Emmett 8 is one of those kids who gets along with everybody and everyone wants to be his friend. He gets just as excited as I do about trying new foods when we travel, and he is always up for something new and adventurous. He is as happy living in Spain as he was in the US.
For him it was just a matter of learning a new language and a new sport futbol , so he could fit in well, and he was all set easy right? When he was born, we found out he had Down syndrome and our lives were forever changed in the best way possible. He gives the best hugs ever, can get away with anything by putting on a big smile, and he is a true joy to be around. Our home is currently in Madrid, Spain.
We always wanted to live abroad and since Todd speaks Spanish, going to a Spanish speaking country was at the top of the list. When this opportunity came up we jumped at the chance to live in Europe. We wanted to take advantage of the experience so we splurged a little and live in one of the nicer residential areas within Madrid.
Madrid is a cheap city, relatively speaking, and there is a common assumption that we, as Americans, are enjoying a great cost of living discount by living in Spain. The reality is that we came from a very inexpensive city Raleigh and are paying twice as much in rent in Madrid as our mortgage was in Raleigh.
Our apartment is nice, but we are definitely paying a premium for location. We loved that it was between two major metro stops, a ten-minute walk from Retiro park their version of Central Park and had lots of character see: original herringbone wood floors and lots of floor to ceiling windows. We were surprised to learn that in Madrid, living in the city is not typical for expat families, but for us it was the only option.
We wanted to take full advantage and have an authentic Spanish experience. This comes with its own set of challenges as not many people in our area speak English. When you live in a city and walk everywhere, your neighborhood truly becomes your home. The boys see friends from school playing at the neighborhood park, we see the same dogs walking with their owners, the elderly taking their daily stroll with their caretakers, the same homeless people on their corners, and the shop owners that have come to know our family.
They know who we are, and I can have simple conversations with them in Spanish. This is our first experience living in a big city and we felt this was our chance to try out apartment living.
Here's a lighter look at the realities of a third child.
When we were looking for apartments I knew I wanted something with the charm that comes with European homes — beautiful molding, big windows, herringbone wood floors, classic tile, chipped paint, old radiators and tarnished hardware. I remember going to look at an apartment and the windows had nothing on them to keep a child from falling out, no screens or railings, just big open windows three floors up. Our apartment, however, had big tall front windows and the kitchen looked out over the street and also had lots of natural light. When the owners renovated our apartment, they turned one of the bedrooms into the kitchen.
This is not normal as most of the apartments we looked at had the kitchen in the back of the house with one interior window making them dark and somewhat depressing. They also had a separate entrance for the kitchen help. I was worried about not being able to hear my kids, especially Ben, if I was in the back of the house so this apartment quickly became the front runner.
We were also sold on the fact that the building has a doorman, Jose, who takes our garbage out every night and brings us our mail. He also helps me carry the stroller up the entry stairs and will sometimes carry Ben. Real estate moves quickly and is not a very honest industry here. Many people warned us to be careful. We had a third party helping us who knew how it all worked so she kept us out of trouble. There was one time when an apartment we were interested in turned out to be a fake listing. When our agent called she found out they were using fake pictures to try and get us to come and see a different apartment.
What surprised us the most is how fast the process is. We saw the apartment for the first time on a Tuesday and moved in the following Saturday. Everything is smaller in apartments, especially in Europe. The fridge is about a third of the size of fridges in the states and has three small drawers for a freezer. It becomes especially challenging at Thanksgiving.
We wait until the day before to pick up our turkey from the butchers and then brine it in a cooler overnight. In the beginning everything felt like a novelty — like having a small washer in the kitchen, hanging all our laundry to dry, rolling our grocery cart to the market, walking around the corner to get ice, and shopping for all our fruits and vegetables at one of the many produce shops in our neighborhood. Another big change is that we rarely use ziploc bags and we no longer use paper products. In fact, paper products are not really a thing here. I gave Todd a travel utensil set in his stocking the first Christmas we lived here.
Sometimes the constant need to replenish our food supply and waiting for clothes to hang dry can be tedious, but I also love the simplicity of it all. Our boys are typical little boys and want to be outside looking for wildlife, climbing trees, and riding bikes. One of the biggest ways living in the city has changed us as parents is how much we walk and talk with our kids now. Without music or a podcast to fill the silence like it did when we used to drive everywhere in the states, walking has given us back time with them.
It has opened up a whole new way that we communicate and spend one on one time with our boys. On days that we have after school activities, I get more than an hour of walking and talking with one child. Living abroad has changed us in lots of ways. Traveling these past two years has only made us feel more passionate about seeing the world.
We prioritize travel now and love planning trips. Travel has become so affordable the last few years with services like Airbnb and Sky Scanner that it feels so much more doable for a family. We loved the creative process of renovating our first home and coming up with ways to make it work better for our family. When we moved to Spain all the house projects went away and we were faced with weekends with nothing on the calendar. At first, this felt uncomfortable and even lazy, like we should be doing something.
A challenge of living in Spain is that there are not a lot of easy kid things to do like there are in the states. The activities they do have are far away from the city and require a car. We especially miss having access to pools. The pool complexes in Madrid are huge and very crowded making it near impossible to keep track of your kids.
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In the beginning, this was especially hard on me because I was used to taking them to do fun activities. We also chose to get by without a car in Spain. Sometimes though, I miss being able to get in the car and go anywhere we want without plans or thinking about which metro or bus line to take. Families are incredibly close in Spain.
They spend a lot of time together and make a point to have regular family meals. Spanish parents are very affectionate and present with their kids. Parents do not seem to want or even encourage their kids to live independently.
Our home feels like us. It feels like home. At the same time, I never want my home to feel like a museum. I want our home to feel comfortable for adults yet livable and fun for kids. The majority of the toys are in their rooms, but we always leave a couple of favorites out like Magnatiles and the marble track their Grandpa made.
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In the end, our goal is that anyone who comes to our home feels welcome. I want visitors to feel that they can go get a drink or snack from the fridge, plop on the couch, and stay for hours. I was built to parent boys.
I get their potty humor, the need to move, explore, get dirty, climb trees, push limits, turn every stick into a gun, wrestle — all of it. It can be exhausting trying to wear out little boys everyday but I also have a lot of energy that needs to go somewhere so it works.
I have yet to see a Spanish child climb a tree. I, on the other hand, lean the other direction and want my boys to get dirty, have scrapes and scabs, and once in a while get hurt. I love to cook and try out new recipes and techniques. In Spain, food has become even more a part of our family routine. Shopping at the produce stands after school drop-off is one of my favorite things to do, and I will base our weekly dinners off of what I find.
I hope they remember how much fun they had living in a city apartment. They did something really hard and had a great time doing it. They learned a whole new language, went to a Spanish school, and made friends, all in a country that is not their own. I hope they look back on this experience and realize how lucky they were. As a mom, I had to tackle my own personal anxieties and insecurities about living abroad.
I wish someone had told me how hard it is to live in a country that is not your own. We tend to romanticize living abroad and traveling. But there is a whole other side to the story. Dealing with other cultures — especially when you intentionally put yourself in their neighborhoods, schools and work places — is tough. It is especially challenging when you have children.
While we are trying to help them deal with all the hard things, we are also working through our own issues. Add a language barrier to it all and it becomes especially difficult. On the surface, the challenges seem obvious. As a mother here, my parental abilities are limited. Picking up a crying child from school and not being able to talk to the teachers about what happened or provide any sort of help is very frustrating. You feel powerless as a mom. I had to let my husband take over communicating with his therapists, doctors, scheduling appointments, etc.
No, not excessive ones at the kitchen table, but a witty poop joke can crack me up anytime. Try this one on for size:. I could have those moments every day if I had a better memory, because almost every single article of clothing my youngest wears has been worn by both his older brothers.
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Thank you triple-Y chromosome for letting me spend my money on other things like noise-canceling headphones. And on that note we come to 3….
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Which works just fine for me, thank you very much. Yes, I know, boys and girls can play with the same toys. I like wresting with my boys on the trampoline. This goes along with number 6, but is slightly different. When you look around the world, you can easily see how much damage a few bad men can do in the world. Apparently testosterone can have a negative effect on peacemaking. We have the chance to raise the kind of men who will build up the world instead of tearing it down.