Lessons on Living
A short narrative about my rather unique upbringing
This is actually what I submitted as my main college app essay, but I’m proud of it and think it does a good job describing who I fundamentally am.
I hate the sound of my alarm clock. I’ve tried changing it to songs, happy cheers, but every time I begin to despise the sound. I put on my glasses. It is 5:50, my regular wake-up time during the school year. As I make my bed, I make a mental checklist of things I need to do this morning – brush my teeth, don’t forget anything in my backpack, etc. Then I begin to smell it.
The smell of an accident from a new resident in our Adult Care Home, my family’s main source of income, isn’t new to me. It’s seeped in my nostrils many times over the years, and I usually inform my mom about it as I get ready for school. Today, however, I let her sleep in; we’d both had a rough night since the new resident with dementia was calling out for her long-dead parents all night. I grabbed the special wipes we use, got on my knees, and cleaned up the area around the toilet.
My parents, who moved to the USA in 1998 with $1,000 loaned and Green Cards to their name, have given up everything to further my education. My dad’s back still hurts from his days working construction and paper printing – they were the only employers who would hire him because of his initially limited English speaking abilities. My mom had to give up her dream of becoming a nurse and instead became a home-based medical transcriptionist, as daycare was impossibly expensive. When confronted with the staggering tuition of the progressive and preppy private-school I had earned admission into, my parents started our Adult Care Home, named Golden Years.
Since our family business depends on at least one of my parents at all times, my parents have had to take turns seeing their son succeed: they switch off going to my team’s two city-wide robotics tournaments before we usually travel to the regional, and then world competitions. Only my dad could make it to my quarterfinal run at the state tennis tournament, while only my mom could see me receive my German DSDII diploma. Both only heard stories about my summer jobs, such as when I worked for a special investment fund in a fancy downtown building, won a global prize in entrepreneurship, and taught a summer camp by myself on “innovation.”
While my parents have no prestigious degrees framed in their home offices, seeing them grow into their version of the American Dream has taught me that I will find success if I keep working hard. Even though my family can barely afford tuition today, I have the toolkit to hopefully donate millions as an alumnus. Although my family hasn’t enjoyed a vacation in Hawaii every summer (my mom’s actual dream is to finally go one day), I can say that the few days off with my family when we hire a relief caregiver for the day have taught me lessons about the delicacy of time.
When I return home that evening and see our long-time resident Dorothy folding laundry for the fifth time that day (she has bad dementia), Harriet doing exercises with her walker at the age of 104, and smell my mom cooking dinner, I feel at home. I learn about Hermie’s youth in post WWII Germany while composing a puzzle with her, and about Annie’s trailblazing career as an executive in 1980s Silicon Valley.
The continuous stream of residents that live and die in our home have taught me the purest lessons on the human condition: from suffering, crying and dying, to powering through obstacles with ecstatic joy and living life to the fullest. Every day, before I leave for school, my mom, just waking up, groggily says: “Be good and make me proud, Andrei!” Everything I have learned these past nineteen years will allow me to do just that.
That’s the narrative! If you’d like to learn more about me, checkout my personal website linked here.