Small Thoughts about the Big and Small Parts of Extended Family Travel

Rather than posting about a particular place or experience, today's theme is: what are we doing and how are we doing it?

First, as an important (late) preamble to everything on this blog, I am absolutely aware that a 10 + week trip is very unusual and nearly impossible for most families because of the realities of job schedules, school, life and family obligation, expenses, and on and on.  I would be embarrassingly clueless to present the trip in a "this is great, everyone should try it" kind of way.  Even traveling for a few months as a college student, without any family obligations or job expectations, is an experience open only to those with serious support in their life from family and society, coupled with good luck, socio-economic status, nationality, and on and on.  Doing so with two kids in tow is even less realistic.  So my thoughts here are, perhaps, pointless, but hopefully still useful for something.

What are we doing?

Our kids attend a public bi-lingual school, spending half of each day completely in Spanish and half in English.  So part of the reason for the trip was to give the girls an opportunity to use (and improve) their Spanish in the real world, outside their classroom.  Another was to expose them, while still young and impressionable, to another culture.  A country and culture from which, on Nick's maternal side, they are direct decendants.  Also, because they are still young, taking them away from their friends was hard but not earthshakingly tortuous like it will likely be during high school, so the timing was right.

In addition, this precious time of childhood passes astonishingly quickly. How short are the years that we live together under the same roof and where the four of us form a complete-in-itself world.  Of course the normal family squabbles continue, the times the girls are fighting or refusing to cooperate with each other or with us, but that is as expected.  But, as a tragic reminder of the shortness of life and importance of prioritizing relationships, since we have been in Spain two people in our small circle of friends and family have died, both of whom were far, far too young.  And the news of the school shooting rocked me.  To have this time without outside distractions, without most of each day being spent separated from one another, without other people and activities pulling our attention and energy away from eachother, drove much of our decision to come. 

I have also learned that if you take four people who really like hanging out together at home and put them in a foreign beautiful country sometimes what they really want to do is -- drumroll -- hang out together at home.  Don't get me wrong, we are seeing a tremoundous amount, experiencing people and places and foods and language in a way that we couldn't in any other way.  But because we are trying to treat our time here as if we live here, rather than as tourists, we have  days where we live as we would at home.  Occasionally we even have days where (gasp) we barely leave the house. The trips to the market are different, the streets we walk or bike to get to the bookstore or library or ice cream shop are decidedly Spanish, but the space we inhabit, the sphere of our family, remains.  It has been both surprising and comforting to me.

We are also seeing things we would never and could never see anywhere else.  From big things: such as exposure to the rich culture, the incredible and famous buildings, the almost-to-a-person incredibly warm people; to the small: eating new foods, playing at the park with Spanish children, buying vegetables from the Mercado, taking small cars on small roads to tiny villages.

How are we doing it?

Ok, repeating my initial caveat about knowing that this trip is only possible because of the oddities of our family situation (working from home, incredibly flexible public school that let us take our kids out of school for three months, no extended-family caregiving obligation, etc, etc.).  That said, a few logistical items.

We have long been of the belief that the value of school is 10% content-acquisition and 90% learning how to be part of a group, learning how to learn, obtaining organizational skills, exposure to different people/lifestyles and personalities.  I have also had one foot in the homeschool mindset since my kids were born, so pulling them out of their "academic" school experience for three months caused absolutely no heartburn for us.

We brought along their math books, since we didn't want them to feel behind when they return. We have also been having them read everyday, write and draw as much as possible, and practice Spanish (conversationally with us and with the world and using Duolingo).  We also talk a lot about all kinds of topics in a depth we wouldn't have time for at home with busy schedules and of course they are getting a first-hand course in Spain. Undoubtably they are missing specific content that they would be discussing in class -- eighty percent of which they would have forgotten in a couple of years, so I consider the trade-off a success.

Spanish: We opted against taking Spanish classes while we are here. The girls already use Spanish at school in America for 3 hours a day. Nick's Spanish is strong enough he doesn't need a class.  I am the one who would most benefit from it, but forcing myself to speak it more consistently is really the best thing.  Other than Nick, who consistently speaks almost exclusively Spanish, we are, however, speaking more in English than we should.  The girls tend to talk with one another, and with me, in English most of the time.  Nick and I are speaking Spanish with each other most of the time.  All of us are definitely improving our Spanish even with the excessive English speaking.  We make a point to learn new words all the time and to practice speaking, reading and writing in Spanish everyday. 

Packing:  We each brought one carry-on size suitcase and one school-size backpack.  Because we are staying in apartments and not hotels (more on that below) with washers (though no dryers, since they are nearly unheard of here) it has been totally workable.  I brought a packable coat and vest, three pair of pants (plus one pair of running/exercise tights), two pair of shoes, five long sleeved shirts, two t-shirts, and a pair of pajamas and 6 underwear/socks.  It has been totally sufficient. I could probably have ditched one of the pair of pants and couple of shirts and still been totally fine.  I brought a few more things for the kids since a) their clothes are smaller and b) they tend to get their clothes dirty faster.  Each of them also has two pair of shoes but have only worn one, so could have ditched the second pair for sure.

Aviana and I are both wearing Teva "De la Vina" boots all day every day, for everything from our long hikes to just hanging out in the city, and they are awesome. I got them for an amazing deal and they have rocked. highly recommended.

Naomi and Nick are also both wearing one pair of shoes (awesome leather boots in Naomi's case) all day every day.  Finding a pair of "work for everything" shoes seriously helps keep the packing volume down.

We are staying only in apartments (Airbnb and VRBO), and not hotels, for this trip.  I really can see no reason to stay in a hotel anymore (other than the pools).  They are small for four people.  They are usually more expensive on their face. Add in the fact that every meal, every coffee, and if the water is quesionable, every drink must be paid for, makes them seem rediculously ill-advised and expensive.  We rented our apartment in Sevilla for 6 weeks, so we got a great deal and we really feel like it is our home here.  We ensured each rental had a washer and wifi and a real kitchen to make eating at home easy.  So far all have been great.

Other than that the hours are shifted, and our phone calls need to be over WiFi, our work lives haven't changed much being here. My business is used to having me operate out of state and remotely, so it matters very little that emails, phonecalls, and paychecks are sent from my computer in Spain rather than from home.  I visited the office right before coming here and will visit again when I get back, and I have an amazing staff that keeps everything humming along, so I am extremely grateful for them.  Nick, too, can continue his investing and other work here remotely, so other than being distant and many hours ahead, everything rolls along just fine.

I have more small thoughts about food (tasty but where are the vegetables?), coffee (bitter and mostly horrible), wine (cheap, abundant, and wonderful) that I will share in another post since this is dragging on a bit.




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