He Calls Me Mommy
OpinionShaindle's Shpiel

He Calls Me Mommy

Hosting foreign exchange students is a life-altering experience for all involved.

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler spreads her energy and humor as a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

The Marcus JCC continues to run thriving day camps at the Dunwoody campus and elsewhere.
The Marcus JCC continues to run thriving day camps at the Dunwoody campus and elsewhere.

My hubby, my four girls and I arrived from Tampa, Fla., alongside the moving truck.

It took us a few days to pack all our belongings, scrub the house clean (until it screamed, “Enough!”), cry our goodbyes and head for Hotlanta.

We arrived to an unpleasant surprise: The home we thought we had purchased fell through.

This could have been tragic, had our real estate angel not swooped in and taken care of us. She found us a small home in the same neighborhood where we planned to live. Brand-spanking-new elementary and high schools lured us to the area.

Our temporary residence was so small, my girls named it “the hotel.”

We lived there for about a year, until the same real estate angel found us a fabulous home on a hill in Stone Mountain. Our parents thought we hit the jackpot, given how large it appeared atop the hill.

Debbie, our real estate angel, found our first, second and third homes.

One day I spotted an article about foreign exchange students living with American families. This was the beginning of a journey for us and the foreign exchange students, to places our family and these students would otherwise not go.

Spain, Germany, France, England and Israel — they all attended school for a semester, or experienced summer camp for the first time, while they lived with us.

They all shared rooms with my girls.

When my husband consulted for the M&M’s candy company in Holland, he met a colleague who became one of his closest friends. This friendship led to our meeting his son Imre, whom he sent to live with us for more than a year. He became our foster son.

We were honored his parents allowed him to live with us and to spend his senior year in the United States. He is the same age as daughter No. 2; they were in school together.

He arrived in June. We picked him up from the airport and headed straight to Camp AJECOMCE. I had explained our summer camp concept to his family.

My first questions: How was your flight? Did you have anything to eat? I stopped and told him to pick out any snack and drink. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

I had to get to work, given that I was the director of the camp. Finally, he decided on a drink but did not choose a snack.

Asked why, he responded ever so politely, “I can’t find it.”

Now I was really confused, and I pointed out that the entire gas station store was filled with snacks.

But our cute boy had no clue what a snack was. Once I explained, he chose canned potato chips.

Lesson 1: Snacks are a way of American life.

When school started, daughter No. 2 and Imre walked to school together, brother and sister in the making.

When the football coach could not see the value in placing my “son” on the football team, I marched right up to the coach and explained the value of having one of the top high school soccer players in Holland on his team. Imre also shined as a champion swimmer for the school.

Lesson 2: Football is a way of American life, especially in the South.

Lesson 3: Don’t mess with a Jewish mother.

Imre dreamed of getting his American driver’s license. With it, he would automatically receive an international license back home.

The written part was an unusually difficult challenge for him, though he was a bright kid. He did have his permit, and he passed the driving part.

Immy seamlessly became one of our family. He became a brother to the girls, and I cried the first time he called me mommy.

Now he is a married man and the daddy to three children, traveling down the East Coast after flying into JFK, headed for Roswell. They are all staying in our home.

When they arrived on a Friday, the first question was “How was your car trip, and are you hungry?”

When our family gathered for Shabbat dinner, Imre, Yasmin, Thomas and Laszlo added to our blessings.

Immy still calls me mommy, and my heart swells when I hear my three new “grandchildren” call me savta.

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