On August 25th, the 17th anniversary of our marriage, our family drove to In N Out Burger (surely every wife’s dream anniversary celebration) before I headed off with the boys on a flight bound for London.
The plan, of course, was for all of us to travel back to Europe together but details of Pi’s transport required one adult to remain behind in the US for a month. Karen believed she was best suited for the job, as she is Pi’s North Star, and she insisted this was how it had to be. The boys needed to be there for the start of school and there was simply no other way. She felt confident I would keep them “nice and relaxed” as they got ready to begin at their new school — even if she may have had some concerns as to whether they would arrive on time or their hair would be combed. So away we went, the three of us, heading to Madrid with a layover in London. It was a strange feeling to split the family for the month ahead, and we all just tried to tell ourselves that we would be together soon.
Our arrival in Madrid began smoothly enough. We’ve spent a lot of time in Madrid over the past year, and it really does feel like home there. The staff know us at the hotel we stay across from Retiro Park, and the boys know the area, have their favorite restaurants, etc.
We decided to spend two nights in Madrid in an effort to try to catch up on sleep. But we still made it to Puerta del Sol, the park, and Steakburger. It felt good to be there, at the start of a new chapter, but we felt eerily incomplete with KB so far away.
After 2 nights, we took a train to Ubeda to see our friend Luis and his wife Mariajo, who were nice enough to keep a suitcase of ours (the boys travel light but Karen did purchase some new clothes in Granada last year! :)) over the summer. Luis picked us up at the station, and we all went out to dinner at an Italian place in the heart of charming Ubeda. They were excited to see the boys, hear about the upcoming year, and talk in Spanish with them. They are just wonderful people, and any visit with them is a good one. The next morning, our whirlwind continued when Luis took us to the bus station in Ubeda for our trip to Granada. However, the suitcase wouldn’t fit in the car with the 4 of us, so Luis dropped us off and went back for the suitcase before having breakfast with us at the bus station. What a guy!
We needed to go to Granada to pick up our residence cards as well as a suitcase that we had left with Joao and Maria, our landlords the year before. Upon arrival at the Office of Extranjeria, we were informed that they didn’t have our Residence Cards despite being told that they would be here when we returned from the US with our Autorización de Regreso that they provided. They asked us to take a number and we began the waiting game. Keep in mind that not one person in that huge office speaks any English, and were it not for Jackson’s fluency, who knows what would have happened.
Once we were called, we were informed that our paperwork had been archived due to unpaid taxes in the amount of 12€. We informed the man that we had paid these taxes at the bank (you have to pay the taxes at the banks and bring them the receipt). However, he pulled up his computer again and said that there was no record of it. Since it was 2 PM, all banks were closed for the day and we would have to return tomorrow and see if the bank could find record of our payment.
The next day we arrived at the bank and explained the situation. They combed through stacks of folders and eventually found our documentation. We returned to the office and showed the paid taxes to the man we had met with the day before. It seemed that everything would be rectified until he said, “Dios mío.” The woman at the bank had asked us to pay the incorrect amount. However, rather than simply pay the 5€ difference, we needed to redo the paperwork and return in a month to pick up our cards. We filled out the forms, paid the correct amount, and turned everything in for the second time. They said our cards could be ready as early as 2 weeks time if we were lucky.
From Granada, we rented a car and headed to the coast in Estepona, where we spent 2 days relaxing before our apartment in Sotogrande was ready for us to move in on September 2nd. It was a nice chance to catch our breath after a bit of a whirlwind, and we also took the opportunity to get their school uniforms at El Corte Ingles in Marbella. I was incredibly overmatched as the lone dad in a sea of mom’s outfitting their children for school, but I did my best. We managed to pick up a few school supplies as well with orientation on September 4.
Everything went smooth on move in day. The apartment looked great and just as we remembered it. We unpacked our bags and settled right in. We also have our own locked storage room in the basement for suitcases, and it didn’t take long for us to have the PlayStation back in action and be gazing out over the glistening Mediterranean from our terrace. Things only moved faster from here with Orientation on September 4th and the first day of school on September 5th.
When I picked them up on September 5th, it was an incredible relief to be greeted by their easy, smiling faces and comments like “best school day ever” or “the teachers are amazing” and “all the kids were nice”—all things I had never heard before when it comes to school. It was only one day, but it was a great feeling to know that they got off on the right foot.
The only negative was that Jackson seemed to have a breakout of some strange bites on his body. They looked different than mosquito bites or spider bites, so I took him to a nearby clinic. Incredibly, the doctor there confirmed he had what looked to be a mild case of Chicken Pox despite having received his vaccines. It seemed unbelievable, and it looked as if he would have to be out of school until he was no longer contagious.
However, the next morning we woke up to find that, apparently, both Cassius and I had Chicken pox too!!!! This seemed highly unlikely, or rather impossible since I already had Chicken pox many moons ago! We had to get to the bottom of this, and I notified the school that the kids wouldn’t be there on Day 2 as we needed to figure out what was going on. This turned out to be a stroke of good fortune, as the Headmaster told me about an “incredible” Dutch Doctor in the Marina who is “great” guy. He told me his office was a tiny cabana but not to be dissuaded by that. So off we went in search of the Doctor. He was as good as advertised, with a wealth of knowledge and a great personality. After looking under the microscope, he confirmed with certainty that we had Bed Bugs or as they say here…Chinches. Say it ain’t so.
I have to be honest. This was tough to take, and after mustering all the composure a parent can while flying solo for the past 10 days, I let out a barrage of profanities that seemed to shock Jackson and Cassius and impress them all at the same time. After the initial sting subsided, we began the process of packing up all our stuff and moving out for 3 days while they fumigated the apartment. The landlord graciously put us up at a nearby resort and we just rolled with the punches. The boys were back at school the next day, and we kept putting one foot in front of the other. Before we knew it, Karen had arrived, and the picture below illustrates the beautiful welcome she received.
As I write this blog post, it seems apparent that the three of us faced a few hurdles over this two week period. Even more daunting, we had to manage through them without Karen here to help guide us. But we made it. And, in some ways, we are now conditioned for it. Living abroad does force you to accept a level of unpredictability if only due to the fact that things are unfamiliar. For more than a year now, that has been the world we have lived in. It really does keep you on your toes, and I think living abroad has taught us all that you really do have to take life as it comes. You try to live it on your terms but you absorb it on life’s terms. There are simply things you can’t control, and nothing is ever as bad or as good as it may seem. Jackson and Cassius have really embraced this idea, and they can honestly deal with just about anything. The bed bugs were a huge hassle, but truth be told, little more than that. As they say in Spain, “no pasa nada” and nothing could be more un American in the face of Chinches in your apartment. But looking back with a month of perspective, I know they are right.