According to my mother, I was not a very difficult child, but I had my moments of being difficult. The story she always gives as an example of one of those moments is from when I was two years old and spent the night away from my parents for the first time. They were going to a wedding, so they dropped me and my older brother off at my grandparents’. I put up a bit of a fight when they tried to leave, but ultimately they succeeded.
When they came to pick us up the next day, they walked in ready to hug me and my brother. But I apparently just glared at them, turned around and walked away. Like many sassy two-year-olds before me, I had happened upon the art of giving the cold shoulder.
I told that story to one of my friends on a video call the other day, and I think the nostalgia that lingered after that conversation is a large part of what led to a sudden and giant wave of homesickness later that night. My friend had sent me a picture of his dog, which made me think about petting my dog, which then made me think about hugging my mom, which brought me to tears.
I was surprised by that. I’ve never been one to get choked up over every little sentimental thing. While hugging my mom is certainly wonderful and not just a little thing, the mere thought of it has never before elicited such a visceral response.
However, although I don’t often feel homesickness as acutely as I did that night, homesickness is not new to me. When I went to sleepaway camp as a kid, I missed the creature comforts of home, such as good food, wifi and AC. When I first got to Hopkins and hadn’t yet found my place, I missed the familiarity of home. When I’ve had an especially stressful few weeks at school, I’ve longed for the relaxation of breaks spent at home. Given that my hometown is the lively city of New York, the Hopkins bubble can often feel dull in comparison.
And I always miss my family, just not necessarily in a way that I feel like I actually need to be around them all the time.
None of that was what was making me homesick, though. Even as I cried, I couldn’t really pinpoint what I felt sad about, if I even felt sad at all. There is, of course, a certain sadness that comes from not being able to hug my parents, pet my dog or even live in a real house instead of a (lovably) janky apartment. But I’ve always viewed that matter-of-factly. And I normally only get homesick to the point I did that night when I’m upset about whatever my present situation is, when I want to escape it and retreat to the safe haven of home.
But I’m not trying to escape anything right now (except maybe the pandemic, but that’s inescapably everywhere...). School feels fake enough that I can only be so stressed about it, I have enough creature comforts and can cook well in my own apartment and I’m happy living by myself in Baltimore. I wasn’t upset, so why was I crying at just the thought of hugging my mom?
I don’t think it was just that I was feeling nostalgic, though I’m sure that opened the door a little wider. Maybe my tears subconsciously had something to do with the stressful contexts surrounding my being in Baltimore this semester.
One is that I had acclimated to the New York pandemic lifestyle and totally had to readjust when I got to Baltimore. New York and Baltimore are super different in terms of my living situation, the people I’m able to see and the states’ reopening policies. Another is that coming back to Baltimore was the result of a difficult, deliberate decision instead of the thoughtless necessity it would’ve been in a non-pandemic semester. Those are both overwhelming facets of a still-incomprehensible situation.
Maybe it had something to do with how I have two cities I love to live in, but the laws of time and space will never allow me to be in either of them as much as I want. (Science is very rude that way.) This is something I’ve grappled with since I first moved to Baltimore, but right now it’s amplified because the riskiness of traveling during the pandemic makes me feel more cut off from the city I’m not in.
The answer I want to settle on though, and the one that I think is most true, is that I was just so stricken by how much I love hugging my mom, how much I love my family, how much I love my home, that it moved me — me, who’s not a sentimental crier — to tears. I feel so fortunate to have these things, even at a distance right now, even in the midst of a pandemic. And I think that’s a vast improvement from the ungrateful, indignant two-year-old who gave her parents the cold shoulder.
Sophia Lola is a junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars. She is a Magazine Editor and Assistant Copy Editor for The News-Letter. Her column, Inch by Inch, explores personal growth, whether it comes an inch or a mile at a time.