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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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coolkidzcooltrips
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 08:42:20

    Oh, you made me remember that one time my family (with me as a kid) went camping across Western part of the States. It was great.

    Reply

  2. Beth (@bethaf)
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 09:49:52

    a. I love your family.
    b. I want to go to Maine.
    c. Well-written, friend.

    Reply

  3. Julie
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 15:40:55

    I’m sitting here at work and you made me CRY, dear Amelia!

    I’m homesick and feel the growing pains… I understand that drive away, anticipating returning to your “real” and grownup life that part of you needs and misses when you’re home, but knowing that each step back is a step away from those coffeedates and stolen moments.

    All of my family is in a five hour radius—-but I’m the one who is living in another country with a culture that is so similar and so different that it sometimes glows and sometimes stings… I don’t get to hug my niece and I’ll miss her first steps, but I do Skype with them. And, the man that I’ve grown to love has family “near-ish” to here. We’re realizing, that no matter where we live we will ALWAYS be “too far” from at least one of our families. I knew it would happen one day, but it was a far-in-the-future fictional part of my reality. And so I sit and cry at work…

    Reply

    • Amelia
      Aug 22, 2012 @ 18:49:39

      Oh dear! Tears at work! I should have put a warning…

      Growing up is bittersweet, eh? I’m so glad that you are finding and creating a home/life of your own and that you have someone to share it with. (And that his family is nearby!)

      It’s true, you’re always too far. But sometimes too far is SO FAR.

      Cheer up, buddy. There’s always chocolate chip muffins to make (muffins always remind me of you :-P )

      Reply

      • Julie
        Sep 11, 2012 @ 12:31:36

        Hahaha… I love that muffins remind you of me! That’s hilarious, as you’re not the first one who has told me that this summer. Apparently my McGill days were marked by me making muffins for people? (And eating ice cream over Gilmore Girls, I think.) Do you have a particular disastrous sort that reminds you of me? ’cause you’re remembering the days that I didn’t use recipes to make muffins… I’ve been wanting to return to them! Those perfectly heavy-all-in-one-meal muffins. I’ve taken to making muffins for breakfast again and sending half home with the boy. He’s going to associate them with me too, pretty quickly! (This time it’s warm spices and oats and raspberries.)

        You’re right about too far being SO FAR. And I’m “only” 3500 km away from my family. No ocean, but still SO FAR. Martin’s family is an 8 or 9 hour drive from me, which feels so close compared to where I’ve always lived from my family. BUT Martin himself is 1.5 hours away… and that’s TOO FAR too! Funny how that all works! But you’re right, I’m blessed to have him to share family with! Today an email from my mom said that she was praying for me “and for Martin, as he’s [hers] now too.” No matter how far away… no matter the icky growing pains, family is beautiful.

        Reply

  4. Gayle
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 17:00:39

    You made me cry too, Amelia.

    I miss my mom and dad, and I never had siblings (that I grew up with). I have always envied those from families with lots of kids!

    Your writing is so beautiful, and poignant!

    It looks like you all had a wonderful time – enjoy and cherish! You may be far apart physically, but you are close in spirit and in relationship!

    It is much harder to to be close physically and far apart spiritually or emotionally. As Julie has said, whether close or far, we are always ‘too far’ from some of our family, whether that is physically, emotionally, or they have gone ahead of us to the next adventure.

    Reply

    • Amelia
      Aug 22, 2012 @ 18:46:11

      Oops, sorry about all of the tears, haha. Although I am glad I’m not the only one. Thanks for your wise words; we did have an amazing time and I am incredibly thankful for my family.

      I really appreciate your thoughts…I know everyone’s family experience has been different. I’m glad that you do have memories of your parents to cherish.

      Reply

  5. Joy Blackburn
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 17:29:12

    This made me cry. I so know all these feelings! However…ALL kinds of chocolate are helpful!

    Reply

  6. Jen
    Aug 25, 2012 @ 01:40:34

    well written, dear friend! well written! never would have guessed 5 years post-NAP I’d be following your blog, one that evidences the creative awesomeness He has given you to express the daily and monumental occasions of Amelia! Big hug to you and high five to Varun!

    Reply

  7. kramudu
    Sep 11, 2012 @ 10:55:26

    Amelia, you’ve improved tremendously as a writer. Excellent heartfelt post.

    Reply

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