Somewhere along the line, Marissa stopped being an exchange student to us, and become our Dutch daughter, D's big sister, our friend: family. We purposely chose a student from the Netherlands so that we could keep in contact when we go back to the Netherlands to visit Niels' family. We had hoped to return with her, but there's a very important wedding we need to attend next weekend. Our experience was so much better than we had hoped one week ago, I was unable to put together the words to tell Marissa what she has meant to us, although I suspect she knows.
So, one week after our family of four became a family of three, here are my sort-of coherent words of what I couldn't say to Marissa at the airport.
1. Thank you for loving our son.
We decided to have an exchange student with D was young so that he would hear Dutch from another native speaker. We had some concerns that a teen girl wouldn't be excited to have a little brother, but you and D bonded from the moment you met at the airport last August.
The two of you share a love of Skyrama...
...Little Einsteins, Tangled, and taking silly pictures.
We LOVE that you taught him to clean toilets.
And you also taught him that it's okay if Mommy and Daddy go out on dates sometimes! He loved his dates with you, and he misses you very much.
2. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Whether it was encouraging Niels and I to go on dates, hanging with D when I needed a break, working with your parents to send gifts for us for Sinterklaas and Christmas, we are grateful for your kindness. Even now that you are gone, we are reminded of your thoughtfulness each time D opens one of the gifts you left for him to help bridge the days until we see you again (two weeks!).
You told him that I would only give him his gifts if he napped and had a happy heart that day. He's missed a few days. He misses his big sister so much, sometimes it's hard for a four-year-old to make good choices when his heart is sad. But your notes and gifts to remind him of your fun times together bring his sweet side back out.
I would have been easy to leave D out when you were with friends or doing big kid stuff, but you always made D felt big by including him.
Of course my favorite memory of your thoughtfulness was when I was sick and really craved soup and you and Niels made a valiant effort to make me chicken and dumpling soup. (Next time, skip the immersion blender, no matter how fun it is to use!)
3. Thank you for being a good traveler.
We share your love of traveling, even though being 6'2" doesn't making traveling in a sedan with a preschooler isn't the most comfortable mode of transportation, you took it in stride and were able to see a lot of America, and even a bit of Canada!
4. Thank you for being willing to try new things.
We are so proud of the way you dove right into to new experiences. CIEE suggest that you visit your host family's place of worship at least once. You attended with us every week, leading to really cool conversations about faith.
When you first arrived, you thought you'd ride a bike to school...until you saw how un-bike-friendly American roads can be. You were very excited about the yellow school buses like the ones you'd only seen in the movies.
You have fully embraced and joined me in Pinterest addiction.
You have celebrated American holidays like Halloween.
We joked that between school, your friends, and your involvement with our community events, you know more people around here than we do!
We're glad you were able to attend American weddings (and are grateful to friends and family who warmly welcomed you), watched American football, took to cooking and baking (we miss your pizza dough!) and doing your own laundry, challenged yourself to write a sonnet in English, exercise with me at the fitness center, and put together many "poozles."
It easy to see why you made so many quality friends during your time year. I think of meeting Mehak those first few hours in Ohio, when we stopped at the school for a tour before we even made it home. And your birthday party in October. Less than two months before your arrived you had more friends than you could invite to celebrate turning seventeen. Deby, Sarah, Brittany, and your other friends are all welcome to visit (or babysit!) anytime. (And so are the Romanian carolers!)
Thank you for being a willing guinea pig for my sewing adventures and graciously accepting my imperfect gifts.
We love you!
We miss you! (Please come visit!)
You are family.
With lots of love from your American mom,