I’m told you should never forget where you come from. That sounds like good advice, but I’ve always struggled with this because it seems nonsensical to me. I’m not sure I could forget my beginnings. It’s woven into my memories and helps to define who I am. My fears, motivations, and perspectives are rooted in where I come from.
But then life changes you. Experiences shape those initial perspectives allowing them to expand and mature. It can be hard going back to where you’re from if your point of view has shifted. Blood is thicker than water only to those who’ve never built a family outside of their relations.
I recently went home for the first time in years. It was a long trip. Two twenty-hour flights with a three-year- and an 18-month-old had its share of challenges. But it felt good to reconnect with my roots and revisit my history. My kids met their cousins. Bonds were established. Alliances formed and favorites developed. I met my nephew for the first time, and leaving him was more emotional than I thought it would be.
Aunts who were part of my mom’s village and who had changed my diaper now changed my daughter’s. I ate some soul food. Typically the term applies to southern-style Black food—you know, greens, yams, mac & cheese (baked, none of that boxed stuff), black-eyed peas, corn bread—but to me, the term has grown to mean food that excites memories or brings people together. Three generations of us sat around the table. It felt good.
While we ate, we teased one another for the silly stuff we did as kids, then for some of the silly stuff we do now. I got my share for still nursing a toddler and the seemingly unlimited amount of choices I give my oldest. We laughed at how my youngest sister would fall asleep on the sofa while three screaming children ran around her. (She’s nine months pregnant.) Then it was my Dad’s turn for his knack of climbing up on a “high horse” about any polarizing political topic. But it was all good-natured.
And it was comfortable being at home because so much was familiar, but for all the things that were the same, there were a couple that took me by surprise, like my younger sister who wasn’t so young anymore. I was humbled by how she had grown into a woman of her own. She was just as intelligent and beautiful as always, but wiser now. (She remains the only one who can successfully reason my Dad down from his high horse.) She was finished with schooling, achieving her doctorate three years ago. I wanted more time with her. I wanted to hear about her journey. I told her how proud I am of her. How she was a role model for my kids, and I wanted her in their lives more.
Likewise, my younger cousins who were in grade school when I first left the States were now adults with careers. Some were moving away from home to start their lives in different cities. We gathered around to console the moms who were now facing the empty nest. I had a glimpse of what the future would look like: my girls off to start their own adventures, without me.
I had a sleepover with three of my closest friends from university. Our children were with us, and it was very cool to have a slumber party with all of our families together. My friends knew me before I left the States, before my days of backpacking up the Mekong or my failed attempt at Machu Picchu because of altitude sickness. They knew me before I had children, back when possibilities were endless.
It was refreshing being with them again. We reminisced about our uni days, but mostly we talked about our hopes for our children and our goals for ourselves. We spoke about serious stuff like helping our children develop positive self images and learning how to raise personalities that are different from our owns. We realized that all grandparents think we should do it like they did, and no we shouldn’t, but yes we are going to be the same when our children have children.
Then we spoke about the silly similarities that all kids share, like their love of french fries or how they never want to go to bed–even when they’re tired, and that regardless of their ages, siblings will always fight over who gets to push the shopping trolley in the grocery store. (Solution: get a trolley for each.)
There was something empowering about knowing that we struggled with some of the same issues regardless of our locations or personal beliefs, and that they fret over their children just as much as I fret over mine.
It will be years before cousins and aunts and friends reunite like this again. But for now, I got just what I needed. Family.