We’ve been in Barcelona for two months! It’s kind of hard to believe. Some days, it feels like time has gone by very quickly. Other days, it feels so slow. You know the saying, “The days are long but the years are short”? That’s what it feels like. I have so many things I could write about related to the day to day life we have here in Barcelona. I almost don’t know where to even begin, lol! But for today, I think I’ll share a bit about what it’s like to have kids in Barcelona. I know that’s something a lot of people have asked me about, so here are some of my thoughts!
A few caveats first, though. Keep in mind that my experience is my experience and these are my observations. They are obviously skewed, and I’m totally aware of that. I grew up in a fairly nice suburban middle class family in the midwest, spent time in New England (in cities and in smaller college towns), and have lived the past 8 years in a small college town in Iowa. While I’ve done some traveling and I’ve had great connections to people from different cultures and countries of the world over the years, I’ve never lived abroad for an extended period of time. In fact, I intentionally didn’t go abroad in college because I was too nervous about learning a new language (and there weren’t programs in English speaking countries that I was interested in). Also, we are recently a family of four and are definitely adjusting to this whole concept of having two kids instead of just one. Our boys are 3.5 years and 8.5 months as I write this. So…..there’s all of that to keep in mind as you read on!
Based on just my first two months here in Barcelona, I can say that there are some pretty remarkable differences in what my life is like as a mom and parent. I knew ahead of time that there would be quite a few adjustments. Most of these differences I’m experiencing don’t come as a surprise. When I reflect on the last 2 months of life, I realize that most of the dissonance I’ve felt and challenges I’m confronting aren’t unique to the place I’m located geographically, but more so the stage of life for our family. If we were to move to a large city in the US, I think I’d still be facing these challenges. A large part of it is related to the change from small town life to city life, but there’s more to it than that. Allow me to explain…
We live in a small apartment with a balcony & itty bitty terrace on an incredibly busy street. While we definitely looked forward to being in a cosmopolitan area where we would experience new things, have access to awesome food, music, and museums, and be able to walk anywhere, I don’t think we fully realized how much city life would be a shift for us as a family with two little kids. It has changed pretty much every aspect of our daily lives, and that alone has been the biggest influence on our experience as a young family. We no longer have a yard or grass for the boys to play in. There’s no way I can just send our older son Gus outside to play for a few moments while I finish up dinner and know that he is safe. I don’t have neighbors to keep an eye on things for a second while I run inside. Our first two weeks were spent on edge anytime we stepped outside because there are 6 lanes of traffic racing by just a second away from our front door. We’ve had countless conversations with Gus about staying close when we walk anywhere. City life is just SO different for us. We have to think about things we never had to before (pick pockets, germs on subway handlebars, how to say “no” when out preschooler whines for ice cream or croissants at every single bakery on every single street….) I could write an entire blog post on this topic alone!
One big adjustment to city life for us that I knew would be challenging is living without a car. This is one of those things that wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if we didn’t have kids. Getting from place to place with two small children is never easy. Ever. Even with a car, it’s not easy. Lol! But here in the city, we depend on walking and public transportation, or I suppose a taxi (which we haven’t used yet). Public transit is plentiful here. There’s a great metro (subway) system, regional trains, bus system, etc. You can almost always get anywhere in the city via public transit and/or a short walk. However….it can take a while, and that’s not always convenient with a baby who needs to take naps or a preschooler who gets tired walking. If we want to get to the downtown part of Barcelona, it’s about a 25-30 min metro ride plus a bit more to walk, or we can grab the commuter speed train and be there in 10 if we time it right. To get to the beach, it’s about 45 mins from our front door to the beach front on a good day. Other parts of Barcelona are roughly 45-50 mins, give or take, depending on where we’re going. My husband now has an almost 45 minute commute one way to work.
I suppose to some people, this doesn’t sound like much time and probably sounds normal, but it’s a significant shift in how our time is spent. When you come from a small town where you can drive from one side to the other in 3 minutes, it takes less than 10 minutes to drive back from the grocery store or get to a friend’s house, and you’re used to a short 5 minute stroll as your commute, that’s a BIG change! And it’s not exactly always smooth sailing with small children on public transit. Not all stations or interchanges are stroller friendly. Many are, but not all. For this reason, I still haven’t been anywhere on the metro by myself with both boys and the stroller. Keeping both boys attentive and safe on the metro can be a challenge (particularly for Gus since he is a totally normal squirmy 3.5 year old) as it can be quite crowded on some trains. For this reason, we do a LOT of walking. Thankfully, we live in area where there is a ton of stuff within walking distance. I’ve burned lots of calories exploring our neighborhood, visiting countless playgrounds, and making endless trips to the grocery store. We discovered that tired little 3.5 year old legs need a break and invested in a stroller board for our Britax stroller so Gus can ride along when he needs to. It’s still not exactly easy to get around, but we are definitely figuring it out. I feel clumsy and weird with our stroller overloaded with kids and stuff, but it’s kind of the norm here. I guess that means I’m starting to fit in! 🙂
Because it is a unique opportunity to live abroad, I really want to soak up as much as I can of this great city. Each weekend, we’ve tried to visit different parts of Barcelona or different sites. It’s been a lot of fun, though it’s come at a cost. One thing you should know about me as a mom: I’m still a bit of a control freak when it comes to my kids and their naps. All the moms of little ones out there can understand this – nap time is pretty sacred and is basically our only break during the day! So when we go out and see things, I have to take that into consideration. One thing I’ve been trying to be flexible about is naps for our younger son, Soren, so that we can be out and about seeing things, but he can still get a nap in. And this is much harder for me to let go of than I thought! It sounds like such a silly thing, but it’s difficult to have an over tired baby. Thankfully, Soren has been pretty chill and willing to endure our 3-5 hour wanderings around the Gothic Quarter, a few trips to the beach, and other various outings. He will gladly snooze in the stroller, albeit not for long. And I have to take a deep breath and just be okay with that. And when I look around at all the other moms and their babies, toddlers, and much older kids totally zonked out in their strollers at all hours of day (and night!), I realize that it’s going to be okay 🙂
One smaller thing that has been adjustment is not having any grass. I mentioned this above briefly, but it necessitates it’s own paragraph. Barcelona is hot and dry, located on the Mediterranean. Instead of parks with grass, everything is a soft gravel, almost like a dusty sand. What few places have grass almost always have a sign to keep off the grass. Playgrounds have actual sand instead of pebbles or the shredded rubber you see in the states. For Gus, he is in heaven because every playground is like a giant sandbox! We quickly learned we needed to bring a few shovels and a bucket, and he would happily play and dig in the sand as long as we let him. Hours of pure joy! However for Soren, at his age, it’s not quite so dreamy. Imagine putting an 8.5 month old down in a giant dusty sand pit. The first thing they do? Try to eat it and kick it everywhere. Sand in the hair, mouth, eyes, and diaper. Yuck! There’s a reason we hardly ever see babies Soren’s age at playgrounds. It’s because they don’t want to sit happily on laps or watch the action from their stroller – they want to get in there and make a mess too! When I head to the park with the boys on my own, it’s often for very short visits because Soren really doesn’t enjoy being contained for very long. And when we go together as a family and my husband joins us, we usually divide and conquer – one of us stays with Gus while he plays, the other takes Soren for a walk. It’s not a huge deal overall, but I definitely miss grass!
I think perhaps the most significant difference I’ve felt as a parent is the lack of support network. Anytime you move to a new place, it takes time to build relationships. I remember feeling similarly when we first moved to Iowa. However, I think it’s even harder when your main responsibility is caring for two little people. Feeling lonely in a foreign country as a mom is hard. I think if we were here permanently, I would probably approach this whole experience very differently. I’d focus more of my time on developing my language skills and trying to befriend moms in my neighborhood. However, I just don’t have the patience or time for that. So instead, I’ve connected to a few English speaking moms via a Facebook group. Some of the moms are expats, some are Catalan (that’s the region where we are located), and some are from other parts of Europe. I’ve managed to meet a few and make some connections, but it hasn’t been easy. People are busy, getting around is tricky, and August was vacation month, so many people were gone. We did manage to meet up with a sweet mama from Holland and her two little ones, and we look forward to getting together with them again! Connections are happening slowly, which I’m grateful for. But I definitely miss our friends and family at home, the community we’ve grown to be a part of in our town, the college community where my husband works, and our church.
Those are the major things! I think there’s some aspects of life that I’ve left out that really wouldn’t be different if we were at home. Things like having a 3.5 year old that doesn’t want to share toys with his little brother, dealing with meltdowns over food, a baby that is teething and miserable – all of those are just normal every day parts of life that I’d be experiencing at home too. Some days those totally normal moments feel overwhelming because I’m also dealing with all of the challenging things I’ve just shared. I think when you’re confronted with so many new things at once, it’s easy for the tiniest thing to just break your back and send you into an emotional tailspin. I have had my fair share of tears over both big and small things during these past 2 months, not gonna lie! But it’s getting easier, and we’re slowly finding our groove. And I’m sure just as we find out groove, it will all change! As any parent knows, things are always changing 🙂