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First Fest: Real-Mom Tips

The guests had been invited and the chocolate cake made, and the house was as clean as it was ever going to be. My husband and I had planned a relatively small event for our son Cole's first birthday party  -- we'd invited both sets of grandparents, some neighbors, and a few friends  -- but we were anxious. Not only did we feel the pressure to be gracious hosts, but this was also our chance to show off our firstborn.

Three hours, two exhausted parents, and one overstimulated baby later, the party was over. Even though Cole cried when we sang "Happy Birthday" and spat up on a neighbor's blouse, everyone delighted in watching our baby take his wobbly steps and smile his four-toothed grin. My husband and I basked in our guests' appreciation of him.

Lesson learned: No matter how hard you plan, your child's first birthday party will hit a snag or two, since babies are so unpredictable. The good news is that no one expects  -- or even wants  -- perfection. (Besides, you might as well get broken in for party surprises down the road.) These reality-tested ideas can help you celebrate the big day with less stress and more joy:

The guest list
The standard advice is to have one guest for each of your child's years, but this often goes out the window. That's because the party isn't so much for your baby as it is for you and the family and friends you want to help mark the day. This can add up to a crowd.

If your party is growing larger than, say, 20 or so, consider scaling back. While some 1-year-olds can handle being around a lot of people, many are overwhelmed. Jillian and Brent Pierson of Eagle Rock, CA, threw a first-birthday bash for 50 people at a nearby park and museum for their daughter Taite, now 2. "She clung to me the whole time, looking serious," Jillian remembers. "It was only after most of the guests went home that she started walking around and having a good time."

Alison Bell's last feature for Parenting was "Look Who's Crawling," in the August 2000 issue.