My parents gave me a gift that has aided me throughout my entire life and will continue to be proven useful well into my old age. It is not a gift that was wrapped and presented on a holiday, nor was it something that was given at birth that can be tracked down in my genetic code. I was not given this gift all at once, and actually had to wait a great deal of time before I received the gift in its full entirety. Looking back, I do not believe that even my parents realized the gift they were giving me, or at least not in the beginning.
On July 11th, 2008, this past summer, after striving for nearly eighteen years, I, as well as my family, received the last part of the non-refundable, unforgettable gift: the gift of the United States. From my first year of life, to the month before my eighteenth birthday, my family traveled the country counting the states we visited until we could confidently and truthfully say that we had seen each of the 50 United States.
At first, we had no idea that this was the goal. At the ripe age of 10 months, when we began traveling to other states, I wasn’t even aware that I was lounging anywhere besides in my stroller in my backyard. Although many find this fact shocking, I have grown up thinking that taking my first steps in a hotel room in St. Louis was normal. What had began as creative family vacations to escape repetition eventually turned into a check-off list.
I grew up traveling and learned to love it, but didn’t truly feel a sense of appreciation for all I had seen until recently when the goal was near, and in sight. When my friends got to go on relaxing vacations to the beach, I was being towed around New England or the Midwest, visiting museums and factories and getting a culture lesson on every family vacation. Once we were hundreds of miles away from home, though, I was easily swept into the world of exploring. My sister and I would create tape recording after tape recording, singing songs and playing games. With each trip, I attempted to keep a journal of my visits, although this was never successful until a few years ago. Learning on vacation was expected…and accepted. My mother always planned a full vacation with many interesting stops that were unique to the area we were passing through and my father drove the trusty minivan with few complaints. I didn’t notice that my history and social studies grades never slipped and never thought to owe my geography bee awards to my travels.
Sure I wasn’t able to eat corn for a month after our trip to North Dakota, and I do regret swallowing too much chlorine in California to the point that I vomited in Disneyland. Maybe I will never recover from the traumatic tarantula incident in Texas, or never be able to live down being carried away by a huge wave and losing my left shoe in Massachusetts. Yet, I can always get my sister back by telling the story about her in the cemetery of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I spent a week getting frostbite in Alaska, and maybe I can think of some embarrassing moments of my father acting like a complete tourist in Hawaii. But, as I stood by the “Welcome to Oregon” sign and held up five fingers on my left hand and formed my right hand into a zero, allowing my mother to capture a “Kodak” moment, I finally realized how precious the gift I’d been given truly was.
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