It’s My Class and I’ll Cry If I Want To

I didn’t just cry.  I bawled.  It ain’t easy.  Learning a new language is very difficult even when you are immersed in it.  Two days ago my Spanish teacher here in Granada pushed and pushed iCrying schoolgirln front of the class, asking me the same question over and over as if the answer was with me and I was just holding back from her.  She made me the center of attention, criticized a paragraph I wrote and told me (actually reprimanded me), “You need to think in Spanish. Not in English.” I started to melt down.  I panicked.  How can I think in Spanish if I’m not from here and I don’t completely understand the language?  At that moment, I didn’t know my name much less the difference between ser and estar and how to conjugate verbs into indefinido, perfecto, conditional, etc.  The whole reason I was in the class was to learn to think and speak Spanish.  Yet I was failing.  I felt like a little girl again.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was afraid to blink so I stared forward and tried not to move.  It was too late, I blinked and they went streaming down my face.  I was frustrated with myself, really annoyed with her, and it all came out in that moment.

Before moving to Granada I felt somewhat confident about learning Spanish. I had studied it for three years in high school with a very strict teacher who helped me to achieve a 92% on the New York Regents exam.  That was one of my proudest moments in high school.  My teacher had been really tough and pushed us throughout the year, prepping for the exam.  I also studied the language for two years at Villanova University as part of my liberal arts degree.   Now that we are spending the year in Spain I was excited to learn and to enjoy the process.  I think that’s why I got so frustrated – I was flailing or failing at something I actually LIKED and WANTED to do.  Something I chose to do.  I wanted to be a role model to my kids.  There have been days when they’ve come home from school frustrated, telling me they had cried.  I want them to learn resilience and now I’m the one having trouble adapting and feeling afraid to get back up.   I let my sons and daughter know I had a hard day and I could empathize with them.  I’m only studying two hours a day. They are at school for five.  They are studying math, science, social studies, Spanish and French.  I’m only taking Spanish.

It’s been awhile since I’ve learned something completely new and one of my life goals is to learn a new language to keep my mind sharp.  I’m starting to suffer from short term memory loss and at my age, I am very aware that things could head down hill fast if I don’t keep my mind going and continue to challenge myself intellectually.   But it’s not easy.

I was surprised at the visceral response.  My husband later confided that I looked so upset, he was afraid I might punch the teacher in the face.   I suppose in the past I had been studying as a means to an end.  In high school it was to get a good grade to get into college.  In college it was to fulfill a requirement.  But now, it’s something I want and something I need to do for myself.  And that’s where the frustration lies – not being able to do something I want to do.

The tables have turned and the kids have become my role models this week.  I have to get up and go to class – no excuses.  I have to find other ways to study and remember the information using the apps and resources available to me – Duolingo, flashcards, class materials, and watching TV in Spanish.  I will continue to talk to the local people and not be afraid to fail.  Setting smaller goals might help me too. “Becoming fluent in Spanish” might be setting the bar high for the next week or month. Perhaps trying on a new tense each day and practicing.

I salute anyone who has had the courage to learn a new language.  I have plenty of friends, many in LA who speak more than one language and I’m blown away by their ability to speak clearly and concisely and think in two (sometimes three) languages.  It takes confidence and the ability to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable.  Learning a new language requires patience and practice and resilience.  You’ve got to want it and to work for it.

I’m going to try my best to get back up and start again.  This teacher is not going to bring me down.  I’ve got this – but I can’t say I’m sad we are visiting London this weekend where I can regroup and feel confident again!



Once A Brat…

   I wondered what that feeling of unease was deep down in my soul. I had all the basic necessities and recognized I had a very good life in Los Angeles. But there was an itch and I longed to scratch it.

Globe-in-a-box-000011713497_MediumI understand it’s not easy for a lot of people to pick up and move. But it’s in my blood. I was born an Army Brat. And that’s a really strange thing. It’s a unique sub-culture. You are a nomad, you are generally very social but might not feel like you quite fit in and there could be something more tugging at you at all times. You collect friends like seashells on the shore and you really do treasure them, you hold on tight in case you don’t make any new friends the next place you move. Of course, back in the ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s I was a letter writer. That was our only choice. No email or Skype or Instagram to keep the friendships alive. I had pen pals and I wrote so many letters I literally got a rubber band full of letters each day the summer I turned 13 and had to live with my grandmother on Long Island while we were between moves.  I still have those letters.

As a child I moved seven times and attended seven different schools before the 9th grade and prior to moving into our house 13 years ago, I had never lived in one place for more than four years. We lived in Germany, Indiana, New Jersey, Maryland, Northern California, Northern Virginia, West Point, New York and spent months at a time at my grandmother’s in between Army bases. I moved to Villanova, PA bouncing between apartments I couldn’t afford, I did the same in Los Angeles for a few years.  I tried to figure out what I was doing with my young life and ventured back east to work in New York and lived in a brownstone with 3 other strangers in Hoboken, New Jersey, then I spent a year or so at my parent’s house in Connecticut. But I yearned for the warmth and the sunshine of California and I believed I might be in love (I was right!).   I love Los Angeles and all the creative energy – everyone you meet has a side project they are working on – a script, a new business, a TV show they are pitching. It’s a very inspiring place to be! But 13 years is a very long time for me in one home so it’s time for a big change.

When people ask how my kids will feel about our move to Spain – I sometimes shrug my shoulders. And maybe that seems cold. But they will be okay. There will be hard days. I know it. I lived them. Finding someone to sit with at lunch, or finding a partner for a science project was stressful when you are new. But you work it out. You find your people. You don’t necessarily conform to a group because you have to or because it’s what you’ve always known. I think it helps you grow as an individual and can instill confidence which may not be evident at first but will be important in the future. I want my kids to be able to sit alone at the cafeteria if need be. It’s okay to be alone as long as you are not feeling lonely – and there is indeed a difference. Not every day is going to be amazing and they will have each other to help them through.  My siblings are my best friends because we relied on each other when the going got tough.  Of course there is the language barrier but we are making that a team project and the whole family is studying up.

We are in this journey to Spain together and we will support and help each other along the way. I’m excited that our family is on board to help me scratch my itch and my husband is fired up for something entirely new. I hope someday the kids will see this experience as a gift. Hopefully this adventure will open doors to new relationships and friendships we would never have known. I can’t wait and hopefully I won’t screw up the kids too much.