Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Yes, I've been back a little over a week. No, I haven't been blgging. But I have an excuse: our internet service was down until early Monday morning when a fine Southern geek (his word, not mine) came, replaced our modem, wished us well, and went on his merry way. Did I mention that he removed his shoes as he entered the house so as not to track any dirt inside? Many of the repairmen do that here in Charlotte. And you northerners wonder why I love it down here so much?

What's new with me? Currently, I am the mother of only one child. Kristiana is away at camp this week. My brave, organized, and independent eleven-year-old daughter left for camp on Sunday afternoon while I was up in Pennsylvania leading a women's retreat with my mother. We spoke about grace. We all want to receive it by the bushelful, but most of us distribute it by the fistful. But that's a topic for another blog. While Kristiana has been away, Daniel and I have played tennis everyday, gone out to eat (he treated me to breakfast at a local bagel place yesterday morning, kind soul that he is), stayed up late watching sports together, and generally made the best of a lonelier household. In the past three days, Steve has taken him to the movies and to a local minor league baseball game. Tonight we are leaving him with a babysitter and going out to dinner at a restaurant called Zebra. Yum!

What about our trip? Let me summarize it this way: Daniel, the same boy who told me countless times that he didn't want to go to Spain, in the end, didn't want to come home. He spent the entirety of our last three days in Madrid moping and moaning about how much he was going to miss the Internet cafe we became regulars at, the candy store on the corner, the popular Spanish television gameshow called "Alla Tu," and the sweet young woman who served our breakfast at our favorite local coffee shop. Kristiana enjoyed all the museums we had visited, all the walking we had done, and, like her mother, had developed a special fondness for Folder, the little pen and notebook shop where she got a new pencil case and shoulder bag and where I stocked up on so many pens that the two women who worked there giggled every time I walked in. I told them that at least I was leaving a lot of money behind in Spain, helping to build their economy. They laughed and told me to come in as much as I wanted to; they would not complain as long as I kept on spending.

As our trip came to its inevitable conclusion, we went back to all the shops we had frequented most often and said our good-byes to the shop owners. Each was gracious and visibly touched by our gesture.I will never forget one particular gentleman I met at an old-fashioned book and stationery store on la calle Santa Engracia (Holy Grace). After three or four years of floundering around looking for a journal that could replace the one I had loved most, the Miquelrius cloth covered hardbound volume with numbered pages I had found in New York City in the year 2000, I found it at a papeleria just three blocks away from our apartment. I ordered a case of 24 of them! When the proprietor told me it would cost nearly $100 just to ship them, I decided to buy an extra suitcase and haul them home on my own. When he met Steve the day before we returned to Charlotte, he said that Steve hadn't come to Spain on vacation but as a delivery man to carry my newfound books. That kind and helpful gentlemen gave each of the children a set of markers as a parting gift. The beautiful young waitress at Orio, who had on occasion slipped the children chocolate coins and free orange juice during breakfast, hugged me and scolded me at the same time for not coming into the shop more often.

As I closed the door to that apartment for the last time last Tuesday, I wept. If home is where the heart is, then we were leaving home - and we were coming home. None of us wants to wait too long before repeating the month-long field trip. Will we return to Spain or try someplace entirely new? While we were gone, Steve took a trip of his own: down to Costa Rica - and he loved it. He can't wait to take us there sometime next year.

Six weeks ago, I wondered about the wisdom of taking my children across an ocean, moving us into a previously unseen apartment, wandering around the country of Spain and the city of Madrid for a month. I wondered what I would do and to whom I would turn if any one of us were seriously hurt or even killed. Daniel managed to bang his head pretty hard on the granite sidewalk of la Castellana one afternoon. I thought for sure that he had given himself a concussion. His eyes rolled around in his head and he complained of a severe headache for about an hour. Several Motrin tablets, desperate prayers, and glasses of cold juice later, he had recovered from that blow only to crush his left kneecap on a sharp marble corner in our building's lobby a few hours later. I don't think he has ever suffered from such severe pain in all his young life. I came seriously close to taking him to the hospital that evening, but he had other plans. We had made arrangements for him to spend that night with a friend, go into their pool the next day, and watch EuroSports on television all day. Kristiana, Kim, and I were heading to museums and palaces and shops the next day, and he wanted to have no part in any of our activities. He would rather endure the knee pain on Leticia's couch than continue his detox from ESPN as well as the knee pain in a stuffy Madrid hospital room. Who could blame him? Two or three days later, he was running and jumping and kicking the soccer ball as though nothing had happened. But in between feeding him painkillers and watching for signs of imminent coma, I wondered what the heck I was doing there.

In the end, though, I realized that being in Spain alone with the children was one of the best things I've ever done with and for them. They learned to traverse the subway system, how to order food in restaurants, what NOT to order in restaurants, how to open and close the door of both the building and the apartment on their own, how to cross busy city streets, and even made their way home alone from the aforementioned coffee shop by themselves. They are so much more independent now than they ever would have been had we stayed here in Charlotte all spring. I realized that there is a bond between the three of us that was strengthened by having to take buses, trains, planes, taxis, and private cars all over a country that we had never before explored together. We laughed at the ducks and turtles in the Retiro park together, cried together about how much we missed Steve, ate all kinds of foods together that we couldn't even find here in the States, and played "I Spy" together at an ancient synagogue in Toledo, Spain long after all the other tourists had left for lunch. Taking them to Spain was an adventure, a joy, a challenge, and an unforgettable opportunity to see the goodness, humor, protection, and provision of the Lord as never before in our lives. Plus we had lots and lots of fun.

But I'd better stop here. The babysitter is due to arrive in two minutes, and I'm not dressed yet. More later.

Hasta luego, Gail

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