It Matters To Me That I Matter To You.
I never understood why people were so surprised that I wanted to travel across the country to go to college, or why my fellow students can’t understand how I see my family so infrequently (we’re talking a sum total of about four weeks since I started college). But now I think I get it. It isn’t really about having a family member nearby, but its about having someone who really cares about you. Someone older and wiser who will notice when you’re off, and take the moment to ask if you’re all right. Someone like our parents, who are always there to lend a hand or an ear when you really need one. Even though I understand why people want and need their families close by, I still don’t feel the same way.
The last time I felt like I truly and absolutely needed someone to talk to was definitely years ago. I’m not even sure when it was or what it was about, exactly. But I also know that I’ve never felt constrained to my parents for that kind of conversation. I’ve had as many soul-searching conversations with my teachers and other adults in my life as I’ve had with my mom or dad. In fact, the one that stands out the most is from sophomore year of high school, and was with my freshman English teacher. That’s not to say that my parents haven’t been influential; they were certainly an important, unwavering bastion of support throughout my life that I can’t dismiss. But as I grew up, they let me craft other formative relationships with other adults that I trusted. I suspect that I have a greater number of adults in my life that I feel comfortable talking to than most people my age, and I take advantage of their strengths in helping me analyze my weaknesses. I talked to a teacher when I couldn’t get my point across without frustration; I spoke with a widely-admired but soft-spoken leader when I needed help giving up control. I talk to my dad about academic issues and my mom about friendships. Each of them gives me a different perspective on the same issues, and that can all be done over the phone.
But something happened today that hasn’t happened since I left home.
I got a “Mom look.” Not the stop-what-you’re-doing-right-now-or-you’re-in-lots-of-trouble look, but the oh-no!-you-should-get-help-for-that look, which is often, including today, accompanied by “Do you want me to call ____ for you?” You know, that face all mothers acquire when you offhandedly mention something physically or emotionally worrisome or painful.
I brushed it aside with a smile, because I had places to go and things to do and I’m not about to let the mere fact that it hurts to sit or lift anything heavier than a paperback keep me from working and studying. But it meant a lot to me. That simple moment, when I realized what I’ve been missing.
I haven’t been missing my insightful conversations: a simple phone call provides those. I haven’t been missing affection: there are plenty of packages from home and lovely letters. I haven’t been missing important events: there’s always informative emails with photos. I haven’t even been missing concern: my close friends here know what’s going on with me, and they’re always asking how I’m doing and checking in.
I’ve been missing that moment of uninhibited, natural concern that comes from a place of caring. When someone with more life experience looks at you and sees right through the facade, and then cares enough to worry and show it. More than the moment, I’ve been missing the person. I went through all of middle school and high school with at least a half dozen adults in my life I would feel comfortable having a break down in front of. People who knew me well enough to know how to console me without belittling me, how to help me work through my problem without forcing an immediate solution.
And today, for the first time since I came to college, I feel like I have an equivalent here at Tufts. That’s not to say that there haven’t been other professors I had strong professional relationships with, but this was a personal moment. A moment that surpassed the student-teacher realm and flew into another space entirely. A space where I might have felt comfortable, if there hadn’t been other students around, letting my guard down.
I deal with stress in a different way than most people. All I need is someone to talk to about the minute stresses of my life, and I can deal on my own with the bigger things. If I have someone to talk to about the small annoyance of running out of laundry detergent, I can easily handle balancing two tests, a paper, and my birthday.
I got happily complacent with the wonderful relationships I had in high school, and forgot how long and hard the process of forging a personal relationship in a professional setting really is. And last year, with easier classes and the classic freshman support networks, I never experienced the physically exhausting and monotonous experience of high stress levels caused by daily annoyances, like grocery shopping. Or maybe I thought to myself, You’re an adult now, just figure it out. and All adults deal with these annoyances, you should just get used to them.
Maybe I’m not fully ready for the real adult world, or maybe I’ve just been incognizant of the reality of adult relationships. Or maybe I’m just figuring out what I need to be happy and healthy in life.
But I certainly wish I could thank her for that look. For informing me that even 3000 miles away from home and all the adults I normally depend on, there are people looking out for me every single day. For teaching me that college isn’t all about academics, for the students or the professors. For being there for me without saying a single word. I wish she could know what it really meant to me. I wish that I had the courage to tell her in person that it matters to me that I matter to her.