One day soon, you may find yourself packing up your collection of Ollivanders wands into a traveling satchel and preparing to go off to college. You may find yourself returning home at mid-semester break to find your childhood bedroom turned into a deluxe cat palace. You may lose your first pet; your family may move interstate; your parents may divorce; you may be visited by a tall wizard who tells you there is a role you must play in the fight against evil. However it happens, one day you will have to leave home, and it will be the haaaardest thing you’ve ever done.
If you’re lucky, you had one of those childhoods populated by ham costumes, Humpty Dumpty birthday cakes, and awkward family holiday photos. Even though you are excited about getting some independence (and then spending that independence making forts with your future roommates), you don’t ~entirely~ want to hang up the ham costume. Looking ahead, the steps that lead away from your parents/home/childhood feel massive.
This was me. My family is like a group hug between five Paul Rudds, and my first steps out into the world were a bit timid: I lived at home through college, the perfect Peter Pan sitch, because why would I want to leave? I cruised along not trying terribly hard at university, or at a career. Then I fell in love with a dumb American (he’s the best!) and accidentally moved to the other side of the world permanently (I took a chance on love! I really did!). That’s when it all got real.
When I lived at home in Australia, “Land Down Under” by Men at Work was a cheesy song that had nothing to do with my life; now I’m 10,000 miles away, it’s a stirring paean to homesickness. Show me a packet of Monte Carlo biscuits and I am liable to break out a piano accordion and sing a forlorn sea shanty. Leaving home is hard! It’s not something you necessarily get over—when you boil it down, The Lord of the Rings is basically 500,000 words about how much Sam misses the Shire. Sea shanties aside, I’ve learned a few things that will help you undock your little boats and sail out into the terrifying reaches of the Grown World without barfing quite as much, and without being taken over by pirates. Here be some nuggets of wisdom, my mateys.
There are no highs without the lows.
As Augustus Waters noted, you cannot be a rollercoaster that only goes up. I mean he’s right in terms of physics, but emotionally you know it’s true. It’s the fact your days are numbered that makes those days epic. If you want the great moments—the major kiss, the new best friend, the Triwizard Cup—you have to risk something or lose something. Don’t fear the sadness, which is always always temporary. Leaving the people you love can hurt like buggery, but it will make you appreciate them 1000 times more. Having to work to keep your friendships robust through care packages, Skype sessions, post cards, texts, and heavily doctored photo books (photoshop a Hemsworth next to you guys in every photo! It’s never not funny!) will make your friendships stronger as you realize this really *is* a BFF. After every tragically awful boyfriend comes a heroically wonderful boyfriend. You need one to appreciate the other.
Everyone is homesick sometimes.
No one talks about being homesick, I’m not sure why—let’s be honest, we are all one fan montage away from climbing the nearest radio tower and sobbing, “IT’S GOING BY TOO FAST! LIFE IS GOING TOO FAST!” into the wind. I lived in a share house once where all of us slept on air beds to save money, and the only dinnerware we had was a free Captain Crunch bowl each so we never had to wash up anyone else’s rubbish—it was the least homey place of all time and I’m pretty sure that inside we were all broken patio furniture, emotionally, but we pretended like it was Barbie’s Malibu mansion made real.
The beautiful thing about living in a depressing dump is that when you go home, you will be dazzled by your parents’ full set of silverware, and the endless varieties of peanut butter in the pantry. More importantly, you will realize what amazing housemates your parents are (what kind of weirdo makes someone else’s bed?!). Looking around at the home they built for you and your siblings, at the treasured photos they have chosen to hang on the wall, you will begin to truly see your parents as people, and feel sudden regret for the time your incense burner caught the curtains on fire. You will begin to actually make the most of these winning people.
If you’re suffering a furious bout of homesickness, the best thing you can do is remember the good times, and try to build a home wherever you are (that was basically the entire point of Samwise’s cumbersome cooking spices, if you’ve forgotten the time he almost killed Frodo chasing that little wooden box off a cliff). But building a home takes years; college and your early twenties are a tempest of constant moves and partners and jobs and friends and cities; it’s a hell of a ride, but while you wait to get things figured out, you have the Slanket.
BOY THIS OCEAN BREEZE IS MISTY TODAY (I’m not crying).
In 1999, Tasmanian teenager Jesse “Lionheart” Martin sailed solo around the world. In the video diary he kept of the voyage, he spent ~most~ of the Pacific Ocean bawling his eyes out in terror as monster waves tossed the yacht about. The voyage is HARD. Remember this if you find yourself bursting into tears over a burned Pop Tart in the dorm one day. (Not a crier? Watch these clips of baby Ed Sheeran. Now you are.) As a stunted emotional potato, I recommend taking in a movie you know will “loosen the sinuses” once in a while. Chop some onions. Stare into the propellers of a jet plane. Let the tears out. It will help.
Send an S.O.S. if you have to!
If you find yourself in the doldrums, miles from home, it’s okay to tap out a distress call. If you don’t have the words to express your inexplicable down-in-the-dumps-edness, text your mom a *chin wobble* verbmoji or a gif of a Claire Danes cry face. If you can’t get home, it’s quite possible someone can send a rescue boat to you.
When I was eight, my dad drove home in a new car in time to take us to a production of West Side Story. Climbing in, I barfed spontaneously all over the backseat. It was my very first distress call: a rush of edible lava that said, “This isn’t the family car, this is an impostor! WHAT DID YOU DO WITH OUR FAMILY CAR!” And to my parent’s credit, my concerns were tended to.
You have to have heart to take the voyage.
Good thoughts and happy memories are what will keep you going through the rough patches (also: lembas bread), and the worst thing you can do is stop trying or hole yourself up in the cabin. As long as you’re on deck, you can be proactive about meeting new people, reaching out for help, pushing yourself toward your goals, and experimenting with nautical stripes. You know those crowdfunders for the person who wants to unicycle across America, or swim to Cuba, or run to Alaska chased by a swarm of bees? Those people get a lot of credit for their courage and heart, but it frankly takes just as much heroism to leave high school and chart a course on your own through a world of unknowns. What you’re doing is amazing, epic stuff, and it is going to give you a tan and make your biceps huge (okay, no). The more you experience, both good and bad—the more you take your little heart out of its packaging and get it dirty—the more you’ll understand how other people feel, and the deeper the connections you’ll make. One day, you’ll emerge as Gandalf the White (okay, sure, no).
Realize that nothing lasts forever.
NOT EVEN EVERLASTING GOBSTOPPERS. If you love your life right now, know that it’s going to change. If you hate it, next semester could be an entirely different story. Sometimes you just need to hold on and the scenery will shift; other times you just need to space jump into the next phase. You are always moving, and you always have the opportunity to change course. One day, you will have a sort-of stable life again, and a place you plan on staying for a while, and you will FINALLY be able to get that British shorthair you have had your heart set on.
From the safety of the couch that you own, in the apartment you rent, wedged between Poppet the British shorthair and Teddy the Perfect Boyfriend, you’ll be able to see your brand new home.
HAVE YOU FELT A LITTLE BIT ADRIFT OR DO YOU WORRY ABOUT HAVING TO LEAVE HOME? SHARE YOUR TIPS AND THOUGHTS AND SEA SHANTIES BELOWWWW!
Sparkitor note: I die for Meg Rennie’s paper-cut animation! Do you just die for it?!