Crib Notes: The universal language of kids

By From page A3 | October 11, 2017

The Rescue Union School District offered families the opportunity to host school children from Hangzhou, China last week. I have always appreciated that diplomacy-building trips have been organized between countries that have cool relations. In the 1980s my parents hosted a young woman from Japan for a month. When I was in high school I traveled with a student delegation to Russia when it was still part of the USSR. I was there in July, but the clean air and green landscape reminded me a lot of California, busting my preconceptions of it as a cold and dreary place, and the people were just as warm.

“Only child Johnny is in for a big surprise,” my husband texted me after reading our student Johnny’s profile. We were certain living with four children would seem chaotic to him.

Once he arrived it became evident that either American kids are very soft or Chinese kids are tough, perhaps both. It’s hard to fathom that a delegation of 9- to 14 year-olds who speak little English came to America without their parents, attended school and lived in private homes for nearly a week. I don’t see American parents lining up for their children to visit China. By day two my husband told me to conceal my comparisons a bit so that my kids wouldn’t resent Johnny. My mouth was most likely hanging open in astonishment because of another act of Johnny’s fastidiousness. He made his bed so tight each morning I wondered if he was actually sleeping in it. The bathroom and his slippers were so clean I wondered, again, if he actually used them — a far cry from the children’s habits I know.

We all enjoyed experiencing things as though for the first time through Johnny’s eyes — eating tacos, bowling and seeing deer and turkeys roam the neighborhood. By asking him about his life, we also realized how many extra-curricular activities American children are involved in. One of the first things Johnny asked as my son transitioned from school to soccer practice was, “Don’t you need to study?” For Johnny, all of his energy goes into his schoolwork, particularly in math and learning English, something he has been studying since he was 8.

On the last day of Johnny’s stay, I realized that he isn’t some super-human, mini-adult, after all. Kids are kids no matter where they live and this realization made us all love Johnny even more. In his last frame of bowling he grabbed two balls at once. My kids and I looked at each other. Would he really do it? He sure did. He threw both balls down the lane at once, turning to us with a mischievous smile. In his final attempt, he daringly picked up a third ball.

“No,” I blurted, but it was too late. The third ball had struck the reset bar.

After our adventures in bowling, I told the kids they could each pick out five things at the Dollar Store. My own kids ended up choosing a couple of candies, mixed in with trinkets. Despite my attempts to pepper in healthy options during mealtimes all week (because Chinese people eat so much healthier, I have always thought), I’ll never forget Johnny meeting me at the check-out counter with a big smile, his arms loaded with nothing but junk food, including a 2-liter bottle of soda.

We were just getting to know Johnny as it was time for him to go home, but we know we’ve got a new friend across the world now — a friend who really isn’t that different from us after all.

Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother of four children. She can be reached at [email protected]

Julie Samrick

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