Friday, September 12, 2008

Living and learning

In keeping with our family theme of more to love and more to feed, we recently took the plunge and offered to host a foreign exchange student for the school year. It was a daunting task and we literally turned our house upside down to make it happen. I was so proud of my kids and their willingness to host a complete stranger. We want to do our part for world peace and understanding. My kids really thought through how to make someone new feel comfortable, and for some of us, the task really pushed us out of our comfort zones and required us to give up some entrenched habits and be mindful. Unfortunately, it did not work out. For some reason we were not a good match--our guest was seeking a Typical American Household, and it was clear from the very start she was not thrilled with our brand of Family. I am not sure what Typical American Family is, and I had a sneaking suspicion that we were not such a construct, but now I know unequivocally that we are not. As a way of working through our pain and grief and sense of failure that it did not work out (being rejected by an exchange student hurts as much as being jilted by a lover) we offer what we wish we had said if we knew then what we know now……

A Brief Introduction to our household.

Welcome to Mildred. That’s the name of our house. The car is named Blue. Our other house, in the country is called DOG HAVEN. Names are carefully chosen for their connotation. In the appendix (and elsewhere on this blog) you will find a more thorough explanation of Mildred and her idiosyncrasies, and there will be sections on Blue and Dog Haven, but here is what you need to know to live happily ever after here with our off-beat family of overachieving artists. We are NOT in ANY way mainstream or Typical. We are charmingly unique. In some places that translates as a little nutty.

1. Mildred is a zoo, since a core value in our family is the sanctity of life. All life. While I really don’t LIKE spiders, flies and bugs, I respect their right to exist. I allowed rats, albeit the kind you can dress up in Barbie clothes, to live with us. My tolerance for life forms also goes for weeds, so our garden is a little overgrown. I completely lack the cold-hearted ruthlessness necessary for good gardens. We adopt lost, abandoned animals with amazing regularity. The children also temporarily adopt toads, snakes, and insects that are unusual. All the pets become beloved members of the family, and if you take some time to know them you will find out they are lovely personalities. We never give up on people or animals who are a little “different”.

2. There are a lot of us here. There are not enough bathrooms for the number of teenagers and allied persons living here most of the time, so bathroom usage during peak hours is limited to 5 minutes unless you are using the smaller ones. I know it seems really awkward, but if you are going to take a two hour bubble bath, you need to announce it to the household in a large voice, and you need to do it in off peak hours. This is kind of communal living and we have to be aware of everyone else. Sometimes this is a bummer. Sometimes it is good preparation for life on a crowded planet.

3. We are a tight knit group that actually shares interests and hobbies like performing in operas, speed skating, soccer, film. We have an extended family of folks you can turn to when you want to strangle someone you live with... We have a schedule that looks like a military maneuver spreadsheet to make sure every member of our rambling group gets to do all the things they want and need to do. We support the development of passions. We do not waste time and we do A LOT. (Some people think too much!) We are always interested in what you are up to and you need to alert central scheduling (that’s Angela) as to your whereabouts and estimated times of arrival, keeping in mind she works for the city so you have to observe curfew and applicable laws regulations and policies. She really wants a clock like Mrs. Weasley in Harry Potter so she just knows where all her family is and that they are safe. Safety is an issue in a diverse community, and some pretty bad things have happened to some members of our family so we know that better safe than sorry is a good operations motto.

4. We love books and movies. We have so many of them we use them as furniture. We keep up on current events. We believe in the arts and a life of the mind. No one would call us intellectuals, not here in the Midwest anyway, but we like smart conversations and good debates. Some of us are brainy nerds.

5. We value experiences over stuff, but we are pack rats. (It is actually genetic, which makes it worse, since a lot of the cool stuff we have we inherited from parents who couldn’t get rid of it either) Mildred is what in the education world is known as an enriched environment. What looks like clutter is actually a museum quality collection of art books and many pieces of primitive art, a costume collection rivaling many theater companies, and enough arts supplies to run a small arts school. And in between all that is clutter. But Central Scheduling would rather take you sailing than clean the house, which after all will just get dirty again.

6. Mildred is old which means things are always breaking on her. We try to look at her good points. We are not rich, so keeping time and gravity at bay sometimes takes a little while. The good news is that it makes you behave very very green.

7. We love a bargain. We are famous for dumpster diving (free) thrift shop and tag sale trolling (really cheap), and hitting the off-beat stores that charge low low prices. This allows us to acquire more cool stuff which is not helping with number 5.

8. We all talk at once. Loudly. This is normal. We actually email each other, if we need to get important information to one another. We are not mind readers. Communicate by any means necessary: email, cell phone, smoke signal, sign language. With this many people and their different ideas, it is important to keep the lines of communication OPEN. Never EVER lie. Someone always catches you. Honesty may be painful but it works. We can all handle it.

8. We love electronics, gadgets and the internet, but house rules say NO SCREENS when the weather is good. We still believe in tasting touching hearing seeing and feeling the world unedited by content developers. We live in an area where weather is too often bad….and what’s more, we value experiences which means you have to get out and have them!

9 We have an extensive social network. We get out, we host parties. We bustle. Someone in this house knows someone who—we are connected.

10. We are tolerant of diversity and special needs. After all, some members of our family have what are often called disabilities. We accommodate quirks to the best of our ability.

11. We are Very Dramatic. Really Dramatic. And Drama always finds us!

12. Everyone tries to connect in the morning—we are not morning people and it takes liberal doses of caffeine to pull off these breakfast free for alls, but it is a huge chance to check in. We NEED to check it. And everyone tries to connect before we go to bed. In between its CRAZY! We attempt to gather for a real old fashioned family dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

13. We really love each other, and in the end we are really there for each other. Through thick and thin. And if you live in Mildred and become one of us, that goes for you too.

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