Then and Now: One month to go.
I am feeling rushed a bit. It is already June and I can hardly believe it. There is so much I want to say and so little time in which to write it all down for you. We leave Spain in exactly one month. Why does life move so quickly? We have come full circle, in many ways, with our year abroad. It’s both amazing and strange to look back at where we were mentally 10 months ago.
All of the worries or concerns we had in the beginning of this journey have now turned into a feeling of trying to soak up every last flavor and do as much as we can before we leave. The difference between then and now is huge, so much so that I feel like I need to do a comparison of our expectations leading into the year in Spain and what actually occurred.
In the beginning of my blog, I wrote about how we consciously waited to receive visitors until December. We asked our friends and family to give us a little time to settle in and find our way, mostly with the language but also with the people, the culture and our routine. We felt that we had to get a bit uncomfortable to really learn and adapt. Just a couple of days ago, we said goodbye to our final visitors of our year abroad. It was Erik’s parents, and we now have our last month here in Spain, solo. Just the 4 of us. Time flies.
Did we need those first few months to get acclimated? The answer is, yes, without a doubt. It is very hard to both try and settle into a new lifestyle and be a tour guide to your friends and family. Now, if we had 5 years in Spain, I wouldn’t have a problem with accepting anyone and everyone at our front door but with only 11 months abroad, we knew our time here was precious. And that time was not just to be a visitor but also to try and feel like a local. And the truth is that it is much more difficult to make that happen in a foreign country that does not speak your same language. Therefore, you have to work at it and we did. For that, we are quite grateful. So, yes, give yourself some time; some time to get sorted out and some time to miss people.
Our first week on the ground
Getting settled in…
Did having people visit us inhibit our learning of the Spanish language? The answer is, no. In fact, I felt that once we started the visitor train, we were then forced to speak a lot more for our friends and family. We would go out to restaurants more and shop more and we were needed for the translation. And, I truly believe that our friends and family understood and didn’t mind that we had class to go to. I also felt they enjoyed being able to walk around and explore a bit of Santander without us for the 3 hours we were in class. We got to the point where we would write down a list of activities for many of our guests. A few examples of those activities were, “A drink at El Faro”, “Visiting Santillana del Mar”, “Kayaking at El Sardi”, “Surfing at Playa Somo” and so on. We live in a rainy part of Spain and therefore we needed lots of varieties of options for people. It was particularly fun for my brother and sister-in-law as they were determined to mark off everything on their Menu of Activities! And they succeeded!
Did we choose the correct location? I will begin this answer with, I am biased, but for our family, I can say with total confidence that WE NAILED IT. We wanted Castellano español and we got it. We wanted to be forced to use the language we were learning as much as possible and that much, we achieved. But, it is still hard to fully immerse when you speak your maternal language at home. For that reason, we know we could have done it better. And we are fully aware that learning Spanish is a life for us, not a year. (We have already begun our search for online interactive language lessons.) The surfing was excellent and we didn’t mind the frigid temperatures that required 6mm wetsuits in the winter months. The waves weren’t too big and there were certainly many different spots to choose from along the coast with super friendly surfers. Never once did I feel like I was over-stepping into a sacred surf territory, as we always felt welcome in the water with the locals. I had many school parents here ask me, in Spanish, “How in the world did you choose Santander?” So many people here are floored that we chose their city over Barcelona, Valencia or somewhere in the south. In fact, I have one friend who says when anyone from the US asks her were she is from, she says, “Madrid”, because not many Americans know Spain and if she said Santander, they would have no clue. She is right. My family didn’t know where Santander was. In fact, we didn’t know where it was until we took a trip to San Sebastian in 2015. I love the fact that we chose a bit of a hidden gem of a city. We feel very fortunate.
Did we pack correctly? Remember when I was going through my entire house, packing up everything from random charging cords and soap to tiny mementos and picture frames? Maybe you don’t, but I do. It was endless and overwhelming. And this was all before the, “Does this bring you joy” craze. We tried to organize while we sorted and we certainly gave away a TON of unneeded stuff. (Notice I didn’t say “junk” there) But even after all of that, we had to pack for our trip. And keep in mind; we needed stuff for warm weather, cold water, wet weather, skiing, everyday living, schooling and playing. It was complicated and at times impossible to decide what to take in terms of clothes. And then, of course, what we didn’t take in clothes we put in boxes to store; which made us question why we were even keeping it. But, let’s get back to the question and the answer. I think we packed correctly. We didn’t have a lot here but we had enough and what we brought with us, we have literally worn out. There is a very visceral feeling of wearing out your clothes. Some things are not meant to last forever and we proved that in a big way over here. Every pair of jeans I brought, except for two pairs, has been worn through. They will not make the trip home with me.
Packing up my Spain life
And sending stuff home with family.
Would I change anything? I would have learned to cook more fish than I did. Erik would have bought a longboard. I would have really begged my friends to come over for a girl’s weekend, but we have time in the coming years to do that and I realized that fact early on in the year! But other than that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing, even the imperfect parts. I wrote in my blog of wanting the erase Spider’s broken leg if I had the power. But the other day, Spider asked Erik and I, “If you knew I was going to break my leg, would you have still sent me on the school ski trip?” I paused and said, “Hmmm, I don’t know.” Erik responded very quickly and said, “No way buddy. We would never have sent you.” Spider’s response to Erik was curious. He said, “Yeah dad, but I have learned so much through breaking my leg.” Pretty deep for an 11 year old. Even the truly imperfect stuff has made our experience that much more meaningful and memorable. I got an awful flu; the kind that leaves you in a fever fog for weeks. But I wouldn’t change that. Mostly, I wouldn’t change it because I often feel like things happen the way they are supposed to. My mom was here at the time and she was able to help us. If I didn’t have it then, when would it have been a better time? I loved our town. I loved being so very close to the beach. I loved our trips we took and the amazing places we were able to see and learn about. The kids’ school has been amazing and they have made some good friends.
is good for the soul.
What will we miss? First and foremost we will miss the ocean out our front door. I will personally miss the sand in my feet every single day, even Christmas morning. We will miss our family surf sessions; which result in some of the absolute best conversations about life. We will miss our time together and therefore we will miss our “time”; that close family time we have here. We will miss the pace of things here in Spain. Of course, people work hard and are busy over here but there isn’t as much of a “race” in their daily lives. Kids work hard in school to learn but they aren’t stressed about AP classes and universities. There is a very strong sense of the “here and now” and “taking care of one another” that is far more important than the future. We will miss la comida (lunch…a 2 hour lunch)! And I will miss our apartment “super,” Able, asking me every single day if I am going to take time for La Comida, reminding me that I need to enjoy my food and the experience. I will miss our conversations with Abel and his worry about me walking barefoot or making jokes about “the mother-in-laws visiting”. (They love their mother-in-law jokes over here) And I will miss my friend Maria Kent because without her my life here would not have happened. Seriously, it wouldn’t have, she helped me organize everything. I will miss our walks on the beach with so many other Santander locals. We will miss the fresh “pan” every day. I will miss the sounds of happy screaming that we hear from the Molinucos’ surf classes of school kids that we hear from our apartment windows. I will miss trying to understand the conversations of the older men that walk together on the beach. It’s a dialect all it’s own! I will miss watching the locals celebrate life through conversing, drinking, eating, smoking, playing and walking. Yes, the tobacco industry is alive and well in Spain but it didn’t really bother me. I learned to live with it…just as I learned to live with my dad’s smoking for all of my youth. (He quit cold turkey about 9 years ago)
What of these life differences will I try to bring back? I added the “try” into this question because I don’t want to expect too much of my family or myself. We only lived in Spain for one year; it’s hard to break old habits. But I know that I don’t want to “sweat the small stuff” or stress as much. I want to care about the things that matter and not waste worry on the frivolous stuff. And by frivolous I mean the things that are so far in the future or out of our control that it makes it nearly impossible for you to enjoy the moment. I would like to turn my phone off in the car while I am driving. As you know, we didn’t have cell service over here in Spain so I had no other way to live and I LOVED it. Therefore, when I get back I would like to drive without any temptation of distraction. I plan on turning my phone on “do not disturb” when in the car. I would like to help the kids focus on learning and accountability as opposed to grades and stress. That was something we did over here and it was incredible. We kept telling the kids that the grades didn’t matter and that we just wanted them to try their hardest and soak up the language. We would like to keep a variation of that mentality going when we return. I would like to make time for lunch and I don’t want to apologize for it. I feel like at home if I take too much time out of my day to be social I have to explain it later, to nobody but myself. It’s just this sense of guilt that I need to rid myself of. I would love to make it feel normal to be a bit more leisure in the middle of my day. I also want to bring back eating a smaller dinner. They eat 5 meals over here. A breakfast snack when they wake up, a 10am snack and coffee, La Comida at around 2pm, a 5 pm snack of a Spanish tortilla or something similar and finally a salad or soup for dinner at around 9pm.
And finally, this one is important and might be complicated to explain. I learned this the other day when I asked my professor whether people in Spain confront one another about missteps like, when a dog’s owner doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop. She said, “We don’t. It’s not our job. That is something for the police or a city worker in charge of that action, to handle.” And then she explained to me that for so many years they lived under a dictatorship here in Spain and that it’s not in his or her culture to order someone to do something. Nobody here appreciates that behavior. And, she reminded me that, “If you have a bag, you can pick it up, but you telling that person to pick up their dog’s poop isn’t going to make them pick it up tomorrow.” Seeing this occur, especially on the beach, in Spain, used to really bother me, really get under my skin. I used to want to rush up to the dog’s owner and remind them that it is part of the deal when owning a dog. But once my professor explained it to me, I felt my shoulders relax, I relaxed and realized that might not be a bad way to handle things. That might not be a bad way to live in general. Of course, I will step in when needed but otherwise, mind my own business and remember it’s not my job nor can I control other people and their actions. And just a side note, Erik and I have quietly picked up quite a few dog poops over the past year.
There is so much more I want to write. So many bits of yumminess or differentness that would help you all understand our life in Spain versus our life at home. I will try to capture some more of that and write it down for you later.
And, for those of you wondering whether we would love to stay another year and/or if we are sad to leave or excited to come home…here are the answers.
1. We would love to be able to stay for another year but we need to go back and get to work again. This was an unbelievable departure from the grind, and we don’t have a strong desire to jump back into a grind like before, we are fully aware of what makes the world go round and what allowed us to take this year break, hard work.
2. We are sad to leave. We are sad when we think of this year being almost over, of course. So much so that I try not to think about it. But like I said in an Instagram post recently, I don’t want to waste our fun time here in Spain worrying about the sadness I will feel when we depart a month from now. Living in the here and now!
3. And, yes, we are beyond excited to come home. We cannot wait to hug our friends and reunite with our dogs and horses. The kids are thrilled to start their next year of school with a healthy appreciation of the space they will have in their new schools they are entering in Park City and the opportunities they are offered within their education at home. It’s all about perspective, my friends, and I think we have given our kids a very healthy sense of it.