For the last four years, my son has been spending part of the summer vacation at my mother’s place in NorCal. It started when he was five years old for just one week. Each year since, he has asked me if I would allow him to stay at grandma’s house a little longer. I pretty much grew up at my grandparents’ house, and spent my childhood summers with plenty of outdoor activities with all my cousins. Many great memories came from those times, and those memories have kept me somewhat close to my relatives, even though we live thousands of miles apart now, and have not seen each other in over 15 years. Those times were precious. They ingrained the importance of family in me, and I learned generosity and loyalty. My cousins and I were a united troop and always had each other’s backs. We were so close in age that no one ever felt left out. Bullies never came our way when we were kids. If somebody bullied one of us, then that bully would have had to face eight defenders, ready to charge.
My summers were very different from my son’s. Summer camps were unheard of when I was a child in the Philippines. Summers were spent at home with very little supervision. Our babysitters were the acres of land my grandparents owned. The advanced electronics available in the current market were non-existent back then, but even if they were around, my parents could not afford them. When Atari first came out, only a few of my schoolmates had it, and I was only able to play with it when I was invited to their homes. Therefore, I spent much of my childhood outside, running around, riding bikes, and just playing. It is unfathomable to my son that I survived without cellular phones, internet, and cable TV when I was young. A question that comes up frequently (which makes me feel almost as old as fire), “what was life like without a cell phone or video games?” The answers are always the same: life was fine, we managed to have fun, and you do not usually miss things you do not have in the first place.
Still, my handsome little boy cannot believe that my childhood was exciting without these gadgets. And I get the feeling that he feels just a bit sorry for me.
All my grandparents were quite special. There was unlimited love, care, and attention from them. My sister, my cousins, and I always felt free and safe at their house. For some unknown reason, at my grandparents’ house the food tasted better and the beds felt warmer. As I remember it, we had the best time. We would split twin popsicles, sucked on sugar cane sticks, and shared halo-halo (a shaved ice dessert with milk and fruit toppings). We gorged ourselves on unlimited amounts of ripe mangoes from the backyard. It was simple, but grand. The love we received from our grandparents was priceless. No modern electronics could ever replace that.
It’s funny how time and memory are both long and short. I remember those summers of my childhood as one long, hazy, wonderful time; memories all bunched up together in a single timespan. As good as it was, though, there were plenty of sad times. Sure, there were the bumps, bruises, and broken hearts that come with youth, but I believe that the bright moments outshine the dark. As much as those summers felt endless, it also was over so quickly. We all grew up too fast.
My grandparents left this earth many years ago. The familial relationships could have easily ended with their leaving, but those shared summer experiences wove a strong cord that seems to stretch, but never breaks. My sisters, cousins, and I are likely forever bound because of our time shared at my grandparents’ house.
This summer Max is spending four weeks at my mother’s house, where my two nieces close to his age also spend most of their time. My mom (now also a grandmother) keeps a house that is very much like my grandparents’ home when we were kids. There is lots of playtime and very few rules. Love and attention never seem to run out. The kids play a lot. They fight, too. Mostly, though, they are building good memories and relationships that, with any luck, will withstand good and sad times of adulthood. I hope these memories keep them grounded and close.
When I dropped off my son to my mother’s place a few weeks ago, I had imagined all the benefits of this setup. It is good for Max to build strong bonds with his cousins and grandma. It also helps us out financially, since a visit to grandma’s is less expensive than summer camp. I also have a very flexible schedule at work while he is away. Having to rush out of the office to meet the 6 p.m. pick up time can be stressful at times. Plus, some alone time. Solitude. How I miss solitude…
What I did not know was that weeks of silence at home could be deafening on some days. I definitely miss the noise of a nine-year old boy playing and chattering on about video games I do not quite understand or care to learn. I miss his mess. I even miss the occasional whining. For me, no amount of 30 Rock or Veep reruns on the couch with my husband could compensate for the void left by Max’s absence. But perhaps even more importantly, I miss the feeling of being needed. I miss being bothered for every little thing a little boy needs. I guess I just miss him.
Last weekend, I prepared a dish that Max and I usually make together at home. Just like any young kid, he loves chicken tenders. I am proud to say that our homemade breaded chicken is the best we have ever had because of one special ingredient: us. This recipe is fantastic for kids, the young-at-heart, and even real grown-ups. I hope that you get to make and eat this dish with someone who needs you and brings the good kind of chaos to your life.
Click HERE for the recipe.