Gaining party experience for my family’s benefit

Note: This column appears in the 1/14 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/15 issue of the Peoria Times

I have been on the 1st birthday party circuit for the past month.

This is mostly all new to me. Sure, I have been to 1st birthday parties before. Most of them, I imagine, when I was one. But I do recall attending my niece’s 1st birthday party a couple of years ago. I even, rather appropriately, brought a couple of my ol’ college buddies, partly because they were staying at our house at the time and I had no other choice, and partly because they really know how to party.

Nevertheless, things are different now that we’re kind of, unofficially, parents. Whereas before at non-family 1st birthday parties we were shunned as “childless acquaintances,” we are now members of an exclusive club, with a laundry list of privileges, not the least of which is acceptance. And cake.

Case in point: While in California over the holidays visiting our friends, we tagged along to a 1st birthday party that we weren’t even invited to. Normally, this would be frowned upon by a society that is largely unwilling to dole out goodie bags to strangers. But it was cool, because we had our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter with us. We belonged. We didn’t even bring a gift and I’m pretty sure I was first on the buffet line.

I am also beginning to understand 1st birthday party etiquette, my buffet line escapades notwithstanding. And this is good, because I had many questions going in, namely: Is it okay to ask for beer? Also: What am I supposed to do there? I have come to understand that it is okay –- encouraged even –- to accept beer if it is offered. (As a side note, at the party in California, I was offered hard liquor. I declined, as that would be a faux pas.) And your main responsibility while you are there is to smile and make sure your own child doesn’t get hurt. This is easy when you’re boasting a largely immobile four-month old. Less so when you have an almost two-year old and the birthday features a giant party bouncer, as my friend Rashad can attest.

This experience gave me confidence going into yet another 1st birthday party last weekend, which was for the daughter of our good friends around the block. Like a true professional –- and because I know my wife can hold her own at such an event -– I made sure to carry in our hopefully-soon-be-daughter myself, as I knew this would be an instant ice-breaker and conversation-starter. After I was offered a beer, I located the other men at the party and talked about baseball. Then I sang “Happy Birthday.” Acapella. I even talked to some of the other kids there, which is not required, but I was feeling it.

I have also been taking notes, because God-willing we will be able to plan a 1st birthday party of our own sometime down the line. So far I have: 1) don’t invite ol’ college buddies and 2) no peanuts. We also need a theme. Which is why I hope she likes baseball. Pfftt.