It’s been about two weeks since I left home and moved to Princeton, and almost every day my mother has called me, or I’ve called her. Each conversation begins with the same small talk. Is it hot there? (Yes). Are you eating enough? (Yes). Are you making friends? (Working on it). People will eventually realize you’re a nice person. (Thanks…?). And then once she’s run through her roster of questions, she starts to give advice. Keep your room clean. (I know). Ask your roommate if you can go grocery shopping with her next week, I won’t be there to take you. (I know, I will). If you ever need anything, I have a friend who lives in New Jersey, you can always call them – do you need their phone number? (No, I’m fine). Usually, by this time I begin to get impatient with an overload maternal coddling (or whatever it is), and I’ll start to give cues that I’m ready for the conversation to end. Audible sighs, curt responses, repeating myself (Ok, ok, ok, ok…). Passive aggressive maybe, but she knows me well enough to know what I mean. At that point, she says, “Ok, I’m sure you’re busy. If that’s it, I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Bye” If I’m still in a fine mood, I say “bye.” Usually, I just hang up.
Yesterday, I called my father for the first time since leaving home. My mother and brother were in NYC, leaving him at home alone. I didn’t have much to say to him, but I just wanted to say hi. I thought he might have been lonely. Or bored. Even when I lived at home, we never conversed much, except for the occasional scientific chit chat. Our conversation was brief. Mostly, I reassured him that I had settled in well, and that I had a good impression of Princeton so far. He said he was glad and repeated my mother’s advice to eat well and stay healthy. His stuttering was worse than I remembered, and I had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said. Maybe it was poor phone reception, but most likely not. He said he had been feeling better recently, but I couldn’t tell from the way he spoke. I underestimated the communicative power of eye contact and lip reading.