BY SUSAN ESTRICH
And so another class of high school graduates left home this fall, or said goodbye to their friends who left.
Thanksgiving is the first time everyone sees each other after having gone their separate ways for three months. Ask any adult who left home for college, and they’ll probably be able to remember their first holiday back.
Mine was insufferable. Or rather, I was. My college friends were smarter, more sophisticated, more interesting, more everything than the “kids” I’d left behind – and my family and their friends.
My mother actually commented that I had turned into a horrible snob, although I couldn’t be sure whether she disapproved or was just jealous.
Even thinking about it is a little upsetting. Who was that strange beast?
The biggest challenge for the holidays, whether you’re 18 and going home for the first time or haven’t had a home to go to in at least that long, is figuring out how to fit in when you feel like you don’t and everyone else looks like they do.
The strange beast wasn’t really such a bad person, just a very uncertain young woman trying to bridge a gap that was only small if measured by distance. My hometown was 20 miles from where I went to college, but my life in one place had no connection to the other. Trying to fit into either place, much less both, used to leave me angry and frustrated. Beyond a certain age, I chafed at being with my family, and chafed even more at having no place better to be. I felt like I belonged nowhere, and never was that feeling more acute than when I went “home” for the holidays.
Now, of course, I wish I had a few of those holidays back. Just the way they were, minus my moments of snobbery or, even worse, transparently uncool efforts to be cool.
You never know what will turn out to be the last Christmas or Thanksgiving with someone you love. That means we should celebrate each as if it is to be the last.
But that’s not how it works. As if the holidays weren’t depressing enough, we’re supposed to be thinking about who is gone already and who else might be going soon? This is not advice anyone wants, and I can’t blame them, even if it is true.
So maybe this is a better approach: If you’re going home from college for the first time, try suspending disbelief. Your friends may have changed, too. Or they may change in the future. Whatever. Try being kind. If nothing else, it will be easier to think back on. You’ll end up liking yourself regardless of what you think of the rest of them.
Almost everyone has a reason to hate the holidays: bad memories, lost loved ones, the passing of time and the reminder of all of life’s uncertainties. Not to mention that no one is ever as rich/successful/beautiful/married/pregnant/thin as they want to be. If only bemoaning it actually helped. Since it doesn’t, why bother?
If you are home for the holidays, or if you’re headed there, or if you’re considering a trip to Timbuktu to avoid ending up there, just turn off the voice of your first-grade teacher or mother or brother in your head telling you how much better, smarter, more married or more fruitful the girl who sat next to you in homeroom is. Instead, laugh because it has actually turned out as well as it has, all things considered.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer