One of my friends recently posted on Facebook an article from The Onion entitled: "Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To The Ocean". I could not stop laughing.
At the time, I was eight days into taking care of Soccer Dude and Little Angel on my own in Spain. Every day I would wake with wonder and excitement, thinking, "Wow! We're in Spain! We live here!" I'd look out our window at the panorama of elegant European rooftops and pinch myself that we actually get to stay for a while.
Every night I would fall back into bed smiling, thinking, "Wow, what did we do today? I cooked and cleaned up three meals, went grocery shopping, did two loads of laundry, took out the trash and recycling... and brought the kids to the park. In Spain!"
The greatest thing about being in Europe, is that... we're in Europe! It's fantastic in so many ways here. Even going to the doctor's office is interesting and different because the doctors and nurses speak to you in Spanish or Catalan, and greet you with un besito on both cheeks. I can guarantee you I've never been kissed in greeting by any of my American doctors!
The toughest (and best) thing about being in Europe - or anywhere alone on vacation for two weeks as a family - is that it is A LOT OF FAMILY TOGETHERNESS with no breaks.
Soccer Dude keeps talking about how much he looks forward to school starting. "No offense mom, but spending all day every day with you is... kind of boring."
Little Angel keeps saying, "I can't wait to meet all of my new friends!" I love that she is truly convinced that on the first day of school, she will be presented with a big handful of true friends to play with for the rest of the year.
Señor Aventura has been a man on a mission since he arrived, desperate to get us settled in a new apartment (without giant roaches, perhaps?) and to buy a car so that we can at last head out for enjoyable mountain or seaside adventures away from the humid city. I can tell he's a man in need of some alone time with his bicycle and a tall mountain to climb.
Which is why it is so GREAT that we've spent the last few days making and renewing friendships!
Two days ago at the Jardins de Villa Amelia, Soccer Dude made a friend!
The towheaded boy, who I will call Igor for purposes of this blog, was swinging alone in the park - which is normal here!!! because it is so safe!!! - and kept looking over and smiling at Soccer Dude, who was swinging next to him.
"Hello!" he said to Soccer Dude. "I am Igor. You will play with me now!" (I'm making that part up but it really is how Igor talks. He is the most confident child I have ever met. He is funny and friendly and very bossy all at once.)
For example, he stood with gusto at the top of the slide holding our soccer ball and shouting commands to our boys below.
"I will throw the ball!" he shouted with a smile. "You both will chase the ball! Whoever gets the ball will get a point! Then they will give me the ball again!" (A glorified game of fetch, but it seemed to work for them...)
"I am from Russia!" he told Soccer Dude in perfect English. "I have grown for my entire life here in Barcelona. I am ten years old! I go to the best school in the city. I speak English better than I speak Russian. I am wearing a fantastic American shirt that my mother has given to me!"
"Do you also speak Spanish and Catalan?" my husband asked him.
"But of course!" he replied in perfect Spanish. "I tell you already, I have lived here my entire life! I go to the best school in Spain!"
Soccer Dude and Igor played in the park for at least two hours. Igor had a pocket full of brightly colored water balloons which became a pocket full of fun. "Let us make a water slide!" advised Igor. "Let us make a shower! Let us throw the balloons at each other at the same time!" The two of them left the park absolutely soaking wet, beaming broadly from ear to ear.
"You will come and live in my apartment building?" asked Igor as we parted company with him. "There is an empty apartment in the building where I live. You will come and take it? And then when (Soccer Dude) has nothing to do, he will not stay alone in your apartment playing video games...." (he made a dark and frowning face here) "but instead he will come to play every day at the park with me!"
Soccer Dude looked blissfully happy.
"Of course, mom," he confided on the way home. "Igor is NOT my BEST FRIEND. Mini Muller will always be my BEST FRIEND."
"Yes. But, you made a friend!!!"
"I made a friend." Soccer Dude smiled broadly.
* * *
Yesterday, Señor Aventura also reconnected with a dear friend, who I will call "Señor Gran Corazón". An amazing lifelong friend who has bent over backwards to make our move to Spain possible. He once lived with Señor Aventura's family in Coronado, and now he helps us to make us at home in Spain.
He and his (lovely, luminous) wife live in a gorgeous spot up the coast in Barcelona with their adorable 4 year old son and a new baby on the way.
They are incredible, gracious people. Every time we visit, they insist upon having us up to their home for a swim and a long lunch which lasts all day. We laugh and talk for hours and they are so truly hospitable. This man would give my husband the shirt off his back to make him more comfortable; and in fact, yesterday he literally loaned him a pair of swim trunks for the pool.
"I will be your sponsor," he tells my husband. "I will help you with anything you need. I will help you buy a car. You can live at my home if you like!"
It is so lucky to have in the world a friend like this.
I don't care how many times I am told that people in Barcelona are closed in nature or cold. It is not true, at least not for our family's experience!
I have met some of the kindest and warmest people in the world here - all of whom have moved mountains to help our family. I am in love with Catalan culture and people. I cannot believe how generous they are with their warmth and decency. Everyone, from the grocery store clerks to realtors to families we pass along the street, has been polite, kind and helpful. I even made a true friend (a story for another time) last March, just standing on a sidewalk trying to translate a menu for my kids.
Yesterday as my husband's friend dropped us off at the train station, he smiled at me.
"You will see!" he told me. "In three weeks, you will feel amazing. You will be so relaxed. All the stress in your life will be gone, now that you are here in Spain."
He may be right!