Chi-Town Freedom [read: weekend trips just got a big upgrade]

Who managed to get to Chicago, attend an engagement party, and come back to Boston in 2 days? Oh, yours truly. It makes me feel so grown-up to fly out to Chicago for a weekend. The NYC weekend trips are great and all, but this requires a little more planning than a spontaneous bus ticket (or catching a ride into Connecticut and taking the train in, as I once did in my youth) and makes me feel old and skilled at the art of travel.

Why Chicago? So much of my family lives there that it was about time that another one of them would get married. My cousins’ cousin just proposed to his long-time girlfriend and a much-awaited engagement party was scheduled for last weekend. I went, along with quite a few of my cousins, for a great Pandya family reunion. No, not like the original great ones with the matching shirts and theme parks or Mexico cruises. This one was a little more low-key.

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I got in Friday night for the mehendi [read: henna, translated into Hindi] party, which was very small and just family. As always, we ordered Pita Inn. At each of the annual trips to Chicago I had as a kid, Pita Inn was an extra member of the Pandya family. We needed the falafel, and the bakalava of course, to feed the most of us at once with minimal complaints. Always a good call.

Saturday was spent mostly preparing for the party itself, scheduled for that night. I spent most of the party with my cousin Isha, who’s only one year older than me so I always saw us as close. I’d be the one who reconciled her fights with her older sister, Kosha, when we were just a trio of kids. We used to live within 5 minutes of each other in New Jersey, and that’s one of the things I miss the most since we moved down to Florida.

The party itself was just a great celebration of #Porsh2017 (hashtags for weddings are in now, huh? That said, this weekend was mostly documented in Snapchats, warning) surrounded by so many people I’ve known for the past 21 years. One of my favorite moments was when my cousins from the other side of the room came to sit with us at our table for a bit. Yes, it was more air-conditioned where we sat, but it was also us being together. We haven’t had that for the past two years, which is strange. We rarely go more than a year without seeing each other.

That night, we danced until we were physically scooted off of the dance floor. The lights turned on, I want to say, about an hour before we were even done dancing. That’s a family party if I’ve ever seen one. But, when we got back, that’s when the real family party started. We grabbed Mancala [read: yes that old marbles game we all forgot about] and Apples to Apples, sat in a circle, and played while ridiculously laughing at or with each other at 3 in the morning. It was too typical. I remember falling asleep for a bit and waking up to see Sneh, whose namesake I am (hehe), asleep on my legs. That’s when you know it was a good night; all of us fell asleep exactly where we were, right next to each other, as we’d been all our lives.

The next day, my aunt invited everyone who came for the party over for lunch. We were just at home, but she asked us all to come to the kitchen for a bit. She then yelled at me for wearing an XL flannel shirt over my outfit, which is my usual outfit choice, because I looked, “Bad, no one should wear that.” I complied with her request and followed her upstairs into the kitchen, where there was a cake with candles saying, “Happy Birthday Sneha!”

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A very pained face because I realized I’d have to be fed cake over and over again.

I don’t know why I was so surprised. This is just what my family does. Not only did we have family parties every year when I was a kid, when we all were there for every single birthday of my 14 cousins, but they’re the ones who took me to Harry Potter midnight premieres, kayaking at Catalina Island, and once to see Twilight (it was a dark time, but we all loved it and can never forget that). And after we cut the cake, of course they fed me a spoonful. There’s literally nothing new about it, but it was a week after my birthday and I’m old. I never expected it, but it made my last few hours in Chicago feel really special just like I was little again. I was beaming.

So, I’d say Chicago was a success. I believe we’ll all be there for the wedding in May, right after I graduate from college and am home free for the summer. I’m excited, definitely counting down the months, and planning on bringing Cards Against Humanity so we can upgrade that too.

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