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Michelle Warner

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Party Planning Priorities

Posted on November 25th, 2013


I have always thought that mothers who go overboard for their children’s first birthdays were a little…um…crazy. Why spend so much time decorating and planning when the baby won’t even remember it?

Well, similar to many topics about parenting where I made definitive statements before actually experiencing them, I am eating my words. I don’t know what happened to me, but once I started thinking about Olivia’s first birthday, I just couldn’t reign in the crafting side of me when it came to planning her party.

Actually, I have thought about this a little bit. I think there are two reasons I found myself engrossed in party planning. The first is simply because it was fun to put my creative juices toward a project–especially when sometimes being a stay-at-home mom of a baby doesn’t lend itself to much creativity. (Glue, glitter, and scissors don’t work too well with that age group!)

Secondly, I never realized before how much of an accomplishment it feels to make it to the first birthday with a little one.  At least I’ll speak for Jared and me: Olivia gave us a run for our money in her first few months and has continued to completely alter our lives. For all of those reasons and more, it was cathartic for me to spend some energy planning an event to celebrate such a big milestone in our lives. She truly is an answer to prayer and I wanted to celebrate her.

When I began brainstorming her party, I quickly found myself perusing the ultimate party planning and crafting website: Pinterest. And not surprisingly, after a few minutes of browsing, I couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed. I mean, you should see what some of these moms create for their kids’ birthdays! And the money they drop may be more than we spent on our wedding!

At first, I could feel the anxiety rising as I was internally keeping track of all of the touches I needed to do to make Olivia’s party unforgettable. But thankfully I have learned that when I sense the anxiety, it’s time to look inside and analyze the origin.

Not shockingly, my priorities had shifted from “planning a special time to celebrate Olivia’s first year” to “making this party the most amazing event of the year.” And as you can easily see, the focus had moved from Olivia and onto me.

I’ve only just begun my soiree as a mother, but I am already realizing that this “minor” detail makes up much of parenting. When I am more concerned about my image over Olivia’s needs, I have lost focus on what really matters. Now that I have tuned into how easily the focus can shift, I have already noticed how it plays out in other areas of parenting. Just the other day I was at the grocery store and Olivia started exerting her opinion rather loudly (to put it nicely). And there again I was faced with a similar decision; would I focus on what she needed (a nap) or what I needed (to finish my list) or my image (to look like a put-together mom). I am just beginning to understand how critical it is to stay focused not only on Olivia’s needs but ultimately on what God desires. (As I write, I realize how many layers pertain to this topic. I know that as parents we can focus too much on our kids and as a result they can lose out on learning important character qualities like patience and we can lose out on taking care of our own selves. As with all topics, I again see how critical it is to stay tuned in first to the Holy Spirit so He can help me discern what Olivia needs and what I need as well.)

Back to party planning. With these truths at the forefront of my mind, I asked God for wisdom about how to party plan in a balanced way. I still wanted to creatively plan Olivia’s party, but I knew the key was to do each task with the correct mindset. And in order to do that I tried to constantly check my focus and my motivation. Was I doing this to make myself look good or to celebrate Olivia’s first year?

I’ll be honest that some party tasks did not fit into the category of “For Olivia.” For instance, making a cheese owl


or owl rice krispie pops


or a pineapple owl


were definitely more for my enjoyment than hers. But as I worked on each task, I kept checking my heart: Are you doing this so others will focus their attention on you and “your” party?  If I sensed I was struggling with others’ perceptions, I took time off of party planning to realign my motives.

I found myself praying about my motives and the party as a whole quite a bit. I confessed that I could feel the desire to be accepted by others creep up into my motivations as I browsed Pinterest or worked on owl decorations. But I could also feel God working in my heart and preparing me for the party. My prayer was that God would be glorified through Olivia’s party, that it would not be my show but a celebration for her, and that I would be able to be present at the party and available to Olivia and the guests rather than focused on details.

Right before everyone arrived for the party, I had a few minutes to quiet my heart and pray. Normally this would not happen in the frenzy of last minute details but because I needed to nurse Olivia after her nap, I sat in the glider in her room and prayed. I asked God to be present in all of the moments and that He would help me to stay present and focused on what really matters.

Looking back, I am so thankful for those quiet moments because they helped prepare me for what would transpire. I was feeling really good about how everything had worked out up until that point. I had accomplished most everything on my list (with the help of my wonderful husband and both sets of parents!) except the healthy cake I was going to bake Olivia. I had been praying for weeks about Olivia’s sleep because if you know her, you know that napping is not one of her specialties and I knew if she was well-rested, she would be in such a better mood. As I sat in her glider praying, I thanked God that she had slept well during the night as well as her morning nap. Things were setting themselves up for an enjoyable party.

Let’s just say, in the moments that followed I was reminded of the all-important parenting lesson: keep your hands open and your expectations grounded when dealing with children. As prepared as I felt both in party details and mindset, I was completely unprepared for how Olivia would respond next.

After I dressed Olivia in her owl dress that I found in Florida, we walked down the stairs as the guests were arriving. Grandma Toy took Olivia while I greeted guests and finished the last details. When I glanced over at Olivia, I could see she was about to fall apart. The unfamiliar faces and volume in her house overwhelmed her. We quickly tried to sit her in her highchair with grapes and blueberries to distract her.


That lasted all of two minutes. All she wanted was for us to hold her close. As I picked her up, her tears fell harder and I realized that even though all our friends were ready to celebrate with the guest of honor, I needed to take her upstairs to calm her down. Even when she was in the familiarity of her room with her mama, she still sobbed.

As I sang to her and stroked her back, I kept thinking, “Wow, I was not prepared for this.” I had prepared for most every other detail but had not anticipated Olivia would respond this way–especially since she loves people and always waves to strangers when we run our errands. I reflected back to the lesson I had been learning about her needs vs. my needs. God was giving me an opportunity to let go of caring about my image or others’ opinions and instead focus on loving my daughter well and giving her what she needed. And that meant letting go of all of the expectations I had about the rest of the party. After all, I had to remind myself I was living real life and not in a make-believe magazine with staged photographs.

After Jared and I calmed her down, we embarked back downstairs, this time heading to the play room since children always seem to intrigue Olivia. Though she didn’t relax into the carefree girl we know her to be, she at least stopped crying. After a while, Jared and I decided we would try singing Happy Birthday to Olivia and give her the much-awaited cupcake.



Although she loves singing, our little girl remained pretty sad and she certainly didn’t cheer up when we placed her in her high chair.


So we improvised and Olivia sat on my knee while we broke off tiny bits of cupcake for her to taste.



After several bites, she realized the cupcake was worth getting her hands dirty.



Although Olivia’s birthday party transpired much differently than I expected, I still cherish the memories and feel so grateful we had the opportunity to celebrate her first year. And we did manage to capture a smile toward the end of the party:


Olivia is blessed with two amazing set of grandparents.

When I look back on Olivia’s party, what I will remember most is another lesson I learned in letting go of my expectations and tuning into what Olivia needs and how to love her best. God truly did answer my prayer about the party and helped me focus on what really mattered: the gift that is my precious one-year-old little girl.


In case you wanted to see any of the other party details, I thought I would post them as well.

Chinese Lanterns decorated as owls

[Chinese Lanterns decorated as owls hung from the banisters.]

The "Happy Birthday Olivia" canvas was painted by my sister-in-law and the "Grow Wise Little Owl" feather tree greeted the guests as they entered.

[The "Happy Birthday Olivia" canvas (on the left) was painted by my sister-in-law and the "Grow Wise Little Owl" feather tree (on the right) greeted the guests as they entered.]

"Grow Wise Little Owl"

[I asked the guests as they arrived to write a wise word for Olivia and hang it on a feather on the "Grow Wise Little Owl" tree.]

My mom caught me right before I was headed upstairs to nurse Olivia before the party. I am standing in front of the "book station" where guests were to sign Olivia Owl book and grab their goody bags.

[My mom caught me right before I was headed upstairs to nurse Olivia before the party. I am standing in front of the "book station" where guests were to sign the Olivia Owl book and grab their goody bags.]

An up close view of the book.

[I found an idea on Pinterest (where I found practically all of these ideas!) that uses a book that goes with the party theme as the guest book. I love that Olivia has a record of the people who celebrated her special day.]

"Thanks for making my party a hoot" goody bags and owl change purses.

["Thanks for making my party a hoot" bags and owl change purses were in the goody bags.]

The drink station. (The straws say "Whoo's Thirsty?"

[The drink station. (The straws say "Whoo's Thirsty?" though you can't really make them out from the photo.)]

A list of Olivia's favorites on the chalkboard (that was originally a mirror that I found at a garage sale and painted over with chalkboard paint).

[A list of Olivia's favorites on the chalkboard in our kitchen (that was originally a mirror that I found at a garage sale and painted over with chalkboard paint).]

The photo bunting with pictures of each month.

[A section of the photo bunting with pictures of each month that I hung on the windows in the kitchen.]

Some of the table decorations

[Some of the owl table decorations and two wonderful helpers before the party started.]


The food counter

[The food counter]


For some reason I can't seem to find my original photo of these cupcakes so have to use an instragram photo but wanted to make sure I included them because they were adorable!

[For some reason I can't seem to find my original photo of these cupcakes (so I have to use an Instagram photo) but wanted to make sure I included them because they were adorable and made by a former student of mine.]

My good friend Amy's two children working on owl crafts. A shout out to Amy because she helped me brainstorm the owl theme and allowed me to use many of her owl decorations. Thanks, Amy!!

[My good friend Amy's two children working on owl crafts during the party. A shout out to her because she helped me brainstorm the owl theme and allowed me to use many of her owl decorations. Thanks, Amy!!]


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