FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Around this time last year, I was still settling into my new life - and job - at Fort Jackson. And, four months into it, I was already taking maternity leave.

I remember the first few days after my son was born. Still woozy from the medicine I received, I was vaguely aware of the commotion going on next to my bed as nurses performed the usual post-birth tests on my newborn. I remember holding his tiny body for the first time, afraid I would hurt him. And I remember how peaceful it all seemed, how quiet he was and how my husband and I seemed to already have forged a bond with him.

And then we left the hospital.

What has followed has been the most tiring, frustrating, exciting, fun and stressful year of my life.

Saturday, a small group of family and friends gathered to celebrate my son's first birthday. Though the party, like all birthday parties, was a rite of passage for my son, it was also a sign of the growth my husband and I have made as parents.

I always said that I wouldn't throw my child a birthday party before he or she turned 3.
My husband and I often joked that when that day came, we would simply swap out the numbered candles on top of the cake so that in photos, it would seem as though we had three different parties, instead of one. But as with most things I've experienced throughout the course of this year, when it comes to infants, there is almost always a curveball thrown your way. My curveball came when we attended the first birthday party for our friends' twins.

"You have to have a party," the parents said. And though we all agreed the party was more for the parents than the child, they insisted we would at least want the memory.

The month before the party was stressful. I stressed over the food: Should we have pasta salad or green salad'

I stressed over the activities: What types of games do 1-year-olds play' And I stressed over what gifts we should buy him: Would it be ridiculous to get him a gift card' Can IAca,!E+wrap his gift in leftover Christmas paper'

The day of the party was a flurry of activity. Finishing the food and drinks, picking up decorations and choosing last-minute gifts. Even as the first guest arrived I was putting the final touches on things.

Once the party was under way, i.e., the birthday boy had finished napping, all the irrational worries I had faded away. I watched as he played with his new toys and interacted with the other children - something I rarely get to see.

I laughed as he ate his birthday cake, smearing blue frosting into his hair, despite the mess I knew I'd have to clean later.

And, most importantly, I celebrated with friends and family the blessing we received a year ago.

It's hard to believe that the smiling, yelling, cake-eating little boy from Saturday is the same tiny, quiet bundle we brought home from the hospital last year. And as we begin year two, it's a little bit sad to let go of the baby and move on to toddler. But I feel better knowing that our friends were right to insist we throw a party.

Because years from now - when our son no longer needs us to help him walk, when he no longer thinks everything we do is fun - I can look back at the photos of his cake-smeared face and remember when mommy and daddy were his whole world.