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Learning the hard way that some gifts just aren't age-appropriate

What do you bring to a 1-year-old’s birthday party?

It’s a question I’ve found myself asking more often these days, as more friends have reached the age when birthday parties for 1-year-olds are something they throw. For most birthday gifts, I try to place myself in the shoes of the intended recipient, but it’s been so long since I’ve been 1 that I can’t really recall what I enjoyed back then — I figure soft things and noisy things, but that’s hardly a scientific estimation.

My running buddy Bruce had his second son about a year ago (at which point, for about the next three months, he ceased to be my running buddy), a fact that has been used in conversation during recent longer runs as an example of time’s propensity to fly. Bruce sent me a text message last weekend saying “Are you working all afternoon? Having a small impromptu birthday fest come by if you can.” I politely accepted, then racked my brain for an answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this column, believing it rude to show up empty-handed. Not to mention the wrath I’d incur from the kid: Babies, like elephants, never forget.

Knowing I needed a baby gift fast — and that my fine china dealer was out of town — I drove to the bookstore, hoping to stumble upon something more enriching than a Nerf gun. After taking what was probably too long to stare at picture books, I selected the two that were brightest and most able to withstand ardent chewing. I bought the single man’s wrapping paper — a gift bag and colorful tissue paper — and made my way to the party as I hastily threw tissue paper all over my car wrapped the present.

Remembering that books weren’t a particularly cherished gift when I was a kid, I was still a little leery upon arrival. Bruce welcomed me in with a “Oh look, you brought a gift? Thank you; you didn’t need to do that” — gracious host — and exchanged my gift bag for a beer as a tornado of grade-schoolers blew by with what were very actually trumpets. I said hi to Bruce’s wife and congratulated her on making it through a year, to which she smiled, and joined the rest of the partygoers, all parents of the members of the brass-playing vortex. I couldn’t find the guest of honor, but figured he was hard at work on a nap because that’s what a lot of 1-year-olds like to work hard at. I’d already forgotten about the present.

The topic of conversation at that point was how Bruce was old. I joined in, because he’s older than I am and I like making jokes too, and everyone at the party had some good laughs. After some pizza, Doritos and other health food, preparations for the cake were under way, but I still couldn’t see the little guy among the other slightly larger little guys.

As Bruce’s wife placed the candles in the cake, I turned to Bruce and inquired into where the guest of honor was (after all, it WAS his cake).

“What?”

“You know, your son? He still asleep? After all, it IS his cake.”

“Today is my birthday.”

What do you bring to a 1-year-old’s birthday party? Apparently, the same thing you bring to one for someone turning 37.

Andy thinks, you know, that baby’s fingers probably aren’t even big enough to use a Nerf gun anyway.

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