The first time we met Qian, we went hiking together. She climbed into our champagne mini van, and we drove to Green Hill Park where we explored a few hiking trails on a hot August morning. As we trudged through the forest, we asked her a million questions about her life back home in Beijing and her travels across the world. We were excited to be her host family for the school year while she taught Mandarin Chinese at Andrew Lewis Middle School. There was so much we didn’t know on that day back in August.
We didn’t know that both Jackson and Parker would adore her immediately. On some mornings, Jackson would sneak down into the dark kitchen and jump out from the shadows yelling, “Boo!” just as Qian came in to make her breakfast. From upstairs, I could hear a startled scream echoed by Jackson proclaiming, “Gotcha!” She bravely embraced the chaos that small children add to the morning routine.
We didn’t know she was an amazing cook. Our family would regularly dine on dumplings, fried rice, hot pot, Kung Pao chicken, lo mein, and sushi. She gave us a set of chopsticks, which Jamie would start using at most meals and the boys would try to spear peas any chance they could. Jackson and Parker were hesitant throughout our eating adventures, but I have hope yet as they have grown to love “wo mein”; Parker has been seen licking soy sauce off his plate a time or two.
We didn’t know that dinner time would often invite questions like, “How do you say ‘car’ in Chinese?” She would grin and reply, “chē,” and the boys would repeat her in their southern drawl. Then, ever curious, Parker would inquire, “How do you say ‘pooty butt’ in Chinese?” A universal language would fill the room as our voices laughed together. We still don’t know the answer to that one!
We didn’t know all the adventures in store for us. We would run a half marathon in Myrtle Beach, visit a couple wineries, hike McAfee’s Knob, and see the ponies at Grayson Highlands. On the first snow, we would sled down neighborhood hills late into the evening and cook s’mores in a raging bonfire fueled by old Christmas trees. We would celebrate the Chinese New Year by making paper lanterns with the boys. We’d play hacky sack and backyard baseball, take yoga classes and make visits to the ice cream shop afterward.
We didn’t know her kindness, her generosity, her easy going spirit. She is thoughtful, adventurous, and sincere. I imagine that it is not easy being so far away from home, but she has always handled herself with grace and offered so much to our home and community in the months she has been here.
We didn’t know that one day, Jackson would ask me if Qian were part of our family, if her last name were Garst. I would walk through the answer from my heart, explaining that while she does have family in another part of the world, she is also part of ours because we love her.
The coming months will bring lots of new excitement for her. She is traveling to California, through the Southwest and down to New Orleans before she heads back to Beijing. She will get married this summer and begin a brand new adventure. I’m so excited for all the wonderful stories that are waiting to unfold in her life. And more than anything, I’m so thankful that our stories are now woven together. We were strangers at the start, but now we will part as friends.
We didn’t know how lucky we were on that day back in August.
Xiè xiè, Qian. You will be missed so very much! Best wishes to you! I know more adventures await us in the future!