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Baby Birthdays

March 2002

My baby, Andres, turned one last week.  When I carried him that morning, I buried my nose and lips into his warm, baby-moist neck and inhaled.  Is there a sweeter scent in the world? We hugged and kissed him;  whispered birthday greetings.  After breakfast his kuya, Santiago, eagerly helped him open his gift.  It was a simple wooden toy he helped me wrap just the day before.  They both spent time playing with it while my husband and I looked on, our hearts full to bursting.

We planned a little get-together around his daily rhythm.  I had his cousin, Blade, as only baby guest (they are roughly the same age). Another cousin, Julian, was there for Santiago.  Then my niece, Maxine, brought her oh-so-feminine little girl spirit. Andres was up and about when his cousins arrived.  After lunch, we brought out the little cake Santiago and I baked.  We sang “happy birthday” and helped him blow out the candle.  We gave him a few bites and took pictures.  Soon it was nap time.  It wasn’t long before we called it a day.

I didn’t have balloons, party organizers or elaborate, expensive giveaways.  I didn’t have clowns.  There were no strange, small-continent-headed mascots with slow-motion plastic eyelids, trying to get traumatized children to give them a kiss. I didn’t have the entire Disneyland on a cake.  No candy. No games. No hired hosts with permanent expressions of glee yelling at the children and definitely no deafening music sure to damage delicate, developing senses.

A few years ago, I brought then 2-year-old Santiago to a children’s party.  There were at least a hundred people, most of them adults.  Kids of all ages were scattered about the big venue.  There was a lavish buffet (from sushi to pasta) for adult guests and commercial junk food carts for the children. The birthday cake, matching cookies and cupcakes took up one table.  Somewhere there was face painting.  In another corner, balloon shaping.  Then there was the main show.  I have no idea what it was but a man who was shouting into a microphone was hosting it.  Never mind that the kids were right in front of him.  Maybe he was trying to hear himself over the Top 10 Merry-Go-Round Hits blaring from the giant speakers. We literally had to speak louder than usual—one decibel short of yelling—to hear each other.

The celebrant was missing.  He emerged a few hours late sporting a seriously bewildered look on his face.  His parlor-beautified mother scooped him up and immediately put him in a special chair in the middle of the room for The Pictorial.  As clowns, cousins, mascots, yayas, parents and other members of the barangay convened around him, the birthday boy began to lose it.  His lips quivered for a split-second before they opened to let loose a primal wail.  We left as soon as we could. That evening, my son couldn’t sleep.  He tossed, turned, moaned and groaned.  As I sang him to sleep for the millionth time, I wondered how the little birthday boy across town was faring.  Since then, I have not been crazy about children’s parties.

These days, parents treat their children like debutantes, spending fortunes on balloons, cakes, personalized loot bags, entertainment, etc. etc. What is this, the latest status symbol? Pretty soon they’ll be giving away cars, educational plans, stocks and bonds, an occasional house and lot. Some children’s parties even appear in society columns. What’s that about?  Going completely over the top.  That’s what.

I can imagine how new parents might be excited about the first birthday of their first born, but I think that if we all took a moment to focus on the child, we would immediately do things differently.  There are many simple ways to celebrate the birth of a child.  The simplest gathering affords us a clearer view of the occasion and enables us to carry it in our hearts. Breaking the bank and cramming big spaces with all kinds of mind-boggling, eardrum-frying activities are hardly necessary.  I want my kids to learn that the milestones in their lives are good times to look within; that they are not materialistic external events.

The day Andres turned one, my husband and I exchanged meaningful looks all day.  We hugged each other in silent appreciation as we relived our miraculous home birth exactly one year ago.  Each time I looked at him, I remembered his soothing voice and tireless, massaging hands—the lifeline that carried me through moments of excruciating pain.  I remembered the generosity of our natural childbirth coach, Chiqui,( 4 months pregnant at the time) whose fierce yet gentle woman strength assured me I could do it, even as I felt I could no longer. I remembered Dr. dela Rosa’s competent, experienced touch and finally his words:  The baby is here.  It’s a boy!  I remembered the look of quiet awe on Santiago’s face as he peeked at his baby brother—this little bundle who arrived from heaven as he slept.  I remembered my sister, Sarri, and nephew Julian, who came to make sure Santiago would not be alone.  And I remembered the love that filled our home that day.

When Andres turned one, we celebrated his birth, his life, and the love that binds our family.  We celebrated Santiago and his painful, heroic, heart-wrenching adjustment from only child to big brother.  Every smile, kiss and hug shared that day, was a celebration of life.  All day long, with each memory, we celebrated. We couldn’t help it.  Did it matter, then, how many outfits little Andres wore that day (exactly one)? Did it matter how little we spent? Did it matter that we didn’t have a hundred people around us?  I don’t think so.

It mattered that we looked into each other’s eyes and smiled all day long. It mattered that our hearts opened in immense gratitude. It mattered that on the anniversary of our son’s birth we gave thanks, from the bottom of our hearts, for this most imperfect place to learn about the most exquisite brand of love:  our family.  And that was celebration enough.


Leave a Comment
  1. joyce / Nov 28 2012 11:25 am

    This is more or less how we are going to celebrate Ezra’s first birthday this December.  I have read this a few years back and it stuck with me.  Thank you, Panj, for being an inspiration.

    • panjeetapales / Dec 4 2012 8:36 pm

      Awwww. Thanks so much, Joyce! You guys are also my inspiration!

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