It’s been about a week since my mom and I landed at Pearson Airport, returning from the Philippines after spending the majority of December amongst family. Reality settled in when we were welcomed home by the harsh winter winds of the North. In a few days, we would be returning to work and no longer basking in the sun or eating to our hearts’ content (every day is “cheat” day when you’re on vacation). As my mom and I were reminiscing about our eventful month, we couldn’t believe it had been twelve years since we had last visited.
To be honest, I was the most apprehensive leading up to our December 4th departure. Even though I have fond memories of our summertime trip in 2004, I was concerned twelve years was too large a gap to bridge. That flight involved transporting my great grandmother to live out her final years in the comforts of home. On a personal level, that July involved getting over my first breakup, falling in love with basketball, and purchasing College Dropout while in the Philippines. To get over the former, I would fire up my CD player and loop Usher’s Confessions album. The Philippines’ media kept playing Sisqo’s Incomplete or Mobbstar’s version of Itsumo as if they sympathized with teenage heartbreak. My Lolo unknowingly helped by buying a basketball hoop and installing it in the garage. While my cousins were in school, its presence helped me pass the time and keep my mind off my first girlfriend (not to mention improve my layup ability). I will always remember when Tito Boy attempted to dunk by jumping off the building materials stored behind the hoop and almost ripping off the entire rim and slamming his face into the ground. I bought my first SLAM Magazine at Pearson airport, was gifted my first NBA jerseys (Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Richard Hamilton), and further gifted my favourite basketball shoes ever. Then I got Kanye’s College Dropout. Surprisingly, one of the local radio channels played the entire album while we were on a road trip and my fandom escalated from that point. Just from typing out this paragraph, I recognize how much that early millennium trip influenced me. I’m still a basketball junkie and a fan of Kanye West (though not his recent antics).
This time around, completing the first quarter century of my life, my mom and I were able to press pause and catch up with family across the globe during the holiday season. My friends keep asking me about what I did when I was gone for the majority of December. Honestly, we just enjoyed our time with family and helped my grandparents by bringing them to doctor’s appointments and making sure they were taking their medications properly. Every weekend consisted of a road trip with at least my Tito Boy and Tito Thony – the most hilarious and essential people to be around on long drives or short drives impeded by the ridiculous daily traffic. My fondest moments involved hanging in my Lolo’s garage with my cousins until early morning or playing with my baby cousin Marck. Family was my biggest takeaway.
Sometimes it takes a trip across the world to remind you about the most important things. My mom and I haven’t had the easiest last few years but we have gotten by, remained positive, and supported each other. I fully understand now how she has always been able to maintain proper perspective. I had forgotten about how she came from such a big, loving, and giving family and migrated while only really knowing her aunt and grandparents here in Toronto. Her relatable story reminds me of two books by Teju Cole: Open City and Every Day is for the Thief. Open City is about a young Nigerian doctor exploring his new home New York by walking around as a mental reprieve from the difficulty of his work and loneliness of his situation and Every Day is for the Thief is about a Nigerian writer who returns to his hometown of Lagos after spending years away working elsewhere. When my mom moved to Toronto, I can imagine she felt like the main character in Open City: trying to find where she fit in within a completely different cultural landscape. During periods when it’s difficult for us to have meals at the same time or have lengthy, quality conversations, I can see how she would miss her first home. Our trip reminded me how important it is for us to remain solid and strengthen each other while dealing with our adversities. I can relate to my mother more regarding the main character in Every Day is for the Thief.
Returning to a place of origin after twelve years away is difficult. There is uncertainty regarding everything you used to know or believe about a place, time, or presence in your life. I know that my mother feels the way LeBron does in this post’s introductory photograph: a welcomed but heavy weight on her shoulders. I admittedly feel parallels regarding our own situation but I had not realized she feels that same load spread across generations that exist on the other side of the world. It’s not an unwanted obligation that we feel but more a welcomed and challenging compulsion to lift forward. When my mom left for an opportunity to start a new life abroad, she was adamant she would never forget what she was leaving behind.
You never really do overlook something that has shaped you profoundly. During the paragraph writing about the trip to the Philippines in 2004, I hadn’t realized how much I remembered about it. I didn’t even include the more personal aspects but the more surface level impact of dealing with first heartbreak and developing musical and basketball affinities in my formative teenage years remains intact. Our most recent visit reiterated that we cannot wait over a decade to be amongst family again and the hardships communicated to us through phone or messenger isn’t hyperbole.
Balancing thoughts between old homes and new ones can be like walking on a tightrope. While the past has undoubtedly formed your character, your present requires your attention and for you to look forward while holding onto the ideals that were developed previously. This is the conflict the Lagos’ born writer from Every Day is for the Thief deals with. This balance requires a lot of reflection if family is indeed important to you. If you are unable to help yourself, it’s impossible to help anyone else. While home is complex, the idea of never forgetting where you came from is easier to comprehend.