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Waiting to Go Back to Spain

As a mother and a writer, I often feel as if half my life is made up of waiting. In a typical day I wait for the water to boil, for the bread to rise, for the kindergarten doors to open, and for the right time to pick up four daughters from school, sports, or friends' houses. I also wait impatiently for the mail that comes in late afternoon and tells me whether essays I have written weeks ago will make their way into print. And now, I near the end of 12 long months of waiting for my trip to Spain. In Spanish the word esperar has two meanings: ''to wait'' and ''to hope,'' and this seems perfectly reasonable to me. Implied in the very passive state of waiting is the hope that what we wait for will come true. What keeps us going is the hidden bud of anticipation giving present life an undercurrent of momentum. I have waited, sometimes patiently and often with intense longing, these 12 months to go to Salamanca, that small western city, where I will, for three delightful and very different weeks, take up another way of life and reclaim a part of me that is so often put aside in my daily life at home. These days, while I am driving one daughter to lacrosse practice or another to gymnastics, I will look up into the sky each time I hear a jet pass overhead. I smile, thinking that soon I will be on a plane bound to that land where my ancestors long ago departed and where my vagabond heart feels so at home. I will leave my four daughters and their father, my generous and outstanding husband, to walk those familiar streets, reconnect with old friends, and study in the ancient university that was already old when Cervantes was in class. There are many, mainly other mothers of young children, who look aghast when I tell them of my summer rendezvous with Spain. They cannot imagine leaving their children for such a length of time in order to do something purely pleasurable. When I try to explain the practical side of my endeavor, the five hours a day of classes that help to make me a better Spanish teacher, they relent somewhat, but are still unconvinced that there could be anything but frivolous abandon in jetting 3,000 miles away alone. Last summer when I did this for the first time, I spent days before departure agonizing over the dire possibilities that could befall my family while I was gone. I set off that June day uncertain if I really wanted to be taking such an independent step away from the children I so painstakingly nurtured day after day. Then the plane touched down, I heard the first Spanish phrases blaring from the airport speakers, and I was carried along into a long-forgotten current of enchantment. I was also, I realized, at home in Spain. The bus ride through the Castilian plain, where small villages appear suddenly beyond the next dusty hill, their red tile roofs and stone churches unchanged for centuries, awakened all the old emotions this country stirs in me and which had lain dormant for so many years. Once in Salamanca, I revisited the old friends I had made two decades earlier during my first stay as a college student. Even Maria, the ancient portress of the Renaissance cloister, came out of her little ticket room to give me a warm embrace, her face more wrinkled but her feistiness unchanged. I saw Asuncion, my Spanish ''mother'' who had housed me for months when I was a college sophomore. We shared family photos and were amazed to think we were actually viewing my own children and her many grandchildren. I made new friends, too, who I will visit again this summer. Pilar is a bookstore owner on the Rua Mayor who chatted at length with me about new books each time I came in to browse. And Chelo is the pension proprietress who made my meals and my bed each day and who commiserated with me about the raising of teenagers and the price of groceries. When classes started, I fell into the school-day rhythm without a second thought, as if I was once more that carefree college girl with only the thrill of Golden Age literature or the intricacies of the subjunctive tense on my mind. I reveled in the five straight hours of class with one cafe break at 10 a.m. and then back to the pension for lunch at 2 p.m., with Chelo standing by to make sure we had enough. After a short siesta in my small room, where silence reigned and no little girls came running in to ask for stories, or help with homework, or rides, I went out walking through the town alongside all the other Spaniards. I met fellow students or Spanish friends, visited the sights, and sat undisturbed inside the old convent where nuns in their long white habits sang their evening vespers in vibrant Castilian chant. The three weeks passed almost before I knew it, and yet, as I headed back home, I knew I had been restored in ways invisible, but vital to my deepest self. I knew that, no matter how much I would have to teach, or sell at yard sales, or sacrifice, I would return to Salamanca the next summer, and that my family would only be enriched by my journey back to the nourishing soil of my deepest roots.

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