By nature I am more impulsive. I think quickly, I speak quickly and I am commonly moved to act quickly. My husband is the opposite. He thinks things through very thoroughly. He is more likely to take a pause before responding and swift action is not really his thing. As you can imagine sometimes this disparity can cause tension in our marriage, but it also brings us balance.
So when I saw on our town Facebook page that there was a French exchange student in need of a host family and although it was Thursday night he would arrive Saturday, I was ready to jump at the opportunity. I ran downstairs spouting about the boy and the program and my husband said simply after one of his pauses, “when do I need to tell you?” I said first thing in the morning. To my surprise he did not say no but rather ok.
In my excitement I sent him all the information the chaperone sent my way. And I apologized because I knew he needed time to process, but also wanted to sway him to be quite honest. This was only for 3 weeks and I thought it would be a wonderful experience for us and for our boys.
Growing up I had exchange students. My parents were friends with the president at Trenton State and so each year we had one or two exchange students stay with us. It was to help them get acclimated to the US before they started their semester abroad. Usually they were British, but we had one German girl named Gabby. I remember her the most because she made us schnitzel and had a huge mane of curly blonde hair. She was so friendly and so tall. I was in awe of her accent and her confidence.
When I was 13 we had an AFS exchange student for an entire year. Her name was Nieves, but somehow in what I can only claim was some kind of cultural confusion we called her Maria. In Spain all girls have Maria in front of the name they actually use. But even to this day we call her Maria. My mother recently visited her and her family in Barcelona. She is my Spanish sister and my mother’s Spanish daughter.
The year she was with us there was another boy in the program in our town. He was from France and his name was Richard. Richard really enjoyed our family and spent lots of time with my mother and me. I think somehow we reminded him of his family at home. I remember that year fondly meeting all the students Elena also from Spain, Bardour from the Faroe Islands, Simone and Marco both from Italy. It made me feel cool to be with all these older Europeans. Walking around Princeton and running into a friend while I was with Richard made me the talk of my all girls school for quite some time.
So when I saw this plea for a host family and remembering the times I had fondly, it was clear this was a yes. I only had to wait for Rolston to decide. To my surprise the next morning he was still not saying no. Instead he asked me why I wanted to do this. Honestly aside from my experiences I thought it would be a good change in dynamic for our family. I felt we were in a rut and this could be a way to inject some life into our stagnant routine. He agreed!
And that was it. We were all in. I reached out to the chaperone and finally found out our student’s name was Paul. Paul my husband’s birth name and Brenton’s middle name. I felt even more strongly that this was meant to be. Paul would arrive late in the night on Saturday. So we had to have a quick background check and home visit. All went well and we were cleared.
The adventure began with a little research, explaining to the boys that we would have an exchange student from France and that his name was Paul. We made a sparkly welcome sign for Paul. We bought him little trinkets and some candy and treats to welcome him. We got his room ready together. The boys were so excited and so was I. Brenton was allowed to stay up very late and come with me to welcome Paul.
When he arrived, Paul ran to me and gave me a hug. He was smiling almost beaming. Brenton was jittery with excitement and kept jumping up and down waving the sign saying hi over and over again. It was a wonderful hello.
On our drive home, I asked him about his flight and we got acquainted. He was pleased to know my father would be arriving later in the week because he enjoys playing golf. When he got settled with our wifi passcode so he could reach his parents, he offered us gifts from France. I received a beautiful Hermes scarf and Rolston got a lovely tie. I couldn’t help myself. I was so excited I gave him a kiss on the cheek not just for the gift, but for already being the breath of fresh air I was hoping for.
The next morning he slept in a bit and then it was off to church. Brenton and I lit a candle of joy and introduced Paul to the community. We took him to our favorite diner where he had a burger and fries. Then we learned he wanted to watch the France and Portugal final match that day. He was on pins and needles waiting. He met Monica and her family and while we swam he watched the match with Rolston. Sadly France lost, but he smiled and said now I swim to wash it away. We made summer chicken and corn on the cob with sautéed zucchini which is harder to explain then I thought and now know is corgette in French. He helped Rolston with the dishes while I put the boys to bed. A wonderful first day!
Monday was relaxing and restful for all the boys and then we went to a BBQ to meet the other students and their host families. People asked us what made us decide to do it so last minute. To a smiling nodding crowd I explained my history with exchange students and the fact that Rolston was the pragmatic one and had the final word. I also shared that the other night after the soccer match that Rolston had leaned over and said, “Is it weird that I really like having Paul here? I mean he is fun and can do so much for himself” Everybody laughed saying they remembered the days of having very young children and we ate and talked while the kids played.
As usual Emerson hung back with Rolston and me, but Paul got Brenton right in the pool where he made friends with the boys and flirted with the girls. Brenton is smitten with one of the students named Emma. He insisted on saying goodbye and gave her a hug and a smooch on the cheek. We said our goodbyes and bribed Brenton with sweets to get him out the door without a meltdown.
Paul went with the other students to Philadelphia yesterday for their first outing. He had a wonderful time. When he came home he ran to get his bathing suit on and then did a dramatic dive into the pool. He popped up with a big smile and said, “Today was really great.” I smiled and told him I was so glad. He threw the football with Rolston in the pool and we all swam around. I got out to make dinner and Paul and the boys played soccer while Rolston sat and cheered for them. I watched at the window while the noodles cooked and thought how very happy I was to have Paul in our lives after only a few short days.
He is charming and witty. He is not complicated. He is helpful. He is also very honest. When we asked about his family he told us his grandparents on one side live far away and said they are like Don’t call us we will call you. I thought at 16 what an understanding of the world he has. He usually cooks dinner for himself except on the weekends. The level of maturity is clear, but he also says things like “Dab is life” which remind me he is still a teenager.
Today he is off to Wal-Mart to buy shorts for his outing with the group tomorrow. Then a quick trip to Aldi and off to Bounce U with Rolston and Emerson. What is more American than a warehouse full of bounce houses and inflatable obstacle courses to jump on!?!? Tonight we may play mini golf or that might wait because the weather seems a bit dicey.
Tomorrow my parents arrive so we will have a lot going on and it will be tons of fun. We already warned Paul that my mother will ask him thousands of questions and my father will slightly yell when he thinks Paul doesn’t quite follow what he is saying. We will see how it goes with a few more people in the house, but I am optimistic the good times will continue.
It is only a few days into his three week stay, but one thing is incredibly clear….Paul is wonderful. We are all a little bit better with Paul around. The universe sent us exactly what we needed when we needed it. I can only hope he feels similarly about us as his replacement host family. We are so lucky we decided to say yes because it is clearly one of the best snap decisions we have ever made!