Configuring our path of least resistance to living a happy and fulfilled life abroad has been a year in the making – with a fervent supply of hills, valleys and green meadows along the way. On the first anniversary of our arrival to Spain my overall feeling is that my family has flourished nicely here. In Catalonia, there’s the extensive beauty – both naturally and architecturally. There is the tranquility of a life near the sea. There’s the comfort in living in a small village where our familiarity and bonds strengthen with time. There is the excitement of having Barcelona, a stunning, inspiring haven, so nearby.
In my village, riding my little secondhand bike along the winding cobblestone streets, popping into tiendas along the way and collecting my purchases in its little basket deeply fulfils my experience of the “European dream”. Living so sweetly and calmly a life in my previous homes, of Chicago and New York, did not seem as attainable to me as they do here. Running errands by bike along the congested, crazy streets of those cities was never an option for me and my desire to keep all limbs properly attached. But here it is fun and even a little bit thrilling for this American girl. It is also exciting to have my children as part of this adventure and seeing them grow up so differently than myself. Our being surrounded by people from all over the globe has helped to broaden their worldview and introduce them to so much yet with their innocence seemingly better protected here.
A sweet spot that has arisen with the knowledge of living in an unfamiliar setting is it allows you to gain a new perspective, a different perspective, and a greater appreciation of humanity. Now me being the foreigner I can fully apprehend the tremendous effort it takes to learn another tongue and to express yourself fully, or even minimally. What situations and things you end up just walking away from because you don’t have the capability to fully express yourself. For someone who enjoys a good chat I have found I am silent much more here. I now have an understanding of what it is like to possibly be considered unfriendly when the truth is I just don’t have the words yet.
One of my biggest fears in the world of language is answering the telephone. Not being able to read someone’s face or use your hands to further express yourself and having to rely exclusively on words can be traumatising. I had to laugh at the absurdity of a recent situation where a phone call to my son’s doctor took well over five minutes with days, dates, times, and a plethora of other information all swirling in my head. Yet as spent as I was afterwards I was more excited and pleased. In my 11 months of language lessons I had done it. Not eloquently, nor impressively, but nonetheless mission accomplished.
Thinking, reading, analysing everything in 3 different languages proves to be mind numbing and frustrating. I am lightyears ahead of where I started in this linguistic adventure but I still have an enormous amount to learn. Sometimes, I feel I am buried in a quicksand of words, phrases, and sayings but as before it covered my whole body now my eyes and nose are just above the cusp of it. Enough to breathe. Enough to survive.
I truly cannot wait for the day I feel secure, confident and fluent but I am the most fluent I have ever been in another language and I’m quite proud of that.
As with most things in life, for all the positives there are bound to be a few negatives. Some of the negatives had seemed huge, even overwhelming in the moment, but the wash of time has kindly made their sting far less severe and I’m able to take them more at their true face value.
For instance, I recently experienced an uncomfortable situation where an administrator at my children’s school chose to twist a simple catch-up meeting into an analysis of my life and choices. When asked about our year here I stated the truth – we are all good, we are happy. This answer couldn’t be taken as rational – a single mother choosing to live abroad on her own! Instead she pushed her agenda of what a woman in my situation should do: move back home amongst family (where I haven’t lived in over 20 years) and see a therapist. I sat in stunned silence soaking in the inappropriateness of this advice and also the knowledge that she would never had said this if I had a man sitting next to me. But I choose to not let her fears or her aversion to living a life outside of the box limit my knowledge of what our year abroad has gleaned for us. For I am happy, we are happy, and that is not a feeling I expected to have for a very long time.
Doing this on my own – raising two little boys, moving a world away, circumventing the many demands of ex-pat life can be trying. It can be a challenge to not allow a seemingly overwhelming situation to grow legs and run away with you. Before I had relied on my husband to help paint a clearer reality so that any fears were quickly made more reasonable. He was my sounding board and my equal which made navigating adversity a whole helluva lot easier. I still rely on his words of wisdom to calm me but without his presence I find that I can ramp up the worry a bit more now that I am on my own. Trusting that I making the right decision, trusting that we are all going to be okay, and trusting the universe again is a work in progress but I am able to see our progression.
For me, being in a fresh new place offering daily adventures, is one of the best remedies to ail a broken heart. A quote is affixed to my bathroom mirror with the reminder, “we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I am not there yet but each day here I am able to loosen my grip on “what should’ve been” a little bit more.
I am enormously grateful and proud of my brave, little family. Navigating the complexities of a life abroad is an important reminder to me of my own strength and perseverance. Living in Spain, traveling and exploring provides us with so many unique and wonderful experiences. These are the life affirming moments – the ones that heal our souls with beauty and possibilities.