One year ago today, the children and I set off on a month-long adventure in Spain. We got up on the morning of the second Thursday in May, took one last look at our packing lists, changed our sheets and towels (who wants to come home to dirty sheets?), and headed off to the airport. We flew from Charlotte to Miami where we had a layover of several hours. Then we boarded the flight to Madrid. Here are the first thirteen things that come to mind as I look back at that journey.
1. We did it! We left behind the comfort, ease, and luxury of our life here in Charlotte and moved into an apartment we'd never seen in a neighborhood we didn't know in a city we hoped to get to know much better. I'd been to Madrid many times. Kristiana had been there once with me, but Daniel had never been to Spain before. And I'd never lived there in a place of my own. With my children.
2. During the hours when we sat at the airport in Miami in the shadow of a giraffe sculpture, waves of panic, fear, and excitement washed over me intermittently. I'd planned for that trip for months, and finally the day of our departure had arrived. I was thrilled and terrified, joyful and jittery. But at that point, there was no turning back.
3. I had a fight with a woman within moments of entering the airplane. The children and I weren't sitting together, and I think that's what started the elevation of my blood pressure. Anyway, the woman seated in front of me had her child's stroller in the overhead bin. I asked her if she minded if I took it down and put my bags up there. No, she didn't mind. But the bags and the stroller couldn't fit up there together. I asked if I could give the stroller to a flight attendant to put away. Yes, I could. Then she got up, followed me to find the flight attendant and reported my behavior as if I'd committed a crime. The flight attendant and I were both perplexed by her outrage. The flight attendant relieved us of the stroller and stowed it properly. We returned to our seats where she proceeded to badmouth me to her mother - in Spanish. I couldn't let the opportunity pass to let her know that I understood her, so I responded in Spanish. Talk about shock and awe. By that time, Daniel and Kristiana were both crying, and I was on the verge of tears myself. The two young women seated beside me in the middle section of the plane offered me their seats so the kids could sit with me. I thanked them profusely. Later in the flight, I offered my sparring partner a glass of wine. She turned me down, but she apologized for her outburst. I guess we were all a little tense.
4. We arrived in Madrid exhausted but excited. Because we travel only with what we can take on board with us, we rolled our carry-ons past our fellow travelers who awaited their luggage and made our way to the metro (the subway) and on to our new place of residence.
5. Within a few hours of our arrival, we'd found the local market where we would do our grocery shopping for the next month, the bench where we would sit many nights each week for people-watching, and the bar-cafe where we would have our morning toast and coffee for me and tea for the kids. We became regulars there at Orio: the waitresses greeted us warmly when we arrived and knew what we wanted before we asked. On the morning of our departure for the States, the young waitress who would sneak chocolate coins for the kids came out from behind the counter to hug us good-bye and to chide us for not coming in every morning.
6. The local stationery store owners became friends of ours as well. We slowly emptied out the display of markers and pens in one shop. And across the street, I special ordered a case of 24 of my favorite journals. The day before we left to return to Charlotte, we went to say good-bye to our favorite shopkeepers, and the gentlemen at the journal shop gave the children good-bye gifts.
7. I remember the old woman who lived in our building and would stop us on the street when she saw us and talk to us like we were old friends. Her smile warmed my heart as her hand clutched and warmed my arm.
8. I remember the homeless man we called "Crazy Guy." He would relieve himself openly on the corner in front of the church, sleep on the sidewalk, and pick spent cigarettes out of the gutter hoping for one last puff. One morning, as we walked past him, we noticed that he had been seriously injured: there were several stitches across his brow and dried blood on his face. We didn't know what happened to him, but for the next few days, we prayed that he'd heal well and that he would be okay. I wonder how "Crazy Guy" is doing today.
9. I remember when Daniel fell and hit his head on the marble sidewalk outside El Pabellon del Espejo on El Paseo de la Castellana. He nearly knocked himself unconscious. I've never been so frightened for either of my children in all their lives. Other than a headache for the next few hours, he was fine. Later the same afternoon, he jumped down a short staircase in our apartment building and hit his knee on the bottom corner of the marble wall adjacent to the landing. (The downside of quality construction is the threat of serious injury for running, jumping, active boys.) I thought he was going to pass out from the pain. It was not a good day for my dear Daniel.
10. I remember the great walks and talks I had with my friend Kim when she came to visit us. Shopping, sitting at sidewalk cafes drinking coffee, telling stories about marriage and motherhood, childhood traumas and childrearing, and watching gameshows in Spanish with the children, she and I cemented a friendship that spans miles and months of silence.
11. I remember the great time we had with my dear friend Antonio in the north of Spain. Cathedral visits, long walks down back streets, and fabulous meals in restaurants owned by some of his friends were some of the highlights of our entire month in Spain. He's the best tour guide I've ever known, and I am enormously blessed to call him my friend.
12. I remember the beauty of the island of Menorca. Steve visited there as a junior in college and arranged for us to go there as a family just before our return to the States. Tiny beaches carved out of the base of plunging cliffs, blue and green water that sparkled and shone, cool mornings, hot days, warm nights, the Collingwood House where we were the only non-British guests - except for the dozens of tortoises outside our window - and the gracious hospitality of the people of that island will not soon be forgotten.
13. We did it! We went. We learned. We laughed. We fell down, we got lost, we got up, we found ourselves. We went to the zoo, the amusement park, and a Real Madrid soccer game where we sat in a cloud of marijuana smoke and giggled our way home. We rode buses, subways, taxis, and in the back seat of tiny European gas miserly cars. We shopped, cooked, ate, walked miles every day, played soccer in El Retiro park, and never missed our minivan or Target or the Harris Teeter supermarket. For a month, we were city-dwelling, subway-riding, street-walking vagabonds... and we can't wait to get back there to do it again. Perhaps we'll stay six weeks next time. Perhaps six months.