I have to document Xena's first birthday in excruciating detail because it would be the only one where she didn't have a say in anything - the theme, the decor, the guests, her outfit, the cake, etc. etc. I have been warned that starting with the age of 2, toddlers completely take over their own birthday parties and you'll be the one not getting a say in anything. So I thought I'd do a post on how her first birthday went so she can grow up, read it and say, "Mommy, what on earth did you make me wear??"
First things first. I found it very strange to plan her first birthday party because medically she's still considered a 10-month old, and would only be considered a 1-year-old on 13 May, the day she was supposed to be born. Viv and I even had a brief conversation on when we wanted to do the party - 17th March when she was born, 13th May when she was supposed to be born, or 21st May when she came home after spending 2 months in the ICU. We finally decided on 17th March because it was truly her 'birth day'.
The plan was to have a mega-party with both sets of grandparents, but my parents' passports, which had been sent for renewal around the time dinosaurs roamed the earth, had still not reached them. Sigh. Mera bhaarat mahaan. Anyway, Viv's parents reached on 15th March, and Xena immediately recognized her grandma... from her skype sessions! We were stunned to see the grin she gave her grandma every time she saw her.
We had been researching cakes, and a lot of my friends who have babies the same age were going for themed cakes like Spiderman and Disney and what not. Frankly speaking, I didn't want to do it because we didn't know if Xena would be into Spiderman or Disney or Transformers or whatever. We decided to just have a nice big cake with nice icing. We were checking out cakes in different shops when we passed by Swensens and I just casually suggested that maybe we should go take a look if they have any nice cakes. Good thing we did that, because we found THE.PERFECT.CAKE. It was an absolutely gorgeous 2-layered 1-shaped ice-cream cake. Both of us loved it and quickly placed the order. They told us that we could choose the flavours we wanted for the two layers, and we decided on butterscotch and strawberry. Viv asked them if they could put butterscotch as the top layer, making me wonder what difference it made, but the poor guy puts up with so many of my idiosyncrasies that I owed him this little one. Both of us burst out laughing when we saw the memo the cashier had written for the baker. There was only one line to put the information about the flavours and the poor thing had tried to squeeze in our special request. This is what she had written "Butterscotch & strawberry. Butt on top."
Xena and I had done a recce of all restaurants near our place, and finally decided on Indian Curry House. However, they did not allow private events on Saturday evenings (because they probably make obscene amounts of money from the weekend crowd) and suggested Saturday lunch instead. This suited us perfectly because there was a higher chance of Xena being alert and happy in the afternoon than late in the evening (her official bedtime is 6:30 pm!).
Next was outfits. Well, since a lot of people had said that Xena looked more like Viv and various members of his family, I was on high alert not to make the party environment conducive for more such comments. So Xena and I dressed alike, in pink lace outfits. I was dying to wear a sari, but it would be difficult to manage her in one, so I opted for a pink lace churidaar kameez which perfectly matched her pink lace outfit that my sister had sent from the US. Pink was the obvious choice because sometimes my gundi really looks like a boy, and I cannot count the number of times I've been told by strangers, "Your son is so cute." and "How old is he?" and the less offensive "Is it a boy or a girl?" Even the Swensens cake lady pointed to Xena and asked, "Oh, the cake is for his 1st birthday?" Argh. Just to drive home the point, I also put two small bows in her hair and made her wear frilly lace socks with her shoes.
On the morning of her birthday, the in-laws wanted us to go to the temple so we got up really early and got ready. Xena wore this really cute 'pavade' (lehenga choli) that her grandparents had got stitched for her. She was starting to get a little hungry, sleepy and cranky towards the end of the temple visit so Viv asked my mom-in-law and me to head home, while he and dad-in-law went to pack breakfast for everyone. We grabbed a cab which was driven by possibly the most insane cab driver I've ever encountered. She was bowled over by Xena's outfit and kept looking back and proclaiming how cute it was, and every once in a while she'd say, "I should keep my eyes on the road, yeah?" And then she did the unthinkable -- the reason why I refuse to take cabs. She asked me how to get to my place. Me. Of all the directionally challenged people in the world, me. (And that's why I take buses. No bus driver has ever asked me how he could get to my stop.) I thought 'Siglap mosque' would suffice (we live opposite the mosque), but she just joked "From temple to mosque, ah?" and started laughing so hard we had to laugh too. Anyway, thankfully this crazy driver answered her own question, with something like, "I'll take the KPE, then the CTE, then the PIE and then the ECP?" and though it sounded like she was just randomly listing names of expressways, I nodded vaguely. Suddenly she swerved and said, "Oh no no no! I can't take this. I'll end up back where I picked you up!" Sheesh. Well done, I thought. Nice contribution to the stereotype about female drivers.
So we finally reached home and realized that uh oh, I didn't have my keys. I had not anticipated that Viv won't be with us on the way back so I had not taken my keys. Besides, my sis-in-law was home. Except that she wasn't. She had gone to run an errand at the bank, so mom-in-law and I were stranded with a cranky Xena getting increasingly uncomfortable in her silk pavade. And then, the sun shone and the birds chirped and my diaper bag came to my rescue. All the times when I had lugged along the large diaper bag full of diapers, wipes, extra clothes, towels, toys, blankets and what not, I rarely needed to use it. But this time, I was so glad to make full use of the bag's contents. I changed her clothes, wiped her face, hands and legs, and she was much calmer. Mom-in-law and I found shelter near the barbecue pit downstairs. I fed Xena and waited for her papa who was rushing down in a cab to rescue us. It was too hot for her to fall asleep there and I was worried that if she didn't nap in time, she wouldn't be up and fresh for her party at noon. Soon, Viv and dad-in-law were back, and we got home.
The food was super yummy, and the non-Indians were especially bowled over by the butter chicken. Around 1:00 pm, when we decided to cut the cake, we realized that Swensens had forgotten to give us a knife to cut the cake! We asked the restaurant for one and they gave us a butcher's knife! Finding it a bit odd to cut a baby's birthday cake with such a lethal-looking weapon, we asked for a regular knife. It turns out that the ice-cream was so cold and hard, a regular knife was of no use, and we ended up using the butcher's knife anyway. The cake was a big hit with the guests, especially the kids.
Speaking of kids, I had prepared party favors for them in the form of goodie bags, each containing balloons, chocolate, candy, a whistle, a yo-yo, a bottle of bubble-blowing solution and a set of fancy pencils. The restaurant also had a kids' play area in a corner so all of them had a good time.
Xena was getting tired towards the end of the party, but not once did she cry. We were so proud of her. After everyone had gone back, we started packing up too. And then we saw the mountain of gifts. Thankfully, one of Viv's colleagues helped to transport the mountain in his car to our place. (The gifts occupied the entire stretch of the floor from our living room through the dining room to almost the kitchen, before they were unwrapped later in the night.) Xena took a good long nap and woke up refreshed to receive her birthday wishes from my mom and dad on Skype. I wish they had been here. It would have been so awesome. But Skype is the next best thing, and I was thankful for it.
And thus went Xena's first birthday party. We have come a long way from the uncertain and scary days surrounding her birth, and when I look at the ICU pictures of her on the day she was born, tiny and frail and battling for life, I can't believe this is the same baby. Yes, there are some battles still remaining, but we have done well so far. We have done very well.
These two pictures of Xena were taken exactly one year apart. I have kept the picture on the left really tiny as it's not for the faint of heart.