My older cousin visited us on our recent trip to India. She was thrilled to see our family and wanted to do something nice for us. She tried to take us shopping and buy us some new clothes. Since we were in town for a short break and didn’t need new clothes, I told her I wanted time to talk. We went back and forth over shopping and buying gifts, and I kept repeating that all I wanted was her time. At the end of the conversation, we could not coordinate our schedules, so instead, she took our children out with all the other cousins, and they ended up having a blast! I wish I could have found time to connect with her, but I appreciated that she made time for our children and our quick chat.

My family and I have lived in the United States for nearly two decades. However, my parents, my husband’s parents, and most of our extended family live in India. 

Except for an odd year or so, we have returned to India every summer or winter. When the children were little, I sometimes spent more than a month in India. We wanted our children to spend time with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and to know the country of their origin.

Gaining Roots

Growing up in suburban America, we knew our children would have no context of India or life in India, so taking them back every year was a commitment we made. It was not the easiest of decisions, financially or emotionally, but it was one we had to make.

It was also not the most unfamiliar decision for me. I left India at age 3 to live in the Sultanate of Oman. My father had found a job there and took my mother and me with him. My growing years were spent in Oman, where we would pack our suitcases every summer for four weeks and fly back to Chennai. My summers were spent reading with my Granny, playing in the yard with my cousins, taking catamaran rides in the ocean, and making late-night drives to the ice cream store. Some years my parents went back for Christmas as well, and I distinctly remember after the Christmas service was over, my uncle would take all of us in his car to get mango milkshakes.

As the years have gone by, I have not always stayed connected with all my cousins. Life leads us in different directions, but still, the memories remain, and after our most recent trip, I started to wander down memory lane looking back on those moments.

We have tried to help our children create memories with their family in India; sometimes, it has worked, and other years, it hasn’t. But on this specific trip, one thing stood out for me as we navigated dinners and lunches with family members. If we had never invested time in the many long-haul international flights, our children would be strangers to their culture of origin. On this specific trip, my husband and I met several people who mentioned how much they appreciated us coming back every year. My husband was on his second trip to India in 2022. Plus, we also traveled in December 2021. So, many family members saw him in January, November, and again in December. 

Usually, when we plan our trips and travel day starts getting closer, the only thing on my mind is packing for these long journeys. However, there are many things to consider as one packs for India. 

Over the years, we have had experiences with missing baggage, excess baggage, and playing suitcase Tetris as we open multiple bags to find items or move from city to city. We have had sick children on 10-hour flights, or children who would not sleep for the entire 22-hour journey. We have been jet lagged for days and still gone to amusement parks or weddings. We have traveled in trains in India, with each of us often sharing a berth with one child (which makes for no sleep for the parent). We have dealt with bronchitis, pneumonia, tummy problems, and motion sickness, often numerous doctor visits,- which in another country can be challenging.

The Value of the Investment

When I was in the trenches of parenting young children, these trips to India overwhelmed me. I often did not want to go. It was hard. It was not a vacation of any sort. An ideal holiday involves lots of reading, preferably sightseeing in a big city, where I can sit in a street café and enjoy good coffee. I am an introvert who is happy in her bubble. Going to India, visiting tons of family, and engaging with everyone I meet is quite literally an introvert’s nightmare!

But this year was eye-opening in a way I did not expect. Being in my 40s, being mindful, or just because our children are much older, I felt something shift.

I could see the value of the time we had put in. I could see it in the relationships we had built and consistently nurtured over the years. They are not perfect. I always wish I could have more time to linger over meals and have intentional conversations. People in India are the same as others around the world: busy. Everyone has their life and schedules, and it’s hard to connect.

I used to try hard to meet with as many friends and family as possible, but as time passed I found myself not pushing as hard. I would try to get a phone call with them, but if they were too busy to meet, that was fine. I realized it’s hard to make time. 

Being intentional can be overwhelming. But when we do, something beautiful blossoms out of the inconvenience. We start with discomfort, push through, and often find that when we slow down to have a meal or a drink, conversation blooms and often leads to the flourishing of the long-distance relationship. 

I secretly admire those who travel for work and find a way to meet friends they have in other countries or cities. I half admire them, but also get annoyed with them. My husband is one of those. He cannot visit a single city or country where if he has a friend, he will not meet up with them. It’s one of the most annoying things for our family when we travel. He is an extrovert, and it can be exhausting. But I have never walked away from the times we spent with our friends regretting the meeting. We might not have had the time to take in a show or visit some famous monument, but we have invested in a friendship.

The Gift of Time

Time, I realized, is a gift. We all work hard to use our time well, but sometimes our priorities are misplaced.

I think I use my time intentionally. Like most people, I have a schedule and try hard to maintain a margin. So, I want my time to be used efficiently.

When the children were younger, I was often envious of those we left stateside when we flew off to India. I envied them their summer schedules, activities, sports, and camps. Unfortunately, I could not schedule those events for my children for years because we were on a flight after the last day of school. 

Summers in India were brutal to plan. Our summer break never lined up with the schools in India, so our kids were often in limbo. We made road trips, day trips, shopping trips, mall hopping excursions, and a million trips to the beach. One summer, I despaired of our son being so bored that I sent him to the elementary school next door. I don’t recall what he learned, but it kept him busy for half a day.

I desperately wanted to organize my time and my family’s time. Still, because I could not control my schedule, it gave grandparents and extended family the luxury of time to get to know our children. And I benefited from long summer days to spend with my in-laws and my husband’s cousins. Those are relationships that I cherish today. 

I will continue to try to build new traditions with the community I have around me too, because my time will run out someday. When we come to the end of our lives, we rarely think about our jobs or the money we have made, but we all value the people in our lives and how they have impacted us and vice versa. 

So let us use the time we are given to touch the lives of others, build those relationships, and deepen the existing ones. It will be time well invested.

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