Fighting for the window seat on a train to catch a glimpse of the engine as the train turned… Decades later, this memory is still so fresh and alive in my mind. Summers in India are not the same as here in the United States. (Although to be honest, summers in India today are not the same as they used to be during my childhood. Perhaps a story for another day.)
Recently, while on a road trip with my kids, we played the game “I spy” with numerous interruptions thrown into the mix. Listening to them took me back to my own journeys as a child.
“Are we there yet?”…
”Mom! I am hungry!”…
“Mom, I need to pee.”…
I remember our train journeys that lasted 36 hours to travel almost 900 miles to visit my grandparents. Although actually, it was not just the grandparents, but the whole extended family who all lived in nearby towns. As I now experience summer adventures with my own children in an entirely different country, I can’t help but see both the similarities as well as the differences. The then and the now.
While I wipe off my kids’ sticky hands and mouths from the ice cream spree we enjoyed in Stillwater, I remember summers in India when the popsicle vendor would pedal around with an icebox full of creamy popsicles and ice pops (which we called by slushies or flavored ice). Every time we saw him, we would plead with our parents to get one for us.
While on a recent camping trip, my boys enjoyed their s’mores around the campfire; as I remembered the nights out on the terrace where my entire extended family would gather under the wide, night sky. Us kids would pester the adults for “Nila Choru.” It was a favorite dinner that one of the adults would bring for all of the kids to enjoy. It was served in one huge bowl with enough for all of us as we watched the sky or played Antakshari (a game of singing songs) or charades. My memories filled with so much fun.
While the kids here do sleepovers with their friends in their own individual bedrooms, I think back to my vacations at my grandparents’ home where we would all gather in a room (probably the living room); lying down on the floor side by side, or wherever we could find a space. We had to be quick enough to get the best pillows and blankets. If we ran out of pillows and blankets, our aunts would lend us their lap and saree. We would chat for hours about everything and nothing, before going to sleep. In the morning, while the adults woke up early to work on chores, us kids would leisurely roll over for some extra sleep.
Nowadays, while my husband and I take our kids to beaches and pools with swimsuits, sunscreens and beach toys, I’m reminded of how in India I would sit with the other kids in the sand as we figured out how we would find a canal or creek on a nearby farm to play, swim, splash and prank each other all day. Running free and without all the extras I find myself dragging to the pool now.
While snuggling with my kids at the movies in the park, I recall being young and watching movies in a tightly packed hall with all of our larger, extended family.
While we are at the State Fair (pre-pandemic) having our giant tub of cookies, fries and food on sticks, watching parades, and enjoying all of the thrill rides; I can’t stop thinking about our Temple Festivals where the fair would come to every individual’s house. The street would be filled with people ready to watch the temple chariot’s processions. We too had rides, although maybe not as thrilling, but it would always be exciting and fun to be along with the whole family.
Things have not been the same when it comes to tradition, culture, or even how we make memories while raising our kids in the United States. There are many times I wish my kids had the opportunity to watch and experience all the things I was able to growing up in India.
On the other hand, I can’t help but admit that I did complain a lot about some things. Growing up, there was a great deal of adjustments and changes to our routines as a family. We oftentimes had to share so much (and not just “stuff” but time and space and routine) as well as sacrifice some of our favorites for the sake of the larger family.
And yet twenty years on, I don’t continue to complain or think about those pitfalls. Rather, I reminisce about those golden days and bask in the happiest memories from my childhood. Having spent my vacations with 19 cousins in our ancestral home was something I looked forward to and hope to be something I experience again soon in my life.
But with these wistful, nostalgic memories also comes a huge realization of the present day with my kids… Their complaints, tears and whining today are purely out of exhaustion and tiredness in the moment. They may be tired and exhausted right now. But twenty years from now, they won’t remember that exhaustion. They will hopefully take a trip down memory lane looking for some of their happiest memories, just like me.
While I can’t take myself and my kids back to those days of my youth, I’m so glad that I have stories to tell them while they fall asleep after a fun, tiring summer day. Likewise, we are so blessed that we are making stories for them too.
Originally published on July 14, 2020.