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Room for Another Son of Russia

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For the past four years I had been itching to take in a foreign exchange student through a nationally recognized program. Every time I asked my son about it, though, he seemed unsure if the idea was a good one. "Maybe next year," was his stock reply, and so the time went.

I think I understood his sentiment. My 12-year-old is the perfect only child. He has never lamented the absence of a sibling, is independent yet trustworthy, and has an aptitude for making use of quiet time. He has grown accustomed to his space, his personal doodads, and his position in the household as the one and only son.

A few months ago, I received a call from the local representative of the exchange program. She was looking for a home, for one semester only, for a 16-year-old Russian boy. He would attend the local high school, and all his necessary costs would be paid. We would need to provide a bed, meals, and the warmth of family life.

I ran it past my son while tucking him into bed one night. He passed his hand over his forehead, pensively, as if contemplating some deep philosophical question.

"It would be for only a semester," I told him. "And he'd be in high school, so he'd have a life of his own."

Alyosha looked at me. "But he'll be lonely," he worried.

"No," I reassured him, "he'll make friends."

"But what if he eats a lot?"

"He's a teenager."

"What if I don't like him?"

There is no devil's advocate like a 12-year-old. I kissed my son good night.

THE next morning, the program representative came over with the boy's folder, replete with photographs. "Just in case you're interested," she prodded, ever so diplomatically.

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