The People We Never Were (And Probably Never Will Be)

Change is in the air. We’re in that awkward time of year when it’s still super hot out, but the evenings are quickly becoming cool. When stores are a mess of back to school fashion and bathing suits on clearance. It’s not quite Fall and it’s just barely still Summer.

For over-achievers like me, this means it’s time to make massive to-do lists (before school starts), vow serious life-style changes (no more desserts) and dream about reform and organization (alphabetized bookcases!). Oh, the great plans I have made…

Here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head list for the next week: clean out closets, organize desk, print and frame pictures, write letters to parents and grandparents, learn the Hindi alphabet, finish paperwork, figure out a new phone plan, write future blog posts, read three books, organize our calendars, make homemade pesto, deal with the scary pile of stuff in our bedroom, and spend time with as many friends as possible. And this is meant to be on top of work, ministry, marriage, exercise and sleeping.

The person I strive to be everyday is, I think, mythical. She’s athletic, funny, smart, quadra-lingual, sexy, organized, generous, crafty, punctual. She hands every thing in early, she makes homemade bread, buys local and organic. She doesn’t support slavery, has her hard drive backed up and has finished decorating her apartment. She doesn’t need sleep, doesn’t need caffeine and never gets distracted by social media. This is the person I fail to be everyday. This is the person I will never be.

The strangest part about this is that I’m fairly efficient and a hard worker. But I’m also effusively social and spontaneous. And I do love sleep. So I climb into bed every night, staring at piles, listing off tasks un-done and willing myself to wake up earlier and try harder.

And you know what? I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being mad at myself for not regularly (ever) sanitizing fridge drawers and for not continuing to learn German. Varun, my wise and encouraging husband, says I need to remind myself of who I am in Jesus. (Remind me to print and frame something like this). And you know what? He’s right.

Knowing who I am gives me the freedom to recognize and accept who I am not.

I’m not the kind of person who mops her floor much. (Much means more than 1 X in 6 months).

We’re not the kind of people who get excited about sports events like the Olympics or Superbowl, nor do we know the difference between the Oscars and the Emmys.

I’m not the kind of person who can succeed in any DIY project. I don’t paper maiche, I don’t find cupcake recipes off of Pintrest and I’m never going to open an Etsy shop.

I’m not a schedule person. There is no “We usually eat supper at…”

We’re not the kind of people who go shopping together. We don’t go on dates to the mall. Or the farmer’s market. In fact, one person in this couple buys the clothes for both of us.

I’m not the kind of person who replies promptly to emails. I have emails starred for reply since April 2011.

We’re not pop culture people. Don’t expect Varun in skinny jeans or me to know more than one Nicki Minaj song.

I’m not the kind of person who remembers birthdays, gets cards to you on time or sends gifts. This goes for Christmas too: there aren’t mass mailings of Christmas cards or handmade gifts.

We’re not a super romantic couple. (Am I allowed to say that?!?! This is an upcoming post topic). Of course we love each other and have a blast together. But there aren’t a lot of long-stem roses and little black dresses happening here.

I’m not the kind of person who wipes out the kitchen sink. Or cleans my trunk. Or vacuums my car.

Whew. This was super freeing. I could go on, but then you would fall asleep on your keyboard. And I don’t know if you’re the kind of person who cleans their keyboard or not, so best not to drool on your laptop.

What about you? What kind of expectations, ideals, habits or virtues do you not have/meet/possess? How do you manage your self-criticism and frustrations?

Love and Dessert

I love dessert. Whenever I’m invited to a friend’s house for supper, I ask what I can bring. Partly because Mama raised me right, and partly because by offering I believe can ensure that dessert will be served.

As kids, my siblings and I found countless ways to ingest sugar. On summer nights we’d slurp down “Mud” (mint chocolate chip milkshakes with oreos), and on Snow Days we’d steal piping hot chocolate chip cookies off of the cooling rack.

Upon meeting Varun, my ideas about dessert were challenged. Instead of cookies or cake, traditionally, Indians eat brightly coloured “sweets”: laddus, jalebi, gulab jammun–just to name a few.

Laddus

The first time I ate laddu’s, the small round sugary balls reminded me of donut holes (or Tim Bits, for my Canadian friends). As such, I popped an entire one into my mouth. OHMAGOSH. These things are sugar bombs. It now takes me between 15-20 nibbles to work my way through one, along with a generous cup of water.

This is where it gets ironic: I find most Indian sweets too sweet. And Varun finds many (or most) Western Desserts too sweet. Sometimes I feel this may be a cosmic prank. And sometimes we find ourselves in serious dessert limbo.

Jalebi (fried, sugary syrup in super cool, squiggly patterns)

I’m particularly fond of a Sicilian dessert that I grew up on: cannoli. It’s a sweet, crunchy pastry shell filled with creamy and sugary ricotta-based filling. YUM. Before we went to Maine, my Mom went to her favorite bakery in Brooklyn to load up on cannoli.

Mom: Should I bring you some?

Me: YES! But please get extra filling. Because they always cheap out on you on the filling and no one actually wants the shell.

Mom: Okay. I’ll ask for extra filling.

Me: But seriously. However much she tells you, even after you ask for extra, get more. Unless you need both hands to carry it out of the store, you didn’t get enough.

Mom: Haha, okay! Oh! I can freeze some so you’ll even have leftovers to take to Canada.

(You see, of course, why I love my Mother. And why I love dessert.)

Guess who brought me 4 quarts (3.78 L) of cannoli cream? YUP. That’s right, my Mom. I am now the proud owner of I was the proud owner of 4 quarts of cannoli cream. Oh what creamy deliciousness I have enjoyed. There’s just one glitch: Varun, it seems, finds cannoli too sweet. (!!!). Yesterday, as we snuggled in to watch the final episode of Downton Abbey (I told you I’d get him to love it. He was simply addicted!!) I made myself a cannoli. Like any true addict, I decided it would taste better if someone else had one too (“One can’t hurt…”). Varun was adamant, no cannoli. But yes dessert. I found my last pasta di mandorla. He smelled the almond through the wrapping and grabbed at it. I grabbed back. We laughed. (We’re not real grown-ups, mind you)

Me: Okay, Varun. You can have this cookie. But I have to tell you something.

Varun: (Laughing) Um, okay.

Me: This cookie is very special. It’s from a special bakery in Sicily. My family got my brother in law to send some when he was there. They are very good and it’s my last one and it’s almond (this is Varun’s key word, as he [wrongly] believes that all desserts are better with nuts) AND-

Varun: And it’s from Grandma? OHMAGOSH I can’t eat your Last Cookie From Grandma.

Me: Yes! Yes it is! And you can! That’s why I’m telling you because it’s so delicious and so special!

(Varun tastes a bite)

Varun: This is so good. (Munching) When can we buy our plane tickets to Italy?

The lesson here is, if you love someone very much, you can work through all kinds of differences, even over dessert.

(And in case you thought it’s just my Mom and I who have a dessert problem…)

In Which I Encounter Growing Pains (& Immediately Dislike Them)

Remember when you were little, and you thought that your parents were born 35 years old, bossy, intelligent and fearless? When your Dad would tell you about the 70’s and the Beatles and you couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have “old college friends”? Remember when you thought you’d never grow up?

Family vacation in Maine, 2002

Well, my friends, it’s happened. In the rhythm of birthdays and first days of school and family vacations, there were weddings, funerals, graduations. While we were making friends and studying for exams and chasing adventures, we have grown up.

Last week, Varun and I drove to Maine where we spent 7 days of non-stop fun vacationing with my family. In a family where flexibility and spontaneity are highly prized, one of our only traditions was going camping in Maine. And even that didn’t always happen every year, and it wasn’t always in tents. (You see what I mean about us not being great at traditions). Some of my happiest (and rainiest) childhood memories are of bright hikes and PB & J sandwiches at mountain summits, of faded lobster traps piled next to piers, and of cool ocean breezes as a ferry ushered us to tiny islands.

And so, this spring, our family was gathered for the first time since my wedding; all 7 of us were in the same country, and even the same room! And thus was born the idea of going to Maine for vacation this summer.

Let me paint you a picture. My youngest brother leaves for university tomorrow. My older brother leaves for a year in Ecuador in two weeks. My Mom just finished her Masters and they are now empty-nesters, with their nearest child 4 hours away. It would be an understatement to say that this trip was filled with “Remember when…” and “Was it really 10 years ago?” and even a few, “Mom. Please remember that we are fully. functioning. adults…”

(This, of course, is an absurd request for two reasons. One, I’m not yet a parent, but I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to see your children as adults, no matter how many apartments they’ve rented or how many minimum wage jobs they’ve held. Secondly, have you tried acting like an adult around your siblings? I need to do a bit more research, but I’m fairly certain it can’t be done. There’s something about the brood of people you’re raised with that brings out all of your crazy, all of your hyperactivity and all of your 15 year old self. Needless to say, my parents didn’t buy a word of our protests.) [Would you?!]

Maine was an incredible backdrop to this summer of enormous changes. There, nestled into the ever-growing tourist town of Bar Harbor, was our favorite ice cream shop. A few doors down is the store where my Mom buys one year’s worth of water-coloured notecards of Maine scenes. A few more doors down is Cool As A Moose, the shop selling gag gifts and sassy tee shirts which I doubt I understood as I pursued the aisles as an awkward middle-schooler in 1998. The rocky coastline, the smell of pine needles on the forest floor and the hiking trails remained the same.

Just as I remembered.

In contrast, our family is not the same. I, for one, am married. I brought my dear husband, who had never seen Maine and had never been on vacation with my family (HA! Future blog post!). My older brother brought his lovely girlfriend. We brought multiple cars. We brought computers (this was not allowed before). We were missing my older sister and her family, missing my parent’s dog, and missing my Grandma. In just a few short weeks, our lives will burst into multiple directions, taking us across countries and continents. But for those seven days, we were in the same house, arguing about sandwiches squished in hiking backpacks, laughing over family videos and reminiscing about vacations past.

The entire drive home from Boston, I fought tears. I thought about life and family. I thought about the major life decisions Varun and I are currently making and the family we are building. As we drove further west and further north toward Canada a familiar doubt arose, Why on earth do we live in Canada? Why do we live so far from both of our families?

In her book, The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan reflects on her life far away from family in Philadelphia. As her family changes and grows, she wonders why she lives so far away, “How could I still be living in California? What am I doing? The food, the collective IQ, the liberals, the weather? That’s what I want? More than seeing that doting, giddy side of my mother, that as far as I can tell, only my girls bring out? More than Greenie? What if I’ve wasted ten years rolling my eyes about social conservatives while blanching organic vegetables and sipping local wines…?” [Replace “California” with “Canada”, and this paragraph reads fairly similar to my not-yet-written-biography]

Because of distance, we have missed graduations, impromptu dinners, first dances, and coffee dates. For the majority of the year, our families live our lives in separate worlds, coming together for holidays and weeks of intensive awesomeness. During this week I noticed something. In contrast to the familiar of Maine, my family is morphing and growing, and for the most part, we’re not experiencing the changes together. (My sister sagely noted that this is called growing pains. Apparently, its part of growing up: many gains, some losses.)

And so, at the bottom of the rabbit hole, is something all inter-continental families face: homesickness. Whether we live in Ontario or Philadelphia or Delhi or Timbuktu, either Varun or I will always be far from family. We will need tanks of gas or hefty airline tickets to get us home for priceless hugs and stolen moments. We will continue to cling to Skype and emails as lifelines, connecting us to our dearest ones.

For about 352 days of the year, this does not bother me. It’s part of the norm of daily life: we email our families pictures of our antics, we anticipate packages and count down to holiday visits. We make memories with friends, laugh with one another and fill our moments with joy and meaning.

And when we do reconvene with family, we throw caution to the wind. We channel our 15-year-old selves and forget about this whole adult thing for a bit.

How do you balance love of family and following life, dreams or jobs?

Are you ever homesick? Or sick of being an adult?

What forms of chocolate do you use to manage occasional bouts of homesickness?

[A little bit of research uncovered that my family went to Maine as early as the 60’s. Apparently, it had the same effect on my Dad. That carefree preschooler in cargo shorts never thought he’d grow up to reminisce about the 70’s or have a brood of sassy and boisterous children. This is a picture of him and some of his brothers at Cadillac Mountain in Maine.]

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