I left for my year abroad in Paris at the end of August. The night before I left home, I said goodnight to my siblings, Katie and Will. Though I wasn’t planning on it, I made both of them cry. Yes, even my macho baby brother who just started high school last week.
Leaving my family was hard for me, especially after such a wonderful summer. I told my siblings that even though I was hugging them goodnight for the last time in a long time, saying goodbye to them and to our family isn’t easy for me.
For each of them, I had examples to prove this. I was 14 years old when I left my family for the first time for boarding school in California. It was the right choice for me, and I thrived at my school and established my own little family out west, including some of the people I call my best friends today.
But 14 is young, and I missed my family, especially my little brother. My sister had left for college already, and with me gone it was just him and my parents at home. I think secretly he liked the attention, but I know he was lonely and that he missed me. He was only 9 when I left.
There is one memory I have of him from my years in California that I reminded him of before I left just a couple of weeks ago. It was 2008; I was 15 and he had just turned 10 and I came home briefly before my flight back to California after being in Washington D.C. for President Obama’s first inauguration.
I only had a few hours at home to spend with Will, but he was under the impression I had come home for longer. When I went downstairs to our basement to say goodbye to him, he had set up Mario Kart on the Wii and had gotten two bottles of our favorite soda from the outside fridge and had set them up along with our favorite candy. He was so excited.
When I came downstairs and saw all of this, without my needing to tell him, he knew I had to leave. Even at age 10, it was hard for him to cry in front of me, so he didn’t.
I hugged him and he didn’t follow me up the stairs or to the car where my mom was waiting to drive me to the airport. I cried the whole plane ride long, and still the image of my little brother sitting alone in the basement with two clementine-flavored Izze bottles and Sour-Patch Watermelon candy is seared into my brain.
The next time I left home for a new place was when I was 17 years old and headed to college in upstate New York, luckily closer to my family than my high school was. I was nervous, but I had my whole family come help me move in. My mom and sister did the brunt of the labor. There were drawers and bookshelves, a mini fridge, and more clothes than I would care to admit. But they plugged away, and the two of them spent the whole day helping me make a little home for myself.
I was less than helpful and too bossy. I was stressed about going to a new school, and college still seemed daunting. After everything was in its place in my new room, it was time to say goodbye to my family. I said goodbye to my sister last. Before hugging me, she pulled out a heaping bag full of things she had collected as gifts for me. She baked me my favorite cookies, bought me the softest socks, and thought of her most treasured books to share with me.
When they left, though I missed my family, I could only think of how thoughtful my sister was to take time out of her own busy college life not only to be a part of this day with me, but dedicate herself to making sure I was happy. I cried that night because of my caring sister, and how grateful I was to have her then, and still I am grateful now.
I reminded her of this that night before I left for Paris. When I left Newark Airport for Charles de Gaulle a month ago next Tuesday, it didn’t seem that different from when I left home at 14, and then again when I was 17, but I knew then and I know now that it was.
In just a little over a week I will celebrate my 20th birthday here with my new friends in France. I will have to say goodbye to my teenage years, and I am sad to do so. I am away from my family, yet again, but I’m older now. Come next week I will no longer be able to call myself the “Suburban Teen.”
I was 13 years old when I started the column, and in my first piece I wrote about role models as I tried to keep my head above water in the first year of high school.
What I know now about role models is that they aren’t so hard to find after all; in fact they are very close to the home and heart. Role models don’t have to be celebrities; they can be your little brother who has grown into an amazing young man before your eyes and even when you are away. Role models can be your older sister who shows you kindness even when you don’t deserve it.
I know my role models will always include my parents, who have given me opportunities and have made me a better person, and who have put up with me through my teenage years. I still have no idea where my life will take me and what I will do in the future, and this new frontier of adulthood makes me a little nervous.
But I have my role models and I know where I come from, and something that I didn’t know when I was 13 is that I have myself, too. Having faith in my family and myself is all I’ll ever need. I’ve learned so much these past seven years. Thank you for letting me be the Suburban Teen and for sharing these years with me.