This summer we hosted two new (to us) children through the Fresh Air Program. Never before have we had such a good hosting experience. Both children were easy-going, courteous and kind, and excited about being at our house. It was dreamy. I kept feeling like I should pinch myself.
The girl, age eleven, was such a gentle soul: mild, easy-to-please, and adventurous. She ate anything and lots of it. She and my younger daughter hid in their bedroom for hours on end, for days in a row, playing some imaginary game with Playmobile people.
The boy, a just-turned six-year-old, was cute as a button. And brave! (These kids—and their parents!—are so brave.) He didn’t shed a single tear for the first five days, and when he did, it was an understated tear, just a little trickle of water running down his cheek. Later that same night he did, however, fall apart. We dubbed the (brief) floor flailing The Marshmallow Meltdown. FYI: If you’re not expecting it, the changed physical properties of a roasted marshmallow can be infuriating.
From the boy’s mouth:
*“What’s all that grass?” Answer: corn.
*A couple hours after the kids arrived, I called up to the stairs to the boy where he was playing Legos. “Do you want to call your mom and let her know you got here?” I asked. Him, flatly, “No.” (!!)
*He loved “chocolate tea.” (Hot chocolate.)
*Boy: “I’m hot. I’m never going outside again.” (Pause) “Maybe summer was a bad idea.”
For the whole week the kids were here, I pretty much put everything (read, my writing) on hold and focused on feeding people, doing only the emergency gardening and housework, and taking the kids swimming. As a result, the week was playful, both relaxed and busy. It felt refreshing, like a vacation.
The older children were a tremendous help. My older son often gave the boy his bath and read him his bedtime stories. And when the boy got squirrel-y (and my younger son grew irritated), I’d send my older son upstairs to play Legos with the boy for awhile. At the pool, I sat on the side and read my book while the older kids kept an eye on the youngers, coached them on their swimming skills, and monitored their pool etiquette.
Even though we’ve been hosting children for a number of years now, this summer there were a couple firsts:
*We don’t usually get much verbal appreciation from the city families, but this year the girl’s grandmother called to specifically thank me for hosting her. And the boy’s mother was profuse with her appreciation towards us (and super friendly—I wish I could have her over for coffee).
*My younger daughter actually asked me if City Girl could come back for an entire month next summer.
This was the first time this sentiment has ever been expressed, but as much as I appreciated the enthusiasm, I suspect that one week is just about the perfect amount of time for us (for now, at least). By the end of the week, everyone was getting a little worn out and crotchety—the normal effects of continuous shared space. But it did cross my mind how easy it would be for a kid or two to jump on the train and travel down for a mid-winter visit…
*The last evening when I was tucking the kids into the bed, I asked them if they were eager to get home. Both kids waffled. And both kids said, I don’t want to leave. I don’t think any of our host children have ever said that to us before. It was better than a “thank you.”
It’s weird, but I actually feel a little shy about telling you how good the week was. Almost guilty, like I should be hush-hush about our good fortune. Because what if you read this, get all excited and decide to host, and then have a hellish time? On the flip-side, I felt this same reserve when we had our horrible hosting experience—like I shouldn’t say anything because it might deter people from hosting. I guess the moral of my hesitations and conflicting emotions is this: hosting Fresh Air kids is a luck-of-the-draw experience. Don’t have any expectations and keep on hosting, and maybe, just maybe, there will be rainbows.