The very first memory of my life was picking flowers in an open field as a gift for family. After discussing the details with my mom, I came to find out that the memory took place on my uncle’s land on a trip to the Philippines. I was two and a half years old, but the memory was so clear to me.
As an adult, I know childhood memories don’t normally go back so early. A young mind usually does a memory dump around the age of four so most people don’t remember much before that. Maybe it is because we were able to time stamp that memory to a short three week span in my life that was spent doing something out of the ordinary, or maybe it was because that snippet of my life made such an impression on me.
My parents both had emigrated from the Philippines in the ’70s. They created a family of seven in Chicago, and worked hard to provide for us. We didn’t have much for material things but family was always of importance. Our few international flights were always to visit relatives in the Philippines. As we all got older, my parents would load us all into the van and tour the country.
With cousins in front of “Brownie”, the family van.
The thought of the seven of us jammed into a van for an extended period of time was less appealing in my adolescence. We would have days sleeping in parking lots, eating cold spam sandwiches, and reheating leftovers on the dashboard. My dad planned routes with an actual map and found attractions based on the brochures picked up along the way. We visited “hidden gems” of America like the Corn Palace of South Dakota and Gatorland in Florida. However, even the most undesirable of destinations still provided a much needed break from being trapped in the van.
Traveling around allowed us the chance to get to know other relatives. I met new cousins and would write to them as pen pals when back home in Illinois. We would find ourselves making hilarious family memories on the road, as when an ostrich tried to get into the van with us at Arbuckle Wilderness in Oklahoma. Some of my favorite stops were famous National Parks such as Yellowstone, the Painted Desert, and Denali. This was a contrast from the city life we had at home. My parents also favored historical sites like Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and the Alamo in Texas. I always felt like they did this to subject us to a little extra schooling while on break. As it turns out, I did learn more when seeing something as opposed to reading about it in a book. Now, I consider it may have been a way for my parents to learn more about America, as it never occurred to me as a child that they would be looking at this country as something new or unexplored.
By the time I was entering high school, my family had made it to 49 of the 50 states at least once. We had visited most of the provinces of Canada and spent some time in Mexico. This is pretty impressive to me now, but I didn’t see it that way in my youth. I finished high school, and stayed in state for college. Growing up in Chicago gave me a deep appreciation for architecture and design, and I found myself following an interior design career path to outlet my creativity.
As a professional, I put most of my childhood adventures behind me and dove head first into my career. At my first major design position, my boss had taken me under her wing to learn the trade. She really gave me creative freedom and would encourage my own ideas both to me and to the clientele. With her guidance and support, I rose to management positions and even showcased my designs on everything from product marketing material to television. I had traveled to a couple different states for conventions and trade shows, but never for leisure. The hours were long but I had filled a sense of career achievement that I desired.
Years later, I moved to California at what may have been the worst time. The bank crash of 2008 did a number on the housing market, which affected positions in interior design. With an uncertain outlook on a career and being in a new city, I was almost forced to re-discover what it was that inspires me. The unstable job market of that time gave me the opportunity to really seek out what my own passions are. Being in a new state gave me the opportunity to adventure around and enjoy finding new experiences and meeting new people.
As it turns out, I like being creative and I do find myself taking on different projects that push myself to make more things. From designing to photography to writing; I want to do it all but also want to push myself to be better at it. I also love the sense of challenging myself to take new risks, as I know now that’s how I grow as a person. Those family vacations inspired me to get back to exploring and taught me how to adapt to situations, giving me the flexibility I needed at this time.
Four years ago my life changed again with the birth of my daughter, and I found myself coming full circle. I enjoy taking her to National Parks and camping in the wilderness. I try to travel with her, expose her to different life experiences, and give her some new perspective of things. When she was 7 months old, we flew to Hawaii and I was finally able to say I had visited all 50 states. I promised her that day I would try to do the same for her. As a parent, you hope to give your child the best in life and all the opportunities you never had. My parents gave me a lot in those days in the family van, from my love of family and travel to my admiration of nature and history. However, just as they were able to show me those things, I also saw their dedication and fearlessness. I hope one day my daughter can also say that she was able to adventure in the world and learn a lot about herself in the process.
Me and my daughter in Hawaii. Photo by my brother-in-law, Charlie
Featured image: Obligatory tourist photo after arriving in Homer, Alaska. I have very similar photos in front of other signs all over the US. My camera in hand, although it looks like I would have ample space in those fanny packs for it =/