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Calling Home

W. Victoria Lee

As busy MIT students, everyone on campus must have some sort of checklist or to-do list. It might be a neatly written out page in the organizer, it might be a wrinkled piece of paper with scribbled notes, or it might be a mental list of items that must be done before a certain time. What’s on the list is not hard to imagine. Problem sets are by far the most frequent items to appear on the list (and let’s hope the amount is always a finite number and the due date is not always the next day). Studying for exams is probably another regular visitor. Labs and UROPs come in next, swallowing up the rest of the time devoted to academic exercise. Next to these three heavyweights, extracurricular activities, artistic involvements, and sports occupy most of the rest of the space on the list. Then there are miscellaneous items such as doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, filling out applications, and working that fill in the tiny gaps between the big items on the list.

Now that we have talked about what is on the list, let’s think about what is not on the list. I don’t know about the rest of the student population, but I generally don’t put “hang out with friends” or “play computer games” on the list. I also don’t expect anyone to put eating or sleeping on the list. These are the things that we just do and that we don’t need to be reminded of. But what about calling home? Should we put this item on the list or do we do it without being reminded?

After chatting with people about their lives for a while, one soon discovers that the freshman’s weekly (if not daily) routine usually includes calling (or receiving calls from) parents. This is hardly surprising. For freshmen, this is probably the first time living far away from home. For freshman parents, this is probably their first time being separated from their children for a considerably long period of time. Therefore, it is natural that the parents will call to ask how everything is going and that the students will call home to alleviate some homesickness. But this scenario changes rapidly as time passes. As soon as school work, extracurricular activities, and sports start to pile up, one finds less and less time to call home and chat with parents. Parents also gradually learn to let go with time. And as soon as one gets used to the college life and has fun with new friends, calling home seems so trivial and unnecessary.

Indeed, many upperclassmen I have talked to say they call home way less often than they should. Of course, there are some who have not had very close relationships with their parents and not calling home probably just means less arguments and fights for them to handle. But for those who have had close or even just okay relationships with their parents, isn’t it a great loss to let the connection run thin with the distance?

It is true that college is a period in life when we learn to become independent and when we are truly transformed from kids to adults with various responsibilities. It might seem that what is important is what is right in front of us. Our schoolwork is important. Our jobs are important. Our outside activities are important. Our friends are important. Sooner or later each of us learns to see MIT as our home and the MIT community as our family. The home we left behind is where we go for Thanksgiving holiday, for winter breaks, and, if we are not too busy with UROP or internships, for two weeks of summer vacations.

It is very possible that the generation gap makes it hard for our parents to “understand” us, and so our relationships with them might not be as close as the relationships we have with our friends. But we still can not forget the times our dads taught us how to ride a bike, gave us piggy-back rides, or took us to ball games, and the times our moms took out the Christmas cookies from the oven, blew on our knees while they put on bandages, and pushed our hair back and kissed us good-night. While it is entirely possible that some of our parents did not do any of these, as parents they must have done something, (most recently, making our college education possible,) that deserves us calling them more often than we do now. Our busy lives pave a future path so wide and bright that sometimes while walking on it we seem to forget the roads that we have already walked and those who have walked them with us.

I’m not trying to be cheesy and to promote home-calling with a punch-line or as a public service announcement. I guess what I am trying to say is, sparing ten or twenty minutes to call home would not be a bad idea tonight.