On Family And Adulthood


Today I had an out-of-body moment. I was sitting in a chair in the hotel room that my family has recently moved into until their relocation out of the country, hands tucked under my feet, head cocked to the side, listening to my mom tell a story about my dad falling asleep in airports. As I laughed at my mom’s theatrics and my dad’s hyper-somnia, I stepped outside my body for a second, hovering over the room. I saw myself laughing with my parents as they reminisced about a life that feels shared but is really separate from mine. I’ve always felt, probably without sound reason, that my parents’ lives are inevitably connected to mine, the string of our shared blood forever tying us together, that their experiences, at least the ones they lived after my birth, are also mine, simply because of my existence during their passing. But as I sat in that chair, my mom talking a thousand miles an hour in distinctively rhythmic Buenos Aires Spanish, I realized that although we are part of our families, we also are very separate entities. We become what we are, and what we’re not, thanks to our families. We grow in them, with them; however different we may be from them, we’re products of our parents, whether we want to be or not.

When we’re kids, it’s easy to get along with our parents, mostly because we’re basically miniature versions of them. As we grow into our teens (which is actually less like growth and more like devolution), “like our parents” is the last thing we want to be. We rebel because we think we know more, think more, feel more. We want no part of our family; our friends take their place in our lives. And we’re friends with them because they, too, want little to do with their families. Eventually, we mature out of the emotional chaos that is adolescence into some sort of adulthood. This doesn’t necessarily mean turning eighteen, or filing our own taxes or even having a job. We become adults when we realize that our parents are not just these people that raised us and who we’re obligated to love; when we acknowledge that they’re people, too, with problems and worries that aren’t just problems and worries because they’re our parents and worrying is part of their job description. We accept that although we’re adults, we’re also children, children in the sense that we have parents. We appreciate our parents and our families for their qualities as people, not just because they’re family. My mom is terribly nervous and anxious and gets stressed out to the point of becoming nonfunctional, and it’s hilarious to watch, especially when she realizes she’s being ridiculous and suddenly calms down. My dad is pretty much the exact opposite and, if it wasn’t for his tremendous work ethic, would spend the rest of his life sleeping on the couch, eating tapas, and telling anecdotes to unwilling audiences who rarely understand the point of his stories.

Spending time at home (and by “at home,” I mean “with my family,” as we’re currently all living in the same room, wreaking havoc on our neighbors at the local Hampton Inn) after living alone for a while is not exactly easy. Sometimes I wish my brother were less taciturn, or that my sister were less prone to uncontrollable giggling fits that always seem to erupt while I’m on the phone. My mom and I get along really well, until we don’t get along, and then it’s hell for everyone. Sometimes I wish my dad would give me more breathing room when I’m home instead of trying to talk to me about life every chance he gets. But I know if it weren’t for these things, if I hadn’t had to deal with these people all my life, I wouldn’t be a person at all. So, as I lay in bed, freezing cold from the uncontrollable hotel air conditioning and my sister hogging the blankets; listening to my dad snoring like a grizzly bear, slightly audible even over my earphones; dozing off during each Bon Iver song only to be rudely awakened during the silence between tracks, I’m thankful for these insane beings who have always been my family, even though they have just now in my eyes become people.

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image – David Ball