When my friends at Northwestern ask me why I'm not going home for Thanksgiving, I tell them that it just doesn't make sense. Airfares to New York are expensive, money is a little tight right now and I'll be coming home two weeks later anyway. They understand.
And so do I. When I chose Northwestern over Syracuse, I knew I was also choosing my dream school over coming home for certain holidays, birthdays and the occasional weekend. My parents would love if I could take a train home, and they know that I would love it too, but Northwestern was worth the sacrifice. They understand.
But all the understanding in the world doesn't make up for what I miss when I spend Thanksgiving in Evanston instead of New York. It doesn't replace sharing a huge meal with my family, stuffing my face and watching football on a big, cushy couch until I pass out. Nor does it replace fending off questions from Grandma about girlfriends, explaining the finer points of politics to my parents or chasing my little cousins around our neighborhood park until their cheeks turn rosy red and my hands start to stiffen up from the cold. Norman Rockwell would have a field day following me.
Now, it's not like I've spent the past two years moping around Evanston, wandering aimlessly for things to do and crying into a Chipotle burrito bowl after Skyping with my parents. I did go home for Thanksgiving freshman year thanks to a convenient mistake my dad made buying airplane tickets. We hosted the dinner at my house, and the whole family came by to celebrate. But after an exhausting week at school and a questionable O'Hare ham sandwich, I spent almost the entire day in bed waiting to feel like a human being again.
I did spend last year at school, but I celebrated Thanksgiving with my roommate who lives in Chicago. We stayed at his apartment in Hyde Park and I got to experience all of the little things he loves so much. It was one of the highlights of my experience at Northwestern, and even though his apartment wasn't my home, it sure felt like it for a couple of days.
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing for Thanksgiving this year yet, but I know I won't be going home. Even though I brought this on myself, it doesn't make it suck any less – and not because I love turkey dinners with an undying passion. In fact, the best way to describe why being away from home during Thanksgiving is so disappointing to me is to look at the actual Thanksgiving feast.
Turkey is great, but for me, the staple of the holiday dinner isn't the main appeal: It's the sweet potatoes, the cranberry sauce, the stuffing and the other side dishes that really make the meal (and the midnight sandwiches afterward). In the same vein, it's the little things that come before and after the feast that I miss the most when I'm away.
It's taking another helping of dessert because it's Mom's apple pie and you can't get anything like this in a dining hall, and yes, of course I want some ice cream on top. It's throwing a ratty football around with my friends as the wind whips around our hoodies and the sun slips behind the trees, just as we've done since we were in elementary school. It's camping out in my room with my 15-year-old brother to talk about only things brothers can talk about, and staying up late with my dad as he binge-watches Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, rattling off stories about his years as a quasi-rock star in New York City back when being a quasi-rock star still meant something.
It's those little things – those side dishes to the feast that is Thanksgiving break – that I miss the most when I'm away. Then again, maybe it's being away that made me realize how much these little things mean to me. In a funny way, not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and friends makes me that much more thankful for them. Without their love, guidance and support, I wouldn't even be at this amazing place that just so happens to prevent me from celebrating with them.
Even so, nothing I have at Northwestern can ever make up for that. Nothing can take the sting away of seeing the pixelated shine in my 8-year-old cousin's eyes start to dull when I tell him over Skype why I can't make it home for the holiday. I promise him I'll play as many games of NHL 13 as he wants when I visit him in two weeks. Nothing mitigates the disappointment of trying to convince my friends that I'll be home sooner than they think. Nothing makes hearing each individual member of my family tell me in procession how much they miss me any easier, especially when the only words I can muster past my attempts to stave off homesickness are shallow platitudes about being with the ones who love me the most in spirit.
This holiday, I'm going to make sure they understand just how thankful I am for them, even if I'll be 830 miles away.