As our apartment finally settles for the night, the only sounds to be heard six levels above the streets of Sarriá are occasional cars passing, mattresses creaking a little as my children toss and turn (getting comfortable for - we hope! - a good sleep) and the clothes dryer cycling through another load of towels. The scent of warm apples, cinnamon and pumpkin emanates from the kitchen and lingers in the main rooms.
I've just settled into my comfortable writing chair, the one with the good light overhead. Rain is slightly expected to fall again tonight, and as it often does here in Barcelona it might perhaps be a hard rain that completely vanishes by morning. Humidity stands at 79%. Our two plants, tropical and leafy little trees, seem to have noticed the change in humidity. They are quite perky!
This is a good night, and I am happy with it. My sons and I spent the evening cooking, baking and talking together.
"You are my two favorite sons," I nodded sagely with a twinkle in my eye.
"Mom, we are your ONLY sons!" reminded Soccer Dude.
"What a coincidence! You are my two favorite sons AND my only sons! That makes me a lucky mom!"
Both boys grinned and then went back to mixing their desserts.
"Thank you," added Soccer Dude. It took him a full thirty seconds to recover from contemplating that sincere exchange before he launched into another potty-humor filled joke... his current specialty.
All of this makes a nice contrast with the rest of our unexpectedly long weekend which ultimately extended into four days of the stomach flu.
With their dad out of town for another week, the kids and I'd had big plans for this weekend. We'd started it with dinner out at the cheap (delicious) local Chinese restaurant and two soccer games. Next up were a shopping expedition, visiting a local Christmas market, and creating our own small Thanksgiving dinner.
When their bus dropped them off at the stop on Friday night at 5:45, the four of us walked briskly for over a mile to get to Soccer Dude's fútbol game against another local private school, La Salle. It was already dark outside and the kids lugged their backpacks on trolleys while I carried their snacks, jackets, and sports bags under each arm.
We marveled at the beautiful twinkling lights in store windows as we walked. The holiday season has begun here in Spain, and the city feels magical and bright with Christmas decorations in store windows and fresh pine trees for sale, waiting to be carried home and illuminated.
At last we arrived at the La Salle campus. Our jaws dropped open.
"Kids, we found Hogwarts!" I exclaimed in admiration.
Woah! We walked through the arched security gates and swiftly realized that this is more than a school... it is an entire academic complex looking more like a small liberal arts college than a standard 'colegio'. La Salle is truly one of the most impressive, beautiful campuses for children I've ever seen... and at night with the moon illuminating it from behind, it looked other-worldly.
There's something about a nighttime game that feels a little more special and unusual than your typical Saturday morning soccer game.
As it turns out, the La Salle students are fierce and disciplined competitors on the fútbol field - they must have an outstanding coach. The game was a rout (we barely made it onto the scoreboard) and it was quite cold outside (we could see our breath) but I loved watching every second. Soccer Dude played well and the hour passed by swiftly.
After the game we walked the mile home happily, eager for Chinese food and to unwind. "Mama, look!" sang out Little Angel in awe. "They've turned on the Christmas lights!"
I looked up to see that at last our neighborhood of Sarriá had illuminated all of the lights we've seen men hanging over the city streets for the last month. For a moment the sight took my breath away and I had no words.
The next morning we bundled up warmly and made the lengthy trek out to The Scientist's soccer game held at a camp on the outskirts of the city far from our apartment. With Señor Aventura in the United States, we couldn't drive the car... so we ended up figuring out a combination of taxi and subway to get there.
"Thanks for doing this, Mom," The Scientist exclaimed when we finally arrived.
We watched as he ran eagerly to kick the ball around with his teammates who called out to him warmly in greeting.
"We are making inroads!" I grinned before turning back to Google Maps on my phone to figure out how to walk back to the subway station.
Clearly our weekend was off to a great start and, though we were a bit weary, our spirits were high.
Then came lunch. Quiche, as it happened, from my favorite bakery. It was decadent, I must admit - creamy, cheesy, full of bacon. "Wow mom, I really love this!" exclaimed Little Angel.
"Yeah, it's great!" agreed The Scientist."
"I'll pass," said Soccer Dude. "You know I don't eat cheese."
"Your loss," we smiled and enjoyed every last bite.
It turned out though that Soccer Dude was actually winning. A few hours later, after we'd done a bit of Black Friday weekend shopping and taken in more beautiful holiday lights, Little Angel turned to me.
"Mom, my stomach really hurts."
"When's the last time you ate something sweetie?"
"Not since lunch."
"Oh, well - you're probably hungry! Let's head home and we can make dinner."
An hour later though, while I was cooking dinner, Little Angel came to me with a funny look on her face. "Mommy? I don't feel right."
"What doesn't feel right honey?"
My amazing friend was back to me with an answer in what felt like moments. "Here is the formulation for a rehydration mix you can put together at home. Just give her a sip at a time every five minutes." She'd even converted everything into milliliters for me, since that is how things are measured in Europe. She also asked lots of thoughtful questions and made me feel calm. "Stay strong," she told me.
By 3AM Little Angel began to hold down fluids. She spent the next day feverish but stable.
Kids have an amazing way of drawing you back to remember what actually matters in life. Christmas shopping, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, taking classes, exercising, spending time with friends, writing, missing my husband... all of these things felt important until the second Little Angel fell ill and then suddenly I couldn't have cared less who came to the door while I was in my unwashed hair and pajamas. All that mattered was Little Angel getting well.
"Mama, I don't like this," she confided as I tucked her into bed.
"You'll be fine," I encouraged her with a calm smile. "This is normal. It happens."
"I hate throwing up, mama. It is the worst!" she told me.
"I completely agree. The absolute worst!" I nodded.
"Thank you for taking care of me," she wrapped her warm little arms around my shoulders.
"There is nothing in the world I would rather do," I told her. "Nowhere I would rather be."
In the end, all four of us were struck in succession by the fierce Barcelonan stomach bug. It hit each of us hard and fast, one person per day, following a pattern of brutal and sudden takedown and 24 hours of misery (each) followed by a relatively quick recovery. Although we're not all quite out of the woods, I expect the full process of family recovery will be complete about four full days after it all started.
"Do you need anything, Mom?" he asked. "I'm right here down the hall. Just call if you need me."
Today there was a moment when all four of us were sitting together in the sunny living room, laughing about how awful and gross the whole thing has been. "Dad got lucky," said The Scientist. "He missed it!"
"By the time he gets back on Saturday, all of us will be healthy," I agreed.
"Dad would SO be throwing up right now if he were here!" grinned Soccer Dude with a twinkle.
"I like it when we are all here together," Little Angel hugged me. "We are a family."
I hugged her back and looked around the room at the faces of the Aventura children. Certainly paler than normal with dark shadows under their eyes, but still full of life and spirit... everyone grinning.
Suddenly our long weekend of blessings and bugs felt magical again.