My mom is in the kitchen. She’s cooking my favorite meal, and the smell wafts down the hallway, past the pictures on the wall, and into my room. She tells me how much she loves Michael Bublé and introduces me to some of my favorite songs. I think she’s silly. Who could ever love a musician that much? She shows me how to comb my hair, how to do my laundry, and how to run a household. My mom shows me what strength and emotional vulnerability are. Stress, loud lungs, and a shopping addiction are our commonalities. Her funny phrases infiltrate my vocabulary and leave my friends saying, “You sound just like your mom.” I hope I always sound like my mom.

My dad is working at the kitchen table, shoulders hunched and head down. His fingers painstakingly poking the keyboard of his laptop. He asks me where the mail is, and then I hear the pffft of envelopes being ripped open. The refrigerator opens, and then he offers me a piece of pepper jack cheese. Then he offers me crackers. I decline, but then, after some thinking, I accept his offer. I’ll never be this young again, sharing cheese and laughs with my dad. We take a car ride, and I start asking him to rate the songs on my playlist. “Getaway Car” is rated 9/10, and nothing else compares in his eyes. My dad smirks before teasing me about a boy I’ve mentioned maybe twice in passing; I roll my eyes and tell him, “He’s just a friend! Shut up!” I hope he never stops teasing me.

My grandma has us over for Christmas with the family. I admire her Coca-Cola knickknacks as I wander into the living room. My cousins are there, and the Lennon Sisters’ Christmas album is playing. Chatter fills the room as the fireplace crackles and someone makes coffee in the kitchen. I’m begging my cousins to PLEASE PLAY SORRY WITH ME? DUTCH BLITZ?? And they decline because they “don’t feel like it.” But then, all of a sudden, I’m twenty, and I understand not feeling like it. And all the cousins can’t make it to South Carolina for Christmas, so the crowded living room feels oddly empty. My grandma is asking those of us who could make it to her house to sing Christmas carols before we open gifts, and I’m struck with the reality of how quickly life changes. “Joy to the World” fills my ears, and I look over at my aunt, who’s about to cry. I’ll never understand how blessed I am to have this family.

My other grandma brings a cake into my house. “I missed you, sugar face,” she says as she gives me a hug. It’s my birthday, and she’s made my favorite cake. I keep reminding her that I’m taller than her. She’s in denial. She randomly texts me “I love you,” and she makes sure I’m doing well in school. Her house is regal in my mind, with its dark wooden floors and elegant staircase, and the easy listening music scratches a particular itch in my brain every time I visit. Homemaker, encourager, friend. I will never be able to live up to the kind of woman she is.

I go to church on Sunday morning, and the sunlight hits the stained-glass windows just right. The congregation sings a hymn, and the lady in front of me turns around and says, “I love to hear you sing.” She does this every Sunday. I smile and tell her thank you. She reminds me that she loves me, and I reciprocate the sentiment. Various church members encourage me, ask about my academics, and remind me that I’m an encouragement to them. Maybe someday I’ll be as supportive as they are.

So here I am—a patchwork quilt of a human. Each square inch of my personality is crafted and held together by the influence of my loved ones. Stitched together by time and affection. My favorite recipe, my pizza order, the way I fold my clothes, my work ethic, my favorite songs. They’re not all mine. They’re passed down through the words and actions of those I love most.