Food and Language- Sushi y Matemáticas

When I arrived in Santander, the very first thing that I did, and I mean the very first thing, like as soon as I stepped out of the car, was step in dog poop. I was looking at my wonderful friend, Maria, who had helped us throughout the entire process and I was so thrilled to see her standing right out in front of me that I didn’t look down for a single second. And, I didn’t just step in it a little bit, I stepped ALL IN. I hugged her and then she said, “I think you stepped in dog poop.” And followed it up with the classic Spanish saying of, “But don’t worry”. She said, “But don’t worry. This means good luck!” There you go, bird poop, dog shit…they are both good luck for those unfortunate humans.


Thinking back on that moment now, today, exactly one month into our adventure, I think it was the perfect way to start this imperfect journey. It really did make me pause, and I really did have to pause for quite a while in order to get my shoes cleaned up. I think of that moment often and shake my head with a smile thinking, I must remember to always look at where I am going “right now”, not too far in the future.


La Carta

We are loving the uncertainty of our order and I appreciate these two kiddos for trying so many new things.


So, what is our “right now”? The right now in our lives seems to revolve around two very uncomfortable and important parts of our existence, food and language. The food is wonderful over here, but it is different. The fresh fish is aplenty with their big wide eyes staring at you in the supermarket. The cheeses are vibrant and local but have a much stronger flavor than back home. And even when we order something that might seem similar to a dish that is familiar, it’s just different enough to make one of us pause and tear up at the table. And that “one of us”, would be Skye. The food is the biggest struggle for Skye. She has such a strong desire to be more adventurous with her culinary likings but the usual and the known are so much more enjoyable and comfortable than the unknown. The other day she had a horrible experience at lunch. She didn’t like anything and was in tears. Of course we “forced” her to try the meat and the fish and the vegetables but she truly didn’t like them. We didn’t order her anything special, as that has always been our family rule. We get what we get and we don’t throw a fit.


So, when dinner rolled around, we let her choose. This was when we were in Gijon, a bigger city in Galicia. She had noticed a sushi place when we were walking on the street earlier in the evening and immediately got her heart set on a California Roll. She had asked me earlier in the trip, “Do you think a California Roll here is the same as at home?” I was very honest and said, “Probably not. Similar, but not exactly the same.” But, she still had it in her head that sushi, and more specifically, a California Roll would make her world so much better. And I can only imagine how hungry that growing girl’s stomach was too. We arrived at the restaurant for dinner at 8:45pm which was very soon after it opened. We sat at the sushi bar and the woman was so nice. She spoke to us in Spanish and let us fumble over our words. We immediately looked at the menu (la carte) and it consisted of about 20 things…but NO California Roll. Now, I get what some of you may be thinking, “Come on now Summer. Sushi in Spain…you should be eating tapas and pintxos.” I get it, but this little girl had been crushed time and again over the selection of food and we wanted her to get a victory. And all she wanted was a Cali Roll. As soon as she realized her defeat, that was her breaking point. The tears starting rolling and there was nothing that could stop it. She had been talking about this meal like she hadn’t eaten in weeks and as we looked at the menu; our hearts were crushed for her.


The waitress was worried and Skye played it off like she hurt her finger and asked for a band-aid but Skye was absolutely defeated. I ordered several things, one of which I knew she would like and I just held her. Because, really, I knew this moment wasn’t about a California Roll, it was about home. She had been so brave this entire time. She had been genuinely excited about everything and so positive about the unknown of Spain, Santander, our apartment, the surf, her friends and school. She just wanted “home” for one night and one meal and that didn’t happen. I understood.


Food and language really do bring you home. Food for not only it’s taste but smell as well. I can close my eyes and if I smell Italian food, I can think of my dad’s spaghetti sauce and coming into the house after a 3-hour swim practice. Language is also quite comforting. At the “one month in” mark of our journey I can say that language has been a struggle but with a light of hope at every crossroads. We know we will get better…I can only get better, not any worse. But seriously, when the kids each completed their first day of school, they were in tears. They both said, “I can’t understand anything. They speak so fast.” And now, after two weeks (for Spider) and 3 days (for Skye), they are doing so much better.


Love and understanding.

And sometimes, just listening.


Spider cried after each of his first three days of school. He was equal parts worried and frustrated with the language barrier. See, he is extremely vested in his education. He loves learning and especially thrives in the challenge of math. He also likes all of the information. He is so much more comfortable when he knows what is expected now and in the future. He is also very hard on himself if he doesn’t do something right or doesn’t understand. (If my parents are reading this they are saying, “Hmm, that sounds like someone I know.”) So, this new world of not knowing or understanding put Spider in a very uncomfortable position. We, his parents, knew this would be the case even before we arrived in Spain. We also knew, as his parents, that this would be an excellent situation for his growth as a student and a person. But still, seeing your kiddo in tears after school and listening to him say that he doesn’t understand anything and he doesn’t know why we decided to come her to Spain, day after day is tough. Tough because I know how much he loves school and how tightly he holds onto his education. It’s his thing. Some kids have sports, some kids have music, but Spider has math.


On the 4th day, he went to school so excited because they were giving a math test. You know, sort of a placement test for the beginning of school. He was busting to show his teachers what he could do. I was thrilled for him. But when we picked him up at the end of the day, he was so sad. His head was low and he said he didn’t want to talk until we got in the car. When the car doors were shut, I asked him about the math test and he said, “They were all word problems and I couldn’t understand a lot of the words so I didn’t get a lot of them right.” He was crushed. And again, just like Skye I knew it wasn’t just about the math test. He just wanted one comfort from home or just one victory and that victory was speaking the language, the language of math. It was magnified because he had built up that moment in his mind. He thought this math test would be the great equalizer and it didn’t provide that for him so he was sad, super sad. And, just like Skye with her California Roll, I held him tight and let him cry. I also reminded him to go easy on himself and to cut himself some slack. But, I truly think my words weren’t heard, he just wanted to be able to miss home, be sad, feel the love from his mom and to get over it in his own time.


Time does heal all wounds. Today, we picked him up at school and he was sitting with his back against the wall in the shade with 3 of his buddies. He was chatting away in Spanish, laughing and playing. We tried to watch for as long as we could without him seeing but a little girl ran up to him, tapped on his shoulder and pointed at us. We were caught. But we were smiling and he was too. We got in the car and after asking us about our school day he said, “My Spanish is so much better. I am getting it.”


Each of their individual days of vulnerability have passed and although there have been minor tears here and there, we are figuring it out, and every day gaining confidence. They are making friends and we hear laughter and see smiles at the end of their school day over anything else. I still might make us shirts that say “Poco a Poco” (little by little). It is our life motto right now. We are holding tight to those words and to each other when we need it.


Now more than ever

We are holding tight to one another.