Mom’s a yeller, and other stuff you should know upon moving in

jenny_thomaI’ve been surprised at the number of searches for “foreign exchange student horror stories” that have brought people to this blog. What are you people looking for?

While some of you might be exchange students, or parents preparing to foist your kid off on another country, I’m going to guess most are impending host parents faced with the reality they’ve committed to taking in someone else’s teenager for an extended stay. Nobody else is prepping for such worst-case scenarios.

You people have to be asking yourselves what kind of crazy person does that? And then you’re probably calming yourself down by saying and what’s the worst that could happen if we do?

I’ve heard a ton of the “worst that can happen” stories, and I’ll admit they make me want to crawl in a corner and chew my knuckles. But here we are, welcoming our fifth foreign exchange student into our home in a matter of days. So far, there’s been very little drama involved in the whole process.

20110803-013735.jpgI was thinking recently about the conversation we’ll be having the night she moves in. She’ll tell us about her family life and her schedule and how things have been shaking out so far on her exchange (we’ll be the second of two host families). We’ll lay out the things she should know about living here. She’ll have her own bathroom, which she’ll be expected to keep clean. Dinner’s at seven. Here’s the bus schedule. This is where we keep the laundry soap. Stuff like that.

Then there are other things I’ve come to realize she should know about living with us, things I’ve learned while hosting several other people’s children for extended periods of time. I’m toying with whether to share all this with her at once, or a little bit at a time, or let her discover it on her own.

This is certainly not comprehensive, but I’d love to hear what you think:

I’m perpetually trying not to yell while you’re here, and that’s not always easy. I don’t like to scare off guests with my outside voice, and even though you’re not supposed to be a guest, you’re new here, so I’ll try to tamp it down.

Yelling doesn’t always mean I’m mad. Sometimes it just means you’re on the other side of the house and I’m too lazy to get up.

Even so, the boys have caught onto the fact I won’t yell as much while you’re living with us, which means they’ll take advantage by behaving in ways they know would normally make me yell.

I’m going to be a little on edge for the next several months, you know, because of the non-yelling thing. And the kids’ taking advantage of the non-yelling thing. That’s okay, but probably a large part of the reason I put away so much beer.

No it’s not. I’d find some other reason for beer even if I weren’t edgy because of the non-yelling thing.

You shouldn’t hesitate to wake me at any time of night if you are sick or if your bedroom is flooding or something. I am easy to wake and okay with your needing me in the middle of the night. Don’t call your mom crying about how much your throat hurts. She’ll sympathize and then tell you to go get me. And she should. That’s what I’m here for.

At the same time, do not keep me awake, ever, wondering where you are. I’m not running a hotel. This is a home and we are your family. And while I’ll be respectful of the fact that you are nearly an adult, I don’t expect to be kept in the dark as to your whereabouts.

hennaIf ever the hour is waning, or if I wake and you’re not home when you said you’d be, I will start by texting all of your friends, then calling all of their parents, then the authorities, followed by the hospitals, the morgues, the State Department and then your parents. By the time you get home from wherever you were when you lost track of the time and your phone died, I will have launched an international incident.

I get a little irrational late at night. I might even yell.

I’m not a stickler for clean bedrooms, which is something you’ll notice if you ever look at either of the boys’ rooms. Just keep a path clear to the door in case of fire. And you should know, food and dirty dishes attract huge rodents and creepy crawly things that will chew on your hair at night. So let the dishes stack up and the garbage overflow at your peril.

Do follow the rules. But if you slip, don’t rub my face in it. Mistakes happen, I get it. Make the very most of your exchange, but do your best to color inside the lines. If you can’t, be prepared for consequences. No matter what, remember I do not want to find out about your gaffes on Facebook. I might yell then, too.

Pardon our confusion. We are not used to girls around here and may be taken aback by the scent hair products and various and sundry potions. We’re more accustomed to the fragrance of dirty gym socks and dog slobber.

I’ll enjoy the extra girl time while you’re here, but even so, I’ve never been one for makeovers, shopping or any movie based on any novel by Nicholas Sparks.

You will always be welcome to come back after your exchange. We will become your friends for life through this process, long after you’re done living with us, and will love to see you again someday. Maybe we’ll even come visit you. Better get everyone ready for that.

Have you ever hosted an exchange student, visiting athlete or other long-term guest? What are the things you’d feel the need to explain to people?


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  1. Hilarious. I also have two boys and my oldest used to have his girlfriend over all the time. I found myself more \”demure\” as a mother when she was around, not used to this feminine presence. Sounds like you\’ll be a very nice, understanding pseudo-Mom to this exchange student. Good luck!

    1. Thank you! I\’m sure if my boys ever brought home girlfriends I\’d try to be much more chill around them as well. Don\’t want to scare anyone away!

  2. My kids and their cousins used to argue over who yelled the best/loudest/most frequent/angriest, me or my sister. My yelling is mainly in the order of talking louder to be heard.
    I love that you are hosting exchange students, I can\’t imagine the way it changes lives on both ends.

  3. My daughter and I have discussed hosting an exchange student, but my son isn\’t thrilled with the idea. We\’re working on him.

    The thought of them out at night is something I never considered that scares the crap out of me. That and the possibility of someone getting pregnant and me getting blamed.

    Reading about your positive experiences with these teens gives me courage! Thanks for this post.

    All the volunteering and good things you do are such an inspiration!

    1. Thanks Deborah. My husband and I work through the Rotary exchange program. It\’s pretty rigorous and the kids aren\’t supposed to drink, drive or date. They go through a significant screening process, so they\’re usually outstanding kids. One thing that I really like about the program is that they usually go to two to three host families during the course of the year, so if it\’s not a good fit, at least it\’s not for a long time. I dated a foreign exchange student in HS and he was a wild child, so I was a little reluctant to host at first.

      To my knowledge, no one in our district has been sent home with an extra little bundle of joy (at least since I\’ve been involved since 2005 or so). So that\’s a plus.