When I was a little girl, I often told my parents very seriously that I wanted to live with them forever. They would laugh and shake their heads. “You’ll change your mind, Meggie,” they told me. I was confused. Where else would I possibly want to live? They were the best. My house was the best. Plus, all my Barbies were there.
Then time did its thing. I stopped closing my eyes when the guy kissed the girl at the end of the movie. I got braces. I started wearing makeup. I got my driver’s license.
I grew up. And they were right. I changed my mind.
I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately as I’m teetering on the verge of graduation. We’re talking cap and gown ordered, dinner reservations made for the big day, future looming casually in the distance. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. But as I’m working out my next steps and making plans, I often find myself daydreaming about being a kid again.
Suddenly I’m reliving the mundane pleasures of 8-year-old me: making up dances with my girlfriends at recess, annoying my brother just to get him to chase me around the house, staying out late in the summer playing hide-and-seek tag in the dark. I miss field trips, slumber parties, and school supplies. I miss coming home from school, watching Disney Channel, and writing about my third-grade crush in my diary. “He looked at me today. It was awesome.”
I miss it all.
I had a very happy childhood, and I know I’m lucky to be able to say that. Even though I’m grateful for where I am today, sometimes I still think, “Man, I’d give anything to be little again.” It usually happens right after I have to call to schedule my own dentist appointments.
It’s weird how sometimes when you’re about to take a step forward you get this rush of mushy, lovey-dovey feelings for the past. It’s like all of a sudden the last few years transform into the opening credits of Friends. A happy-go-lucky song plays while a montage of laughable, tender moments tumbles through your head.
It’s called nostalgia, and it can make you feel happy and sad at the same time. It almost makes you want to forget moving forward. Almost.
Recently in my art theory class, my teacher gave us a mini etymology lesson over the word nostalgia. He said it could be broken down into two parts: nostos meaning “to return home” and algia “an ache.”
Nostalgia: an ache to return home.
“Oh my gosh I have that!” I thought, as if I’d been trying to verbalize my symptoms for quite some time. I was teary eyed last Christmas as I realized it would be one of the last times I’d be full-on living at my house and not just visiting. I felt nostalgic for my childhood. I had an ache to return home, but there I was…at home.
Being a college student sometimes feels like belonging in two different places- at home and at school- without belonging completely to one. It’s like you’re in two clubs, but the meetings always overlap so you can’t fully participate in both. My house has always been just an hour away if I need a mom fix or a non-microwaved meal. But after starting college, being home home has never quite felt the same. Sure my house has changed. The walls have been re-painted. The trees have grown. My mom decked out our living room. (Seriously, it looks like a Pottery Barn catalogue. You go, Mom.) But mostly what has changed is me.
That’s the weird part about growing up and feeling nostalgic for the past. You can’t go back. Not because the place you miss has changed but because you have.
So here’s a PSA for anyone who gets a little weepy when nostalgia creeps in. It’s possible to be happy with the way things are and miss the way things were at the same time. It’s okay to miss the past as long as you don’t miss the present as a result.
The best way to do that is to keep the good flowing. Fill your life with things that make you happy. Take chances. Keep your inner kiddo alive. Don’t give up on your goals. It’s your job to make the present as amazing as you can so that the past isn’t the only place you want to be.
In the end, missing your childhood or feeling nostalgic for a moment in your life, is a bittersweet blessing.
It means you’ve got a collection of memories you love so much that sometimes you wish you could relive them. But you’re moving forward. And forward feels pretty good too.