“You write about Sacramento so affectionately, and with such care.”
“I was just describing it.”
“It comes across as love.”
“Sure, I guess I pay attention.”
“Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”
This is a conversation between the eponymous Lady Bird and her college counselor, Sister Sarah Joan, as Sarah reads over Lady Bird’s application essay on her hometown. Lady Bird spends much of the film longing to leave Sacramento, but she’s surprised to realize the tenderness she actually feels for it.
It’s true: nobody tells you about how your feelings for your hometown will change. Or maybe everyone did, and I just wasn’t listening.
To say I miss my hometown would be inaccurate. In fact, to say I miss being surrounded by dry brush, being bombarded by the insane SoCal heat and having only three (overpriced) Korean restaurants to choose from would be psychotic. I don’t think it’s possible to pine for all the Oktoberfests I never went to, the drivers who honked at me even when I plastered “Student Driver!” bumper stickers on the back of my car or the anti-mask protests at every main intersection all through 2020.
But there is something to be said for the feeling of home. Traversing the streets of my city as naturally as the flow of oxygen through the body — knowing which left turns are gnarly and which red lights take way too long. The grassy plaza where I’d run around with my friends as our parents sipped Starbucks. The Starbucks is gone now, but the feeling of utter simplicity always returns when we’re there — like I’m 7 again, I don’t know what W-2 forms are and my biggest problem is if my mom will make pasta for dinner that night.
We have this idea that we need to go through the mundane to appreciate the beautiful. What if there is beauty in mundane things themselves? Sometimes you just need to drive in circles around your neighborhood with your best friend and tell them the things you’ve never said before. Sometimes you need to tag along with your mom while she shops for perfume at Macy’s. Sometimes only the mirrors in your childhood bedroom reflect how much you’ve really grown.
Lorde said it perfectly, like she always does, in “400 Lux”: “I love these roads where the houses don’t change / Where we can talk like there’s something to say.”
Home changes a little every time I’m here. My mom is in her home improvement arc, which means our red leather couch that nobody actually liked to sit on is gone. The endearingly ugly painting of gold roses I grew up with has left its spot above the dining table, and there’s an understated greyscale photo of birch trees in its place.
My baby brother is graduating elementary school soon. His voice is deeper. Soon he’ll be taller than me. He even started using AXE body spray and watching Mr. Beast. It’s always the smallest changes that tend to punch you in the gut, in a bittersweet way.
I’ve changed, too. I’ve accepted that I won’t always know exactly what’s ahead of me. I know the value of my time, and I’ve realized that true friends can go without seeing each other for months and pick up right where we left off.
I watched “Lady Bird” the first weekend in my dorm. The hallway was eerie, almost sterile in its quiet. Everyone had gone out for the night.
If you’ve seen “Lady Bird,” you know: you can’t watch it and not think about your mom. My mom and I don’t really parallel the relationship between Saoirse Ronan’s and Laurie Metcalf’s characters. But much like any mother who passed her ability to know what she wants onto her daughter, we’ve had our ups and downs.
For example, instead of looking at my eyes when I’m saying something, my mom looks at my eyebrows. When I’m done talking, instead of replying as one does, she comments on how she didn’t realize how bushy my brows have become. She proceeds to pull out her tweezers and plucks them to her liking.
This habit of hers drives me crazy. But when I got to college, I started seeing for myself how out of control my eyebrows could get without her here to pluck them.
But other than that, all the constant and seemingly trivial pieces of advice she’d given me over the years served to make the load of being on my own a little lighter. Which shade of lipstick suits my complexion, how to make sure my jeans don’t shrink, how to manage my time and what to do if I didn’t manage my time. My mom’s stoicism, brutal honesty and her tendency to nitpick can be annoying, but if anything, I found myself wishing I’d paid better attention.
In a crisis, I sent a photo of my (way-too-bushy) eyebrows to my mom. She sent the photo back with markups for where I should shade to make them look less triangular. I laughed at the funny-looking diagram with its bright red markings and thought about how weird, idiosyncratic and unique mother-and-daughter relationships can be. How love sometimes takes the shape of the truth you need but don’t want to hear.
In college, Lady Bird chooses to introduce herself with her given name Christine, instead of Lady Bird, the moniker she’d chosen for herself. I found myself relating to this — there are so many things you expect yourself to remain spiteful about that you don’t anymore. Like my hometown and my mom. It’s easier to love.
There’s something about being able to notice when things have changed, and a home’s ability to show you how you’ve changed. It’s beautiful to know and to be known.
Emily Yoon is currently fending off an eyebrow crisis.