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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

Where I Call Home by Cami M. '23

california california cambridge!

With Parent’s Weekend coming up, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the world I came from and how I ended up in this strange little bubble on the other side of the country.

I lived in a one story house in the suburbs of Norwalk, California. It’s a beautiful house with a big backyard featuring my lolo’s famous orange tree and calamansi tree. There in that house lived my mom, my lolo, my lola, and me. Over time, the house would grow and shrink with guests. Sometimes my uncles would stay over, sometimes my cousins, sometimes my lolo and lola would go away on vacation and it would just be my mom and me.

But it was constant. And it was good.

Sitting now in front of this big window overlooking the busy street of Mass Ave, I can’t help but miss my house. My home.

I miss waking up every morning to a warm weight on my tummy, the little gremlin dog I called Snickers happily snuggled into my side. I miss the smell of freshly prepared cornbeef and rice with a perfect sunny side egg on the side. I miss the sound of the television, put on full blast because my grandparents have lost their hearing over the years, playing bad Pinoy telenovelas.

My world was Jeopardy at 7:00PM sharp, where our family gathered eagerly in front of the TV to yell trivia answers at an Alex Trebek from the past. It was laying down on the hardwood floors arms wide open as Snickers came over to sniff at my hair. It was the feeling of comfort and love that seemed to emanate so greatly from our small, unassuming house on the street.

My world, however, also consisted of stress. The stress of balancing both sides of the equation. Looking back on it now, I realized I never fully understood the meaning of what it was to be a child of divorce. I was fortunate enough where the divorce had happened when I was so young (about three years old) that life with one parent was the norm.

Now, I see just how life-changing that experience was.

Growing up, my mom was my biggest hero. She was a single, divorced mother working a full-time job so that she could send her only child to the best school her money could afford. She moved back in with her parents so that when she worked long shifts, someone would be able to look after her kid. To me, she epitomized everything a strong woman should be. She was deliberate and powerful. When someone disrespected or belittled her or a loved one, she was the first to fight back. She would call people out on their bullshit, whether at work or at home. She was passionate and unafraid and bold. She was everything I ever wanted to be.

My lola was compassionate and loving, sacrificing so much of her time and energy to care for her grandkids. She would wake up early in the morning to cook me breakfast, sleep late at night to clean the dishes from our dinner. She tended to the garden every day even in her old age. But the moment someone tried to take advantage of her kindness, she would chew them out. I remember my lola telling me stories of her talking back to her superiors. “Well, they would just say such stupid things. And we’re just supposed to listen to that?” I now understood where my mom got her fighting spirit from.

As I grew older, I remember looking around at the other kids at school and seeing both their moms and dads coming to parent nights. I, on the other hand, had to try and schedule my mom and dad to come on different nights. Even at a young age, I was able to see that they didn’t get along very well.  There were nights where I would stay up, asking God if I was doing a good job of loving them both equally. I knew that I made my dad sad sometimes because I couldn’t see him as much, and I don’t think he understood me all that well.

But when we did bond, I really felt right at home and my heart swelled up with so much love it felt like it was going to pop right out of my chest.

When I was kid, he would pick me up from my house in Norwalk and drive me to his parents’ house about 20 minutes away in Buena Park. There, I would see my aunt and my uncle and my grandparents and my cat, Scruffy. It was a different kind of feeling than the house in Norwalk. This house was also beautiful and very suburban, with plentiful trees and plants that decorated our backyard. But it wasn’t anything like the Norwalk house. Here, I could walk around with shoes on in the house, and play the big piano in the living room, and help my lolo paint the benches with the big roller. I could play with my cat Scruffy and use the big, speedy computer that my dad taught me how to use.

Each house had something different I looked forward to, and even though I spent more time in one over the other, both shaped me in such powerful and monumental ways that I’ve never bothered to really think about before.

At my dad’s house, I found my love of music. My mom’s side was never very musical, at least openly. My dad and his siblings, though, were all musicians. His sister was the best at singing, my uncle at guitar, and my dad, of course, was the best at piano. He was the one who first introduced me to piano, and though I hated learning it when I was growing up, I’m really grateful that I did now.

My dad also tried to get me into STEM at a really early age. He would always show me the newest developments in technology and engineering, showing me random videos of cool gadgets or updating me on the latest news. One of my most prominent memories from growing up was my dad trying to teach me algebra at the ever-so tender age of 6. He wrote out “7x = 21 –> x = 21/7 –> x = 3”. I had never been more confused.

As a result, I grew frustrated and angry and I cried for hours and hours begging him to please stop teaching me math. And now I go to MIT, thanks Dad. Your algebra really helped me out on this one.

With mom, I felt at ease. It was the first thing I thought of when I thought of the word home.

And I remember feeling guilty as a kid because I didn’t love my dad’s house as much as I loved my mom’s, but now I understand my dad’s house was a home. And I loved it just as much, in a different way.

Even now, I still crave spending Christmases in that house, where Dad would pick me up on Christmas morning and drive me over. They had a painted set of a Christmas village all laid out across the floor and I’d play for hours there, tediously making up intricate storylines in this fantastical town. Probably one of the roots of my love for storytelling and writing.

As I grew older, I visited my dad less and less. Weekly trips to Buena Park turned into monthly visits to my dad’s sister’s house. I wanted to ask about Scruffy, but I was scared to because I didn’t want them to tell me she had passed. In fact, I’m still scared now. I haven’t asked at all and just thinking about it breaks my heart because she was my first ever pet, and the loss of your first pet is the worst heartbreak of all.

During this sparse period of seeing my dad’s side, I felt really disconnected from them. The monthly visits felt more like a chore than an opportunity, and I would spend most of my time holed up in my room rather than spending time with them. In those years, they had become strangers to me. I had ostracized myself from my family and whenever they were around each other, I felt out of place. It’s still one of my biggest regrets today.

In the last two years of high school, I think I matured up a bit. I realized I should stop keeping to myself and start actually, well, get to know my family. I started talking a bit more, going outside once in a while, striking up conversation. It was slow and a bit anxiety-inducing, but the efforts made went a really long way. After I got my license, I drove over to the house more and more just to bake and cook and spend time with them. My aunt, who was like my second mother, tried to prepare me for the cook-for-yourself lifestyle I would soon enter. When I was younger and had holed myself in my room like the brat I was, my aunt always vouched for me. “She just needs time,” she would say. She had loved me so unconditionally even in my darkest moments and I’m forever grateful for that.

My dad, who had moved to a city about two hours away, would text once in a while and though our conversations were short, it was nice to know he was checking in. I missed him a lot and had a lot of regrets about the rockiness of our relationship over the years, but was happy to know that despite everything, we still were on good terms with each other.

Leaving California was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Initially I didn’t get homesick because I was just so busy with FPOPs and REX and just meeting people in general, but the moment I got the time to breathe, my eyes would fill with tears because I just felt so, so far away. My family was a six hour plane ride away. Going home was a whole project, not just something I could do on a whim. I didn’t think it would hit me this hard, but it did, and it still does. On days like this, quiet and slow, I remember all those little memories.

This weekend, my mom and my two uncles are coming to visit. I just saw my family two weekends ago for Columbus day, but it seems that every time I see them, the harder it is to say goodbye. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to see them this much and wish they could stay forever. I’ve actually asked my mom a couple of times to move to Cambridge, to which she would laugh and then shake her head, telling me that this is my journey, not hers.

Every day, I see the influences of these two very different sides of my life in everything I do and everything I am.

Living in a home with such powerful women showed me what I should strive to be like. And every day I try. I fight for what I believe in. I am loud, unabashed, and unafraid. I stick up for the people I love and care about and I am so very unapologetically me.

Living with divorced parents taught me balance and provided me with such different opportunities to explore. I found my love of music, of STEM, of video games, of strategy and fantasy, of art.

I learned the power of communication and the strength of family. And that family can go through some of the toughest times and still make it through. It just takes time and effort.

Now I sit here on one of the balcony steps that overlooks Lobby 10, waiting eagerly for it to hit 11:00 so all the parents can flood into 10-250 and experience the magic that is my Solid-State chemistry class, 3.091. Our professor was very, very forward about ensuring that all the students brought their parents. My mom slept in, though, and just texted me five minutes ago, telling me that she will not make it. Bummer!

Anyway, it’s just nice to think about family. I can hear all the excited chatter as students are reunited with family members they haven’t see in months, bringing more than just parents but cousins, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents alike. As I walk down the halls I see people embracing, I see teary-eyes, I hear cries of “God, I missed you so much.” And it makes me really, really happy that we get moments like this where we can break from the college bubble and remember the people who got us here. Because we are very much the result of a thousand people’s sculpting, whether that be teachers or friends or family. It is our loved ones that truly help us grow and become the people we are today.

To my family, whether by blood or just by love, thank you for helping me grow. I would not be in the position had it not been for your overwhelming support and love.

Have a good day, and tell someone you love them and miss them!