Baby birthday parties, especially the elaborate ones with expensive cakes and extensive guest lists, used to strike me as unnecessary and self-indulgent, not to mention a little absurd – why fête someone who can’t understand the concept? But as I’ve come to realize over the past year, things change when you become an aunt. I was so excited to celebrate Jay’s first birthday that I started party planning with my sister many months in advance. I suggested a Mexican theme because I’ve called my nephew “Burrito” since his birth – you know, the swaddling blankets – but that idea was quickly rejected, and I soon found myself on Pinterest and Etsy for more inspired décor and theme ideas (not my usual usual M.O.).
The party went off without a hitch, and we celebrated with plenty of fanfare. Having finally decided on a baseball theme, we made “team t-shirts,” served popcorn in retro popcorn boxes, and filled baseball gloves and mason jars with an assortment of Babe Ruth candy bars, Double Bubble chewing gum, and miniature foil-wrapped chocolate baseballs. We grilled hotdogs and ate them out of vintage white paper holders, and offered bottles of beer in buckets filled with ice as they might at a ballpark. We decorated with orange and blue Detroit Tigers balloons and streamers, happy birthday banners, and baseball ornaments. There was a baseball diamond on the cake, and the cupcakes were baseballs – white frosting with red icing stitches. Jay wore a matching team onesie and a baseball cap that said, “Daddy’s #1 Champ.” The invitation welcomed friends and relatives to “Come celebrate our #1 Slugger,” and the sign above his highchair read, “Jay hits a Home One!”
Under normal circumstances I would post pictures from the party, but in a cruel twist of fate, I lost, inexplicably, my camera’s memory card on the flight back to New York. I had removed it from the camera and set it on my lap, waiting to reach cruising altitude so I could pop it into my laptop. At some point between takeoff and 30,000 feet, it disappeared. A frantic search ensued mid-flight, and I disrupted nearly everyone around me as I asked people to stand, lifted hand luggage stowed beneath the seats, dug into dirty crevices, removed seat cushions, and emptied my handbag into the aisle. After everyone deplaned at LGA, I crawled on hands and knees with a stewardess, but to no avail, the 1-inch card holding hundreds of precious birthday pictures was gone.
Since then, I’ve made numerous calls to the airport lost-and-found and to Delta customer service, all the while trying to convince myself that the photos are not the most important part. But for me, pictures are a way of remembering the details and freezing tender moments, of which there were many this past weekend. It’s rather heartbreaking to think that we will never be able to look back on those moments through photographs; our hazy memories will have to do. Now resigned to the fact that the pictures are gone forever, I’ve decided to write down some special moments from Jay’s first birthday party. Though written memories are no substitute in this situation, I suppose they're better than nothing at all.
Memories from Jay's First Birthday:
The team shirts matched his long-sleeved onesie, each with a baseball-patterned “1” in the center. As guests arrived, I took photos of Jay with his teammates. There was a picture with his grandparents against the backdrop of the Happy Birthday banner. My mother made sure he was wearing his baseball cap, and they situated him on their laps between them. He stared straight ahead with a serious expression, as if to suggest that team photos were no laughing matter. The grandparents, on the other hand, were beaming.
Before we sang and toasted, my sister put Jay in his high chair wearing a navy blue bib with a green-striped bow tie. She had tried to gel his blonde hair into a mohawk, but it had fallen and turned into a charming little side part. I took a picture of him sitting and waiting for his birthday cupcake, eyes focused downward on the tray where scraps of lunch remained. With the sun shining through the window behind him, the picture looked ethereal. It was all blonde hair and chubby cheeks and long lashes. As I took the picture, it struck me that he looked quite like a one-year-old and no longer like a baby.
We started singing “Happy Birthday” as my sister put the baseball cupcake in front of him. There was a big “1” candle in the center, and he pointed to the flame and tried to touch it with his finger. Once the candle was removed, he studied the cupcake for a few seconds before smashing his left hand into the frosting. Smiling and slightly startled, he lifted his hand to take a look at the sticky white and red substance that coated it. As anyone will tell you, he is a very inquisitive child. His fingers were in his mouth and back to the cupcake in no time, and he ate every single bite. He is a lover of cake, a child after my own heart.
Later, while opening gifts, Jay pulled tissue paper out of gift bags and ripped wrapping paper off boxes like a pro. He studied the unwrapped boxes very seriously, and pointed to distinguishing features – multicolor dots and big letters and shapes. At one point, I caught my sister making a quizzical face, mouth slanted downward and to the right. Jay was sitting on her lap, and his face was a mirror image of hers, mouth slanted downward and to the left. We laughed about that picture and thought like mother, like son.
After all the presents had been opened and the crowd began to disperse, Jay crawled over to his grandma and pulled himself up onto the couch. The series of photos that followed captured their close, sweet relationship. In one photo, he was standing on her lap, pushing his forehead against hers. She was laughing and he was serious and determined, as ever. In another photo, he was cuddled at her side, her arm around him, both with peaceful and contented expressions.
The remaining photos from the day captured Jay’s playfulness and attentiveness. They showed the way he cocks his head to one side when he thinks he’s not being paid enough attention. The way he lies completely still and prone on the floor, knowing people are watching, and then pops his head up with a big smile, over and over again. The way he sits under the arm of the couch by the front door staring into the sun, as if taking a moment to reflect. The way he sometimes crawls unevenly, tipping himself from side to side, and then bows his head down to avoid slobbery puppy kisses, real or imagined. The way he crinkles his nose up and squints his eyes to smile, and forms his mouth to whisper “Da da da da.” The photos portrayed a baby becoming a little person with a personality all his own.
In an attempt to mitigate the loss, I’ve tried to retrieve a bit of my old self, the less sentimental person I was before I became Jay’s aunt. Unfortunately, as relates to the little guy who is now 1 year and 3 days, that person is gone forever. Love makes losses more difficult but life much better, and I have to admit that it's not a bad exchange. There will be many more birthdays and fond memories and pictures, and maybe I'll even convince everyone that a Mexican-themed party is a great idea. For now I'll say once again, Happy Birthday, Burrito. Your first year of life has certainly brightened mine.