'As parents, when did we become so bonkers about first birthday parties?'

Since the birth of Pinterest, the level of birthday parties has risen with everyone trying to outdo someone else like they are Martha freaking Stewart on crack.

Balloon installations, drip cakes, purified air popped non-GMO organic corn for Ketogenic kids… where did this craze come from? When I was a kid, parties were filled with party pies, sausage rolls and little boys, which, let’s face it, is a mystery meat. The games were pass the parcel, bobbing for apples and cut the chocolate. No giant inflatable castles, face painters or portable petting zoos in sight and if I remember correctly, we had a blast.

Jones, my second son, celebrated eight months Earth side on Easter Sunday and it got me thinking about his first birthday, which let’s face it, will be here tomorrow.

For me, birthdays are all about family. Apart from those late teenage, early 20-something years when friends were EVERYTHING, I have always had a strong pull to spend my birthday surrounded by those dearest to me. This is something I absolutely want to instil in my boys. That is until they too decide I’m uncool and ditch me for their mates.



My eldest son Baker’s first birthday was big. My husband Carl and I both come from big families, which meant family alone at his party topped nearly 40 people. I scouted a park close by for the location and the extra freezer in the garage was plugged in and put to good use.

Homemade goods were better, I thought. Loot bags, where kids must obviously get a toy with their lollies, were sourced and filled. The concept of the cake, a campsite, was agreed upon. The park would be known as Camp Baker. Mini Teepees would be set up, games would be played, the sun would shine and perhaps unicorns may even float through the sky.

Then on New Year’s Day, T-minus seven days out, Baker threw up. I thought it was a random baby spew, got him cleaned up and then it happened again. And again. I finally got him to bed and he seemed to settle just in time before I started to feel rather crap. The cramping had me doubled over in what honestly felt like labour without actually giving birth.


Then it started. Gastro.


Sh*t, no pun intended. I lay on the bathroom floor thinking I’d rather die than attempt moving. Six hours in and it finally started to slow. Then Carl started. For conservation’s sake, I pretend I’m dead at this point because I am of no help to anyone, least of all my husband. All I could do was lay there and watch. It was, without a doubt, my finest moment.

The night passed and leaving in its wake were two humans who looked like we hadn’t slept or eaten in a year. But instead of lying there trying to recover, all I could think about was his party. His cake. How am I going to be okay to bake? How would I get to Costco to pick up the caramel covered popcorn?

I called my eldest sister, she’s damage control. I can still remember it vividly, lying diagonally on the bed, my head half hanging off the edge, crying. Crying because of his cake. And his party. And the pressure. How was I going to get it all done? She would bake the cake and I would decorate it. Because what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t?

How much effort do you need to put in to a ‘First Birthday Party?’ Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes traverse the trend that is the over-the-top first birthday party. Post continues after audio.

We thought we were over the gastro. House was gassed with Glen 20. A steam mop was purchased. Sterilisation complete. My middle sister and her family arrived to stay later in the week. We celebrated Baker’s actual birthday with pizza and Ice Cream cake. We had the best day. Relaxed, got messy. By bedtime, my nephew started throwing up. By sunrise, my pregnant sister was in hospital. It was f**king glorious.


We now refer to it as the gastro outbreak of 2015.

The night before his party arrived. The cake was baked and decorating commenced. I might as well have been vying for the title of Masterchef with the threat that George Calombaris would eat me if I didn’t, boom boom, shake the room. I was up until after midnight freaking out over every tiny detail. It was madness.

The morning was manic, trying to time his sleep perfectly, going back and forth to the park to set up, getting him into his carefully curated party outfit that he was not to get a mark on and me obsessively checking the weather report like the rain clouds were mysteriously going to disappear if I kept hitting refresh. I barely remember spending any time at his party with him. We blew out the candles on the cake. Everyone clapped. No one handed me a trophy for my efforts.

I was so thankful it was over.

In the silence of the car, it was then that I wondered why I had put myself through it all. What was it all for? Not for him. He couldn’t have cared less. It was me trying to impress everyone else.

Courtney Rothberg First birthday parties
The cake to end all first birthday party cakes. Image: supplied.

By the time Baker turned two, we had moved to the Gold Coast. We had a small group of family here to celebrate but one thing was certain, I wasn’t putting myself through the same saga that was gastro-gate.

We did gourmet hot dogs by the beach and by gourmet I mean fancy pre-packaged flavours from Aldi and some homemade coleslaw with any condiment you wanted. The loot bags were literally a set of 20 plastic bags for $2 and filled with Whiz Fizz’s, Red Skins, jelly beans, lolly pops. The stickier, the better. His cake was a masterpiece. I got up at 7am, did some stretches and slipped my feet into some comfy shoes to embark on the long trek across the road to the 7 Eleven where I purchased 24 Krispy Kreme donuts to assemble in a tower before sticking some candles on the top. We had the best day. I spent it entirely with him, present, relaxed.


By home time his face was covered in sugar, his hair matted from a combination of ocean salt and sand and his feet were filthy. Turning around in the car to look at him in his seat, minion mask on, lollipop hanging out his mouth, I smiled with pure joy. This was what it was all about.

Courtney Rothberg First birthday parties
Baker without a care in the world at his second birthday party. Image: supplied.

For celebrities, we expect perfection. Kidchella for North West’s first birthday was not crazy because it’s Kimye, but for us civilians, when did we, for want of a better word, become so bonkers?

In four years I’ve learned what kind of mother I am when it comes to birthdays. I loathe the stress. So as Jones’ first birthday approaches, we have decided how to celebrate: Pulled pork and slaw burgers in our backyard, family en masse. I even bought the best cake book where the premise is this: Cake Hacks. It’s all store bought cakes and the simplest ways to decorate them. It was a shining beacon on the shelf as I made my way to the checkout recently. Best. Buy. Ever.

The purpose of this is not to shame people who love to throw a party. If you love throwing huge parties for your children, props to you for having the skills and healthy blood pressure to pull them off. I look forward to admiring your Katherine Sabbath creation from afar.

This is actually for the mums and dads like me. Where the stress is, to put it bluntly, anxiety inducing and simply not worth it.

The truth is your kid doesn’t care. As long as there is cake, presents and you by their side, they don’t give a flying fig where anything came from. Store bought, homemade. Whatever.