If you want to look at your home with new eyes, invite a guest to share it for a visit of significant duration. At Birdland we are hosting a teenaged boy from Japan for a month. It is part of a 4-H and Labo exchange. According to the Labo website, Labo is a family oriented organization for kids to improve their knowledge of English and learn about other cultures. Yuki is a friendly boy, Ellis’ age, with a generous smile and quick, but gentle sense of humor. Either that or he is too polite to tell me that my jokes are kind of dumb. He likes some, but not all of the same things my son likes. They play video games and board games, put together puzzles, and throw the Frisbee for Ursula, but Yuki favors baseball (he plays second base) while Ellis’ game is soccer. At yesterday’s preseason fun run with the cross country team, Yuki and I walked the dogs while Ellis and his friends ran a couple of miles. Yuki wasn’t interested in joining in the workout.
Before he arrived we listed attractions in our community he might enjoy. We were surprised at how many places we came up with, that we rarely visit ourselves. It was a lesson in not taking our surroundings for granted. So far we’ve visited the County Fair, Spurlock Museum, Prairie Farm, the mall (a place I usually avoid in favor of more local businesses, so it was kind of an interesting field trip for me, too) Lincoln Square, some toy and art supply stores, various farmers’ markets, and the new swimming pool. We’ve also spent more time than usual visiting with neighbors and friends. Ellis was at band camp for a week, so his friends, Joey, Michael, and James stood in as surrogate brothers to help show Yuki what an Illinois summer is like.
We haven’t yet exhausted our list, and still on the docket is a movie at the drive-in, a baseball game, some Chicago museums, the berry farm, Japan House, Allerton Park, the State Fair, and anything else we can come up with. But our first couple of busy weeks has shown us that down time is important too. Last night we stayed in to watch a movie, and Ellis said, “It feels good to stay home. We’ve been doing something every night, and I’m tired.” And then I remember that part of the goal of his home visit with us is for Yuki to get to know American culture, and experience the regular home life of a regular American boy. To that end, he’s been learning about simple chores—doing laundry, washing dishes, peeling apples, baking cookies. He and Ellis have been hanging out with friends, seeing movies, playing games, going to parties, kicking around town, throwing a Frisbee, and sometimes, being bored. And when I find boys doing nothing, slumped over on the couch, looking glum with boredom, I can scare up a good list of chores like nobody’s business.
It’s been fun showing Yuki new things, which helps us see things with new, more appreciative eyes. But at times I find that this perspective leads me to be more self-critical. We have shown our visitor the range of Illinois weather—from mild and pleasant to unbearably humid, and I find myself rethinking my decision to trade in my window air conditioners for the double-hung-windows-with-screens trick. On the mild days of low humidity, like today, the house is delightfully fresh and cool. On the days of monstrous humidity, the heat is grueling. My plan to limit mowing to once a month was stymied by the lawnmower, which broke down shortly after I began my July mowing. What looked to me like a charmingly natural yard in June, is now looking unkempt and scruffy, even to my eyes. What must it look like to our visitor? Of course it never rains, except when it pours, and a mouse has chewed a hole in the well of our dishwasher. Again. Yuki’s view of a rural American family will not be candy coated. He will see that the cobwebs grow fast in the corners and are slow to get swept away. He’ll see the dishes pile up a little, the weeds encroach on the garden, the dust collect on the furniture, but I hope he’ll also see that he is welcome in our humble home.
Walk in Beauty; Welcome Peace; Blessed Be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdand near White Heath. She is interested in learning about various cultures and welcoming visitors. You can read about Labo, and hosting a visitor from Japan at www.labo-exchange.com/index.htm.