Thanks for coming to visit. I know it was the first time you came to Toronto to see me and my family after dad passed. You came by yourself, after waiting for someone to come with you, but no one could. You were brave enough to say, it’s no big deal, I will make sure that they set me up with wheelchair access to take me to and from the plane. It didn’t really matter that you only had broken English to help you communicate on the long plane ride here from Vancouver. But you came. Finally.
There was lots of confusion about when/if you were coming and many conflicting trips during the hot summer for an 82-year-old. You’ve been to Atlanta to visit my cousin - your sister’s son and your nephew. You raved about your trip as you stayed for 10 days in their Atlanta apartment in the middle of a heat wave. You told me about all the cooking you did and how the entire apartment block benefited from your food - saag was shared and samosas were made and all the neighbours were praising you. You had a great time! Good for you.
Then you went to our hometown of Terrace, where you were treated like visiting royalty - everyone wanted to spend some time with you. These were women who loved and adored you. Thought of you as their older, wiser sister and they were happy to welcome you home. Once again lots of good food and company. I’m sensing a theme here! I knew we would have some good food too, although 5-year-old Tej wasn’t too keen about all the Indian food he was going to have to eat! But homemade roti made him a convert.
You arrive a bit delayed but we are there waiting for you. I’m a good girl, following the rules and patiently waiting outside the arrivals terminal until I can’t take it anymore. I sneak in as someone leaves and bring along Tej as my accomplice. We wait and wait. I tweet Westjet and speak to the agent. It’s 45 minutes after everyone has disembarked and my elderly mother is nowhere to be seen. I stop my pacing and sit down with a tired, impatient Tej to see if my tweet had generated any new information when I look up and you are there. The first thing you say to me is that I’m sitting there while these girls and you have been looking for me. I didn’t explain about my worry to you, I say thank you to the wheelchair attendants and told them I would take it from there.
Of course, you didn’t want us to keep the wheelchair, so you got up with your grocery bag containing your purse and the fresh eggplant, squash, jalapeno peppers and more vegetables that you had picked fresh from your garden that morning. Yummy! We knew the good food was to continue. We both gave you hugs, grabbed the heavy suitcase and slowly made our way up to meet Scott. There was an awkward hello between Scott and you, but he grabbed the heavy suitcase and you were soon settled in the front seat.
When we got home, I had made a subjee of organic rainbow carrots and aloo, plus rotis. I wasn’t sure if you liked it but I knew you weren’t a fan when you said the potatoes weren’t cooked enough. It was late by then, but a quick roti or two would hit the spot before bed. However, you also wanted to open your heavy suitcase - which was full of old, out-of-fashion Indian suits, pots and pans, daals and rolling pins. It was your usual travel things when you headed to my place just to ensure you had a non-meat pot and spoon. It also contained some back to school outfits for Tej which he promptly. He loved it. Plus, you brought me, the reason for your trip, a keepsake gold bracelet you had made in honour of our dad. You made one for all the girls and my sister-in-law - it was beautiful and I put it on right away. Thank you.
As is the case for many mother and daughter relationships - we really didn’t know one another and add in there my husband is a gora, who speaks limited Punjabi - we knew you would be uncomfortable and we weren’t sure how this trip was going to turn out. I did want to get to know you as a woman, a mother, a companion. But it doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to. I had only known you in relation to my dad. You were his companion, confidante and partner. Maybe you couldn’t play that role with someone else, least of all your daughter. You expressed a longing to have a close relationship with your daughters like you had seen some of your friends have with theirs. But it’s a two-way street - if you want us to confide in you and listen to your advice, you needed to be open to do the same with us. But it never really felt you were open to building a relationship. Maybe it’s all the hurts and misunderstandings from the past, but there is definitely a barrier. Or maybe it’s because I remind you of dad.
It’s difficult. And years of accomplishments melt away and I am once again a 12-year-old girl desperately seeking love and affection from you. I have tried with you and doing everything you asked of me: wearing Indian suits and taking you to visit friends and making roti. All the things a good Indian girl does. Obey and listen. The part I wasn’t able to do was not express my feelings or speak up when you said something that was negative and not supportive. I had to defend myself and be the true person I am now. But you were different too. You didn’t want to get hurt, you wanted to make sure you were welcomed and loved. Previously, you were all about making food and feeding us, but the first morning you made yourself some Indian guacamole and with a few chips, that was lunch for you. And the rest of us had to fend for ourselves. That was odd to me, after coming to Vancouver or Terrace and having you cook curry for me because it was my favourite and moolee (dikon) parathas too. So I made some rotis and fed my son and husband that day. But it was okay.
You were here for 7 days and it resulted in one huge fight, two setting off the burgular alarms at 3am, our air conditioner breaking down, one big pot of saag distributed to the neighbours, 3 road trips to visit with Punjabi friends, one outing to the gurdwara, checking out two tourist traps - CN Tower where we encountered Superman and Supergirl and Eaton Centre where I bought you a mango juice, an aborted first day of school for Tej, a trip to Honest Ed’s to buy the biggest pot we could find to make saag. These are all memories. Good, bad and mundane.
What I realized is that we can both want something more but what we do have is a mother-daughter relationship. I can ask and ask for you to be someone you’re not. And you can wish you could go back and change things so it was different circumstances than it is now, but you can’t. And I don’t really want you to. I am happy as a strong South Asian woman who has built a good life for herself here in Toronto, far away from you and the rest of the family. That’s part of growing up - changing, growing and having our relationships evolve. As hard as it was, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I got to have my three generations under my own roof - grandmother, mother and son - and it felt good. Let’s keep trying, loving one another warts and all. And let’s keep growing up. Each day is special because it sprouts new memories which will last a lifetime. I look forward to your next visit - same time, same place next year, but with air conditioning!
P.S. I called you to say to stick to your guns and as the elder stateswoman not to let anyone (including me) tell you what you can and can't do. I know you appreciated me saying it. I could hear it in your voice. You've earned the right to do whatever the hell you want! As we said goodbye, I said I love you and you said it back. In the end, that’s what we will remember. I love you.