Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. Juliano, Marla Darwin, Monica Eleazar-Manzano, and Rossana Unson tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.
Our daughter was about to turn a year old and there were many things to celebrate, not just our child completing one revolution around the sun, it was also the first year of motherhood, of fatherhood, and of a new family.
Even before having a kid, I already had opinions on children’s parties. I had a brief stint teaching at a kids’ extracurricular center when I was in college, and part of my job description involved occasionally singing and dancing at children’s parties. The experience of being in a huge venue surrounded by an endless stream of crowds, balloon animals, crepe paper, and overenthusiastic MC’s with no volume control scarred me for life. I don’t react well to being bombarded with so many stimuli. It wasn’t you, kids! It was me! Teacher Marla gets drained by people and suffers from stage fright.
It got me thinking about why we celebrate occasions and how we do it. My talent has never been in crafting decorations and planning activities. I love people though and my gift lies in bringing them together and making new friends in intimate gatherings. I have a passion for creating safe spaces where people can feel free to be themselves. Through the years, my husband and I found our groove through hosting barbecues, drunken sing-alongs, Bible studies, and tarot reading sessions.
Because I overthink my motives all the time, I wanted to know how my daughter’s first birthday party is different from all our other parties. As a one year old, she still doesn’t have much say on things and is still an extension of her parents. With the aforementioned aversion to big, bombastic children’s parties, I already knew I wasn’t going to worry about parlor games and architectural dessert tables.
There was one first year milestone I couldn’t get of out my mind though. When we opted out of baptizing our daughter (short story: we believe kids should pick their religion), my husband and I missed out on the opportunity to appoint godparents. My husband, who grew up Evangelical Christian, asked if the tradition of godparents was only for Catholics.
“I don’t know, does it matter?”
I like the idea of godparents. I have a favorite ninang who was pretty young when I was entrusted to her. For some reason, she had some inkling I was a bookworm and gifted me with my first Richard Scary book when I was seven. As I got older, she introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle and Scott O’Dell. She also gifted me with a year’s subscription of National Geographic Kids. With this subscription, she also gifted me with the chance to wait on the mailbox every month for something especially for me. I will never ever forget that. Apart from my mom, she was the only other adult who actively nurtured my appetite for reading.
Even when I was all grown up, this bond over books is what kept us connected. She gifted me and my husband with Kindles during our wedding. When we drove down to DC this year to spend a few days with her family (with our daughter in tow!), we still talked about what we were reading.
There is just something so magical about adults willing to take children under their wings. I wanted that for my kid. In the Philippines, we have this tendency to view ninongs and ninangs as potential ATMs but I see the idea of godparents as potential mentors who will share their passions and their unique takes on the world.
That settled it. My daughter’s first birthday party would also be a gathering to honor her godparents.
Without having a baptismal ceremony template to fall back on, I wondered how exactly we were going to pull off such a ritual.
With all things “ritual,” I only had one person in mind. I got in touch with my brother-in-law Daniel, a performance artist who made rituals part of his body of work. Like his brother, my husband, he broke away from his conventional Christian upbringing to forge his own path and question his beliefs. He also is a registered minister (by way of the Internet with the Universal Life Church) and just officiated his best friend’s wedding.
Our bond falls right smack in this weird Venn diagram of the esoteric and Disney pop culture. So when he asked me what exactly I had in mind, I told him, “Can you do something like Sleeping Beauty with the fairy godmothers blessing Princess Aurora?”
On our daughter’s birthday party, we rounded up the godparents and began our ritual right after everyone finished their meal. Daniel extended the invitation by encouraging our guests to put themselves into the mindset of prayer if they were religious or into the mindset of intention if they weren’t. He led us to imagine an infinity symbol encircling one set of godparents, then another one, then my husband, daughter, and me in the middle.
One by one, each of the godparents spoke and gave their wishes and blessings. Some of the highlights include my best friend having her boyfriend read out loud hers. One of her kittens scratched her eyelid and she was too overcome with emotion to deliver an impromptu speech. She hopes that my daughter’s generation will be the one that will “seize the means of production.” I started crying when I heard that. My best friend is nuts. I’m nuts. I’m beyond grateful that my kid will get to know her and our insane ideas to better the world.
My husband’s good friend also talked about daring to hope. It’s been an exhausting year. Talk of hope is something we badly need to hear. I suspect we cling to traditions like appointing godparents because we need moments to come together and say out loud why we hold on to life. Nothing makes us think more about this when we examine a child’s potential and the vast future that lies ahead.
After everyone had their turn, Daniel, himself a godfather, pulled me and my husband into a huddle. He brought out something wrapped in an old piece of fabric. That piece of fabric was an old pillowcase that belonged to their eldest brother, who died at the young age of four years old. In it was a deck of tarot cards, to be turned over to our daughter when the time comes. The idea is that she uses the tarot cards to train her intuition and to give her clarity and comfort when needed.
Our children have the rest of their lives to learn how to excel in school, to make money, or to navigate through social hierarchies. In rituals, we have the opportunity to cultivate dreams, imaginings, and magic. Most of all, we introduce to our children their communities and the people who love them.
A month later, my daughter pulled out her first tarot card by accident while I was tidying the living room. She got The Hanged Man, a card that always represented to me balance and surrender. Happy Birthday, baby girl.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Dorothy Guya