I found a watercolor that I did this spring that says: home is where they want to take you in when you come back.

We were driving home on the evening of the 8th when Mom pointed out Evanston Hospital and said they'd gone inside around this time 27 years ago. She and my dad told me the story of my birth: how they didn't know I was a girl 'till I arrived, the phone calls (Ama had just left Glenview on a roadtrip and didn't believe Dad until he pointed out he was calling during the most expensive time of day: "if I were joking I would call during the cheap time!"), the hordes of aunts... we pulled out photo albums and they translated the Tagalog/Fookien captions until just past midnight. Pictures of Tiny Mel Self blinking sleepily in the arms of a beaming, exhausted Mom and Dad.

We had a proper (massive) brunch the next morning at Egg Harbor Cafe and walked around the park digesting and discussing gender identity, Eucharistic theology, diversity in engineering... the sorts of conversations I could easily imagine having with friends (I shouldn't be surprised at this; I had to get my intellectual tendencies from somewhere). I did some research in the afternoon, and we got Long Birthday Noodles (as per Chinese tradition) at a Ramen shop, followed by frozen yogurt and a call from Guama. It was great to be able to update Guama about my cousins; I've spent so many years so far outside the loop that this is still a "wait, I am a member of this family!" sign that happily surprises me.

The birthday didn't stop then; Mom and I drove to Wisconsin the next morning, and along that long drive I got to hear the story of when I got sick, all the strange things that happened then. I found out Mom had made the colored rosary that's hung from the van's rearview mirror this semester; a rosary that's come to mean a lot to me (long story) now means even more knowing my mom made it. Letters and books from friends arrived, and I wrote back to Kei; I swung out to Northwestern's campus while Colleen and my parents talked, and we introduced her to bubble tea at Joy Yee's afterwards.

The next day -- still birthday festivities! -- my cousins took me to dinner downtown -- Mark and Megan, Mindy and Micah (Mindy's boyfriend), Randy (my honorary brother since infancy). We toasted sake and rhubarb cocktails and slurped noodles and crunched on chicken skin but mostly tackled a gigantic pig's-head platter, meltingly tender (especially the cheek meat), gorgeous mounded with sauerkraut and cauliflower and spicy red sauce on a soft white bun with blood sausage. Mindy and I dissected the skull (she's going to med school). The waiter came in with a cleaver and a mallet so we could get at the brain. Megan divided up the tongue (the cheek was better). They all took foodie instagrams. Then we flopped in the lounge of Mindy's dorm and watched The Big Bang Theory while Mark and Micah played pool and Megan and Mindy made a powerpoint and I tried not to fall asleep on the giant beanbag couches. After that, I helped Randy strip down his Thinkpad to replace the laptop's fan. Then I did fall asleep, and... well, I think that was my birthday. 27 has gently rolled in, and I'm home, and I'm headed out for Zambia-stuff later tonight.

It's the first time in many, many years that I have spent my birthday in Glenview, or with my family. The first time I've celebrated it with my parents (instead of "I guess my parents might be here, but I'm really celebrating with my friends") unless you count the baby birthdays that I don't remember. And it's... nice, this coming home. It's just... home. Slipping back on a well-worn jacket that's been in the closet for a while, having it still fit, looking in the mirror and thinking well, you've grown -- and here you are.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-- T.S. Eliot

Most people know that bit of the poem "Little Gidding." But a few lines down, we have this too:

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.