17-year-old Astrid grabs me in a tight hug that lasts for five minutes. With her Hollister tank top, Aeropostale shorts, flip flops, dark tan, and ponytail, she looks like any other Florida teen and in fact could pass as a sister of my two American daughters. This summer, Astrid has become my honorary daughter. Tears streak down her cheeks as she sobs in clear, perfect English, “Thank you so much. It was a perfect summer!” I hug her close as both sadness and gratitude fill my heart. I tell her that I don’t want her to leave and am so glad she came.
Lexi and Laina each take two or three turns to hug her goodbye. “We will see you again someday,” they vow. Still, she cannot leave and opens her arms wide. “Come here,” she instructs, and all four of us gather into a family bear hug. “Thank you. I had so much fun. I love you. You are a wonderful family.”
We air-kiss, the French way, and she enters the vehicle that takes her away from us and back towards France.
I gather my girls close to comfort them as we enter our suddenly too-empty house. After tears run dry, we play songs from the summer and sing aloud, almost shouting the words: “The sun goes down, the stars come out, and all that counts is here and now. My universe will never be the same. I’m glad you came. So glad you came.”
We trade stories, sharing and remembering our favorite moments with Astrid: tubing the springs at Kelly Park, eating the special meal the girls planned and I cooked on Independence Day, watching fireworks over the Indian River, frolicking for beach photo shoots, shopping at Vero Beach, swimming in the tide pool at Sebastian Inlet, eating fresh-picked mangoes. We upload photos and celebrate the memories: kayaking in the Banana River with dolphins, watching the Manatee baseball game, dancing with Evolution, enjoying a day at Sea World and Wet N Wild, goofing off at a sleepover.
We all three agree: even though we are extremely sad to say goodbye, we would not trade the experience for anything. We have all learned so much. “I love it!” and “It’s amazing!” are two of her favorite expressions, and her enthusiasm has infused us with energy and light.
How is it that we are so lucky? Why have we been so blessed?