My Childhood Trifecta

I’m often asked why I’ve dedicated my life to giving back, volunteering and making donations where I can. The truth is that my giving comes from a place of gratitude.

I feel incredibly lucky to have the life I lead and I credit much of my personal success – defined as being healthy and happy with the ability to make my own decisions – as the result of a charmed childhood.

Michelson FamillyAnd while just like everyone else, I’ve had bumps along the way, disappointments and failures and missteps, in general I’ve been able to right myself and continue on a path of my own choosing. I believe this resilience stems from three advantages I had growing up. I think of these gifts as my “childhood trifecta.”


I was fortunate to be raised in a stable, supportive family. I had an idyllic childhood – never experiencing want, never questioning that I was loved.

In fact, many of my friends roll their eyes at when I tell them how my mother used to sing me awake each morning, opening the shutters one by one to gradually let in the light. She wanted me to wake up gently. Truly.

Or how she would pick me and my brother up from summer school at mid-day, bathing suits and lunches packed as we headed off to the beach each afternoon. We’d stay for hours playing the in the sand and jumping in the waves before heading home to our house in suburbia.

Or the healthy snacks that were always ready in our refrigerator, waiting for when we were hungry. Fresh fruit. Jello squares. Yogurt pops.

We had dinner every night as a family. The TV was turned off so we could converse about our day. Always a veggie, a protein and a starch on the plate, along with a glass of milk. Really, you can’t make this up. My childhood was that richly nourishing.

Family in TokyoThis was the gift of unquestionable love.


Early in my teens my parents took my brother and I on an international trip. I clearly remember the conversation at the dinner table that night when they asked us where we should go. It was a collective decision to head Down Under.

And so they took me out of school at age 14 and we traveled first to New Zealand, then to Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China, and Japan. During this time I was mainly out of school, attending three months here and there, but mostly just traveling with them – exploring exotic cities, eating strange food, meeting and learning from the locals.

This introduction to travel at such an early age taught me that the world is a small place. That I could go anywhere. That fantastic adventures where only a plane ride away.

Ultimately, I would request that they reserve a seat for me on my own, away from the rest of the family so I could meet other people during flights. I relished the opportunity to spread my own wings and discover the world around me.

This was the gift of perspective.


Another way my parents cared for me was by giving me an education. And not giving me one.

As a senior in high school, I was fully expected to attend a 4-year university, even though my parents took more untraditional routes, either delaying college or going to night school.

Young Michelson FamilyI applied to several private women’s colleges (my choice to attend a single-sex school) and off I went in the fall after graduating at age 17. They paid for the full 4-years. I never saw a tuition bill. There was never a question of paying for books. I even received a small ($100 per month) stipend for incidentals.

My undergraduate education at a school of my choosing was a total and out-right gift. They never presented my college expenses as a burden, but rather they were happy I had the experience that they didn’t give themselves.

When I applied and got a partial scholarship for an overseas graduate school program, I just assumed that my parents would fund the remaining half of the tuition. But wisely, they didn’t.

They explained that they had paid for four years of education and now at age 21 I was to pay my own way. At first, I was incredulous. Then I decided to attend the overseas program anyway. In the end, I figured out a way to pay for it myself (though scholarships and local resident fees).

This was the gift of responsibility.

Forever Indebted

I credit my parents with being brave enough to take me out of school. I credit them with understanding the value of knowledge, both book learning and real-world experiences. I credit them with providing me with a cherished childhood that gave me a safe space in which to grow up.

Like all good parents, they made sacrifices for their children. They did without so that I could have so much. I’m indebted to my parents for this life I have now.

But I don’t take it for granted. Instead I choose to honor what I received by giving back to others. It is my goal to contribute where I can so others might experience even a fraction of my good fortune. I want other children to feel unconditional love. Never to be hungry. To get a good education.

I owe it to my parents to pass along what they so generously gave me.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 and is filed under Erin Then.

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