I think I am a pretty independent person. I can drive and work and cook meals with vegetables in them. My parents always made me and my sister do chores and never coddled or spoiled us. What I miss isn’t being 100% dependent on my folks to tend to my every need—I just miss them. They have never been “ugh parents are the worst” kind of parents. My mom taught me about most of my favorite things, like thrifting and truly appreciating the beauty of lowbrow television. She is full of really obscure knowledge that makes watching Jeopardy with her almost impossible. We laugh at the same things and we can’t stand the same sorts of people. My dad always makes me feel super confident because he always trusts my judgment. Of course, we don’t always see eye-to-eye. We argue all of the time, just like normal parents and children. But I have no idea what it’s like to have an antagonistic relationship with your parents. I don’t know what it’s like to want nothing more than to get the hell away from them. I like spending time with them. They are so real to me; I can tell you things like what specific brand of creamer my mom puts in her coffee (Organic Valley half-and-half because she says the not-organic kind curdles and makes her feel sick) or where my dad scored the T-shirt he is probably wearing right now (Christmas gift from my sister). I missed our daily interactions: Every day after school I used to come home, lie down on the nearest floor, and complain about my day to my mom. She’d console me and put things in perspective, and then we’d watch whatever reruns were on the Hallmark Channel, after which I’d fall asleep until dinnertime. This does not sound like a party, but the familiarity and predictability of our routines was soothing. They were touchstones I could count on when I was feeling batted about by life. And now that I’m past that dark period, I can see that my homesickness is in a way a good sign: It means I had something that made me feel so comfortable and safe that I long for it now. I just can’t let it stop me from experiencing new things, and establishing my own life untethered to my family. But this is easier said than done.
My favorite Friday night ensemble is my flannel pajama set. Most nights, I’d rather read a good book or (more realistically) scroll through the archives of a good blog than go to a club. Do people my age even go to clubs? I don’t even know. I joke a lot about becoming a reclusive spinster or old cat lady, but those jokes come from a genuine fear that I’ll die alone, a social recluse, because I was too afraid to leave my comfort zone. Even when I’m at a party, surrounded by my closest friends, laughing and having actual fun, there’s always a small part of me that thinks, Ugh, I just wish I was at home, cuddled up under an afghan blanket, watching Antiques Roadshow and eating grilled cheese with tomato soup. (Yes, I do have a lot in common with most 85-year-olds.) Sometimes I even yell at my mom, “It’s not fair! This is all because you NURTURED ME TOO MUCH!” whenever I’m scared about going somewhere or do something new.
This is the downside of good parenting: Most people pray for children who, upon leaving home for college, are so scared to do anything that their parents warned them about that they’d rather stay home making crafts than attend a party. Any time I’m given a chance to do something vaguely “risky,” I can’t help imagining my parents’ disappointment, and I decline. Like, even something as simple as a SINGLE alcoholic beverage offered as a GESTURE OF FRIENDSHIP. It is very hard to discuss this without sounding like a D.A.R.E. program, I know. I don’t advise calling other people this, but really, sometimes I can be a enormous dweeb. I’ve probably avoided a lot of nonsense with this method, but I also feel like I’ve missed out on the momentary joys of being a reckless youth (no reckless youth would actually use the term “reckless youth”). My parents were never super strict, but because I like them and trust them, I took to heart the lessons they imparted, like “drugs are bad and illegal, so you probably shouldn’t use them.”
And sometimes I think I use the specter of my parents’ disappointment as a shield for my own fears. Like, I’m terrified of trying drugs, personally. And it’s easier to think, I better not do that, because it would make my parents really sad if they found out I got high, than to acknowledge that what I’m really thinking is What if I get high and then I do something stupid or out of character or dangerous. What if I die? Or worse, WHAT IF I REALLY LIKE IT AND EVERYTHING I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT HAS BEEN A LIE?
But it still feels like I’m holding myself back from something—I have this vague desire to be “young and adventurous.” I’m not really sure what that means or how much of it I am basing on the fictional lives of 29-year-olds who play 19-year-olds on television or on this gif. (I’m not really sure why I have this idea that youth equals being wide-eyed and glistening in a nightclub in the deodorant commercial that is my life.)
Right now I’m just trying to find a balance between being who I’ve always been, and learning who I might be in the future. Maybe this means finding other people who like to spend their time like I do, i.e., who are down to watch an entire television series in 48 hours or figure out how many ways we can incorporate potato chips into baked goods. For a while, I thought my miserable first weeks of school could be attributed to some special-snowflake brand of homesickness. I thought I was the only freshman at my school who wasn’t having the time of her life, just soaking up the pure unadulterated freedom of leaving their parents’ house, blissfully partying in a togas, drinking beer from red cups, and doing other things that I had gathered college students do from watching too much TV. It was a total relief to learn (too late to help me through those early days, alas) that most of my new friends had experienced to some degree the same unsettled feelings I had.
It’s been almost a year since I moved out, and the world beyond my parents’ welcome mat has become much less scary. I love my school now, and I have real friends. I hadn’t really looked back on my dark adjustment period until writing this. I even go to parties now. They’re still hard for me, but I love meeting people there who might become good friends later. I especially love the part after the party where everyone goes out for late-night cheese fries and has long talks about our feelings. It almost reminds me of conversations I used to have around the dinner table, with my parents, at home. ♦