Saturday, August 6, 2011

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. I think she was just 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. It was the easy way out.

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


Sadly enough, I can’t say I’m sad. 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 a defiant, oftentimes mean, and flat-out disobedient child into a family 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 had never been taught how to play fair, listen to instruction, mind her manners, and be helpful. 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 to rival the mean one. 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 it wasn’t our fault she went home. That fact helped to ease the sting of rejection. Well, that fact and our immense 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! “Why can’t we get a kid like that,” I muttered to Mr. Handsome.

Comments of the opposite sort came out, too. “Oh, so now you have a war story to share! We’ve all had a bad experience at one time or another!” “I’ve been doing this for 29 years and I’ve had some bad 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 demanding 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.

This same time, years previous: Indian-style Corn, dishes at midnight, quick, quick, quick, preparations, hamming up Luke, seasonal regret, quiche

26 comments:

  1. 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.

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  2. See, that's what I'm scared of...thanks for being so honest!

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  3. 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).

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  4. 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. :-)

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  5. 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...

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    1. 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!

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    2. 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

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  6. 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.

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  7. 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.

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  8. 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.

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  9. This is something that would totally happen to me. Points for honesty.

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  10. 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.

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  11. 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!

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

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  13. 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.

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

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  15. 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.

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  16. 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.

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

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  17. 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...

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    1. 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!

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  18. 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.

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  19. 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.

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  20. 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.

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    1. The only person sounding truly awful here is you!
      Awfully self-righteous aren't we!

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    2. 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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