My younger son had the best time when his German exchange friend stayed with us. They got on so well together and stayed in touch. He was so excited about going to Germany to visit him. And I was excited for him.
Until I remembered that meant my son would be away for 10 days. I felt quite sad about that, although I didn’t show it.
He set off in the middle of the night, which I thought was going to be stressful, so that added to my worry. In the end, it wasn’t stressful at all. He got up very late the previous day and had a couple of hours’ sleep before he went. I went to bed at normal time and got out of bed to say goodbye to him, then I went back to sleep.
I reminded him to message us. At least occasionally.
My son isn’t the best at messaging while he’s away, partly because on Scout camps they’re not allowed phones, so he’s not in the habit of doing it.
When I got up that morning, it was weird to think that he was already well on his way. Before we knew it, he was halfway there. Would he message when he arrived? I checked my phone and there was nothing, then a few seconds later a text to say he was at his friend’s house.
Later in the evening, a text to say they only drink sparkling water. (My son doesn’t like sparkling water.)
I was slightly shocked that he texted again the following morning. Pleased, but also slightly worried as it was out of character. But then nothing. For days. I texted him on Monday morning, but no reply.
No news is good news, right?
I asked my eldest if he’d posted anything on Snapchat, but there was nothing.
When my kids are away, I have a habit of counting down the days – since they’ve been and until they’re back. Sometimes I even count the hours. It’s not the best idea, if I’m honest.
The house felt strange without him, even though he’s often in his bedroom. He’s good company, easy to talk to and always kind to his sister. Sometimes he will go out for a walk in the evening with my husband and I.
The contents of the cupboards and fridge went down more slowly. There was significantly less washing, way more than you would imagine with only one person away.
And I had no school runs, which was nice.
But there was still as many arguments as ever. My younger son is the one that doesn’t argue. My eldest and daughter argue from the moment they set eyes on each other in the morning and, sadly, having their brother away didn’t change that in the slightest.
Finally on the Tuesday evening, he sent me this stunning photo of Frankfurt and a few short texts. He was very happy because all they ate was meat and bread.
And by the next day, we’d turned a corner – I could count the days until he would be home, rather than the days he’s been gone.
But I missed him more than ever on Thursday. There were still over three days to go and my days at home are very long and lonely. My other kids go out to school at 7.30 and they weren’t back until 4.45 that day. I didn’t speak to another human being face-to-face for all those hours. But my son texted and informed me that he’d had a shower on all but two days (he sometimes likes to slack off them), which put a smile on my face.
I didn’t hear from him again until late on Saturday evening, when he was obviously packing and texted to check how many pairs of trousers he should have. Luckily he hadn’t lost any. He also wanted to know why I’d packed him 11 pairs of socks when he was only away for 10 days. Who knows? I suppose I can’t count.
Sunday was a long day as I literally counted the hours down until his return.
My son got home late last night, very hungry, with an incredibly neat suitcase full of dirty washing and lots of tales. I heard about his trips, including to the controversial and historic Monday night football match in Frankfurt. There was the Germans’ casual use of the word ‘shit’ in their own language, which they then used just as casually in English, much to his amusement. There was the endless bread and meat for dinner every night, the fact that all of the families only drank sparkling water – and his was the only family who got him his own supply of still water. He’d showered and brushed his teeth more than when he was at home, but hadn’t taken his acne medication once and had only worn his contact lenses twice. Most of all, he told me about the German boy’s dry sense of humour, which we remember so well.
He’d had a brilliant time and I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about it over the next few days. He has to hit the ground running today – straight back to school and a football match after school. There’s no time for being tired.
I did miss him while he was away, but the experience he had on the German exchange – and the experience he has every time he goes away – far outweighs that. It’s so important that he gets to go on these trips and I would always encourage him to take part in everything he can.