Mejoramos is the 'we' form of a verb in Spanish that means, 'we improve'. For example, when I met with Soccer Dude's fourth grade teacher recently for a parent conference, she explained to me with enthusiasm that 'Él está mejorando a levantar la mano para hablar en clase.' (He improves at raising his hand in class to try to give answers.) This is a real achievement for our little dude, since he's essentially a beginner with Spanish.
I feel like this verb perfectly captures where we are at right now in our Spanish adventure. Estamos mejorando. We are improving! Every day, little by little, we improve in a variety of ways. We are settling in, getting our routines up to speed, discovering new spots and activities that we love. We're growing in our language abilities, but also in our resilience. Living 6,000 miles from home is a huge change. Sometimes it's hard and frustrating - and other times it's amazing and brilliant.
Either way, we're getting better at it.
Our kids have probably never worked this hard before in their lives, at anything, and I am so proud of their determination right now. Poco a poco they are learning how to navigate a new school system, make friends who don't speak much (if any) English, speak up for themselves when they don't understand something, and buckle down to study for exams and projects in a way they've never had to do before. They came in knowing no-one and without any kind of support system... other than us. Yet they are succeeding!
Of course, it's not perfect.
There are a few Catalan kids who say mean things sometimes to my sixth grader, like "Go home, California," or "You can't play, America." These aren't the kids from his class, but rather others on the playground that don't know him yet.
Apparently sixth graders here also use plenty of colorful four letter words when talking to each other, which is a big change for him from his old school. The Scientist is learning how to be resilient in the face of tough conversations, and not to take it personally if Catalan peers judge him by his nationality before they get to know him.
When the sporty kids he wanted to play soccer with at first rejected him from their lunchtime games, The Scientist patiently continued to ask them "Por que?" with a smile, again and again until finally they broke down and let him play. Yesterday he also brought his own soccer ball to school, and started up a new game. Immediately a Spanish child joined him, and now they've started an ongoing recess game where anyone is welcome to play. Señor Aventura and I could not be more proud of his growing grit and problem-solving ability.
Soccer Dude and Little Angel have made many friends. Recently at Soccer Dude's first soccer game after getting his cast off, several parents of his classmates approached me to let me know that their children talk about Soccer Dude all of the time at home. "My son tells me that your son is a very good soccer player," one Catalan mother confided. "My son talks about your son all of the time and says he is a great friend," another local mother beamed. Watching Soccer Dude race around a birthday party with his buddies, I felt great pride in his cheerful, warm personality. It was so tough for him to leave San Diego and his best friend, Mini Mueller... yet he is managing to thrive.
Little Angel has four close friends here and her teacher told me last week that every child in class wants to be with her because she is so happy, friendly and kind. "Me encanta," her teacher shared. "Es supercontenta y es brillante."
"I truly don't know what my son will do when your daughter leaves to go back to California," a mother confided in me on Saturday morning. "He says (Little Angel) is his very best friend."
The Scientist, Soccer Dude and Little Angel are 11, 9 and 7 years old. They are human. Some days they are enormously energetic and motivated, while other days they just want to keep their heads under the covers for a little while longer. Five more minutes. Maybe ten. They have their ups and downs like anyone else.
Yet their dad and I could not be more incredibly proud of our brave kids. They are expanding so rapidly as little humans and doing it with gusto and (for the most part) true positivity.
Señor Aventura and I are settling into this new life alongside them, and we too are growing. Friends here generously tell me that my Spanish has improved in the last two months, and I really appreciate this compliment because heaven knows I am trying so hard! Every day I am making a million mistakes, blushing, and asking people to please correct me.
My amazing friend Viva continues to meet with me twice a week for a language exchange and she is the best teacher in the world. Each week we sit over a cup of tea inside the organic market and talk to each other for 90 minutes in English; 90 minutes in Spanish. I could not be more lucky; Viva is very patient and takes the time to explain the reasoning behind the lessons and corrections. Entonces, poco a poco, mejoro. (Therefore little by little, I improve).
Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a cooking class at Viva's home with nine other women, all of whom are Catalan. Like me, they were mothers of children in elementary and middle school, and many of them share Viva's passion for travel and cooking. I loved meeting such a great group of smart, motivated women in Catalunya. It was the hardest Spanish class I've taken so far... as 95% of the three hour conversation was conducted in fast Castellano with my ears racing to keep up! Many of the women speak English, some quite fluently, but I greatly preferred for them to speak normally in Spanish so that I could learn while listening. Viva taught us how to make three delectable recipes, at least one of which I may actually be able to re-create without her guidance someday :)
What a lovely afternoon. I learned so much, my brain was tired on the walk home!
So, a day in the life?
Señor Aventura and I awaken while it is still dark out each morning Mon-Fri to get the kids ready for school. I make the snacks, get breakfast ready, have clean uniforms waiting and help the kids pack their sea of bags and backpacks for all of their sports, electives and classes. Today for example, The Scientist will have German, computer science, art and soccer practice at school, in addition to his regular classes. This requires an additional art smock plus a sports bag... and I swear his backpack must weigh 30 lbs right now.
Little Angel is taking her first field trip today, to Catalunya en Miniatura. I'm pretty sure this will turn out to be a miniaturized version of the Spanish state of Catalunya with each big city represented including its landmarks (like the big Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona). She left for school in her track suit, very eager and excited to spend the day off campus with her friends.
When they are dressed, fed and packed each morning, the kids walk with Señor Aventura (and sometimes me) to the bus stop. The process of getting them ready and to the bus takes about 90 minutes. From there, my day is typically fills up rapidly with errands, meetings with friends, doctor appointments, laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, working and writing. I thought I'd have so much time in Spain to write - and I'm working on a novel - but often I'm on the go from the moment the kids leave the house until the moment they get home.
We've gotten through our first round of Fall illnesses and now have a pediatrician we respect, along with the knowledge that we need to switch our health insurance. We are still amazed by our ability to walk into a farmacia without a prescription to buy antibiotics recommended for us by our doctors by email. The cost is incredible too! For a recent eye infection I paid a total of 4 euro for two different antibiotics - drops and creme. Wow!
Señor Aventura bikes or swims every morning. I've made a commitment to myself that I can only get fresh gluten free bread and treats from the best bakery in Barcelona if I walk at least one way, to or from the bakery. It's a 4 km walk (2.5 miles) so I'm routinely walking between 1 and 3 miles a day - and sometimes as many as 5 miles. We very rarely use the car in the city, and I love that it's so easy to get around without it.
It is a very good, very simple life that we are living right now - and we are so blessed to have this opportunity. Every time I walk to the little neighborhood shop for a basket full of figs or fennel, I marvel at how fresh the produce is here and how nice the shop owner continues to be.
Fall has begun and you can now buy roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes wrapped in newspaper from corner vendors, most afternoons and evenings. Around 6pm you can see swarms of school children in uniforms clustered around the hot chestnut vendor, everyone getting a snack on their way home. There are so many great things about this... exercise, nutrition and community at the top of the list.
At last, we've discovered where the post office is located so we can send mail back home! We've also learned where the local toy shop sits, in case we have a birthday party to attend. When the boys recently went away to camp for 3 days, we stopped by this toy store with Little Angel to get a special small treat. She chose glow-in-the-dark stars to affix to her walls and ceiling, and then spent many happy nights putting up stars. Going to sleep at night is now four times as much fun, because the children lay in the dark looking at their stars until they drift into slumber.
We've also been blessed to have family visiting this month, most recently my gorgeous sister-in-law and her very kind and funny husband. For the purposes of this blog I will call them 'Los Radiantes,' (the radiant ones).
Los Radiantes live in Oakland and we don't get to see them nearly as often as we'd love, but every time we do hang out together is a hoot! They are so intelligent, huge-hearted and humorous. Generous of spirit too! Tía Radiante has a smile that could light up the darkest room. On her first full night here, she kindly spent over an hour helping The Scientist study for a test on his Spanish verb tenses, and I couldn't help grinning as I listened from the kitchen where I was washing dishes, to hear what a fantastic teacher and coach she was for our little man. Every kid should be so lucky to have a loving aunt like this.
Tío y Tía Radiante share Señor Aventura's passion for cycling, and they all did a lot of riding together when the sun was shining in Catalunya. Señor Aventura took them for longer rides along the Costa Brava and up toward Girona. They had a magnificent time cycling and enjoying tapas together... and in celebration of their visit, Señor Aventura made his all-time best ever paella with fresh setas (wild local mushrooms, hunted in nearby mountains in the Fall). I've never had such tasty, thin mushrooms before. It was a treat!
Last night Tía Radiante and I shared an experience I will never forget, as we laughed and cried our way through making a roasted chicken. In Spain they don't de-head a whole chicken or remove its innards when you buy it at the store. For the first time in my life, I had to take the head off of a chicken using my bare hands (the knife couldn't do it) and my sweet sister-in-law (a sometimes-vegetarian) bravely assisted with gutting the bird, removing most of its internal organs. We were in hysterics over this chicken, giggling hard at the squeamish situation. In the end, we blessed the bird with red wine and managed to roast it... although we may inadvertently have caused Soccer Dude to become a vegetarian in the process.
Tía and Tío Radiante spent a week with us and then a week in Paris, after which they returned and told us all about their adventures. Today we hugged them goodbye, as they headed home to America. They've inspired us to spend New Year's Eve in Paris too! We are very excited to get to know that timeless French city as a family. As it turns out, Viva will be in Paris with her family at the same time... so it will be a city full of beauty, fun and friends at the holidays.
October has been a good, generous month for La Familia Aventura. We continue to grow closer as a family and to better understand how to navigate this new life together. Estamos mejorando!