“Birds or bats?”
Asked as a joke referencing a previously-established quip, Cait referred to the swirling cluster of zapping dots adding a dynamic light feast to the Parliament Building. The time was evening in early September, and we were two American expats, a Canadian, and an Italio-Hungarian on the Budapest Chainbridge on our way over to Buda. Our objective? To excavate the amazing Hungarian castles. We called the original joke “fat or pregnant?” and while it was not entirely politically correct, its presence had added a considerable charge to the day’s events as they came to play out.
As an American au pair working in Eastern Europe, it is not everyday that I find myself warmed by the company of a group of international angels, magnificent women who all exceeded my already-low expectations in being simultaneously gregarious, welcoming, witty, well-read, well-travelled, and most enticing to me at the time, well-spoken. Strangely enough, these women were also living in the Netherlands. I say that only because another gem-laden moment had occurred to me about one month earlier, at the castle in Bratislava, and this time, the gift had arrived in the form of a group of beautiful man angels, who yes, were also Dutch. Nights like these helped me to remember that at its best, being an au pair meant sheer limitless travel and essentially, an opulence of opportunity regarding spiritual and intellectual growth.
What does it mean to be an au pair? Had you asked me this about a month ago, I might have said something along the lines of, “Giving up your freedom and control out of an illusory wish to be free from control!” Or, “Agreeing to work for nothing, deluded that you might come out of it well-travelled and bilingual!” Or, “Biting your tongue as you listen to a forceful man spout out sexist jabber, meanwhile cringing under constant criticism regarding the way you fold your clothes from the mom!” Or any other such combination of negativities that had more to do with my personal complexes than the reality I had actually immersed myself into.
No, nights like the one I spent in Budapest with Cait, Simone, Simon, and Heather, or like the one I spent in Bratislava with Romy, Kierys, Kika, Edu, and Edmund, are what help dissipate the looming figures in my head. Alternatively, I am soothed by the lackadaisical afternoons spent meandering along hand-in-hand with Ava, my prodigee. Exalted by the butterscotch-specked broccoli hills of Slovakia and the train crashing in and out of our peripheral visions, I learn more and more each day about what it means to be present, simply because I see that while walking home from the park, there is nothing on Ava’s mind except for the flowers that she consistently crouches down to glance at.
Yes, in four months I will have to break my teeth on the steel bullet that is the student debt I blindly accumulated over the course of my four years at my pristine, private university in Seattle. It hardly even matters that this stark reality is shared by more than half the nation’s university grads, though it should ease some of the tension, because (I try not to go on Facebook but when I do) I see my peers all prancing and dancing, eager to squeeze and juice the dregs out of our tauntingly finite “grace period” that had me jump oceans in the first place. Convinced that international travel was crucial to my development, certain that Paris had a palace with my name on it, things are not at all as I’d expected (though I expected them to be just that, not as I’d expected), now I wonder how I might not simultaneously freeze and zap into lightning speed the time that I might reunite at once with my love, unlock financial freedom, and gallivant the rolling hills of Europe side-by-side with this darling Slovak girl until she chants English with ease and perfection…Who is to say what the future holds, when it is really nothing but an accumulation of choices shaken up by the divine unknown? Until then, it is poppy seed pastries for me, or as they say in Slovak, makovník.