We have now been here for three weeks and some harsh realities are beginning to smack us in the face on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but nothing could prepare us for some of the issues we have been facing.
Firstly, we were fully expecting some prohibitive bureaucracy, but Spain is unbelievably slow, to the point of being backward, when it comes to basic administration.
Secondly, integrating a three year old child into local life is not at all easy.
Those are the two struggles that have been occupying my time and my mind, but every day I remind myself of the following: I don’t have to go to work tomorrow and one Euro can get me a beer at the bar or a bottle of red wine at the shop. I think I’ll cope!
Life here has continued with an incredible array of festivities at all times of the day and night. It has been impossible to keep up with everything! Every day there have been road closures with notices displayed – road closed from 3pm for carnival / road race / cycling – and we have wandered the streets looking for signs of life. It seems that the roads are closed several hours before any activity begins and most of them seem to start around the town hall. The carnival was an exception, starting near a supermarket to the North of town. We followed various groups of randomly dressed teenagers and children and found the starting point. Bearing in mind we had been wandering aimlessly since 3pm, when 6.30pm arrived we asked somebody what time the procession was starting. “6 o’clock” was the reply. Needless to say it started very slowly at around 7pm and continued into the night, and basically involved groups of teenagers in fancy dress pushing shopping trolleys of alcohol and snacks around the streets of town!
We caught glimpses of the running and cycling races through town by chance, but thankfully we were in the right place at the right time for the most amazing street party for kids I have ever witnessed.
A selection of bouncy castles and various games had been set up in the town plaza, with a stage suggesting some live entertainment to come. I was all set to take Lizzy home at around 7pm, having been there since five, and still struggling to loosen those UK clock shackles. “I want to stay and see the show” she said. For all we knew there could simply have been a speech from the stage at 10pm. While we deliberated our next move, children started gathering around the front of the stage and an inflatable castle appeared. Some large figures appeared on stage, posing as Prince, Princess and a witch, captivating the audience (and frankly scaring Lizzy), and telling some tale in Valenciano. Within minutes another figure appeared through the crowds, on huge stilts, and stood directly beside us, ten feet tall and working the young crowd into tangible excitement. Lizzy didn’t know if she was petrified or thrilled, but before long the whole crowd started following the gigantic newcomer into the narrow streets. This heroic figure had his own PA system towed behind him and it was simply magical. Hordes of excited kids and families followed him through the narrow streets as he encountered various beasts and dragons and slayed them all. Each opponent was equally huge, and mostly terrifying, and the whole show lasted for a good two hours. Along the way there were confetti battles and fake bull running in the streets, working its way back to the town plaza, where it culminated in sweets being thrown into the crowd. It was fantastic entertainment and unlike anything we had seen before.
Despite the incessant partying we have had to deal with some harsh realities in this last week. Selena has started work full time, so we now know that we are not on holiday, and I have had to find a way of keeping Lizzy entertained and socially active. Selena tried cycling to work on her first Monday, and off she went like some kind of Bridget Jones, with oversized bike helmet and squeaky wheels! It lasted a day. Too hot by far. Since then she has taken the train.
But while Selena has started her new job full time the weather has changed. No longer can I take Lizzy to the beach for the day. Thunderstorms are regular and the winds have increased, making the daily temperatures pleasant rather than oppressively hot. The need for social interaction, with children of her own age, has become a very important issue in our daily life here.
Hear this. Everybody says, and everything you read suggests, that a three year old will soak up a new language like a sponge, and it’s the perfect age to take a child to a new country. “Within months she’ll be fluent”, “children are so adaptable”, “at least she hasn’t started building friendships in the UK”. These statements may be true, but there are hurdles to overcome along the way.
Last year, when we took a month off in the North of Spain, Lizzy would integrate and play with any child within sight. She hadn’t yet learned self awareness or embarrassment. These days she has tried to play with various children at parks, beaches and plazas, but simple actions haven’t been enough. She has been ignored or just become frustrated at not being understood. Her natural temerity is dwindling and she has become less inclined to interact on a daily basis.
She enjoyed her time at nursery in the UK (although she would regularly cry when being dropped off) so I set out to find a Spanish equivalent. The problem here is that full time education can begin at three years old. Free public schooling. Many parents pay for nursery time for their young children but as soon as they are three they are sent off to school as it costs nothing. Herein lies the issue for us.
Our choices are:
Send Lizzy to private English school (where Selena works) which would be full time, Monday to Friday, but she should learn Spanish. Although it seems most English kids stick together and the Spanish speakers likewise.
Send Lizzy to nursery for a few days / mornings a week to make friends and learn some language.
Send Lizzy to a public Spanish school, full time, but locally they seem to be taught in Valenciano rather than Castellon (traditional) Spanish.
It was very obvious from the outset that she needed to be interacting with other children, and we were eager for her to start learning some Spanish, so I opted for a local nursery school that had been recommended. I took Lizzy along one day to visit, and thankfully there was a very lovely lady that spoke some English, who was able to show us around. So far so good. A beautiful nursery with a horse, geese, pigs, rabbits, plenty of outside space, very much like her nursery back in England. We negotiated some basic plans. I would drop Lizzy in for an hour, on a couple of days, increasing to two hours, until she was ready for three mornings a week. Perfect. Lizzy would make friends, learn the language, and I would get some free time.
Any parents reading this please look away now. I dropped Lizzy off the next morning for her first hour, and she was in tears as I walked away. Not so unusual – a typical ‘drop off’ scene. I returned an hour later and as I rang the bell I could hear the inconsolable sobbing of my own child. When I went in to collect her she was in a bad way. She was hyperventilating to the point that I thought she would pass out or throw up. It took some time to control her breathing, and I was left feeling very guilty and indecisive. I have taken her back a few times since, and today increased her time there to two hours. The trouble is, as lovely as the staff are, it’s like a scene from a horror film. Lizzy arrives in her bright shorts and top, as tall as a five year old, to be faced with feral, dark skinned toddlers from 1-2 years old, dressed only in nappies or shorts, speaking a strange language. It breaks my heart every time I take her there, as does the realisation, at different times of the morning that she is going back to “baby nursery”. She cries and she cries, saying I don’t like it there, but I prise her off myself into the arms of one of the local ladies and tell myself it’s for her own benefit. In fact, I was so distracted when I first dropped her there that I drove away on the wrong side of the road, to be greeted by a vigorous flashing of headlights coming towards me which instantly brought me back to focus.
I have to be honest, it’s been really hard, and, as a family, we are still undecided as to which route to take in terms of Lizzy’s education and progression.
So if it seems as though we’ve gone back to some primitive civilisation in terms of schooling, you can only imagine the frustrations we’ve encountered regarding our basic admin. Remember my lost and cancelled bank card? It was replaced quickly by my bank, and sent, by recorded delivery on 31st August, leaving the UK on 1st September. Online tracking shows it left England on 1st September….. Spanish tracking shows nothing. I’m still waiting eleven days later.
Selena managed to set up a bank account courtesy of some help at work, with a lady attending the workplace to get the relevant details. Excellent. If we get a bank account we can move some money, set up some bill payments, arrange some internet etc etc. Within a few days Selena had an account set up, with a paying in book and all necessary details. Exciting times. I tried to move some money into the account, to be told it doesn’t exist, and basically wasted a morning on the phone trying to pay into it. Surprise, surprise, we still don’t have the bank account and Selena has to go into the local branch to finalise things.
Medical care. It’s all free. Selena is working full time so Lizzy and I are her ‘dependents’. I spent an hour at the medical centre the other day, filling in and photocopying documents. Bearing in mind her employers have been helping with each of these negotiations, it’s been carnage! Despite all of the documents and photocopies, they told me I needed to go to a town ten miles away, with Lizzy, to fill in some more paperwork for another appointment. Dutifully we arrived today and explained our situation to the miserable ‘assistant’ with all of our photocopies and forms at the ready. “Not possible, you need to fill out an application form and come back when it has been signed by your wife”. Seriously? All of our details are now on the Spanish ‘electronic’ system but they do love a personal appointment and a photocopy!!
Thankfully I’ve got nothing better to do, but, regardless, we’ve been running around in circles. It’s the same with trying to establish an internet connection. We have the router, flashing away, which was used by the previous tenants. We have a name and a number to get it reconnected, but…….. we can’t get an appointment until next month, and they need to come and visit the house……
I’ll take a deep breath and pour myself another glass.
On another note I was able to escape the ‘stresses’ of home last week as I ventured into the city to spend time with my first born, Sam. I collected him and some friends from Valencia airport on Monday night and delivered them to their rental apartment in the city, and then ventured into town on the train to spend time with them all later in the week.
I met them in the city, adorned with Narcos style moustaches and outfits, and spent a privileged few hours in adult company, playing cards and sipping cañas. Before catching my train home we sampled the most incredible tapas and atmosphere at Taberna el Olivo. It was magical.
I can’t believe I have spent three weeks just exploring the tiny town and coastline of El Puig de Santa Maria. The city beckons. Having said that, there’s no rush, I’m not on holiday. This is home. This is our life.