The sleepover: 25 years in the waiting

“We’re having a sleepover,” my mother exclaims as she bursts through the front door with the giddy enthusiasm of a pre-teen.

She is standing in the foyer, flanked by three women. They are her cousins; my three aunts. As far as I can remember, my mother has never had a sleepover, nor has she expressed the desire for one. But here she is, she and her three playmates beaming with excitement as my cousins and I, their children, look on in bemusement as we see our mothers acting, for the first time, like less than their age.

It is not until my mother states the reason for this unexpected sleepover that I fully begin to grasp their bubbly demeanor. The four of them, she says, have not all been together in more than 25 years.

The four of them head out the door and over to my aunt’s new house, and it is only then that I begin to comprehend the magnitude of being separated from your best friends for two and a half decades. To my mother, this reunion has been a very long time coming.

When my parents moved to the United States from India 25 years ago, both said goodbye to large families. My father, now 50, has ten siblings; my mother, 45, is an only child. The ninth child in his family, my father had lost both his parents by the time he’d moved to the United States, shortly after getting married. While my father could always rely on his ten siblings, a close network of cousins, uncles and aunts supported my mother, all living within a five mile radius of one another. To her, extended and immediate families were one and the same. When my father and mother left for America to pursue a higher education, they left these support networks behind.

The importance of family ties has been ingrained into my mind from a young age. For most of my life, family has always been nearby. This wasn’t so for my parents when they moved from India to Alabama. After fifteen years of living in a state with no family nearby, my father made the decision to relocate to California when I was ten years old. In the time we’d spent in Alabama, extended family had been trickling overseas, congregating in the Silicon Valley.

After the move, my younger sister and I spent our formative childhood years surrounded by a tight-knit group of cousins and second cousins, all of whom are now like siblings to me. However, to my parents, the small family network we had in California was a drop in the bucket compared to what they’d left behind. I often forgot about how much my parents had given up in relocating to the United States, but was given a reminder this summer, when the entirety of my mother’s side of the family descended upon our household.

In August, my mother’s cousin, a 28 year old who had recently moved to San Francisco, was getting married. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, more and more visitors came in to celebrate, and my house was overrun. For four weeks, we had various cousins, aunts and uncles sleeping in every room of our house, save the bathroom and the kitchen. I moved from my room to the extra twin bed in my sister’s room.

As the month wore on, hosting our whole family became somewhat tiring. Whenever I felt tired or cranky, or annoyed with the obligation of housing the entire family, I just had to look at my mother to make any sentiment of frustration disappear. She was happier than, perhaps, I’d ever seen her. Here was her whole family, whom she had had to leave so many years ago, all together again to celebrate a new addition to the family with my cousin’s marriage.

However, in the frenzy leading up to the wedding, my mother and her cousins were allowed precious few moments for catching up. Most of the time had been spent planning, organizing and helping the couple get everything in order for the big day.  On August 20, the wedding arrived, and it was absolutely beautiful. That night, with the main event behind them, my mother and her cousins decided it was time for their long-overdue girls’ night in.

As I watched my mother’s car pull out of the driveway with her cousins in tow, I began to realize the enormity of what she had given up to come to America. When I’m away from home for more than a couple of months I become incredibly homesick. If I could barely last two months, how had she lasted for 25 years?

In the morning, I sent my mother a text asking how her night was. Her response was simple: “SO MUCH FUN! It’s been so long.”

For the rest of the family’s stay in our house, my sister and I tried to be as accommodating as possible, as seeing my mother reunited with the family she missed so much made me even more determined to continue to strengthen the bonds I have with mine. While to this day I don’t think my sister and I will ever be able to fully grasp the sacrifices my parents made in giving us a life in America, I do think that, if anything, we’ve learned just how necessary it is to maintain strong family ties. Even if one day I’m forced to leave my family and relocate somewhere else, I’d like to think that in 25 years, I could still meet up with my sister and my cousins and have a girls’ night in, and we’d be just as close as we are now.

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