As a younger person, if I did not have something to look forward to, I would get extremely anxious, bordering on depressed. It was the promise of the coming event or change that would keep me going through the hard stuff of life. I suspect this is how most of us operate. So, at the age of nineteen, I found myself, for once, with nothing planned in my future. While at times it was exciting, it was actually more confusing, and lead to much anxiety. I could not decide on a course of study so going to college did not entice. I was just coming out of a relationship, was learning many hard life lessons, and finding out who I was and what I wanted.
Ever since I was young, I had wanted to travel to Europe; countries like Italy, France, Austria and Great Britain beckoned with promises of romance and adventure. My mother had gone to France at eighteen to work as an Au-pair and her experience had always interested me. Eventually, the proverbial light bulb appeared above my head and I was inspired by the idea of doing the same myself—before real life set in and I had to make a decision about a career.
You see, I hadn't had the perspective of having a choice until then. I was on the brink of marriage at eighteen and had not given any thought to other possibilities for my life. After I broke off the engagement, I was suddenly seeing my future in a different light. I could decide what I wanted to do and then do it. It was intoxicating, and nerve-wracking at the same time.
I made the decision to go to either France or Italy. I posted a profile on an international online Au-pair agency and was soon after contacted by a family from Rome, Italy. Yep, it was fast. I was swept up into the planning and soon confirmed with the mother that I would be the next English-speaking Au-pair to their five-year old son for a three-month stint. I had never learned Italian, but I had studied French and a bit of Spanish in high-school. How hard could it be?
Originally, I was to arrive there in the summer, but their current Au-pair must have left early so the family requested that I come earlier. This left me scurrying around, making many last minute changes; I had to figure out if I had enough money saved, pay off a few bills, quit my job as a receptionist at a day spa and purchase everything I'd need for my stay. My parents paid off the last of my car loan, an amount that was thankfully under $1K and I handed the keys over to my sister to drive the car while I was gone. I spent time with my friends and bought the plane tickets. Strangely enough, the family did not cover that. Then, I found myself on a plane to Rome where a couple (who would know me by my striped pink scarf and one photo they had received) waited to receive me into their family. I had my trusty portable CD player and a few favorite CDs, as well as several books for the trip. Though I was headed into the complete unknown, I don't recall having any fear. I don't remember worrying about serial killers or kinky freaks, but I'm not sure what my mom was going through back home. Knowing how dangerous the world can be, I'm not sure I'd be so supportive if I had a daughter with the same crazy idea. But my parents, family, and friends were the best, still are in fact.
Without a thought about what lay ahead, I disembarked, went through customs (a piece of cake in Italy), and made my way to the baggage claim. The next part is a little fuzzy, but somehow I connected with the couple, and I was soon sitting in their BMW SUV heading out of the Leonardo Da Vinci-Fiumicino airport towards the family's home northwest of Rome's center. The couple seemed nice, chatting with me about Rome's attractions and history, limiting the deeper topics due to my jet-lag. After a forty minute drive, we arrived at the private neighborhood of Olgiata near the village of, La Storta. I remember passing tall, vine-covered walls and my headache increasing due to the many speed bumps. I imagined the cars in that place must have regularly needed suspension repairs. Every once in a while, I caught glimpses of mansions behind those privacy hedges and walls. Olgiata was obviously home to the immensely wealthy. I was to visit a couple of these houses soon enough and would find out my first impression was dead on. The car soon slowed to a crawl and stopped before a black iron gate. No turning back at this point. Eek!
The gate swung open, then a brick villa appeared to the right of the driveway. It was not a mansion, but neither was it small. Its lawn was crisp and green and its landscape was pristine. The garage could not hold the six cars I spied in the driveway, which caused me to wonder who else lived here. The couple—I'll call them Chris and Kate for privacy reasons—welcomed me inside their home and I was introduced to a diminutive Romanian housekeeper who smirked at me and flitted around at Kate's firm commands. When you fly through the night from Boston, you arrive in Italy early-mid morning depending on whether you had a layover in another country. I never am able to sleep on planes so I was exhausted. I think they showed me around and I pretended to notice it all, exclaimed an appropriate amount of awe at their lovely, albeit cold home, and tried to pass off as the fresh and capable Au-pair they had hired over the internet. Thankfully, they soon brought me to my room on the ground floor– read, luxurious basement–that was located next to the laundry room. The room was small but had its own bathroom and closet and computer. Check, check, check. Everything smelled of quality, from the high ceilings, wood framed windows and heavy handled doors to the exquisite glass-walled shower. The computer was an Apple; that was my first introduction to Apple products and I've never looked back. All in all, as I began to settle my things into place, I felt I would be comfortable in that house.
The biggest test of my suitability was still to come. I foraged around in my suitcase for a small glove and ball set that my family had sent with me for the boy I was to take care of. Would he warm to me? What sort of a kid was he, anyway? I don't recall giving it that much thought. All I had considered was the thrill of leaving home for the first time and for a foreign country to live with strangers at that. Kate had said she would bring the little boy down to introduce me after a few minutes. Soon enough, the knock came, sooner than I was ready and I pulled the heavy handle of the door that was my only privacy in this new world. It swung open to reveal the sweetest looking angel I had ever seen in the form of a human boy.
That's all for now, folks! I will be updating this blog with another post within the week. Please leave me a comment on anything that struck you or with questions you may have. I will try to answer everyone but if I cannot, I hope my subsequent posts will, as I tell the story of the remarkable time I once had in my life.