How Distance Brought Us Closer

How moving away brought an NYU sophomore closer to their family.

Under the Arch

How Distance Brought Us Closer

How moving away brought an NYU sophomore closer to their family.

An illustration depicts two U.S. states connected by a dotted line. There are phones in the middle of the line.

For many NYU students, the distance that accompanies moving away from home can improve their relationships with family. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela for WSN)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor | Oct 20, 2022

I didn’t even let my parents help me unpack when I moved into my dorm. My mom and I schlepped my belongings up to the ninth floor of Weinstein Hall. I said goodbye to her and my dad, and then they left. I met them for breakfast the next morning and then didn’t see them again for three months.

We called, of course — I still call my mom weekly, and she almost always puts my dad on the line. I look forward to our talks, and sometimes I call her more than once a week just to chat or ask for her input on an issue I have. We have a better relationship now than we did when I lived at home, and my parents are just as surprised as I am. After a year of our mostly virtual cross-country interactions, our relationship has changed for the better, I think.

My mom noticed it first. We were having our weekly phone call when she pointed out that we speak more freely now than before I started college. She was right. I no longer bristle at her questions or concerns for my well-being like I did just a few years ago. Now I call my parents just to hear their voices.

The time we spend together may be shorter, but it has become more valuable. I didn’t expect that.

I viewed coming to New York City through the same rose-tinted glasses as everyone else. It seemed like my first taste at freedom — I would be free of the people I’d known since elementary school, my boring Texas suburb, and my parents.

Our relationship was never bad, but it wasn’t good. I was closed off, they misunderstood me. They thought I was rude, I thought they were demanding. I didn’t tell them I had a boyfriend until we had been dating for two years. I shut them out of my life. I longed for the freedom of college and counted down the days until I moved.

It turns out freedom is hard. Laundry isn’t free, the city is expensive and dining hall food doesn’t compare to my mom’s cooking. I was homesick, not only for the commodities of home but the feeling of it.

When Thanksgiving came around during my first year at NYU, I stayed in the city. It made sense logistically, but it wasn’t what I expected. I missed the traditions that I had spent years complaining about. My boyfriend’s dingy apartment didn’t feel celebratory. The snow I had longed for — it rarely comes in Texas — seemed like inconvenient icy sludge. I looked forward to calling my family more than most days.

Leaving home is hard, especially when you move from a quiet suburb to the largest city in the country. NYU’s isolating environment doesn’t help — it’s hard to make friends, and our so-called campus is scattered throughout the city. We are immersed in a fast-moving sea of people and even if it’s what we came here for it becomes lonely and overwhelming. We look back and miss the things we no longer have with us: a home, our family and our old routines.

But when I go home, things are different. I am a visitor. My mom felt the need to clean the house before I arrived. My dad wanted to create a packed itinerary as if to show me the town I grew up in. My return home is an event, no longer a given. I intrude on my family’s schedules and the new routines they’ve made without me. I also start to remember why I left. I love my parents, but when we close the distance, I find myself longing for my new home, the one I got to create.

My parents make me feel welcome, of course. Their home is still my home, though it will never feel the same. My mom understands. Her family lives in Mexico, which she left behind for Texas almost 20 years ago. The same small house she grew up in, all her sisters, mom, and old family friends are still there. Home hasn’t changed, but she has. So have I.

How can I return to my childhood home when I am so profoundly different? How can I talk to my dad after years of fighting? My parents have made me cry. I have made them cry. How do we forgive ourselves? How do we forgive each other?

The distance softens things. Tempers cool, grudges are forgotten, apologies are extended. I start recognizing my parents as the flawed people they have always been. I am no better. I have my dad’s temper and my mom’s anxious nature. I have his ambition and her gentleness. We see ourselves in each other, and somehow that makes things easier.

It seems paradoxical that our relationship would improve since we’re so much farther away and we speak so much less, but it isn’t. When I saw my parents every day, I took the good for granted. I focused on the bad, and it seems they did the same to me. With the distance, we have a chance to miss each other. Now, when we meet, it is with a perspective we didn’t have before. I can engage with my parents as an adult who needs them, not as a child who resents them.

My relationship with my parents is not, and will never be, perfect — I don’t know what that would even look like. It’s improving, though. Not since I was a child have I found it so easy to go to them with my problems or feel comforted by their voices. Yes, we still argue, but everyone does. We love each other, and it’s getting better. Regardless of the distance, that’s what matters.