure didn’t include some extras– like the bakery cake and lawn care– that we didn’t pay for ourselves and that, without the unexpected help from Scribble’s grandparents, we would have DIYed instead.
Some suggestions for any of you who are planning a DIY, budget-friendly party:
- Spend money on decor that you can use around your home after the event is done. A few days before the party, I noticed that our cucumber plants were starting to die for the year. I didn’t want my party guests to be chatting among dying plants, so I had Mr. Sketchbook run out to the garden store and pick up a few end-of-the-year perennials to fill in the gaps. They looked great, and now we have flowers to enjoy until the first frost this winter!
- The week leading up to the party, I made simple, reheatable dishes– stew and spaghetti–so that I didn’t have to spend time cooking and cleaning up every night and could instead spend that time working on party stuff. If I hadn’t done that, I am sure we would have ended up spending money on fast food and take out to cover the days I wasn’t able to cook.
- Plan theme, decor, and food strategically to maximize what you can do ahead of time. I kept a party planning timeline for two months from the party date, setting deadlines for things like DIYing the decor, sewing Scribble’s shirt, making the ice cream, or designing and ordering the invitations. This helped me to stay on track and also not to feel too overwhelmed as the big day approached. As I mentioned, an ice cream party worked well for us because it meant no cooking. It was labor intensive to create the custom ice cream flavors for Scribble, but I was able to do all of that weeks in advance, then store the ice cream in my freezer until party time. I wasn’t able to hang the streamers outside before the day of the party because I was afraid the paper would get wet. So instead I cut all the streamers so that on party day, all we had to do was hang them!
- Spend money on services, rather than details. We didn’t buy this ourselves, but a few days before Scribble’s party, his grandparents surprised us by having our lawn mowed. This was a massive blessing for us, and made the week go much more smoothly! Because this was a gift, and not a “necessity,” I didn’t include it in our budget for the party. But for those who are able to swing it, I think this is a worthwhile expense!
- The cake was Scribble’s birthday gift from his grandparents, so I didn’t include it in the total cost of the party. Before their offer, I had planned to make two simple 13 x 9 sheet cakes. I had intended to bake the two cakes weeks in advance of the party, freeze them, make the icing a few days in advance of the party, refrigerate it, then defrost the cakes the day before the party, and ice them the morning of the party. There are plenty of cake tutorials on the net, but my favorites are Smitten Kitchen’s, and the Wilton Boards.
- Internalize the belief that homemade is beautiful. There is beauty in a homemade party that looks like it was made with love by human hands. Lots of DIY on the ‘net strives to look professional, but yours doesn’t have to look professional to be beautiful!