After working for nine weeks in Menlo Park, I returned home to San Diego for the last month of summer. My internship had been slow and a bit lonely, and I was ecstatic to be returning to a month with my family. It would be my first extended trip home since I began college last fall, and I wanted to suck the proverbial marrow from my unstructured time with the people I’d grown to miss with a dull ache, a back-of-mind longing for home.
I drove the eight hours back to my house and was greeted by my family and a few other things: new plastic cups in the cabinet, my books moved from my room to my parent’s bookshelf and a new insistence that all food be quickly cleaned up and carefully wrapped, since the house was now under periodic attack by garden ants.
Once I’d hit my few nostalgic landmarks — the beach, my favorite consignment store, the local Starbucks — life quickly reverted to normal. My days were filled with folding laundry, reading, playing frisbee with my siblings in the backyard, covertly discussing my brother’s college application process with my mother and driving my sister to soccer practice. I spent one afternoon killing about 200 ants who’d come in through a crack in the kitchen wall.
After many months at Stanford, I had forgotten what it was like to be at home. I realized that perhaps the most striking difference between my life in high school and my life at Stanford is domestic. That is, at Stanford, my only chores involve doing laundry every other week and occasionally vacuuming my room or taking out the trash. I check my PO box about once every three weeks and have to restock shampoo every other month. There are no dishes to wash, no grocery runs to make, no dogs to walk or siblings to be driven to sporting events. Stanford removes the domesticity from our lives, allowing us to hyper-saturate our time with academic, extracurricular and social endeavors. Your life inevitably moves faster when you don’t have to spend half an hour cutting meat and vegetables for dinner.
You would think, given the lightning pace of life at Stanford, that I would have loved the slow routine of home life. I certainly thought so as I anticipated my trip home. But despite how much I’d been longing for the lazy afternoons and access to a fully-stocked kitchen of home, domestic life quickly grew boring. Sixteen-hour days stretched ahead of me, and I struggled to fill them with reading, cooking and running errands. Moreover, after such an intellectually and socially stimulating year at Stanford, domestic life suddenly felt trivial. Loading the dishwasher, while necessary, lacked the excitement and importance of learning microeconomic theory or writing for a newspaper. Stanford taught me — or misled me — to believe that each day can be a 16-hour marathon of classes, jobs and friends. At a quarter of that pace, I felt restless.
Going home and experiencing the tedium of domestic life, while unexciting, did provide me with important perspective on my life at Stanford. During my freshman year, I would often daydream about a life with no responsibilities, spent reading and cooking and strolling through a park all afternoon. I longed for a respite from the eight-to-eleven grind that Stanford imposes. But after a month at home, I’ve come to appreciate that grind for its excitement, intellectual stimulation, community and variety. Life at Stanford is difficult, but there’s also a certain joy and energy in the pace of life here. So, while I’m young and driven, I should appreciate the dizzying speed of life at Stanford, knowing the alternative has its own challenges.
My month at home also taught me to be more grateful for the people at Stanford who take on the domestic burden for us — the dining hall workers, the janitorial staff and the many thousands who restock the printers, sweep the sidewalks and perform all of the often unseen tasks that allow us to dedicate our time to other pursuits. It also made me grateful for my own mother, who has spent so many thousands of hours doing the unseen work that has allowed me to focus on my education. Each day, dozens of people do the domestic work of our lives so that we don’t have to; without them, none of us would succeed at Stanford.
Someday, I know I’ll be ready to return to a slower pace of life, with domestic life taking up a large portion of the day. But for now, I’m grateful to move through the world at this pace, with my mind focused on learning and meeting people instead of considering how to most efficiently kill a swarm of ants.
Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.