Sunday, August 15, 2010

Well. does 14 count?

I have often written about how I am clearly not a mom. I have complained about whiny babies, boring "my child is the most beautiful baby" stories, and how I feel some moms lose their entire identity in their children.

Then I remembered. Wait a damn minute. Did I not host 14 exchange students? Did I not shop for Christmas gifts for my "temp kids?" Did I not clean up the vomit after one of them got sick? Did I not provide my shoulder for more than a few when they felt sooo sad and had no where else to turn?

Hello?? I was a mom. Just not your stereotypical mom.

I honestly don't believe I have shared this story with any of you.. maybe I have hinted at my "hosting" days, but I am not sure I ever shared any of the highlights!

I married my first husband in November of 2000. We knew we would not be having any children, and to be perfectly honest - I wanted to travel. Due to lack of funds and time - I decided, since we had a 3 bedroom house, we might as well fill up some of the rooms, and while we are at it, bring the world to us!

The first company I went with was Cultural Academic Student Exchange - aka CASE. I did not get too much choice in the student available for me, I was told I would get a girl from the south of Thailand named Pennapa. Her parents worked for the government and ran a rubber plantation.

Pennapa arrived in the States in late July of 2001. Adorable, shy, sweet "Ping Pong" entered our lives.
- Amazing gifts from Thailand
- Experiencing 9/11 together
- She took trips to: NYC, Jekyl Island, Savannah, Atlanta, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Daytona.
- She learning how to take a shower in our more westernized bathroom
- Her crush on Kobe Bryant
- Her love of the musical sensation - "Outcast."
- Celebrating Christmas with our first "child!"
- Sitting in a church and explaining to a Buddhist why "God" would let his son die on that cross.

After Pennapa returned home, we agreed to take a summer student for 3 weeks into our home (in July 2002) from Paris, France. Camille Boeuf joined us from Paris, France. Her father was a VP for a major communications company, and apparently they lived in a 7 story home with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

During the summer I picked a girl for the fall semester of 2002 - this time - Europe. Carole Charlier joined our little family in August of 2002. Carole was a french speaking Belgian from Liege. Funky, fun, and extremely creative - Carole came in and immediately took to the American way of life like a duck to water. Carole left a very serious boyfriend back at home and was a HUGE Rave/Techno girl. Highlights:
- The crazy clothes she wore to school (a black hoop skirt made out of umbrella material.)
- Practising my french
- having to go to a pharmacy and purchase a pregnancy test for her (she was VERY serious with the boyfriend back home)
- Having to call CASE and explain the results of the test
- Having to say goodbye to her after a wonderful 2 months

By Christmas of 2002, I selected an Italian girl from Noli, Italy. Chiara Ugo Baudino arrived in January 2003 with fabulous Prada shoes and a Fendi bag. Chiara's family owns Eco, a major high end fashion department store in Italy. Chiara and I were perfectly suited as "mom/daughter." Our interests and love of fashion was amazing -and of course, I learned sooo much about high end designers.
- Trip to NYC, DC, Philly & Boston (for her)
- Trip to Key West
- Dancing!!
- Her fendi purse gift to me!!!!!

Chiara left in July of 2003 and Patrick Camal from Liege Belgium made an appearance August of 2003. Patrick loved theater, writing and was a flaming atheist. He lasted until October - I finally could not deal with his baaaaad, pompous attitude. I had him moved to another home.
- Being told I am a slave to my imagination because I believe in God
- Being told all American are absolute idiots and not worthy of the praise we get from 3rd world countries
- Him coming into my room early in the morning turning off my alarm clock because he hated me pushing snooze...

By December I had selected a Columbian from Riochacha! Roslin Acosta came to our home in January of 2004. Barely spoke English, but had a smile that was a mile wide!
- Our weeklong "girls" vacation to St. Augustine
- Taking a Helicopter Ride
- Dancing Salsa!
- The amazing tribal gifts from the natives of Columbia

In July of 2004 my ex and I decided we had a big enough house - let's go for two at a time. That summer we got Jacqueline Schiesser from Inglestadt, Germany and Elena Dimitrova from Comrat, Moldova. (She spoke Russian.) Life was going good and strong until November on a trip to Pigeon Forge, TN - when the girls simply could not get along.

Since Jackie had a few more closer friends, she agreed to go live with another family and we kept Elena.

In December we selected a replacement for January - Matt Cook, from Melbourne, Australia. I have to admit - that was the last, truly excellent "perfect family."

We had an amazing time with them.
-trip to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg
- girl's weekend in Savannah
- New Orleans, LA
- the push up competition

Sooo many good parties.
 Elena left in July of 2005.

We ended up taking another summer semester student - Maria from Madrid, Spain. She spoke little to no english and apparently decided to have a little fling with our Australian.

After the summer of love, we selected Ilaria Dimitrova of Turin Italy. (Matt was scheduled to leave in December.) She and Matt joined Chris and I in Birmingham for the big move. Ilaria and I were so close. (Apparently I get along really well with Italians!) However, she and Matt did not.

- Trip to Chattanooga
- Discovering Birmingham Together
- In Feb of 2006, Ilaria goes to an Evangelical retreat with some friends (she was a catholic) - she came back and said she wanted to live with her friends. She moved out in February of 2006 - after of 7 months with us.)

In January of 2006 we got a Brazilian boy from Sao Paulo. Felipe Mattos, the Samba Drummer and Tambourine player came into our home and hearts. For whatever reason, Ilaria hated him. That probably pushed her out of our home even more.
Felipe was great!

- Traveling cross the coasts - savannah, st. simons, jekyl, st. augustine, Panama City and Destin
- Felipe's amazing tambourine skills - seriously there are skills attached
- good times in Panama City

That summer Chris and I selected another double placement (our final placement) - Kimhouy Huy from Cambodia and Mina Haidar from Kurdistan (Northern Iraq.)

Kimhouy lasted about one month - turns out she had a false passport and was trying to get into the country. But Mina - she made it the entire year and she and I grew so close together.

Unfortunately she got the true experience - I got divorced in December of 2006. I actually lived as a single mom with Mina. Our highlight trip was to New Orleans together.

All in all I hosted:
14 kids
3 boys, 11 girls
2 Buddhists, 1 agnostic, 1 atheist, 1 muslim, 9 catholics
I learned bits and pieces of Thai, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Kurdish, Arabic, Romanian, Italian, etc.

I could go on and on, and unfortunately all of my pics are locked away in scrapbooks. I hope to eventually transfer some to a scanner and share with all of you. The few I have digitally are not enough to paint a perfect picture. But that's okay.. the memories are still there.

So in the end - yeah - I wiped the tears of hormonal teen girls, I helped a few boys select soccer cleats, I watched every single one of them walk in a high school graduation, I selected presents and played Santa and the Easter Bunny...

Yes.. I was a mom. No, I did not give birth - but I shared my heart and my home and every penny I had on these kids. I lived and loved them. Still - they are all 14 in my heart, regardless of the end result.

As a matter of fact, this year I am traveling to visit Pennapa in Bangkok Thailand. She is grown now, and works as an accountant in a bank. All of them are doing wonderfully:
Pennapa - An accountant at a bank in Bangkok
Camille - In Corsica working as an attorny
Carole - in Leige working as a graphic artist
Chiara - in Milan working in PR for Marie Claire Magazine
Patrick - in Liege at university
Roslin - in Bogota at university
Jackie - in Munich at university
Elena - graduated in Budapest and now living in Mexico with her boyfriend
Matt - in university in Melbourne, possibly moving to Asia to teach english
Marie - I have no idea!
Ilaria - in university in Milan
Felipe - in university in Rio
Kimhouy - working at the fishery in Cambodia
Mina - in university in Syria studying to be a Dentist.

I am a proud mommy and happy to share that part of my life with you.


Anonymous said...

Yes my friend, you are a mom. Maybe not in the traditional sense of the word, but a mom just the same! CONGRATS!!! :-)

Leanne said...

WOW!!! How cool, Nicole . . . thank you SO MUCH for sharing the history of all of your KIDS with us! Yes, my dear, hate to break the news to you ... but you definitely are a Mom. (And so sorry if I bore you with kids stories!!! Augh - I hate that, for real!) But I LOVED this post!!!

Miel Abeille said...

What a unique mother experience! Lucky you! And quite clever,too! I never would have thought of hosting an exchange student as a way of bringing the world to me. And motherhood to a whole new level!

Leanne said...

You are the best!!! :)

Now . . . let me tell you what my cute kid did today . . .


I do love you!!!! :) :) :) :)

Bossy Betty said...

Heck yes, it counts! You were a very important person in these lives!

Yenta Mary said...

This is SUCH a fabulous post!!! It was fascinating and heartwarming and wonderful ... :)

Rachel Cotterill said...

That sounds like an awesome experience (or set of experiences). When I read the first paragraph I thought you meant 14 all at once! I would love to do something like this sometime. I don't have kids (I'm another travel addict) but I enjoy looking after other people's children, and might consider fostering when I'm older - it's too soon to know.

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