Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 17, 2010

Not a fan

Nadja was nervous when we got to the Kansas City airport. Was her suitcase too heavy? Would she be allowed to carry both her backpack and her shoulder bag on her flights back to Germany?

Her anxiety was elevated even further when she arrived at the counter and discovered her flight was leaving 35 minutes earlier than previously scheduled and it was routed through Detroit rather than going directly to New York.

Her suitcase was overweight, so she calmly transferred items to her carry-ons. Art commented that it seemed funny that airlines don't want checked luggage to be overweight, but they don't seem to care whether carry-ons weigh a ton.

We only had half an hour with Nadja for final jokes, words of advice and promises we'd see each other soon. But that was probably just as well. I could feel the emotions rising up. I tried not to think about the fact that it might be a year - maybe even longer - before we see Nadja again. But when I hugged her, the tears came. As I released her, I could see that she, daughters Mariya and Katie and Mariya's partner Lacey all had tears in their eyes, too. Husband Art grinned, but I knew that he, too, was wondering how long it will be before we're all together again.

Nadja was an exchange student with us during the 2005-2006 school year. She arrived as a shy 16-year-old. Being born and raised in metropolitan Berlin, she initially had some difficulty adjusting to life in rural Kansas and small Riley County High School. But adjust she did - and in the process, she became part of our family.

On our trip to Germany in the summer of 2007, we met Nadja's boyfriend Tim. Both of them spent a few weeks with us in summer 2008.

The following year, we returned to Germany, where Mariya and Katie spent several days in Nadja and Tim's apartment, while Art and I stayed at Nadja's brother-in-law's bed and breakfast. Among activities we shared were eating out at Indian restaurants, attending a family birthday party, touring highlights of Berlin and traveling to Poland to visit the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

But this year was destined to be different from those times together in the past. Nadja is no longer that shy little girl, but a young woman working on a degree in nursing at a school that encourages each student to do an internship in a foreign country. Tim has completed a year of college in pursuit of a degree in mechanical engineering. He wanted an internship where he could do some hands-on work. When they proposed coming to Kansas to do these things, we readily agreed.

But we knew that this time we would come together as a blended family rather than us showing them around our part of America or them finding activities for us in their homeland.

It began on July 17 when they flew in to Rhinelander, Wisconsin, about 30 minutes from our North Woods cottage. We immediately caught up on each other's news and then fell into a routine that included sleeping late, eating the trout Art caught, grilling hamburgers and brats, and running around the local school's track every day. Well, the kids ran and I walked - and I think I only made it four times in the two weeks we were there. But I was with them in spirit.

Once back in Kansas, our schedule picked up speed. I was up to my eyeballs in planning for my department's centennial celebration and the beginning of classes at K-State. Art needed to work on electronic units scheduled for a late-August delivery, and Katie started her senior year of high school.

Nadja began her internship at Homecare and Hospice, and Tim worked with Art doing all the tasks related to assembling electronic units. Our day-to-day work and school schedules, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and other chores kept us occupied from morning to night. We even added two extra jobs - buying and installing two new toilets and shopping for much-needed new living room furniture.

At times, it was exhausting. And at times we got on each others' nerves. But laughing and joking, celebrating several birthdays, going out to eat and enjoying home-cooked meals together were also part of the mix.

Art also had the chance to enjoy something he rarely experiences: having another man in the house - someone who appreciated his, shall-we-say, manly humor, and who helped offset the "estrogen-overload" he normally experiences being around so many women.

In the end, it was truly like having another daughter and son in the family. It also resurrected something Art said he has struggled with in the past - how to introduce Nadja to others. Saying she was our exchange student does not adequately describe the connections between us. For awhile, he called her our adopted daughter. Later he shortened it to just AD. He often signs notes to both of them "Dad II" while Tim calls him Papa Bear.

I frequently refer to them as our German daughter and son and sign my e-mails and notes "Mom #2."

Tim had to leave at the end of August to take a physics exam, get back to his job and prepare for the start of his next school term. Nadja stayed longer to get in the work hours her program required.

When we returned from the airport after Nadja left, Katie stayed in Manhattan to go to a movie with Mariya and Lacey. Later, riding home with Art, she commented, "When we get there, it will seem so quiet with Nadja and Tim gone ... I'm not a fan."

We're not fans either!

Nadja, left, at work at "Homecare and Hospice." Right, Tim solders a part in place while Art observes.

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