I asked my 12-year old goddaughter, Alexie Sencio, with whom we have been spending our summer vacations for two consecutive years now, if they are asked in school to write an essay about how they spent their summer vacation. Alexie gave me a puzzled look as if I just asked her a very strange question. “No, tita, we were never asked to do that in school,” she said.
Alexie dreams of going to college in University of California in Berkeley
Alexie goes to the Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) in Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila. It caters mainly to Chinese-Filipino female students. Alexie is not Chinese, but she goes to ICA because, according to her mom, Mayie Sencio, it’s the closest school to their house. I don’t know if it’s just ICA or if this is something all schools now no longer do, but I do remember being expected to write an essay entitled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” in every grade level during my elementary school years. In fact, this essay has always been my inspiration to do something exciting and new every summer vacation of my childhood.
For those of you who have been following my column, you might remember Mayie and Alexie from my three-part special series about our vacation in Saigon, Vietnam during the summer of 2010. This year, we spent our summer vacation (and Mayie’s birthday) in the United States. For 25 days, we visited our high school classmates in the San Francisco Bay Area; Chicago; Los Angeles; and Las Vegas to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our graduation from Davao City High School (class of 1986). Yes, that’s where I’ve been that is why I have not been writing my column for the past three weeks. I was busy living my summer so I can write stories about how I spent it here (just like in grade school).
The four travel buddies who spend their summer vacations together every year
For many years in my adult, working life I did not have the luxury of a summer vacation. I started my career in government and politics at age 20 so that’s two decades of no summer vacation. In fact, some summers have been more toxic for me than others – they’re called Philippine elections. I used to plot the cycles of my life according to national and local elections. I used to schedule my breakdowns and hospitalizations and any major event in my life that is not work-related only during non-working holidays. So my vacation leaves were also my sick leaves. Even the five-day “forced leave” was a sick leave. It was that bad.
One day, I just decided I would take back all the 20 summer vacations I missed. So when I turned 40 last July, I gave myself the gift of freedom. For the first time in my life I was free to do – or not do – anything. And it beats all the summer vacations I’ve ever had in my entire life. Because it is ongoing every single day now and it is only I who can declare it to be over – not the school calendar, not my boss, not my mother, not even the Filipino people.
Alexie and Tito Neil having fun at the train tracks in Napa Valley
Of course, my friends are envious. Who wouldn’t like to be on vacation all the time? But I guess it’s a path easier taken by those who are not burdened with financial obligations like mortgage payments, children still in school, and stuff like that.
No, I am not rich. I have only enough money saved to get by. I am fortunate to have an Ilocano mother who worked very hard since she was 16 making her independently wealthy upon retirement (so I need not worry about her). I am also blessed with a life partner, Neil, who shares my belief that life must be lived on your own terms and not according to how mainstream society defines success. We learned this lesson the hard way, growing up struggling against our perfectionist parents’ expectations. But it was through these same parents with whom we learned to live our lives debt-free and to live within our means. So we are more grateful than resentful.
Alexie discovering the Mojave Dessert with her mother Mayie and godmothers Patmei and Susie and godfather Neil
When Mayie frets about how much money she has spent on shopping while on vacation, Neil always tells her: ”What will you do with your money if not spend it on something that makes you happy now? You cannot take that with you when you die.”
“But I have to think of Alexie, she’s still in grade school,” Mayie counters. To which Alexie always replies, “Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t like shopping.”
It’s true. Alexie doesn’t like to shop unlike most girls her age. Her school allowance goes directly to her own bank account. Her mom takes her to school and she brings her own baon. So she has lots of money saved and she can afford to have her own budget to spend as she pleases during her summer vacations. And she spends it all on books. Bookstores and libraries are her own private heaven. So she was sad to learn that Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores are closing down in the US. Her favorite place that we visited in the States is Berkeley, California because it has lots of independent bookstores. She is aiming for a college scholarship to University of California in Berkeley now.
Alexie loves to read and she uses all her shopping money to buy books
Alexie is a well-read and well-traveled 12-year old girl. She has been to most of Southeast Asia, Europe, and now the United States. Like Alexie, I was an only child of a working single mother, too, but the farthest place my mom could afford to take me then was Zamboanga City – by boat! But my mom did buy me lots of books growing up and instilled in me the love for the written word.
I think Mayie should not worry about the money and material assets she would leave her only daughter when she dies. All the books she has given and all the travels she has taken with Alexie would be more than enough legacy. Not all kids have the same opportunity to see the world like Alexie has. And I am certain these experiences have a more profound and lasting impact in shaping her character and view of life and the world than any material inheritance ever could. As St. Augustine once said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Permissive godparents: Underage Alexie should not be on the casino floor but “what happens in Vegas…”
So if there is one thing, aside from education, that you can give your kids now while you are still alive – make that the gift of travel. You may lose money investing in an education plan, but beautiful travel memories last forever.
Towards the end of our US vacation, Alexie asked me where we are vacationing next summer. Her mom quipped, “Somewhere where there is no shopping!” Is there such a place in the world now?
But as we were boarding our plane back to Manila, Mayie said to us with a smile, “Maybe we’ll go to Spain and Greece next summer.”
Mother and daughter bond while traveling the world
Alexie’s school may not require her to write an essay on how she spent her summer vacation, but we are pretty sure she’ll write all about it in her book someday.