New Shoes Eventually Stretch Out
A nanny in Toronto only needs sneakers and flip-flops to do her job. On a trip to Buenos Aires, Natalia Rodriguez buys a pair of office-worthy suede shoes, then wonders where she will ever wear them. When she returns to Canada, an opportunity for a good job arises, but the shoes pinch during the interview. They will stretch, as their wearer must when she tackles a new career.
A three-day trip to Buenos Aires is too short. Buenos Aires is only a few hours away from Montevideo, the city where I was born, but it is much bigger and more exciting with its theatres, European architecture, and the tango dance. I was there visiting during a trip home from my immigrant life in Canada.
It was summer, but the unbearable heat did not spoil my plan to shop, taking advantage of the devaluation of the Argentinian peso. Shoes were on my list, and as usual, I went over my budget. But how often did I come to this city?
When I got back to Montevideo, I unpacked. “These classy, brown office shoes that I just bought are not very useful,” I thought. “Why did I buy them?”
A few months earlier, I had quit my full-time nanny job in Toronto. I had worked as a nanny for six years and intended to leave it two years before, but I kept procrastinating. I was attached to the children. During those nannying years, I made friends with other nannies, spent entire mornings at playgrounds, took the ferry to Toronto Island, spotted the tiny colourful frogs at the Ontario Science Centre, and jumped on the trampolines at Kidsville. My feet knew only ground-down sneakers and flip-flops.
It was a nice job—for someone very young, but not for me in my mid-thirties. I was delaying my dream of getting a “real job” in Canada. I would never have become a nanny if it hadn’t been the only way to get my permanent resident status in Canada. I am a psychology graduate.
Back in Toronto, while attending English classes, I met a psychologist from Colombia who was volunteering at the Mennonite New Life Centre, a settlement agency that supports newcomers and immigrants. She told me that they were looking for a part-time Spanish-speaking counsellor. I knew it might be a great opportunity, but should I try? Maybe I wasn’t ready. I did not even have a resume. I had little experience as a counsellor and no Canadian work experience except those years as a nanny.
I pushed myself. My friend pushed me. I wrote a resume, embellishing it to make it look good. Preparing for the interview was frightening. What to say, what to wear! I decided on a dressy skirt. In my mind, I was still a nanny wearing jeans and Toms, but I had to hide that thought and act like a confident, business-like candidate. Suddenly, the not-so-useful shoes I had bought in Buenos Aires made sense. I put them on. They were tight, and they hurt.
The interview did not go very well. I was so nervous that I could not even give the right answer in my own language. After the interview, I was asked to wait on a bench while the interviewers decided. My heart was beating very fast. I felt awful. I was expecting to hear, “Thank you for your interest in the position.” Well, I told myself, at least I tried. As I was leaving, the boss came after me. Unexpectedly, I got the job! But how? I understood that there was no one right answer in my interview. Despite my insecurity, I had the motivation to learn. That is what she liked.
I am now a settlement and wellness worker helping immigrants make Canada home. My classy, brown shoes are as broken in as my nanny sneakers, and I can even run in them. New shoes—like new beginnings—are not always comfortable. They can feel tight for a while, but they will eventually stretch out if you keep wearing them.
Natalia Rodriguez came to Toronto in 2005 after writing her final exams at the Universidad de La Republica in Montevideo. She worked for many years as a nanny, earned permanent residency status and became a part-time Spanish-speaking counsellor at a non-profit organization. She left to study Social Services at Seneca College and, in 2017, rejoined that same NPO as a settlement and wellness worker with newcomers and immigrants.