I have been thinking a lot about the idea of homesickness. It is an emotion I’m familiar with, but when I ponder the feeling more deeply, I find myself confused: what is home for me? I’ve written at length about my peripatetic childhood and the slipperiness that engenders in my own sense of home. Now, I’m crystal clear: home is the small house Matt and I moved into 15 years ago July, to which we brought home both of our babies, in whose walls Grace and Whit have grown up.
Of course home isn’t a place, though, at all. It’s people. It’s family, the one I was born into and the one I have made.
The truth is I didn’t feel homesick much as a child. At least I don’t remember that. I know that I came home at midnight from my very first sleepover, in Paris, and I was homesick then. I know I did not like my first camp, which I went to when I was 9, and was homesick. But for the years after that, when I went to camp on Cape Cod (where Grace and Whit go now) and then to boarding school, I don’t recall feeling homesick. I don’t say that as a criticism, by the way – I know that I was a securely attached child who was confident of her relationship with her parents and my lack of homesickness did not reflect something nefarious. Whit, for example, isn’t homesick. And I know he loves us and vice versa.
This is part of why I’ve been thinking about the idea of homesickness, lately. I think it’s more complicated than simply missing home. Grace was homesick at camp this summer, which surprised all of us a little since she’s been to camp for many years, and confidently so. I suspect what she’s homesick for is me, but more than anything, I think she’s preemptively homesick for right now. In some deep-seated way Grace is aware that the days when I can solve problems for her and when I’ll be an uncomplicated source of security are numbered. It’s not that we won’t always have a close bond; I hope we do and trust we will. It’s just that she’s a young woman and her relationship with me is necessarily changing. I know it will and already is. I studied this and now I’m living it.
This is as it should be.
But it’s not easy. It’s scary to know what’s coming, to look independence and young adulthood in the eye and it’s also sad to glance back at all that will never come again. It won’t surprise any of you who know how frequently I glance back to know that Grace does the same. Often.
So I understand this latest surge of homesickness in Grace this way: a prescient awareness of what is coming, a preemptive sorrow, a clinging to what is because what is on the horizon is scary and exciting in equal measure. Maybe she’s just wired this way, aware of the light and the dark, attuned to the shadows that hover around a lot of life’s experiences, sensitive to loss even before it arrives. If so, she’s just like her mother.
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