the value of a good pummeling.

When I left my live-in nanny position in New Jersey a year and eight months ago, I went to work for a crazy man determined to take the fireproof elevator industry by storm. My two months at that f***ed-up company climaxed with my taking a Tuesday off “because I had a cold” to attend three job interviews.

One week later I was the office manager for a staffing agency. I knew nothing about staffing and had no desire to learn. What’s more, for the first time in my life, I had no wish to find friendship at work. Babysitting teenagers and the Elevator Inventor had given me an overdose of office drama that had turned me into Miss Impersonal. I just wanted to do my 9-5 and in exchange earn financial liberty to stay on the East Coast.

Instead, my coworkers became two of the best friends I’ve ever had, and the staffing industry my professional ideal. But I only experienced that happy, employed year (ignoring any role my boss had in deciding to hire me) because I was desperate. I couldn’t worry about the industry, the workspace, the other employees, whether it would further my career as a writer. I had no choice but to ignore any excuses I would have used previously as an excuse not to act.

As I sit in a cozy bedroom in the southwest of England, safe from the host-family and Spanish climate that caused me so much trauma, I can’t help but say, “Thank you, gods, for wearing boxing gloves.” I only got here last night, and could be wrong, but since I tend to stick to original impressions, I’ll risk saying that I think I’ll like it here.

Yet I wouldn‘t have if I had come here first, instead of spending that month in Spain. It’s like leaving the Elevator Inventor all over again.

    Here’s what I experienced in Spain:

  • Three kids: two, five and eight
  • The transition from a professional work life to a family environment
  • Jamon
  • Extensive language-based isolation, or, “Que?”
    Compared to the circumstances here:

  • Three kids: three, three and four
  • A family environment
  • Chips
  • Extensive geographic-based isolation, or, “Where the hell am I?!”

Imagine how I would have perceived this situation if I had come here directly from the US. This house is buried in the Devonshire countryside, surrounded by farmlands on rolling hillsides extending to the ocean. I would have immediately panicked that I wasn’t going to meet anyone, learn to drive a stick shift, or have anything to do. I would have blamed the mother for any problems I had adjusting to the less-businesslike nature of au pairing. I would have been overwhelmed by the minor disagreements of three small children. I would have longed for Vietnamese food.

Instead, coming from Spain, all I notice is how sweet and well-mannered the children are, how easygoing (and easy to understand) the host mom is, how beautifully the overcast skies hang over the lush pastures. Packing a picnic lunch today for both families, my host-mom’s friends asked me twice if I minded butter on the sandwiches. Knowing I was American and used to mayo and mustard instead, they seemed particularly worried I’d find butter unpalatable. I could hardly give them a polite answer, I as so amused comparing it to the food I’d been eating for a month. Butter on a sandwich is nothing- it’s still a proper sandwich with lettuce and ham and a wheat roll, nary an olive, tuna chunk or tomato in sight.

If I had come here directly from the US the butter would have represented something I had to conquer. Now, thanks to my Spanish pummeling, it’s butter.

On an even more positive note, the friends I made in Spain also prepared me to adapt much more quickly to life here than I would have if I had come directly from Buffalo. Perhaps atypically, this house has had a revolving quantity of visitors since I got here. I’m usually inclined to worry about the day’s plans, where my next sandwich is coming from, how long I’ll have to talk to these strangers, and when things are going to start being fun. I never realized how much work worrying is until I had so little control over my circumstances I couldn’t even order that next meal without help. After confiding in and relying on people I’d only known for weeks, who were from all manner of countries and backgrounds, I’m friendlier to strangers now because I genuinely believe they’re just friends I haven’t met yet. Cheesy? Absolutely. But it’s still true.

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