“My phone thinks campus is home,” my daughter reported, with a hint of tears. A month into her freshman year she had gone on a weekend-long retreat with other freshman about 25 minutes from campus. As they were preparing to return to school she glanced at her phone to find one of those ubiquitous traffic pop ups we all have.
Just as my phone knows to tell me on Saturday mornings how many minutes it will take me to get to the YMCA for my lap swim, or how long my commute to work will be each weekday, her phone innocently told her it would be “23 minutes to home.” Except in this case, “home” was her campus, not the condo she grew up in 73 miles to the Northeast.
I recalled the look on my mother’s face the first time I returned to campus after a break and mentioned I was anxious to get ‘home.’ But I got to decide for myself when to make that shift. My daughter’s phone decided for her where home was, and she wasn’t ready.
As we moved through the first few months of college, however we both found our groove. The girl widened her circle of friends, went to her first round of parties, performed in her first show, and seemed happy and settled in her new life, even telling me frequently how well she slept in her super cozy dorm bed.
My wife and I grew used to a house that stayed clutter-free, creative meals from food-kit delivery services like Plated or Home Chef, routines that centered on our schedules and never involved driving to dance studios or school auditoriums or rehearsal halls, and the addictive feeling of a good night’s sleep being a regularity rather than a rarity. But something felt off.
Driving through my city on errands I found myself surprised to see kids walking to her old high school, although of course I knew it hadn’t ceased to exist after she graduated. My life no longer rose and fell by the rhythms and quirks of a school calendar, and as a result it felt as if my connection to my community had been severed as well. I still lived here but did it still feel like home?
Finally the slightly longer Thanksgiving break arrived. I was looking forward to my daughter’s return yet wary of how we would maneuver around each other now that we were out of practice. Would she feel like a guest? Would she look on this as just a visit now that she had found a tribe and a world of her own? Her first morning at home we hovered on the edge of bickering and I thought to myself that if this was how it was going to be then the Christmas break would be very long indeed.
And then she got sick. Not a sore throat, not the sniffles but full-fledged, wake-mom-up at-4am with-an-upset-stomach-sick. For one entire day she lay in bed, very pale and very flushed, with her cat by her side while I got to do something I hadn’t done in a very, very long time – take care of her. I fetched Gatorade and ginger ale and checked for fevers and tried to get her to eat something, anything. She was apologetic and grateful and holiday time stopped—the same way it had 11 years prior when the stomach flu hit on Christmas Eve – and we were just momma and her girl again.
As is usually the case, the bug was fast-moving and by Sunday she was back to normal, if still a bit pale. As she packed her bags to go back to school she confessed she didn’t want to leave so soon, telling me, “I forgot how nice it was to be home.” And after we returned her safely to campus and came back to our quiet orderly house I was reminded that no matter what our phones say, no matter how much things change, no matter how removed we feel because of distance or time, that home will always and forever be when we are together.
Photo credit: Chris Jones