I haven’t seen anyone from my side of the family in over a year, and it was starting to show. Me throwing jealous looks as my husband jokes around with his siblings around the dinner table, me counting all the holidays I haven’t spent Filipino-style, me insisting to follow the lone Filipino food truck I’ve found around food festivals. Of the 10 years I’ve spent living abroad, I have never been homesick — that is, until now. Maybe it’s all those postpartum mommy hormones that are to blame, but I was now reaching new levels of brooding, and it wasn’t pretty.
Maybe that’s why I was desperately counting down to May 10, like I was gasping for air after holding my breath for so long. It was the day we were to fly to Toronto, for my then 6-month old baby, Tobias, to finally meet the Filipino side of the family for the first time.
So there I was, mind-numb and barely coherent, but still standing after an 8-hour sleepless inaugural flight for Tobias. After a long wait for our stroller, we were finally through the arrival gates and I would just like the photo to speak for itself on how excited my sisters were to finally see their new nephew:
I was overwhelmed with joy, but at this point, all I wanted was to just plop down unconscious unto bed into sweet slumber. However, there was an all-important pitstop to be made:
We arrived at my sister Ate Yen’s home and finally got to recharge. Ate Yen, ever the prepper, had rolled out the works: a decked-out diaper station, a box of 160 (!) diapers, a food processor, a baby bouncer that Tobias couldn’t get enough of. I was beyond grateful.
The next morning, I felt more like myself and we headed for a road trip for the customary tourist visit to Niagara. We arrived at our amazing B&B and felt at home right away. Adam’s Inn is a heritage house right across the start of the White Water Walk. Their family room was so cozy and spacious, that everyone just took to hanging out in our room. The younger me would have wanted to immediately go out and zip to each and every adrenaline-pumped sight that Niagara had to offer (Maid of the Mist! Ziplines!), but I guess that’s what aging does to you: A vacation becomes more and more attractive, the more chilling-out time you get. Also, the kitchen and bathrooms in the B&B were well-stocked, and we had everything we needed to stay in for an easygoing weekend.
Not wanting to waste a sunny day however, we convinced ourselves to go out and walk along the Niagara River leading up to the Canadian side of the falls. Finally, I got my husband to admit that Niagara was way bigger than the Rhine Falls in Zurich — it was kind of hard to keep refuting the fact when the mist from the gargantuan waterfall kept blowing into our faces.
Of course, a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake was not to be missed, and I enjoyed visiting the Old Tyme Candy Shoppe for a full dose of literally sweet nostalgia. Chiclets, Nerds, Bubble Tape — everything I needed to be the coolest kid in first grade was right there. I also couldn’t resist getting some saccharine overload from Maple Leaf Fudge. This is to remind myself why I have no one else to blame on why my pants seem to fit snugger and snugger.
As if snapping photos while meandering in Niagara wasn’t enough to give us tourists away, Daniel (my husband), Tobias and I were all wearing matching Toronto Raptors gear. My other sister, Ate Bot, couldn’t resist buying the Raptors onesie for Tobias, and she got the whole family matching tops as well. It was actually great timing — the Toronto Raptors made it through their first NBA Finals ever this season, and Raptors craze in Canada was definitely on. As of current, the standing is 3-2 in favor of the Raptors, so just one more game and we might actually have to frame our matching jerseys. (I can see it now — Daniel and I gracing 20-year old Tobias with the same story over and over: “Remember that year when we were in Toronto and the Raptors won the finals?” Parenting does have its perks.)
Our two-week visit to Canada whizzed by in a blur. I can certainly attest that there was a lot of eating involved, and my husband never let me forget that we ate Asian food about 90% of the time (but, but, sushi buffet! Korean BBQ! An all-Filipino food court!). Don’t worry, Canadians, we did set aside some precious tummy space for a poutine spree in Poutini’s..
Indulging the Germans in us, we also whisked ourselves one Saturday to the St. Jacob’s Farmers’ Market in Kitchener, where a sizable German community resides. We raided the cheese and butcher stalls, taking home bounty for a weekend BBQ. The main star of the market, however, was the Fritter Co. stall — the queue stretched on to outside the market hall, but it did flow quite quickly. Everything made sense after I got a taste of their famous apple fritter. Not only was the sweet breading heavenly, but the apple filling was oh-so-light and crunchy, as if it wasn’t fried at all! I inhaled about 5 pieces in 2 minutes easy.
The Filipino in me was the happiest though — 3 visits to Jollibee all in all, and 2 visits to the Pinoy grocery wonderland that is Seafood City in Mississauga. It has been far too long since I’ve been in the immediate vicinity of legit pandesal and pichi-pichi. Since I would not be allowed to take back meat with me to Germany, we had a Filipino breakfast at home almost everyday for the meat I hoarded. Tocino, relleno and longganisa, how I’ve missed you! (I’m sorry Germany — I know you know your processed meat, but a girl has to have her sweet pork once in a while.)
Since we were already in North America, I figured it would be worthwhile to raid the outlet stores for NA brands. I only got to raid one outlet mall, and I still haven’t had enough time to scour its premises — I shopped and shopped like only a deprived stay-at-home mama would. If you only have time for one outlet mall, then this mama would recommend Vaughn Mills. The hubby wasn’t quite as excited for the shopping day, though. Good thing there was a Taco Bell and, of course, Tim Hortons to keep him, if not happy, then at least occupied.
I don’t have the words to describe how good it felt to have my big sisters around again, and to have them bond with Tobias. Tobias felt immediately at home with them, generous with his smiles and playfulness. My big sisters even offered to babysit while Daniel and I go off for a date night, which we haven’t done for the longest time since Tobias was born. The night went problem-free, and Tobias was peacefully sleeping when we got home. For our whole 2 weeks, Tobias had no problems being passed back and forth between doting family and friends. It is true that home is not necessarily a place, but a feeling. I should know — I was simply awash with it.
As I’ve said, the two weeks went by unbelievably quick, and we had to go home just as we were only starting to teach Tobias how to say ‘Ninang’ (godmother). As Tobias’ first long vacation, this is certainly one for the books. The homesickness? Gone for now. Perhaps it will be back again during the holidays, but for now, my heart is overwhelmingly full.