Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. -Twyla Tharp
Why I am recuperating
August 6, 2011
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 anythingto 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, here, here, here, here, and here.