I spent the holidays with my parents and brother in their new house in Corona, California (well, new in the sense that my parents bought the house 5 years ago and only moved into it this past October). I haven’t seen my mom and dad since the summer, and although I talk to my older brother nearly everyday, I haven’t seen him in 2 years.
My brother picked me up at Ontario Airport late at night, after flying nearly 6 hours from New York. We haven’t seen each other for quite a while, since he chose not to come home to Chicago whilst my parents were living there; he opted to focus more on his studies and burgeoning career. Now he had gained a little weight since the last time I saw him a few Christmases ago, and I’ll admit it was awkward after seeing him for so long. Our relationship has never been smooth, but he is blood. As way to steer the conversation into something more comfortable for the both of us, I immediately asked him about his current projects — as I do everyday over the phone — and that slight tension between us then faded. He proceeded to take me to In-N-Out Burger, noticeably excited to welcome me to California and happy that once again our family was reunited.
As a kind gesture and a way to show my family that I’m pretty well off without them, I bought him and my parents some food and arrived at the new house only to find out that my mom and dad were away visiting some relatives. Tired from my long trip, I excused myself from my brother and went upstairs to the room my mom had prepared. She spared no expense or time decorating what she endearingly calls my “permanent room for when you visit us”: the walls were decorated with pictures of me as a child, coupled with framed comic strips I made in undergrad and shitty artwork I created throughout the years. Trinkets and collectibles from my childhood lined the windowsill, which overlooked a pair of unfamiliar palm trees in the backyard. A stack of my high school yearbooks and hardbound copies of stories that I haphazardly made in kindergarten sat atop a footstool I instantly recognized from my old house in Chicago.
As soon as I laid down to take a nap my parents arrived, my mom shouting the familiar, “PHEEEEEEEELLIP!” in her thick Filipino accent. I walked downstairs and was greeted by my mother and father who, despite my brother proclaiming they looked more weathered and elderly, haven’t changed in the slightest since I last saw them in July in Chicago. We talked for a bit, my dad asked about my financial situation as he munched on the fries I bought him, and then I returned to my bedroom. Minutes later, my mom came up and sat on the foot of my bed, expressing how much she missed me and how she’s so happy to have all her family together again, under the same roof. She kissed me goodnight, and I went to bed.
Because of the time difference between the East and West Coasts, I woke up the next day unfathomably early — even before my dad, who’d usually get up at some weird, inexplicable hour to watch CNN. I started to do work, small tasks and design projects that I was obligated to do during my vacation. Most of my time — with the exception of Christmas — was busy with work; with the relaunching of the new website in January, I needed to do as much as I could in order to fulfill the site’s deadline. The majority of my vacation was spent sitting at the kitchen table, my laptop and hard drive in front of me, replying to emails and teleconferencing with my coworkers back in New York. Every now and then, I’d take a break and chit chat with my family, but they graciously understood the importance (and stress) of my job.
When I was free, I spent my time watching Filipino soap operas on satellite TV and shopping with my family. For Christmas, I bought my parents a pair of small guava and mango trees, while I gave my brother $10 worth of scratch-off tickets and a Visa gift card. For my own Christmas present, my parents and I decided to split the cost on a new DSLR camera, which would help me create more shitty photos and videos. Furthermore, I would give them my 2003 DSLR I packed with me so they too can take awful images with mediocre photography skills. With the discussion of Christmas presents done, we talked about driving to Vegas on Christmas Day and spending Christmas Eve with my aunt and uncle in nearby Chino Hills.
Now my aunt and uncle have lived in the same house ever since I visiting California as a child. They don’t have any children of their own, so they have a habit of spoiling their numerous nieces and nephews — even as adults. On Christmas Eve, they cooked us a wonderful turkey dinner and gave my brother and me money to gamble with in Las Vegas. We proceeded to play poker for the rest of the night, a typical custom within the Nievera side of my family. Ultimately, I came up as one of the biggest winners, attaining over $50 from my brother, dad (who sucks at poker), aunt, and uncle. Despite my mom having Nievera blood coursing through her, she refused to gamble and watched Adele’s Christmas concert in the next room. Honestly, I really don’t know how she’s going to do much of anything in Las Vegas.
So far it’s been a decent time here in California. Granted, the design work, the website relaunch, and a few freelance video editing gigs have added unwanted stress to this so-called vacation, but the warmth and sincerity of being with my family is compensation enough.