It took a while, but I think I finally figured out the complex feelings I had about where I grew up when I helped my parents out last month (mentioned in this post). Since I left after my first winter break during college, I haven’t gone back to visit for more than a week or so at a time. I stayed at my college for almost every break after that, working and living in the dorms aside from the few holidays I went back, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. I lived in the dorms and got used to staying quietly by myself when the campus was almost completely deserted aside from the foreign exchange students during the holidays. My little college town became my home, even though I moved at least once a year, from one dorm to another. The campus became the place I belonged and I stopped calling my parents’ house “home.”
I realized during one of my recent meditations that I no longer even think of their house as home. My old neighborhood is no longer my home. It’s the place I grew up and haven’t done more than visit in several years. I don’t really recognize it anymore. I know where it is and I’ll always know how to get there, but it’s just as foreign as the neighborhoods I used to park in when I drove myself to high school. I can navigate through it and I’ve got a basic idea of what it looks like, but I don’t really feel any connection to the place. I’ve still got that for the actual house I grew up in, but it fades a little bit as my parents make changes or slowly replace parts of the house. When I was spending time with my sister, I realized I didn’t know where anything was kept anymore and that I was essentially a stranger in the kitchen where I’d learned to cook.
I’m sure that’s a feeling many adults have to cope with from time to time, and I’m sure there are people who have similar (but different) feelings about visiting their parents because their parents no longer live in the home they grew up in. I even sort of expected it as I grew in college and started to see what it meant to me to have a place I’d chosen to belong. I wasn’t surprised when I finally felt it, just uncertain as to what it meant and why I felt it.
I’ve spent most of my adult life with a lot of difficult emotions tied to the place I grew up. I even spent a lot of time seeing it as the same place with the same people I’d left behind. It was static in my eyes, unchanging and always representing what I’d endured. Since my last non-holiday visit, I’ve been working on letting go of the emotions and memories connected to all those past painful moments, so I can finally start to see my family as they’ve become since then. I think finally seeing the places I grew up, the streets I had walked down and the yards I had cut through, as someplace foreign to me is a sign that I’ve finally started to achieve that. Those places are no longer static, no longer a time capsule to a past I want to leave behind. I feel like I’m seeing them for the first time since I essentially am, now that I’m not seeing them as they were a decade ago.
I still have a long way to go, though. I’ve gotten better about letting my family be whoever they are now, but it can be difficult to avoid the old habits and to not see them as the same people when some of the old problems still crop up. For instance, I didn’t find out my parents had gotten rid of their landline until I called it and was told the number was no longer in service. Panicking, I called every member of my immediate family with a cell phone and no one answered. Eventually, one of my sisters called back and explained what had happened. This was the summer I’d officially moved out for good, so it created feelings of disconnection from my family. It was startling to realize I hadn’t called the landline in months and that we hadn’t even talked in that time. The same sort of thing happened with the trip my parents went this summer, which was the whole reason I was in Chicago to spend time with my sister. I hadn’t gotten the group text or emails they’d sent out to the rest of my siblings about their trip and the need for us to lend a hand with our youngest sister, so I had made plans during most of the time they were gone. It was rather frustrating to learn about it only a couple of weeks before they needed help, and a bit late too since I’d fallen asleep that afternoon and missed the conference call they’d set up the week before.
That being said, I’m the only one who hasn’t lived near or with them for at least part of the year. Two of my siblings permanently live in the same general area and one of my siblings stays with them between employment engagements. The youngest is still in high school. I’ve lived in a different state for several years and only visit on the major holidays for the most part. I’m not much of a phone caller and I’ve always been pretty independent, so we don’t talk. It’s pretty easy for me to miss out on a lot of big news as a result. It can be frustrating at times, but I could also make a point to call my mom or dad once a week and I do not. I’m sure they’d love to hear from me, so it’s not like it’s all their fault or anything. It’s just difficult to remind myself to view my family as they are now rather than as I remember them when we’re having the same problems I remember us having.