Reality bites

Our friends, Arjun and Priya, returned recently from the US after a prolonged stay with their son Ajay, his wife Meera, and two grandchildren. Prior to the departure from India, their excitement was palpable, and the exorbitant airfares fully justified at the mere thought of spending quality time with their son and his family, while simultaneously enjoying the many attractions which the US offered.

"We will have to think twice before undertaking a second visit," confessed Priya on their return. "Our visit did not turn out as expected. We hardly spent any time with my son and his family. Both Ajay and Meera left for work early morning, and returned only late evening, dead tired. Our grandchildren were fully occupied with school and other activities. So, Arjun and I were generally on our own in unfamiliar surroundings, compelled to follow a routine which we were not used to" confessed Priya.

"Severely handicapped without a car, our outings were confined essentially to walks in a nearby park, as visiting friends and relatives residing some distance away was out of the question. There were no shopping malls nearby, which could have provided a welcome break from the drudgery. Neighbours were hardly to be seen, and we yearned for company. How much can you walk, see TV or read? Most of the day, therefore, hung heavy on our hands," she lamented.

Their feeling of isolation was further magnified without Indian newspapers and gossip with friends. The reality began to dawn on them gradually.

Arjun and Priya's experience is not a solitary one. I know of several couples who have faced a similar experience. No doubt, the thought of spending a long holiday with children in the US is attractive. Apart from the emotional satisfaction of reuniting with family, there is the added excitement of a foreign holiday.

Unfortunately, reality belies anticipation. Many visiting parents have discovered that there is nothing more boring than small-town America. Even the allure of a big city cannot alleviate the tedium of months spent without friends, familiar surroundings and the daily routine we are so used to. The loneliness is compounded if your visit coincides with the winter months, when the house turns into a glorified prison. And worse still, is the case of a single parent who does not have even a companion to share and tide over the monotony.

Most children are keen to have their parents visit them. They try their utmost to make their stay as comfortable as possible. But the harsh truth is that life in the US is not easy for a young working couple with small children. There is no easy answer to this dilemma.

Family bonds cannot be jeopardised merely because of the grim realities of a prolonged stay in the US. Perhaps then, the answer lies in parents keeping their visits relatively short, and in venturing on their own to nearby tourist attractions during the week.

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