I see my family every weekend.
Even though I’m technically an adult, even though I hover at the edge of the second semester of my second year of college, I still look forward to those meetings. I structure my week to make sure I see the most important people in my life.
Family meant everything to me growing up. I don’t recall even one friendship or relationship that had as much impact as my deep-rooted, loving, unique bond with my family members. We spent more time together than most: my parents made sure they were home for dinner every night, I took care of my younger siblings by myself when I was barely old enough to take care of myself, and my siblings and I would spend hours talking about everything.
My siblings and I have a significant age difference: I’m ten years older than my younger brother, and four years older than my younger sister. In terms of maturity, we’re eons apart. I often joke that I’m the point of reflection for the entire family, the third member in a group of five. I’m the seamless border between two adults and two children, the silver reflection that projects adult versions into miniature. In short, from the age of ten, I was both child and adult, both playful sister and authority figure.
My parents are both immigrants. I, too, am a first-generation immigrant, but I came to New York just in time for first grade. I was old enough to remember the old world, young enough to appreciate the new. When it came to family disputes about newer ways of thinking, it was easy to understand where my parents were coming from because part of me came from there too. I understood my parents’ conservatism, their Christian faith, their superstitions, and I’m also somewhat grateful for the rigidity of my upbringing. Defining the boundaries so boldly meant it was easier to question those boundaries, restructure useful ones, and step out of destructive ones when I understood enough to constructively do so.
Yet with questioning, with intellectual distance, comes separation. My parents are highly intelligent, kind, gentle people, but their religious stance and cultural beliefs grow increasingly misaligned with mine. We’ve had hours-long discussions that have ended in frustration and disappointment on both sides, and, after months of circular discussion, we’ve only come to a stalemate.
I understand why. I purposely went to college thirty minutes away from home so that I could be close enough to them, but even then I still remember them through a comment here, a smile there. My parents left behind all that was familiar to them, and they were left clinging to the one thing they knew in times of uncertainty- their faith. The intangible quality of belonging to something greater, of allowing people to treat you poorly in expectation of eternal reward, of associating only with those who seek you in the echo-chamber of institutionalized religion: that was what they brought with them in addition to their work ethic.
Yet when I think of home, I don’t think of the daily family prayer or the sermons dad would give at the table or the countless hours spent at church. Those hours passed by numbingly; I was expected to say or do certain things, and I performed like a marionette on a stage to please other people. Instead, when I think of home I think of them, the people I know to be true for certain, and their unconditional love. I think of the time my dad hugged me back, or the time my mom laughed at another one of my awful jokes. I think of how my brother tackles me to the ground when he sees me after five days (I have to tickle him to let me go) or how my sister and I communicate telepathically.
Even though I feel the pressure everyday to be that conforming girl who first left the house for college, I resist it. I resist the currents pulling me back because I don’t think I could live obediently in that nest forever, or live in that nest only to be transferred to a subservience-demanding marital one.
I used to think of myself as a bridge between the country of my birth and the country of my life. A well-trodden, weary bridge crumbles when enough pressure is exerted on it to choose a side.
I will always love and see my family, but I choose freedom.