It’s been ten days since we first met W… Hard to believe. It feels a lot longer. Nutshell: it’s an asset to know him and a blessing to host him, and I’m thankful.
Many a time this week I’ve wanted to sit and write, have been forming the words in my mind. To process and to mentally position (which is so often what blogging helps me do). But there’s no time. None.
I wake with the kids to ensure supervision’s high and get the morning kicked off OK. This means: up between 6:30 and 7. And now that we have an 11-year-old in the house, people aren’t all in bed till 9:30. I’m a high-needs-sleep kinda girl, so I gotta find me a minimum 7.5 hours of shuteye in there somewhere. You do the math. I’ve got about an hour of awake time in the evenings – with its tidying up and paying bills and replying to emails – before it all starts up again. Not much. So… I guess, think of this the brain dump of a tired lady grappling for objectivity.
It’s been exhausting. I knew it would be… and it is. It’s partly the schedule and the more-intensive-oversight throughout the day. And it’s partly the new and different dynamics and the energy they require. The language translation. The making sure W.’s doing OK and is getting his needs met. The attention that our children need to keep them on the right track.
The last one has been a biggie, and it’s surprised me. See, W.’s a helpful and cooperative kid, God bless him. He’s pleasant and generally fairly even-keeled; it kind of blows me away. So adaptable. And I really like the kid. Often orphans are biologically and emotionally “younger” than their non-orphan counterparts, but so far we’ve not found this to be the case with W. (Definitely not biologically! He’s at least 5 feet fall.) At least three times our oldest daughter has remarked, “W. hasn’t gotten into trouble once yet!” And he hasn’t. But my own kids? I’m seeing them all the time through the lens of having an older kid with us who’s not getting into any trouble. And I gotta say, it’s a tough lens to be looking through.
Suddenly, with hosting W. as the backdrop, the bickering and entitlement and barely-veiled sass coming out of my kids are jarring to behold. The teasing-turned-fighting on the back bench of the car – where the oldest kids are sitting right on top of each other (for the first time) – has been insane. So much for poor W. to tolerate… Our son has extended himself on behalf of W. less than I would have wished him to. And pondering the scenes through W.’s eyes, wondering what he must be thinking, casts a whole new spin on the day, hour by hour. There has been a good bit of disappointment on my part, followed by an unsureness about how to correct our kid’s behavior in the least awkward way– and help them find and display some grace and empathy. And how to find objectivity and kind- spiritedness myself.
Many things about this process shine a flashlight into the flaws and failing of our character (all the members of the family, not just the kids). It’s downright humbling. And exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, these are good “problems” to be having, very good. I fully get that. Fantastic problems, even. In fact, they don’t classify as problems at all, really. Plenty of other host parents are dealing with challenging circumstances with their host children – kids who won’t eat, or are moody, or are defiant, or are continually bored and won’t engage. Normal fare for this kind of scenario. I guess the reality is that you don’t know till you’re in it how things will unfold, and what’ll rise to the surface – within yourself, within your family, and with/for the host child.
The good news is, we’re making headway. My husband and I are together raising expectations on our children to roll back the spoiled/clueless/entitled. And W. is a good companion and an engager-in-activities, and these realities cover a multitude of small setbacks. . We are getting to know him and his interests better, and that helps us make him increasingly comfortable in our house. Since he’s an 11-year-old who acts 11 (like I said), we find ourselves in new terrain in some ways. He has and brought a cell phone (no internet access); he doesn’t like to be without it. He uses it to take pictures and videos, play games, and play music – which he loves. We tried to transfer some of our songs that he liked onto his phone at his request – it was the first request he made of us – but the files couldn’t be read on his phone. Disappointing for him. I went old-school and burned him three CD’s and put them in his room with a CD player, and that brightened him up a good bit…
Bed time is another tricky one. At home he goes to bed between 10 and 11:30 (he says). He’s clearly not tired at 9:20, which is when we take him up to bed (our 8-year old having gone to bed between 8:45 and 9). In his room he has books (several Latvian and many topical English books from the library on things he likes) and drawing materials and music… He can turn his light off whenever he wants. But still I feel a little bad.
And then there’s internet. We do very little online with our kids – YouTube clips, occasional lego.com video games, and price-checking for potential items for purchase on Amazon. That’s about it. I know W. plays computer games at home, and I know he has an account on a Latvian Facebook-equivalent. He hasn’t asked to do those things at our house, but I know he’d like to. Different host families handle this in different ways, and this topic somehow plagues me – what’s wisest to do for all involved; what’s fairest to and most helpful for him. It seems to be the topic on which I hang my anxiety. Foolish I know.
When I step back from it all – bit hard to do, with the 24/7-ness of it all and the lingering fatigue – it’s plain to see that overall it’s going really well. And I thank God for that. We have a companionable host child who’s pleasant to have around, and with whom I can communicate better than I anticipated. And who likes to do things with us and even joined swim team this week! (So very proud of him.) We have children who a) enjoy him and b) are – slowly and painstakingly – growing through the experience. SOLID WIN. I do get this.
It’s 10:49 and I shoulda been in bed 20 minutes ago. I’ll throw in some random photos below to flesh things out and give you an idea of what kind of things we’ve been up to… Lots of text till now with no photos; better bloggers than me would be appalled. But here you go:
(Part of a blogging series on orphan-hosting with Project 143)
Originally published July 5, 2014.