I live alone in Orange County and thought it might be fun to share a week with a young person from New York City. I had heard of the Fresh Air Fund but was not sure what they did. I called the number listed on a request for donations with a seventy year old’s trepidation. “Is it too late to register for the summer? Do you match adults and children? Would anyone want to come to a house where an old woman lives alone?” Fully expecting to be rejected, I was intent on making it easy for them.
The woman on the phone instructed me to complete a one page form and two weeks later a call came from Deniece. “Hi, I am Fresh Air Fund’s Chairperson for Orange County and I interview prospective Fresh Air Fund families. Shall we make a time for me to visit your home next week?” My eyes looked up at the ceiling in disbelief. I thought about what I would wear and how the house looked. Deniece rang the bell, gave me big smile, looked around the house and talked to me for about 45 minutes. She said, “You need a big heart and a separate bed for the child and you have both. I have two pieces of advice for you to use when we find a child to come here in August. 1. Don’t spend a lot of money – spend time with the child. 2. Keep it simple.”
“I will get back to you following a background check and we will let you know when a child will be coming.” And off she sprinted with a smile and a business like goodbye. A month later, I got a call. “It’s a girl and she is 12, and from Queens.”
I imagined the young woman wondering what she was getting into. And that’s exactly what I was doing. Would she like me? What if she expected to be with other children and I didn’t know any? What if I got someone who was interested in make-up and I didn’t have any. Could I eat pizza and hotdogs for one week? Could we find things to do that we both liked?
In August, Tristen came to my house. It was really scary for both of us. She asked where the kids were. I said I was kid-like and we could look for some in a park, but I really didn’t know any neighborhood kids.
We swam in a neighbor’s pool – just us since the friend was away. We kayaked, played catch with a football and a softball, went to the Farmer’s Market and cooked together. Deniece’s advice about keeping it simple really helped me avoid the trap of thinking I had to spend a lot of money to impress Tristen and thinking that would help her like me.
Tristen delighted me with her humor, wit, directness and charm. We decided that Netflix would be our evening activity and each night she chose the movie. They were mostly directed by Tyler Perry and we giggled at different parts. Sometimes, she laughed and I cried and we got to talk about that. Too little food in the house, sibling arguments, adult drugs and drinking and neighborhood violence were familiar and comfortable for her to witness in the Perry movies. Of course, they made me sad.
At the end of the week, I asked her to rate our kitchen “restaurant.” She thought for a minute and said, “Five stars – actually, I’m going to change that to ten stars.” I floated up off the floor as if I were in a magic show.
Tristen will be coming back in July 2017. And now it’s one of my favorite months.
If you would like to inquire about having a 7 to 12 year old from New York City spend a week with you in July or August, call me, Barbara Draimin, at 651-4663. You can be any age, any family size and all you need is an extra bed and time to play. You can also visit the website at www.freshair.org/host-a-child.