A few months ago while already worn down from the end of school year shuffle and plugging in family vacations, sports camps, etc. I wondered about a summer experience that would teach us something, bond us as a family and bring us together more than any trip could.
Serendipitously around that same time I read an article in our local town paper about the Fresh Air Fund (FAF). An organization based out of NYC (been around 200 years or so) that matches inner city NYC children with host families living in “friendly towns,” a.k.a. “in the country,” like where we live, for a week.
I had a few conversations with previous host families, did a little research while including my husband and kids in the process and suddenly we were pursuing being a host family for a week this summer.
Since our summer was already jam packed with activities, there was really only one week we were free, and it was on the early side of summer. So we hurriedly tried to work with FAF to get all our ducks in a row. But as you would imagine, there is a lot involved in making sure due diligence has been done (interviews, house tour, background checks etc.) and they weren’t able to process our application/paperwork in time for our early summer “free week.” I was a little heart broken because I already started projecting what I thought the experience would be like.
Then it happened that plans for another week changed and we were open. We were able to “match” for another week a month later. We found out the name, age, gender a few interests of the child. We had a facilitated conference call with the child’s mother as her family is Spanish speaking. We knew little else (including whether she spoke English very well.)
The night before I can’t tell a lie. I was so anxious, but trying to hide it. The kids were already making me proud though as they readied her room and made welcome signs. We began making loose plans for the week. I tried to not have expectations, but many many scenarios raced through my mind, I hardly slept that night.
Suddenly it was the day that the bus left Penn Station full of eager FAF kids. Sign and balloon in hand we waited for “M.” to arrive.
Off came the bus, this delightful little girl with a long braid, tiny body and HUGE grin.
Pretty much in the same amount of time, she walked off the bus and straight into our hearts.
We wondered if she would be shy, she wasn’t. She was excited, and sweet as could be. Driving down the country roads (we got a few miles before I realized she didn’t have her seatbelt on, a car is not a place where she spends much time) she immediately starts commenting on her new surroundings. “All the green and flowers are beautiful.” She has never been outside NYC. We talked about Central Park and she tells me she went there on a field trip in Kindergarten. Central Park is the closest environment that she can relate to the green of Connecticut.
We are about a mile from my house. We see a deer on the side of the road, she shrieks with delight and the deer looks right at us.
We pull up to my house, she is confused that it is not a building. She comes in and remarks that it is so cool that we have stairs. She meets my girls. There is an instant connection. I can’t even put it into words. Each day it deepens.
The questions, the experiences the relating, it is such a gift. I look forward to writing more about this wonderful person and opportunity that has again serendipitously (especially because M. was also to be matched with another family early in the summer but had a cough and needed to postpone) come into our lives
Stay tuned as I share more about this amazing experience in vulnerability and connection.