Organizing a birthday party for a 1-year-old is a conundrum for new parents. On one hand, there’s the desire to see your progeny shove a pudgy fistful of cake in their face. On the other hand, there’s inviting people, making said cake plus other food items, engaging in sleep-deprived small talk, and then cleaning up afterward while a small drunken sailor wails at your knees.

At home in Southern California – where Julia and I live with our daughter Maeva – the scale tipped toward convenience and Maeva’s birthday slipped by with nary a frosted face. 

A week later, however, we were going to visit Rooted Northwest for the first time since Maeva’s birth, and, urged by fellow community members, we mustered the cognitive ability to send out a Maeva’s First Birthday invitation that included a time, a date, and a potluck sign up. 

After which we promptly did nothing else about it. 

And yet, like magic, we arrived at the old barn to discover several community members already setting up. Within an hour the potluck table overflowed — and included a sugar-free “smash cake” (as I learned it is called) made by a fellow Rooted parent. Two talented crafters collaborated on a banner for all the community kids to ink their footprints, both as community memento and adorable conversation item. Even the cleanup felt easeful, as many hands pitched in.

Driving away I reflected with great gratitude on the experience: On a practical level, I was thankful that with shared infrastructure and shared space comes a much greater ability and willingness for every guest to pitch in and help.

But on a deeper level, it was clear that our community wants to gather. We weren’t “convincing” a bunch of far-flung friends to trek across town for an event; rather, we were offering a reason to celebrate. The arduously architected experience of a traditional birthday was instead a co-created communion.

Plus, smash cake…

Essay by Jake Laub