THE FAMILY FACTOR: REAL AND RAW
The comment we heard the most, before we left on this year long journey was, “Your family is going to be so much closer after this experience.” And we hoped they were right. We knew that this year would be special simply because we were going to be able to spend so much time together. And by “time together”, I mean quality time like conversations and stories at dinner and breakfast or singing and joking while waiting for the next wave in the ocean. And spending time together also includes all those other moments throughout every day. Over here we are each other’s best friends, play dates and travel partners. But, time, by definition, has a beginning and an end. We are reminded of this fact every single day. Or shall I be more specific; I am reminded of this everyday. And with that knowledge, as a mom, comes with a feeling of needing to remember it all and make the most of every moment.
Our last picture
Before heading to the airport and our year abroad.
I am sure there are some people who would be worried about being, somewhat, forced to spend ridiculous amounts of time with their family, and I understand that completely. I have been an independent person, even with a significant other, for my entire life. I have thrived on having my own goals, my own work and my own schedule. That has always been a huge part of who I am at my core. So yes, I get it that for many the idea of needing one another every day and having very little alone time would be worrisome on paper. But the reality is so much different.
The evolution of “the family factor” has been quite amazing. When we first arrived in Spain, it was all about playing and experiencing. We didn’t have a schedule at all and were just trying to find our way in this new country. Our biggest decisions, at that time, were when to go surfing and at what beach. Then, school started and we were all so very close to and apart of each family member’s emotions. We were all in it together and the process of their emotions was beautiful. It went from feeling the kids holding onto Erik and me tightly at the beginning, to watching them grow and loosen their grip a bit more with every new day.
This was our only trip to Suances. We liked it but it was so much colder than our own beach.
That first day of school, for Spider, is a memory that not one of us will forget, Skye included. He was so scared, but more nervous, really. He was simply unsure of what it would all be like and the fact that he needed us so very much in that moment was truly raw and real.
Raw and real, showing our vulnerable and imperfect side has been a huge lesson this year. I am guilty of trying to be too perfect, at times, in my life and I have felt my kids falling into that same pattern. I had hoped to let go of a lot of that this year and by example show my kids that being perfect is an impossible goal. Watching Spider and then a few weeks later, Skye, walk into their new school, in a new country was a less than perfect moment. They had very little information about the school or their classes and what information they did have was in Spanish. For them, the language was much more familiar but still it was Castellano español which has it’s subtle differences. Unfamiliar and unknown and yet, at that moment, we had to let them go and face this important situation on their own.
This face says it all. She was so excited to start her new school and just a wee bit nervous!
Raw and real has become a saying as important as poco a poco. Once we saw the kids so brave and honest with their fear and worry with these new and imperfect moments, Erik and I felt it was the right thing to do in showing them our own. It’s not that we have been keeping things from them on purpose but we have begun to share everything with them and truly explain to them the depth of our decisions. Many are not easy for them to understand. Probably the biggest is the desire to NOT accumulate anything. We spend all our money on necessities, really, (yes, a few surfboards that we will sell at the end of our stay) but other than a few toys (skateboard, razor scooter and bike, padel racquet, pala racquets, kitchen items, 3 blankets), we have stopped ourselves from buying the unnecessary indulgences. I have stopped myself so many times when I see cute things at Zara or Zara home. I think to myself, do I really need this the answer is never yes. We did, however, buy a pillow and towel for everyone. Those two items were just way too personal to share with the 100’s of other people who had rented this place before us. Other than that, we are conserving our funds for travel. Along the way, I bought myself two sweaters for fun and one sweatshirt and a small cow-bell both from Wengen (say it together…we can all use a little more cow-bell).
Yes, I have seen many things that I want, the kids have seen many things that they want but we are constantly having the discussion with them about the difference between “wanting and needing”. This experience and making them feel a part of the team is very, very important. Just the other day, Spider wanted to order a couple Stephen Hawking books and although I understand the love of turning the page and holding an actual book, I told him we could order one but the others would have to be eBooks. He fought me at first but then I said, you would have to carry all these books home with you in your backpack. That did it, he caved. About a month ago, I turned on the Netflix series “Tyding Up” with Marie Kondo (in Spanish) and it almost gave Skye the hives (she can’t stand getting rid of things) therefore, not buying more things would make the uncluttering, when we get home, that much easier for her. She got it right away.
Being raw and real, together, creates this incredible bond, like being teammates. And we have become a team. In the beginning, probably after our trip to Israel (because we were constantly commenting on the prices of food and drink). Spider specifically, got worried about our financial resources. They know that we aren’t working as much…me, not at all. They authentically wanted to know if we were going to be broke when we got back home. At that moment, I knew we had to explain it all to them. And that conversation was actually super fun. We explained to them everything, starting with the fact that we had been, essentially, saving for this year since we both first started working at age 19. We told them about the cost of living in Spain versus the cost of living Park City. We wrote it out for them, everything from the cost of a cup of coffee to a flight to Italy. We explained everything from their cost of sports to the reason we only have one car. And, finally, we assured them that we would be fine. We would not be broke but that we wanted to experience this year of travel with them rather than waiting to travel without them when we were retired or when they would be busy with their jobs, school and their lives. (Although, we will travel without them when we retire too:)
Erik and I have been super open with our frustrations with learning the language. They sort of pat us on the head and say, There, There. You will get it eventually.” They have watched us try to get in and out of impossible parking spots, maybe cussing a bit along the way. And the difference, over here, is that it is all as a team. Like the first time we went to see a movie at the theater. It’s all in Spanish, of course, and I actually bought the tickets online. Once we ordered the tickets we all high-fived. Once we made it to the theater and found a parking spot, we all high-fived. Once we got our popcorn, drinks and candy and our tickets actually worked, we all high-fived. That was a huge day, a simple day back in the US, but a huge accomplishment for us, as a team, over here.
But it’s not all rosey, we have argued with them, countless times, on watching shows or movies in Spanish over English. I have cried in front of them and with them when we are all missing our friends, animals and comforts of home. Skye and Spider still argue about the lamest things just like every brother and sister, but it seems to sting a bit more when you are also missing home. And in all of these raw and real moments, we heal and become stronger together, because we are together. There is no getting away from one another.
So, how was your day kids?
Mom, you are never going to believe it…
When I compare myself to how I lived day to day back home I realize that probably the biggest difference is when I pick the kids up at school and ask them, “How was school?” It’s not that I didn’t listen to them back home, it’s that I really hear them over here and they really have stories, funny stories. The super classic ones for Spider are always about the funny things the girls did or the move he learned with his fútbol or how neither he nor his friends want to use the bathroom so they hold it as long and as often as possible. Public bathrooms, especially those in a new country can be quite scary, even for adults. One day he hopped into the car and said, “Guess what happened? (his unnamed friend) had to take a poop at school. I felt so bad for him!” The look on his face was of real concern, like his friend had to lick the bathroom floor or something. This made us laugh so hard cause we know how real this was for him and his buddies!
So when I ask them both, “How was school?” I get these amazing stories of awesome different behavior, situations, food incidences or reactions and it all makes me giggle, for the most part. One day, Skye packed cucumbers in her lunch. Just some simple sliced cucumbers. Every day her friends want to try stuff in her lunch and the cucumbers were just as exciting to them as “nacho chips”. But it didn’t go well, most didn’t really get it or why she would eat them like that…raw. Those stories and countless others that they share during our 10 minute drive and walk to our apartment has left us busting with laughter more times than I can count.
So, the answer to that comment from our friends and others before we started our year abroad is, “I think you are right.” We are almost 6 months into our year abroad and I feel it. I feel the glue that is holding us together and making us closer. I am feeling this just as we are about to embark on some branching out. Skye and Spider will both go to a sleep away school ski trip and Spider has qualified for the Campeonata de España for soccorismo y natación in Madrid. For those trips, they will travel by bus with their teammates and schoolmates and without mom and dad. I see it as an amazing learning and growing experience, maybe a bit scary, sure, but the first thing out of my mouth when I pick them up will be, “Tell me ALL your stories!”