Hey mamas, I am back after being away for what seems like an eternity. Besides the nation going a little crazy in the last week and trying to cope with that, I’ve also celebrated a few milestones that have kept me away from you. First things first, we’re 1 everyone! I mean my baby is 1! But hey, this mama is really proud of that accomplishment as a mother. I’ve made it through the intense hazing that is the FIRST YEAR. It’s no longer surreal. Now, things are sort of feeling normal. This is life, and this is us, the 3 of us.
We celebrated his big day last weekend and I swear it feels like I have a new child on my hands. He went to sleep on the eve of his 1st birthday a baby, and woke up a full blown toddler.
Leading up to the big day, this mama was busy planning a budget friendly 1st birthday and juggling life with a walker. No, not the flesh eating zombies from everyone’s favorite show (p.s. I’m like this close to quitting it after what went down in the premiere, not cool AMC, not cool).
Yep, RJ is a walking hurricane and no one can stop him.
About 3 weeks before his big 1, RJ started to walk. He had been cruising and taking a few small steps here and there for over a month before, but one night, I turned the camera on him and called him my way. He toddled all the way over to the happiest mama on the planet. It was pretty amazing, but what’s even more amazing is that after this night, he literally just never stopped. Whenever we FaceTime with our out-of-state family, I am constantly hearing “he’s such a busy boy”. And it’s true, all day long, he’s walking through the house, climbing on things, picking his toys up, putting them down, chasing the dogs, following me from room to room. If you could see it, you’d be exhausted just watching him. It’s mixed emotions for me, I am super happy and beyond impressed at how confident he feels navigating our space, i’m on constant eggshells watching him as he toddles and nearly falls and bumps his head when he tries to run, and i’m just a teeny bit sad at how quickly all of this has happened. Feels like just yesterday I was posting a video of him rolling over for the first time and equally impressed by that.
With every milestone RJ hits, I feel like I learn a little bit more about myself and motherhood as well. With his very first steps, I found myself walking behind him planning to catch him with every missed step, but just a few days after that, I realized how crazy I would make myself, and how I could potentially stunt his own development by instilling my own fear in him. So, I fought my urges and sat and observed, only interfering when there was clear and present danger, and just let things flow. Fast forward to exactly a week after his 1st birthday, and my boy is moving through the house like he owns it. Who am I kidding, he does.
Ok, so back to this 1st birthday party. As I’ve written about before, RJ is Black and Korean. Usually in Korean culture, the 1st birthday is accompanied by a pretty big party called a dol. It could include a big buffet/sit down dinner, traditional Korean clothing, tons of Korean rice cakes and other traditional sweets, Korean traditional clothing called hanbok, and luxurious gifts of gold rings from family members. Sounds pretty awesome right? I think so, but when it boiled down to it, I just didn’t feel like it was something I could pull off and involve everyone I wanted to be a part of RJ’s first birthday. But at the same time, I didn’t want his party to be any less memorable.
So how did I pull off a budget friendly 1st birthday party that still left our guests (and the birthday boy) with a ton of memories to come? Here are some of my tips to pull it off:
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Select a location that doesn’t require a huge deposit or cause you to break the bank.If apartment living makes it hard for you to have large events at your home, try asking family members if you can use their space, or if you live in a warmer area, like Los Angeles, there are plenty of parks throughout the city that offer completely affordable reservations. And even better, our weather makes it very realistic to throw an outdoor party in November. We got a sunny 70 degree day for RJ’s birthday.
We chose one of our favorite parks to take RJ, which happened to be 100% free! The downside, you have to get there super early to self-reserve the picnic tables, and on this day, someone beat us to the punch. It hit me like a ton of bricks thinking my son’s birthday party was going to be ruined because we couldn’t get to the park by 7:30am. Luckily, my best friend Ashley is the shit, and immediately hopped on the phone to reserve some tables and chairs and scored a pretty dope deal, too.
One important thing to remember as well, is the bathroom situation. With all the other things I was thinking about, I never stopped to consider that our favorite park was lacking in that area. I mean hey, we never had to use the restroom when we were there so it kind of slipped past my radar. Had I had more friends with children, this could’ve really proved devastating, but for my friends who really had to go, they just drove a couple of blocks to the Rite-Aid around the corner. If I could go back in time, this is the absolute #1 thing I would change.
Since we were outdoors, I was also able to give the party an added picnic element by laying out several blankets to create an added area of seating for anyone who might want to eat picnic style, and also serve as our designated area for gifts and entertainment (more on that in a bit).
2. FEED THE PEOPLE
Food is the second most important thing at any party, behind the location. Food makes people happy. Food brings people together. Food is life. It didn’t take me long to figure out what our entree would be. I wanted it to be something easy, something kid-friendly, and most importantly, something that RJ had a connection with. Every time we’ve made a trip to Babies-R-Us, we stop by the Costco right next door. I usually get a slice of Combo pizza and give the vegetables to RJ. He loves it, and I do too. These have been our first mother-son dates and I knew pizza would make the perfect 1st birthday food. Along with a few other treats. I ordered some really amazing fried chicken from a local grocery store and mama got her hands dirty and made a few side dishes to accompany.
I also made the smash cake for our birthday boy, and to quote my stepmom “That’s the Tai I know. He can’t eat sugar, but he can eat dirt.” Honestly this quote sums up my parenting style already. No, I don’t just let my son eat handfuls of dirt, but I let him explore, and I try not to tell him no unless there is imminent danger. So yes, this cake was sugar free, sweetened with bananas and applesauce, and you can check out the full recipe here.
•Kale Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Green Goddess dressing
This super easy recipe calls for most importantly, kale, washed and massaged with olive oil for a tender bite. After that, you can literally add your favorite roasted fall veggies (I did carrots, zucchini, and cauliflower). Next, toss a couple handfuls of nuts, seeds, and cranberries and top your salad with Annie’s Organic Green Goddess dressing.
•Crock-Pot Macaroni & Cheese
I used this recipe. It turns out to be a very easy and successfuly recipe, BUT, I wasn’t a fan of the flavor. Let’s just say, the mac and cheese i’m used to packs a greater punch. But, the recipe is so simple, you can easily, add your own spices, an extra dash of salt, or any other favorite mac and cheese add ins to make this one a real winner.
Not much to be said here, I cut up some watermelon, cantaloupe, and added about 1lb of grapes for a cool refreshing treat. Though this was the hardest dish to make and not eat all up while I was preparing it.
3. UN-THEME YOURSELF
As I was researching just how to plan a 1st birthday party exactly, I was met with one unwavering truth.
People, moms love a good theme. Every single party I saw had some crazy them that everything just had to adhere to. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my son wouldn’t even appreciate a theme, so instead I went with what I call and “un-theme”, this was a birthday party themed birthday party. You know, like the ones we had as kids. We didn’t need a special character or decor details that matched exactly. I opted instead to do a color scheme to tie everything together. I used red, blue, and polka dots and stripes to tie it all together, and then used small details to make it feel like a truly special birthday party. My favorite of these was the homemade birthday cake fudge which when our guests took home and ate later, would remind them of the fun they had at the party.
4. DIY (BUT DON’T LET PINTEREST MAKE YOU CRAZY)
Pinterest is great to pull party decor and idea from, but if you spend too much time, you will indeed go crazy. You will find yourself with a million projects that either won’t get done, or will look like you didn’t have enough time on it. So, here’s my tip for you: choose 1-2 of your favorite must-have DIY Pinterest projects, and do them or use them for inspiration to create your own DIY version.
For RJ’s party, I took the idea of a photo booth and put my own spin on it. I purchased a set of 1st birthday photo props on Amazon and placed them around the party in mason jars. On the party favor table, I set up a framed set of instructions telling people how our photo booth worked. Instead of them posing in front of a backdrop, I became the “on-th’go” photo booth. Armed with my Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Camera, I walked around the party and made sure everyone got a picture with the man of the hour, the birthday boy! They could use props, make funny faces, or just take a memorable photo with our little one, which could then be placed in my favorite DIY to date, a miniature kraft paper frame attached to the party favor bags.
Inside the bags was another DIY, miniature chocolate chip cookies and birthday cake fudge. I love baking and treating my family and friends with delicious goodies, so this was the perfect way to tell them thank you for celebrating such a special occasion with us.
5. RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS
I literally have the best best friend (and best friend’s boyfriend). With all that was going on, I forgot to reach out to her to ask her for help at first, but you know you have a good friend when they reach out to you before you’ve even asked. And she did. With Ashley’s help, I was able to have a stress free (minus the table debacle) pre-party setup. Not only did she help transport food and supplies, hang decorations and coordinate the table/chair delivery, she babysat while I made my decor vision come to life. You can’t ask for better than that.
Another aspect of the party that I worried about from he beginning was entertainment. Initially I wanted a magic themed party with a real-live magician. But after reaching out to several and finding out that outdoor magic wasn’t so feasible, I ran into a wall. But, then I realized hey, this is a party for a 1 year old, what would he enjoy? And it hit me like a ton of bricks from that same wall, storytime! For this I recruited a friend of mine with a skilled set of vocal chords. The first time RJ ever heard her voice reading , he had a big smile on his face so I knew Chenel was the best person for this job. We purchased a few books from the store including “It’s My Birthday”, and as a gift, RJ had been given “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. Towards the end of the party, we all gathered on the picnic blankets I laid out to serve as extra seating and listened on. This will truly be something we’ll always remember and I’m glad I was able to have a friend do it and be a part of this special memory.
6. HOLLAR FOR A DOLLAR!
There are plenty of party stores out there, many with items you never knew existed. And if they have multiple floors, like the one I’ve used in the past, they can actually be kind of overwhelming, especially for the person who literally has to walk down every aisle of the grocery store just to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. I say all of that to say, there must be an easier way. And indeed there is. I stumbled across this website Hollar, which offers some of the exact same products you’ll find in larger stores for $1-2 cheaper. That may not seem like a lot, but when you’re buying plates, cups, tableware, tablecloths, and more, it really makes a difference. They also have tons of other little gifts and items that would make great stocking stuffers for the upcoming holidays.
And no list on throwing an amazing (and budget friendly) 1st birthday party would be complete without the most important tip of all, JUST HAVE FUN! Take loads of pictures, enjoy the day with your baby, and don’t forget to celebrate you too, because hey, you did it, mama! You kept a living, breathing, human being healthy and thriving for a full year! Now, only 17 more birthday parties to go until you’re officially off of party duty, so keep these tips in your back pocket for the next one.