Second Birthday Blues

Hi Niko,

It’s your birthday.

You turn two today.

Time goes by so fast. I’m happy you’re growing into a smart, handsome, kind (sometimes crazy) boy. But at the same time, I feel bad that so much of your life is passing by without me at your side.

I often wonder how other moms do it. How do they go about with barely any sleep, cook all the meals for the family, keep the house clean, do the laundry, do budgeting, spend 50-60 hours working and still care for a young child?

Truth is, without your father and Tita (and/or Grandma) – I really don’t believe I can manage. I either go nuts trying to get work done or I feel extreme separation anxiety when I am unable to spend more time with you. So yes, the house is constantly a mess and the next meal is always a mystery. For someone who plans ahead and manages a lot of projects at work – I just plain suck at managing a home.

Often, I come from work tired out of mind – that I am not even able to give our family quality time.

But know that if I had a choice, if we can afford it (this state, and country in general is insanely expensive), I will leave the corporate world in a heartbeat to care for you full-time. I am not sure if I will be any better at keeping up with chores but I know I’ll be the best damn mom that I can be, not half-assing like I am right now.

Know that I keep working not only because I want you to have a better life, the best life. I also keep working because I want to excel at something (in addition to being your mom). So that when you grow older, you’ll know that at some point, in some other way, your mother rocked. Then, maybe, I could hope to inspire you like you continue to inspire me.

I love you, Son.

Hope you have a happy birthday!

Love,

Mama Bear

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On Material Things

Dear Niko,

When I was in grade school, I had a yaya (house maid) – several yayas in fact that took care of me. I would buy a new stuffed toy almost every week, thanks to your grandpa, and I would often go clothes shopping with your grandma. We weren’t rich but I thought we were doing very well.
And then, at some point, we weren’t. Money was really tight. I remember getting teased at school because I only had enough cash to buy my favorite sour cream Vcut chips but then, the price went up from 10 to 12 pesos so, I couldn’t even afford it anymore. I was also made fun of for wearing shoes that weren’t branded. Hey, at the time, I thought they looked pretty cool. Then, when the hippest phone was a 3310, I still had a 5110.

I was very envious of other kids for not needing packed lunches, having cash to spend, wearing expensive brands and owning the latest devices.

That was high school. But through college, followed by a few years of work, my financial status kept shifting and ultimately, my thinking changed. I mean I still like having nice things but even if I don’t have them, I’m okay.
Right now, we are not rich, quite far from it. But we are blessed. Childcare is too costly but your Titas (aunts) have been helping us out. We have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge (after we do groceries soon) and our friends and family have gifted you with a constant supply of clothes and toys.

Sometimes, we will have nice things, sometimes, we won’t. I want a nice, comfortable life and the best things for you, and I know that growing up, you will still want what you don’t have. But Son, I hope that when you get older, you realize that the best part of life is enjoying what you do have.
Right now, I don’t need to tell you that. But when you start experiencing teenage angst due to material things, like your mother did, I might have to show you a photo of your toddler self, enjoying a laundry basket more than your actual toys.


Love,

Mama Bear

How long is a year?

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How long is a year?

Long enough for me to watch you with joy, pride and wonder as you aced each milestone – smiling for the first time, holding your head up, saying your first words, eating solids, sitting up unsupported, sleeping through the night, crawling, standing, walking and getting your first tooth.

Long enough for me to continuously question my capabilities as a mother. Many days, I’ve run on empty but because I love you and because I am accountable for your wellbeing, quitting is not and will never be an option.

Long enough for me to experience “too many cooks in the kitchen” where there are too many opinions on how to raise you. Although suggestions are highly valued, your father and I must still aggregate and filter all available information, sometimes making mistakes in our decisions, so that we could find our own way.

Long enough for me to deal with bouts of anxiety and depression while I struggled to balance family, health and career. Only to realize that things will never be perfect across the board and that I can be happy just from doing my best to get by.

At any other point in my life, a year would have felt like such a long time and yet, it feels like it was only yesterday that I first saw you, held you and heard you cry.

I love seeing you grow and become more independent, and yet, I already miss you being so tiny and fragile. I already miss you asking to hold my hand with every step you take.

The first year went by too quickly and yet, it was long enough for me to feel all the beautiful, scary, all – enriching things you’ve made me feel.

I love you so much, Niko… Although you are officially a toddler now, like I’ve said many times before, you will always be my baby boy.

Happy First Birthday, Baby Bear!!!

Mama’s Boy

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Dear Niko,

You are currently at an age of extreme attachment to me. During your earlier months of life, you seemed more like a Papa’s boy. But recently, what a big Mama’s boy you’ve become. It fills me with pride when your eyes brighten whenever you see me. You probably just associate me with food, milk, clean diapers, books and sleeping time but I manage to convince myself that you must love me.
I have to admit though that as much as I love you and as cute as I’m finding all this, it’s been a struggle to do anything other than attend to your needs. Every time you spot me, you reach for me… and every time I walk away, in the absence of distractions, you cry for me. My heart breaks each time you cry for me. I tried the whole saying goodbye properly thing with you and it didn’t work. So, on weekdays, I’ve had to revert to wishing you don’t wake up around the time I leave for work.

I know this is just a phase. There will come a time when you will no longer ask me to hold you, when you will no longer jump with excitement at the sight of me, when I’ll be gone and you’ll no longer look for me. It makes me sad thinking about how someday, you will outgrow needing me – the same way you outgrew your clothes, your jumparoo, your carseat…
But until then, I will enjoy this moment. And even if you forget/deny ever being a Mama’s boy, I will always remember. And even if you reach a point in your life when loving your mother so much is not as cool anymore, I promise I will still love you.

Love,

Mama Bear

Your Anxious Mother

Dear Niko,

People tell you many things before you become a parent. But there are things people forget to tell you or intentionally don’t tell you, perhaps, because some topics are deemed too grim. So here is one of the most commonly skipped topics.
Long before you decide to be a father, I want you to know that until you become a parent: you have never known fear, not like this.

I have always been anxious regarding a lot of things growing up. I get scared by potential sources of conflict, failure, helplessness and loss. So, believe me when I say I have never been this scared before. Why?
I worry about you, your health, your safety, your development, your future… and most importantly, I worry about the possibility of losing you.

You got sick when you were 2 weeks old and to be on the safe side, the doctors did a septic work-up on you – which was apparently a series of tests that required poking a baby all over, even taking spinal fluid from you (to rule out meningitis). You were admitted and confined in a hospital on your first Thanksgiving. So, imagine me and your father clinging miserably to each other because we couldn’t bare to see you suffering… and quite spectacularly on a night when our family should have been celebrating. I wept, wondering what we could have done differently – maybe we should have waited longer to take you out of the house, maybe we didn’t keep you warm enough or cool enough, maybe my breastmilk was not giving you the antibodies you need…image
Thankfully, on the third day, you were cleared of any concerning infections and we were able to bring you home. I can see why people don’t like talking about this. Up to now, thinking about this event brings me to tears.

You’re a week away from turning 5 months. You’ve had 2 sets of vaccinations already. You’ve maintained a healthy weight (consistent 90th percentile). I’m still paranoid about you catching sickness, but I gain a little more confidence every time we go out on an excursion with you. However, I’ve gotten myself a new fear to face… every night within our home.

You’ve been rolling a lot and you’ve discovered the comforts of sleeping on your belly (I was also a tummy sleeper before I got pregnant with you). That’s fine although what’s terrifying is how I’ve been catching you sleeping face down. I’ve lost plenty of sleep, pondering if you would always wake and turn your head without fail in case you had difficulty breathing. You see, Son, your mother sometimes gets over-educated by the Internet which worsens her anxiety. As an example, I learned the meaning of rebreathing.
Hence, I did some more research and purchased you a breathable mattress pad and breathable sheets. Even with all the positive reviews for these products, I’m still afraid. I still regularly check-in through the night to make sure you’re breathing and to turn your head as needed. I hope that in just a couple more months, the worries about safe sleep would go away like the forums say they would.
I can tell though that there will be another cause for fear after this and that my list of fears involving you will just keep growing and growing.

Now, I have heard people say that nothing can make you appreciate your parents more than becoming a parent. Based on my limited experience, I find this statement to be true.
I want to thank my parents, your Grandma and Grandpa. I’m just in the early stages of motherhood and if I’m already frightened by so many things, then, I can’t even begin to fathom how scary it must have been to raise me and my two sisters over the last three decades.

Ma, Pa, for all the times I scared you and still scare you, I’m sorry. For all the things I was too little to know or recall and for all the things I do remember – like when my head got stuck between the balusters of our balcony as a toddler, or when I stayed out too late without bothering to give a heads up as a teenager, or when I went to the emergency room multiple times as an adult.
I want you to know that I love you and that I appreciate all the fears that came and come with caring about me. I could only hope that someday, Niko will see all the love behind my fears and appreciate how scared I am, too.

The Arrival of Baby Bear

When your father and I were still trying to get pregnant, I managed to waste a box set of 5 pregnancy tests in just a couple of days over a false alarm. It was the type of pee test where two stripes confirmed pregnancy while one stripe meant “Sorry, try again.” I used up all the tests thinking, Maybe that’s just a blurry second line, maybe I’m really pregnant. I wasn’t really pregnant, not that time at least.

It wasn’t until March 11th, 2015 that I got my first positive result. I just woke up to get ready for work and with my period delayed a week, I thought of peeing on a stick. This time I used the test for people like me that see invisible lines out of sheer optimism:

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I called your father and asked him to drive back home (he was still close to the house when all this unfolded). I had no elaborate plans to surprise him with the news. He walked in, all worried, asking why I called and I showed him the pee stick. I forget what he said but I remember how happy I felt when he smiled right before hugging me. It didn’t last very long (because he was running late for work) but it was the sweetest embrace we had ever shared since we got married.

Anyway, your father asked me to not use up a whole box of tests in one day to confirm the pregnancy. So, on March 14th, 2 more tests concurred that my hcg levels were high enough:

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I’ve already shared with you how I struggled with hyperemesis gravidarum during the first half of my pregnancy. I also mentioned some other pains I felt during the later half. But I don’t think I’ve told you that your father and I were planning a last little getaway before you were born.
We booked a weekend at a bed and breakfast where we were supposed to sleep in this room:

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…and dine with this view:

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But on the Friday leading up to the trip, your father and I ended up spending the night in a hospital. I was confined due to preterm contractions and was given medication to prevent me from going into labor. The next day, I was discharged and ordered to take off work sooner for some bed rest.

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Every week, the doctor was expecting me to go into labor already. But my cervix never dilated until the night of November 14th, one day later than your original due date. Even then, the hospital sent us back home because I was “barely” dilated.
On the midnight of the 15th, your father and I drove back to the hospital since the pain from my contractions had become unbearable. But according to the resident, I only opened 1 cm. I was put on morphine rest to help with the pain. Honestly, it was useless. The pain still barreled through me and the morphine only relaxed me enough to properly breathe through the contractions.
Around 3 to 4am, I had dilated to 7cm. I was in active labor and was administered epidural with my speedy consent.
Around 7 to 8am (forgive the inaccuracies – your mother was pretty messed up during this time), my cervix hardly changed and your head, my dear child, had not come down… at all.
Between 9 and 10am, it was decided that I would deliver through C-section. The operation started at about 11am. I didn’t hurt until anesthesia wore off much later. However, I did feel the poking and pulling on my insides, and I did shiver uncontrollably from what seemed like extremely cold surgery room temperature.
At 11:39am, you were born. 9 pounds and 2 ounces. The doctor said that you were such a big baby, there was no way my anatomy could have handled delivering you naturally.
Another doctor made a comment on your ultrasound weeks before. Based solely on your 4D image, he concluded that I would be having a beautiful baby. When I first saw you, first heard you cry, nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful I found you, how overwhelmingly thankful I was that you’re alive, you’re well and you’re finally with us.

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When you grow up, I will constantly remind you of how tough I had it while I was pregnant with you. I will also tell you about how tough I had it after giving birth to you – from a not-so-fun C-section recovery, to you catching a virus, to my run-in with gallstones (which I am still currently dealing with). But no matter what I tell you, know that you are worth going through it all… and that I love you very much.

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This post is a little bit late as I have still been adapting to your arrival. But welcome to the world, Nikolas Ryan!

How I Married Your Father 5 Years Ago

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Your father and I had 90 days to get married from the moment I entered this country. You see, I came here on a fiancée visa and we were in a long distance relationship for 7 years before he proposed to me.

The Proposal

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We have already finished and passed the interview for visa approval at US Embassy in Manila. To celebrate, your Father took me to a bed & breakfast in Tagaytay called The Boutique, which I had been raving about. We walked in and asked for a room. To my surprise and immediate suspicion, the best room had already been booked under your father’s name.
That night, we had dinner at this fancy place with a view of Taal lake called Firelake Grill. There I was, waiting for him to pop the question. But he didn’t.
We went back to The Boutique and your father requested champagne for our room. I gleefully checked my flute, hoping to spot an engagement ring sitting in the bottom. But there was nothing.
My heart sank. Having been a drama queen my whole life, even if I knew better not to expect a formal proposal (since we had already agreed to get married so that I could migrate and be with him) – I still wanted it. With the night as good as over and me tipsy from the bubbly, I lost hope in getting engaged and started crying.
That was the point your father nervously asked me what’s wrong and told me that all he wanted was to make me happy (he said other things too although I forget due to my drunken bawling). He was comforting me by the bed and next thing I know, he was grabbing a tiny box from the side table drawer, kneeling with a diamond ring and asking me to marry him. Of course, I wept even harder and of course, I said “Yes.”

The Wedding

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Our wedding was beautiful. The ceremony happened outdoors in the gardens of a park in Tenafly. Until the last few days, the forecast warned of rain. But on that day 5 years ago, the sun was up and it was a tad warmer than usual for October.
I think what made our wedding so beautiful was how so many people pitched in to make it happen. Your father and I didn’t have anything saved up for our dream wedding so, your father’s family and family friends offset most of the wedding expenses by contributing time and/or money.
We didn’t have to pay for the reception venue and food, our clothes, my hair and make-up, the flowers and decor, the video/photographer/s, the DJ and giveaways.

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We were truly blessed with love and friendship that day. My only wish was that my sisters (your aunts) were there. Their visa application was denied so they couldn’t make it. The younger one, Denise (whom you will be meeting soon) made a video for me. I cried and ached for my family to be complete that day.
What helped eased the sadness was this: I had not only gained a husband that day, I had also gained his friends and family.

Son,

Your father and I have been married for 5 years. The first year was the toughest especially because our relationship took a gigantic leap from long distance to close quarters. From being his only priority during his trips to the Philippines, I had to start sharing his time with his work, his folks, his buddies and his hobbies. The next years offered different challenges but as your father and I got more comfortable communicating with each other, I think we found each year of marriage a little bit easier.

Now, here we are. I am 35 weeks pregnant with you, on our 5-year mark. There is a lesson (I’m afraid there will almost always be a lesson) from all this:
There will always be disappointment in life. Every expectation comes with risk and more than once, the results or lack thereof could upset you. But Son, if you give life a chance, if you wait a little bit, if you keep your heart and mind open, only then can life surprise you with something even better.

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