An easy-peasy first party

Tips to make the celebration special – and stress free

Mama: One day, when I was dropping Kellan off at daycare, his teacher asked me how I felt about him turning 1 in a few weeks and the upcoming switch to the next-stage daycare room.

I looked around the infant classroom that had been his home for the past nine months and it hit me that he was no longer one of the youngest babies in the room: He was among the oldest!

After some reflection with my spouse about how quickly the last year had gone, we began to plan Kellan’s first birthday party.

Birthday boy, Kellan

A quick Google search for ideas had us completely overwhelmed. We found Pinterest boards showcasing extravagantly themed — and expensive — parties. It was inspiring, but it seemed like way too much for a child who wouldn’t understand or remember much, if anything.

So my spouse and I opted for a more low-key, low-budget approach. We were lucky enough to have the help of both of Kellan’s grandmas in planning and hosting the party.

Since our house is far too small to comfortably fit more than four adults, we had the party at my in-laws’ home. We used to send invitations and told our family and friends we’d have an open-house style party from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

They were welcome to come whenever they could — and leave whenever they wanted. This worked especially well for all of our friends who have young kids and needed to work around nap schedules, soccer games and other obligations.

Because we’re trying to take a more minimalistic approach to Kellan’s toy collection — and to ensure the party wasn’t focused on present-opening — we asked for no gifts.

As Nana explains below, the party went off without a hitch!

Laura’s lessons learned: Beware the pressure of Pinterest; plan a party that matches your (and your partner’s) style. And don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help.

Nana: One of the ways I soften the blow of saying goodbye to my daughter and her family at the end of our visits is to quickly plan the next trip.

So as the little family prepared to leave Minnesota for Colorado after the holidays, I asked my husband to book us flights to Denver for our grandson’s first birthday in April: I just couldn’t miss it!

As I reminisced about all the birthday parties I planned for my three kids over the years, I remembered how much work they could be, so I asked my daughter, “Is there something I can do to help? And what kind of theme are you considering?”

Laura, somewhat flippantly, responded: “How about a ‘My son is turning 1, so come over for some cake,’ theme?”

I knew I’d need to be strategic with my theme pitch: Since she’s an educator, I suggested a Dr. Seuss / Cat in the Hat theme. She bit, and we were on our party-planning way!

Laura and her mother-in-law, Jisele, and I each did some research and then shared our ideas in group emails. Next we listed the duties and food options:

Send Evites four weeks prior.

  • Purchase Dr. Seuss-themed paper products, including wraps for cupcakes.
  • Gather multi-colored goldfish (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish) and make Cat in the Hat treats —Oreo cookies layered with strawberries and bananas. (They were easy to make and a big hit with guests!)
  • Prepare guacamole and chips; homemade macaroni and cheese; beverages including root beer, fruit-infused water and a few adult drinks; and cupcakes.
  • Buy Dr. Seuss books to serve as party favors for each child.
  • The day before the party, we met Laura’s in-laws for lunch and finalized plans.

The two grandmas did the grocery shopping, others ran to the liquor store and we all arrived the next morning a couple hours before the party to prepare the food. Even my son’s girlfriend’s parents visiting from California helped out!

With all the busy hands, everything was ready by the time the doorbell rang.

As expected, baby Kellan — the guest of honor — was oblivious to the preparations as he napped in the bedroom. When he awoke, the house was filling with well-wishers, and he good naturedly obliged everyone who wanted to hold him.

Kellan instinctively knew he was supposed to make a mess with his cupcake, and he did, smashing it all over his smiling face.

He looked happy, his parents looked proud, and since many of the guests lingered two hours past the open-house end time, the two grandmas high fived, and proclaimed it a successful party.

Nana’s takeaways? Go easy-peasy on first birthday parties: Keep it simple, have a theme, consider an open-house format, accept all help and, of course, take lots of photos!

Mary Rose Remington, a baby boomer and new grandmother, lives in Minneapolis. Her daughter, Laura Groenjes Mitchell — a millennial first-time mom — lives in Denver. They’ll be documenting their generational differences with this occasional series in both Minnesota Good Age and its sister publication, Minnesota Parent.

Get the recipes!

Learn how to make Cat in the Hat Cookies at; check out our In the Kitchen department here for Nana’s Homemade Mac and Cheese recipe; go to to see the recipe for Uncle Tyler’s Addictive Guacamole.