I can’t believe I’ve been away from my blog for so long. Especially since I started this blog in January 2011 after learning my family and I were going overseas to live for 3 years. Since then I’ve shared posts about military life, creating a home, my world as a mother and various moments in my life. However, when it came down to the actual move and our transition to life in Madrid, I found myself unable to write about my experience. Not knowing where to start, I probably would have just set aside this blog if it wasn’t for my dear friend, Katie of NNY Life, a fellow writer and very missed friend from New York. Through her help, I realized how much I miss writing and how this blog is more necessary then ever.
In the beginning, the Army was sending us to Portugal and I was incredibly excited by the opportunity. Tom and I had been trying to get an overseas assignment for over 10 years and it seemed the Army Gods finally decided to smile upon us. However, in a few months the Army changed it’s mind and we learned our orders were on hold and we were going to Madrid.
This wasn’t welcome news. My family and I love coastal living and we had spent hours combing through information and photographs about Lisbon. We found schools, neighborhoods, a playgroup and even made a list of places we must visit in those early months. While Madrid is certainly a unique European city and a popular tourist destination, it just didn’t feel right to me. I was disappointed and for the first time in my husband’s career, I asked him to seek a different assignment. Others thought I was insane and part of me thought I was too. I started spouting off all the incredible opportunities my family would have in Madrid and I always nodded encouragingly when others commented on how excited I must be to move to such an exotic city.
But I was right. Madrid has been a hard transition, one difficult to share since so much of my experience is still fresh and even ongoing. When we arrived we had a car service take us to an apartment we rented in the city of Madrid. On paper it seemed ideally situated: minutes from the metro, within walking distance to amazing sites in the city, and in what was described as a vibrant part of the city, Chueca. The apartment was modern and beautiful, with two bedrooms and a kitchen that possibly prevented the starvation of my little family. Unfortunately, I also arrived three months pregnant and incredibly sick. Nausea followed me everywhere and a month of living with family and traveling back and forth across the United States had not helped. I was grouchy, exhausted, and frustrated, but I kept on pushing through everything, determined to make Madrid wonderful.
Our street in Madrid.
Only this time my methods weren’t working. Even though we lived within walking distance of some of the most loved parts of the city, I could not find anything to connect with, something vital when constantly moving. To start with, Chueca, while a great neighborhood to visit, is not the best to place for a young family used to their beautiful Northern New York home with a sprawling backyard. Restaurants and bars were everywhere and drunken shouts and laughter drifted through our windows until nearly 4:00 am. I was sick from the moment I woke until the moment I fell asleep and found myself constantly up and down with Regan who was restless and waking more than ever. Seeking relief, I would throw open my windows to the smell of pee, garbage, and stale cooking. I dreaded leaving the apartment, but I couldn’t hunker down. I had two girls and a husband wanting to get out and a family to feed. We wandered the city, visiting some of the more beautiful sites and walking the streets, but so much was forced for me. Our long metro rides to and from Tom’s work were exhausting and almost impossible with my nausea and two little girls. But I did it. Looking back, I probably should have just sat down and cried (and I did a couple of times, after sending Tom and the girls out to find something for dinner). It may not have helped, but I would have felt much better.
Meals became one of the biggest obstacles our family faced. I was sick and cooking made me gag, so I hoped to use the extra money we received for food to eat out as much as possible. Before moving to Spain, I read about restaurants closing at 4:30 pm and not opening again until 8 or 9 at night, but I thought it was a few select restaurants. I was mistaken, as we discovered our first evening in Spain. We explored the streets, searching for somewhere to eat, but found nothing available except bars and I wasn’t taking my girls and my pregnant belly into a bar. So we ended up with sandwiches from Starbucks. Only they weren’t that delicious…hmm, I thought. That’s odd. Everything in Spain is supposed to be delicious, right? Even Starbuck’s food. Except that it wasn’t. After several expensive meals of wasted food and even tears from my little girls, we realized it was best to feed everyone at home, shopping from the little grocery and market (Mercado) around the corner. So pushing down the vomit in the back of my throat, I cooked everyday and thanked the idea fairy that had me throw that jar of peanut butter into my suitcase the day before flying.
(In all fairness, we did find a little cafe/deli/take away next door to our apartment that offered tasty sandwiches, salads, and desserts. The owner had lived in Boston for 26 years…so maybe that explains the appeal of his food. Many times Tom would go over and get food for the two of us while I put the girls to bed then crashed in a nauseous heap on our own bed.The owner loved seeing Tom walk through the door and often sent him home with free, fresh, icy lemonade for me and custard for the girls. We will happily visit Diurno cafe for some sandwiches and fresh smoothies every time we’re in the area.)
The truth is that I have yet to become comfortable in Spain. We have seen some beautiful places, walked down amazing streets, and splashed on a pristine beach. And while I’ve captured those moments on camera and tried to write about them, it all felt fake without the truth about how I’m feeling about Spain right now. I have met some interesting, caring people to include the Kenyan man selling papers outside our grocery in Chueca, our apartment building manager who absolutely adored the girls, and the many established American’s who’ve made this transition a little easier. E and R both love their schools and Tom is getting settled at work and taking to Spain far better than I am. Still, I don’t feel comfortable. This is not common for me. I have moved 17 times in my adult life and this is my 14th with Tom. I know what to do to make a new home. I have a method, a way of throwing myself into a community, but it is really difficult here; I cannot manage to overcome this slump. Maybe it is because I miss the little life we made for ourselves in Northern New York so much, maybe it is because I made that fateful decision to study German in high school and French in college (both of which I speak very, very poorly), or maybe I just have the wrong attitude about the whole experience, but I’m trying. I swear.
And I’ll continue to try to make a little home here…maybe blogging about our adventures and some of the more hilarious moments will make me feel better about our experience.
So check back next week as I share our last days in the United States and our first two months in Spain. I obviously failed at this, but hope to make it up soon! I hope that some of my readers can learn something from my experience and maybe make some better decisions (like yes, take advantage of the free version of Rosetta Stone offered by the military and learn some of your host country’s native language), but I also hope that I find some assurance that I simply did the best I could.