Thursday, September 6, 2012

Playing "Mom"

While most of my high school and college friends are getting married and starting families, I can say I'm no where near that point in my life. Don't take offense married friends, but I can't get excited about buying dishes just yet. (Yes, that is my idea of a marriage... buying useful gifts and not fun ones.) 

Living away means I miss out on lots of fun things back home during the year... friend's weddings and babies mainly... but I wouldn't trade the rest of my year for anything. Just recently I was able to finally meet my friend Whitney's baby. I was happy to hold cute, little McKenna but when the food came... McKenna went back to mom. I also told McKenna that chewing on my fingers wasn't a good idea nor crying... as both of those would lead her right back to her momma! 

With that being said, I played mom this summer for three weeks. Don't get nervous, it wasn't for a baby!!  I brought home a12 yr old Spanish boy who wanted to come to the USA to practice his English and explore the American culture and way of life. 

Let's just say my "trial mom run" was enough for awhile.  

And It Began

At the end of my trip around Spain with Zach, we met Rodrigo and his family in Madrid.  Just as we were approaching security, I told Rodrigo to take off watches, jewelry, belts, anything that would set off the machines. I didn't want to draw anymore attention to us than necessary. (I wasn't really sure if the paperwork I had would all work for me to bring a minor back to the States, so I was trying to lay low.) Well, Rodrigo took everything off but something still set off the scanners. The guards immediately looked at Zach and asked if he was the father... well, Zach threw his arms up and said "no!"... then, they looked around asking for his parent. Well, I thought, "I'm his guardian..." so I said "YO" (ME!) and got some strange looks from the guards (probably thinking I would have to be a superrrr young mom) and then they asked if they could search him. Well, he's not my kid, so I just said "sure!" I would probably think twice if he were really my son and look at the guards closer and really watch as they searched him. Anyway, that was adventure one. I'm happy to say, we made it through. 

When we finally made it to the plane, Zach was a few rows behind us in a window seat. We were in the middle. Of course.  I took the aisle, which was probably a mistake as Rodrigo went to the bathroom about 7 times. But, I wasn't giving up my leg room! He immediately told me "I can't sleep on planes" and I thought "only 9.5 hours to go." We played tic-tac-toe and connect the dots... I feel asleep. He woke me up and we played some more. The last half hour Zach kindly gave up his seat to let Rodrigo have a window seat and a good view of Miami, our first stop.  

In Miami, I told Zach to go ahead of us in passport control, as the paperwork I had only had me as a guardian and I didn't need anything to mess it up. Well, when Rodrigo and I made our way to the desk, we handed over our passports and began answering all the guard's questions. "Are you related?" "Who is she?" "Do you speak English? "How old are you?" "Is she a good teacher?" (To which I nudged Rodrigo to say yes and he did!) And yeah, I thought we were in the clear. But, I thought too soon. I gave him all the paperwork that Rodrigo's family had sent with me and he looked it over, no problems. Then, he gave me my passport back, kept Rodrigo's and told us to go wait by the side, that we had to answer more questions. Alright, that's when I got nervous. Really nervous, as they led us behind a door that was being watched by a fully gunned guard. Behind the door? People who looked illegal/had probably committed a crime. And us. 
Miami from el cielo! :)
How do you tell a 12yr old the guards think you're kidnapping him? I said "Since I'm not your mom, they think I'm stealing you and forcing you to be here. Just relax, we will have to answer a few more questions and then we can go. Let's just watch TV until they call us." Well, about 45minutes later, they called our names and asked us a few more questions like what address we were going to be staying at, and we were good to go. I guess I overreacted, but I was stressing out because it was super legal what I was doing. We took extra precautions to make sure it was just right. I'm so glad they let us out of that room. 

After another connecting flight to Chicago and finally St. Louis, we were almost home after 23 hours of flights/traveling. My family picked us up and we were headed home to Jefferson City. Finally. It had been a long day, and this "mom" was just happy to see her mom and be home. 

Our first few days were relaxing, as we toured all of Jefferson City's most important sites. It is the capital city of Missouri, after all, so we had to make a visit to the capitol building! We had some nice treats afterward, too, with my grandparents at Central Dairy! Over the first weekend, Rodrigo played baseball and went down a slide on a boogie board. My parents were "babysitting" for me and just about freaking out. Later in the day, I don't think he liked riding in my dad's jeep with the top off... but that is another story. 
Yummy Central Dairy, Jefferson City's finest helado.
Rodrigo headed off to camp for 10 days in Springfield, so I guess you could call me the "mom who shipped her kid off to boarding school." One of my friends in college told me that I would be "that mom" and I guess it proved true... this time. I had only agreed to bring a student home with me if he could go somewhere to be with other kids his age. When I'm home, I do nothing... I watch tv, relax, and just enjoy being home in my house. I didn't want to bore anyone with my "American lifestyle" for several weeks, so camp seemed like just the thing to help boost his English skills! 
Goodbye circle, the last event at camp.
While Rodrigo was away at camp, my dad asked me if I was bi-polar... as I didn't leave my pajamas for two days. He said, "In Spain, you're constantly on the go and here, we can't even get you to shower."  While that is a bit out of proportion, I can honestly say I was just happy to be home and not have to do anything or go anywhere. I was able to go to several wedding events for my friend, Lyndsay, have lunch with other friends and even hang out in St. Louis with a friend from Spain, Will. All the attention was back on me, and not having to entertain/babysit for my Spanish amigo. (Sorry, only child syndrome was in full effect.) 

After camp was over, my mom, dad and I headed to Springfield to pick Rodrigo up. He had had a fantastic time at camp and met so many new people. We nearly lost him due to him saying goodbyes, I'm sure he thought "Why don't these crazy Americans leave me alone!" We made stops at Lambert's Home of Thrown Rolls (where they throw bread at you!) and to Bass Pro. (My dad was along, what else would you expect?) 
Catch it anyway you can. Are you ready?
We went swimming at my house and played Nintento 64. (He wasn't used to such an old gaming system...ha) We made a trip to St. Louis to go up in the Arch and to the City Museum, which was awesome. Basically, I realized I'm getting old because all I wanted to do was put knee pads on to climb around on all the contraptions/planes/school busses/tunnels/10 story slides. Seriously, what a great time. "Amazing!"  was Rodrigo's word choice. I agree.
A good photo opp for my bracelet collection, summer 2012 edition.
The Arch is big. We are small.
City Museum... an adult playland high atop St. Louis!
Climbing through things and over things and inside things... I'm glad I didn't wear a dress.
St. Louis City Museum, a must see. Bring your knee-pads.
We basically lived in the car, which was something Rodrigo wasn't used to... however, in Jefferson City, it's difficult to get around without a car. 

Rodrigo: "Where are we going?" 
Me: "To Walmart."
(after Walmart)
Rodrigo: "Where are we going now?"
Me: "To Target. It's across the street, but we are going to drive." 

If you know how Europe works, the people use public transport and their legs much more than they do a car. Cars are used for farther distances outside of the city, but usually not within the city due to parking issues/difficulty to drive through the one way streets/pedestrian streets/narrow streets. Well, Rodrigo saw a whole new world here, where everyone in my family has their own car and my dad has two. 4 cars for 3 people. Insane. 

Rodrigo and my dad got to spend some quality time together, too. Some called him "the son Danny never had." They rode four wheelers, fed the fish in the pond, rode horses and even shot guns. SHOT GUNS. Seriously? So stereotypical of Americans: guns. Well, Rodrigo loved it and it's one of the first things he was telling people he did. Thanks, dad.
Camo and horses for the afternoon.
After exploring Missouri, Rodrigo and I boarded the train to go to Chicago, Illinois. That would be Rodrigo's third state in just a short 2.5 weeks! We were able to meet up with another friend of ours from Spain, Meagan. Meagan taught Rodrigo in Spain as well in 2010-2011. So it was just a perfect outing, Rodrigo and his older sisters. I'm sure he was again thinking "geeze, these girls are annoying me," but we really didn't care. We forced him to take photos and to try Dr. Pepper when we had Chicago-style pizza. He hated Dr. Pepper. He said it was his least favorite thing about America. (oops!) 
Bye St. Louis! Hello 5.5 hour train ride... zzz
Chicago Style: CHEEESEEE!
We went up the Sears/Willis Tower and stepped out on the Skydeck, a glass floor high above the streets of Chicago! We went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, which was also a first for me! We had expensive ballpark food for dinner complete with Chicago dogs (no ketchup!), pretzels and nachos. We visited Navy Pier and had good burgers and Rodrigo had his first ever grilled cheese. How about that? I bet you've never thought of "grilled cheese" as a weird food, but he had never had one. He said he was going to tell his mom how to make them! 
Chicago from the Willis/Sears Tower.
I was praying the glass was extra strong...
We were suspended highhhh above Chicago on it's "Skydeck".
At the end of our time together, I have to say I hope Rodrigo learned half as much as I did during his time in the States. It's one thing to go to another country and compare it to your own, and it's another to have a foreigner come visit you and see how they react to yours. I've happily done both and can say they are both eye openers. While it was tiring and exhausting playing "mom", I am so happy I did. My family too, as we all grew from the experience. 
Last night together in STL for dinner, minus my dad who was with our horses.
(Photo credit to my "adopted" brother Will "Soy de Will" McClean.)
Lessons Learned: 

1. Make sure your kid doesn't have any red flags on him during airport security. 
2. Plan activities to keep children occupied on the plane.
3. Give up your aisle seat to let children have full access to the bathroom on airplanes. 
4. If you bring a foreign minor home with you, have your letters notarized.
5. After you are 20, you should wear knee pads at St. Louis City Museum. 
6. Nintendo 64 isn't popular anymore. 
7. When there are no free refills, tell young children to drink slow. Like at a ball game with spicy nachos, you don't want to hear "I'm thirsty" and have buy a second $7 soda. 
8. Not everybody likes Dr. Pepper.
9. Roadkill is not common knowledge. People who live in cities may have never seen a dead raccoon on the street. They will jump and possibly let out a small "ahh!" You just explain it's already dead and hope the shock goes away quickly.
10. Sleeping late when you should wake up early due to differences in time zones is easier for some people. (Like me - not for young children.)
11. Cultural manners are different. Like passing food at the table vs. eating straight from the serving plate. Check before you travel!
12. Americans are always in their cars. Even to cross the street.
13. It's always cold... air-condition is on 24/7. (In the car, in the house, in the store...) I welcome the cold vs. no ac... but it can be quite an adjustment for someone who has never had central air!
14. Americans eat food with their hands. Like chicken and ribs. Rodrigo had a hard time with that! A 12yr old was cutting the meat off the bones... how about that, America!? 
15. Walmart: one stop shop. No having to walk to the shoe store, then to the grocery store, then to the makeup store. 
16. "American houses are big!" -- Rodrigo 

I'm sure I learned many other things, but it's just amazing how much you learn on a daily basis from hosting a student (even if he was away at camp for 10 days of it.) I have to say I worried more than I thought I would. I think I surprised my family, too! I'm glad that we all had this opportunity to host Rodrigo, get to know him and to show him our American lives. 

I also want to thank my family for being such great supporters of my current "job". Thanks to this experience, I now know how much trouble I must have been growing up... involved in everything, running around town with my friends and them having to take me places or be places to watch me do something. But, I also hope they were proud of me, just as I was proud of Rodrigo to get awards at camp and to watch him grow as an individual during his time in America. I'm sure they are, as they are still behind me today! So, thanks mom and dad (and the rest of my family) for your continued support and love. Only one more year in Spain, I promise! :)