Three weeks into hosting. Three weeks! Seems really long and really short both at once.
Last week we had the Project 143 chaperone with us for six nights. (The chaperones are the volunteer adults who accompany the kids on the planes to and from their home countries, field weekly check-in calls when in the US, troubleshoot as needed, etc.) All host families are asked to house a chaperone for a week, or else pay a $100 fee to assist the program in finding them alternate housing if they can’t host. Chaperones run the gamut from sweet older ladies who’ve been summering in America with orphan-hosting work for years… to younger folks who are new to the gig, and to America. So the chaperone experience is all over the map for hosting families, as you can imagine.
We had a sweet 25-year-old woman, a social worker in Latvia, who had never been to America before. She was game to come along on whatever ventures we had planned – sit by the pool during swim team, joined us in berry-picking, etc. She played Scrabble and Uno with us when we were home. And she cooked us a very nice Latvian meal one night, which W. gobbled up with great zeal. (She shares his enthusiasm for ketchup, too – it seems to be a very popular condiment in Latvia.) She was enthusiastic to be involved in shopping trips, whether to the grocery store or CVS or Walmart… Which are pretty much the only three places you can get amenities in our town without driving “into the big city.” If I hadn’t had five children in tow the whole time we were together, I would’ve done a shopping day with her which I know she would have greatly enjoyed, but alas. Couldn’t make it happen.
One interesting dynamic that comes with chaperone-hosting is the natural desire to show her a good time while she’s here (as in: First trip to America! We don’t need to sit in our wee rural town all of every day.) For example, I knew she wanted to visit Washington DC while she was here. Who wouldn’t? And yet the only day we could go was the day after a swim meet when all 5 kids had been up several hours past their bedtime. We went anyway, but a loud chorus of whining, bickering, and outrage by my kids over the locale of the parking spot – the one it took me 100 laps around the mall to find – was our near continual companion. Just had to soldier through it. Another afternoon we went to a water slide, plus the aforementioned berry-picking. Net sum: it hiked the activity level up higher than it would have been, on a week when I was still regrouping from the initial exhaustion of the venture. I was glad to do it but found myself beyond fatigued by the end of the week.
Another component I hadn’t thought through ahead of time was the dual dynamic it set up in the household. I was pleased for W. that he had a fellow Latvian-speaker in the house and could relax a bit and just converse with ease. I’ve traveled overseas enough to know how wearing and draining it is to constantly be trying to translate and make yourself understood. And to always feel on the outside of everything, and like your personality is strained and recessed. So that was great for W., and we liked getting a sense of him in a relaxed and fully-comfortable mode. Our chaperone was helpful in translating for us whenever we asked her too — and even sometimes when we didn’t. This allowed us to ask him some questions and get his input more fully than we’d been able to before. On the other hand, as the week wore on it felt like a bit of an us-them thing was quietly and unintentionally developing. W. and the chaperone would be hanging out talking Latvian, and the rest of us would be having our normal English-speaking occurrences.
Finally – and related – W. really liked hanging out with the chaperone and spent his discretionary time doing so. It made perfect sense. She’s 25, has a cool persona, and is hip with technology (cell phone and laptop) — all of which is very appealing to a preteen in a household whose fellow residents are 8 and under. The media component was particularly interesting. The first time we spent time with her – when she was living with the other hosting family in our town and not with us – W. got on her cell phone and began chatting with a friend on the Latvian Facebook equivalent. We decided we’d rather not have him online before she came to us, and I told her our approach and rationale before she arrived. She fully respected it and didn’t let him use her phone or get on social media when she was here. But there was still a good bit more web and phone presence/usage here than there normal, so that was a different dynamic requiring some adjustment (again, for him). At times there was a bit of a “hold” feeling on deepening relationship with W. But of course we were glad to have the chaperone and thankful for the gift of her time and herself to this program.
Following her week with us, our chaperone went next to a town in Delaware, located about three hours’ drive from our house. Host families are asked to assist in getting them to their next destination if possible… Drive them; meet the next family halfway; pay bus-fare; one of the above. We needed to get up to New England for a long weekend to pick up a new (old) dog we’re bringing into the family (he needed a new home, and we have been looking to fill the void since Angus died), so we ended up pairing the two ventures together. We left our house at 6:10 AM on Saturday morning to get her to Delaware in the morning before carrying on north. Because our van is a 7-seater and – with the chaperone – we were 8, we rented a car and met the next family at the Delaware car rental office to return it. Quite the venture! But it all worked out. And here’s a shot of Jack the dog, our new canine companion:
So. Between our chaperone week, our New England long-weekend, and trying to deal with my house (and life) in the aftermath for the past three days… There’s been almost no time to think. Thankful for a quiet weekend home this weekend. More soon.
(Part of a blogging series on orphan-hosting with Project 143)
Originally published July 18, 2014.