Summer heat. I can only remember my childhood summers as suffocatingly oppressive. Growing up in a San Gabriel Valley home without air conditioning left me waiting with bated breath for the next rotation of the fan’s breeze. In those long summer nights after Dad shut off the fan to save power, I’d often wake up drenched in sweat. How many times had I yelped out in pain after flinging open the car door, eagerly jumping into the front seat, only to have the back of my thighs singed from the faux leather seats of Mom’s white Toyota Tercel? Hours spent in front of the in-window A/C unit that never actually cooled the room down, evenings lying on the carpeted floor of the living room waiting for the breeze to waft through the screen door.
Looking back, summers were never consistent. My working-class parents had to stitch together child care solutions for us that varied from year to year. Some years, we’d be under Po Po’s care or with an Auntie. Other years, our set up was less familial ranging from daycares to summer camps. In one such experience, I remember a long summer spent with four vampirine sisters somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley where I picked up the habit to pick at my scab and suck the blood out of my wound. Another year, we spent a couple weeks of our summer at the YMCA. Dad would take us to Vons on the way there, supplying us with the 90s version of charcuterie – Lunchables. A shy kid with anxiety and low self-confidence, I remember dreading drop off every day wondering who I was going to play with. One particular memory that sticks out from that summer is nearly drowning, having lost grip on the sides of the pool. I popped back up and caught my breath. I then watched Dan, the blonde, curly-haired camp counselor, horse playing with other kids, all with a watery, yellow booger hanging out of his nose.
Our summer experiences were always close to home. Dad worked six days a week. Mom was a full-time working mother saddled with all the traditional housewife expectations on top of it. I can feel the weight of her exhaustion traversing the sands of time. So even weekends didn’t involve trips to Disneyland, the beach, or getaways. There were no trips abroad in the summer. We didn’t have that luxury. But you don’t know what you don’t know so I never felt like I was missing much. Time during the summer, like the balance of the year, was filled with family. Weekends were spent eating great home-cooked food at the hands of Popo, Aunties, or Grand Aunties. Weekends were spent playing pretend with cousins or watching scary movies all with the sound of mahjong tiles clicking in the background.
As I grew older and gained the freedom of adolescent youth, I began to check off some of those things I didn’t know were missing from summer. As I entered full-fledged young adult freedom, my experiences widened. Long summer days were spent in Manhattan Beach. My family, if I went home and visited over the weekend, would be surprised to see me several shades darker than I’d ever been before. Summer days were spent on lawns with friends, sometimes hanging at the pool. I visited places I’d never been to as a kid like Big Bear and Miami. Vegas was revisited, this time as an adult. All the time I spent at midway games as a child was replaced by games of crap, slot machines, and steamy nights dancing until my feet physically couldn’t take it anymore.
I spent a portion of one college summer abroad exploring the ruins of classical civilization in Italy. My time there was anchored primarily in Rome. The summer included day trips to Villas, trips on foot to the Coliseum and famous arches, and a visit to the Vatican among other churches and museums. I spent an enchanting weekend in Sorrento and Capri and I can still feel the warmth of the Italian sea. I spent nights drinking far too much, dancing all night long. I was exposed to a way of life I wasn’t familiar with and it became my way of living that summer. Lengthy meals, strolls from piazza to piazza, and afternoon siestas. It was the life! And while I enjoyed my time there, I still felt twinges of being homesick from time to time. I made sure to eat at the local Chinese restaurant at least once a week so that I could feel the comfort of home without being there. In the end, I threw my coin into the Trevi Fountain and made my way back to Italy eight years later with my husband on his first trip to Europe. I, again, strolled piazzas, this time hand in hand with Dave. We had wine with every meal and explored parts of Italy I hadn’t been to before: Florence, Pisa, Burano, Venice, and Verona to name a few. I had an inappropriate amount of cheese for a lactose intolerant Asian American, but I don’t regret any of it.
What I do regret these days is not taking more time to travel prior to having kids. There are so many things Dave and I could have done! Staying on a hut above water is still on my bucket list. We have our whole lives ahead of us, but COVID-19 has curtailed any immediate travel plans we might have had this year. Summer is over for us. Tessa started Kindergarten this Monday. I wanted us to travel more as a family this year. It was one of my new year’s resolutions for 2020. I can see now that there’s a component of cultural appreciation I missed as a child. I still endeavor to give this experience to my children. We may not be able to travel as wide and far as I had hoped, but we can still open their eyes to new experiences through some local getaways.