Ask Yourself: What Theme Should I Choose for My One-Year-Old’s Birthday Party?

Ah, milestones! Your baby’s first year has so many, laid out like lightly gummed bread crumbs along a nonsensical path through a scary wood. Smiles? So cute! Crawling? Watch out world! Hand foot and mouth disease? Oh god, that’s a thing in our lives now!

There may be no milestone sweeter than turning the calendar page on that first full year of joyous misery. But as you’ve learned, with great parental reward also comes great cost—in this case the angst of choosing a birthday theme that appropriately honors the spirit of your cub’s first year on the planet.

If you have not already made the sensible choice of grabbing some cupcakes from the grocery store and ordering a pizza, use this guide to winnow the seemingly limitless possibilities before you.

  1. How many children do you have?
    1. One: Go to 2
    2. Two: Go to 3
    3. Three or more: Your theme is Clean House Fiesta. Swing a broom at the cobweb that’s been billowing in the corner of the dining room since last May, put out a bowl of chips and salsa and send a text message invite to all the friends who are still willing to visit your menagerie.
  2. Do most of your friends also have children?
    1. No, I feel like we are slowly losing touch: Your theme is Boozy Brunch. Invite your friends over for bloodies and mimosas during morning nap and pretend to be enthralled by their Tinder tales. When they eventually remember that this is supposed to be a child’s birthday party, offer to order them a Lyft ride to the record store or whatever bullshit they’re doing that afternoon.
    2. Yes: Go to 3
  3. Are you a single parent or are both of you employed full time?
    1. No, at least one of us was able to stay home for the last year: Your theme is Great Expectations. Similar to the beloved character of Pip in the Dickens novel of the same name, your year has been one of intense discovery, turmoil and personal growth. And you, even more so than working parents, will suffer the crushing guilt of wanting to give the perfect first birthday experience to your daily companion. But this is a lifelong journey you’re on, young Pip, so go easy on yourself. There’d better at least be some deviled eggs on that snack table though.
    2. Yes: Go to 4
  4. Will you have family at the party, especially a Grammy, Nana, Memaw, Mimsy, Bubbie, Noni or Gamgam?
    1. Yes, my mother will be there: Your theme is Do Whatever Your Mother Wants, It Really Doesn’t Matter.
    2. No, we’re all alone: Go to 5
  5. Are you one of those families who always appear to have just leapt off the pages of domino, enveloped in a seemingly effortless glow of mirth and imagination?
    1. Yes, we make all our childrens’ clothing from vintage bedding and kombucha leather: Your theme is Pinterest Supernova. Choose up to five on-trend birthday party themes from your Family Vision Board and curate them into one blindingly perfect white-hot celebration of all the budding personality traits you’ve documented on Instagram over the last year. Bask in the incinerating guilt you have inflicted on the other parents in attendance.
    2. Hell no: Go to 6
  6. How attached are you to your money?
    1. I’ve accepted that my bank account is a bag of sadness with a hole in it: Your theme is Cash Flow Rodeo. Is your tyke a budding puppeteer? Delighted by ponies? Spellbound by any musician with a wacky stage name who will enthusiastically belt out another round of Baby Beluga on demand? It’s time to open your wallet and kick off your many years of throwing money at the Children’s Birthday Party Industrial Complex.
    2. Pretty attached, but I still want to do something: Go to 7
  7. Has it occurred to you that a first birthday party might be optional?
    1. No sir, I am not a monster: Your theme is Basic 1950s Birthday Party. If possible, find a photo of one of your parents’ childhood birthday parties. Observe all of the elements in the photo: Fewer than ten people, about three balloons, a child in a nice outfit, pointy party hats, a white cake that says “Happy Birthday Popular Census Name.” Minus the cigarette dangling out of your grandmother’s mouth, this is your template.
    2. I’d be lying if I said no: Go to 8
  8. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just take a vacation?
    Now that you mention it, that sounds fucking fantastic.

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