Monday, October 25, 2010

Things My Kids Have Broken

The list starts out sounding pretty innocent, like casualties of any child's normal growth and development:
-Kyle's glasses, several of my pearl bracelets- All casualties of the grabby baby/toddler days. These things you expect; they're the kind of thing that fuel advertisements for flexible glasses frames.
-Various plates, cups, and other kitchenware- Some of this is drops, spills, normal wear-and-tear. Others are more extreme, like how Daniel used to bite completely through soft-spouted sippy cup tips as a baby. This sheds some light on why he was promptly weaned at 1 year old.

Other things just sound merely inconvenient:
-The pull chain controlling the light on the ceiling fan in my bedroom- Turns out that when you can't reach the chain to turn the light off, jumping off the bed and grabbing it on your way down is effective in the short term, but renders the light useless thereafter. At least the light's stuck in the off position so we can still turn on the switch and use the fan at night.

This summer was an expensive one for broken things, like:
-Our laptop computer- Daniel made up a new game. You might call it “Slamm-o!” To play, you see how many times you can loudly open and close the computer in a minute.
-The paint job on the entire driver's side of our neighbors' car- All at once we learned that Daniel was not as capable of steering or braking his new bike as we thought he was.
-Eva's leg- There were only two of them in that room, and that leg didn't get broken (as Daniel originally claimed) by just standing there in the middle of the room doing nothing.

Today, though, we can now add:
-The law- We ran some errands this morning, including a trip to the resale shop in town where I was selling some of the kids' clothes. There is a nice little play area there, right next to a display of bottle-cap necklace charms. Imagine my astonishment when, at our next stop, the kids each pulled a bottle-cap out of their pocket. I don't think they fully understood at the time that what they did was stealing, but they definitely had carefully chosen their loot, as Daniel's had a Toy Story picture on it and Eva's a princess. The ride back across town allowed me plenty of time to semi-hysterically lecture about what jail cells are like and what the Bible says about stealing. In the end the owner of the resale shop was a little TOO nice about accepting their apologies and brushing it off as no big deal.

We'd had kind of a rough morning up to that point anyway, and a difficult afternoon the day before, so this was the tipping point for me. I think probably the biggest thing that will deter Daniel and Eva from a future in crime was having to listen to my breakdown in the car on the way home. From the (amazing for them) silence and the size of their eyes, I'll assume they'll remember that for a long time.

So while I'd love to end this by adding one last thing to the list:
-Their poor weary mother's heart!!
That seems a little melodramatic.

Instead we'll just say that I'm just adding this to their tab. Maybe one day I can figure all this stuff up, add in a little bit for pain and suffering, and send them a bill.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Barney's Nemesis

The neighbors have a new kitty, and it LOVES to run around in our yard.

International Man of Mystery

Sometime back in August, we saw an announcement that a new language school at Truman was looking for families to host students in their intensive English program. Basically, they were advertising that they needed people to house, feed, and drive to school various international students who were coming for their four-week program, the first session of which started in September. This seemed like a good opportunity to introduce our kids to the idea that not everyone looks and talks like them. And we figured that we have an extra room, eat regular meals, and drive past the university at least once a day already, so we filled out an application. Soon after, we got a call telling us that we'd probably get a student sometime in mid-late September, and that details would be discussed at that time.

So imagine our surprise when, a few days before Labor Day, someone from the program called to tell us that our student would be arriving in three days. The day after that, the program representative came to meet us and have us sign some forms. During this meeting, it came up that the student we'd be hosting actually didn't speak or write much English at all and would probably need a semester's-worth (minimum) of 4-week sessions before he was ready to move on to university level. It also came up that he was from a conservative Saudi Arabian family, and that maybe it would be better if Kyle did most of the talking and we maybe should make some hearty side dishes if we're planning pork for dinner anytime soon. So now imagine our super-duper surprise.

When the day came and Faisal did arrive, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how young and nervous and altogether not-intimidating he looked with his big, messy hair, braces, and shiny designer tennis shoes. We really had an easy time getting along right from the start, despite the significant language barrier. All the things I had been nervous about seemed to be non-issues: he has sisters Daniel and Eva's ages and therefore does not find living with two small kids' noise that shocking; he actually came with a good knowledge of the English alphabet and a helpful translation program on his iPhone; and he seems to have fairly Western ideas about gender roles and no real problem interacting with me at all.

A month has passed now, and really the most surprising thing of all has been how quickly a person can just feel like a part of our family. Kyle and Faisal sit in the family room contentedly not-talking, each with his headphones and laptop. Eva is very enamored with Faisal, and wants to know where he is at all times. He is determined to help Daniel improve his soccer skills, and Daniel just eats up the extra attention. And I have a fellow connoisseur of fine caffeinated Coke and coffee products in the house.

The hardest part of the adjustment for me has not been anything relating to language or culture, but to the shock of suddenly having an 18-year old in our house. I worry about him when he's out late with other students, about whether he has enough cash and a safe ride home. I consider whether all the half-eaten chips and Coke in his room will attract ants, and wonder how one guy can so dirty up a bathroom in a week. We have to pry him away from all the instant messages (and Skype, and facebook, and email, and YouTube, and downloaded movies) for dinner. Kyle went to bed with a pillow over his ears tonight to be able to sleep through the late-night cell phone conversations.

It would be impossible for me to recount all the fun and funny things that have happened to us this month, but there are a few I carry around in my head. Like Faisal's frustrated attempts to get us to tell him the name of that actor he likes from the movie Speed and Anger (actually called The Fast and The Furious here in America). Or nights at dinner where we trade food vocabulary, and Faisal laughs at our attempts to pronounce Arabic words. It has been fun to introduce someone to new foods, new words, and new experiences. We are looking forward to celebrating the heck out of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas this year.

None of us knows how long it will take Faisal to complete the program and get to college-level proficiency with his English (not even him). But in the end I think we're all okay with that. I'm sure Faisal misses his real family (surely not even several phone and Skype conversations a day substitute for the real thing), but he seems pretty chipper and happy-go-lucky so far. So for now we're the Sterups- that family with the four blond people and the Arab guy.