First Birthday: Casual “Beach Cottage” Tea

I recently read Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe,” a cross-cultural comparison of American and French parenting styles – her observations are both eye-opening and hilarious!

The book inspired me to think more about the impossible standards our culture has created for American Moms – and the high expectations I have for myself. Above and beyond keeping our kids fed and tidy (as past generations were expected to do), we expect ourselves (and each other) to be lay pediatricians, child psychologists, consumer safety product experts, early childhood educators, toxicologists … the list goes on. A common refrain among the overwhelmed new-Mom crowd (when our own Mothering falls below our own unrealistic, perfectionistic standards) is to conspiratorially say: “I’m such a bad Mom,” or “I’m soooo lazy.” I have heard this many times – and said it myself. Uttered by women who work out daily, have postgraduate degrees and bake like Martha Stewart, it is simply untrue – yet comforting to us somehow.

According to Druckerman, we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards for a variety of cultural reasons here in the U.S. (see also Judith Warner’s “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety“). French women, on the other hand, don’t subject themselves to this guilt or martyrdom. They often let each other off the hook by saying: “there is no such thing as a perfect Mother.” I’m definitely no Francophile, but am loving this mantra.

Along these lines for my daughter’s first birthday, I did the absolute minimum focused on keeping things festive, yet low-key and low-stress. I threw a simple tea party birthday brunch at our house for three friends, two nannies and my parents.

(How cute was she in her tea party dress?)

I would like to make clear that I didn’t follow Druckerman’s formula for an actual “French style” toddler birthday party: basically free babysitting. According to the book, in France, parents drop their kids off for the party and show up at the end for a brief cocktail hour with the other parents. As much as I’d like to usher in this convention here in the U.S., I threw a typically American party but kept the French mantra in mind. Guilt-free, because there’s no such thing as perfect. How refreshing!

The Party

The inspiration came from this adorable image on Pinterest of an over-the-top “beachy toddler tea” …

… tempting to obsess over, but I was not going to be able to fully execute.

Here are the DIY tea / cake / finger sandwich / tidbit / cupcake stands on Etsy that I simply had to have:

Many thanks to hubs, who used a diamond drill bit, followed these instructions and came up with the lovely stand below that now has tons of sentimental value. One point of interest: it takes about 15 minutes to drill a hole through a porcelain plate with a masonry bit. Something you’ll want to factor in when party planning in order to keep that “laid-back” vibe going.

My family’s favorite, never-fail carrot birthday bunt cake (recipe here) is quick and easy, and the gorgeous floral cupcakes pictured were custom-created by Peace of Cake Bakery in historic Stevensville. One phone call, one email with pictures of what I wanted and poof! Gorgeous (and delicious) custom cupcakes.

I chose a quick and easy craft – these adorably simple teacups and cupcakes made with plastic Easter Eggs from

Kids chose a plastic Easter Egg and a colorful button (for the bottom of the cup) as well as an assortment of bling to decorate with. Rather than wait for craft glue to dry, I hot-glue-gunned the kids’ choices together for them while they waited (sustaining a 3rd degree burn in the process). I’m proud to say that no children were harmed in the making of these teacups.

I wasn’t sure whether or not the craft was a flop, since the 2-4 year olds in attendance are pretty polite kids. I have since heard reports that some of the girls won’t part with their teacups and are carting them around all over town this week. No higher compliment!

My splurge for the day were these hand-painted teacup favors from my new favorite Etsy shop, HollySlay. I chose the teacup colors before the party theme was final, so they didn’t quite match the rest of my pink, yellow and orange spread. But I say: c’est la vie. (I was so thrilled with these teacups that I had Holly tackle a friend’s birthday gift and two of my Christmas gifts this year – excellent results! Holly, you have a lifelong customer!)

I did pine over these adorable tissue paper kissing balls on and was tempted to make them …

… but resisted the urge. (Maybe next time).

Thanks to a lot of help from my family, we were able to pull something meaningful and memorable together without going overboard with endless shopping, crafting or party planning (we’ll have the next 18 years for that). Best idea of the day: Grandma’s suggestion that my son (three this Christmas) take a long walk with Pop Pop during setup just before the guests arrived. Genius! She’s clearly done this before.

I definitely want to encourage all of you perfectionist working Moms out there to give yourself a break and focus on enjoying the birthday celebration with your kids. You can definitely stress yourself out with trying to plan the perfect birthday party, but one or two special little handcrafted touches can totally make your day. Even if you don’t make them yourself, you can feel good about giving business to a local artisan or entrepreneur. For a first birthday, it’s really all about what you want to do anyway – (and pssst: your child may or may not even realize it’s her birthday).

I didn’t spend a lot of money or precious evenings crafting. I don’t think anyone actually drank tea, but we commemorated the day with a celebration that was sweet and special. It was the perfect moment to pause, reflect, drink a mimosa (or four), and eat cake. The weather was phenomenal for November – 70s and sunny – so the kids played on the beach outside afterwards to burn off the sugar.

It seems like just yesterday I blogged about Morgan’s Moon, but it’s been a full year since my baby was born. Je t’aime ma chérie! Bon anniversaire et beaucoup plus. (Nope, I don’t actually know any French – I had to Google that.)

One Response to First Birthday: Casual “Beach Cottage” Tea

  1. Oh Amanda, I know how wonderful it is to celebrate the fact that everyone survived that first year. And I am extremely proud of you at nipping the Martha Stewartness of it all in the bud. I love the egg t-cup craft. And man do those cupcakes look lovely.Your picture for the favor isn’t showing up however. Hope to meet your girl one day.

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