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Monday, April 16, 2012

Where I'm From?

This weekend we went to Kingston for my father's 70th birthday party.  My mom threw him a big party with all his closest friends and held it in the Radisson Hotel, catered by the restaurant AquaTerra, one of the best in the city.  My mom also generously put us up in the hotel for our stay.

My tummy had not fully recovered from my little flu, but driving the whole way on Saturday kept me from getting car sick - which I'm prone to do, even when I'm feeling 100%, and the girls were relatively well-behaved the whole time.

Unfortunately, my worst fears about us all sharing a hotel room were realized and none of us slept well or enough, so we were all exhausted yesterday.  Nevertheless, we had a lovely time at the party, and it was wonderful to see so many dear friends, who are all really more like family to us.

My brother and I talked about how weird it felt to be staying in a hotel in Kingston, something we had never done before.  It felt odd to be behaving like tourists.  We took the girls to play at the park on the Waterfront and then visited the market square where I bought Wilson's Honey straight from the source.  Actually, I gushed so much to him about how much I love his honey that I think he thought I was some crazy-stalker woman.  We took the girl's to Cooke's Fine Foods, a beautiful gourmet food store in a beautiful, old building, where the girls were able to sample their famous cheddar cheese and old-fashioned candy.

Kingston is charming, but admittedly we rarely go back to visit.  It's not that there is anything wrong with Kingston, but travelling with kids is stressful, and since we are both in Toronto, it's easier for my parents to do the under 3 hour drive themselves, or to take the train in to see us, than all of us having to schlep there.

In case you are not familiar with Kingston, it is a small city of about 117,000 people, situated on Lake Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa, in the province of Ontario.  Kingston was the first capital of Canada, where our first prime minister - Sir John A MacDonald lived for a time - and is known as the "limestone city" because of all it's beautiful, historical buildings.

Although small, Kingston is a huge tourist attraction because of it's drool-worthy architecture, rich history, many museums and attractions, such as Fort Henry, and because it is the site of CORK, the annual Canadian Olympic Training Regatta.  It is fairly culturally sophisticated for its size because it is the home of Queens University, one of the best universities in Canada, which has top notch Medical and Law schools, among other things.

I have many fond memories of growing up in Kingston.  It was a relatively safe, friendly place that was extremely fun for a teenager - because of all the activities (and opportunities for mischief) provided by Queens and the rowdy students who attend.  Because the academic and Jewish communities are so tight-knit, we have a huge network of families that are like family to us, even though they are not related by blood.  This is wonderful, because we have no blood relatives in Canada.

I suppose this is why, even though I was born in Kingston and lived there until I fled left for university before my 18th birthday, I don't ever consider Kingston my home.  It's true that I have now lived in Toronto for longer than I lived in Kingston, but really, it has more to do with the fact that I have no ancestral roots there.  After all, I was the only one in my family born there.  My parents and brother and grandparents were all born in the U.S. (except my maternal grandfather who was born in Kiev).  I feel more of an emotional connection to New York city, since that is where my grandparents and parents grew up, and it is a city that more closely reflects my ancestor's history and experiences.  New York is a very Jewish city, while Kingston is very much a typical, homogenous small town (or city) where we were a minority, and inspite of having a wonderful, close-knit Jewish community, were always aware of our minority status.

My parents only moved to Kingston in the 1970s, a few years before I was born, because my dad got an academic position at Queens.  The move was initially quite a culture shock for them, since back in those days Kingston was still a cultural wasteland.  This was discussed at my dad's party this weekend quite a bit as my parents and their friends - many of whom are also ex-pats from the U.S., South Africa, and elsewhere - reminisced about having to take turns driving over the border to NY state to pick up the New York Times, which was not yet available in Kingston. 

At the party one of my parents' friends asked me whether living in Toronto felt strange since I grew up in Kingston and I explained that no, it didn't.  It has been so long since I lived in Kingston and I feel like I always had  "big city" in my blood since my roots are in New York, and we travelled extensively when I was a child, to New York, and other big U.S. cities (my dad's parents and sister eventually ended up in L.A.).  And while certain things about big-city living bug me (the traffic!) and it is much more difficult to establish such a close-knit community in such a large metropolis, there are many things about living in Toronto that I would never trade.  I love raising kids here.  Yes, there are more risks involved, but there is also more opportunity.  Also, the diversity of Toronto cannot be matched virtually ANYWHERE.  And because of that, my kids accept differences unconditionally.  They never question a person's skin colour or sexual orientation.  They have grown up seeing other people from all race, religious and ethnic backgrounds and think it's normal for some kids to have either 2 moms, 2 dads and/or look completely different from their parents.  I don't think (and I hope) that that they will ever feel like an outsider, like I did as a kid, and I know that will make up for anything they miss out on that I had in my experiences growing up in a small town.

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