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Did you notice the population triple in size this past weekend? All of a sudden, Target, coffee shops and restaurants throughout the city were packed. Why? Northern Arizona University celebrated its biannual Family Weekend, a three-day event where the university invites the families of the 22,000-plus students enrolled to visit. Festivities for the weekend included a 5k run, performances by NAUghty Bits, NAU Studio Theater and NAU Lyric Theater, as well as a street fair, casino night and family brunch.

In my four years at NAU, I have not been someone who participates in Family Weekend. Instead, I have always been the barista who dreaded the overcrowded weekend. That changed this year. My twin cousins enrolled in their first semester at NAU in August with the rest of the freshmen. Since then, I feel like every week is family week, not to mention the fact that my parents can’t seem to get enough of the Flagstaff air.

The twins’ mom came into town this weekend and I had the pleasure of hosting her in my tiny 676-square-foot apartment. Our two nights of slumber parties started early and ended late. On her first night in Flagstaff, I worked until 11 p.m. 

Over the years, finding a healthy balance between family and school has not always been easy. I spent my freshman year hardly talking to my mom and sister. Freshman year was the hardest. My sister was struggling in school and my mom was adjusting to married life for the first time in over 15 years. Since I was the first of three kids to move out, this challenge was something we never had to navigate as a family.

I remember feeling like my sister, who was 16 when I moved out, had such a charmed high school experience. She didn’t have the pressure of maintaining straight A’s like I did, nor did she have the curfews and restrictions. As an outsider looking in, it was so frustrating to see her go through her high school years so easily—little did I know that wasn’t the case for her. I discovered toward the end of my freshman year that my sister was fighting her own battle with her mental health, which is why my mom didn’t hold her to the same standards as me. It’s so easy to think that the only thing going on in the world is what you’re experiencing.

I feel so close to my siblings, mom and grandparents. The six of us were almost always at a car’s length distance from one another for roughly 10 years. When I moved out, I was told by all of them they could feel my absence. Lucky for them, they only felt the absence of one person—I felt the absence of five.

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Since my freshman year, I’ve gotten closer to my family. My mom is more of a best friend than she is my mom. My stepdad, who when I moved out had only been a part of my life for a little less than a year, has been asked to be the father to my sister and me, and he said yes. My sister is now taking her mental health by the horns and is working on her, for her.

It’s not been easy but it was 100 percent worth it. My favorite moments from the last three years are those I have spent with my boyfriend watching movies all day, with my parents going fishing at Lake Ashurst or getting pulled over by a park ranger with my 10-year-old little brother in the passenger seat of the Polaris RZR. Yeah, that happened, and it was awesome.

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Bailey Helton is the editor-in-chief at The Lumberjack, Northern Arizona University's student newspaper. College Chronicles aims to connect Flag Live! readers to various aspects of campus life.

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