When my mom’s grey car pulled up to Toyon this past Friday, my aunt with her in the front seat, it was as if “Family Weekend” had become family weekend—something more comfortable and familiar and not Stanford-ordained, something in front of me instead of just blocked off on my schedule. They had made the 365-mile, six-hour drive from Los Angeles, leaving at 6 in the morning to make it here when my classes ended at noon. Hugs and kisses exchanged, embarrassing nicknames (e.g. “Manda-Banana”) said out loud in person for the first time in months. It was like my Los Angeles home had uprooted itself and followed me here, and was now somehow a part of Stanford.
Last year, when my family couldn’t come visit, I was surprised to hear that most of my friends whose families did visit spent the bulk of their time off-campus. Eager to get away for a few hours and pop the Stanford bubble, they drove around Palo Alto and neighboring cities.
Because my aunt had never been to campus before, I decided to become a tour guide. We spent a fair amount of time on campus exploring. “And this is where I go to study, but only when it’s rainy … The coffee here is really good … This is where the Stanford Prison Experiment was held,” and so on.
The next day, after going from Cantor to Green Library to Lathrop (stopping at the various fountains along the way, of course), we found ourselves quickly eating brunch at Stern before sprinting to a lecture at Cubberly Auditorium. The rushing from event to event (without a bike) assured me that my mom and aunt got a glimpse of my true Stanford experience, one that involves running across campus, crossing my fingers that I won’t be late.
Even though there were papers to be written and meetings to be had afterwards, there was something rejuvenating about having “family” and “weekend” merge for a few days, when weekends are usually reserved for friends or long-form essays.
It reminded me of how when many of my peers and I first came here, moved into our dorms freshman year and started NSO and classes, we might have been eager to leave home, excited by the space, to get away and begin a new part of our lives. And now, when we get our families in these small doses, we are confronted with that growth, as if we were this tall when we left to Stanford and now, we are several inches taller. Maybe many of us needed space away from our families in order for us to both grow into ourselves and grow up. I came to see that this weekend.
The School of Life writes, “Often without realizing it, we are being heavily controlled by our families. Controlled not by harsh words but by something far more poignant and yet far harder to extricate ourselves from: by our ongoing desire to be a good child, to please those who brought us into this world, by love.”
This, to me at least, makes sense. We are different around our families; maybe we act younger than we usually do, reverting to some child-like state to absorb their love, or maybe we demand adult-to-adult respect from them now, seeing as we might want them to finally view us as independent individuals. Seeing the way my friends acted around their families—what they did and did not say, which hidden mannerisms were unearthed—showed me that maybe what makes “going to college” so transformative is the actual “going.”
In a different article, the School of Life writes, “Traditionally, family trees didn’t just exist to tell people about themselves. They were public objects intended to convey to strangers what they needed to know about us.” While my family went on tours and attended lectures, I spent my few hours of free time working outside, people-watching intermittently while working on a paper and saw that this also rang true.
From watching people interact with their families, I saw what that sort of “family tree” might describe—things that perhaps usually go unseen by the families themselves. It made me think that, maybe by watching the way a friend’s mom goes about unloading the car, for example, we can learn something about how your friend might go about tackling a problem set—if they do it all at once, or prefer to do it in multiple rounds. In many ways, seeing a person’s family means seeing their context; it can point to which actions or proclivities or traits have been transferred and summed up to “make up” that friend.
Writing this as my family drives back to Los Angeles, I wonder how those traits will have morphed by the time the next Family Weekend rolls around, what will have changed in that time—365 miles later or 365 days later.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu