The Life of Bon: How we got ourselves a French daughter

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How we got ourselves a French daughter

Three weeks ago, one of my students, a foreign exchange student from France, asked me if she could talk to me for a minute after class.  I said yah, sure, why not, kid?

After class she milled about for a minute, standing uncomfortably.  "Agathe.  What can I do for you?"  I asked, figuring she was wondering why she missed those extra points on the test or wanting to ask me about extra credit.  Instead, she looked at the other kids who were gathering up their bags and finding their way out of the classroom and answered,  "I will wait."
Now, I ain't no detective, but I can tell when something is just a bit off.  "Is everything ok?" I asked.
"No."  And as she said that, tears sprung to her eyes.

I hurried the other kids out of the classroom and closed the door.  Alone, Agathe told me about a situation that was less than ideal with her current "host family".  She had told the foreign exchange coordinator and the coordinator told her that she would need to change home.  And then Agathe asked me if she could move in with Greg and me.

The request was not a small one.  She would live with us until the end of the school year- June.  We would be her "legal guardians".  She would spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with us, go on vacations with us, eat dinner every night with us.  She'd sleep in her spare bedroom and shower in the spare bathroom.  We would have to drive her to and from school and any other places she needed to go. For six months she would be like our daughter.

I was completely taken aback. To put it lightly.

I didn't say yes.  

But I didn't say no either.  

I said I would talk to Greg and that I would love to help her, but that I couldn't make any promises.  She said she understood and repeated over and over again, "You can say no.  You can say no.  I know this is a lot to ask you.  Just the fact that you aren't saying no right away means so much to me.  But I understand if you say no."

Immediately after that I went to lunch, where Greg was sitting next to me at a long table surrounded by English and Science teachers.  He was two weeks out from Les Mis opening night, enduring a random, searing pain in his mouth, and one stress attack away from a mental break down.  It certainly wasn't the best time to ask him.  But I asked him.

He didn't say yes.

But he didn't say no either.

For ten days Greg and I debated what we should do.  We talked about it and stressed about it and prayed about it.  The more I heard about Agathe's situation, the more I knew she needed to be in a better situation and the more I felt that she should live with us.

Here's the thing.  I know I'm crazy.  I really really really know I am.  You don't have to tell me that two twenty-something year olds with a four month baby that live 20 minutes from the school and are about to kill themselves with stress are not the best candidates to take in a foreign exchange student.  I know that.  In my head, I absolutely know that.

But then my heart just kept saying something else.  I kept thinking about how my mom had let us live with her for a year when our housing fell through literally the day before we were supposed to move.  What was supposed to be a two week stay turned into a year. I am sure that wasn't easy or convenient for her, but it is thanks to living with my mom that we were able to save and pay for a down payment on the home we live in now.  How can I take someone else's generosity and then turn around and refuse it to someone else?  I remember being so grateful to my mom and thinking, "I can't wait until I am stable enough that I can help other people the way my mom has helped us."

Well, I don't know that we're "stable enough" to help others, but every time I thought about saying no I just felt sick to my stomach.  So maybe that means something?

In the end, it was Greg's decision.  He has been under a terrific amount of stress these past three months.  He has no teaching background, but is teaching six classes (five different subjects).  He is also running the school's auditorium (oftentimes for after school hours events), directing the school musical, and rehearsing for a play that he is acting in at the Hale starting on New Year's.  Sometimes I don't know how the guy is still putting one foot in front of the other. That's why it had to be his decision.  He is the one who is under so much stress.  He is the one that has had every facet of his life flipped upside down the past few months.  He is the one who the move would most affect.  So I told him I wanted to do it, but I know how busy he is and how hard it would be and if he didn't want to do it then I'd respect that completely.

In the meantime, we were playing a waiting game of sorts.  Even if we agreed, we weren't sure if it would be possible because the school district needed to approve the move.  (We live outside the school's boundaries and foreign exchange students are supposed to live within school boundaries.)  Two weeks after Agathe originally asked, I was grading papers when I got a text from the coordinator. The move was approved.  We needed to give our final decision as soon as possible.

I went down to the auditorium where Greg was in the middle of a chaotic two-days- before- show- time rehearsal.  The microphones weren't working right and act two was an absolute train wreck.  I knew my timing was awful, just awful, but well, who cares about timing anyway, right?

"Greg.  The move has been approved."  I said as I slunk into an auditorium chair next to him.  On stage, the revolutionaries were firing away behind their imaginary barricade.

"What?"  He said, turning to me.

"Agathe.  They approved her to live with us."


 He didn't say anything for a minute, watching the teenage actors on stage in front of him.

"Do you think we should do it?"  I finally asked.

He sighed heavily.  "We've been so blessed.  I guess I can't think of a good enough reason not to."

I know it was a huge decision for Greg to arrive to, to give up his home and free space- his one oasis in the middle of a chaotic and stress-filled period of his life.  But one of the things I have always loved about Greg is that his heart is gold- solid gold- all the way through to the core.

I think we were both really scared in that moment.  But confident, too.

It's not easy to know if you're doing the right thing.  I hope and pray that we are.

If we're not, well, you can at least give us a couple of points for trying, right?

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