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April 8, 2014

Growing up, but not outgrowing

As college wears on, home becomes more difficult to define.

After a very, very cold winter, I was extremely glad to escape the land of multiple polar vortices and return to my hometown for spring break. I spent the week seeing friends from high school, spending time with my family, and complaining about the overcast (but still 75-degree) weather until I was told to “check my California privilege” by someone spending their break on the East Coast. It was, all told, a restful and enjoyable reprieve from schoolwork. Then, the day before my flight back to Chicago, I fucked up.

I asked my mother if we could do laundry that night so I could pack clean clothes for my return. It was a normal request, but what I said was,“ Can we do some laundry before I go home?” I self-corrected after a split second of awkward silence during which I realized that I was in fact currently at home—“er, before I go back, I mean”—and my mother charitably did not bring it up.

But still, the moment stuck with me. I am very lucky to have parents who I know will always be happy to see me when I return to their (my?) house. I am similarly fortunate to also have a wonderful community of friends and incredible opportunities here at school. In both places there are people who love and take care of me. In both places I feel safe and at home. This should definitely not be a thing that stresses me out and makes me feel weird, except it totally is.

Perhaps it’s because this is a relatively new problem for me. It took me more than a year to start feeling really, truly comfortable at UChicago, to feel like I had a solid support system, a place in the College community, and like I could navigate the CTA with relative confidence. During my first year, I took my homesickness as a sign of failure, thinking I should automatically be well-adjusted and having the time of my life. I hated saying goodbye to my family at the end of every break. “Home” meant one very specific place, and it certainly wasn’t my dorm room.

I’m doing much better now, by all accounts. Maybe it was getting more involved on campus or signing a lease for an apartment next year, or maybe these things just take time, but now I love the life I have found for myself here. I still miss my family and my friends, and I will never, ever stop being snobby about how California is the best state in the country, but I feel at home here, too. And because I’ll be spending almost all of my time in Chicago and comparatively little in my parents’ house for the next few years, Chicago is the home that feels most immediately relevant to my life right now.

That’s how it should be, right? You’re supposed to learn and grow in college. What I struggle with, though, is whether or not growing must also mean outgrowing. Returning to where I grew up makes it easy to fall into old habits and patterns of behavior, some of which I’m glad to have now left behind. I love my family and my hometown and I’m always grateful for the (increasingly limited) time I get to spend with them. But now I’m also always eager to return to Chicago, the place where I increasingly feel I am becoming someone I really, really like. This then makes me feel guilty—how could I ever want to leave my family and the place where I felt and still feel at home? But my guilt stems from a false dilemma, one that is constructed by my anxieties about adulthood. Of course I still have a home at my parents’ house and of course they want me to feel like I have one in Chicago, too. The idea that I have to limit myself to feeling at home in one place is absurd. It’s said that once you grow up you can never go home again, but I find myself constantly going home, again and again, travelling between two places and groups of people I love. Perhaps what the saying really means is that, hopefully, you’ll one day have too many places to come home to.

Clair Fuller is a second-year in the College majoring in gender and sexuality studies.

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