I will always remember our experience last week hosting an exchange student from Japan. But not for the reasons I thought I would. I loved having him and going through the entire process – my son going to Japan last year and this boy coming here to Indianapolis this year.
It was a priceless experience, but my biggest and most surprising reward was getting to know my own son again.
Since Austin started driving nine months ago, and really for at least a year of attitude before that, I have to be thankful for crumbs of information that give me glimpses into his life and who he is becoming. I know him, of course, but I don’t know how he is around other people, I don’t know what he does when I’m not around - things like that. I don’t know how he is as a human being going through his life anymore. I know what time he has to be her or there, when he’ll be home, when he needs money for gas, when to write a check for rugby dues - the mundane everyday stuff. But there is the, I suppose typical, teen-parent distance between us in the big picture sense. But by having a kid from a million miles away in the house, I learned more than I have in the past two years about my own son.
There were several events for the kids throughout the week, but the parents really only got involved at the farewell potluck dinner and the welcome and subsequent send-off at the airport. At those two events I got to talk to parents who knew my kid, kids who were friends with my kid, and I got to see my kid interact with the kids from Japan, the teachers and other parents and his friends.
A parent told me how grateful she was for Austin last year because her daughter had been treated badly by the other girls on their trip to Japan and Austin was the only one to be kind to both sides, which eventually led to a big reconciliation and a good time.
I met the girl who Austin asked to the prom. I only found out after the fact, though, that they were going together as I’m sure he didn’t want me saying anything in front of her or her mother. I met her mother and enjoyed them both immensely.
At one point during the potluck dinner, to which I had whined about going for an hour and to which he told me I had to go because it was the right thing to do, my son came to check on me to see if I had gone through the buffet line okay.
He was polite, thoughtful, and kind. He was mature and funny and at times, charming. He didn’t even seem embarrassed by me like he usually does.
I think we may become friends again. I hope so. I’m proud of him and I’m proud to know him.