As I wait at Burbank Airport for my luggage I realize I’ve forgotten just how strange my mother can be.
Within minutes of our reunion for my annual summer trip home, I become annoyed and overwhelmed at her characteristic quirks, idiosyncrasies, and off-beat humor I’d all but forgotten (or maybe just blocked out) in the months since the last time I saw her. Talking to her on the phone with the comfort of hundreds of miles between us and the “end call” button on my cell make her peculiarities manageable, but seeing her in person and knowing that we will be together for a whole month makes me wish I had limited my visit home to a mere weekend.
I can express these exasperations without the fear of wounding her because of the strong relationship we have. For as annoyed as I am upon meeting her at the airport, I quickly settle into the reality of her quirks and remember how much I actually love them for making her the wonderfully strange woman that she is.
Getting used to my mom’s boisterous and often perplexing personality turned out to be the easiest thing to reacquaint myself with upon my arrival home (though depending on the day, I might tell you otherwise). With the majority of my high school friends away in their respective college towns and lives, I was left to cope with my family and life at home without the comfort of distraction.
As intensely as I love, respect, and enjoy my family, living in the same house as them brought up so much that I can easily forget and ignore far away in my San Francisco life. I was forced to face the reality of my parents’ impending divorce, the aging of my 89-year-old grandfather, and the adolescence of my 17-year-old brother along with the heartaches and seemingly insurmountable difficulties that come with that stage of life.
Interacting with my family members with their unique personalities and complex stages in life and fulfilling my function within this family unit proved to be a challenge I had not expected before arriving home.
Living an unattached, unencumbered, basically self-centered life that revolves almost entirely around my wants and needs for much of the year while in school is in sharp contrast to the communal and familial world of home. Cooking, cleaning, and planning a social life are no longer tailored for me alone, but must be adjusted for the rest of my family—compromise and communication are all-important when taking into account the wants and needs of a live-in family. And yet it is so easy to forget these essential skills when living on your own.
Letting go of the routines I’ve grown accustomed to living apart from my family is one thing, but confronting the past life I inhabited within the confines of family life proved an entirely different obstacle.
Going back to my basically unchanged room (still the same baby blue walls with purple and yellow stars my grandfather and I painted in high school, still the same comforter, all the old pictures and magazine cut-outs plastered on the walls) was like time traveling back to my old self with the old hang-ups, fears, and dilemmas. Some of those once pressing and all-consuming challenges have been resolved over the years—others have not.
And those deep-rooted, underlying problems that I can at least consciously forget about away from home insist upon coming to the surface when back in my old environment where they originated.
No wonder so many avoid the art of going home altogether. For it is an art, indeed. Balancing the problems (and let’s not forget the triumphs and joys) of the past with those of the present, keeping your independence intact while still honoring the interdependence that is so crucial in a family, remembering who you once were while looking at who you are now and who you want to be in the future—all of these delicate issues must be addressed when you go back to your roots. Striking a chord of harmony between the many people you once were, are, and will be both within and without the context of family is an infinitely daunting task. And yet it is one that we must face whether we come from broken, distant, overbearing, dysfunctional, tight-knit, unconditionally loving, and/or supportive families.
Once we at least attempt to come to terms with the families we are born into and the past they represent, we can begin to function more consciously, openly, and lovingly within the new families we’ve created, and will create, for ourselves away from home.
Anna Shajirat is a senior English major.