About a month ago – and I’m very late in responding to her – I received a lovely, lovely email from the eldest daughter of our “first daughter”. Hana found some things I had written & posted about her mother, Julie, here in my blog and wanted to say hello and maybe work out way to being friends, which I very much hope we do. Assuming I really do keep my resolution to be a better correspondent around the world.
And as it happens, writing to Hana was on my list of letters for this week when, in today’s post, I received a parcel from our “second daughter”, mailed just before she set off on her Great Adventure to Asia. So now I’m contemplating two remarkable young women Jeff & I had the great privilege of hosting, making them part of our family, learning to love them – which for both Julie & Durita was wonderfully, happily, easy.
Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past, and past lives, a lot, for about a month or so now. Several post-Christmas letters trickled in during February, filled with lots of news and photos of friends from days gone by. My “oldest serving friend” now has three grandchildren and it took her 10 pages to fill me in on the entire family! An old employer/friend from when we lived & worked in Boston, always a much pithier woman than Sandra, found me on LinkedIn and immediately sent a letter with photos of her grown sons and grandchildren. Another friend from Navy days in Jacksonville is about to become a grandmother (someone else I MUST write to this week). A sweet, dear friend from Meaford sent a post-Christmas letter with news her husband has retired to become a gentleman farmer. And then I discover that a “boy” on whom I had a giant crush in university recently left his job (retired, sort of, I think) and describes his life as being in the 4th Quarter, while The Boyfriend in Australia is leaving HIS job for his 4th Quarter (or do cricketers say “last innings”?) at the end of March.
And on top of all that happy personal news, I received a letter from someone in Stirling, someone I never thought of hearing from, with regrets over what happened there. Talk about a basis for contemplation…!!
I absolutely love hearing from all these people and I want to keep on hearing from them, thus the urge to write and keep writing letters and emails but here’s the thing that makes me happiest: I am so rich. I have friends, dear, wonderful, kind, loving, funny, bright, sweet friends around the world who enrich my life, hold me up, keep me steady, kick my butt, remind me I’m also smart and funny, and who welcome my friendship almost as much as I welcome theirs… which is deeply and endlessly.
Below is the farewell I wrote for Durita when she left Ontario to return home to her original parents after her exchange – I thought she might enjoy reading it again one quiet morning on her adventure. As for the rest of you… watch your mail boxes!
I had heard that when mothers first see their newborn babies, they ‘fall in love’ with that child. Not in a romantic way, but in a protective, encompassing, you’re mine sort of way. I’ve never had a baby, but I can tell you truthfully, I’m in love with my kid.
Durita a Brugv was 16 years old when she moved in with my husband and me, a five foot, two inch blond bundle of energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, laughter, insight and beauty who, from the moment she arrived, filled up our lives with activity, joy and a very messy bedroom.
Durita is from the Faeroe Islands, an archipelago of islands north of Scotland and east of Iceland, where there are 48,000 people and 100,000 sheep. And because of the sheep, there aren’t a lot of trees. So when Durita arrived in Ontario last August 10th (2008), that was pretty much the first thing she noticed – we have a lot of trees, a lot of tall trees, in this country. Since that day, of course, there is much more that she’s noticed, seen and done, but first impressions are pretty long-lasting. I suspect when she makes her ‘Rebound Student’ speech to her host Rotary Club, our trees will be the first thing that she mentions.
She has spent the past year (August 2008 – July 2009) here as a Rotary International Exchange Student, studying a range of subjects in Grade 11 at OSCVI that she wouldn’t be able to study at home, things like music theatre and photography. She did very well at her studies, which is nice, but the important part about being an exchange student, to my mind anyway, is the learning that comes from making new friends and living a new life.
I speak from experience. I am a Rebound Rotary Student; I spent my exchange year in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. I tell everyone I meet that my year as a Rotary student in Australia gave me the skills and confidence to accomplish the things in life that I have. It was because of my belief in the value of this program that my husband and I put our names up to be host parents, and that’s how Durita came into our lives.
But you don’t have to be a former exchange student to be a host parent. There are just three basic things you need to think about before taking on the best volunteer job you’ll ever have.
First, you really have to like and respect kids and be prepared to live with, if not necessarily like, all the stuff that comes with them. I mean the literal stuff (in the case of girls, that probably includes a LOT of shoes) but also the figurative stuff, like occasional homesickness, or maybe some language difficulties. I should point out that Durita says she always missed her family, but she was too busy to be sick over missing them, and her English – one of four languages she speaks – was outstanding from the day she arrived.
Second, you need to be willing to find that balance between parent and friend. These students have parents, and you’re not there to replace them. Yes, sometimes you do parental things (Durita is still mad at me for making her stay home for a morning when she had a rehearsal for her play; she had a fever, I was right, she was wrong.) but often you’re a friend and a confidante in a way that sometimes parents can’t be and friends don’t know how to be. It’s important to be a good role model, but it’s certainly not expected you’ll be perfect. My inability to get Durita to school on time certainly proves that!
Third, and most importantly, you must love laughing. In the nearly five months Durita lived with us, each day started with laughter and ended the same way, as we shared stories about the people she was meeting, the new adventures she was going on, schoolwork, Rotary obligations, her family back home. The echoes of laughter still ring in our house.
While she lived with us, I taught Durita how to bake a pie (apparently, there is no such thing as pie in the Faeroe Islands!) and Jeffrey taught her how to ice skate and ski. At midnight one night just before Christmas, we stood outside in the falling snow while Durita made snow angels and marvelled at snow piles that came up to her shoulder. As a family, we played cribbage and Wizard, and for ‘girl time’ we watched chick flicks and endless episodes of “Friends”. She spent Christmas with us at Jeffrey’s family home in Buffalo and March break took us all by train to spend a few days with friends in Montreal.
It was a wonderfully full five months, and hard enough to say good-bye to her when she moved to her third and final host family. Now we’re saying good-bye for real, as she leaves next week for home, and honestly I’m a mess just writing about it. Her luggage will be filled with mementos from this year, along with many packages of strawberry Twizzlers. And I hope her heart is filled with as much love for this place, for this family, as we have for her.
My darling girl, you are going to be missed so much… and loved always.