Lessons Learned by the Third Birthday

Soon after I found out the due date of my oldest son H, I immediately started envisioning a million things. What he would look like, what his first day of school would be like, and his first birthday party. I love to plan a good party, and his late summer due date was perfect for pool parties, watermelon, and lemonade.

His first birthday party was straight off Pinterest. His early arrival resulted in a birthdate shortly after the Fourth of July, and a vintage barbeque theme was perfect for a first birthday party with a guest list compiled mostly of adults.


By his second birthday, I was 25 weeks pregnant with his younger brother, and H was head over heels in love with trains. Initially I wasn’t going to do anything elaborate. But one evening I allowed myself on the devil’s website (aka Pinterest), and a few short hours later I was planning a vintage train party, on a slightly smaller scale.

We just wrapped up H’s 3rd birthday and subsequent birthday party, and it was hands-down my favorite yet. This was the first year my oldest knew what was going on. For months he’s been talking about his “Happy Birthday Cake” and requested a Hulk cake and a fishing party, which I happily delivered. By the 3rd birthday, I have learned a few lessons to make the party-planning and execution go more smoothly for everyone.


Serving Ware

If you plan on throwing birthday parties every year, invest in neutral serving ware. Target has some great white hard-plastic plates and bowls that I use. It goes with whatever theme I devise and makes everything look consistent – even if I just throw a bag of Chex mix in the bowl. The hard plastic is great for outdoors and small guests with lose grips as well.


Invest in a few neutral focal pieces of décor. For H’s first birthday, I made a really nice “Happy Birthday” bunting banner out of burlap and have used it every year since. I also invested in some burlap table runners for the table scape, which have worked well not only for birthday parties, but for other parties as well.


While we’re talking about investing, don’t forget to set a budget. H’s first two parties I just kind of spent as I went and cringed when I tallied up the expenses after. This year, I set a budget and stuck to it.


Pick a few traditions and stick with them–and only them. There are so many ideas out there for fun traditions, and if I was a real super-mom, maybe I could tackle them all. I am definitely not though, so our traditions include a special birthday plate, birthday doughnuts in the morning, and some birthday balloons. I had intentions of making an elaborate cake every year, but we’re three years in and that has yet to happen, so chances are, it’s not going to. Store-bought or Betty Crocker box will have to do.


Keep entertainment simple. With H’s second party, I had intentions of an elaborate train-decorating craft that included empty diaper boxes, craft paper and a lot of prep work. Thankfully, I came to my senses quickly and instead opted for train coloring sheets and piñata. This year, entertainment was fishing at the pond in the park and ride tickets for guests. The kids loved it and I stayed sane.


Don’t feel guilty out-sourcing. This year, instead of doing all the food myself for his party, the only thing I did was make cupcakes–out of a box. I bought a fruit tray, pre-cut veggies, and pre-made lemonade, and called it good. Honestly, everyone was too busy fishing and riding rides to eat, and most of it came home with us.

Throwing yearly birthday parties is definitely not for everyone. I’ve always loved birthdays–both my own and others’–and celebrating my own kids’ births is something extra special to me. Spending time planning their parties is something I cherish and I hope they will appreciate as they get older. Maybe they will pass this tradition on to their families someday, but if not, I have a lot of fun memories to look back on.

I’m always looking for new ideas – tell me, how do you celebrate birthdays in your family?


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