No one cares that I live in Spain.
No one even seems to really care that I am married to a very exotic Spaniard named Mario. (Isn’t that an Italian name anyway? How’d that happen? Must investigate.)
Change often comes in small, incremental pieces—a new haircut, a five-pound weight loss, new decorations, the leaves falling slowly off the trees in autumn. It happens so that you barely notice it. That is until you look back and consider where you were twelve months ago and where you are now.
Twelve months ago, I was in the same place I’m at now: my parents’ house in Indiana, my childhood home. But twelve months ago I was in a completely different place, figuratively speaking.
In 2012, Mario got a job, and we decided we were moving to Madrid.
All that studying paid off
In 2012, my parents, brother, and sister(-in-law) went to Spain to visit for one very special occasion.
In 2012, it went from “I” to “we.”
In 2012, my brother got married to Colleen.
In 2012, we moved to Madrid.
In 2012, we attended several other couples’ weddings.
In 2012, I got a job teaching English to sixth graders and found it was a wonderful age.
In 2012, I met American women in Madrid, and some of them were married to Spaniards.
In 2012, Mario and I visited Sevilla and Córdoba.
In 2012, I came home for Christmas and realized that Spain may be where I live, but Indiana is my home.
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:
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.
If you came here looking for advice, I have none. I just wanted to tell you that planning a wedding is hard. Planning a wedding in another country/language is even harder. But, for me, planning a wedding in another country, in another language, and without my mother is the hardest. Sometimes a girl just needs her mom, ya know what I mean?
Mario’s mother has, of course, been there for me: taking me to find “the one” (I really hate using that phrase, as I don’t equate dresses with people), arranging manicure appointments, offering to go with me everywhere, even though she’s still working. So I’m, again, quite lucky.
I know of some American girls who have had their weddings in Spain, and they always assure me I can go to them with questions. The problem is, I don’t have any. I mean, to have questions about something, you have to have at least an intermediate-level understanding of it. And I’m not sure I get Spanish weddings yet. For example:
It’s true, you can do what you want. And I’m getting used to being somewhat weird. I don’t understand why every woman needs to get a new dress and go to the hairdresser, even if they’re not part of the wedding. I don’t understand why people will spend so much money, money that could be better spent elsewhere (this happens in the US too, just not as much with my friends/family/the people that I know).
So did you want advice? Here’s mine: take advantage of Spain, its food and wine and lifestyle. Don’t worry; hakuna matata. Because if anyone gives great life advice, it’s Disney.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
When you ask me whom I admire, there is always one person who first comes to mind. The answer is easy, but the explanation is lengthy. Nonetheless, I’d like to attempt it. I never knew anything but love from my mother, starting with my very first memories of her. They are hazy, distant recollections.
I am 4, maybe 5, and I wrap my arms around her waist, burying my face in her stomach, breathing in the scent that is hers only. She tells me she loves me as she gently pulls me to her. We both pull each other in, a hug that is not just meant to convey love now, but love forever.
I sit at the kitchen table. I am 6 years old and eating brown sugar cinnamon oatmeal. My mother stands behind me, braiding my damp hair into tight plaits. My belly and heart are full.
I am crying in the middle of a basketball court. At age 7, I have just committed my first foul in my Biddy Basketball league. I am swimming in my oversized pink tee shirt. (I have “needed” an adult medium for way too long.) I look to the bleachers, where my mother sits, watching me intently, needing to comfort me, but also needing to let me handle it myself.
Mothers Day 1997. I am 10 years old and cooking. I hope my mother is still asleep. I set the table with her breakfast: juice, pancakes with syrup and butter, bacon. I smile at it, hoping this will please her, knowing that nothing I do will make her love me more.
I am 13 and angry. I am a good girl, compliant, but even the best of us have our grumpy days. I am easily annoyed with everything and thus easily annoying to my whole family. I slam the doors. I don’t dare to utter curse words. I sob, thinking I am alone. But I’m not.
I have dozens of volleyball matches, all around west central Indiana. As a junior, I still play junior varsity. I am not impressive, but my mother shows up at almost every single game. She, her presence, is unchanging and stable and I come to rely on it.
I am 18 years old and shaking in my high heels. I am speaking to my high school classmates at graduation. It is 5 minutes; it is an eternity. The speech passes and I do not mention the people who got me here. But they know. I know they know. I smile at them as I am handed my diploma, signifying the end of childhood and the beginning of so much else.
It is steaming hot in Kentucky in August. We all sweat as we stand in the hot sun, determined to make the most of the last few minutes. My father cries unabashedly, but she holds out. Thank God she holds out. I am fragile, about to fall over the ledge of homesickness, but her stoicism keeps me there, safe. We say one last goodbye and I am alone, but not. It takes 3 weeks before I break down and cry.
I graduate on a clear day in May. She wears a sundress and a smile. We picnic in the meadow, eat strawberries and drink wine. I am wearing a sash to give to the person who made it possible. There is no doubt whom that will be.
I am in another country. I walk the historic streets, drink fantastic red wine, and miss her. I think of her when I read something funny, when I need to cry, when I don’t know if my shoes match my outfit. I look in the mirror and see her.
Thank you, dear mother, for giving me life, for giving me the strength to be alone, for letting me know that I am not, indeed, alone. I love you.
When my mom was my age, she had a kid. That kid, you see, was me. Is me, actually. Thinking about this boggles my mind, really. I can’t imagine anyone entrusting me with a baby, let alone having one myself. Sometimes I wonder if there is some secret book you read to become a mom because, if I’m honest, it seems like the hardest damn job in the whole world. My mom would agree, but I’m also sure she’d say it’s the most rewarding one, too.
My mom’s just like that.
My mom is the kind of mom that got up everyday at 5:55 a.m. to get ready before us, so she could make us oatmeal or help us finish last-minute projects. She’s the kind of mom who attended every single sporting event we were in (and still does). She’s the kind of mom who flew to Spain to be with her desperately homesick daughter. She’s the kind of mom who makes sure the fridge is stocked with all her daughter’s favorites when she comes home. She’s the kind of mom who only once took a sick day for herself, but often took sick days for her ill children. She’s the one who has been to O’Hare airport and said goodbye too many times to count.
But my mom is more than just a mom. She’s a great woman, too.
This woman was born 40-some years ago in a small town called Crawfordsville. Her best friend growing up was her twin sister Diane, with whom she caused mild scandals, including one incident of the word fart written on a neighbor’s driveway. She once washed her sister Beth’s car for a pack of gum (she refused to do it for just one stick). She started dating a scoundrel named Randy when she was just fourteen, still in middle school. She has had the same job for over twenty years and, like I said, has almost never called in sick on her own account. She taught my brother to tie his shoes in a car in the state of Connecticut. She likes chocolate chip cookies more than most any other dessert and can’t stay away from a pan of brownies. (It’s no coincidence that her sister has the nickname “Diane Full of Brownies.”) Every year, an elderly patient gives her Snickers Bars in a brown paper bag with the nickname “Cupcake” written in marker on it. She is fiendishly devoted to watering her flowers in the summer. Her tablecloth is always seasonal. She may have eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches more times than just about anyone else on the planet, but who’s counting? She gives the world’s greatest hugs (a tie with a certain boy named Mario). She doesn’t speak Spanish, but can generally tell when I’m talking about her, due to her sensors picking up on the word, “Madre.” Her favorite medicines are ibuprofen and tough love. (“Take an ibuprofen and tough it out!”)
I can’t sum up my mother in a pithy sentence. I can’t express in words who she is to me or to the many other people she blesses on a daily basis. What I can say is this: I am the most blessed daughter in the world to have been born to a mom like her.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.
P.S. See you on Thursday!
I miss home.
I miss the tree-lined streets and cracked sidewalks. I miss “watery” coffee with fake sugar. I miss baby carrots and cottage cheese. I miss the American flag flying on our neighbors’ lawns. I miss my driveway, its length and the way it leads up to our dead end street, the perfectly manicured front lawn beside it. I miss my dog, her enthusiasm for running and playing and living. I miss the smell of fall: nutmeg and cinnamon, pumpkin, leaves, bonfires. I miss my bed and its softness. I miss hearing crickets instead of noisy neighbors. I miss my dishwasher. I miss carpet. I miss English and how easy it is – conversation flowing and not being forced! I miss grocery stores with zillions of options and no fish markets. I miss pretzels shaped like pretzels…with lots of salt. I miss not having to take the bus, ever. I miss the ability to wear gym clothes to the store. I miss the way the sky looks at night, stars and just barely visible clouds that loom in the darkness. I miss running on my street after a rain, the way the wet pavement smells. I miss restaurants that have way too many options – salads and sandwiches and steak and desserts. I definitely miss Diet Coke and free refills. I miss real Orbit gum being available. (The stuff here sucks.)
Most of all, I miss the people. I will never be Spanish or feel Spanish. I might wear scarves and own a pair of black boots. I might eat lunch at 2 and dinner at 9. I might speak Spanish and drink café con leche with my colleagues at a nearbyl café. I might indeed be working and living in Spain. But…I am utterly, irrevocably American. I don’t think I fully understood just how much my Americanness affected me until I first stepped foot on Spanish soil in 2008. I always harbored a bit of healthy skepticism for blind patriotism, thinking it ignorant and uneducated. But while I was busy dismissing any sort of pride in one’s country, I overlooked what a love for one’s country is truly about. Hint: it’s not the politics or the food or the television shows. It’s the people.
There is no substitute for American hospitality, even if the people in the northwest aren’t quite as warm as a Southerner – outright, that is. It’s not that Spanish people are cold (especially, I’ve heard, down south), it’s just that many have grown up with a different mindset. I can’t imagine not hugging my family, not telling them everyday that I love them, not feeling a deep ache to see them after months apart. Here, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to never utter those three words. More than anything, I can’t see myself having children away from my mother. I’d need her. I do need her. Everyday this realization hits me like a ton of bricks.
Living abroad has a way of doing that to me, taking my most deeply held beliefs and shaking them up. It’s like before I was living in a snowglobe, all the flaked white plastic sitting tranquil at my feet. Now, some giant hand has reached down, grabbed the plastic globe, and given it a violent shake. My beliefs are raining down upon me; I see them in a whole new light. They look different from down below.