Over the course of the year I lived in Brazil, I often felt like a permanent house guest. Muddled with the deep appreciation for Brazilian hospitality and a love affair with my new country of residence, there was a quiet longing to switch places. I wanted to be the host, to have my own space, to share and impart bits of my culture with my husband’s family, as they did with me so frequently.
Long flights, expensive airfare, exchange rates and busy schedules make it rather hard for us to get regular visits in these days. We’ve traded the big, loud, gregarious family, countless cousins for our boys to play with- for a more accessible education system,lower cost of living, a more fluid economy. But it is not without great saudades. (Saudades is a Portuguese word that has no direct English translation. It’s a deep emotional state of profound nostalgic, or melancholic longing for something or someone that one loves.)
So when my in-laws announced they would be coming for Christmas it was a big deal. It was an opportunity to soak in some of the family we left in the Southern Hemisphere. I would finally have the chance to share my home, my city, my customs and my culture, just as they had done for me. Not to mention a chance (and a challenge) to prove that I can fit six people (and two dogs my mother-in-law detests) into my two-bedroom house, without losing my mind in the process.
While I loved my time in Brazil, Christmas left me homesick for the magic of the Northeast. My heart swelled with nostalgia for evergreens and snow, for chilly walks and twinkling lights. My boys’ first Christmas Eve. was spent battling mosquitoes in the sweltering heat, fake snow falling off the windows when the afternoon rain rolled in like clockwork. It felt surreal.
I’m making countless lists of places to take my in-laws, things to do with them, food they must try — Philadelphia classics and American necessities.
Lucky for me, Philadelphia at this time of year has so much to offer. There is Christmas Village at Love Park, the skating rink at Dilworth Plaza, the light show at Macy’s and Franklin Square’s Holiday Festival & Electrical Spectacle. My in-laws can revel in the wintry magic right along with their grandchildren. I can’t wait to see the wonder in their eyes.
My father-in-law can bask in the history of our beautiful city, and I suppose I can finally visit our famous landmarks, like the Liberty Bell, after a lifetime of avoiding them as a Philly native. I’ll bring my mother-in-law our many local malls, which I otherwise avoid, and marvel at her professional shopping skills, as I jog to keep up with her. Just as one of the great joys of parenting is experiencing the world through your children’s eyes, this year I get to see it through their grandparents eyes as well.
There will likely be moments of hair pulling, eye-rolling and frustration. They will surely arrive toting at least one suitcase full of the most obnoxious toys imaginable, and dole them out each day they are here.
They will probably say things that baffle and offend me, and I will likely do the same despite my best efforts not to. Perhaps it’s the language barrier, or perhaps it’s the nature of in-laws. For two weeks though, whatever happens, I can take it in stride. I can focus on the joy and the love they bring to my children, and that my children bring to them. Because after it’s over, and we go back to being 5,000 miles apart, my house will feel a little too empty.