home for the holidays: the side of college no one told me about

When I started college last fall there were a lot of people offering me words of advice on how to succeed.

“Don’t party.”  “No boyfriends.”  “Always do the reading.”  “You can’t possibly do all the reading.”  “Try not to buy textbooks from the bookstore.”  “Never sell textbooks to the bookstore.”  “Get to know your profs; it could affect your grade.”

The one thing nobody said anything about was what it’d be like to go home.  I didn’t expect it to be weird.  I figured everything would be normal–just like when I’d gone to summer camps in the past.  I leave for a week and everything’s weird but, after I come home, everything goes back to normal.  Only with college I’d be gone for a few months before coming home.  I guess I never thought about it much or I would have seen it coming.  I just assumed it would all keep going on as before.

I suppose, in a way, I was right.  After my family helped me move into my dorm and they said their tearful goodbyes and headed home, things did keep going on as before.  They just kept going without me.  My mom took a leaf out of the table so they wouldn’t be so far apart, my siblings slowly took over my room for homework (though it’s still mine when I come home), my sister has my spot in the garage this winter.  While I was off at school having new adventures, they were at home experiencing life as they had been.

I didn’t notice it at first.  Everything seemed normal when I came home for fall then Thanksgiving break my freshman year.  Even Christmas and Easter break didn’t seem too different.  I first noticed it at church.  I go to a small church with under 200 people so it was weird that there were a number of people there who I had never seen before.  But it wasn’t just that.  I felt out of the loop.  Being at such a small church, everyone was involved in everything and my family was no exception.  Everyone in my youth group knew what was going on in each others’ lives because we all had practically the same schedule.  But now that I’m not there for two thirds of the year, I feel disconnected.

This year, though, the disconnect has extended beyond my church and into my home.  It’s still my home, yes, but I don’t know my family like I did when I lived here.  I hesitate to say that because, since moving out, I’ve grown much closer to my family.  But, because I don’t live here, I don’t know what goes on in their daily lives.  I don’t know about the practices and dance recitals; I didn’t know my brother was playing basketball at the YMCA.  I don’t get to hear about their days at school or my sister’s plans for college because I’m not here.  Coming home for break, I feel like a visitor–a familiar visitor who is well-known but a visitor nonetheless.  I am part of their lives, but not in the way I used to be.  My life is different and I’m realizing it’s not going to go back.

This separation is especially evident each night I’m home.  I’ve been home for Christmas break for almost a week now.  It’s 11:00 on Wednesday night and I’m sitting in the basement writing this.  The rest of my family has gone to bed or will be soon.  I won’t be ready to sleep for a couple more hours.  I suppose I could wake up a little earlier so I was ready to sleep around 11 but it seems pointless.  Once I get back to school I’ll be back in the dorm where there’s no chance of falling asleep before midnight.  That’s my life right now: mostly there and intersecting with my family’s here every couple of months.

I’m not complaining about this nor would I call it a ‘necessary evil’.  It’s just the way it is.  I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.  I’ve seen tweets from friends while on break mentioning that their family members are out doing various daily activities and they’re at home watching tv.  I guess it’s just a part of growing up that no one warned us about.

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