31 Days of Instant Motherhood

Culture is more than a country 

As I finished Monday’s blog post I couldn’t help but think there’s more to it than simply calling someone “daughter” and that being that.  I think of stories Elisa has told me about her friends who are also on AFS adventures this year around the world, one elsewhere in America and the other in France.  Both of them are currently in the process of being relocated to new host families.  

I’m not trying to say anything bad about these two students or their initial host families, just that in general this is a process that doesn’t always go smoothly. Think about it for a minute… a child grows up within a specific family with a specific family culture for years, in a specific country with a specific country culture.  Meanwhile, across the world another family is formed with a different life experience, in a culture with all of its own little specific details.  Then one family pics up a teenager from the other family and tries to instantly make the two mesh.  Add in that in some cases they may only speak a few words of a common language and, like I said before, it’s not quite as easy just saying “this is my daughter”. 

I am beyond thankful for many things that have helped in the transition process for me and for Elisa.  First of all, she speaks AMAZING conversational English. This has helped us out immensely as we have figured out life together.  Also, while going from single life living on my own to that of single mom has been quite the transition, there are only two people trying to mesh not a whole family.  

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges with that.  For example, from what I can tell the area in which she lives back home it is much safer and logistically easier to get around which means there was lot more freedom and independence given teenagers in her culture.  This has made the concepts of curfew and letting me know where she is and having to have rides in a car everywhere a somewhat challenging transition for her.  On my end, I’m used to not having to really connect with anyone else’s plans when making plans of my own.  When you couple one person not used to telling people where they are and another trying to make plans based up on where the other person is (not to mention that teenagers typically don’t have “plans” and just spontaneously ‘do stuff’) we’ve both had a learning curve. 

What I love most though in all of this is the new family culture Elisa and I are creating together. It’s of course still in the works but it involves lots and lots of laughter for which I am thankful.  It involves a balance of having the honor of serving her as my daughter doing things like packing a lunch or washing her volleyball jersey mixed with teaching her how to do things on her own.  It involves learning how to use snapchat and hearing about her day at school.  It involves tough conversations and time to goof-off. It involves planning with space for spontaneity.  It’s all about taking time when cultures collide to try to understand each other and figure out a new normal.  In some cases, like that of her two friends, it just doesn’t work out.  I’m so thankful that for us, it has! 

31 Days of Instant Motherhood

Elisa the World Traveler becomes Dora the Explorer

Her trusty map and backpack in hand we sent off Dora the Explorer to school today for her first experience with Homecoming Spirit week.  Got the full mom experience of staying up until way past my bedtime helping her transform her backpack, create and old looking map, and provide moral support as she freaks out about walking into her high school dressed like a children’s cartoon character.  Despite limited time and resources I’d say we did a pretty good job pulling it all together.  Good luck Elisa for TV Character Tuesday.  (Now just to find a hat and boots we can borrow for Western Wednesday!?!)

31 Days of Instant Motherhood

No she’s not just a roommate… 

Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I find it kind of humorous when people are unsure how to refer to Elisa, especially if they don’t know her name yet.  For example, a man at church a couple weeks ago asked me “How are things going with your … uh… friend… uh… roommate… uh … person.  I figured out what he meant and said things were going well.  As I spoke more, many of the things I said implied that it was a parenting role. His response was “Well it’s not like you’re a mom or anything… more like a sister or a roommate, right?”   

Others also have hesitated to use terms like “mother” or “daughter” and to be honest, it was super weird for me at first too.  But now, it’s just casual language for me. The cashier at Aldi commented on how she was excited they had lasagna noodles now. I replied with “Me too. Lasagna is my daughter’s favorite food.”  When someone else asked me where I was heading the other day, I said I was on my way to my daughter’s volleyball game.  Perhaps the funniest one was when a coworker mentioned to a mutual friend how we hadn’t seen each other much since I had a kid now and the friend didn’t know what to do and was confused by the thought that I had a daughter he didn’t know about.

So yea… it’s weird … and yes, she’s not my “real” daughter, but she IS already family.  I sign on the “parent/guardian” line on permission slips and look forward to escorting her for her volleyball senior night next week. I stay up late helping her with homework and pack her lunch each morning.  I’m teaching her how to do laundry and we share dinner together in the evenings. 
I agree, it’s not conventional, and perhaps a little weird at times, but this call as an AFS Host Parent goes beyond simply providing food and lodging for a year-long guest.  Oddly enough, I think that would be even more stressful.  Call her whatever you want, but for the next 7.5 months (and even when she goes back home) Elisa is family… yes, I even call her my daughter. 🙂

31 Days of Instant Motherhood

Lasagna and Apple Juice and Hamburger Buns 

So I know this is kind of random but we’re blogging “the journey” here and well, this is reality. I knew my budget for groceries would need to expand when doubling the number residents in the house hold.  What I didn’t know was what those extra dollars would be spent on.  Here’s a little glimpse into Bekah’s newly revised Shopping Cart:

  • Ramen – I thought my days of buying Ramen were in the past, but hey if it’s one of your daughter’s favorite comfort foods, it makes a very easy quick DIY “meal” (if you can call it that) on nights when we’re going 16 different directions. I guess I did eat it as an after school snack almost everyday in high school. 
  • Hamburger Buns – When I lived by myself if I bought a package of hamburger buns, I would have to freeze some right away or they’d get moldy before I could use them all.  Now I buy about 3 packages a week.  (Elisa likes these to make sandwiches on instead of bread. So one for breakfast and 2 for lunch equal at least 3 a day.  Game days we add an extra one or two.) At least making her lunches is easy… 2 hamburger bun sandwiches, an apple and/or grapes, and grape or cherry tomatoes.  
  • Apple Juice – After going through nearly 2 gallons in the first week Elisa was here, I’ve learned to only put out a certain amount in the fridge each week even if I have more in the cabinet.  If it’s in the fridge it will be gone. What can we say,  the girl likes her juice.
  • Lasagna noodles – Yesterday Aldi actually had lasagna noodles as a special buy item and I bought 3 boxes.  This is Elisa’s favorite food… which oddly enough I had never even made until right before she came.  I think we could have lasagna every day and Elisa would be happy. She even snapchatted about it last night … on the 3 day of leftovers… with the caption “how to get me happy”. 
  • Cocoa Puffs – I think these are disgusting but they’re the one cereal Elisa has found she likes.  If anyone wants any Rice Krispies, Cocoa Pebbles, Fruit Loops, etc. etc. etc. we could probably hook you up with some nearly full boxes each with about one bowls worth out of them. 🙂

The food aspect of instantly parenting a teenager was one of the things I was most worried about going into this process while at the same time most excited about. I love cooking and I love it even more when I get to cook for other people. Yet, our food is very different than Faroese cuizine.  Thankfully, Elisa isn’t too picky when it comes to food. Leave out the peanut butter and keep the vegetables raw not cooked.  Rice is always a win, and if all else fails… she just goes and makes herself some spaghetti noodles with ketchup! 😳

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Ice Cream and Laughter and Laundry, Oh My!

Last week I was around a lot of people who were finding out for the first time that I was hosting an AFS student.  After their initial reactions (whatever they might have been) often conversation would come around somehow to how the experience was matching up with my expectations.  I knew there would be hard days… and there has been. I knew there would be times when I’d have no clue what to do… (fake it til ya make it right?!?).  I knew there would be challenges that I could have never guessed and so I didn’t even try.  

Yea we’ve had tough curfew conversations… and then ones about consequences.  We’ve had disagreements because, well, she’s a teenager and I am not.  There are some days we may be thankful to have two separate rooms to go to at the end of the evening. 

But more than any of that… 

we’ve had nights filled with laughter… lots of laughter… 

we’ve shared ‘firsts’ together … first day of school… first VB game here… first Baseball Game ever… first (American) football game…and hope to have many more to come… 

I get to cheer her on each week from the stands at her volleyball games (which comes with the distinct ‘mom privilege’ of putting her nose ring in my purse for safe keeping during the game)

I’ve taught her to do laundry and she’s taught me to use snapchat… 

we’ve eaten ice cream out of the carton (shhh) and I occassionaly get her to try some new vegetables … 

I correct her [already amazing] English … and she laughs as I make sad attempt to say 6 words I know in Faroese …

She’s done my make up for fun on a Saturday night because she was bored and she likes doing people’s make up (I told you there were new things for both of us!!!) …

we’ve had chances to hear about each others’ days at the dinner table and on the great days we celebrate together and on the hard days I’ve gotten to remind her that ‘boys are stupid’ or ‘just be yourself’ or some other almost-cliche truth … 

we’ve made Faroese pancakes …and American pancakes … and enjoyed them both… 

These are the things I hope I remember most when we get to the end of the year.  These are the moments that make all the hard ones worth it.  These are times I thank God for what He’s called me to and rejoice in one more day I get to be Mom. 

Night before school starts icecream and a movie
packing a lunch for her first day of high school in America
First Day Of School!

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Meeting Elisa

Written August 13, 2016 … 2 days after becoming “mom”:

So I picked up Elisa this weekend. Yep, this is real… And crazy and perhaps really crazy. At the same time, not crazy at all, but somehow normal.  At different points I stop and think “what am I doing?” and at certain points I’m sure the reality (insanity?) of it all will probably hit me harder but at the same time it feels okay and good even.  I interact with teenagers all the time… Most people seem to get along with me just fine so why shouldn’t she… I actually enjoy leading and guiding and mentoring through things and that’s what this is.  I like being able to say “we’ll figure it out together”.  Yes it may be crazy, but it seems right… Right where I’m supposed to be right now.

My heart tends to lean toward wondering what other people think.  Seeking approval is rarely a good thing, but it’s true.  Lord, help me with that.  That being said it did my heart good to see a post Elisa put on Instagram, I suppose introducing me to her family and friends back home (at least that’s what I’m assuming the Faroese meant). 
The best translation I can come up with is that it says “me and my ‘fitta’ American mom”
When looking up “fitta” I found:
“Smart… Capable… Brave”
I’m pretty sure those aren’t the best translations and not quite what she was going for, but I guess I’ll take it! 
At first I resisted these titles in my mind. But then I realized that in Jesus, these can each be true of this year (even if that’s not at all the translation she was going for).  I am smart to be in what I believe is God’s will for me… Following His lead into the world of instant, temporary parenthood.  Capable. This is probably the one I most resist… Am I REALLY capable? But then I remember … It’s never about my abilities anyway.  It’s always all about Jesus and his strength and power and wisdom in my life.  “Apart from him I can do nothing.”  Brave.  Okay so this one I believe… Volunteering to parent a teenager you’ve never met before for 10 months whose first language is not English and came from across the world. Okay … That takes some bravery, yet again, the courage and confidence is not in myself but in trusting God goes before me and walks beside me and will be able to simply mirror the bravery in Elisa for actually coming here… in being adventurous … in trying new things and living life to the fullest.  If you ever read this, I’m already so proud of you Elisa!  I can’t wait to see what this year holds together! 
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An International Community 

One of the things I’m loving about being an AFS host is that I have so many opportunities to learn about other countries and cultures. Throughout the year AFS plans various events for the exchange students and families.  There are currently about 35 students from over a dozen countries (maybe more) currently  placed around WNY.  Back at the end of August we went to a Bison’s Baseball Game and yesterday we enjoyed a family picnic.  To look around a room and see teenagers from Germany and Thailand and Japan and Spain and Switzerland and beyond was such a fun experience.  The night ended with the students having some “forced fun” learning some square dancing together!  I’m enjoying being part of this AFS community this year!

Elisa’s 1st Baseball Game
AFS Family Picnic and Square Dancing
Elisa with something close to her flag but not really 🙂

31 Days of Instant Motherhood, Uncategorized

Where it all began…

“So how did it come about that you are hosting an exchange student?”

This question in various forms has passed through my ears into my brain countless times in the last couple months.  The fascinating thing is I literally have no clue where the idea came from initially.  I was standing at my stove making breakfast one morning and the next thing I knew I was pondering what it might be like to host an exchange student.  I quickly put it out of my mind for a multitude of reasons and went about my day. 

But, obviously, since here we are 8 months later with a teenager living in my home, it didn’t actually stay out of my mind for long.

Later that day I was preparing for a youth lock-in that weekend. We were going to hang out at the church that night and then do service projects with a local organization the next day.  A few hours before students arrived the director of the organization called and informed us that due to circumstances outside their control about 3/4 of the project we were supposed to do the next day wouldn’t be able to be done.  With a few hours to try to pull something together I began scouring the internet and other connections and resources to figure out what to do with 30 teenagers.  I had used a volunteer matching website to plan some past mission trips and decided to quick see if there happened to be any opportunity for groups on there.  Opportunities for 30 teenagers to serve in their community the next day were not among the results… but opportunities for WNYers to host a foreign exchange student next year were. Screen after screen, search after search, “host an exchange student” kept appearing before my eyes.  Again I quickly put the thought of a teenager in my home out of my mind to attend to the tasks necessary to welcome dozens of them into our church that night. 

However, the “coincidence” wasn’t lost on me and after recovering what turned out to be a great lock-in I began seriously praying about whether God was potentially leading me down this path.  Without giving details at first I also asked a few close friends to begin praying about this as well as another related idea that had come to mind, both of which would involve living with other people. 

As I prayed no clear answer was given, but the concept of hosting kept appearing in my life in the most random of places.

Later that week, or maybe the next, I was filling in for someone helping cook and serve the Lenten Dinners at our church.  While filling containers with applesauce so the woman next to me could put cinnamon on them, she made the statement, “I think we should leave some without cinnamon. I had a foreign exchange student 22 years ago and he didn’t like cinnamon. Maybe someone doesn’t like cinnamon.”  At least one or two times before the night was over, she had brought her exchange son up randomly in conversation. 

If this didn’t get my attention enough, I found myself only a few days later in a conversation with a woman in the choir I’m in as she described the trip she was preparing to go on to visit the AFS student her family hosted while she was in high school. 

Along with my prayers, I decided to start taking some small steps of exploration.  I visited some websites.  I had some conversations with people who know and love me. I researched different programs and step by step I found myself getting more and more excited about this opportunity.

So, really, I’m not exactly sure how I got into this adventure.  No one asked me to host.  No one even presented me with the idea.  It just came to mind as I cooked breakfast on February Friday morning, but my life has never been the same, and for that I’m grateful! 

31 Days of Instant Motherhood, Uncategorized

Write 31 Days Challenge – Instant Motherhood

“So basically you’re an instant single mom to a 17-year old from another country whose third language is English?!?” 

As I heard someone say this to me this week, I realized again how “unconventional” this all really is.  Though those who know me aren’t surprised.  

My journey into, and now, through this year as “Mom” to my amazing foreign exchange daughter has been truly an adventure.  The awesome moments mix with the hard days; the excitement and confidence mingle with insecurity and doubt.  As people ask how I got to this point I’m not exactly sure how to respond, but I know God has been in it every step of the way and will continue to lead and guide. 

As we journey into October, a time when I have challenged myself in past years to join a 31 Day challenge to write every day for the month, some friends encouraged me to consider sharing some of my AFS Hosting journey here.  I’m not sure where the next 31 days will take us in this blog.  If it’s anything like my time with Elisa, there will be adventures around every corner.  But as best as I can be, I’ll simply show up.  I’ll write. I’ll mother. I’ll live this crazy awesome life God has called me to. 

Here we go.