Monday, May 30, 2011

Drawing to a Close…

It’s hard to believe but in less than one month, our first year as an AFS host family will be over.  I am really in shock, as I think about it, that there’s so little time left—4 weeks, just 28 little days, and it’s over and done.  Sheesh!

P1100886 I started working on a scrapbook for Penny last week.  It contains lots of little odds and ends that haven’t had a place to live, so hopefully having everything in one book will be easier for her.  She and I were looking through it and she asked me how I felt when I was working on it, did I feel sad?  I was able to honestly answer her that no, I didn’t feel sad.  The main thing I feel is proud.  (This is Penny holding a picture of herself from the day she came into the US back in August.  We were marveling at the changes—me in how much older she looks, her in how much longer her hair is!)

This has been an incredible experience in so many ways.  I have been challenged as a person and as a parent.  I feel I am better at parenting now that I’ve had to parent Penny.  Aside from the couple of big dust ups we had, I can say that she has put us through our paces with normal teenage things, and I haven’t handled every challenge the way I should have, but it gave me a lot of insight into what I need to consider and change and do differently next time.  One of the things Mike and I need to seriously consider is the idea of making expectations clear, following through when things don’t get done, and the resulting consequences.  I don’t think Penny is a child who has had a lot of negative consequences in her life.  We had a discussion not too long ago in which she said she likes my parenting style with Leah.  If Leah falls off the jungle gym at the playground, she knows not to do it again.  But Penny says that parents she knows in Thailand would likely blame the playground and never bring their child back.  Still, there has been a part of me reluctant to discipline someone else’s 18 year old. 

I have learned to be a better communicator, I’ve learned to be tough and say the tough things that need to be said, I’ve learned to try different ways of getting my point across, expressing opinions and being much more verbal than I have ever been in my life.  Mike and I were talking today about hosting in the future from a country like Australia, and while we are not opposed to it, I very much like the challenge of attempting to communicate with someone who does not speak English well.  There are of course frustrations, and toss on top of those frustrations the ones that come with a husband who can’t hear you half the time and has trouble always understanding a thick accent, and you’re in for some laughs!

Penny has gotten a couple of new experiences in this month.  She got to do some volunteer hours, finally, in support a 5K to support the local food bank.  It was tough on her—she had to be there at 5AM on a Saturday, and I left her there to figure things out for herself, but she eventually did it, did a great job volunteering, and made a new friend along the way.

Penny also got to experience the death of a pet as our rabbit, TomTom, had to be put to sleep.  It was a very difficult experience for my husband and I, as we got TomTom as a baby bunny when we thought there might never be children in our home and so we basically coddled that rabbit and spoiled him rotten.  In the end, he was in pretty rough shape and letting him go was the kind thing to do, but it was definitely hard and Penny shed a few tears over him, even though she does not like pets and animals much at all.  I remember the first night she was here, as we were giving her a tour of the house, she went right over to the cage and said, “Hello, TomTom!” quite loudly, and it was the most she said for a week, and a sweet memory to this day.

P1010395 This past weekend, we farmed Penny out for the long weekend.  Saturday she went up to my friend Melissa’s.  Melissa is an avid hiker and decided that Penny needed to hike up in the Shenandoah Mountains at least once before she goes back home.  So Saturday, they headed out on a 1.4 mile hike to a waterfall, and for ice cream.  She reported afterwards that she really enjoyed hiking and she LOVES blackberry ice cream.  Maybe she’ll pick up a new hobby now!

Afterwards, Melissa dropped Penny off with my sister, Judy, and her family for Sunday.  Judy took her to the local farmer’s market, which Penny liked a lot, although she felt it was expensive.  My sister reported, “I know why you’ve had such a rough year!” when I picked Penny up today, as Penny reportedly refused to indicate an interest in anything or to participate in anything that a) cost money or b) involved being outside.  Finally my sister splurged on movie tickets and they went to see Kung Fu Panda in 3D, and Penny loved it and maybe even cried at the end? 

P1010427 We picked Penny up today and had a little Memorial Day indoor picnic.  (We are in the midst of a massive heat wave here in Virginia, so going outside even if Penny was willing was not going to happen!)  I was happy that when I went to Giant, they had a cake decorated similarly to how the Labor Day cookie I’d bought last September was decorated, it’s kind of a nice bookend to Penny’s first and last American holidays.

I think it was a good weekend for all of us.  We got to get in a little practice at being a family of 3 again and seeing how that dynamic would work when things go back to being that way in a few weeks.  I was very surprised—Leah really didn’t ask for Penny much at all, and Mike and I handled the division of labor quite nicely.  We did miss Penny, and it brought into stark focus how quiet the house is going to be without her yelling and stomping around (she is a VERY heavy walker).  And I think it was good for her.  At my sister’s, she was sleeping on a broken futon, no cable TV, no internet, so the simple things she enjoys here were very much brought into focus for her and gave her a greater appreciation for what good things she has.  We were reminded too of the good things she brings to our family, so it was a win-win.  I will miss her, no denying it!

Next weekend she will head to Charlottesville on Saturday, and come back Sunday.  The host family she stayed with during AFS orientation wanted to have her back, so she’s off to stay with them.  The following weekend we will have an AFS picnic for our area and then on Sunday is Father’s Day and we will do a 5K.  The following weekend she graduates!  And then we’re off to the races.  It may be that Penny is done with school on June 8th, so I am busily planning some last minute fun.  She has requested one more mall trip (ugh! but I’ll do it for her.  She explained the clothes in Thai malls rarely fit her and she just enjoys going and trying on clothes—should be fun trying to keep Leah corralled!), and I want to take both girls up to the Baltimore Aquarium.  Penny is interested in King’s Dominion, we are thinking about Luray Caverns, and of course, our trip to NYC.  Oh yeah, and she has to pack, will want to hang out with her friends, and we’re having a good-bye party for her!!!  So I know this time is going to fly by, and I’m just going to savor every minute of it while I can.

P1100896(The January page of the scrapbook, commemorating our trip to the Adirondacks, where we were snowed in for a week!)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Celebrities and Proms

P1100819 Penny is off at her prom this evening.  We are so happy that she chose to go and work towards one of our goals for her, which is to attend 3 activities at her school.  She is out with her friend, Lesley, who is her “date”. 

The last several weeks, since before we left for Rhode Island, have been spent obsessing about hair.  She asked me to take her to Wal-Mart to buy a straightener so she could curl her hair.  I asked her why she didn’t just want to buy a curling iron, but it turns out that Penny’s mom’s chief complaint is that Penny doesn’t brush her hair, so Penny feels that rather than taking 20 seconds to brush her hair, she could straighten it and her mom would never know the difference.  Anyway, we found a straightener “as seen on TV” that claimed with a flick of the wrist it would also curl, so she bought it.

We wound up having to watch an instructional DVD and we got OK results with it after practicing quite a bit.  Penny came floating home from school one day with a single limp curl in her hair declaring that she had finally worked it out and didn’t her hair look great?!  It was then I decided we were buying a curling iron.  We practiced with it the first night, and her hair was magically curly, much to her delight.  (The right tool works wonders!)  So tonight, we went to town and curled her up for her big night… She was so happy with the results.

P1100816She completed it very simply with a headband we had bought for her, and I think she looked like a million dollars!

Another goal Penny had set for herself was to meet a celebrity while in the United States.  I was so excited this week when a friend told me that Paul Burrell was coming to Fredericksburg.  I have long been a very great admirer of the late Princess Diana and while I never got to meet her, meeting the man she called her “rock” was as good as it was going to get.  I have gotten Penny quite interested in the British royal family during her stay here, so I asked her if she wanted to go and meet Paul Burrell and she said she would love to!  Thus her first celebrity meeting was inked.

We went over this morning to the furniture store where the event was being held—it seems Mr. Burrell has had a hand in designing his own line of furniture based on the furniture of the royal family.  He was also signing any books that you had and you could buy books once you got there.  I happened to have two of his books and picked up one more while we were over there…  Penny was quite shy at first and didn’t get a book signed, contenting herself to take pictures of Leah and I.


I did talk her into getting her own picture taken with him, and she was pretty happy about that!


But as we were walking back to the car, I asked her if she didn’t really want to get the last book signed for herself and  she hesitated.  But I could tell she wanted to, so I gave her my last book and told her we’d go back.  She said she didn’t know what to talk about, so I suggested she ask him about the Royal Wedding that we just watched, which is exactly what she did.  He didn’t mind signing her book at all and told her what a grand event the wedding had been and that he thought Kate looked “radiant”.  And when they were done, so did Penny.  She clutched that book to her very tightly, and I know she’ll treasure it for a long time to come.

P1100808It was a glorious day for me, to be sure; as I told him, it was an honor just to be in the same room, much less shake his hand and have him put an arm around me for a photo.  But it was also special as a mom to see my two girls interact with him (he actually got down on the floor to interact with Leah, who was MADLY in love), and for Penny to be brave and go speak to him.  

In a few hours, I’ll go retrieve her from her big night and our grand Saturday will be but a memory.  But it was a great day indeed!