One year old, one lavish birthday bash

His parents pay $3,000 for the special day.

By Robbyn Mitchell, Times Staff Writer
Published February 24, 2008

TAMPA PALMS - Eyes wide, "Prince" Clayburn Reed looked around astonished at the nearly 60 faces as they sang happy birthday in unison.

To celebrate his first birthday, his mother, Sheila Chapman, rented the Palms Room at the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club and invited friends and family for his special day.

At the end of the song, he blew out a candle on his castle shaped cake, complete with turrets. Earlier there were pony rides and a magician. Kids whacked a pinata as their parents sipped mimosas and partook of the Mexican buffet.

Jackie Deutsch, the party's publicist, is a longtime friend who provided her services for free and flew in from Atlanta. She said that although she has no children, she enjoys events like this one because of the chance to interact with kids.

"I understand now that having children for most people is a chance to relive their childhood," Deutsch said. "It's great to see the parents having a good time."

Chapman, marketing director for PMSI in Tampa, said she knows such a large party for a child so young may sound odd to a lot of people. But she wanted to make it memorable for her first child.

T. Barry Brazelton, a Harvard professor of child psychology and author of Touchpoints, disagreed with idea of such a large gathering for small children.

"All he needs is familiar faces and one or two small children to play with," he said. "One child he can get close to can be better than two at that age."

For Chapman's own first birthday, her mother, Peggy LaRoe of Memphis, threw her a Winnie the Pooh party with her five brothers and sisters and a few friends.

"There were about 20 folks there total," LaRoe said. "But that was a big party for back then."

Chapman said she couldn't remember the party, but she said she was thankful for it anyway.

Other parents in attendance thought the idea was novel.

Lisa Shupe of Riverview, said she didn't have a party for her 6-year-old son, Zachary, when he turned 1.

"We threw him a party for ages 2 through 5 and then decided it's just going to be immediate family from now on," she said. "We don't want him getting accustomed to having huge parties and getting lots of presents every year."

Shupe said she personally would never throw a party for a child so young because of the expense, but she commends Chapman's effort and intentions.

But according to Clayburn's dad, Ray Reed, this isn't extreme, it's Sheila.

"Everything she does is like this," said the landscaping business owner. "She can take one small detail and make it so big and pronounced."

Brazelton said that Chapman and Reed may have other motivations for throwing the party.

"I think it's one way of a person having a gala for themselves, using the child's birthday," he said. "We've all done it before, including me."

Betsy Irizarry, 46, said she can't remember her first birthday party but she doesn't mind putting forth the effort to make Clayburn's great.

"I wanted to have games that both the parents and the children could get involved with and enjoy," she said. "I'm very close to Sheila and helped her organize his shower. He is so important to her."

And what did these priceless memories cost: $3,000, including expense of flying in Chapman's parents from Memphis.

If Chapman has her way, though, young Clayburn will be reminded of that every year.

"These are the memories I want him to have," she said. "I want him to know how important and special I think he is."

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at 813 269-5313 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.