What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking
Every November at Oberlin includes parents and family weekend, and of course, in between planning my attendance at a number of awesome events and lusting after the weekend brunch menu at the Feve that I won't be able to get into due to the rush of families going out for tasty brunch, I've been thinking a lot about my own family. More specifically, I've been thinking about how I communicated with them while in college (and now after college). I've lived away from my parents for eight years now, though for the past four, I've had my brother close by. If I want to be in touch with my family, I have to try, and with ALL the different ways I can communicate, I've found that some work better than others.
We have approximately a million options to communicate with people in the world that I become paralyzed by how many ways in which I *can* communicate that I sometimes end up not. (That's me, the professional communicator who thinks about how in addition to what and where I'm talking about things and with whom.) But I did, and I do, and I'm happy to say that it changes. And it's a good thing.
So, a brief timeline of the past eight years of being in Oberlin and how I communicated with my family throughout:
My first two years
Blogging was my go-to solution for much of college, starting within the first days of my first year. I started my photo-a-day blog mainly to keep my far-flung family and friends in the loop about my new life (with the sneaky motive of trying to convince my brother to come to Oberlin, too).
But! I still made an effort to talk with my parents every so often, and this was one way the drastically different timezones of Ohio to Hawaii were incredibly useful — five or six hours behind us depending on if we're in Daylight Savings or not, because Hawaii doesn't believe in it. I discovered the ten-minute-walking-call, which was perfect for connecting with my mom as I walked from classes to lunch (lunchtime here coinciding with the morning pre-work routine for my parents) or evening activities walking to the library from a concert or the library back home to Harkness (evening here was lunchtime for my family, and late evening here was dinnertime for my family). That ten-minute catchup was a mainstay of my first three years of college for my mom, who really enjoyed the small life updates, and the blog posts were a mainstay for my dad, since he likes digging deep into specific experiences (what this meant in the world of phone calls was that every time I called home and got my dad, I would have to budget at least an hour — ♥ you, Abba).
Additionally, my family continued its long-standing tradition of visiting my grandmother in New York for winter break, and, starting my first year, this officially became the meeting place for the Plauts for a week or so of intense hangouts, catchups, and city-wide meanders.
With the advent of my existence in this Oberlinblog space, the Oberlin blogs became the place I contributed to most (and I kept on sending the posts home to my parents and brother via email, too — I had to get the next Plaut in line to come here, yes indeed!).
I also had my first unofficial parents and family week (not weekend, a full week!) during my junior year... my dad came to visit me in early May for the spring OCircus show, he visited lots of classes (mine and others), ate meals with me at Harkness (and got an adjective sandwich!), and attended hours of concerts including Folk Fest. It was really good to have him visit, and definitely not during parents and family weekend, nor during my first year. I'd found a more comfy space to occupy by my junior year, I had enough friends in enough cool classes that I could get my dad into classes in the politics or theater department easily, and there weren't a whole lot of other folks visiting so it was a more "normal" (for lack of a better phrase) way to see Oberlin and me in a more relaxed setting.
My last year of college marked a major shift, one you probably won't guess: I got my first bike right at the end of my third year, and found that my ten-minute-walking-calls started disappearing because I was biking everywhere instead of walking.
That meant more emails, more long phonecalls (but less frequently) with both my parents, and it was mainly about what I was doing (and very much not about what I was going to do after graduation). Ben also visited me during my fourth year, which was FANTASTIC! (I think it helped solidify his decision to attend Oberlin. #mischiefmanaged)
Like one does, I had my parents, brother, and some other extended family members here for my graduation in May. It was a whirlwind. It was the first time my mom had been in Oberlin since bringing me here for my freshman orientation, the second visit for my dad and brother, and the first time for the rest of my family members (grandmother, an aunt/uncle/cousin and some family friends who fall in the same close family category).
And that was college. I survived. My family was involved for sure, but there was a balance we learned to strike through trial and error, phone calls and emails, and learning how to be a good kid even when my parents weren't here to watch over me.
One additional element of communication that I would be remiss to not mention: my godfather was an angel donor for my four years of college, helping me out with a part of tuition every year, so I wrote him a regular email update (regular in the world of a college student was once a year) to him letting him know what I was up to and how things were going. My last letter to him was about four weeks after I graduated in 2010, where I got to give him the good news of receiving my diploma (YAY!), Ben's going to Oberlin (double YAY!), and I have a job (triple YAY!). I closed with this line, which still makes me tear up:
These past four years have been a dream for me, and I feel that I will be able to progress in my life confidently with my college life as my foundation. Thank you so much for helping make this experience as wonderful as it was.
After graduating, things shifted again, this time, I had my brother around and we could strategize talking with our parents together (or not). I even sneakily planned with him to make sure my parents were home to tell them that I'd gotten this (permanent) job.
But, on the whole, our conversations have changed. We talk more about practical life-things, since there's an element of adulthood that apparently involves car insurance and investing your money for ~the future~ and stuff like that once you have bigger life responsibilities. Luckily I have two parents who have way more experience with this than I and are willing to talk about how it works and where it fits into my life (and they have a vested interest in me doing these things so they'll definitely share). My parents have become trusted resources, but they're also ridiculous human beings that also like to tell silly stories and cook dinner with me advising from the sidelines and make faces at each other during a weekly FaceTime session.
Since moving away, Ben and I have had a harder time nailing down times to connect, but we've got a really good texting thread going on: since I helped him set up his kitchen at his new house, I regularly get uncaptioned photos of whatever he's made for dinner... which is all I need in life, to be honest. (I know he's alive and eating well, and that he's thinking of me.)
But hey. It'll probably shift again depending on how my family and I shift, but don't we all? Here are some final thoughts, since I know there are family members out there reading the blogs (including my own parents HI MOM AND DAD):
Dear students: You did it! You're free! College student independence! (It's the greatest! Until you realize you have no idea how to Real World and your parents know how to do that and then you ask for help — still happens to me pretty regularly.) And I completely understand your wariness to have your family visit you while you're in college and calling them just seems like a chore in between homework and laundry (protip: call your parents while doing laundry, that's a 30-minute chunk of time before you throw things in the dryer and it's like multitasking!). You're a grown-up. You don't need your parents butting into this new-found life, right?
But here's the thing: there's a good chance that your parents are hopeful that you're going to do great things (and they're likely to cheer you on — which is why they ask how things are going; it's usually so they can be proud and excited, too). And when parents visit, I like to think of these guests as post-prospies. And we students like prospies because they're excited about Oberlin (with the added benefit that these post-prospie guests are also excited about YOU!). Your parents are, like, 99% probably not going to apply to Oberlin following their visit, but they really want to know how awesome the experience is for you. They care. They're visiting in part to know that you're alive and okay here, but it's also important for them to know that this is a place where you not just live, but THRIVE.
When my dad visited me my third year, I had a happy medium of spending time with my dad, but I also made sure there were things to keep him occupied so I could do some homework and fulfill some of my job/student organization obligations — plus it gave us all something to talk about over dinner together with my Harkness family since we'd divided and conquered the day in different ways. After I graduated and my brother was here as a student, my parents took the fact that we were both here together as a cue to visit more often, but that was a new balancing act of schedules: I had a job, and my brother was a busy student. We specifically set out times that we could all hang out: meals, mainly, cause all of us had to eat, and occasionally a concert or a show in the evening.
Dear families: HEY thanks for coming to visit Oberlin! We're really happy you're here. Enjoy it; Oberlin's full of fun things and beautiful music and fabulous people (and you'll get a good dose of those things if you're here during parents and family weekend, we arranged for it — all except the weather, sorry about that). Spend a meal or two with your pride and joy, explore town, hear some wonderful music, sit in Tappan Square, meet some of your kid's friends (maybe during one of those aforementioned meals, explorations, or concerts), but don't be a shadow. You're probably visiting during the school year, which means there's some homework to be done, jobs to be worked, and maybe an event or two that won't interest you that your kid's got on their mind beyond spending time with you.
And don't get freaked out that we're bleary-eyed and 15 minutes late to the 9:30am brunch call time... there's a good chance we were blues dancing until 2am last night. And then we got involved in a Disney sing-a-long while eating fresh bread at Harkness until 3am. Life's good. We're happy you're a part of it.