Thirty years ago my parents accepted a German exchange student. She and her family remain a part of our lives and live on in the lives of many of the friends she made in the small town where I grew up. At that time, Herdis Harzheim-Sambeth, a longtime German student, came to America to visit his parents.
Over the decades, we’ve celebrated many weddings, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and more together, but we all knew this trip was going to be different. .
One day in May, as I sat with her in the hospital room where her father was sleeping, she started telling me that her father had died a few years earlier. After she finished, we sat in silence for a while – a comforting silence that comes at a heavy moment between people who know and love each other. I believe we will be back here instead.
We assured her that we felt our love for her, and so did my father. She didn’t want to cancel any family vacation plans. As we learned, once Herdis has made up his mind, there’s not much else we can do. The only problem was that she had no one to take care of her dog. I suggested riding a dog, but she said, “We don’t do that in Germany.”
We’ve also learned to follow when she says things like that.
Greer is a 24-year-old daughter in graduate school in Florida.
Herdis asked, “Will Greer come to Germany to look after the dog?”
I said, “Let’s listen.”
I called Greer and she was about to embark on an adventure. That’s why earlier this month her daughter left for Germany to look after her dog for three weeks. Herdis and her family picked her up in Stuttgart and showed her around her home and small village near the Black Forest in less than 24 hours.
Herdis called an English-speaking woman in the village and referred her to Greer in case of emergency. The next morning Herdis and her family left for America.
Since then, Greer has adjusted to life there, completing an online summer class and completing a semester as a teaching assistant in another class. Her academic work was so heavy that she spent most of her first week in Germany writing and grading papers.
However, she walked to the pharmacy and drove to the grocery store about three kilometers away. So far, she says she’s learned how to say “please” and “thank you” in German. Her other main observation about life there is that Germans really like Pringles.
Now that the semester is over, she plans to relax next week. Our friend lives in a centuries-old house with a pool in the garden. She joked that she based all of her travel plans on the movie The Holidays.
I keep encouraging her to go on small adventures. She is happy alone relaxing in the sun. Her approach here and mine in a similar situation have little in common.
The juxtaposition of perspectives and attitudes between parents and children is a very interesting and potentially difficult area to negotiate. I think it’s a fine line between gentle encouragement and persistence. She is passionate about empathy and pointing out the difference between boundaries.
When Herdis and her family return to Germany, Greer knows adventure is at hand.
In the meantime, we are grateful that the German contingency of our family’s choice is here. My father was very excited about their visit – and their arrival came at the perfect time. Very few. Herdis knows how to step in and give her mother a break. Plus, she can boss him better than any of us.
Meanwhile, my daughter needed someone to watch her dog while it sat on the other side of the pond.
So he is with us.