Tonight, I introduced my roommate to tacos. Never in her life had she even heard the word taco, until she met me. She is leaving tomorrow for a month exposure in Malyasia, so for our last night together as roommates, we decided to celebrate with Taco Tuesday. We gathered a few of our friends, unfolded our tiny table, made chairs out of the laptop stand, and covered the table with a great array of taco-toppings. It felt wonderful to be at a table, surrounded with friends new and old, watching as they learned of the wonderful and delicous world that is Mexican food. (Or as my roommate put it, “Mexican food, cooked by an American, served in Asia.) Turns out, 2 out of 2 Indonesians, and 1 out of 1 Singaporians like tacos. Hurray! Now the world is a slightly better place.
As we passed around 2nd and 3rd helpings of quagamole and soft shells, our conversation turned to family. I sat and listened as two of my friends spoke of families, particularly of mothers, who showed them little or no affection growing up. The lament in their voices as they could not recall ever being told “I love you” as a child, or of having a mother kiss her 4 siblings goodnight, and purposely miss her eager cheek every night, was nothing short of tragic. I cannot imagine growing up in a family where partiality was so obvious, where love was purposely withheld. It made my heart well up with sadness for what they did not, but should have, had.
And then my other two friends began talking about their families, and the community that actually makes up their family. One spoke of how it is hard for her to sleep here, because in her home, she is so used to the noise of brothers watching football until 2 in the morning, women in the kitchen and chickens in the yard. Whole extended families will all live under the same roof, and it is nothing unusal for a child to sleep in the same bed as their mother until secondary school, or for siblings to share a bed until they graduate. One friend spoke of her favorite memory in Hong Kong thus far: the day she recieved her first pay check and was able to send money home to her mother. Not just a portion of her hard earned money, but nearly the entire check was sent home. It was a source of pride and an expression of love for her to be able to provide for the mother she adores. And again, my heart welled with sadness. I will never know the necessity of having to support my family like that. I cannot imagine what the day would look like, were my father to come to me for money. I pray I never do. But the sense of community that is found in the type of family she was speaking of is virtually unknown in my culture. We pride independence, privacy. Each has its own place. Neither culture is better than the other. Just different. I think that our culture could benefit very much from the community as family and family as community mentality.
I know that it is not Thanksgiving yet, but I believe that it is never too early to be thankful. And so, I am reminded tonight, why I love my family. I love them for the rare early mornings where all 5 of us are cuddled in my parent’s bed, even though we are all too grown to fit, pushing for covers and cris-crossing legs and giggles. I love the moments around the table, sharing of our days, laughing at one another’s stories, offering advice, whether it was asked for or not. I love that my mother creates holiday boxes for me, full of decorations for every season. I love that my father will secretly encourage me to buy a motorcycle when I return to the States, though he has to go on record as siding with my mother that they are “too dangerous.” I love my sister for trying to follow in my footsteps and yet create her own path at the same time; for the way that made us stark enemies for years, and dear friends as of late. I love my brother for fighting the norm, for his expression through music, as loud and screamy as it may be. And of course, there is the extended family: the aunts and uncles and countless cousins. We gather for holidays, for birthdays and sometimes, just because. I recognize how rare it is to have a family so close. I keep in regular contact with the great majority of my cousins, and we always have a grand time together. Gatherings are of full of food, stories that have been told a million times before, Trivial Pursuit and lots of love. We dote on the youngest and tease the oldest.
When we are all together, we bicker, we argue, we push each other’s buttons; but there is no doubt that we treasure our times together. Being with my family is a source of comfort and joy. As I listened to my friends tonight, speaking of families as they were mere strangers, it broke my heart. I wish for everyone the kind of joy of being with family as I feel. I have long taken for granted the privilidge of being fully loved by my family – something I always thought should be a right.