college

La Familia and Independence

Ah, la familia. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Grandparents. Godmothers and godfathers. “Aunts” and “uncles”. The friends who feel like family. In Spain, there is a saying, or perhaps more of a refrain: Madre, sólo hay una. You have but one mother. If I’ve learned anything about Spain—and oh, there is much to learn—family is important. And mothers … well, you’ve only got one.

The stereotypes are (somewhat) true: Spanish children don’t leave the nest as early as those of us in Anglo-Saxon countries. The average age for leaving home in Spain is 25.2 years old (source). This is not seen in a bad light here; it isn’t shameful. In fact, even if a 20-something does have a job, they may choose to stay at home with Mom and Dad, just because they can. After all, why pay rent when you can stay at home rent free?

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Thankful for 2012

In 2012, life changed. Life changed fast. I could say it all to you, in one breath, a rush of words and emotion that would leave you reeling. I could replay the year over in my head, wondering how I got to this point, this place right here—November 22, 2012.

In 2012 I did so many things. So many things changed in my life, in my family’s lives, in my friend’s lives. These things, there were good. They were wonderful and magical and joyful. So, dear 2012,now it’s my turn. Thank you. Thank you for:

  • July 7. On this day, I married Mario. I don’t have words for this day. It was a day full of sunshine and laughter and red scarves and dancing. It was rich with tears and photographs and the grasping of hands. I wore a white dress; he wore a suit. We joined hands, and we said yes.

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  • New family. I’ve gained some new family this year: in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles. I’m no longer the American; I’m prima or hija. I’m part of this family here in Spain, a grand family who has taken me in without a second thought, who has taught me to cook, lavished me with presents and love and welcome. I couldn’t be more grateful for my mother-in-law, Pepita, who worries about me as if I were her daughter or my father-in-law, Jesús, who emails me to wish me a happy Thanksgiving in his newly acquired English. I am so grateful to them and for them.

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  • Old family. One is silver, but the other’s gold? I don’t really buy this saying, but I am aware that my family has always been there for me, ever since the rainy Monday almost twenty-six years ago. My family has supported me through my on-again, off-again relationship with Spain, and I don’t think I could have done it without them. They love Mario like their own son, and they would do anything for us and for my brother and his wife. You couldn’t ask for more dedicated parents, the kind that go to every single sports event in high school, the kind that never say a word about driving six hours there and back to pick you up at the airport, the kind that pay for a brother and future-sister-in-law’s plane tickets just so that they can all be together on the most important day of the bride’s life.

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  • Thanksgivings past. My extended family was never one to fight. Our holidays were filled with food, laughter, and kids’ tables. There was no yelling, no hurt feelings, no real problems. As a girl, I took this for granted. Now I couldn’t be more grateful for an extended family that knows the value of togetherness.
  • New friends. I’ve met some new people here in Madrid recently, and I’m really excited to see where these friendships lead. You cannot underestimate the value of a nearby friend.
  • Old friends. Where would I be without my constant source of encouragement and laughter, Hilary? Roommates in college, friends for life. I cannot say enough about my cousin Bailey, just seven months older than me and already on her way to having her second child. It’s hard to reconcile what was with what is, but our friendships will never shrivel and die, just change and grow as we do.
  • This blog. This blog has been a source of encouragement for me over the past few years. I started it without knowing what would come of it, and I am ever so grateful for the readers who comment, email, tweet, or Facebook me. Thank you, readers! Thanks for reading, for caring, for helping me see things in a new light. Without you, I know I wouldn’t keep writing. Thank you.

So happy Thanksgiving, dear friends! If you’re in the States, please eat some stuffing for me! And—oh yeah—give your mom and dad a hug! They’re the only ones you’ve got.

Say Hello to my Mother: Guest Post

Before I let my mother take the reins, I’d just like to say that I hounded her to do this, and she finally obliged. She wants to be crazy rich and famous, so naturally that means she’ll get her start on Y Mucho Más. You may not realize this, but I’m, like, totally famous. (NOT.)

Here’s Donna. (You may also wish to read this entry, because she’s great.)

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Funny how it seems like just yesterday we drove to Chicago to take Kaley to O’Hare airport for her first international flight. She was studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, for the spring semester of her junior year in college. She was so excited. I was jealous but happy for her. I loved the thought of going to Europe and living and studying in another culture. My friends and fellow parents often comment on how it seems that just one generation made the difference in the popular trend of traveling abroad. When I was growing up, it was rare for anyone unmarried or below the age of thirty (old enough to pay for an expensive trip on their own) to study abroad or even travel to another country.

As we said our goodbyes, Kaley never looked back. Her dad and I (especially her dad) had a few tears. I knew I was going to miss my daughter and she too would miss us. She was ready to go and experience the world. I was ready too, because I hoped she would learn to appreciate home.

Kaley made friends quickly, but in some of her early phone calls, she expressed her feelings of loneliness. Once we made definite plans for her father and I to travel to Spain during her “spring break,” she had something to look forward to and quickly acclimated herself to Spanish living. Our Skype discussions were filled with tales of travel and late night escapades. She told us that Spaniards ate dinner late and stayed out late. We found out it was definitely true on our first visit to Spain.

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We flew to Spain during Holy Week (the week before Easter). We had the best tour guide, one named Kaley. I bragged that she was so good at Spanish and I insisted she was fluent. She adamantly argued with me that she was not, but two years when later we went back to Spain … she agreed with me that she was indeed fluent in Spanish.

In the late spring of her senior year of college, Kaley accepted an internship with a mission-based group in Salamanca, Spain. She was ready to return to Spain and live for the entire year. In early September we again drove her to Chicago with a one-way flight to Spain. She had insisted she wasn’t coming home for Christmas, as it was too expensive. By the time December rolled around, she had changed her mind and booked a ticket to be with her family during the holidays. We didn’t object too much.

In late September during one of our Skype visits, Kaley informed me that she “accidentally” flirted with a guy. She stated, “I don’t know what to do about it.” She wasn’t supposed to be dating anyone during the internship, per the rules of her workplace. I thought she sounded genuinely concerned that she broke the rules. However, she later was rather pleased that she had broken the rule. In a few short weeks she called to say she was dating this awesome, cute Spanish guy. She was swooning over the phone. As I am a mom, I quickly warned her that dating someone from another country could become very complicated. I think she reverted back to being a teenager at that moment. She exclaimed, ”Oh Mom, that is silly, it is just the same as dating someone in the US.” My response was to quietly say a prayer, as I had always done as I watched her grow up. I asked God to bless whatever was in His will and please don’t break my little girl’s heart. God must have had Mario in His plan because two years later he’s stuck around.

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Still here, two years later.

Kaley has spent about two years off and on in Spain. There have been ups and downs. She has been homesick, she has spent more time in the Madrid airport than anyone should have to, and she’s learned to live without the things she loves here in the States. She has been taken into and loved by a wonderful Spanish man and his family. She has learned to cook delicious Spanish food. She has traveled to many places in Europe and learned to appreciate the wonderful history and culture of Spain and the rest of Europe.

As I contemplate the future, I know that Kaley is in good hands. She loves her Spanish family and cannot say enough good things about them. I feel good when I know Kaley has “parents” in Spain. Jesús and Pepita worry about her when I’m not there to do it [Kaley: and cook for me too!]. When she is not in Spain, she misses them like she would miss her family if she were away from them. I want to thank Kaley for bringing Mario into our family. It wouldn’t be the same without him. We feel like we have gained a son as well as a new country.

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Why Did You Go?

I was born in Podunk, Indiana. I love my hometown, but it’s not worldly. I grew up sheltered and went to college at a small, private Christian school. After a year, I realized such an environment was counterintuitive to my own ideals. I decided to go to Indiana University Bloomington. It was a great place, full of local food, ethnic restaurants, and diversity. It was still in Indiana, but it was honestly the best place for me. I blossomed there. In the spring of 2008, I went to study abroad in Toledo, Spain.

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It was a life-changing experience. I loved speaking Spanish, being on my own, experiencing new things. I admit, I was a bit homesick, a fact to which my mother can readily attest. Yet I knew there was something, however deep down the sentiment might have been.

I came back and spent my senior year thinking of my future and Spain. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I desperately wanted to improve my Spanish and learn to survive on my own. So, I decided to do an internship in Salamanca in the fall of 2009. I moved there, knowing no one, and started to work.

Unfortunately, the internship didn’t work out. But my relationship with Spain did. I met Mario. I fell in love. I got way better at Spanish. I went through an ordeal that no one should go through. I still came back. I applied for a job through the Spanish government and they said YES.

I thank you, Spain, for being a country that still accepts me, even if I try to enter without any good reason. I thank you for producing Mario. I thank you for jamón serrano. I thank you for good red wine.

I’m returning. I don’t think I’ll regret it.