Adventures in Spain: My Search for Mi Amiga

This is my third attempt at writing this post. The first one was just so-so. I set it aside. I started afresh and kept returning to the piece until I finally felt that it was exactly what I wanted to say. Then, as I searched for the perfect photo for the perfect piece, the final draft of my post vanished. This has happened to me before, but usually I can dig around in cyber-space and find my work eventually. I’ve looked and looked to no avail, and ultimately waited six weeks to admit defeat. Time to snatch victory from the arms of defeat. I will start once more…

Many years ago, twenty-three-and-a-half to be exact, I was the new home-owner of a 100 year-old,Queen Anne Victorian house. I was also pregnant, although I didn’t know it yet. Once I learned of my joyous condition, my biggest concern was what to do about childcare. Immediately, I thought of having an au pair. I had the room in my big-old house…although the house needed a lot of work…I called it The Money Pit after the old Carey Grant movie, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. With a downstairs bedroom adjacent to a full bath, it was the ideal house to have a live-in babysitter. I didn’t want, nor could I afford, a live-in nanny at $15-$20 an hour. What I wanted was a young woman on a cultural exchange program who would share my home and family life for room, board, tuition money, and a modest salary in exchange for minding my children and sharing her culture with my family.

We had our good, bad, and decidedly ugly moments, but in the 16 year span that followed, I never regretted my decision to welcome au pairs into my home. Three, in particular, became close friends to me. This was an added benefit, as friendship was never the real goal. But, these three…I treasure them like dear sisters. Two, I’ve kept in close contact with over the years…and attended their weddings. I hope to be known to their children as their US Auntie someday…But one, one I lost. As much as I tried to reach her, my messages were lost in cyber-space.

She was Spanish, from Pamplona. At one point, I found her on Facebook, but she didn’t accept my friend request. Sometimes she’d send me Yahoo greeting cards and I would reply to the attached e-mail address with a note. She never responded. Eventually, I decided that she’d lost all of her English. That wasn’t far from the truth.

The first moment I met her, she stepped off the plane from New York, fresh from her au pair training, and fell into my arms. That just may have been the moment in my life when I went from being a non-hugger to being a hugger. She was so relieved to have arrived, after several days of dis-orientation, into the arms of her new “mother”. I was pregnant, just a month…something I needed to tell her, although in the end, she was on her way home before I finished my maternity leave.

Somewhere along the way, she learned enough English to converse…I on the other hand, didn’t learn much in the way of Spanish. When she returned to Pamplona, she didn’t practice her English for 14 years. She had a job where being on Facebook was a liability, so, she put up a profile, then took it down again. Years went by. Sometimes my son, who became fluent in Spanish in high school, was able to converse with her briefly, but for the most part, she was lost to me.

When my older daughter decided to spend a semester at her university’s campus in Madrid, I encouraged her to reach out to our former au pairs in Europe, and several of their au pair friends whom we’d met. She had no luck with our friend in Pamplona, who watched her from the age of 3 and a half to 4 and a half…until the very day that I flew over to spend a week with her. She was seven months pregnant and over joyed to see us.

I arrived in Spain and met my daughter. We took the Metro and she showed me the home she shared with a host mother and roommates…not so dissimilar to our au pair experiences. We walked to her school and she shared her art projects with me. Then we went to the train station and bought tickets to Pamplona. We couldn’t get seats on the train we wanted, so we had tapas before catching the train. I worried that we were keeping our hostess out too late…but, ah! Spain!

I napped briefly on the train…the only sleep I’d had in two days. As we pulled in to the station, I looked expectantly out the train windows for mi amiga. I didn’t see her. We disembarked onto the platform with our bags and looked anxiously around. We proceeded into the station itself and looked around. There she was, time slipping away from me, I saw the same girl from 15 years ago. I ran into her arms and my daughter soon joined the embrace. Tears of joy blurred my vision.

So, try and try and try again. Whether it is getting that perfect draft or finally reaching a long-lost friend, never give up!

Find the Joy in the Journey! This Journey is just beginning!

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