The Longest Childhood


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At around the fourth grade, I started getting piercing headaches. Felt like cold nails being driven into my brain. A few times I fell to the ground clutching my head.

Mama flew me to what had to be one of the first MRI scanners in the country. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with my brain. But I was asked to refrain from strenuous physical activity.

That’s how I got exiled from the playground, the basketball court, the football field… It didn’t take long for me to discover a far more interesting place–the very same culprit that landed me in exile–my head.

I played video games, did experiments, dabbled in art and crafts, wrote, but mostly read and daydreamed.  Mama indulged me in these pursuits even bartering my, by then, late father’s motorcycle for the mighty Encyclopedia Americana. By the first half of high school, I had exhausted three sets of encyclopedias.

That’s how I became a real inventor at 14. The encyclopedias allowed me to see connections where professionals didn’t even bother to look into, much less, suspect.

I shared with Mama the dream of following her footsteps into medicine even going a tad beyond and into neurosurgery. That seemed like the natural thing–I had become a voracious reader, had the memory of a (self-)trained mnemonist, and the fine-motor skills of a painter.

I had my second exile when I abandoned that dream. Instead, I opted to leave university to teach myself how to make video games! What a fall it must have looked–I lost my privileged position in and the respect of my family.

Despite her initial reluctance and much-justified fears, Mama continued to support me. It took seven long and isolated years before I sold my first game. Then, as if “overnight,” I began winning a string of national and international recognition for my games.

My third exile was when a “pre-investment” deal with a European-American tech fund fell through. It was a very public “failure.” I wanted to have nothing more to do with the games industry.

I was able to rise from the ashes of that inferno because my primordial investor, in the person of my mother, stood by me.

I came back with a Covid simulation game–internationally acclaimed both in the games press and academia.  I worked for a Silicon Wadi start-up. Then got admitted in a world-leading games publishing program.

Human beings have a childhood that’s twice as long as other primates. That’s because the bulk of our nutrient intake is used up to grow the brain. What’s not often pointed out in such discourse is that human beings have parents who are also twice as dedicated, patient, and, yes…  loving.

I get to be a “child” maybe longer than many–granting me invaluable years to search for what matters and to grow in ways that personally hold meaning.

If I have done or am able to do anything of value, it’s because I was mothered the way I was.

Happy birthday,Ma.


Khail Santia




Khail wrote the tribute for his mother, Jocelyn Campos-Santia.



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