Oct 2, 2011  •  In Baby, Claire, Motherhood, Personal

Claire’s Dol (First Birthday Party)

Last night, as I looked at the pictures from Claire’s dol (first birthday party), I started to cry.

You see, in Korean culture, a dol is one of the most significant birthdays in a person’s life. It is, in fact, THE most important birthday in a young person’s life…all the way up until they reach the age of 60! I wasn’t kidding when I stated in a previous entry that I have friends who have spent tens of thousands of dollars for their children’s dol‘s. You can see how all-out some Koreans go at Korean 1st Birthday Blog.

So as I flipped through the pictures, I couldn’t help but shed some tears. Because there were so many things I wanted to do, but did not pan out. Because I knew that my daughter deserves so much better. Because I felt that I had failed her as a mother.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so, eternally, words-can’t-fully-describe grateful and thankful that my mother and SIL volunteered to organize the party. My mother, who still works 70-hour weeks doing manual labor. My SIL, whose life is hectic enough preparing a move to the other side of the world. Without them, Claire’s dol probably would have been nothing more than some store-bought snacks and a birthday cake.

I knew that the party would be small and relatively low-key. I know that a kid’s birthday party is rarely perfect. And I know that Claire will not remember her dol.

BUT there were some things I wanted to happen, which did not…

1.) I wanted some family pictures. With my sister about to leave for Paris for 3 months, and my BIL & SIL moving to Shanghai in less than a month, this will most likely be the last time that the entire family — both my side and J’s — would be together for a long, long time.

Not only did we fail to get ONE family picture, we didn’t even get pictures of me or J — the guest of honor’s own parents! — with Claire. 🙁

2.) We had originally wanted to have Claire’s dol on a Sunday afternoon for two reasons:

    1. It is the most convenient day due to my parents’ hectic business hours. Additionally, we knew that other guests would be free too.
    2. Claire does not like to nap outside our home. So we knew that the later the party, the more tired and crankier she would be.

However, we were not able to have the party today because J had an out-of-town trip planned. We could not hold it yesterday (a Saturday) either, because Saturdays are the busiest days of the week for my parents. So we settled on 5:00 on a Friday evening — my mother left work early to finish preparing the food, and my father left work early too in order to attend. Both J and his brother took the day off from work. As for the small number of other guests? They all arrived when they were able to, meaning that they all came hours late, at different times.

3.) I had not slept well the night before, my hips were acting up, and I was throwing up everything I ate. Either BebeDeux was intent on making me be miserable for her older sister’s party, or my body just wasn’t cooperating (or both). By the time the guests started to arrive, I was exhausted, cranky, and all I wanted to do was lie down and take a nap. I could barely keep a smile on my face, let alone gather people up to take family pictures.

In spite of all this, the guests seemed to have a good time. My mother had volunteered her house and prepared the food, while my SIL took charge of the decorations. The best part was that Claire was not quite as cranky as I had feared she would be…but then again, this might have to do more with the fact that at least one person was holding her and carrying her around the entire time. 🙂

Now, on to some pictures…

My SIL really outdid herself with the decorations, don’t you think?

These dol towers are traditionally made with rice cakes, fruits, candy, and beans. They can get pretty expensive to rent or buy, so my SIL made them herself! The one furthesr to the left says “Congratulations on your first birthday” and the one next to that has Claire’s name in Korean. Meanwhile, the dol tower on the far right is Claire’s name in Chinese. As for the tiger? It’s because Claire was born on the year of the tiger!

My SIL also hand-made the birthday banner. I can’t even imagine how much work went into all this. (Be sure to check out her craft blog for more goodies!)

There were stuffed giraffes on either side of the table, because Claire’s lovey is a stuffed giraffe (which can be seen here) and so we like to think that the giraffe is her favorite animal.

Coincidentally, the cake that my mother got for the party — which is not a traditional western cake but rather a rainbow dduk (Korean rice cake) cake — had a giraffe on it too! She didn’t plan with this with my SIL at all. In fact, she said that she thought the design was a pony. 🙄

At first, Claire started off wearing a silk floral dress I had purchased for her earlier in the week (here she sits with J’s parents)…

But soon, she changed into her very first hanbok (Korean traditional dress) which, once again, my very generous SIL gifted us.

Claire with my sister. I love this picture.

Claire with my BIL and SIL. (Seriously. She looks more like their kid than ours!)

With my in-laws…

And with my parents.

Soon, it was time for doljabi, a short game that is played on a child’s first birthday. Traditionally, three objects are placed on the table in front of the child: a brush, money, and string/yarn, and whichever the child picks up first is supposed to predict his/her future. A brush means that the child will become a scholar. Money is supposed to lead to wealth, and strong/yarn represents long life.

(I picked up the brush at my dol, and my sister chose money.)

In recent years, more items have been getting added to the doljabi, such as stethoscopes, toy golf clubs, calculators, and such. We decided to keep it simple and play it traditional. However, we did not have traditional calligraphy brushes in the house, so we substituted pens instead.

What will Claire choose?

She didn’t even hesitate — girlfriend went straight for the money!

Lastly, a picture with my doting mother:

Now that I’ve calmed down some, I am feeling better about Claire’s dol. So what if we didn’t rent out a party space or a banquet hall? So what if we didn’t hire a photographer, a party planner, or get everything professionally catered? Just look at the love and dedication that pours from these pictures, not only for Claire but also for her heavily pregnant mother, me.

Beisdes, I think what upset me the most is that we were not able to get more photos, specifically, of me and J and Claire.

(J says that we can dress in the same outfits again and take pictures, pretending that they were taken on Claire’s birthday. Right, buddy. That’s not exactly how it works.)

But when you really think about it, photos are just records of memories. Yes, memories fade and pictures may be all we have to rely on years down the road. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make more, better memories, right?

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30 Responses to “Claire’s Dol (First Birthday Party)”

  1. Heather says:

    Claire looks so beautiful in her birthday outfits! And your sister did an amazing job decorating. I can see the love that was in the room for her big day. I really love the idea if the game you play. I wish we had something like that in our culture. Happy birthday Claire! You are one lucky girl!

  2. Nodakademic says:

    This looks like a FABULOUS first birthday party. The decorations, food, and family, everything looks so fun and you can tell that Claire has a lot of wonderful family. I think it’s great that she wasn’t crabby for it too–seems like a victory even though other things didn’t pan out as you’d hope. Too bad about the pictures; I’d be sad about that too, but oh well…not much can be done about that, and you have a bunch of wonderful pics of her with various people in the family, so that’s something! I love that pic of her holding up the money, haha!

  3. Annie says:

    It wasn’t until after we left that I realized about the pictures 🙁 I feel so bad about that. Plus my camera lost batter after a while. But what we do have is a wonderful family, full of love! 🙂 had a great time at the party!!! Xoxo

  4. Oh, Jenny – it looks perfect. Everyone is so happy in all of the pictures! I know it wasn’t exactly what you had in mind, but it looked like everything turned out great. I know that, culturally, first birthdays might not have quite the significance to me, but we are planning something low key with just family and close friends for HUT. U and I want to enjoy the day with him and not get bogged down in all of the details and let everything get so crazy that we forget to truly enjoy the first birthday of our son.

    And the pics of her in the traditional outfit – I die. Seriously. So sweet.

  5. What a cute birthday! You are right: you definitely don’t NEED any of the extras (party planner, hall, etc.). It is obvious that everybody there adores her!

    Why don’t you dress her up in her traditional dress again and get a picture of you, your husband, and Claire in a park with a good camera (obv. someone else takes it)? It would be really nice to mark her first birthday and a time before you have your second child. That way you could have some pictures from the party, but also the special pictures you want.

  6. Elyssa says:

    It looks like a great party! I’ve found though that if I want a specific picture I have to tell someone point blank…sometimes many people. I’m horrible at getting the pictures that actually have myself in them…

  7. Carol says:

    aww how sweet! These pictures look professional anyways! 🙂 I also picked money… Money is awesome! hahaha

  8. Sunny Chung says:

    Everything looks so wonderful and you can definitely sense the love and care that went into the party!
    I think you and J can definitely take some pictures with Claire in her hanbok. My son’s dol is coming up next month and I’m planning on getting good pictures taken a few days after because I know I will be quite stressed on the day of as we’re having it at home and I’m cooking most of the food. Thanks for sharing these pictures of Claire’s dol.

  9. Miranda says:

    Happy birthday Claire! My daughter picked up the brush, and the proceeded to chew off all the bristles. I’m not sure if that’s prophetic.

  10. This is a lovely party! I understand how you feel about not having the photos you want. I’ve very particular about those things, too. I wish we had hired a better wedding photog, and I’m still bitter about the hundreds of photos I lost (that’s right, LOST) from our 10th anniversary trip to Hawaii. Still, my memories of both events are more important than the photos. I think you’ll be happy to see all these gorgeous pics of Claire with her extended family as the years go by. (And I bet you’ll come to cherish everyday photos with her more than the posed event ones — that’s how I feel when I look at photos from my childhood. The candid ones are best.)

  11. Helene says:

    it is, indeed, a birthday party filled with love! happy birthday baby claire =)

  12. Maybe you guys could take some professional photographs with Claire in her 1st birthday outfit. Then, it’s clear that you’re not trying to fake memories from the actual day, but you get to remember how she looked, and the stage that you all were at. Also, please don’t be so hard on yourself. You are very, very pregnant with another baby and you were throwing up all day. You did the best that you could and honestly, it looks like you stuck to tradition and had a beautiful dol.

  13. Lindsey says:

    I think it looks like a great party! Claire is so cute in her hanbok, and your SIL did an amazing job with the decorations, especially those dol towers–wow! I hope that, as others have suggested, you and J will take some photos of the three of you with Claire in her hanbok. I think it would still be special.

  14. these pics make me happy! so much love in one room. claire is blessed! i wasn’t really considering it, but I may have to bring in some Korean traditions for siena’s 1st bday. she’s only 1/4 korean though 🙂

  15. Happy Birthday to Claire! She is one lucky little girl to have so many loving people surrounding her. I love all the details at her party! I think she will be able to look back on this day and feel incredibly blessed 🙂

  16. ABC says:

    What a beautiful party and a testament to how much Claire is loved, not just by her parents, but by her extended family as well! Happy birthday, Claire!

  17. Mina says:

    what a sweet, special gathering for claire. looks like the perfect size to me–even thinking about renting space for a bigger gathering would have stressed me out. you should totally get dressed up again to take a family portrait!

  18. Sunny says:

    Honestly, Claire’s dol looks amazing and I personally don’t see why ppl need to make this a huge affair. It’s better as a small family gathering. I love my dol picture where I’m wearing my hanbok and holding dduk in my hand. 😛

  19. tequiero21 says:

    wow! pictures really came out great! and your SIL is SOOOOOO talented! my SIL did her own pillars for my nephew’s dol and it came out really beautiful too. that’s what i want to do for my babies. an intimate dol with just close family and friends and not rent out a whole restaurant, with magicians, etc. like another wedding.

  20. birdie says:

    what a beautiful party to celebrate a beautiful little girl! happy birthday Claire!

    I think it’s wonderful that you have such a good relationship with your sister-in-law. My SIL wouldn’t do something like this for me even if I paid her.

  21. Austyn says:

    It looks like a wonderful birthday party to me! Admittedly, I am without Korean expectations for a dol, so I understand that my perspective is skewed, but I think it turned out great. The decorations are beautiful. More importantly, everyone who loves her was gathered to celebrate.

    I don’t think it would be weird to dress up and take photos together wit the three (four!) of you. It’s okay if it’s not the same day. How many photos ops will you get with that adorable hanbok? Furthermore, how much longer will Claire get to have the spotlight to herself? Do you think you would enjoy having the photos?

  22. kelsey says:

    Jenny, her party was so cute!! Her outfits are precious and her CAKE! OMG!

  23. Sarah says:

    AHH! That dress! TOOO cute for real! : )

  24. Carol says:

    Its because of posts like this that I love your blog. I really appreciate how you keep it real about what being a mom and mom -to-be are really like. I don’t even have or want kids yet! I just like the fact that you have expectations and are okay with being disappointed about not having those expectations met. I think I really like the fact that you allow yourself to be disappointed and give yourself time to reflect and recoup. That is such an important lesson for life in general. So please keep sharing! 🙂

    BTW, the party looked adorable! Your family is crafty and loving!

  25. Eun Joo says:

    Omona, Claire is so cute in her hanbok! What a beautiful dol! The dduk cake looks amazing…can’t believe your omma made that herself. Or that your SIL did all those decorations. I think Claire will look back on the even, VERY satisfied.

    I’m jealous of your awesome party! When I have kids, I will probably be doing all this myself because I am adopted and my in-laws are SUPER white. I love them tons, but something like this will be really hard to explain to them XD

  26. Rachael says:

    Happy Birthday to Claire – she is so gorgeous! It looks like a wonderful party.

  27. Kira says:

    Looks like Claire’s birthday was amazing!! She looks so sweet in her hanbok!

  28. serena says:

    Jenny, I think it looks really amazing! The love for Claire was so apparent and everything looks awesome. I tend to set really high expectations for myself (and IMO don’t live up to them) so I know the feeling of disappointment when things don’t turn out exactly how you hope. But from this outsider’s perspective, it looks like it was a wonderful celebration 🙂

  29. Angela says:

    Oh gosh, I love her hairpiece… I’ve never seen that before! The party looks lovely and intimate!!! Your mother and SIL did such a great job!

    I’m both excited and anxious thinking about Noelle’s dol – I have no idea where to start and feel like there’s so much pressure planning a little baby’s birthday party. The practical side of me wants to keep it as minimal as possible but the other side of me keeps urging me to throw something bigger, at least for pictures sake! I’m still weighing it but with 3 months to go I don’t feel I have much time left to plan. I’m not crafty so this stuff stresses me out. Plus I’m not the korean one, my husband is… so uhhh I don’t exactly know all the details that go into a dol, haha.

    I think I’d want something like yours – a warm, family setting surrounded by close friends and family. Some people I know spend thousands of dollars and hire professional photographers for their baby’s dol. It’s like planning a mini-wedding.

  30. Jane says:

    I know I’m late in catching up with on my blog reading but I just want to say I totally feel you on pictures. It sucks that most of the time people don’t consider to take some photos of the photographer. Every time I take photos at events, there will be only 1 or 2 of me and the rest of everyone else. By the way, Claire’s dohl pics look great. Your SIL did an amazing job decorating and the food looked delicious from the pics! And of course baby Claire looks sooo cute in the hanbok!

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