Our Very Hungry Caterpillar

With all the existing beliefs about how first birthdays should be and my easily-swayed personality, I had a hard time finalizing Elijah’s first birthday.  At the end of it all (or at the start, rather), I set my foot down and decided based on three important points (which I did not necessarily think about then, but only on hindsight).

These three points were 1) what Elijah loved, 2) the resources we had, and 3) the call of the time.

First: What Elijah Loved

Ultimately, my husband and I believed that it was a celebration of Elijah being ONE. With the birth scare that he gave us, and the problem in weight loss that we encountered at the start of his infancy, he was pretty much literally A Very Hungry Caterpillar in his own way. And we wanted to celebrate his little transition with a theme most appropriate — his favorite storybook at that point in time written by Eric Carle.


With all the many venue choices, we chose The Cocoon Boutique Hotel. Aside from its name being Cocoon, (which was perfect with the theme), I was rooting for it mainly because it was considered a Green Hotel.  What is a Green Hotel? All the wood they used to build the hotel, were old and recycled, taking an extra five years to collect before actual building time. The function rooms’ chandeliers were rehashed from the Old Peninsula Hotel, and the bulbs changed to LED. Cost-wise, we adjusted the kids’ and adults’ menu very well to accommodate our guests’ needs and our budget. We were very warmly assisted by one of their personnel, Camela Valencia, all throughout the process from planning, ingress, and egress.


And what is The Very Hungry Caterpillar without the desserts, which he gobbled up on a Saturday? So yes, we had a dessert table (co-conceptualized with and completely designed by Issa).  I literally drew my idea of Elijah’s cake and Karla Ilacad of Gypsy Girl Dessert turned it into life. I added mini cupcakes in line with the theme (colorful circles found on the book) which came from my talented Tita, Tina Diaz of Taza Platito/Food Magazine.  My sister, Nikki and her husband, Franco, gave us mint M&Ms, which were all green and matched the caterpillar theme. The rest was from local grocery in low prices 😉 Issa’s magical hands put all of these together and voila! We had our dessert table for Elijah.


Second: What our Resources Allowed

Styling with friends.  With the venue and food booked, we cut down on everything else, which was whipped up my superwoman friend, Issa, who was the queen of incredible tipid tactics and who possessed magical hands.  Elijah’s first birthday party would not have been what it was without Issa and her husband, KC, and their good friend, Carlo.  They were the brains, hands, and driving forces behind the idea. (Please refer to Issa’s post.)


Making own movie. I made Elijah’s video using iMovie, which did not cost a thing except for electricity and time.

Teachers are the best hosts. The host was a good friend from graduate school, Rain De Leon, who did an amazing job not just in keeping the children’s attention, but also the adults’. She was after all, a teacher and radio jock rolled into one. My other good friends, Rinna Puno and Cara Tizon, who were also my co-teachers hosted the most highlighted game of the day — families in a relay race to wrap gifts/loot bags of art/school materials for survivors of Yolanda (which brings us to the third point: the call of the time).

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Third: The Call of the Time

Elijah turned one in January 2014. It was also a month and a half after Yolanda’s wrath left many Filipinos struggling emotionally and financially. I was close to deciding not to have a grand celebration, until I thought of turning the grandness of it into a Giving Opportunity.  This was done with the great help of kind-hearted individuals — my sister-in-law, Anna Veloso Tuazon, whose hometown was Tacloban, and my friend Lia Manalac-Del Castillo, founder of Diksyonaryo Atbp, as well as some of our thoughtful family and friends who opted to donate. We asked our guests to donate in lieu of gifts and to join a packing relief bags/writing messages for those affected by Yolanda as a family relay game.  Lastly, Elijah donated storybooks in behalf of the guests (which served as their souvenir) through the help of Diksyonaryo Atbp.


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Looking back, what made Elijah’s first birthday special was the meaning behind everything.  It was a lot of hard work and support. (Thank you to my husband, Franco, for supporting my ideas, and thank you to Issa for choreographing them into what they became.)

I also believe that when Elijah grows up, he will look back at this, and realize how special his birthday was — filled with family and friends who celebrated him and with him, and how beautiful the butterfly effect was, of his turning one, to other Filipino folks as well.


Photos by Deneb Villanueva

Author’s Note:

I am a fan of late posts, and Elijah has already turned two the other day.  His second birthday was much simpler than the first, but that belongs to another post in the future. 🙂

Yes to Books and Real Life, Not Yet to Gadgets

I am a proponent of reading early to babies, and even as early as reading to them inside our wombs.

Believing that my son, Elijah, has listened to me tell the entire story of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, while he was in utero, I partially attribute his current passion for books to his advantageous exposure to them, while I worked as a very pregnant teacher.

Before the age of eight months, he would sit still and listen to five storybooks in a row. (Okay perhaps my first job as a preschool teacher was another advantage, but still he listened very well.)  Now that he is almost two years old and has been unavoidably semi-exposed to television, iPhones, and iPads, he still remains very much interested in books, often asking to be read to, in the morning when he wakes up or at night before going to sleep, or anytime in between.  He would recite words or sentences from his books, and would sometimes speak in complete sentences entirely his own, “Mama, I want a banana.” He usually forgets the “please” and I would remind him to say it, and he would repeat the request — “Mama, I want a banana please”. (Okay sometimes I push it, “May I have a banana please, Mama?” He would attempt to say it, twisting his tongue at “may I have”, but he does it. On a daily basis though, his sentence is usually “Mama, I want ___ insert bread, guyabano, etc.) He would usually say the very easy, complete sentences.  They are complete sentences, nonetheless. (“Where’s Papa?” or “I don’t know” and “It’s traffic. I don’t like traffic.”).


I reviewed my books in Developmental Psychology (the famous Life-Span Development by Santrock) and found that children would usually string two words together at 18- 24 months, say full sentences at three.  But, I’ve met some children, not just Elijah, who could say more words or say complete sentences before the age of two, and also some who would say less words at the same age (someone like me!!!). Before we start judging and comparing our children, please take note of my next paragraph.

All children are different.  Verbal skills, motor skills, spatial skills — they all develop differently for each child, but can we all help our children enhance their verbal skills as much as their motor skills? I believe that as parents we can. Hopefully we push them to develop these skills to their best potential, and not for any other reason.

Experience-wise, I cannot speak as confidently for motor and spatial skills as I can for verbal skills, so that’s what I will share about.

Here’s my answer to parents who would ask me what I did:  Early on, Elijah was not allowed to watch television, touch iPhones or iPads, a decision fully supported by my husband, which made the task a little bit easier despite the over-accessibility of such. He had books, books, and more books.  We spoke a lot with him, in both English and Filipino.  He knows that Nanay is Mama/Mommy and Tatay is Papa/Daddy. He sings “Moon River” as much as “Bahay Kubo”.  And aside from books, we engaged him in play and conversations.  He had very high stranger anxiety before and after the age of one (and even sometimes up to this day), but he recognized relationships of people, and he recognized and labeled people’s faces including the Pope!  It was a chicken and egg issue here for us  — whether he remembered more people because we explained their relationships, or we explained more about the people because he was good at remembering and connecting them.  Without knowing where it started, a fact was that he had a knack for identifying relationships, and so the more we introduced people to him through their relationships. He was able to connect that even Lolos have brothers and sisters, and even Mama has a Mama who is his Lola (grandma), and even Lola has a mama who is another Lola (great grandma), and there are many friends, aunts, uncles, Titos, Titas, and cousins out there in the world.  Looking back at all these, his own relationships grew, because everyone enjoyed having their names called out by this little boy who was less than two.

For new parents or grandparents, who want to give this a shot, here are some verbal language development tips:

1. Expose your child to verbal language, both through reading books and actual conversations. (everyday from prenatal to post-natal)

2. Connect real life items and people with those seen in books. (as much as possible and as early as you can after giving birth)

3. Cite relationships of real people with other people and places. (as much as you can, especially as your child grows older, meets more people, and sees new places)

4. Avoid television and gadgets before the age of two. If television and gadgets cannot be avoided, speak and explain as much as you can to your child.

5.  As Pope Francis said, “Be quiet”. In this context, allow your child to explore and play on his/her own at certain times of the day. Listen.


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Here are some links that can help parents decide to promote reading books, instead of using videos and television.  In a gist, the world moves differently, and comparably-slow-paced, than the things we see on screen. Let’s allow our children to see, smell, taste, hear, and feel the world as it truly is, especially in the first two years of their lives.

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