Why I am recuperating

On Monday afternoon we picked up our Fresh Air girl from the bus stop and on Friday morning she went back to NYC. 

That’s seven days early, folks. 
She went back because of homesickness, supposedly. She was a little sniffly the first two nights, yes, but not anything to be concerned about. Then she had a phone chat with her mom on the third night and bawled her eyes out. She kept saying, “All there is is grass!” So her mom called up the agency and demanded that she come home, and when that happens, the Fresh Air Fund has to respect the parents wishes regardless. Maybe she was tired of doing “boring” things—things that, by the way, she was fully absorbed in—like playing in the mud and grass, and wanted to get back to the video games and movies she was constantly telling me about? Maybe, for her, it was the easy way out? Or maybe she really was homesick?
 


She was fascinated with mud balls. 
I found her bringing them into the house to get them wet in the sink.

Sadly, I can’t say I’m sad that she left early. Our girl was a handful. In fact, as she came off the bus, the escort looked at me and said, “Oh, she’s your girl.” And then she shook her head, grinned, and muttered under her breath, “Good luck.” 

Hosting a child is supposed to be challenging. I know this. Plop a strange kid into a home and there’s going to be conflict and stress and a steep learning curve on all sides. But plop in a child who is prone to act out and stress levels go through the roof. It is not cool.
 

First time in a creek.
In fact, I’m not sure she even knew what a creek WAS before she came to our house.

Our Fresh Air girl’s behavior wasn’t really her fault, of course, and this is what makes me feel so bad about the whole situation. She was just a child, a little eight-year-old girl, bless her heart. A little girl who loved romping with the dog, playing in the mud, helping me in the kitchen, listening to stories, and who had a sweet streak. I spent my days waffling between being irritated and frustrated with her and feeling motherly and kind (though towards the end, I had less of the later and more of the former).

 

I had to mediate EVERY Uno game because the rules in her “country” were different than they are in our “country.” (I think she got the idea that we live in a different country because she was visiting the country. Get it?)

Even so, she didn’t return to NY because of us and our frustrations. We said we’d be willing to work with the (nonexistent) homesickness, so knowing that it wasn’t our fault that she went home early helped to ease the sting of rejection. Well, that fact and our relief.

 

She snapped green beans faster than my own kids.

The last night she was here, we went to the Fresh Air picnic and pool party. It was encouraging to interact with the other families and hear their stories, many of which were good, if not flat-out wonderful. They said things like, “Our child is wonderful. Fits right in!” and “Our child is super polite!” and “Our girl has never given us one minute of trouble!” I found myself staring at one Fresh Air girl in particular, a gorgeous, poised teenager. She was friendly! She joked with adults! She took care of other people’s babies without being asked! She helped her host mom clean up the picnic area! Stressed and frustrated with how hard our experience was turning out to be, I couldn’t help but feel jealous. I longed to connect with a host child, to develop the sort of lasting bond that so many other host families had.

Comments of the opposite sort came out, too. “Oh, so now you have a war story to share! We’ve all had a tough experience at one time or another!” “I’ve been doing this for 29 years and I’ve had some difficult kids, too. Don’t you worry. It happens.” Their non-glorious stories comforted me. Also, it also helped that another girl was going home on the same trip as our girl today (another case of the city mom requesting the child return). That there were two of them helped me feel less like a rotten host mother. 
So now our Fresh Air girl is gone and my older two kids never even met her because they are at the Clifftop music festival with my hippie brother (and my parents who joined them a couple days later). A girlfriend is watching my two littles so I can sit in Panera, drink multiple cups of coffee, tap away on my laptop, and recuperate. Whew, I needed this.

She wanted the (spot)light on.

I can’t quite bring myself to end this post with some pat line about how we’ll do it again next year, because for a couple days there it was pretty bleak. But now we’ve come out on the other side more experienced, wiser, and none the worse for wear, and I’m feeling more positive. Like yes? We probably will do it again? 

Or maybe it’s just the coffee talking. 
Updated: to read about our other hosting experiences (because we didn’t quit, obviously, and happily!), many of which were very different from this one, go here, herehere, here, here, and here

30 Comments

  • Emily

    I know it's easy for me to say, a stranger and one who has never don't it, but maybe for your kidlets it would be good to do it again? So as to help rewire what it can be? The pix are beautiful, and it's too bad it was such a hard experience, and such a heartbreaker.

  • Anonymous

    I totally understand the rejection. It hurts for a while but then you gain perspective like you have already begun to do so in this post. As time moves on you realize you will be in a different place one year later and the next child may just be the one who fits in perfectly. My kids still remember the rejection and that is an ok feeling to remember and then when it works out better the next time they realize it was "just her" not everyone from that country (Spain students).

  • Starr

    I have stayed with host families on two different occasions (Brazil and Ghana), and while I had a joyous time, both trips, I had colleagues who clashed in one way or another with their hosts. It happens. I'm sorry it wasn't a wonderful experience.

    May I send my kids to your house? I think they'd love it. I think you'd need more than an afternoon at Panera to recover, though. 🙂

  • Jennifer Jo

    Emily and Anonymous, I agree with you. I'm of the keep trying mindset. Maybe it's because I'm an optimist, or maybe it's because the program is so great…in any case, I really think it'd be smart to do it again.

    Suburban Correspondent, It's my biggest fear, too! The good news is, my fear was realized and it didn't kill us! So that means we're stronger, right?

    I was a little afraid to write this post because I didn't want to discourage anyone from hosting. But I figured it's best to be honest—my hunch is that people are better hosts when they go into it with their eyes wide open. At least, I HOPE that's the case…

    • Unknown

      Definitely would try again… I'm assuming you already have or have decided not to since it's been 6 years would love to know what your experience was. We did it for a couple years ourselves but it was the years we did it when I was a kid that made the most impact on me. I recently got back in touch with one of the children who we hosted and she was so thankful for the impact we had on her life! I have my "sister" back and it's great! I now have 5 nieces and nephews and 3 great nieces and nephew!

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, we have hosted again! I am actually a chairperson for the Fresh Air Fund, so I'm still deeply involved in the program. Here's another, very different post about one of our later experiences: http://bit.ly/2uW2W8H

  • All Adither

    You're brave. I don't think I could do it at all. I feel too protective of my small enclave here. But I love the line, "All there is is grass." It'd almost be worth it to hear that. Heh.

  • Cookie baker Lynn

    Lovely pics. They tell the story well. You did your part. You were obedient. Just because it wasn't all sunshine and roses doesn't mean the week was a failure. You might never know the fruit that will grow from that week of seed planting. But there was a plan and a purpose for her visiting your house. Even if it was just for a short time, you've broadened her horizons and introduced her to new ideas. High fives to you and your generous heart.

  • Misha

    This is heartbreaking. But it's heartbreakingly beautiful as well as sad. You are amazing and it's really a given that even those few days will change her life. What a beautiful gift you are.

  • teekaroo

    As the "still on the land" family, we tend to get all of the distant relatives sending their pain-in-the-butt children to us to "fix" them, I guess. Oh how well I know the attitudes.

  • Susan

    You can't make up for what was never taught at home. I do love that "all there is is grass"! None of my siblings kids will come and stay with me because I don't have television – that's a double bonus!

  • Anonymous

    People don't get it. Our child was emotionally disturbed. Faf did not get how harrowing and hesrtbreaking it was for my child .

  • Anonymous

    I was glad to find this post, as we just had to send our FAF child home early. Without divulging details, he displayed some inappropriate behavior way beyond what we had imagined, and it had the potential of being harmful toward my children. Despite that, my children took away positives from the experience somehow, but we are unsure if we will host again next year. My heart aches for this child and I hope we were able to make a difference in some way.

  • Anonymous

    I want to gently point out that this post is incredibly disrespectful to this poor little girl who was very far from home.

    • Unknown

      As a FAF participant I understand the learning curve of that city to country transition. None of my host families were very patient. The intention is not to judge what you don't understand but expose the child to a different way of life through example. Urban children will not suddenly become less urban because they visit the country for two weeks. Constant exposure will, in time, smooth out the child's rough edges. As it did me. The whole focus of the program. I agree with your opinion concerning the light this little girl was cast in. I'm also against the use of such photos that depict the stereotypical Black/White relationship.

    • Anonymous

      Here it is almost a decade later and this blog post is still attracting attention. Phillipians, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply to Jennifer Murch's story. I'm a white person, and it's clear to me that JM never understood this little girls' feelings nor understands her own white privilege, namely always being in a place where you feel a sense of belonging and not being in the minority. FAF participants don't owe anything to their host families, least of all conformance to the weirdness of white families that think nothing could be better than themselves.

  • Anonymous

    I don't think that it is disrespectful at all, but I know how cool people feel when they can "gently" get outraged on behalf of others. I am doing it right now! I hope you host again, because it is so worth it.

  • Anonymous

    Your post is disrespectful to the young innocent girl you hosted. Your pictures violate her privacy. You are careful to hide her face but that doesn't change the fact that you photographer her like an art project. I find the picture of her with the spotlight shining on her disturbing, not because of how she prefers to sleep, because you felt is was ok to photograph her in a private moment. I'm preparing to host a boy from NYC and I would never consider posting ANY photos. Protecting the FAF child's privacy and experience is part of hosting.

    • Anonymous

      She is allowed to post whatever pictures she wants. The families of FAF kids sign off on it. Stick with what you know.

    • Yonose Jose

      I agree.. I feel so bad for the child…the judgment this woman casts on her and the assumptions she makes about her upbringing and family?! And then comparing her to other kids? Just disgusting. The child probably rejected you all because she could sense the judgement. I was looking up information on Fresh Air fund, as I was considering the program for my son, but this completely turned me off! No way am I sending my child to someone like you.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yonose, I am so sorry this post turned you off from the Fresh Air program. I did not mean to come across as judgy, and I'm sorry if that's how I sounded. I have gone back through the post and tweaked a couple places that I see now could've been perceived as judgemental and to more accurately, and sensitively, express my sentiments.

      Now, nearly a decade after this post, we've hosted a variety of children. For me, it's an honor to welcome these children into our home, include them in our family, and learn from them. To balance out this more difficult hosting experience and provide perspective on our many experiences, I've added an update to the end of the post with links to those other summers.

      The Fresh Air Fund is a unique organization and, while the trips don't always turn out as intended, the program is hugely successful overall. I hope you will not let our one negative experience taint the whole program for you, and, more importantly, I hope you find a wonderful program that works well for your family and for your son.

  • Anonymous

    You say the child had never been taught to be helpful, then a few sentences later you point out how much she loved helping you in the kitchen. Your post makes me feel so uncomfortable, especially when you start talking about your dream FAF child who was beautiful, helped with the children and cleaned up after everyone else without being asked. I'm sure you weren't expecting a 8 year old to go and watch your children and clean up after them? hmm…

    • Jennifer Jo

      I wasn't talking about my dream FAF child—I was observing another city child, one that was much older than the one we had. Our little girl was beautiful, too!

  • l.uhm

    I don't think "Anonymous" is comfortable with someone being very frank and honest about her family's side of the experience, especially in a public way on the blog. But the photos were careful about not giving any private identifying images. Also, the bedroom photo was consistent with all of JJ's other "kids-in-the-home" pictures so it wasn't unusual, and again, no identifying images were shown. I think her blog entry is more helpful feedback for other families who want to get involved. People need to know both types of experiences. The girl could also benefit in reading this feedback if and when she matures knowing this was the general impression she left. Again, the most important thing is knowing no one knows it's her but her.

  • Anonymous

    Just want to throw this out there. I know this is old but still. Be very careful of Fresh Air Kids (and their recruiters). We had several who ended up to have more money than us…..had a couple more who destroyed our house…were violent….spoiled rotten….coached on "what to get out of host families" etc. Several times I felt scared to have a few around even. And similarly to foster kids, you are not told the truth about their situation (good or VERY bad) and you find out only when they are 2 hours (or more) from home in your once quiet neighborhood in the middle of the night.

  • Anonymous

    You sound like a truly awful person. I feel sorry for the little girl who had to deal with you. Your entire post reeks of privilege and arrogance. She did not owe you obeisance simply because you chose to participate in this program. Your house seems neither welcoming nor friendly. To dismiss her homesickness as "nonexistent" is thoughtless and tone deaf. You need to do some serious self reflection before you ever taken another person's child into your home.

    • Unknown

      Seriously?? You don't seem to have read her post… And if you did… You need to read it again! She said she was willing to stick it out and keep her the second week… She didn't want her to go home but the mother demanded it. The child was homesick they all are at some point in the trip. More so after talking to a loved one but it passes… And when it's minor like hers seemed to be…I think Nonexistent is an expression

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