Your baby won’t remember her first birthday. But for everyone else around her, it’s a momentous occasion and a big reason to celebrate. It’s not just to mark how far your baby has come from being a tiny bundle of flesh and a lolling head; it’s also for you, the parent, to show people how far you’ve come yourself. You can proudly proclaim that you’ve survived the sleepless nights, the uncontrollable tantrums (from the baby, that is), the erratic schedules! You have successfully unlocked the achievement of deciphering your baby’s needs without her uttering a single comprehensible word! And in the midst of all this, you’ve also helped your baby reach some incredible milestones. Take pride, because this is no small feat you’ve both accomplished! So while you’re on Cloud 9 with your baby, take some precautions to make sure that you stay there.
Preparing for the storm
Imagine that you’re entering your house with the knowledge that it’s not yours. Better yet, do it from the perspective of a kid, especially if you know young children will be in attendance. Now, look at everything around your house and ask yourself some questions:
– What would I want to play with first?!
– Can I break it?
– I’m bored. What’s going to entertain me?
– What am I not supposed to touch but I will anyway?
All of the things that answer any of those questions need to be put away. Not just organized or shelved properly. Oh no. I mean, out of sight and way out of reach. Even the pens and pad of paper next to the phone aren’t safe. Your house might be your sanctuary, but nothing is sacred.
The first thing to assume is that you can’t assume anything. Some of your guests might be great and respectful people, even some of the kids. But you can’t expect everyone to behave themselves– adults and little kids alike. You also can’t expect the parents of kids to keep their offspring in line. Just be prepared to handle any situation that might arise in terms of behavior.
So do some preemptive strikes and remove things you wouldn’t want people touching. Make it expressly clear where the majority of the party will be taking place. You can do that with party decor: areas with decorations = party; areas without decorations = not party. If your purse and wallet are usually by the door, move them to the bedroom where it’ll be safe behind closed doors, and you can easily monitor whether anyone goes up there or not. Anything you don’t want people touching (like me with my pens: you don’t touch a writer’s pens!), move them out of sight and out of reach.
Many details! Now, HANDLE IT!
One thing to keep in mind, as the host of the party, is that you’re allowed to enjoy yourself. It’s not your job to make sure everyone is entertained and that their every need is fulfilled. That includes the little kids. You want everyone to have a good time, but that doesn’t mean donning a monkey outfit and capering about to keep them laughing and jolly. There’s a difference between a host and a waiter. You’ll troubleshoot when you need to but no one should be flagging you down for drink refills or another plate of food.
With that said, it’s best to have everything set up in such a way that people can intuitively go with it. For example: you set up a table with food and the necessary utensils in one room and chairs/seating in the next room. People will, generally, go help themselves to some food and a drink then sit down for chow and chat. Additional supplies should easily come to hand when they’re needed– storing them under the table is a good idea. In case of spills, keep paper towels discreet but also handy. It saves you trouble. It also helps reinforce that idea of where the party generally happens and where it isn’t happening. Having to go to the upstairs bathroom closet for extra napkins tears down the imaginary boundary wall.
Remember, you’re the one running the show. Typically, logic follows that: the less details there are to attend to, the less you have to worry about. It’s perfectly okay to keep things simple. Even so, keep a realistic timetable of when things need to get done in preparation of the party. Things that are simple still need to be allowed time to be completed properly.
If people want to start snarking about how they spent this-and-this amount on catering and entertainment, you can tell them just how much you saved by doing it your way. In this day and age, frugality isn’t as much as a turn off as it used to be. Flaunt it!
A cheap and easy decoration idea? Use prints of photos of your baby’s adventures for the past year. Arrange them on colorful sheets of construction paper. Tape them onto the paper and then tape the completed collages onto the wall. Voila!
Sniping down problems
Things will go wrong. That’s the good news. People will drop food, kids will spill drinks. The best thing to do is just deal with things as calmly and as gracefully as you can. The bad news, however, is a messy house might be the least of your worries.
1.) They found a way to get into your stuff anyway: Politely and quietly ask that the person not touch it and put it away. In a deep, dark corner. Under lock and key. Then firmly, but gently, escort the person back to the party.
2.) The hyperactive kid: As much as you want to, don’t do anything. You can silently pray that the parent will take action and wrangle him in. Do not attempt to discipline the child on your own. That will cause unnecessary drama and strife between you and the other parent. On the other hand, do not attempt to talk to the parent, even if he or she has been your friend for a while. Having your child go ballistic on you in a public space is embarrassing as it is. The parent might be trying to wish it away by ignoring it. There’s nothing you can do about it. Trying to do something will just cause drama and end up ruining the party, because parenting is always a touchy subject. Bringing it up in public will just heighten that sensitivity. Trust in your abilities to divert attention away from the troublemaker; and also trust in your other guests to handle the situation in their own manner.
3.) They didn’t ask for permission: You thought it would be okay to leave some stuff out. Who goes to a party to play with pens and Sharpies, anyway? But when you turn your back to get something to eat and chat with someone, you find out that some kids are wreaking havoc on your Post-It pads and running your Sharpies to the ground. They’ve done it before at someone else’s house, so why shouldn’t it be okay here? They “need to be entertained” and thought it your responsibility to do so. On the surface, it’s really no big deal. But it’s the heart of the matter that really bugs you. They disrespected you and didn’t think it necessary to ask for permission. If you feel comfortable enough to do it, speak to the parent and/or talk to the kids and gently tell them to stop doing what they’re doing. If you’d rather forgo the inevitable drama (because you know how the person in question will react), just blissfully let it go and write yourself a mental memo for next time. If there’s going to be a next time.
The fact of the matter is, you just need to be prepared. It doesn’t matter if your parents would have smacked you silly if you were out of line at a party as a kid, nor does it matter if you would have done something differently if you were the guest. You’re you; other people are not you. So don’t hold people to the expectations you’d hold yourself to. At best, you can be a guest in turn and show them how it’s really done. Perhaps you can teach them by example and, above all, your own baby will be proud of how well you’ve conducted yourself in the face of adversity… if not now, in some years down the line. She’ll take note of it eventually, I promise.
The bottom line
In a perfect world, you can set up a party and run the show like this guy (note: NSFW), and everyone would be absolutely happy with it. But, again, you’re a host, not a belligerent tyrant. No one wants to go to a party and feel like they’re in school again. So relax. Stop trying to herd cats because, frankly, some cats just don’t want to be herded.