Sunday, November 25, 2012

Instant Teen

Ten years ago, the day after my sister's wedding, in the circle of a family hug I announced I was pregnant for the first time. It was the first baby of the family. My mother raised her head to the heavens and hooted with glee and my siblings looked at me in shock. Later that day my older brother looked at me with eyebrows going every which way and disbelief in his eyes. "Really Zen? I can't believe it. Are you ready to be a parent?"
"Well, I have nine months to get ready." I said, rubbing my belly.
His eyebrows straightened out and then rose up, considering what I said.
"But you are going to have to be a PARENT." he said, aghast at the idea.
"Yeah...well..." feeling fear in my heart, "But they don't come out a teenager," I was thinking of how much trouble he and I were as teenagers..." they don't even talk for two years. I guess we can figure it out along the way."
"Yeah, that's true," he said with mild relief. He still looked skeptical, albeit glad for me. I was very present to how siblings can be happy having completely different lives.

I also got that his comment was not about me or any doubts in me, but more about where he was in his life. He just wasn't there. I was.
Whether I was ready or not, I wanted it enough to get ready. I still had fears though, and still do.
The teenage part is what is most terrifying...wiping butts, sleepless nights, those loomed as taxing and hard, but having your child out in the big bad world, where you don't know what they are doing... tempted with drugs, sex and rock n roll..oh noooooo. My heart clenched in a fist of fear when I imagined the teen years.

Obviously I have three boys now, 9, 7 and 4 and everyone has survived thus far. One day they announced they wanted to go to China. I want to go to China too, I thought...right now isn't going to work....but maybe we could bring China to us. My family had hosted students from Turkey, Japan and Korea when I was young and the idea of a teen from another culture suddenly was more exciting than it was scary. My kids could learn about China ( they are 1/4 Chinese, my mother is Chinese) and I could have a temporary daughter. So I Facebooked message a woman I met at a networking event a few years ago who was a coordinator for host families and exchange students.
A month and a half later...poof!
Instant Teen. We stood at the base of the escalator at the airport, with "Welcome to the USA Yanie Poon" signs excitedly sorting out the people before our eyes. When we saw her, we knew it was her. A petite, short haired 17 year old that looked 14. Fresh faced after a 20 hour travel ordeal around the world from Hong Kong, she ran to us with arms open and I hugged her with my own disbelief. How amazing is this courageous human being?

It has been three months and she is fully a part of our family now. Bronson brought home a craft with six paper people holding hands, our family including Yanie. She was meant to stay with us for just two months, we were the "welcome family". But we have so many adventures we want to do with her and she is such a welcome addition to our family that we are going to keep her for the school year. We don't get paid for it, and she does come with her own spending money, so we just pay for food, which is not much. We always have leftovers anyway. She is a senior at the local high school and is making friends and doing well. She plays piano like a dream and is up to any hiking or camping we do with the Cub Scouts. She watches the kids for an hour or so if I have to run an errand and is a good example for Ben in doing homework. She helps readily with the dishes, wakes herself up, does her homework without being asked and asks how she can help with dinner. I have a sneaking suspicion that this experience is not at all like it would be if I had had my own teenage daughter. She is grateful to be here. Perhaps because she is not our daughter of flesh and blood, but a brave soul who flew to live with complete strangers for 10 months, we also see her and treat her as a responsible young women. We see her as a young adult, treat her as one and she acts like one. We told her from the beginning, rules are: We will treat you as an adult, just follow a few rules. No drinking, drugs or dating. Groups of friends only. Always be in communication if you will be late or want to go somewhere and help out around the house. She does all that. And if she does forget now and then, it's not a big drama, we just talk about it.

The result is that being a mother of an instant teen daughter has been rewarding and fun. Going shopping and out to dinner with her, talking about life, marriage, school and friendships has been some of the most sacred moments of being a women that I have had. Having a daughter to laugh with about the boys stinky socks they leave scattered about, is therapeutic and lightens my heart. She makes everything exciting and new too.."Yanie's first Thanksgiving! First Christmas in USA, first pumpkin carving! First football game!" Being able to share in her journey, learn from her culture and enjoy a daughter has also been precious. On a Chinese holiday, Mid Autumn Harvest Moon, she took out several Chinese lanterns and candles she brought with her, and the kids delighted in carrying pink, yellow and red lanterns to hang outside of our house and honor the full moon. They pranced for an hour in the front driveway with the glow sticks she gave them and my husband wrapped his arm around me and asked "Is this what you imagined?"
"Better." I said. Having a teen daughter from Hong Kong is like the cherry on top of a sundae. Life is great, but she just makes it grand.

Zen Honeycutt

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