I remember the moment I decided. It was in the middle of a step aerobics class, so maybe it was the extra adrenalin coursing through my system that gave me that moment of clarity in the dilemma that I had been going over and over in my mind for weeks. When I got back to my home in Albany, NY, I ran to the computer. My fingers pumped the keyboard and then clicked the “send” button: “I have decided that yes, I will move to Spain to marry you.”
It wouldn’t be the first time I’d lived abroad. I spent the second semester of my sophomore year of college in Madrid, where I met the man who would eventually become my husband. The following year I did a volunteer summer program in the mountains of Mexico, and after college I did a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. But this time, it would be a permanent move. Friends and family split into two camps: “How romantic!” and “You´re crazy!” My own mind kept doing the mambo between the two.
Before leaving, I had a gynecologist appointment. My regular doctor wasn’t available, but another doctor from the same practice filled in. We chatted for a bit, and when I told her I was moving to Spain to get married, she gave me six months worth of sample packs of my birth control pill. She was British, but had moved to the States to get married, and now had a family. “After so many years,” she confided, “I don’t feel completely at home in either country.”
This was not what I wanted to hear. I was imagining myself as an international, citizen-of-the world type, not an eternal misfit. But it was not enough to deter me, and so I boarded the plane and the adventure began. We got married in a five-minute civil ceremony, and a few months later had a religious ceremony at a medieval church in the mountains. Although my new husband and I argued about whether cooked vegetables should be mushy or firm, we seemed to see eye-to-eye on the big things. I got used to starting our evenings out at 11 pm, and ironing line-dried T-shirts and jeans.
Then, a year ago, things changed again. Coinciding almost exactly with the birth of our son Pedro, we moved out of our flat in Madrid to a townhouse 30km outside the city. New house, new baby, and — having quit my job teaching English– new status as a stay-at-home mom. Far from my own family, and with the in-laws several hours away in Barcelona, I am still working on finding my place in this new community.
Navigating between two cultures, I stay connected to my US heritage via the internet and precious packages from amazon.com. We celebrate the Fourth of July with hot dogs and potato salad (no fireworks!) and we do turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas cookies in December. Our family, like many Spanish families who have capitulated to the influence of Hollywood, will be visited by Santa Claus (Papá Noel) on the 24th as well as by the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) on January 6th. My husband has developed a taste for maple syrup – he´s the one who makes the pancakes on Saturday mornings. And now even my in-laws search out the peanut butter in the import section of the supermarket.
Yet we also have a leg of cured ham, complete with its hoof, that we slice long strips of jamón serrano off of to go with our Rioja wine and Spanish omelet. Octopus is a special treat, and maybe someday Pedro will announce, as I have heard other Spanish children do, that his favorite food is lentils. (I’m not counting on that one..) Buenas Noches, Luna shares bookshelf space with Goodnight, Moon.
Now, almost five years after “crossing the puddle” (or, ‘cruzar el charco’ as they say here,) I have no regrets, though I do have some questions. Like, how is it different being a mother here than it is for my friends back in the States? I’ve already noticed some practical differences. After our son was born, in the heat of mid-July Madrid, Spanish friends and family were ever cautious of exposing him to drafts, despite the 100-degree temperatures in our top-floor apartment. Now, people think we’re crazy for putting him to bed so early (8:30pm.)
But I’m also curious about attitudes about mothers and motherhood in general. Is there a Spanish version of the Soccer Mom? How does the whole stay-at-home vs. working mom conundrum play out this side of the Atlantic? And, Spain is generally regarded as a very child-friendly country, but what does that really mean?
Hang on and join me for the ride as I answer these questions and more about this trip of a lifetime: Motherhood.