For a couple of years in a row, we did this thing: we took in a boy from Korea for the month of January and the next year we took in he and his little brother. Charlie and Joshua were something else (can you say, high maintenance?) and I have to say, when we finally said our goodbyes, I was wiping my brow. Many parents asked us about our Korean visitors. They could not believe that parents would send their young children half way around the world for a full month to stay with complete strangers (us). We certainly could never do that with our son Leo. The motivation, of course, was for them to learn to speak English. Worth it to them. Our motivation was to introduce Leo to other cultures and the idea of sharing his stuff (and us) with a temporary sibling or two.
At that time, Leo and Joshua were 7, Charlie was 8. From the get go, Charlie and Leo were pretty much opposites in most areas of life. Charlie loved math and studying. Leo loved to play, draw, run and build lego. Charlie had a huge appetite, Leo not so much. Charlie was a black belt at taekwondo, and at any given moment, he would run across the room and execute a seriously high kick which would miss someone’s face (mine included) by a fraction of an inch. He was a maniac. Leo was pretty chill, usually.
The morning Charlie arrived from Korea, we had some extra time before school after Charlie’s stare-down with his oatmeal – so I told Charlie he could play with Leo in Leo’s cubby. Leo had this really cool tiny playroom off the kitchen that was actually the space over the stairs, and it was carpeted, with a light and door – almost fort-like. We painted it purple and added toys and called it his cubby. I could see him while preparing food and it was ideal for that. Anyway, Charlie said, ‘No, I must study.’ So, he sat with his University level math book and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from travel. After a few repeat performances, I took Charlie aside and told him, ‘Charlie, look, you are here in Canada for a whole month. Canadian kids play every chance they get. Why not just go ahead and play while you are here?’ Charlie took my advice. The following year though, I learned from Charlie that he had been ‘beaten’ by his mother because he had decided to play in his free time instead of studying. So, let’s just look at that: your child is away from you for a whole month, on the other side of the world, gets home and you beat him because he decided to play with other children instead of study. Oooookay.
When the children would come in from outside, after skating, snow-ball fights or running around and tumbling in the snow, Charlie would ask excitedly, ‘I put inside clothes on now?’ Of course, we would always allow this, and of course this made him very happy. He would then run and jump and almost kick someone in the face before running off to change. I imagine back home in Korea, there must have been many more demands on his time…academies of all sorts that took place at various hours of the night. Charlie had told us that he regularly got to sleep by midnight on school nights and then on Saturday and Sunday they would sleep until noon, then the fam would head out for a movie and supper and start the whole process over again Monday morning. I was commenting to a friend that Charlie could play a gazillion instruments and was a math pro and my friend said, “When did he learn to play cello? At 2 in the morning?” Something like that.
Now, we live in a tiny little town of about 4000 residents and Charlie and Joshua came from Seoul (see picture above) with a cool 29 million souls. Quite a big difference. One evening, we were heading down the highway to the indoor soccer facility. That road is dark in January and can be pretty sparse for traffic. Charlie, in the back seat, says in wonder, “Where ARE we?” He had never been on such a dark, fast road. My mind flicked back to our travels in Oz, when that was my daily litany.
One day, I took the kids to a farm so they could see hens, goats, lamas, cows, sheep and pigs and so they could hold a warm egg, just laid (seeing as Charlie was eating three eggs every morning and a litre of goats milk). Other outings were to indoor soccer, area hikes, sliding, skating, haircuts, music events and movies and restaurants but their favorite thing, by far, was bedtime when Dean would read aloud from one of Leo’s chapter books: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Three boys in pjs, teeth brushed and waiting for Dean to enter the room to read. We had put a small cot for Leo in his room. Charlie and Joshua shared Leo’s big sleigh-bed that we had purchased from the Amish in Virginia when we lived there and when Leo was born. I remember thinking that Leo was doing really well with all this sharing of his stuff. I’m biased, of course, but Leo was always pretty sweet-natured about things like that, perhaps except when it came to Buzz.
Charlie really liked his food. I would be making eggs in our large cast-iron pan at the stove in the morning and I would feel a presence by my side. Suddenly a voice, ‘What are you making?’ After peeling myself off the ceiling, I would realize that it was Charlie. He was inspecting. He asked me to make his eggs a bit differently. A quasi fried-scrambled kinda thing with ketchup. We began to refer to Charlie as ‘The Inspector’. He had high standards and he wanted to maintain them. Initially, he would be eating his meal, with gusto, chopsticks flying, and he would moan, ‘more kimchi, more kimchi’. We taught him to at least look up, meet our eyes and ask for more whatever with a ‘please’ on the end. He cottoned on. We weren’t his paid help, like he had at home. He was a visitor in our home. He got it.
Charlie kept us on our toes. Joshua was just easy, a quiet shadow of his older brother. One time, I arrived at the school yard to pick up Leo and Charlie. Charlie was nowhere to be seen. I ran around like a madwoman looking for him, my mind whirling with how I would explain this to his mom over in Korea. Suddenly, there he was. He had been in the car of the Korean man he had met at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Geez. Thanks a pant-load, Buddy.
Charlie would head into the bathroom on any given afternoon and after a bit, we would hear the toilet flushing about five times. This always made Leo laugh. Having a chauffeur at home, Charlie and Joshua hated the walk to school. Granted, it was about a mile in snowpants and boots and we did it almost every school day, there and back. One day, we got half way and he threw himself on the snowbank and would not get up. When he didn’t get what he wanted he would say, ‘It feels me bad’. We wrote a song about him called, ‘It Feels Me Bad, Baby‘.
To say goodbye to Charlie and Joshua, we hosted a bowling party at the area bowling alley and invited some friends. It was a lot of fun. We never saw Charlie and Joshua again, nor have we ever heard from them again. From time to time, Dean and I will wonder aloud about what the boys must be doing these days. We always imagine Charlie as the King of Korea. Maybe he is?