For the month of April, Lena lived with us. She came to us from Kassel, Germany, eager to improve her English and find out what life in the United States is like. And we were eager for a taste of our year in Germany, now five years in the past.
Immediately enamored with Vermont and our lovely Green Mountains, Lena wanted to quickly take it all in. She loved our license plates and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and maple syrup, and “Keep Vermont Weird” t-shirts.
I took Lena to the Statehouse on her third day here. She met Governor Scott and could not believe how easy it is to do. I was there for an Equal Pay Day press conference and am well-practiced at the photo-op with politicians. Not every visitor to Vermont gets to meet our governor, but because we all know each other here, it’s surprising how many visitors do!
The next day Lena started school with Greta, going together to classes and track practice after school. She fit right into Greta’s smart and open-minded group of friends. Teachers were welcoming, including a morning spent with Greta volunteering in a first-grade class at Mary Hogan School and a day with Anya in middle school.
On her second weekend here, it snowed. It does that often in April in Vermont. Lena’s a skier and snow-lover though, so she was smitten with the gorgeous few inches of fluff. Walter and I took her for a hike at the Robert Frost Trail up the mountain from our house. If the Snow Bowl had still been open, we’d have made sure she got in a few runs too!
We celebrated Passover with 32 people around our table, including Lena and our Middlebury College student, Thi from Vietnam. Lena was overwhelmed, but excited to be a part of it.
For Easter we ate leftovers and chocolate, and went for a hike up Mount Philo, a trek that almost didn’t happen because we forgot a dog leash. But due to well-timed creemees and the kindness of stranger, Courtney and her dog James, we obtained a new leash which now lives in our car, just in case. Lena witnessed her first Hardy-Mittell Family spat, rolling with it with humor.
Lena saw Anya perform violin in a Vermont Youth Philharmonia concert and play a kite in the middle school performance of “The Jungle Book.” The two bonded musically, working up a Beethoven flute duet after some coaching from Anya’s teacher, Francine.
Because my job running Emerge Vermont is often a family affair, the girls were all enlisted as volunteers for our major annual event – She Persists: A Celebration of Women in Politics. It was a big night for me, filled with amazing women and their stories, and it was great to share it with these four wonderful young women (as well as many others)! Lena got to meet a former governor that night, and was blown away by a performance from Muslim Girls Making Change.
During Lena’s last week, we traveled to New York City so we could show Lena another side of life in the United States. Jason stayed home to teach and Greta stayed home to study. Despite my best intentions, the trip was rather bumpy, with horrendous weather and a lame New Jersey apartment, but by then Lena was really a member of the family and she rolled with it, and did her part to keep me focused and positive.
Our first evening in NJ was actually quite nice, as we invoked a family tradition of finding the local Spielplatz to explore, this time Hamilton Park, but failed to live up to another tradition of eating Middle Eastern food on our fist night of travel. Walter is convinced that because we ate pizza instead of falafel, the rest of our trip was bound to be challenging.
The next day we spent a rainy afternoon in the fabulous Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and then met up with my nephew, Peter, in Chinatown for dinner (Lena replacing Greta in the cousins photo!).
Throughout most of the day, horizontal rain pelted us, reaching a crescendo as we struggled to get to and from the train station in NYC and NJ. We arrived back in NJ soaked to the bone, cold, exhausted, and near tears.
The following day we went into the City and spent some time exploring Ground Zero and the really cool World Trade Center train station. We then splurged so the girls could go see “Wicked” on Broadway, while Walter and I spent a relaxing couple hours at the Central Park Zoo.
We reunited in front of Carnegie Hall, where the girls showed that they know the best way to get there is by practicing!
We ended the day with an amazing Indian feast a few blocks from the park, and a much easier (and drier) trek back to NJ.
Our last day, we went to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, only to realize that our tickets were for earlier in the week, so we had to buy another set before boarding the ferry! By now, Walter was maximum grumpy, but I was determined, so we plowed forth. We found the names of great-great grandparents at Ellis Island, and were the only ones on the stairs (instead of elevator) climbing to Lady Liberty’s pedestal.
Walter finally cheered up when we got wonderful views of the City on the return ferry. Our final stop was at the really great Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory in Jersey City for giant burgers and pancakes.
After a long drive home, during which I employed a 10-minute power-nap, a massive Starbucks Frappaccino and a very loud complete Hamilton-sing-a-long to stay awake, we made it back to Vermont. (By the way, the kids saw 26 different state license plates on the drive!)
On Lena’s last day, several of the girls from the track team gathered at our house for a farewell cook-out and campfire. It was incredible how quickly time flew and how much a part of our family Lena had become.
She ate, traveled, celebrated, played, ran, volunteered, cooked, hiked, and joked with us. She met teachers, grandmothers, governors, and best friends. She went home with maple syrup from a friend’s sugar bush, and VT license plate from my mom’s old car, cool VT t-shirts, and lots more music on her playlist.
At the beginning of the month it snowed and she needed more blankets. At the end of the month it rained so hard she could barely see. From ice crystals to mud season to blooming trees to campfire s’mores. From Green Mountains to the Statue of Liberty. Lena’s April covered a lot of ground.
On her way to the airport, Lena finally got some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from the newly renovated, authentic scoop shop in Burlington. A parting taste of our weird little state. Lena’s April, and ours too, was full and exciting and sweet.