From your friendly neighborhood commuter
My mother is a 5 foot 2 inch Indian woman and I’m her only child. This statement alone should speak volumes about our relationship. To compensate for my lack of siblings, at times she acts like my older sister. At times when I’m overwhelmed with life and a bit lost (as one is inevitably bound to be in their early 20’s), she acts as my guide and greatest comfort. Somehow, she’s also managed to find the right balance of being my best friend and my greatest annoyance and even a few times what seems to be my arch nemesis. How a single person can encapsulate so many different roles and keep them all at various steady states is simply beyond me. It also shows that parenting is very much an art and a full time job.
As a woman and an immigrant, society has not given my mother any favors. Like the majority of the incredibly strong women in my family, she’s had to kick some serious ass and is one of the hardest working people I know (trust me, raising me was no vacation). My mother had undoubtedly learned these qualities at an early age but they were definitely put to the test as she set out to fulfill the “American Dream” (whatever that may mean now) with my father. In her 5 foot 2 inch frame, my mother carries herself like Shaquille O’Neal. Her shoe size may be 5.5 but she leaves footprints that could be mistaken for those of an NBA All-star. She has a warmth and confidence about her that is bound to bring a smile to the face of anyone who interacts with her. But as her kid, she was also the judge and jury in my household with her blue Chevy Malibu being her courtroom. For anyone that doesn’t know, the Chevy Malibu is a car that screams “I’m a parent but I’m too cool for a minivan”. Car rides with my mom were often the time she’d take out of her day to painfully analyze the variety of stupid decisions I used to and still make. I knew upon entry through the passenger door that if my mother was speaking in English or Hindi then our interaction would be rather civil. But if at any point my mother started to speak in Punjabi, I knew I was in for a full fledged bar fight.
But standing at a mighty 5 foot 2 inches didn’t particularly help my mom in her role as the disciplinarian. Imagine a courtroom for an example. You’ve got your plaintiff’s table, your defendants table and your jury box that are roughly at the same height. But the judge’s bench in comparison is significantly higher. The judge literally looks down on everyone and makes a decision. This was very much our relationship till the age of around 12-13. My mother would tower over my skinny four foot something self, make the meanest face she could make and bring me to swift justice — no trial or deliberation needed. Considering this, puberty pushing me over the height of 5’ 2’’ may have been one of the highlights of my early adolescent life. It’s as if the defendant now has a bench that’s taller than the judges - compromising the height difference that is integral to our justice system! And like any comic book villain with an epic origin story— at 5’ 3’’, my newfound sense of tallness gave me license to wreak havoc in middle school. This set off a long-standing back and forth between my mother and I of me making very stupid decisions and my mother somehow always being one step ahead of me and catching me within the act.
Fast forward a whole decade to now, if you’re taking classes from home and living with your parents and particularly if you’re a freshman — reading this may not make you feel any better about your current living situation. But take it from a seasoned vet who’s commuted to campus for the last three years now — it’s not as bad as everyone thinks it is. Yes, I understand that living with your parents as a 21 year old isn’t a particularly attractive quality but hear me out. I’ve had the luxury of going to college in my hometown. I’m on campus for the majority of the day and to get home I take a Bursley - Baits and walk 10 minutes. Therefore, as a sophomore when I told my very Indian father about my idea of living with my friends in a house on campus I was met with a confused reaction. I was sternly reminded of how he immigrated to the United States not even dreaming that he’d end up owning a house in Ann Arbor and now I was asking him to pay for a second place in the same city? It was one of the rare times you see a person’s blood pressure rise visibly.
At the time I had my concerns. I mean I had lived in the dorms during my freshman year and was afraid of missing out on an essential college experience. Sure living away from home meant that I went from finding texts from my mother “annoying” to actively trying to call her when I could. But moving back in with them? I had done four years of high school and who wants to do that again? Whenever an adult tells me that they wish they could go back to high school, I promptly remind them that it didn’t get any better. But what I overlooked is the ability for relationships to change. If there’s anything that the 300 page Khan academy MCAT psychology/sociology review document taught me, it's that the cerebrum — the part of your brain that is responsible for actions such as critical thinking and decision making — is far from fully developed during adolescence. Therefore, as a high schooler dealing with classes, hormones and trying to do every extracurricular out there to make your college resume special, some things are bound to just not stick. For me this was often the many conversations that my mother and I would have in her Chevy Malibu. Sure, some of those were about academics, but most of them were about growing as a person.
I can guarantee that your relationship with your parents will not be the same as it was under the angsty pretenses of high school. Mine certainly isn’t the “catch me if you can” type of game that my mother and I have been playing from the ages of 13 through 18. In fact, many of those conversations from my mother’s Malibu have really started to resonate with me and have become an important part of my identity as I’ve gone through college. I’ve been truly blessed to have the best of both worlds of being from the town that I go to college in. I’ve been able to have my freedom and grow as an individual by being on campus while also keeping myself grounded with where I’m from. Continuously learning invaluable lessons from my parents about growing up and being an adult (responsible or not — the jury’s still out on that one). Take it from your now very boomer sounding friend, give your parents a chance. I promise they’re not as hopeless as you think they are.