Sometimes you just have to write…
I am a visitor here in Bellingham. I’m staying with a host family: people I didn’t know until I met them and moved in with them on April 12th. Ann and Arvin are a retired couple, but sharp and funny and active. Ann is an amazing artist – both a painter and photographer – and they both have a range of interests.
So since I arrived, we’ve become friends. I’m a guest in their home, yet I also feel like family; like I’m visiting an aunt and uncle I haven’t seen in a while, rather than strangers. We’ve talked about anything and everything: not just polite trivialities.
When do we make that transition from visiting guest to visiting member of the family? It’s a pertinent question because guests have to behave differently than family. As a guest, a mere lodger, I don’t help myself to food, other than whatever has been specifically offered to me. As a guest, I ask politely for anything I need. As a guest, I leave nothing in the living room or dining room. Instead, I immediately put things back in my own room so as not to get in my hosts’ way.
As visiting family, though, I can relax a bit. I’m still a guest, since it’s their home, not mine. I can’t ever be as much of a slob as I am at home, but I can leave a book on the table, or put in a wash myself, or help myself to food, within limits.
I think the element of the “click” is important too. What I mean is that if we hadn’t “clicked,” we might have remained strangers. I would have been just a lodger, coming and going as I pleased, and spending little time with my hosts. Then I wouldn’t have learned to know them so well, and wouldn’t ever have come to feel like they were family.
The same transition happened with both my foster daughter and my “extra son.” When each of them came to live with us, they were strangers: lodgers. But spending time together, living in the same household, turned them both from lodgers into family. The initial formality, that politeness that acts as a wall, fell away, and all of us allowed the rest to see our real selves.
I guess that when you visit family, you get to show more of yourself, warts and all. The warts have to stay hidden when you’re visiting strangers. At the same time, it’s hard to stay strangers when you’re living in someone’s house.
So I’ve transitioned: I’m visiting my Bellingham family.