This past weekend we’ve done a lot of talking, Mike and I, about the upcoming months, and for the first time in almost a year, we’ve begun to make plans for a family of 3 instead of a family of 4. We have been talking about a beach trip, upcoming holidays, birthdays, and more, and all with the sudden realization that Penny will not be here.
It is both sad and a little bit freeing. Take for instance our planning a trip to the beach. We typically go every spring and love it. Leah can spend hours digging in the sand, and Mike and I can spend hours sitting or walking along the beach, watching the waves, listening to the seagulls, and enjoying ourselves doing absolutely nothing.
Penny, on the other hand, hates the sun. She informed us that she absolutely will not set foot on the beach until at least 5pm. Lest you think she is prejudiced, she also hates cloudy days, which she says make her depressed. If it’s warm and sunny outside, she’s too hot. If it’s cloudy outside, she’s immediately cold. She hates the air conditioning. She has spent most of her time here wearing shorts (including all winter) and then complaining that we don’t keep the house warm enough.
So we knew that going to the beach as a family of four was, well, stupid. Instead we will go in September, when the weather is still really nice and warm, and we can spend our days out on the beach without worrying about a sulky teenager sitting alone in the condo!
But in many ways, it is also quite sad. She came home from the mall yesterday and asked how it felt to have a quiet house with no children (Leah was away for the weekend). And I answered honestly that for the first time, it’s really hit home that she’s actually leaving. We talked a lot about what her leaving would feel like to all of us, about what her year has meant to us all. I told her that there have been times she’s made me so angry I absolutely wanted to throttle her, and there are other times I can envision myself chasing the bus down the road and trying to never let her go. We’ve talked about opportunities and time she wasted, what she could/would/should have done differently, what she did exactly right, what she still has time to change, what things she should still take advantage of. She is presently debating going to the prom. She’s never going to have the opportunity again, so I told her to take the bull by the horns and go. I hope she will. She has asked a friend to go with her, and I think they could have a very good time.
She admitted today that she is very excited about going to graduation and going through the ceremony. Ok, ok, she also said she was just glad to be done with American high school, which in my view indicates a pretty poor attitude in general, but be that as it may, her excitement about the prospect of doing ANYTHING is a good sign.
Today we went back to the Riverside Theater and saw another show and she asked to see another one before she leaves, so we’ve scheduled one last theater jaunt for 3 days before her scheduled departure. She made plans with a friend of mine to go see the Shenandoah Mountains—something she expressed no interest in when I mentioned it to her before. We’ve got our trip to NYC narrowed down to 2 possible dates, so I can begin to plan that out. She is busy attending an SAT class in the hopes that she can score well on it, better than she thinks she did on the TOEFL, to keep her dreams of attending an American college alive.
Every week she combs the grocery store, looking for snacks on sale to bring home with her. We are all starting to consider how she will pack the things that she wants to take home, what she will have to ship, what she will keep, what she will leave behind. So far she has agreed to part with the box her Nintendo DSi came in. She is also intrigued by the possibility of Space Bags for getting clothing and a blanket and towel she’s acquired to take up less room.
There is a definite sense of urgency she is experiencing to cram things in.
We have also started reminiscing about her first days here, how little she spoke, how far she has come, how far she still has to go in terms of learning, speaking, listening, reading, and writing English. In particular we laughed about her first days when every morning she would come downstairs and tell me that she couldn’t sleep because the air conditioner was so cold. And I would explain to her every morning, very patiently, “There is a heavy blanket under your bed.” and she would smile and say “Thank you” and the next morning, the scene would repeat itself. Finally after 3 days of this, it dawned on me, “This girl doesn’t know what the heck ‘there’s a blanket under your bed’ even means.” and I went upstairs, pulled out the underbed storage box with the heavy blanket in it out and showed it to her. She has been sleeping under it ever since.
Reminding her of this story made her laugh so hard. I recently submitted an article to Yahoo Contributors about her exchange and about how excited she was to use the dishwasher when we told her she had to do the dishes. Now it’s like an act of Congress most days to get her to do the dishes! She laughed about how on the first night, we got home and I kicked off my shoes as soon as we got in the door and so she thought she should do it too and then misinterpreted my “You don’t have to take your shoes off” as “put your shoes back on!” and she had no idea what to do.
We have grown so much as a family, as individuals. It has at times been painful, joyous, exciting, disappointing, frightening, and even worrying, but I know that when these next couple of months are over and done and Penny is home, we will still be a family of four. I assured her of such last night, telling her, “This isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning.” I truly hope it is.