Yesterday we took our daughter-on-loan to the airport, to return her to her home and her family. Although she spent more than ten months with us, I still clearly remember greeting her at the airport last August, wearing balloon hats and waving homemade signs in broken Slovak.
I recently received an email from another family who’s considering hosting, asking what the past year has been like for us. I replied:
It’s been a joy having our daughter-on-loan. I’ve gotten to learn more about our local high school (our kids are still in elementary school). We’ve also had a great time showing her some of the places we love in Colorado, and exploring new ones together too. She and my husband both love sci-fi, so he’s got somebody who’ll happily accompany him to the movies that don’t interest me. We all love to read, and we’ve traded books back and forth. She played tennis for the high school, and she and my husband have played together many times. She loves to bake, so I find recipes and she makes them. (This could be construed as a downside, haha!) It’s been amazing to watch her develop relationships with our kids; when they draw pictures of our family, they include her too. She leaves on Tuesday, and I can’t think about it too much or I’ll tear up. Yes, we love her!
Even though I’ve been her host mother for the past ten months, I still can’t fully imagine what it must be like for a sixteen year old to travel thousands of miles from her family, to a country where she knows no one and nobody speaks her language (Slovak is extremely difficult). It was a leap of faith for both her and her parents. I’m honored to have helped Kristina find her way.
In the early weeks, her surroundings were completely unfamiliar. But soon she went out running on the trail, walked to the grocery store to buy ingredients for yet another confection, biked to the library, and took the light rail downtown for a race — all on her own. Yet when she wanted to get her ears re-pierced, I had to brave the mall on a Saturday night during peak holiday shopping in order to sign the consent form because she’s not yet eighteen.
She and her friend Sara, an exchange student from Sweden, hung out at our house like any other teenagers — playing Wii, watching movies, baking. But I marveled as I listened to them chatting in English, complete with American vernacular and peppered with “like” and “you know” and other hallmarks of teen conversation.
Being a host family requires a measure of comfort with your own family life and the willingness to incorporate another person into those intimate moments. Kristina has witnessed the good and the bad of being a member of the Marsh household. She’s forged sibling relationships with Tacy, CJ, and Oliver. She’s seen (and heard) me yell at the kids and fight with Kyle and cry over nothing. She’s also been along for the cool outings, goofy inside jokes, and myriad celebrations, both for major events and for no reason at all. No family is perfect, and no family can pretend to be perfect for any length of time.
I’d been threatening to tear up her plane tickets for a few weeks, especially after she made this, and yesterday morning when I’d outlined the day’s schedule for the girls, CJ asked yet again, “Can we keep her?”
While I can’t imagine how Kristina must have felt last August, or in the following weeks and months as she created a life half a world away from her home, I can only begin to imagine how her parents must have felt as they let her go at the airport in Vienna and the absence in their lives this past year. I’m incredibly grateful to them for sharing her with us, and I’ve kept them in mind each day of the past ten months, knowing that they entrusted their daughter to me.
Goodbye, Kika-Peek-a-Boo. We love you, and we’ll miss you.