I’ve been pretty homesick lately. Homesick is really the closest word I could find to fit the way I’m feeling, but the truth is, I don’t really have a home to be “sick” for. Sure, my physical home back in Minnesota is a place that I miss often, but I miss my family more than the actual place. In the years that have occurred since I graduated high school and began a semi-nomadic life of moving from dorm to dorm and place to place each school year, I’ve struggled with the fact that I don’t really feel like I have a home anymore.
While that statement may sound more dramatic than I intended it to, it does bring up a central question that I’ve fought with for the past six years. What defines a home? For the first eighteen years of my life, my home was with my family. Growing up, even though we moved once, we lived in one northwest corner of our Minnesota town, and both houses felt unmistakably like my home. My parents, my sisters, and my pets were all there. It was comfortable. It still felt like home for the first part of my college career — I lived less than an hour and a half away, and when I came home on weekends and breaks, my room felt the same, my place at the dinner table still felt like mine. It was all still normal.
Then, as time began to remove me from the house I grew up in more and more, it became clearer that it wasn’t meant to stay my home forever. I started spending my summers at camp in northern Michigan and my school years at college, and I came home less. I still loved seeing my family, but the time I spent there wasn’t as comfortable, as normal as it had been. But still, I knew this was the natural progression for a young adult, and I enjoyed the time that I did have with my family. I talked to my mom on the phone a lot and kept up on the family events from afar. My final semester in college, I moved back home for my student teaching placement. I settled back into that house, I bonded with my youngest sister, who had been only twelve when I first moved out and was suddenly a full-blown teenager with opinions, a driver’s license, and a makeup collection. I settled into a routine: I drove to school in the morning, taught all day, came home, and hung out with my family. It was monotonous and my social life was pretty much non-existent since none of my friends lived in my hometown anymore. But it taught me a lot, and I will never regret getting the chance to spend that time with my family.
When I moved to Michigan for this job, it was a bit of a reality check. I suddenly realized I couldn’t come home for weekends, and even week-long vacations during the school year would be a struggle because the logistics of traveling home were difficult. I was worried about missing my home and my family and not having them near me as a safety net. Even though I was transitioning into a job with a built-in place to live and I was familiar with the area I was moving to, it was scary knowing I couldn’t just go to home when I missed my mom or wanted to spend a weekend snuggling my dogs. It started to hit me that this was what adulthood was like when you chose to move away from your hometown. Some people come to that realization in college; for me, it didn’t happen until I was 22, and I still struggle with it every once in awhile.
I’ve only been home three times since I moved here. Every time has been relaxing and reminded me what it is I love about being there. But I can’t spend more than a few weeks at a time there. I run out of things to do, I watch too much TV, and I get restless. It will always be my technical home, the place I was raised, the place where my parents live, but it doesn’t feel that much like mine anymore. I just keep reminding myself that it’s okay to feel that way. This quote from Garden State has been running through my head lately, because I think it describes exactly how I’ve been feeling:
You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.
I do feel homesick for a place that doesn’t really exist anymore, but I keep trying to hang onto it…in little ways anyway. The other day I asked my mom to send me the teddy bear I’ve had since I was an infant. I didn’t bring him with me when I moved, and I haven’t ever needed him until now. Transitions are especially difficult for me emotionally, and I’ve been feel extremely uneasy about the concept of “home” because…I don’t know where my home is going to be after May. My anxiety has been at an all-time high and my emotions are all over the place. This campus is the closest thing I’ve had to a home over the past two years. I’m comfortable here, and while my family isn’t with me, I feel at ease when I drive around town and when I come home to my room at night. So my mom sent me my bear, and when I got him in the mail today, I felt this overwhelming sense of comfort. This one object, this little piece of home, of my childhood, was just what I needed. Do I feel childish for needing a teddy bear to comfort me when I’m 24 years old? Obviously. But I’m not apologizing for it. Sometimes you just need a teddy bear to get you through a rough patch, and this is mine.