What to Buy When Invited to a Birthday Party for a Baby

I have reached that stage of my life where I’ve begun to receive invitations for birthday parties of children produced by friends. “What do you buy for a baby?” Some preliminary research on Google suggested age-appropriate toys, or money in the form of stocks or a savings bond. Other parents seemed baffled by this question—you don’t buy gifts for the baby, you buy whatever the parents want for the baby, and sometimes parents don’t actually need anything. Knowing that, I decided to ignore all the gift guides and ask the mother of the baby, our pal Ester Bloom, what I should consider buying.

Mike: You have a baby, and the baby will be having her first birthday. How soon did you start thinking about it?

Ester: You do realize I’m a terrible example of this kind of thing, right? I haven’t been sitting up at night making decorations. I don’t have a theme.

Mike: Hah, it’s refreshing!

Ester: My mom and my grandma were coming to visit at the end of September rather than closer to Lara’s birthday, because my mom still had one weekend left at her house-share at the beach. And Ben’s mom wanted to come visit at some point too, so I suggested that she come on the same weekend and that we celebrate the birthday then. Voila: Party!

Mike: Do you think it’s a big deal? I mean it’s a milestone! Baby’s first birthday!

Ester: It’s a huge milestone! I’m so proud of her. Although she still has the memory of a goldfish, so she’ll have forgotten what happened on Sunday by Monday. Also she’s still pre-verbal, so we can’t ask or expect her to give a speech. My speech, spoiler alert, is going to be thanking everyone who helped get us through the first year. That’s the most moving part of all of this for us.

Mike: Did you ever teach her that baby sign language stuff? I feel like she could tell us.

Ester: We tried, but we weren’t very diligent or successful. She grinned at us like we were talking nonsense and just waited for us to stop.

Mike: So, I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out what to buy her for her birthday, and there were a lot of suggestions on the Internet ranging from age appropriate toys to clothing to things to help with learning and making the baby into a genius. There were also a lot of parents who were like, “I don’t know, it’s a baby. A baby does not want anything.”

Ester: That is very true. Although there are toys she likes more than others. To my chagrin, a couple of plastic things that make noise and light up have appeared in my house, and does she prefer the artisanal wooden blocks? No, sadly, she prefers the babbly plastic which will probably give her ADD. What can one do? But please, no more babbly plastic. There’s only so much one can take. Otherwise what she really likes is attention.

Mike: I also feel like regardless of how helpful these guides are—and I’m sure there was a lot of time spent into making these—none of it matters because it just matters what the parents want. Because again, the baby doesn’t know, and the parents know what they want or need in their house. The gifts are more for the parents than anything else?

Ester: Right, that’s very true. What’s the answer then, though? Registries are obnoxious. And if you ask us, we are obliged, according to page 38 in the handbook, section C, to say: “Nothing! Don’t give us anything!”

Mike: Which I think is also a hard thing to tell some people too, I think, especially the grandparents or other people who just adore the baby and feel sad coming empty-handed.

Ester: There should just be a fund set up if people want to contribute to either A) winter clothes, B) babysitting, or C) her college fund. Although I don’t want that college fund to make her go soft. I still expect her to earn an engineering scholarship.

Mike: Oh, that’s kind of smart! Maybe one of those Indiegogo things. I’d happily donate to that as a gift.

Ester: It is true that what parents need, always, is a night out. Our only date night has been to see an abortion documentary. And I don’t even want to tell you how much it cost us.

Mike: Oh man. Leave your house right now, I’ll watch the baby.

Ester: Hee! No, no, you’re busy. Too busy. You have your own life to tend to first.

Mike: So, one thing I did look into was getting a savings bond for the baby. But to get one, you need the child’s social security number and I thought it’d be super awkward to be like, “Hey Ester, can you give me your baby’s social security number? IT’S A SURPRISE.”

Ester: Yes! Totally awkward, and yet it has happened. What Jewish child born does not immediately get bombarded with Israeli bonds?

Mike: And you’re just like, “okay, sure!”?

Ester: Well, what’m I gonna say? I just hope she doesn’t end up anti-zionist.

Mike: Haha. I’ll keep that in mind.

Ester: It’s better than Build-a-Bear. You are the first person to ask me this question, by the way.

Mike: I feel like it makes sense I would ask about savings bonds because of this site.

Ester: Yes, absolutely.

Mike: Okay, tell me what the worst gifts you could receive from well intentioned people would be.

Ester: Hm! Bright pink clothes that say “PRINCESS” on them.

Mike: “You bring the bottle and we’ll party at 3 a.m.”

Ester: Right.

Mike: I see those onesies for sale next to the office.

Ester: Yikes. I did pick her up a shirt from a PSP sale that said “Babyphat” but that’s it. That’s as “cool” as she gets, okay? By the way, I am proud of the fact that I have still not set foot in a baby store. Not once. Everything’s secondhand from PSP, or other parent friends, or whatever.

Mike: What is PSP, again?

Ester: Park Slope Parents. The miracle listserv.

Mike: Ooooohhh. Yes. The magical listserv. We’ve talked about that.

Ester: But yeah, lots of tacky, seasonally-inappropriate, and/or too small clothing is the worst. Also babbly plastic that will turn her brain into guacamole. Since we have a small apartment, pretty much anything that takes up a lot of space is hard.

Mike: What about a little Jackie Kennedy Onassis winter coat or something like that?

Ester: Okay, that’s adorable. Anything Jackie O is good, especially a pillbox hat. We do have plenty of winter hats for her. I think we’re all set on that score. She fell in love with some boy’s truck on the playground the other day, but a friend of mine already swooped that up and said, “Done! Getting Miss Lara a truck!”

Mike: How many people asked about what to get? I feel like this is probably a question everyone asked.

Ester: Only you, buddy.

Mike: Really? Everyone is going to bring you bright pink “Sassy Girl” jumpsuits?

Ester: I am braced for the inevitability. Like when Ben and I got engaged and everyone showed up with salad bowls. Because everyone figured, “Vegetarians! They like salad, right?”

Mike: Haha, what? I didn’t know you before you were married. Did you not have a registry?

Ester: We set one up after that. But I’m not very on the ball about these things. I’m missing the party planning gene. Like I said: No theme for this birthday, no party favors, no streamers. What did Blue Ivy do for her 1st birthday?

Mike: The first thing I saw in a Google search was that she got an $80,000 diamond-encrusted Barbie.

Ester: I’m laughing so hard I’m coughing.

Mike: So I guess I know what to get now!

Ester: Yup, get on that. MTV should do a reality show about rich famous babies and their bday parties, same way they do about Sweet Sixteens. Some of us could learn something.

Mike: I’d watch that. So I guess, in summary, if you’re trying to figure out what to buy for a baby, just ask the parents … Who will just tell you what to do?

Ester: Sure! Also exercise good judgment. (Small apartment? Try something that folds or stacks.) NO GLITTER.

Mike: Ugh, GLITTER. (Sorry, Mariah Carey, but it’s true.)



Ester Bloom lives in Brooklyn.



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