I leave for the Netherlands tomorrow and I’m sitting here in Chic-fil-A thinking about how all this got started years ago. I’m ever so thankful that I decided to open my home to an international teenager and I’m beyond grateful for the example my mother set by taking in teenagers, like me.
When I talk about hosting exchange students I get a couple typical responses, but they usually end with “I could never do that!” And that makes me really sad, but not just because I’m a Christian and feel that hospitality, grace, and unconditional love are cornerstones of my religion.
It makes me mad, not sad, when I have other Christians put their own comfort ahead of showing love to young person far away from home. This doesn’t mean everyone and all the time should host an exchange student. Life happens.
I get angry when someone asks me why they should have someone that isn’t family live with them – or some variation of that – and my response is always, “You aren’t having non-family stay with you. You are adding to your family.” Most of the time people know me well enough to shut up after I say that, but occasionally someone will say something along the lines of “not really” and then I go on a tirade and say that blood doesn’t make a family.
Feeling righteous indignation toward a tiny group of small minded people doesn’t move to tears though. As my mom always says, “We don’t care what stupid people think.”
What makes me sad is knowing what these families are missing out on. Year after year I hear people say, maybe when the kids are older, maybe when my kids are grown, maybe when I have more money, maybe when I have kids…
Apparently, I’m a freaking goddess for hosting exchange students while I am penny pinching and dealing with a special needs kid, a bipolar husband, a chronic illness, and a demanding career.
But I’m really just a regular person, just a mom.
You want to know how I do it?
It’s easy, really. Having the exchange student here makes everything better! I’m not kidding. And it’s not just that I had Joop and he's so funny. I also had two other teenagers live with me and they made everything better too. Charles’s depressive swings were more moderated; Drake learned about sharing his parents and got a glimpse into the life of siblings. I could name dozens more. I had an extra hand around to help and the ability to learn first hand about the world was intellectually stimulating on a level I will never replicate.
Not to mention that hosting is just fun. When you are going to McDonald’s with your American family, it’s just dinner, but when you add in an exchange student, it’s an adventure!
If you’ve read Joop Does America already, you may be calling my bluff. But! But! But! Yes, there was crap. Tons of it. Some pretty intense crap with all of the teens that have stayed with me. And not just the general run of the mill teenage crap, but addiction, hospitalization, and serious mental illness.
(Just to be clear, my experience is a little more intense than anyone else I’ve known, which is why I wrote a book. There’s a running joke going around that God sends me the neediest. Something about my family…and maybe a little payback for what my mom dealt with?)
But even with Leonie being hospitalized for a severe case of mono, I would still do it again. I would try to brush out the hospital bed hair and figure out what dizzy, nauseated Dutch girls will eat. I’ll deal with despondent, my girlfriend just broke up with me Joop curled up in a fetal position on my bathroom floor. I’ll handle paranoia and wild accusations.
After 3 years of working with exchange students, I can tell you, most of the time, the drama is pretty low key, run of the mill teenageness. I remember one host mother’s big complaint: They don’t use the top sheet! OMG! Such a problem… Guess what, neither do I. If you run into more pressing issues than top sheet usage, there is a community representative not far away. And then a district manager. And then the company itself. And even the state department.
Maybe this year with my Brazilian Princess I’ll just have top sheet usage issues….
So, if you want to host a student, feel free to send me an email. And if you just want to read about my experience with Joop, you can buy the book here.
I leave next Thursday at 2:30 in the afternoon from Atlanta. I found the cheapest darn flight I could, which happened to be through Delta of all things, and am flying overnight to Amsterdam through Washington DC. I’m supposed to arrive at about 7am on a rainy Amsterdam morning, which would be about 1am for me.
If I were Joop, 1am would be my prime time, but as luck would have it, I’m a terrible night person and will probably spend most of Friday battling sleep and jet lag, so I haven’t planned a thing that first day. I will do my best to stay awake through dinner that night, but otherwise, I’m not promising a thing.
The rest of the trip will be a full force, coffee fueled Dutch extravaganza.
Before all this, though, Joop Does America will be officially published on the 16th of April. For all of you that pre-ordered your books, your book will be sent to you that day. If you are in Athens and would like a signed copy before I leave, I’m going to ask you to please purchase a book from Amazon and wait for me to return. I have limited supplies of the book and limited funds at the moment to purchase more, and it looks like I may be selling out of all the books in the Netherlands. Sorry, Netherlands first. 😉
So here are our important dates:
April 16th: Book publication and article in the local newspaper in Edam
April 20th arrive in Amsterdam
April 23rd Speaking with local students and teachers
April 25th The Amsterdam Art Museum with Don Boscoe College
April 27th Koningsdag (The King’s birthday) in Amsterdam
April 30th Second newspaper article
May 1st Big book signing at the church in Edam
May 4th I return home.
In addition to these dates, we also have more malleable plans for every day. Here’s a list of other things that we will fit in between these set dates. We will have at least one video every day available on our YouTube channel, which you can check out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0ZvBSmv2JX-14wFJNGBTyw. It’s brand new and we’d appreciate it if you’d subscribe:
Plus much, much more! I'm keeping a few surprises up my sleeve. If you subscribe to our YouTube channel or like the Joop Does America Facebook page, we’ll get notification when new videos, posts, or general shenanigans happen.
Joop and I are two very different people, and we remember situations differently. This week Joop’s dad was reading an advanced reader copy of the book and had a question about the very first anecdote in the book in chapter one, which is about teenagers lying. I only grounded Joop once his stay here and this story is about what caused me to ground him.
Here’s the story from my point of view: I grounded Joop because he lied to me. From Joop’s POV, I grounded him because he was driving around in a car with a girl.
A basic run down: I got a call from Joop’s school one afternoon saying that he hadn’t shown up to school! I was panicked. Last time I saw him, he was off to school. It was now after 4, when he was normally home and he wasn’t and he hadn’t called me. I called Anastasia, my best friend, and she talked me down.
“He’s probably just being a stupid kid and skipped school. He’s not laying facedown in a ditch,” Anastasia said. “Try texting him again.”
Throughout the year, one of the main points of arguments with us (and worry for me) is that Joop wouldn’t keep me informed about his plan changes. And his phone would die. And it would be 6, dinner time, and I would have no idea what happened to him. I didn’t care much what he did, most of the time, as long as he kept me appraised of his plans so I could adjust the entire family schedule. However, I had never received a phone call from his school saying his was absent.
After I hung up with Anastasia, I texted him again, and this time he answered.
“I’m at drama club. I’ll have someone give me a ride after it’s done.”
A-okay! Maybe it was just a fluke the school called me. It was an automated message, maybe some wires got crossed. I was about to call Anastasia back, but she called me before I could.
“I just saw Joop driving around on Cedar Shoals Road.”
“He just told me he was at school…”
“Well, Joop and his red hair are pretty easy to spot. He was driving around town…I mean, he wasn’t driving – the other girl was, but he certainly wasn’t at school.”
I text Joop back. No drama today. I’m coming to pick you up.”
He attempted to get out of me picking him up. I was insistent and gave him a couple opportunities in the texting to let me know what was happening. I had no problem with him hanging out with friends after school. In fact, he did it most days, so I was having a hard time understanding why he would keep lying to me. My mom’s voice rang in the back of my head, “Teenagers all lie. They lie for no reason. They lie for good reasons. They lie for bad reasons. The good ones, the bad ones, the braindead ones. They all lie.”
And that was the point of the chapter and that anecdote: Joop was your average teenager and he lied.
I gave him a couple more opportunities to tell me the truth, but he never did. So I called him out and then grounded him from riding around with that girl for two weeks. He’d have to take the bus to and from school.
When Joop’s dad read the story, he didn’t understand why Anastasia had called me. After Joop explained things to his dad and Dutch friends, the general consensus was she was a snitch. As far as Joop was concerned, Anastasia was calling me to snitch that he was in a car with a girl. Just randomly.
From my point of view, Anastasia called me back to inform me that my missing child was not face down in a ditch.
For about two days because of our differing POV’s on the story, I thought he Dutch didn’t care about their children being missing, and the Dutch thought American parents would text each other every time they saw someone else’s kids. The Dutch didn’t care at all what their kids did, and didn’t want to know what they did unless they were swinging from trees doing crack and shooting off guns. American parents on the other hand, stalked their kids and had their friends stalk their kids.
Sunday, I finally realized what was going on. Joop kept saying that Dutch families let their children make mistakes because you learn from mistakes. Well, so do American parents, I’d say, but we try to shield our kids from life changing mistakes. He kept saying that riding in a car with a girl was not a mistake that was life changing.
But, riding in cars with girls was not the point of the story, and it was most certainly not why Anastasia had called me.
So, I texted Joop’s dad, Christiaan, on Sunday afternoon and said, you know, American parents don’t go around snitching on each other’s kids. Anastasia called me because she was calling me back…because I was panicked thinking my kid was missing.
And apparently, Dutch parents would have responded similarly. It suddenly made sense to Christiaan. “We had no idea Joop was missing.”
Joop and I experienced this situation differently. I was a panicked parent, and he was an annoyed teenager.
In the end, Joop was never missing, so he didn’t understand what was going on from my point of view. Plus he’s not a mother, so he doesn’t understand that pit in your stomach every time the kid takes the keys… Joop was only late for school; he stopped to have Waffle House for breakfast, and the first period teacher responsible for taking attendance didn’t update Joop from absent to tardy.
However, I didn’t know that. Anastasia didn’t know that.
If he had just told me he was going out with friends after school, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. He did it all the time. His lie was completely pointless.
What I thought originally was a cultural misunderstanding, ended up being a difference in point of view, in how Joop and I experienced this situation.
Honestly, this happens a lot in life. You hear about when police interview witnesses to a crime. Each of them tells the cop something different. It’s not that these differing stories are untrue, or true even, but that these people are relaying their personal experience.
So if you ask Joop something, he’s likely to recount a different story than me. If you ask him, or me, to explain something to you, and it sounds too outrageous – whether good or bad – to be true, then it might just be our own personal understanding, or misunderstanding, of the transpired events.
And this, is why talking to people with different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs is so important. If we don’t talk openly about even small issues – such as a story about a teenager getting grounded, we start making wild assumptions about cultures or people that are different from us.
In this instance, the wild belief was the Dutch are nutso amoral pseudo parents who don’t care if their kids are missing, and on the flipside Americans are nutso holier-than-thou stalkers who helicopter parent their kids into submission.
Sure, Dutch parents are typically more lenient that American parents…but parents everywhere would be concerned if their child was missing.
Have you ever had an experience like this before? How did you handle it? How long did it take before you realized that their experience was different than yours and coloring their response differently than yours?
I live in Athens, Georgia, with my son, my husband, and an ever-revolving list of exchange students, who are a never-ending source of entertainment and writing material.