I was raised to believe that children cherish their first birthday party to almost spiritual levels. That contrary to all logic and even evidence, they do think back on it fondly- and frequently too- as the first sign of how loved and welcome they are. What you usually see, however, at such parties is an overdressed baby, looking uncomfortable and teary and surrounded by plenty of older children with drinks in paper cups and uninteresting looking plates of food. On the other side of the party grounds are the accompanying adults who are having a pretty good time by the look of it and for whom all the good food has been saved.
How the poor baby, whose memory even of the best days of this age will be negligible if at all existent, is supposed to store this party as a piece of his soul and history I find impossible to surmise. My mother tells me I had more fun than any other baby she’s known at my own party. Having walked at nine months, I spent the entire function following anyone with an interesting drink or nibble. I have not the foggiest memory of this blast that I supposedly had. I warrant those who enjoyed theirs less, cannot be better off memory-wise.
Dovie turned one today and we didn’t have a 1st birthday party. He did have a cake baked and decorated by mammy herself. We did some finger painting, splashed in our splash pool, ate the customary eto that Akans mark all monumental events with and played all the throw-me/ chase-me/wrestle-me games he and his dad play. He had a great time and so did we.
When I first mentioned that we wouldn’t have the traditional party, almost everyone who heard was horrified. I was read the 1st birthday gospel again and again and made to feel so bad I almost caved in. But the fact that neither our friends nor our cousins have children yet made it easier for me. It would have been a long day with Dovie being sidelined and me being overworked seeing to the needs of my two little boys and whichever other token children I was able to round up while being perfect hostess to all our older relations who came. It really wasn’t worth it.
But leaving the path and the doctrines I was raised on are not really easy to do. After you have believed or even heard something long enough from credible sources, it becomes practically counter intuitive to do differently. I don’t want my children to have issues about being the only ones whose first birthday passed without pomp. But can’t I just explain why there was no fanfare? Would his child’s mind appreciate what I would say? I wavered till the weekend before his birthday when I finally decided I would take my chances.
I do not remember my little sister at her first birthday, though I was four then. The only thing I remember, apart from the dancing competition I think my elder sister won after an intense faceoff with a childhood friend, is my mother. I remember her cooking and bustling about the kitchen for an eternity. She went in to change when the guests started arriving; she was so sweaty and so very tired. I remember her exhaling and squaring her shoulders just before she stepped out the door to greet her guests. That mental picture has done much to endorse my decision.
It is harder than you might think not to do things the way your parents did -especially things that appear to have been to your benefit. They form a part of your self-assessment criteria in a way you won’t even realize until you step into their position. The first birthday dilemma has been a source of a good bit of scolding and vacillating. But I look at the pictures and the video we took today, they show clearly how much fun we all had. And as I watch Dov who fell asleep a good hour before his bedtime from sheer exhaustion, I know I was right. It won’t matter to him in later years that plenty of adults didn’t come and sit around his house, make merry, leave his mother haggard and his father a little lighter in the pockets in the quest to make him feel loved and welcome.
The unanimous social disapproval his partylessness caused has been good for me. It is the first parenthood decision my very supportive- if opinionated-family (and friends to a lesser degree) have opposed strongly. It does require a bit of balancing or at least tact to tell people who have been an unfailing help to you with your children that you are the parent of the child, your decision is final and you will not be bullied.
Now that I have done that, I am breezing through the horror my declaration that we are not going to hang up Christmas decorations is causing. Christmas, it is true, is half in the glitz and colour of decorations. But even with no festive ornaments to pull down, break or try to swallow, Dovie is enough of a handful. I refuse to tease or is it goad him by hanging all sorts of foolish decorations that will result in my Christmas being worried and fatiguing rather than fun and relaxing.
Still my son will get the Christmas fun everyone so badly wants him to have, never fear. I am writing down a list of all those who said he deserved to enjoy Christmas colour; we will do a tour of their houses. And I will look on with loving indulgence as he wrecks one Christmas tree after the other. And if they appear even the slightest bit exasperated, I will say in the bubbliest tones ‘isn’t it nice to watch a child in all his innocence enjoy Christmas in all its festivity?” I dare them to say no.