The end of the fall semester marks the beginning of many things terrible, especially for freshmen in college: final papers and exams, a new round of classes and payments to worry about, and going home for our first winter break.
It usually brings to mind warm memories of friends, family, and showers sans flip-flops. But there’s another side of “home” for freshmen. Sure, there’s Christmas presents and free food. But there’s also curfews and annoying siblings, old high school drama, and a loss of independence.
After living 1,329 miles from my childhood home of McPherson, Kansas, for the past 4 months, I thought I was ready to return. Though I love living in Pennsylvania, I still missed my old friends and my family. I missed the open skies and gorgeous sunsets and empty gravel roads. I longed for the familiarity and nostalgia around every corner. But as I finished my final papers and said good-bye to all of the the friends I’d made at Arcadia, I began dreading my return to Kansas more and more.
My first semester of college had been all I could’ve hoped for. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I’d met incredible people and been able to venture into Philadelphia nearly every weekend. I worried that going back to McPherson would mean losing all the freedom I’d gained.
Like most high school students, my relationship with my parents was often difficult: The old cliche “black sheep of the family” doesn’t even do my status justice. I’m an opinionated, extroverted, spontaneous liberal raised by a pair of subdued, academic Republicans. I didn’t go to college halfway across the country just for kicks and giggles. I wanted out. Now, I was about to head right back to the place which I’d tried so hard to escape.
When I got to the airport and my mom’s first words were “It’s so pink!” (referring to my bubblegum-hued hair), I thought my worst fears were being confirmed.
But after the initial shock of my altered appearance and a few not-so-polite political “discussions,” my parents, older sister, and I were able to appreciate the reason I’d come to visit McPherson at all: We’re family.
Despite our (many) differences and my hatred of the Midwest, these are the people who raised me. We have more shared memories with each other than with anyone else. With each anecdote shared over a holiday card game — the time my dad lassoed a snake, the morning I was sprayed by a skunk, the weeks my sister spent nursing a sick calf — I felt my connection to my family grow.
I don’t expect winter break to be all Kodak moments and cheesy movie nights by the fire. My transition into adulthood is going to be difficult for my parents to accept. I’m going to be incredibly bored. But I only get one family, and they only get one Nicole. So, for the month I’m home, we’ll just have to remember what being a family means: We might hate each other at times, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, too.