What is your houseguest worth?

Houseguests are like winter storms. They are nice at the beginning and have a wonderfully cozy kind of homeliness. It feels good to hunker down in front of the fire with a hot cup of cocoa. And, the gray skies are an invitation to do nothing. But, sometimes the storms linger much too long and you are left waiting and watching for that break in the clouds and that first sunny day to appear. Yes, houseguests have these same attributes. I enjoy the company, but at a certain point (sometimes sooner rather than later!) you are ready to toss them out the window with the last glugs of hot cocoa!

For the past nine years, the Ferry family has anticipated the annual long, longgg, loooonnnnnngg summer visit from Jacob’s 13-year younger brother, Andrew. Every year he arrives sometime around Memorial Day and stays through the middle of July. He quickly transitions from a houseguest to an integral part of the family. Each morning the fridge has a list of daily chores and Jacob and I gladly welcome the help mowing the lawn, unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming the seemingly endless supply of dog hair. Andrew becomes a source of daily joy and infinite wisdom and when he flies home to Tennessee, we are left with a hole in our hearts and lives.

The trip this year was a struggle. Beckett grew incredibly attached to “Unkel Anroo”, but lacked the comprehension to fully understand what “flying home on a plane” meant. Weeks after Andrew left, Beckett berated Jacob and I with questions about where Andrew was, what he was doing and when he was coming home. It was a terribly bittersweet ending to the closeness that had developed between the two.

Our other hurdle came earlier in the trip. The project the Ferry family has undertaken has been life changing. The way that we dispose of our waste is different. The meals we make and the snacks in our cupboard are changed. Our food bill has fluctuated based on our educated choices. And, even our dinner table discussions and television programming have been altered. We are different – there is no way around that. I questioned (well, fretted) over how Andrew would react to these changes. With an ordinary, “one-week maximum stay” kind of houseguest, I would take the not so delicate approach of “suck it up”. You are a guest in my house and you will eat the food that we prepare. You will live like a Ferry. I don’t need a smile, but I expect respect.

But, Andrew is a different story. He is a legitimate member of our family and deeply involved in our everyday activities. Unlike my toddler Beckett, he is a young adult; a freethinking, opinionated, well-educated teenager. We had the option of taking the no-nonsense approach and demanding an immediate lifestyle and food-eating change from Andrew. Or, we could have said “to heck with it” and supported the choices and habits that he lives with the other forty-five weeks of the year. I drew a line in the sand that was hard and fast at the beginning, but ended up falling somewhere in the middle near the end.

My initial approach was to continue living the same way – with just one more mouth to feed. I had an open-door policy with Andrew on the decisions we had made and used them as a launching pad for talking about why we were doing what we were doing. I hate to be blunt – but the information fell on deaf ears. I am not talking about a teenager who is oblivious or struggles with a learning problem. We are talking about a possibly-Stanford bound, top of his class kind of kid that knows how to tackle hard to understand problems and excels in school. But, it didn’t matter. The evidence (photo and material, I might add!) of mid-western beef feed lots didn’t sway him into considering the possibility of local, grass-fed beef. The idea of milk that comes from cows pumped full of antibiotics and growth-hormones didn’t make him shiver in the least. He thought organic was a gimmicky, sell-all marketing ploy that enticed the buyer into paying high prices for sub-standard products.

So, what do you do with hard-headed, know-it-all, I-got-this world-figured-out kind of kid?

You give a little and take a little.

I decided that it wasn’t worth buying organic milk at $6.00 a gallon if he didn’t appreciate the effort and integrity that went into each bottle. I budged on non-organic goldfish crackers, but scoped out the ingredients and made sure they were free and clear of any artificial food colorings. But, there were some things I didn’t need to budge on, because Andrew fully embraced them and fell in love with the products: Dave’s Killer Bread, Bagels from the Bagelry, Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese and organic Washington grown fuji apples from the Community Food Co-Op.

You give a little and a take a little.

I am up against history. Andrew has a sixteen-year lifetime of opinions, choices and decisions made for him, by him or with him. That’s a long time. It makes for a stubborn standstill when combined with hardheaded adolescence. I cannot put a price tag on our choices, but I can acknowledge that I require a bit of understanding for why were are doing what we are doing and why it matters before I swipe the card for another grocery trip. That is what it’s worth to me.

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