“I can’t wait to go home for break!”
“I miss my family so much and can’t wait to see them!”
“This break is going to be so relaxing!”
As winter break approaches, every conversation seems to turn to the impending holidays, family reunions, and gift giving. Campus will empty out and snapchat stories will turn from videos of drunk friends to pictures of siblings and dogs. People are running out after their last exams to make it to their flights on time. Nights are spent studying, but also packing. As people look forward to returning home, it’s understandable that it’s all they can talk about.
We are now in hour six of silence. Too stubborn to apologize, too upset to rehash the words spoken hours before. Silence.
“So are you excited to go home?”
My heartbeat is suddenly amplified for some reason. Can they hear the rapid pounding? Why are my hands shaking? My brain races- I know what they want to hear but it’s not what I want to say.
We sit on the patio out back. There’s a pause in the conversation that’s a little too long. I haven’t seen my best friends (can I even call them that now?) in four months. They’re the only two people I stayed in contact with after high school. I guess I underestimated how much of a difference 618 miles can make.
As people are counting down the days until break with excitement, I find myself counting down the days with hesitation. It’s not that I don’t want to go home- or maybe I actually don’t, I’m not really sure- but the stress of the holidays is what colors my image of the two weeks I’ll be spending with my family. 16 days of 24 hour contact. That’s 384 hours of family time.
Then there’s the friends from high school. The people that occasionally receive a questionable snapchat from me on a Saturday night, with a “I misss yuuuu” typed across the bottom of a blurry picture. What will we even talk about? Will I even see them? Do I invite them over first, or wait for someone to text me?
We fly down the hill on the sled. Landing in a pile of snow, tears from laughter begin to freeze on my cheeks. I stand up, then help pull my little sister to her feet. Laughing too hard to speak, we wheeze as we begin the long climb back up the hill.
I’m not going into break knowing it’s going to be exhausting and difficult. I’m not going into break knowing anything. That’s where the anxiety comes from. All I can do is put my best foot forward. And it’s hard to express this to friends who have the guarantee that it’ll be better than the alternative of staying in Ann Arbor on their own. Disclaimer: that’s not an alternative that the rest of my family would ever be open to, hence their purchase of my plane ticket home. I guess I just prefer running away from challenges rather than facing them optimistically.
“So, how was your semester?”
I look over at my mom, speeding from the airport to our house.
“Good. Yeah, great! Fun...stressful...the usual.”
“Ok,” she hesitantly responds.
She takes her eyes off the road for a second too long to look me up and down. I shoot over an irritated glance and shrink up against the window next to me.
“Why are you acting so annoyed with me?”
“I’m not, sorry. Sorry, it’s just that I’m not used to being home. Sorry.”
“Stop saying sorry so much.”
I’m happy for my friends who are happy to be going home. I love hearing about people’s plans and family traditions. I apologize if I hesitate when the questions are returned to me. I know I’m not the only one who feels anxious about the impending break, and I want to stress to others that it’s okay to be candid. It gets exhausting to lie about how excited you are for break, when in your head there are echoes of arguments from past trips home and visions of sitting in silence at the dinner table, picking at a plate full of your favorite homemade meal that looks so unappetizing.
Going home for break might be more stressful than waiting for my exam grades to be released. All I can do, and all you can do if you feel the same, is be honest with yourself. I’m not setting any unrealistic expectations. I’m going into break knowing it might take courage on my end to diffuse arguments by being the first to apologize. It might take work to avoid the awkward silences. It might take a bit more humility to realize that how I’ve changed by being away all semester affects others from home. All we can do is try our best and make some damn good Christmas cookies.