Today I met another American. Her name is Kate and she is an energetic and athletic stay-at-home mom here in Tres Cantos, a suburb of Madrid. When I asked her how she got here she told me she met her husband one month into starting her masters…..that was 13 years ago….and well, you know the rest. She jogs every morning after dropping her children off at CEIP Carmen Iglesias, the same primary school where I take Luis everyday. To speak so casually and quickly, hearing the relaxed American accent, pleased me. Kate gave me some advice that pleased me as well.
“Stay close to your family,” she said. Having her mom on the East Coast of the US and her brothers on the West, isn’t easy, and I imagine (making it back usually just once a year) having a family and living in Spain gets lonely. Kate lit up when she told me that she’ll be going home this Friday to see her mother in New Hampshire. She’s so excited she says she isn’t sleeping, that every morning is one day closer to getting home.
Later I am eating my delicious organic whole grain oats oatmeal at the glass table, looking out onto the view of Madrid mountains, which are just beyond the neighboring Holiday Inn Express. I am overcome by the emotion of love and family that is waiting for me in Reno. Spain is my home for now, but I know eventually I will settle down stateside. Not being quick cover distance away from my childhood friends? Raising children without the frequent presence of my own mother? Not watching my nieces and nephews grow up? This would be too difficult, too far, too separate from what I see my life as.
“I can’t keep doing this.”
That was the thought I repeated over and over to myself on the bus ride from Baza to Madrid, on the first day of June. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, so many goodbyes in so few days. I can’t keep starting a new life, putting down roots, and then pulling them out each time I leave a place. The irony of it I guess is that the goodbyes weren’t goodbyes, no adios but more like hasta lluego, see you later, as I am returning to Granada in the Fall. But when your students present you with an engraved silver ring and bracelet; a bouquet of flowers; pictures, posters and cards; dance performances; and the teachers applaud you and hug you, giving you a specialized plaque, it isn’t too easy to not cry. Rebecca and I made the rounds—the fruit shops, the Irish pub, the stores and the bars, all the places we’d made friends this year. I felt so loved and grateful in that last week, saying so many thank yous, giving so many besos.
The most difficult of course was the ending of the era of Rebecca and I in the Avenida de Almanzora flat, 2nd floor, apartment B. We avoided the goodbye until the last minute, when Rebecca stood on the balcony and called to me in my bedroom, still taking the last postcards off my wall,
“There’s a cab outside Jen Bell.”
My sunglasses had more use that week than all of last summer, and I put them on again as Beca helped me carry everything down the marble stairs. When we embraced in the street, both red as tomatoes, I could feel her shaking with tears too. I’ve never had a friend like her, a roommate, a companion, a partner in crime. We grew to understand each other, to care for each other, to have the chats over cups of tea, to walk to the shops not buying anything at all, to buy each other’s favorite groceries. And although we’ll be only an hour apart next year, there is still nothing so sad as the passing of things.
Welcome to Suburbia
Seeing as I have already visited a strip mall, the sister store to Home Depot, and ate a backyard barbeque Sunday dinner, you’d think I’d feel even more at home here in Tres Cantos. But the transition from the old, Arabic influenced slow moving South seeped into my bones deeper than I thought and the first weeks in suburbia haven’t been a cake walk.
The good thing is that I knew coming into it that adjusting to life as a nanny, living in someone else’s house, carrying for young children, would take time. I am seeing that after two weeks, it has taken a little longer than I expected. For the kids, the parents, and for me. It’s a new job so getting used to each other, learning the routine, the rhythm, the way of the household, learning how to best operate with the children, where I fit in the puzzle is all part of the adjustment. I would venture to say my change of lifestyle here has been more difficult than the move to Spain all together. Moving abroad, term papers, relationships—I am now thinking that taking care of kids is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and if you have kids I reckon you are laughing a little here). When I told my mother this (her support here has been phenomenal) her response struck me, and for some strange reason, I found it encouraging.
“Having children is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.”
You think you are so mature, so ready to take on the world and then you deal with kids. In two weeks I’ve learned mounds about myself, for example: I’m not ready to have kids! My freedom is still too sweet and sacred! When Luis (4) and Ana (3) have tantrums, I must try my hardest to not fall apart as well. The screaming and crying, the carrying on, it is exhausting and depleting and I can’t continue to ride the emotional roller coaster with them. Children are much smarter than we give them credit for, they are ultimate boundary pushers and master manipulators….it’s all a game, but I am still learning how to win. And to win the right way.
Luckily I have mornings free, where I walk the long loop of the suburban park and return to the empty apartment to make a calm lunch. The kids are opening up to me more everyday and now that the heat has begun, we’ll spend our evenings at the pool. Francesca and Martha, good friends from home, live in Madrid, so my weekends take me away from this life and into a yoga, breathing, ayurvedic living in the bohemian city center.
We are always learning, always growing, adjusting, moving and shifting with the changes around us. When I asked myself this morning what changed, why life is becoming better, why my constant crying has ceased and I feel this on the upward, I realize it isn’t the things that are changing, it is me. After the weary period of transition it isn’t too difficult to come out in one piece. But then again, there’s always another temper tantrum.