Viewing: Motherhood

Happy birthday, Mom

The two most important women in my life were born one after the other. Yesterday we celebrated Tala; today I celebrate my mom.

Mom and me in labor

One year ago, this was me in labor at home. My mom was right there, cradling my head in her lap and stroking my hair, being a mom at the moment I was about to become one. It wasn’t all beautiful and black-and-white; in the hospital I shouted “Don’t touch me!” at her when she tried to rearrange my legs on the bed.

But she was there all throughout my labor, swallowed her many anxieties and opinions (of which Marlon got an earful while I was knocked out on general anesthesia), and trusted me to do things my way at this pivotal moment in my life. Though she said she often felt useless, I didn’t need her to do anything except just be there. And she was.

After Marlon, she was the second person who got to hold Tala even before I did. I wouldn’t have chosen any differently.

Mom holding Tala at birth

The last year has made me understand my mom in a profound way. I wrote her a letter last Christmas saying, in about nine handwritten pages, something to that effect. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

As a (new) parent, I am quickly learning that all parents are just doing the best we can with what we are given. You did spectacularly well with the situation life gave you. I don’t know how you did it, but I am so thankful that you did.

Looking at everything you did for Ate and me all by yourself, I don’t know if I could ever do the same. If Marlon and I are able to give Tala even half of what you were able to give Ate and me, I will be so happy and proud.

You and I may do the day-to-day things differently, but when it comes the big picture, you are my inspiration. Everything you have done for me shapes the way I am raising my daughter.

Happy birthday, Mom! I hope to always make you proud. I love you.

Party prep for the weekend

Tomorrow is Tala’s first birthday, and all I can say is: I’m so glad I live in a culture where the approach to birthday parties is practical and laid-back.

It’s a good way for me to ease into the world of kiddie birthday parties. I have quite a few friends with babies Tala’s age, and recently my Facebook feed has been a parade of glittery fairy costumes, elaborate theme parties and fancy home-baked birthday cakes. It’s a bit intimidating, but I have to remind myself that motherhood is not a competition, and the most important person in this equation is literally incapable of judgment.

Mama might not have a fat bank account or know how to bake, but she has pretty handwriting and is great at finding things on the Internet. That should count for something, right?

Babies and bacon!

Our plans are simple: we’ve invited friends to a “Babies & Bacon” birthday brunch for Tala at a neighborhood cafe. The cafe is very typical Dutch, so the process of “educating” them on the elements of what would be considered an American-style brunch—with bacon and Bloody Marys—has been… interesting. I’ve had to yield my ambitious plans of fluffy pancake stacks to the reality of flat, crispy Dutch pancakes; however, I’ve been assured there will be Mimosas, so I guess you win some, you lose some.

I’m off to run a few last-minute birthday errands, but I’ll be back next week with some snaps from Tala’s first birthday party. Wish me luck, and think a happy thought for Tala on her first birthday!

Tala’s first year in hairdos

My baby turns one year old this week, and there’s a storm of emotions brewing in me. I’ll write about all that later, when it’s a little quieter inside.

For now? To mark her first birthday, as my mom did with me, I’m planning to take Tala for her first haircut. And that makes me just want to write silly things about her hair.

1 Baby Mohawk by Melody Rae

Photo by Melody Rae.

At our 30-week ultrasound, the echographist made a most unusual pronouncement: “She has hair!”

“No, really?” I asked. “How can you tell?”

“See that fuzzy line on her head?” I squinted at the screen; indeed, there it was. “That’s hair.”

From the moment it popped up onscreen in that 30th week, it was clear that Tala’s hair would be a major presence in her life. Strangers, mostly mothers of bald Dutch babies, would stop in the street and exclaim over it, carpet fluff and snot would become entangled in it, and her mama—that’s me!—would spend many hours wrestling with her in many attempts to create cuteness out of the chaos. I’ve joked that Tala’s hair needs its own Instagram account, because it often seems to have a life of its own.

My daughter’s long black hair makes her unique. Someday, I’m going to have to explain why other girls are golden-haired and she isn’t, and tell her that even if she’s outnumbered by blondes, dark hair is beautiful too.

For now? I’m just going to have fun with it. As this post shows, that’s exactly what I’ve done in the first year of her life.

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Eleven months!

This is about a week late, but I can’t let it just slip by. Tala turned eleven months old!

Tala 11 Months

Not today, obviously, because she turned 11 months old while we were in Paris.

Tala yawning at the Eiffel Tower 11 months

“The Eiffel Tower? That’s for babies!” *yawn*

I thought it was super cool to celebrate that milestone there. She was… well, less than enthusiastic. I can’t wait to show her these pictures one day and watch the retroactive wave of coolness hit her.

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Leave my baby alone! Why I did & what I learned

Our El Nido trip would not have been possible with the support of my mom and sister, who took care of Tala for four days, giving us our first 24-plus hours of alone time in nine months.

Why time away from baby is important

To me, the decision to leave Tala alone with family members for a few days was a no-brainer. But as I told friends about our plans, I ran into a surprising  variety of reactions from thumbs-up happiness (“That sounds awesome!”) to concern (“Are you sure?”) to mild horror (“I could never do that!”).

Is it just a cultural thing? I wondered. In the Philippines, where extended family members are abundant and hired help is affordable, leaving babies in the care of others doesn’t seem to meet as much with as much struggle or controversy.

Curious, I tuned in to the conversations of moms in my little English-speaking expat bubble, and discovered women who claimed they would never feel right leaving their babies alone for more than 24 hours with a) third-party caregivers, b) family members, or most surprising of all, c) their own spouses.

I was pretty shocked, to be honest. Is your spouse mentally challenged or physically incapacitated? I wondered. You married him and had a child with him, and now you can’t trust him to keep that child alive for 24 hours?  I began to question the part of me that was positive that this was the right thing for us. But I also began to suspect that it came down to control and trust.

Despite the occasional doubts and a last-minute case of the nerves, I did end up leaving my baby alone. We survived, she survived, and it went great! Here are a few things I learned along the way.

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Tala’s baptism gown by TRIA

Every girl needs a fairy godmother: someone wise and warm, with the right answers and a magical touch. If you’re like me and everything you learned, you learned from Walt Disney, fairy godmothers also give fabulous gifts (see Sleeping Beauty) and have the ability to whip up a gorgeous outfit to wear to the party of the year (see Cinderella).

Tala’s a lucky girl, because Mommy chose a godmother who did just that. My dear friend Tria Villasis-Ramolete, a wonderful human being who also happens to be a talented fashion designer, created this beautiful ensemble for Tala to wear at her baptism.

Christening outfit by TRIA smocking

I was so busy, and Tala so wriggly on the day of her baptism that I didn’t manage to take any decent photos of her in her lovely outfit! It’s too cute not to share, so I decided to take some pictures afterward.

Baptismal gown by TRIA

Tria, who also designed the gowns for my wedding entourage, created this traditional long, flowing baptismal gown for the ceremony. I asked for it to be gender-neutral so we can still use it for the next baby, and hopefully pass it down in the family. I also wanted it to have a layer of tulle over simple, breathable cotton, to make it comfortable for Tala who would still be adjusting to Manila’s heat.

Tria gave me what I asked for, and more. She also included a pretty little hat…

Baptismal booties by TRIA

and two pairs of white quilted cotton booties, with velvet ribbons to tie around Tala’s chubby little ankles.

Hand-smocked baptismal gown by TRIA


She learned how to smock so she could create this hand-smocked bodice…

Christening dress and headband - star theme

… and she indulged my obsession with stars with this adorable party dress for the reception. I love the subtle shimmer of sequins and how it looks softer with a layer of tulle over it. I also love the oversized stuffed star headbands—yes, Tria made two of them, in two different sizes, just in case. She’s a perfectionist like that.

Ninang Tria and Tala's baptism gown
Yes, every girl needs a fairy godmother. What a lucky little girl Tala is to have Tria as hers!
Tria Villasis-Ramolete

Tala’s baptism reception at The Royal Piccadilly

I wanted to host a small reception for Tala’s baptism, as is traditional. (“It’s a big deal—like a wedding, but smaller,” is how I explained it to our friends here.) So I went online to see how Manila moms do their baptismal receptions and first birthday parties.

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the laid-back ease and homemade charm of European children’s parties,  but somewhere between the elaborate Western rodeos, vintage circuses, and Parisian patisserie parties (complete with a “Rue du Glitter Tattoo” and ), I felt… intimidated.

“I just can’t,” I mumbled to myself as I scrolled past pictures of Polo by Ralph Lauren themed loot bags, Hello Kitty centerpieces and fully staffed craft tables during Tala’s naps. In desperation, I grabbed at one thing I thought I could at least manage: a cute cake.

Remembering Chuvaness’s adorable birthday cake led me to  at Petron La Vista—just steps away from Santa Maria Della Strada, where we chose to have Tala baptized. Perfect! Squelching my doubts about hosting a christening reception at… a gas station (remember, I moved away before this Petron station became a trendy hangout), it was too convenient to resist.

I sent my cake request to sisters Lora and Cielo via Facebook, and booked The Royal Piccadilly for afternoon tea, sight unseen. Without a single balloon, bunting or tarpaulin banner, this lame-ass mom showed up on the day of the reception to find a wonderful, wonderful surprise.

Christening cake by The Royal Piccadilly

Let’s start with this gorgeous cake. I asked for a cake in purple and pink with stars and clouds. With an angel tucking Tala to sleep under a blanket of stars. Oh, and Tala’s stuffed giraffe. Check, check, and check! in the sweetest way.

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Ten months!

Tala is 10 months old! She looks as surprised as I feel. Is she really just two months shy of a year old?

Tala 10 Months

Lots of new things this month: some good (her first four teeth popping out on Christmas Day) and not-so-good (high-pitched shrieking, getting used to feeding her three solid meals a day).

The best thing about the last month is that she spent most of it back home, in the Philippines. She may not remember her first visit home, but I always will.

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What I learned about flying long haul with a baby

It’s no secret that I was dreading our first long-haul flight with Tala. Flying 13 hours from Amsterdam to Taipei, a two-hour layover, then another hour and 45 minutes to Manila with a 9 month-old baby, was a scary prospect.

I spent more time than I should have Googling tips for flying long-haul with a baby, packing and repacking our handcarry, and worrying myself into a state of suppressed anxiety.

But, like the first poopy diaper and the first vaccination, the first long-haul flight was way worse in my mind than in reality. Tala did great. We survived. I even managed to get six hours of sleep—that’s a full night in my book! And we felt like pros on the flight back home to Amsterdam.

Here are a few things I learned from the experience.

Long-haul flight on KLM with 9 month old baby

Fly direct and book bulkhead seats. Whenever possible, book a direct flight. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for us as KLM ceased direct flights between Manila and Amsterdam in early 2013. The next best thing: choose a flight with the shortest stopover.

Bulkhead (a.k.a. Economy Comfort) seats are highly sought-after by parents with babies and small kids, so book them way in advance. Even if baby no longer fits into the bassinet, you can use the extra legroom as a play/crawl space. Trust me, shelling out extra for those seats is worth it.

When possible, aim for takeoff 1-2 hours before bedtime. ”Oh, your flight takes off at 8pm? You’ll be fine!” I heard that a lot. In reality, it’s a little more complicated than that.

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Time, choices & goals: Lessons from 2013

The first week of 2014 sure went fast! I spent most of it hurting from jetlag, functioning on zombie mode and wanting to give my timezone-confused child away to complete strangers, which is why my first post of the year comes so late.

I wanted to post my personal goals for the year. Before I do, I realized that 2013—and becoming a mother—taught me a few useful things about myself, time and making choices. These lessons helped me formulate my goals in a way that I’ve never thought about before.

Have you set your goals for the year? Maybe my 2013 lessons will give you a couple of things to think about. It’s a long post, but I hope you’ll find something that resonates with you.

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