I know it’s been a long time…..I truly did want to write about Doodle’s homecoming, her adjustment to life back in the states, her first year of college, and so on. But I didn’t. It’s not too late though, I remember so much of it, so clearly. I tried to burn each minute into my memory knowing that the time I would get to spend with her would be so brief. The 6 weeks she was home between stepping foot back in Louisiana to stepping foot on the college campus flew by, but it was a wonderful 6 weeks. It’s true what they say about exchange changing you. She had changed, but not in the drastic ways I had imagined and feared. It was mostly in the way she viewed the world. She marveled at the “huge” size of the typical 1/4 acre lots in our development, wondered how the rest of the world could live without macaroni and cheese from the blue box, and was much more at ease being a citizen of the world. But the best part of all were those countless nights the two of us would cuddle up on the couch watching Netflix or just talking until late into the night. For that reason alone, those were some of the best 6 weeks of my life. The two of us also took a girls’ trip to San Antonio while the boys were at the National Boy Scout Jamboree. Our hotel was right across the street from the Alamo so we literally went and saw it everyday and of course now we feel compelled to occasionally tell each other to remember the Alamo. We walked a lot, ate a lot, and shopped a lot besides seeing all the sites we could fit in. It was nice to have her undivided attention for those few days. What probably surprised me most when she came home is the quantity of time she spent at home, hanging out with her family. She was always one to want to be with her friends and on the go so it was odd to see her willingly spending time with us. I didn’t complain one bit, but a few times I asked her what her friends were doing because I didn’t want her to feel like she had to stay with us. She would usually reply with, “I don’t know,” and that was that.
We did have college to deal with too. Once again she had to pack her things to move to the unknown, after all, she had never stepped foot on the Tulane campus before. We made many shopping trips to make sure we had all of the necessities, but there was little packing getting done on her part. I imagine she a) didn’t feel like packing again so soon, b) wasn’t really ready to move on to the next stage of her life while trying to work through the reverse culture shock, and c) figured if she put it off long enough, I would do it. Eventually it did get done and she moved into her dorm along with all of the other freshmen. She and her roommate got along well and she had a pretty successful fall semester. Then sorority rush came in January and it didn’t work out so well for her so she dropped out before preference night. But, she’s found her place on campus and despite several texts about wanting to transfer somewhere else due to severe wanderlust and just plane wanting to drop out because she was “failing” a class (no, a B on a test is not failing….), I think things are going well for her.
Oh, and all that cuddling with me on the couch and spending time with the family unfortunately didn’t resume when she came home for Christmas last year – she was back to her normal, running around with her friends self. But perhaps she did spend a little more time with us than pre-exchange.
Today is the day I’ve been waiting for. It’s been 10 months and 10 days since we put Doodles on the plane towards Spain, and today she comes home. I had no idea at that time how I would feel today. When her plane landed on American soil a mere 200 miles away and I got that first text from her, there was such relief and excitement. Then I read the text, “Do I not have internet on this phone?” Not “I’m almost home!” or even “Hey, I’ve landed in Dallas!” Yep, it became clear that I was not high on her priority list. After a couple texts, I decided I was going to call her – we had sent her old phone that EB had been using home with him since she was going to be going to his house in Spain. That way, he had a phone to use until he left the US and she would have one to use the moment she landed. She didn’t sound very happy when she answered the phone and definitely wasn’t going to stay on long. I’d like to say it was good to hear her voice, but I really was hoping for a little more enthusiasm. I know she didn’t want to come home, but I was hoping after a flight to Germany and then the long flight across the pond would, that she might be getting a little excited to see us. Well only a little bit longer and she will get the biggest hug of her life….whether she likes it or not.
One week from today, Doodles is coming home. I’m so excited and can’t wait to hug her and kiss her, hear about all of her adventures, and see all of the souvenirs she’s brought home from her year as an exchange student. I’m also nervous. And sad.
She had told me a month ago that EB’s parents were nervous about him coming home and at that time, I couldn’t really understand it. As the time gets closer, I find myself feeling the same way. Who is this young woman who will be living in our house again? I know the 16 year old girl who left to go on an adventure of a lifetime, but the person who will be returning in her place will not be the same. She has experienced things, seen things, learned things, and lived a life that we can only try to imagine. She will look at things in a different way. She will know 3 languages. She will be so mature in some ways yet flashes of a typical 17 year old level of maturity will show up in her behavior. Although she has always been rather independent, she will be even more so now. She will not understand why we would like her to be home by midnight every night. She will want to spend time with her friends when all I want to do is hold her close to me. But as she integrates the person she is into the life she had here, she will probably find that her old friends don’t understand her and she has outgrown some of them. She will go through moods and experience reverse culture shock. We will want to help but not know how. While celebrating her coming home, we will have to also be preparing for her to leave again. Six weeks will not be enough time.
I also feel sad. Sad for her that she has to leave the life she has come to love in Spain. She will have to say goodbye to friends and the people who have been her family for the past 10 months. She will leave knowing that many of them she will never see again. She will plan to return someday, but knows it will never be the same. The year will be over. While she will always have the memories of it, and the experiences she had will always be a part of the person she has become, it’s over. She will come home, but she won’t be happy about it.
I’ve survived two weeks without my Spaniard. It’s been tough at times and I still miss him every day, but thankfully the desperateness that I felt when he first left has subsided.
I knew it would be hard, but I really had no clue how hard. Part of it is because I became overly attached to the boy. Since Doodles was gone, I focused on him, making sure he was happy and was having the best exchange possible. No, I didn’t forget about Buster, but he didn’t need me as much. My life seemed to revolve around EB most of the time from helping with English to driving him to soccer to cooking his favorite meals. I saw and spoke to this boy everyday for over 10 months; of course I was going to miss him.
I cried on and off for a couple of days, and then it dwindled to just tearing up when something reminded me of him. Fortunately, it was nothing like when Doodles left and I couldn’t stop crying for
days weeks. If she were home or was coming home soon after, I know it would have been much easier as I could have focused on her. But what I wasn’t prepared for was this need to be in contact with him when he got home. The picture of him and his mom at the airport and of the surprise party they had for him wasn’t enough. The short chat on Facebook wasn’t long enough. I wanted to have a real conversation with him like we used to. I wanted to know how his flight was in business class, how well he was adjusting to being back in Spain, what he missed most from here and what he was happiest about there. I wanted to joke back and forth with him like we used to do. But I knew that I had to give him his space. I wish we had talked about all this before he left, but I didn’t even think about it. How often should an exchange student and his host family have contact when they first return home? Should I wait until he gets in touch with me, or is it okay for me to send an occasional message to him? Was it acceptable that I asked him to skype with us after he had been home for a week….because I did….and it was nice…with his parents and brother there too.
And now I sit and wait. He will chat for a bit now and then. I will post something on Facebook to let him know I’m thinking about him without being stalkerish. I know next week I’ll get to skype with him again when Doodles is at his house. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it through that without crying though – between the two of them, half of my heart is in Spain.
Since his flight had been cancelled the day before, we went ahead and rescheduled his flight to Dallas to an earlier one to give us a bit of a buffer in case he had the same problem again. This meant that we had to leave a bit earlier in the day, and even though I would have loved to spend every minute possible with him, I also needed to get the whole thing over with at this point. It was too hard. I woke him up with breakfast in bed at a reasonable hour and he had plenty of time to shower, repack a couple things, and get to the airport in plenty of time. We got him checked in and sat and waited outside of security in case anybody came to say goodbye for what seemed like an eternity in some ways and like a blink of an eye in others….kind of like this past year. We finally decided it was time to go to the gate and they had already started boarding. Those last few moments seemed hurried and rushed. I needed the time to say goodbye properly, I couldn’t give him enough hugs, enough advice, enough threats to keep in touch with us and let us know when he got to Madrid. I started crying despite trying to keep the tears in. This was to be expected of course, but I really did try. EB started to tear up when he saw me cry. I got in one last hug and we had to let him go. It was soooo hard. We stood and watched his plane take off before heading to the car.
It was a short flight and soon after we got home from the airport, he sent me a text saying he arrived in Dallas and was gathering his things. Because we had changed his flight to an earlier time, he now had about 4 hours to wait until his flight to Spain. He text me asking about the gate because he didn’t see it on the screen. I replied with the information. He told me he was bored, I asked him if he was ready to come back home to Louisiana. He said he’d like to stay a little bit more….we decided we would both be in big trouble if he didn’t get on his flight.
The time passed and as it was getting time to board, they called his name – someone wanted moved to sit with their family so they were giving him a free upgrade to business class! I would never get that lucky; kind of made up for the fact that his flight was cancelled the day before. He text me a couple more times from the plane. His seat was nice and perhaps he could sleep well on the flight. I sent him one last text telling him goodbye, have a safe flight, we miss you, and there better be a picture of you at the airport in Madrid on my phone when I wake up in the morning! At 3am, my phone chimed – it was him sending me a message that he arrived in Madrid….the tears started again….I couldn’t go back to sleep.
Yes, I had to label this part 1.
I didn’t get to bed until late last night partly because I was finishing up some things for EB and partly because I was sort of waiting up for him to get home so I could see him and hug him again. I woke up less than 4 hours later unable to fall back to sleep. I knew it was because he was leaving. He seemed to have the same problem and surprised me when he came out of his room several hours earlier than his normal waking time. We hung out some, he had a couple friends come over, and eventually it was time to leave for the airport. I was holding up pretty well, just an occasional tear down my cheek. We get to the airport, drag in his 2 giant suitcases to check and his 2 carry-ons crammed as full as we could get them, and get in line to check in. All goes well with each bag coming in at 49 pounds, just 1 pound shy of the limit. He paid the $60 for the second bag, and we waited for gate passes so we could go with him to the gate. Before they could return with the gate passes, my phone rang and it was the airline. His flight to Dallas was cancelled and there was no way they could get him there to make his next flight. He could get on a later flight and spend the night in Dallas or stay here for another day. He opted for staying here. I was flooded with mixed feelings. I loved the idea of spending one more day with him, but mentally, I had been preparing myself to put him on the plane. I didn’t want to have to go through that again tomorrow. But another day with him….before we could even get back to the car, it became clear that I wasn’t going to have another day with him. He was making plans with a friend who came to the airport to see him off. We drove home from the airport without him, as though he had left, and we would have to do it again. He came home briefly with his friend, then went off to a movie and party. When I asked when he would be home, he asked me to wait up for him. I’m so tired from this long, exhausting day, but I will do my best, just to be able to spend a few more minutes with him…….
Yes, that was a horror flick. It’s also going to be a very sad day for me. The past month has passed entirely too quickly. High school graduation for Doodles that we went to even though she wasn’t there, the last day of teaching preschool for me, the last day of school for the boys, getting school paperwork together, notarized, and Apostille of the Hague on it for EB, a birthday/going away party, and now, the day after tomorrow, we must bid farewell to our Spanish son.
I knew the day would come. At times I looked forward to things getting back to normal and at times I dreaded it as much I dreaded Doodles leaving last August. I knew it would be hard, especially for an emotional cryer like me. And it is hard. Each day for the past couple weeks, he’s gotten up and told me how many days until he leaves. I would tell him to shut up. I’ve been well aware of the number of days with out his reminder. I guess it really hit me the other day when he was telling me what he planned on doing next week. Next week?! He wouldn’t be here! How could he have plans for things that didn’t include his life in America? Next week…in Spain…with his friends…my mind couldn’t handle it and my heart couldn’t take it. But perhaps the worst was when his parents e-mailed me the other day thanking me for all that we’ve done for their son and how grateful they were that he had a family where he felt truly at home. I cried. I will be doing more of that over the next few days. He’s so sweet and keeps reminding me that he’s going to come back to visit. I have every intention of going to Spain to visit him too….someday….hopefully in the not too distant future.