We said goodbye too soon. When my wife was offered a job in Spain back in January, it was all I could do to wait until her colleagues had been notified before I shared the news with friends. On February 26, after a month of burning breathlessly to divulge our good news, I announced to the world at large that we would soon be leaving.
Ahhhh, spring in Spain. The sky, the sea, the city of Barcelona sun-washed and sparkling, the tiles of Modernisme palaces gleaming like moonlight on the Mediterranean.
March came and went, and we were still mired in the bureaucratic quagmire of that muddy month. No matter – April is the coolest month, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with Spanish rain.
I watched April flow by like a stream swelled with storms, and May gave me a malicious wink as it slipped out the door.
I won’t bore you with the tedious details of our Sisyphean efforts to scale the peaks of paperwork, but let’s just say when you take a bowlful of Hungarian bureaucracy, stir in some spicy Spanish immigration law, and add a few pinches of ignorance and incompetence, you’ve got a recipe for not-getting-out-of-here-any-time-soon.
I’ve mentioned before that I am not renowned for my deep reserves of patience. I like to think, however, that having kids has dug the well a bit deeper. Even before they come purple and squalling into the world, children force us to differentiate between the things we can manage and manipulate and the things that are simply beyond our control. After all (unless you schedule a Caesarian), you have absolutely no say in when that baby is going to come, and no amount of fretting and fussing is going to make a bit of difference.
And later, when your toddler refuses to put his pants on until he places the red Lego atop the green one, or decides that the toast he just asked five times for isn’t, actually, at all what he wants to eat, or drops to the ground in paroxysms of psychic pain because you’re running late and you just don’t have time to stop to look at every snail in the garden, you have to develop mechanisms that prevent a murder-suicide scenario. You are forced to develop patience.
Then they go off to school, and although you feed them and get them dressed and make sure they brush their teeth, once they pass through those doors their behavior, and what befalls them – from the skinned knees to the teasing to the trials of school lunch – are completely beyond your sphere of influence. And that is how it should be. Parents who attempt to micro-manage their children are both asking for – and making – trouble. But it’s not always easy to let it go, to realize that there are aspects of your kids’ lives that are no longer part of your domain.
So in the spirit of parenthood’s vicissitudes I’ve tried to be all qué será, será about the uncertainties of our move, tried to be philosophic about the endless sequence of delays and disappointments. In this I’ve been assisted by the fact that we’d finally set a date, and I spent much of yesterday plotting our itinerary from Budapest to Barcelona, researching places to stay, routes to take, driving times and so forth, all predicated on the magic date of June 23.
Then I get an email from my wife. Looks like the Spanish authorities won’t be issuing a work visa by the 23rd. Could be June 24th, could be weeks or even months after that. My head revolves once upon my neck then explodes, which pisses me off because the cleaning lady was just here. All of the lessons that being a father has taught me about patience, all of the let-it-go, let-it-flow attitudes I’d so carefully cultivated during 7 years of parenthood dissolve in the face of so much bureaucracy and bewilderment.
I really believe that having children makes you a fundamentally better person. No, I’m not saying that people who have kids are somehow better than people who don’t. That’s clearly not the case. But having children forces you to examine many of your own faults and foibles and make an attempt, if not to eliminate them, then at least to rein them in. I’m doing my best to use what my kids have taught me in order to be easy-going about this whole thing. Am I succeeding? Not really.
But I’ve learned a few things in the last seven years. You need to be calm around your kids. You need to curb your anger and your frustration. You need to set an example of serenity and sensibility. When I was living in Korea and the teachers at my school would beat the crap out of the students, they wondered, without a hint of irony, why the students exhibited such violence. That was 17 years ago. Maybe they get it now.
We’ll be moving to Spain. Our new home will be lovely, luxurious even. Our kids, eventually, will be attending local schools, and we’ll all be learning Catalan and Spanish. Things work out. Does that make it better tonight, right at this moment? Not at all. Am I frustrated? Yup. Am I stressed out? Oh yes indeed.
My youngest son just came out of his bedroom (for the third time) as I’m writing this, asking for some relief for his mosquito bites. My first impulse was to blow up. I really, really felt like yelling. Instead, I rubbed ‘magic juice’ (contact lens saline solution) on his bites , and sent him back to bed. “Thank you, Daddy,” he said. “I love you sooooo much,” he said. “Give me a a hug and a kiss,” he said. And that’s what saves me from completely losing it.