The difficulty of keeping in touch with your parents

Since getting to Vassar, time has become warped. As a first-year, I find the most perplexing aspect of college to be time. What is 15 minutes anymore? It used to be a lengthy period of time when I could read, finish up homework quickly, eat a bag of pretzels. Now, 15 minutes is a high stakes environment: In the 15 minutes I have before class, I not only brush my teeth and drop my phone in the toilet (and then embarrassingly wash it off in the sink in front of one of my hallmates), but I also try to “make my bed” and gulp down a breakfast bar in silent chews so as not to wake the roomie. 15 minutes is everything, which is why I’ve had such a hard time keeping in touch with my parents. It is increasingly impossible to find time to call them. 

The most frustrating aspect of the disconnect with my parents isn’t just the fact that there isn’t a lot of time to talk, but that I don’t even know what to talk about. To give you an idea, here is a list of some of the more “significant” messages my parents have received from me the past few weeks:

  • In Italian, I learned that a singular panini is a panino.  
  • I cried after astronomy class…again. 
  • Had boba today!
  • *sends picture of laundry spilled all over the ground between washer and dryer*

I’m pretty sure that a lot of other first-years can relate to the constant struggle of having so much to say, but only the least meaningful words actually come out. It’s a weird paradoxical effect that I am still trying to figure out. What I really want to tell them is: 

  1. I wish more people were counting down the days to Thanksgiving break as publicly as I am. 
  2. I seem to feel the most uncomfortable in the mornings, and I don’t know why. 
  3. I’m worried my roommate hates my music taste and so everything I queue on Spotify are songs I only partially like. I miss Billy Joel.
  4. Ever since getting here I feel like I’ve been holding my breath—sometimes it’s in that really exhilarating wow-I’ve-never-held-my-breath-this-long kind of way, but mostly I just miss my exhales. I miss my bedroom.

There is so much to say and no time to say it. No way to say it. I feel myself slowly gravitating towards humor as a means to communicate, and I hate that. I hate how my parents seem to be doing the same. My father responds to nearly all my life updates with the “thumbs up” feature of iMessage (a known parent favorite), while my mother is a huge fan of the emoji-response. 

 

Trying to convey to them what everything has been like since getting here would be like scratching at the largest itch. I don’t need them to see me gnaw at that, and I don’t need them to see me upset either. But, on the other hand, I want them to understand. The first semester of college is arguably one of the most profound periods of change I will go through—and I’d like to be able to easily translate this into text, FaceTime or email.

I talked to some other first-years about their experiences with trying to keep in touch with family back home, and many are having equally challenging experiences. Kate Billow ’26, told me that she isn’t a big texter to begin with and so when she gets the “Hi, how was your day?” text, she feels confused on how to reply: “It’s harder to text someone when you’re not in the same place… harder to convey all the intricacies of each other’s lives.” Iris Li ’26 guiltily said that she (accidently) cut her parents out of her life due to communication hastles. 

Seeing my parents during Fall Break put some of this disconnect into perspective, as I realized that they are having the same problems. It is just as hard for them to keep in touch with me as it is for me to keep in touch with them. Much to my dismay, I found out that since I’ve left my parents have inside jokes with each other and that their schedule is completely full despite my absence. Time keeps going, warped or not. This realization has helped me accept the frustration of trying to communicate meaningfully. Ultimately, it’s a hard job: Trying to find ways to communicate meaningfully despite being halfway across the country. I wish that having the most to say to them didn’t equate to an absurd amount of confusion regarding how to say it. I have, however, found two ways that help, if only a little. 

  1. Handwritten letters! Even though it’s not ideal if you hate writing by hand, sending letters to my family has helped me gather my thoughts. It’s easy to be deep when you know your mother isn’t on the other side of her iPhone watching those three dots slide back and forth while you type out your message. 
  2. Daily pictures! Even though this may seem just as shallow as sending a “Today I learned that a singular panini is a panino” text, it has helped me get back a sense of rhythm with my parents. Whether it’s a picture of some outrageous Deece food or of my friends underneath the recent rainbow, pictures help make things more casual—which is ultimately what I imagine most first-years also miss about their relationships. 

 

I’ve found that simply acknowledging that communication is innately wacky, especially the first semester of college, has helped. We are always here. We never leave! And so the expectation to communicate everything is absurd. So yes, I’ll call my mom on Sunday if I get the chance and try to send my grandparents a letter in the mail because it’ll make me feel better, but I don’t feel bad anymore about sending silly or shallow texts to people back home. I’m trying and God, it’s only been nine weeks.



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