Recently, a friend contacted me when an exchange student (scheduled to arrive in one week) suddenly had no Oregon host family. The student’s photo attached to the email smiled back at me, and after seeing him I couldn’t stop thinking about him. We had just spent the day moving houses, so my husband and I (crazily) decided in the midst of unpacked-moving-box chaos to host a sixteen-year-old boy from Basque Country for the month of July.
Immediately I got to work overthinking the situation. Someone please award me an honorary degree in overthinking. I thought about this boy’s parents, sending him across the world to an unknown American family, one that was still assembling IKEA furniture and unpacking boxes. I worried, What if I don’t parent him well? What if his parents are vastly different from us? What if he gets cold sleeping on an air mattress the first night? What if I ask too many questions, or not enough? What if I’M not enough?
I wasn’t sure he would get the best American experience with us. We aren’t a very traditional family. For example, every year our eldest son reminds us to get a Christmas tree. We don’t set off any fireworks on the Fourth of July (sorry, not sorry). Sometimes we eat cheese and crackers for dinner while we stand around in the kitchen and talk. What if our Basque boy misses sitting down to a perfectly fresh European dinner every night? What if his American experience isn’t ideal? My goodness! When did I get to be such a perfectionist?
The next morning, after tossing and turning, fretting about my deficiencies, my sister took my kids for one night so I could unpack boxes (bless her). When she brought them back 24 hours later, the kids cried. Not tears of joy to be reunited with their mother, tears of sadness because they love their auntie so much. (They do the same thing when they come home after time at my best friend’s house, or their grandparents’ house). Seeing that helped me begin to take the focus off myself regarding our exchange student.
I began to ponder the benefits of a whole community of friends and family influencing each other’s lives. After all, I’m more aware all the time of my own limitations. I can’t possibly give mine or any kids everything they need for this life. Why do I try? The truth is, I am not enough. And it is enough to not be enough, if that makes sense. It reminds us that we all need each other, and we each possess distinct gifts and talents to build one another up.
My sister is gentle and attentive and creative. My best friend immerses herself in everything kids do at her home; reads books to them, eats with them and converses with them the whole time. My in-laws garden with my kids and take them on nature discovery walks. The list goes on and on. I’m not “just like” any of them, and therein lies the beauty of community.
Our Basque boy has been here for a few days now, meshing with our friends and family. We love him. And sure enough, my limitations are virtually superfluous to the whole experience; the kids are connecting with him much more than I ever could. I wonder what he’s thinking sometimes. That we are weird? Typical Americans? Maybe, but probably not. The most American thing about me is probably my tendency towards individualism, thinking I’m a bigger deal in any given situation than I really am. He’s likely just trying to adjust to peanut butter, hearing English all the time, and riding around in an SUV.
Reader, be encouraged. We are not enough for our kids, and that is just as it should be.