Yesterday was the big day. I got tired of cleaning around 1:45 and got Leah dressed and ready. I did a quick run through of the house to make sure everything was as good as it could get and then we headed out. I only had to turn back once to put some lights on because I figured we would get home after dark with the way traffic was looking. I had started monitoring traffic reports around noon, and already it was bad coming south, but what I hadn’t expected was that traffic in and around Fredericksburg got bad heading north!! Consequently, we took a bunch of back roads and headed to Stafford via Route 1. When we finally popped out onto I-95, it was fine. We made it to Oakton in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, so it really wasn’t too bad at all. Leah hadn’t napped at all, and she slept for about 45 minutes of the time, but she didn’t sleep the whole way and got crabby right as we got into Fairfax. Consequently, we stopped en route at a Giant, where I changed her diaper and let her walk around for a few minutes. Then we got to the church. We were the second family there. I had hoped to meet Penny without my brace, but a few minutes of chasing Leah around the sanctuary convinced me I needed to go back to the car and put the brace on.
All the AFS volunteers fell in love with Leah. We were greeted by Jerene, who has been a volunteer for over 50 years, and she said Penny was an absolute doll, speaks excellent English, and was very excited about her little sister. We waited while the other families arrived (ironically, we and the family from Charlottesville were the first ones there and everyone else was late!). Finally everyone arrived and they decided to commence with the event. There was a small ceremony where they had the students walk in and talk about what country they were from. When Penny walked past us, she tapped my arm and said, “Hello Susan!” with a big grin on her face. It was an exciting moment. :-D All of the students had drawn their flags on the paper. There were many Scandinavians this year, no one from South America, and 3 students from Asia (Penny and 2 Japanese girls).
They made a nice speech about how happy they were that we were their families and thanked us for hosting and then Jerene said “Students, find your families!” and the rush was on. All the students came forth and found us, and Penny came right over. We exchanged hugs and gave her the gifts we had brought for her, including a journal to record her thoughts and memories of the year.
Then we were allowed to leave. I wanted to get a family picture before we departed, so I asked one of the volunteers to get one. I had to swivel a bit to get Leah kind of looking ahead. Leah was not sure what to make of the entire operation, including of Penny, but she soon warmed up to everyone.
We asked Penny if she was hungry, but she said no, so we decided to go straight home. (No does not always mean no, though, just as yes does not always mean yes! We are learning!) It took us two hours. We really did well getting from Oakton to Stafford, and then it took us roughly 40 minutes to get from just north of Aquia to Courthouse. I was freaking out. Leah was freaking out, screaming and crying. Penny fell asleep for a while, but the screaming got her up. We did the best we could and once we got past Courthouse, we were home in 10 minutes. Total travel time was 2 hours on the dot. I hate sitting in traffic. And trying to introduce someone to their new home via a massive traffic jam, it just got me so anxious, that I was a bit off for a while.
Once we got in, we took Penny up to her room to drop off her bags and we put Leah to sleep. I ordered some pizzas and chicken wings and we decided to let Penny email her family and post a message on Facebook to say that she was here and safe. The pizzas arrived and finally I relaxed a little while we ate and chatted about Thailand. I told Penny that if she felt up to it, on Saturday Leah had been invited to a birthday party for her friend Alex who just turned 4 and we would go if she was awake and well. She said OK, and then helped clean up. (She is extremely helpful and has already been learning sighted guide with Mike!)
Afterwards, we asked if she wanted help unpacking, but she said no, she would do it and then she went up and did that. She went to bed around 9:00 and was up at 9:00 this morning. She says she is not feeling any problems with jet lag, and I think it’s excellent. She seems to have adjusted well to our time zone!! It helps that she had 2 days here already before we picked her up.
We left around 11:00 to go and pick up a gift for Alex and then went over to the mall. Penny met Cindy and Wendy and Amanda, three of my girlfriends who she has been communicating with via Facebook. There were many small children around and Penny got right down on the floor with them. She is excellent with children and Leah is madly in love with her. We had pizza and chicken for lunch (I told her I was afraid she would think Americans didn’t eat anything else!) and then the party was over, so we went to the play park in the mall for about 20 minutes but all of us were tired, so we came back home. It was around 2pm. I decided to put Leah down and take a nap myself, and Mike also fell asleep, but Penny asked if she could use the computer while we were all sleeping. I didn’t mind as we were not doing anything as a family, so she did that for a bit and we all passed out. I woke up around 4:30, and got Leah up, and Penny and I took her outside to play in the swimming pool. She soon got tired of that, so I took her for a walk and Penny declined; instead she came back inside to see Mike.
When I got home it was time to make dinner. I was going to attempt to make homemade marinara sauce, since Penny said her special food is spaghetti and all our neighbors are giving us their extra tomatoes this year. But on my walk, our neighbor said he would drop some of his tomatoes off tomorrow, so I decided I will make that tomorrow. I pulled out kielbasa and pierogies from the freezer and decided to treat Penny to a real Polish meal. As I was pulling everything out, she inspected it all and timidly asked if there was still pizza left. Hahahaha I said yes and if she didn’t like the Polish food to please feel free to eat the pizza! But I am happy to say that she reported she liked it very much. She kept Leah entertained while I cooked and Leah just loves her to pieces.
After dinner, I got Leah to bed and then I asked Penny if she would like to talk about the host family-participant questionnaire that AFS suggests you go over once when they get here and once about a month later. She thought it was a good idea, so we all sat in the living room and went through several pages of discussion questions. I know it exhausted her, but I also feel it was good in that it really opened up the lines of communication between us. We talked about what she wanted to get out of her year here, had a hilarious conversation about dating, gave her hard and fast chores to do so that she doesn’t feel she has to do everything, which is what she has been doing, and just had a great chat about everything. It helped me feel more relaxed and I explained that yesterday I had been very nervous and she said she could tell. :-D So I think today we are on better footing for sure.
Then she said she would like to go upstairs for a bit and I said I would be downstairs watching TV. She took a shower (she has been showering 3 times a day!) and then came downstairs with T-shirts for us that her father had selected. They are so cool. We are going to put them on tomorrow and take a picture. Then we said goodnight and she went to bed.
So that’s where we stand now. Tomorrow we may go up to Woodbridge to meet my sister and her family, but that depends on my sister’s schedule. Tuesday, our neighbor’s daughter will come over to meet Penny and watch Leah while I go to physical therapy and Wednesday we will take Penny to get enrolled in school. Thursday we will meet up with Wendy and her kids to go bowling and go to lunch.
After my initial nervousness has worn off (I even called my mom), it has been a wonderful experience thus far. I am really looking forward to this year and seeing how our relationship develops with this special young lady!