The Cavalier Daily
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Coping with unfamiliar family life

I HAVE heard people say that the only constant in this world is change. But when it comes to the constants of childhood--the way things were when you were a kid--change is as welcome a houseguest as your Aunt Edna, who can't stop pinching your cheeks as if you were five years old.

Most students go to college with the knowledge of looming adulthood, but take the strong stance that they will not be shaken from the foundations that make up who they are.

Meanwhile, students sporadically keep in touch with their families. Each phone call home reminds you that your family is always going to be there--and be there exactly the way you left them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While you are far away dealing with the trials and tribulations of college life, your family is changing, not always for the better, and you can't see it. I know my family did, and the shock still is wearing off.

Now I am not saying that anyone in my family went off the deep end or ended up behind bars, but I couldn't help but think that some of the things that happened were due to my absence and in some way were my fault.

I'll start with my siblings, a younger sister and brother. This was my sister's junior year in high school and her first year without me there to guide her.

Of course while I was in high school, she did most everything that I did. She was a cheerleader, she wanted to be on the school newspaper, and she hung out with a certain crowd that was reminiscent of the gang from "Beverly Hills, 90210." And I, of course, thought she was happy.

But after I left, she stopped doing all the activities she had before, and lost interest in the picture-perfect crowd that had once been the center of her social universe.

How could this be? She wasn't the same shy kid that I had known for 15 years. While I was off basking in the glow of college freedom, she had become a real teenager who wanted to experiment with certain forbidden substances, chase guys and run with the wrong crowd. Now that I think about it, who she became was a natural progression, and not the product of my not being there. But it was, nonetheless, hard to deal with.

And don't even get me started on my little brother. He became a teenager mid-way through my first year at the University and the onset of his puberty is throwing me more out-of-whack than my own did. He doesn't let me hug him anymore and incessantly tries to act cool, especially in front of his soccer team buddies. His mannerisms are looking more like my dad's every day, and the little guy spends more time than I do on his hair in the morning.

He will be in high school next year and it's hard to think that I won't be there to help him. I have tried to embrace the young man that he is becoming, but I can't quite let go of the little boy that he will always be to me.

And as if I didn't have enough to deal with, my parents just became weird. Maybe I had just become inured to their oddities while living with them for 18 years, but when I came home from my first year at school, the crazy things that were normal to them seemed to jump out at me from every place possible.

I guess you do start shrinking with old age because everything about my dad has gotten smaller--his appetite, his clothes and him (I finally surpassed him in height this year). He also revived my childhood nickname and proceeds to use it whenever he can, even in public. Being called "Peanut" is cute for a while at 19 but it gets old pretty quick.

My mom has always been cool to talk to, especially about all those touchy teenage subjects, but I think I am justified in saying that it makes me a little uncomfortable when she reminds me about all those calories that are in beer.

To ease my transition back to family life, my mother also lets me go about my business pretty much unchecked while I am at home, which took some getting used to. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that my parents didn't fall at the other end of the spectrum. I do feel for all those kids that have parents whose control tactics are a close second to the KGB.

But to sum it all up, I wrote this column for all those college students who think that their families have changed or will change without them. In the midst of freaking out about my brother's inevitable facial hair, I realized that I wasn't the same person either.

First year is a giant step toward adulthood and what we must realize is that life changes everyone at the same rate. We become closer to our parents and our siblings become closer to us. I still want to hold on to my life before college, though. I guess it's okay if my dad calls me "Peanut" once in a while.

(Erin Perucci is a rising second-year College student. She is an associate editor for The Cavalier Daily.)

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