Home is Where the Heart Is
Four days ago, I was still in Massachusetts, frantically finishing up my last finals, packing my bags (and boxes!) and saying my last goodbyes. I didn’t want to leave my friends, or my room, or campus. You can’t help but feel at home anywhere you’ve been living for nine months, and I didn’t want to leave a place that felt so much like home.
But I’ve been told change is a part of life, and it was time for a change. Not because I wanted it, but because it was time to move on. The year was over, and it was time to leave home for home.
I was devastated to leave Massachusetts, and it still sucks to know I’m not going to see Amelia in the next 48 hours (which literally didn’t happen the entire time we were on campus), or to not be able to send out a mass text and find someone who wants to grab dinner in twenty minutes.
And yet, there is something wonderful about being back in California. It’s been a while since I saw my house and the Pacific from a plane window. It’s wonderful to be stuck watching my brother’s soccer games, even better than driving around with my dad in our convertible with the top down, nicer than watching TV and eating ice cream with Mom. But I think my favorite part about coming home is seeing all the people I don’t live with – the neighbors and teachers and family friends – who are just as interested in what I’ve done over the past year as my family.
When I first walked through the door, Mom was home. She knew I was coming home early (thanks to my brother, who ruins all surprises, always…), but that didn’t change the fact that she was excited to see me. But Robby wasn’t home, so I was up the hill in a second, at our neighbor’s house. I say neighbor, but I really mean second family. Because the hugs I got were just as big, their boys were just as happy to see me, and the fridge was fair game like always. 
Followed shortly thereafter by the traditional back-home-from-far-away meal, In’n’Out. But a simple drive to pick up a simple burger can’t ever be simple, can it? Because one of my favorite teachers of all time was driving up the street as I was pulling out of the driveway. Slam on the brakes, hugs were necessary. Followed, of course, by a visit that evening and an hour long chat about everything and anything.
When I took Oliver out for a walk, it took ten minutes to walk from the house three doors down to my own front door. Because all three neighbors were coming or leaving and stopped to chat. “Welcome home!” “How was the year?” “Are you around to babysit this summer?” Even though these are people I barely know – this is the half of the street we don’t interact with as often – they were honestly interested in my life.
I went back to high school, where busy advisors made time, and students ran through the halls for a hug. I paused outside a classroom door for almost two minutes, waiting for the giant smile mid-sentence from my favorite teacher of all time that I knew would happen. I made plans for coffee with teachers who wanted an update on my life, scheduled babysitting for another. I’d made formal plans to visit my middle school, to help teach the kids how to use power tools. But that didn’t put any limits on the fun of seeing old teachers, and pictures of their kids.
I can’t even buy groceries without running into people I know. The random sighting of a former dance teacher in the produce section. Being remembered by Lina in the check-out line.  Taking the long route home to stop by Erin’s house on the off chance she was home and getting to play with a 1-year-old covered in food coloring while we chat about school and life and everything else.
Being on a college campus is awesome – everywhere you turn you know people, and everyone wants a quick distraction from work. But everyone is 18-22 years old, and limited by their life. They have only the experiences they have, and there is a distinct lack of the real world. No kids, no adults (other than professors). That’s the real reason I love being home, where I’m back in the real world. Out of the college bubble, I feel like a real person again.
I’m sure I’ll miss the bubble shortly, and I already miss all my close friends. Luckily there’s Skype and Facebook.
For now, I love being home and interacting with my giant extended family.
1. The true hallmark of home, ladies and gentlemen, where you can waltz in and grab a snack.
2. We’ve been getting groceries from the same Safeway for literally as long as I can remember. I remember helping bag our groceries as a kindergartener, and I even got my own official nametag (I still have it, of course). But to be remembered by name, to be asked about my parents and brother and if we all still play soccer, that is the hallmark of a small town grocery store. Except San Mateo has a population of 100,000 and at least a half dozen full size chain grocery stores…