So my kid is up at 4:00 am, Friday morning. Yes, this morning. In the kitchen. Which of course wakes me up, after four blissful hours which possibly could have extended into five. I’m a light sleeper no matter what, and these days, that’s an understatement.
“I’m fine,” he says, and it registers that he’s wearing a red sweater and red knee-length shorts, exactly what he wore last night when he insisted on jogging (in the cold, in the dark, and sick).
“What are you doing?” I repeat, dulled, chilled, annoyed, and surprised I’m not hurling expletives having been wakened from something resembling actual sleep.
In fact, I was dreaming that I was strolling in Lilliputian scale through typed words of my own prose on this site. Each letter was large, and laid flat against a white page. It was a fascinating dream, and an interesting perspective (of my perceived stature? or self-importance? or being slayed by my own insistence on writing?) – one which I could have explored further had Red Boy not been puttering in the kitchen, busying himself with god-knows-what. (Traces of chips and salsa in the sink found at 8 a.m. may provide a clue.)
“I’m doing school work,” he says. “Go to bed.”
Shuffling to Buffalo… or rather, to bed
I turn, shuffle back to my tornado covers, and bury myself, hoping for dreams of French chateaux, or at least the return of my cryptic lettering. Eventually, I am graced with one additional hour of sleep. Fanfare please. That’s a total of FIVE. Almost human.
Of course, there was renewed irritation when I had to wake my son at 7:30 a.m., a feat accomplished with less finesse than usual. I looked around and saw that he must have had a project brewing during the night, that he had risen around 4 a.m. to work on it, and gone back to sleep when it was done.
He got little sympathy from me this morning (pass the parenting award, please), as driving to school (late again), we got into a voice-raising tiff. Not our norm, but I was pissed, not only that we were late and that he woke me during the night, but there was one other little detail. The Latvian Files.
International Baccalaureate? With bed and breakfast?
Have I mentioned that both my sons have attended city public schools? I believe I have.
Have I also mentioned that they are / were, nonetheless, in a very rigorous program that results in receiving not only a High School diploma, but an International Baccalaureate? That they are studying French, and I’m pretty insistent on that? This adds a layer of research, paper writing, language proficiency and (expensive) exams that heap on one helluva workload during high school. But the resulting IB is highly regarded, and as a multicultural family, it’s something that was a “given” in our household.
My elder son made it through with flying colors as they say (can we raise a nice French flag here?), and went on to a good college. My younger son, now a high school junior, is in the throes of the toughest year and is doing well.
But add his passion-based extracurricular activities – art, piano, and tennis team, and he’s one tired kid, plenty of the time.
So how do you get to Latvia?
Remember how I lost my summer to a tangle of teens? And (madly, wildly, ridiculously) continue to believe that teenagers should have parties in spite of their parents?
Well, it’s always a steady stream of kids through this itty-bitty house; that didn’t stop when French girl went back to Brittany, or when Techno-Boy headed out-of-state to the university. My younger son has picked up that particular torch, and honestly, I don’t mind. Having teenagers around is far more pleasure than otherwise, and there’s nothing so wonderful at any age as hearing kids laugh. A few bodies in the living room or the “closet guestroom?” No problem.
Now, when I look further into what Latvia is like, I do note an image of Latvians in hammocks. Sounds lovely. (Does that mean Latvians are swingers?)
And why the mention of the international program and the chaotic boy household?
Latvians, baby. My school district is about to be overrun. Yep, it’s a veritable Latvian invasion. Oh, and Chinese as well apparently, but it’s the boys they’re having difficulty placing. And the boys are Latvian. And yes, my son wants one. Of his very own. And of course, exactly what I need in my achey-breaky, bill-busting household is another teenage boy to feed.
Remember when I mentioned that travel time needn’t mean headache, and it isn’t impossible with kids? I meant it. I’ve experienced. it. I believe that travel is enriching – especially for teenagers.
Passport for international transport
But did I tell you that apparently you get to Latvia on a hot air balloon? An interesting factoid, though we wouldn’t be the ones headed in that direction. I’ve always loved hot air balloons, and wanted to ride in one. These days, unfortunately, I’m not even up for the subway to Paris (despite the metro tickets in my pocket), so no hot air balloons or other international flights in the immediate plans. To France, the Baltic States, or other exotic destinations.
Did I mention the official International Studies / IB document my son must have left on the kitchen table at 4:00 a.m.? The one indicating the selection of remaining Latvian 17-year old’s in need of lodging, and just the usual – rides to/from the high school, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and whatever else we do as a family?
Uh-huh. My son is as subtle as a brick. I guess the UnBudget discussions haven’t been sinking in as well as I thought. Or perhaps he knows his mother all too well for her own good. Soft heart, softer brain? Well it must be bad, she (I) is (am) talking about herself (myself) in the third person!!
And thus, a part of the short-lived but rather loud discussion in the car this morning, as in “It’s tough enough paying for the two of us. How do I feed another teenager, and three meals a day?”
Then my kid was sullen. And I felt guilty. You know. Big time guilty. My displaced anger, and still frustrated that I haven’t been able to dig out after so many years. A phone call later to the head of the international program, and I was in full possession of the realization that if the closet was good enough for a 19-year old from France for a month, it should be good enough for a 17-year old Latvian boy with a bass guitar who likes “psychedelic music” and reading. (The foreign student’s own description.)
Further frank discussion informed the head of the program that making it to the airport is beyond my physical capacities at present. Apparently, that’s not an issue. The aforementioned Latvian (and Chinese) teens will be met by a number of adults (already identified), and can be put on the right trains to get to the targeted neighborhoods. In other words, within a half mile of my laundry-infested, chaotic, teen-friendly, multilingual home.
I’m not dead, but I must be certifiable
Perfect parenting? Uh, NOT.
Perfect insanity? Oh yes. It’s my best event! Single parent guilt, even after all these years? My second best event. Olympian, even – and what better time for that?
So here’s how this will play out. Or not. If my son is willing to foot the bill from the puny savings account (that I’ve put money into since he was six) – in order to cover this boy’s food for two weeks, then call me crazy, but my daily plate of crazy will overflow to the tune of another young man to worry over, make lunches for, feed in the morning, feed at night, and who will probably be a great kid. And overworked Art Boy and Brain Drain Mother of Same will be as gracious and welcoming to our guest as possible.
In other words, if my son wants this and picks up the tab, then yes, I have more work, and another temporary teen. And did I mention that this young man arrives in a week?
International travel, cultural exchange, and the real world
I admit, I must be nuts. But the fact is, I believe in international travel for kids. The more we can explore the world and other cultures, learn other languages and open our minds to new ways of thinking, the better off we will all be. I traveled to France at 15, living with a family in a tiny farmhouse in the middle of Normandy. I shared a room with three other girls, which didn’t matter a damn. And then I lived with a family in the South of France. It was an extraordinary experience. Life-altering.
I traveled again at 16, throughout Eastern Europe – and I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s marvelous. I tramped through Russia and Poland, Czechoslovakia and what was then East Germany. It was a mysterious, gorgeous, and culturally symphonic part of the world. I was welcomed into tiny spaces by warm hearts, absorbed language and appreciation of my own roots from the vantage point of strangers as well as families, often of very modest circumstances.
My elder has a bit of the same wanderlust, and found a way to live overseas without putting me further into debt when he traveled to Brittany, France, two years ago. He lived with a host family while attending French high school for a few months, as part of a public school program.
This would be an incredible experience for this foreign student, and of course, for my kid. And as atypical as we are (and we are), in a way, perhaps that would serve this young man and my son, both.
Another time travel note
I am proud of my 16-year old for wanting to do this, and a little surprised. Our lives are anything but simple. But this must feel like a safe and loving household all the same, if he wants to open our doors to another kid, from another country.
The fact that my elder son is actually planning to fly home for five days during the same time period (his spring break) will make things more exhausting, more expensive, and more wild – all round. But it will be a helluva couple of weeks – for all of them. And me, too.
So, it’s really up to my younger son now. If he’ll forfeit the dollars, then call me crazy, but I’ll push aside the stack of bills to make room for more life at the kitchen table.
And meanwhile, I’ll keep you, um, posted. Someone needs to know when and where to send the men in white coats. For me.