Mummy Diaries: Tribe of Support

All of us know what it’s like to be sad, but not all of us understand what it’s like to be so sad that you want to give up.

Everyone has an opinion about extreme sadness. I am going to call it that because I loathe the term “depression” – there is nothing more limiting to complex human beings than labels. “Why is everyone so depressed here? It’s ridiculous!” a friend once exclaimed to me in New Zealand and I guess it’s true. Did people even have time to be so down in the old days, what with all the washing and chicken plucking and trips to the dunny outside?

I’m actually not depressed. There’s nothing wrong with my seratonin levels or my hormones.  What I have is overwhelming anxiety but the line between the two is fine, and I have been depressed before. What is it like? Imagine waking up every day sad that you did, or looking at the most beautiful things in creation and thinking … nothing. Imagine dreams filled with murky doom and worry causing you to wake up constantly, or sleeping your life away because you just cannot bear it. Smiles would stretch too thin across my teeth and my body would be tense like a violin – this, coupled with being anxious, would make me seem to the onlooker like a crackhead flying higher than some of my neighbours.

Why am I so anxious? If you’ve been reading then you will know I’ve been suffering with my health since November. This is all nothing to new to me – since I was a girl I’ve been suffering in my body, mind racing to a thousand and one planets when it should be in the moment. I’ve always been unsteady on my feet as if my thoughts were weighing my head down to cause me to be lopsided. Doctors can’t help – my ear drums are just the wrong shape – and so I have to push through the Annapurna Circuit just to achieve the simple things.

Depression sneaks up … but with force. Life throws curveballs and unless your steady it can be hard to catch them. My pregnancy came at one of the most awful periods of my life, the details of which I won’t bore you with. If you remember my blog about drawing strength from my son, then you will understand it was the same principal that kept me hanging on when I was pregnant: my swollen belly.  That always-the-wrong-size pregnant ball on my front that kept me awake all night long (hello for the 8th time this hour, toilet!), and that gave me a purpose even when I felt as though I was all alone in the world. I lived way out in the bush – in the middle of nowhere – and with one friend a good hour away. I faded into myself and when Emilio was born I no longer even remembered that I had a personality. I was a mummy drone, changing nappies and breastfeeding day and night, through sickness and sadness. I don’t even remember much of those first 9 months with Emilio but I do remember that I struggled, and that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

But something really helped me during the 18 months of unbearably conflicting emotions.  I can’t believe I’m going to write this but it was … Facebook. It actually pains me to admit that given all that it represents, but when I was all alone and struggling to process overwhelming family drama with the pressure of being a new solo mother, and I have to admit that it really helped me. So when I was holed up in my cave, still horizontal from all the breastfeeding, the connections I made with people known and unknown gave me a sense of normalcy.  They were a band of mummies reaching out across the distance to form a tribe of support.

When I finally reconnected with Luis again it felt like a punch in the gut.  I couldn’t figure out how to pull myself out of the mummy role to be a seperate person. I had forgotten things like sexual attraction or what it meant to laugh at a joke. We faced some hurdles falling back in love and learning to live together as a family. We are getting married in March – how far I have come since moving back to Chile more than a year and a half ago.

Now I am struggling to find the confidence to be alone again after the last few months leaning on Luis entirely. I am anxious and I am still struggling to look people in the eye but I am not sad. I have a wonderful support network in Chile (and I get lots of Emilio cuddles) and I still have my Facebook tribe, which has grown immensely since I started this blog, but it’s a delicate situation, especially when money rears its ugly head (made worse by my difficulty working). So I am baring all today because the connection between your health and your actions is so tight – they must be in balance. When the balance is off life can become really, really difficult, and unfortunately people cannot help what they don’t understand. So I wrote this to draw attention to all the people who struggle to do the everyday things (I am so jealous of people who can walk up stairs properly), or the people who look normal but who are actually fighting a battle inside. Or the people who are really, really sad and who need our kindess, not our cruelty.  Instead of pulling apart, band together. Make a tribe of support – even if all you can offer is through Facebook.

It sure helped me.

If you are suffering with Meniere’s Disease, anxiety or depression and need a friend, please send me an email. Do not be afraid to ask for help and seek medical assistence.

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Our family in 2016

This blog is dedicated to my friends who reached out when I needed it most, Amanda and Melissa.

Being a Minimalist Mummy in Chile

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Nature is the best gift for your child

Last year I read a book that I really loved. It was called “Thrive” and it was written by The Huffington Post’s Ariana Huffington. It spoke about disconnecting from technology and the importance of being present in the moment.  Decluttering my life has been one area that I have really concentrated on, from downsizing my friend list to using my time effectively. I have also removed all the clutter from my home (especially as its tiny!) and donated everything we do not use. This is called “minimalism” and it has been the best decision I have ever made since becoming a mother. These are my suggestions to becoming a Minimalist Mother but in no way am I telling you how to raise your child!!

Guide to Becoming a Minimalist Mother

1) Do not be lured into the “must buy” trap and instead try borrowing before you buy.

2) Buy second hand everything! From breastpump to bassinet, everything for Emilio was used except for a new mattress for the bassinet.

3) Throw the baby books out the window. Watch only calm birth videos (no One Born Every Minute)  before the big day as preparation for how not-scary labour is,  or read the work of renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin. All the books, all the conflicting advice … it all made me feel terrified!

4) Toys and books – are they really interested? Don’t buy alot, and don’t buy anything with gadgets. Keep it simple and let their imaginaton grow. All those black and white special books for newborns was a waste of time.

5) Special bags for nappies? Special toys for brain development? Special clothes? Don’t overcomplicate something that we have been doing for generations. These are all things that companies pitch you to buy their product. Just use a normal bag you know?!

6) Don’t automatically give your child a dummy for no reason because you start a habit that they may be perfectly capable of working out on their own.

7) We co-slept for the first three weeks and then Emilio moved into a bassinet beside me. He began sleeping in a full-size bed at 9 months, and sleeping in his own room in a bed at 1 year and 2 months. He never used a cot and the only reason he now has a toddler bed is because his room is about the same size as most walk-in wardrobes. What I’m saying is work out what works for you, and don’t do things just because everyone else is.

8) Feeding. We say in NZ “food before one is just for fun.” Don’t stress if they don’t like potatoes or if their tastes change – that’s normal. Just lead by example and eat your veges and soon they will follow suit – especially if you don’t offer other choices and limit snacking between meals.

9) Donate all toys and books that your child is not interested in.  There are plenty of organizations that will put them to better use. Plus kids are not interested clutter

10) Do not feel bad about requesting what you need as presents

12) Rotating toys and books is a great idea to keep toys interesting.

13) Buy what is age-appropriate for your child unless they show an interest. So don’t buy toys for big kids if your child is a tot unless you want it to collect dust.

14) Designate certain areas for toys or reading. This helps keep areas tidy and children love order (deep down – you will be surprised).

15) Try making your own toys! Emilio had no interest at all in toys with lots of lights and buttons, but he did enjoy a bowl of pegs and my keys.  When he got older I made him a busy board with locks and latches, and I attached two wheels on something so that he could spin them to his hearts content (he was obsessed!). I also liked looking up Montessori Busy Basket ideas.  Other ideas: a bowl of rice or pasta, water and ice cubes (supervise), water bottle or container filled with things they can push inside.

16) We did reusable cloths as baby wipes and just washed them when they were dirty. We had no changing table, just a mat on the floor.

17) Lay your baby under a tree – they will be amazed by the leaves and branches.

18) Stick to a routine especially at night time but don’t freak out if it breaks from time to time.

19) Enjoy time away from your child regularly for sanity of mind

20) Do not overwhelm your child with toys. We do one special present for Christmas and birthdays, and a special Family Fun Day.

21) Same goes with clothes. Just what they need. Especially when they are babies – who really cares about the label or what the tshirt says when its covered with food or saliva or spit? Or worse?!

22) Emilio loved chewing on watermelon when he was teething and wasn’t much interested in any other remedy. Think outside the box if nothing else is working!

23) We never really used a highchair! He ate on a mat on the floor and when he was older he sat on his own little table, and now he sits at the big table with us. We also only used the sling until Emilio was 9 months, when we got our first pushchair.

24) Make your baby food! Put aside a day to do lots of cooking then freeze. When they get older, just make sure there are always leftovers so you are always prepared in an emergency!

My Must Buys for Baby:

  1. Co-sleeper
  2. play mat
  3. Moby wrap
  4. Bibs that cover as much as possible
  5. reusable cloths
  6. Toys: blocks, a wooden walker, a rattle
  7. Books: Dear Zoo, Hungry Caterpillar

For the Toddler:

  1. Giraffes Can’t Dance
  2. Train Set
  3. Shape sorters
  4. Ball
  5. Thomas the Tank soundtrack (a choir of children singing lovely songs)
  6. A special mug or plate – helps them
  7. Anything that makes music – Emilio LOVES the harmonica
  8. Paper and pencils!
  9. Pushchair

More Information

Read: In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

Stores: Donde Estas Pudu (handmade and organic supplies), Kindertop (Hape and wooden toys in Chile)

 

Different play areas I made for Emilio with everything easy for him to reach, and roated toys in his tray.

 

 

Mummy Diaries: The Rules (Part Two)

  1. You will never pee in silence again.
  2. During said action always be prepared for the door to open.
  3. Just when you think they are asleep … “mama?”
  4. Sex becomes quickies
  5. During said endeavour expect your mind to be otherwise occupied: will we wake him up?  Is there meat out for tomorrow? Did I organize a babysitter?
  6. The floor is now a suitable resting place for food. Just walked through banana? Oh fudge it – have a cup of tea. They will eat it anyway.
  7. Leaving a crying toddler with a babysitter? They will forget you in 5 minutes. Sorry!
  8. TV  the ENEMY … until you have a child! Or a second one.
  9. Boys love anything with wheels. It’s in their genes.
  10. That beautiful nursery you admire? It NEVER looks like that. Trust me.
  11. Everything you don’t want your kid to eat, they will eat.
  12. Brushing teeth and brushing hair – is it really worth the battle? I feel like I’m at the Wall every bedtime (GoT reference!)
  13. Those wonderful perky boobs you have always taken for granted will disappear after breastfeeding. Make the most of their symmetrical shape while you can!
  14. You will never feel shame showing your body in public again once you’ve popped out a baby and then spent a few months popping out your boob.
  15. When baby is asleep its party time!  That means a bar of chocolate and an hour of reading mummy blogs/How I Met Your Mother
  16. You know they say you always have one ear listening for baby at night? Yeah nah, once they start sleeping through you will stop that pretty quickly … SLEEP how I love you!
  17. Pooz is always interesting.  Hello Quinoa!
  18. “Kaka” “poopoo” “peepee” “weewee” during potty-training you will be unable to utter a single other word.
  19. When your child begins solids you will develop an overwhelming interest in nutrition.  Until they become a toddler, at which point you are just happy they eat at all. Even biscuits – oh the horror!
  20. Your bed will become the ultimate playground for your wee churab. That expensive toy you just bought? It will be collecting dust after 5 minutes, or broken.
  21. Playdates will bring out the mamabear. Who will hit your angel child? Wait – he hit your baby? Emilio, Emilio – EMILIO COME BACK HERE NOW!
  22. You will suddenly lose control of your child when all other mums are watching. It will play out a little bit like “Say sorry to the baby Emilio. EMILIO STOP PLAYING WITH THE CAT POOP NOW! Emiliooooooo!!!!!!”
  23. Do not put THAT in your mouth!
  24. Never leave your child unattended with pens, crayons or paints unless you are in want of a new mural.
  25. Alone time with the husband? You’re never really alone. You will spend the whole time talking about the baby.
  26. Babysitters will never match up to your parenting skills. Nor the knowledge of other mums.  Or even the husband, for that matter.
  27. People who offer you advice and do NOT have children will receive an eyebrow raise and a look of disdain. Sorry, did you push a baby out your vag? No? Then shuddup.
  28. In Chile, you will live at the doctors. Or (in our case) hospital ER.
  29. Your child is never quite enough. They are always too: regalon, mamon, big, small, light, heavy, not eating enough greens, not enough junk, breastfeeding, NOT breastfeeding, not sleeping enough, sleeping too much, not talking, talking too much … the list is endless.
  30. They will never look at the camera when you want them too.
  31. They will never have enough woollen layers. Even in summer.
  32. Christmas. You will either be so excited and put the tree up early only to find they aren’t the slightest bit interested, or they like it too much and pull it down *sigh*
  33. Summer in Santiago means only two things: overcrowded swimming pools and SUNBLOCK.  Ahahaha good luck with that!

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Mummy Diaries: When You Do It Different

“You WHAT?!!”

The force behind these two little words had the power to do two things. The first was to make me physically move away from Alejandra, my colleague, and the second was to make me doubt every single thing I trusted about myself.

“Yes. I still breastfeed Emilio.” I replied hesitantly.

“But how old is he?”

“He’s a year and a half.”

Now Alejandra’s mouth was hanging so far open that I could count every silver filling.

“But why? What about his health? You do know breastmilk is not good after so many months … ayayay”

Now my mouth was hanging open in shock. Alejandra continued to talk, telling me the all the bad effects of extended breastfeeding, upon his bones to his ability to be independent and his inability to be comforted unless there was a boob around. Suddenly I had a shocking thought: was I terrible mother for still breastfeeding?

Time for me to back up and admit that the road to breastfeeding hasn’t been easy. Like all mums, I wanted what was best for my new family and that just happened to be breastfeeding (especially as New Zealand supports it quite strongly these days). I’d had an all natural pregnancy and birth, and it seemed like the most natural next step. The reality, however, was a little bit different because …

I hated it. Every single moment of it. I gave birth peacefully in a pool in a rural hospital in the middle of nowhere, that basically consisted of a couple of rooms and a few nurses. After an exhausting birth I lay with my newborn son barely able to open my eyes, trying to get him to latch. He wouldn’t. My boob was twisted and turned every such way to get inside Emilio’s mouth but he just screamed. When he finally latched it felt like I was dying. Bizaarely, the famous contractions that plague the early days of breastfeeding were not an issue because I seemed to be in a constant state of that pain except when I breastfed. It was everything else. I didn’t feel that “bond” some mums rave about, I didn’t lie there in raptures gazing into my son’s eyes and saying the moment was the happiest of my life. In fact it was the opposite. I felt bloody awful. It just didn’t feel right to do it. It felt icky and unnatural, and when he let go my nipples were bloody and raw.

A few hours later and we were back at home. Getting him to latch on became an ordeal that was physically and emotionally tormenting. I started avoiding his calls for milk until the last minute, and then I’d cry the whole time he fed. By this time I was so stressed and exhausted that when I’d try to sleep it would be impossible, and I’d just lay there and stare at Emilio, terrified something would happen before I’d had a chance to finally enjoy the moment.  I wanted to quit but I didn’t, partly because a part of me wasn’t quite ready to give up, but mainly because my midwife was unrelenting. I was on my last ounce of effort when a friend told me about her success with nipple shields, and the moment that I attached that plastic condom to my boob was the moment the world finally calmed.  Emilio stopped his unrelenting screaming and latched on, and I could finally – for the first time in a week- relax.

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My one and only breastfeeding picture! Emilio at 12 weeks, using the shield.

I later found out that Emilio had had a tongue tie, that stretched enough on its own to breastfeed properly by the time he was 8 months old. Our difficult journey has nothing to do with why I continue to breastfeed, and I’ve never had a goal in mind to reach. Emilio is now two years old and we are still going because it works for us, and I tend to believe most of the hype around its benefits.

Here in Chile, where I have been since Emilio was 9 months, this decision has caused nothing but grief. From a mother-in-law who constantly insinuates that he is not eating properly to family members who tell me I am raising a son to be “mamite” and “mamon“, and nurses and nutritionists who tell me Emilio’s health is being adversely affected (and who needs sugary juices instead!) to friends who regard breastfeeding as something “for the poor.”  Or opinions such as Alejandra’s, which at the time were so disapproving and negative that I wanted to quit my job.

When Emilio was smaller I breastfed everywhere  discreetly, including the metro and even restaurants (what’s better – the sound of screaming or bad jokes when you eat?), but now the looks have started. The raised eyebrow. The pursing of the lips. The “your still breastfeeding?!”question  – even from complete strangers.  Now I disappear to sit upon toilet seats or in abandoned corners of the room to avoid hearing veryone negative opinions.  Because its just so personal isn’t it, this decision to use our boobs or not? I don’t get the fascination –  when I feed Emilio it’s not like you see nipples flying about!!

My doctor thinks I should stop but it doesn’t feel right. I certainly don’t want to do it because someone else thinks I should, particularly when in my culture its considered to be normal.  But in saying that, the decision when to stop or how long to feed – if at all – has so many influencing factors (which given my own difficulties, I know all too well). Without that nipple shield I would have almost certainly stopped.  I also didn’t have to think about work or sharing feedings with someone.

But I am not a breastfeeding nazi. It doesn’t bother me one iota if someone chooses to use the boob or the bottle.  Why should it? I know how much I love my son, and I know that other mums feel the exact same way about their own children. Why on earth does it bother other people so much? But the big question is why are so many profesionals telling me its bad for my son? Does breastfeeding now honestly paint me as a bad mummy in the eyes of others? Does that matter? Or does it matter more how Emilio, and Luis, see me?  Something to ponder over the festive weekend I think – particularly as the recent earth wobble helps give life some perspective!

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Emilio at 9 weeks, in his Chile outfit
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Emilio at age 2, ready for las Fiestas Patrias.

Please share your story if you have one – this blog is merely my own experience and is not a statement about Chile as a whole

Essay: A Chilean Birthday

It was difficult for me to decide on a ritual to observe here in Chile given that there are so many religious or secular options from which to choose. In the end I chose to closely observe my son’s first birthday party celebration. I am in the advantageous position of being in a relationship with a Chilean man, which has meant that I am lucky enough to be intimately acquainted with Chile´s foreign customs and rituals, all of which were adhered to at the birthday party. The following is my observation as a participant, focusing on numerous aspects such as colors and symbols, in addition to an analysis of their wider cultural significance. I have also included how aspects of the New Zealand culture were included and received, as well as touching on the elements of Dieciocho which were also present.

The party was held in Emiliano Zapata in the Santiago suburb of Recoleta at the beginning of Fiestas Patrias (national celebration-see below). Recoleta is a working class area that is notable for its growing immigrant population, namely from Palestine, China and Peru. It is best known for the cheap shopping district of Patronato, which includes the La Vega central market, and the national cementary. It is a gritty, dusty area with few trees or grassy areas, but does have a large population of street dogs. In wider Santiago, Recoleta is located to the north, above the colonial centre with the Plaza de Armas, while to the east are the more affluent sectors. In these areas, one passes through what is affectionately named ‘Sanhatten’ because of its skyscrapers and shopping malls. The more east of the city one travels, the wealthier the people become, and there are gated communities and mansions. There exists in Santiago a high regard for hertiage: the wealthier inhabitants pride themselves on their German or Spanish ancestry to the point where a ‘classist’ attitude has evolved. Recoleta, which was traditionally an indigenous area, is generally regarded as a poor suburb. The houses on Emiliano Zapata are a mix of bungalows and apartment blocks, with barred windows, high gates, barbed wire and guard dogs. When I first arrived in Recoleta, I noticed only the smell and the broken footpaths and potholes, but after some time here I see the efforts the locals go to, to show their originality. Many paint their houses bright colours, or paint regularly to maintain its condition. Others plant cactus or palm trees in the arid ground at the front of their doors. Each morning I look out my window and see a lady sweep the footpath near her house. Furthermore, the houses generally give very little away on the outside as to what lies inside, I have observed many a central courtyard and quite sprawling interiors. To describe the house at which the party was located, it is a two-storey building painted brown with no front door, only a black gate. There is no way to contact the inside except by calling or banging on the gate. On the ground floor is a store selling cleaning products that rents the space, and out the back there is a large yard that is also rented out as car parking spaces for people staying in the opposite flats. Upstairs is our open-plan, two bedroom home that also has a small patio. Directly ahead from here is a very large hill that is green when not obscured by smog, to the right are flats and to the left are a number of houses on the same property, shared by families living together. Our house is located several metres from an intersection that has several general stores and a newly opened Chinese takeaway.

The party was held because my son Emilio was turning one. As a mother, I wanted to have a party to celebrate Emilio being with us. I also wanted to enjoy the company of friends as it was only a year ago that I had to experience giving birth. It was also a great opportunity to invite alot of other babies over at the same time to meet Emilio. Therefore for me, the party was a way to bring everyone together and to socialize. My partner was a little hesitant about the demands upon him as a host (see below). However, his mother convinced him that the first birthday was an important time, for Emilio but also for the adults to take the time to enjoy him. This is understandable from either a Chilean or New Zealand cultural standpoint, but in our case especially so given that Emilio spent his first nine months with only me in New Zealand. Regardless, birthday parties are celebrated because the sociable nature of human beings means that additional meanings are placed upon the biological process of growth (Davies, 1994: 1). However, from a further anthropological standpoint, it is possible to consider my mother-in law’s eagerness for a celebration as a way to “reduce the fears that often come when life’s events threaten their security and sense of well-being”, due most likely to Emilio’s particularly international upbringing (Moro & Myers, 2010: 83). Typically in Chile, a birthday party includes a light evening meal called once that is often held around eight, however I was reluctant to prepare food given the differences in cooking between New Zealand and Chile. Here, women are trained from a young age to prepare traditional meals that are rarely deviated from, and as such, the standards are high. I did not learn to cook until I left home, and certainly not Chilean food, hence my aversion to cooking for a number of people. Therefore, four in the afternoon was chosen as it made a suitable compromise.

We invited an American friend of mine and her Chilean boyfriend, the (separated) parents of my partner Luis, Luis’ older brother and his wife, Luis’ younger brother, a friend and his family, another friend and his family, a friend from university and a neighbour and their little girl. In total there were twelve adults, two children, one toddler and four babies around the age of one. Two of these babies are the offspring of two of Luis’ best friends, Andre and Felipe. Luis, Andre and Felipe were born and raised on the same street in Recoleta called Victor Cuccuini, and have been close friends since a young age. Together they have shared all the big moments in life, and along with several other people, have a group nickname, ‘Toxicuccuini’. Their three children, all around the same age, have been labeled ‘los bebes cuccuinis’ and are frequently banded together. This relationship echoes the process coined by Victor Turner known as communitas, whereby by moving through similar life phases together, these three boys “brings about a sense of community and camaraderi … [with] close bonds and will usually remain close friends throughout their lives” (Stern, 2011: 89). Today, most of the members of the Toxicocuccuini group of friends still live on Victor Cuccuini.

As a secular not religious ritual, a birthday celebration is a curious thing. While there are no rigid rules to adhere to, most certainly they contain the “fundamental beliefs, values, and social foundations of a group” (Mono & Myers, 2010: 83). The process is circular: a birthday is a rite of passage, which is an ideological ritual that dictates ones place in society, of whose place is determined by both society and rite of passage (Mono & Myers, 2010: 84). In the case of this particular birthday party, there was certainly an undercurrent of battle between the cultural forces of Chile and New Zealand, both of which were trying to make their mark. Symbolically, a birthday is an important time in one’s journey through life, however the very first birthday appears to cement the future of the child as it marks a stable condition that is recognizable by ones culture (Turner, 1967: 94). In other words, the rite of passage is a transitory period whereby one has “shed their previous identification and place in society but have yet to take on the mantle of their new status” (Stern, 2011: 89). In the case of this birthday party, Emilio lost his status as a baby the moment the party began and instead entered into one of liminality (Stern, 2011: 89). Of the features identified by Victor Turner as most often present, I can confirm that there was evidence of a transitory state, absence of property as well as the strong camaraderie of a communita and the inference of a sacred-like attitude towards Emilio (Stein, 2011: 90).

To detail the order of events, the party began with the first arrival of guests around four (the American). The Chilean family members arrived at five, and I was told that “they came especially early as they know foreigners are punctual.” The friends of Luis arrived around six. Upon arrival, each person greeted with a kiss and a hug, asked how the other person was and presented a gift to myself. All the gifts were placed under the table as there was little other space to place them. Everyone took a seat around the living area and the babies were placed upon the floor, mostly watched by Felipe and Luis’ parents. The mothers mostly talked amongst themselves, and several of the men went outside onto the patio. The older children, Martin and Ignacio, played often out on the patio as well, and I remember that it was an unusually hot day. Inside, refreshments were provided over two tables. On the first table there was a very large cake modelled upon the children’s story book “Dear Zoo”. It had two levels, was yellow and had animal figures made out of the icing. On the cake was the name ‘Emilio’ and underneath on the cake board was the words, “Feliz 1st Cumple.” This cake received much attention throughout the afternoon with many of the children unable to believe that the animals were edible. Also on the table were mini cupcakes with blue icing, biscuits in the shape of Trucks with the number 1, sandwiches, a potato salad, cut up strawberries and pineapples, and muesli bars. Above the table were two birthday cards pinned to the wall, some balloons and an owl bunting with the letters of Emilio’s name. On the adjacent table were serviettes with Feliz Cumpleanos written on them, plastic spoons, plastic cups, straws and paper plates, along with bottles of Coke, water, beer and homemade Strawberry juice. I observed that the guests were reluctant to help themselves at the tables, and remained seated until all the guests had arrived. Luis then proceeded to take each plate around the room offering to each of the seated guests. He said that this was normal custom in Chile and that it is not normal to ‘help yourself.’ As a host, his job was to ensure that each guest had plenty to eat and drink, and as a result, barely sat down. Myself, as the other host, felt quite uncomfortable with this. Of the food, the cupcakes were eaten rapidly and so were strawberries dipped in chocolate.

In terms of symbols, there were two strands at work. As we have seen above, there were balloons, cards and a bunting with the infants name. There was also music played with both English and Spanish songs. However, it is important to mention that there were decorations in the house independent of the birthday. Dieciocho is a national holiday marking Chile’s independence, and is celebrated as a week of parties known as Fiestas Patrias (patriotic parties). During this time, each house is legally obligated to fly a Chilean flag outside their home, symbolizing that they are a nation together. However, this time is typically a joyful time for Chilean families, who enjoy trips to fondas (fairs), watch military performances such as aerial shows, eat asados (barbeques food) and dance the national dance, the cueca, while wearing traditional dress. Throughout the week, houses are decorated in the colours of the flag: red, blue and white. At the party, there were garlands and wreaths in these colours across several walls. There were also traditional cueca songs played that attracted cheers and clapping. Therefore, the attitude during the celebration was considerably patriotic.

The afternoon was spent talking amongst each other, however people stayed generally in specific groupings, with the men and women separate. Conversation revolved around the children and also the house (it had been newly decorated). The outside area was very popular. Around seven, it was time for the cake. Everyone came inside, and the door was closed, lights off. The cake remained on the table as it was heavy and a candle in the shape of a number one was lit on the top. Luis stood next to me and I held Emilio, while everyone else were around us. ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung in Spanish: “cumpleanos feliz/deseamos a ti/feliz cumpleanos Emilio/que los cumplas feliz/” which is literally translated as “happy birthday/we desire for you/happy birthday Emilio/have a happy birthday”. It was sung loudly and there was much clapping and cheering at the end. The cutting of the cake marked Emilio’s entry into the liminal stage, of “transition or marginality. The individual is neither one thing or another, but ‘betwixt and between’” (Bowie, 2006: 149). After a slice of cake was eaten, we began opening the presents. This act represented the postliminal, representing Emilio’s successful pass through liminality into a new state as a one year old (Bowie, 2006: 149). What I note as striking is that in the preliminal state, Emilio played happily with everybody but during the liminal he was held closely by his parents, specifically his mother. During the opening of the presents he was again held but this time by his father. At the conclusion of the present opening, Emilio crawled away himself and spent the rest of the evening with the older children of Luis’ friends. This is notable because these actions appear as partnered to the symbolism of the rite of passage. When Emilio had completed his part in the ceremony, he was independent enough to move away as an individual who had been “reintegrated into society, but in a transformed state” (Bowie, 2006: 149). The presents themselves were particularly extravagant, consisting of a swing, toys, clothing and sports items. Everyone watched the opening of the presents with heightened anticipation, there was clapping and the whole process was filmed (rather than just photos, which were taken throughout). This rapt attention is fitting given it was the last stage of Emilio’s rite of passage.

After this stage had been completed, several people left. The immediate family stayed and partook in once. This is a custom unique to Chile and has ambiguous roots. One legend says a long time ago, eleven ladies used to clandestinely get together to drink alcohol and their code word for organising was ‘once’. Today, it does not involve eleven ladies or alcohol and instead is similar to breakfast but taken in the evening. In Chile, breakfast is typically light while lunch (at two in the afternoon) is the main meal, however as more and more families are apart during the day, once has gained more importance as important family time. Usually, freshly baked bread (preservative free) called marrequetas are served warm with ham, cheese and sometimes either stuffed tomatoes or avocado. Mashed up avocado with lemon and lots of salt almost always accompanies once, along with a spicty tomato mix called pebre. However, on the night of Emilio’s birthday we ate empanadas that were made in next doors garage. Empanadas can be fried or baked in the oven depending on what kind of filling they have, and we had either prawn and cheese, cheese or meat fillings. This was the culmination of the evening, as we all sat together and reminisced about the afternoon. Emilio was getting irritable at this point and was ready for bed, which appeared to dampen the spirits of the grandfather who could not fathom the baby being tired. At the conclusion of the meal, goodbyes were made along with the obligatory goodbye cheek kiss.

In terms of the broader socio-cultural significance, the first birthday celebration in Chile is equal to the Catholic baptism ceremony and is usually performed around the same time. The celebration has meaning for the adults as it is akin to ones affirmation within a family. In this case, Emilio’s birthday was a special one as his Chilean family were not present through his early life. It was especially significant to his grandmother, Viviana, who admitted that she was so emotional about finally having a grandchild. In South America, mothers are highly regarded and particularly close with their children. It is usual to live with ones parents until marriage, and then to live nearby and visit regularly. The birthday party provided an ideal time for bonding as the parents were busy hosting and attempting to socialize without needing to constantly attend to their child. This was especially obvious after the present opening ceremony when Emilio wandered off with a sense of new independence. Furthermore, this new stage appeared to have a dramatic effect upon Emilio, who finished the night by standing alone for the first time in his life.

Humans, when encountering danger, always respond uniquely, particularly through the use of symbols which include everything from pictograms to language. (Stein, 2011: 56). The symbols used during the party represented the slight power struggle between the New Zealand and Chilean cultures that were vying for equal footing. Spanish was only spoken, the majority of the guests were Chilean, the birthday song that marked the liminal period was sung only in Spanish despite English-speakers being present, and there were considerable displays of patriotic behaviour. In my opinion, the Chilean influence was certainly strongest, perhaps encouraged by the fact that many of the decorations were presented in Chilean colours. This then evoked a patriotic attitude because they were arbitrary symbols that provoked a similar agreement and response in the people that had been conditioned to recognise them as such (Stein, 2011: 57). The playing of Spanish music and traditional songs also set the mood of the event (Stein, 2011: 70). In terms of the broader significance of singing Happy Birthday, it is interesting and poignant that music during a rite of passage has its roots in religious ritual, of which it is a key element, as it helps to give birthday celebrations importance (Stein, 2011: 70).

It has now been several days since the conclusion of the birthday party. The sense of communitas is still strong thanks to the constant presence of the internet. Photos have been ‘shared’, ‘liked’ and commented upon along with much reminiscing. Inside the home, the decorations have come down except for the patriotic colours of red, white and blue. As we approach the day of the eighteenth itself, there is a heightened feeling of expectancy in the air. Emilio seems like a different boy, trying to walk and talk only after his rite of passage. It is evident that just as behaviours are learned so too are the meaning of symbols, all of which make an appearance during a first birthday party – from the power of the cake with its symbolic cutting, to the opening of the presents and the cheering that accompanies a national song. As a ritual, the birthday is closely tied to these elements but also to more tangible components such as a family. I observed the celebration as a bonding experience for the wider family unit (including friends formed during previous communitas) that also allowed the parents to spend time away from their child. The child himself responded to this with delight and embraced a strong sense of independence after the postliminal period had concluded.

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References

Bowie, Fiona. The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 138-         173. 2006.

Davies, Douglas. Rites of Passage. Edited by Jean Holm with John Bowker. London and           New York: Pinter, pp.1-9. 1994.

Mono, Pamela and James Myers. Magic, Witchcraft and Religion: A reader in the Anthropology of Religion. 2010. New York: Mc Grow-Hill, pp.83-86.

Stein, Rebecca L. and Philip L. The Anthropology of Religion, Magic and Witchcraft.       New Jersey: Pearson. 2011.

Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, pp. 83-       111. 1967.