Secret Language Weapon
Nearly two years ago a mom from Spain found my blog and wrote to me about her own efforts to raise her son in her non-native language: English. She became my secret language weapon, helping me fill in words and phrases I didn’t know, and most importantly, giving me examples for how to use them correctly. I did the same for her. When I heard her voice for the first time in a WhatsApp message, her accent told me that she was from the Comunidad Valenciana, the province where I’d studied for a year in tiny Vinaros. I was right, she lived two hours south of Valencia, while Vinaros was two hours north of the city.
When I told her that we had settled on Valencia as our destination this summer, she invited us to spend a weekend with her family in Altea, a small, beautiful, former fishing village on the Mediterranean. I had hoped to meet her during our time in Spain, but I hadn’t imagined going on vacation together. And yet, it felt right. And to Andrea it also felt right. Later, while walking down the cobblestone streets of Altea, we would laugh about how we knew each other, but didn’t really know each other. We had both taken a risk mixing families in such close quarters having never met in person. But it turns out we both have good instincts.
Just a couple of days after we arrived in Valencia, we got to meet Andrea earlier than expected. She had come up to the city to attend a course (English for Business). When she got out of class she took a cab to our apartment on Carrer Ruaya in Valencia. I was walking back from dropping Bilingual Baby off at school for her afternoon session, and Andrea was waiting for me on the sidewalk. We locked eyes from a block away and started running toward each other. We hugged, which I appreciated—she knew both my language and my customs. And then we exchanged the two Spanish besos that she was accustomed to, laughing, smiling and making exclamations like “You really exist!”
We spent the next two hours walking around the neighborhood, through the Jardín de Turia park, and stopping for a coffee, talking the entire time. We moved between Spanish and English, talking about stuff that doesn’t come up with you’re just friends on WhatsApp: how we met our husbands, whether we want more kids, how long we’ve been at our jobs, where we were born, where we went to school. Our friendship has always existed in the present; we know about each other’s lives over the past two years: she knows that we lived with my mom for a while, that we spent last summer in Costa Rica, that Lyon lost his father in the fall, and that we recently bought a condo. I know that her son recently started talking, that they took a family trip to California in the Spring (not quite close enough to add a trip to Texas) and that she recently got a title change at work.
But we had never had the chance to sit and have coffee together.
Playing Dress Up
Just before five o’clock, we walked to Al Cole to pick up Jojo. She was excited to meet Andrea, who had sent recordings of herself reading children’s books in Spanish for Jojo. And back at our apartment the two of them became fast friends as Bilingual Baby showed Andrea all of her toys and dress-up items. Andrea purposefully only spoke to her in Spanish, and so Jojo followed suit, never once trying English with her. I sat back and soaked it up.
We ended the evening on the grass in front of the Palau de la Musica where Marc had met up with us for a kid’s music concert that we thought Jojo would like. But Jojo slept on my lap the entire time while we grownups sat around talking, with Marc occasionally getting distracted because he knew the lyrics to all the kid’s songs coming from the well-known Valencian children’s musician: Dani Miquel. Songs like “La Vida es una Festa” were all bringing him back to his childhood in the same way I imagine Raffi and “Baby Beluga” might for me.
See You Soon
By the time Andrea left we had decided to extend our Altea family vacation together from two nights to three nights; that way we would have two full days. It didn’t feel like we were taking as much of a risk anymore. We wanted as much time together as possible. We hugged goodbye, and got to say “see you soon,” something we’ll probably never get to say to each other again. We’ll probably always be saying “see you sometime in the future” whenever we leave each other.