As it turns out, it proved to be impossible for me to both write fiction and learn Spanish in the span of a single month. It wasn't a time thing--I managed to carve out writing time from my day. Rather, t was a brain capacity issue. I find Spanish seeping into my mind at all hours of the day and night, and the creative stuff was clashing with it and interfering with my learning. So, I gave myself permission to stop NaNoWriMo. I'm pretty happy with what I put together during the time I was doing it, and I'll pick it back up in a few months when I'm not investing quite so much time in learning Spanish. The most valuable thing I got out of NaNoWriMo was not the actual product, but rather the much-needed reminder that if you put one foot in front of another, you do indeed reach your goal, however slowly you may walk.
I am LOVING learning Spanish. Truthfully, I don't know how much I am actually learning, and how much I am merely remembering. I had a phenomenal high school Spanish teacher, and bit by bit it has all been coming back to me. I took it for a couple of years in college, too, but it's my high school teacher that I hear whispering "wrong syll-AB-le" in my ear. It is such a joy to learn this language, and to have this time to do it. It's been a long time since I've learned something simply for the purpose of learning it, rather than for credit. There is a certain freedom to learning simply for the sake of learning that I relish. Of course, I'm not learning simply to learn--I need to be able to conduct business in Spanish. But still--I'm learning whatever I want, and not merely what some teacher wants me to learn. I'm learning with a larger goal, proficiency, rather than for a test. It's different. It is FUN.
And frankly, it's been easy to build on that early foundation. I never guessed that this would be the case. I expected it would be so much more difficult, given that it's been a good two decades since I set foot in a Spanish class. I've sporadically used it on vacation over the years, but nothing like this. It is really amazing to have words popping into my brain all of the time, and remembering their meaning. It's strange, actually, but in a really good way. It didn't all come back at once. It's more like, the more that I read and study, the more that I remember and know.
The only difficulty is that I would love more time to study, but since my work schedule is relatively relaxed right now, I am trying to spend more time with the kids. I thought I might study at night after their bedtime, but find that by then I am too burned out to absorb much. I thought I might get up early in the mornings, like 4:30 or 5am, and study before my morning class, but SB has been staying up a bit late, and that's been rough on my intended morning routine.
SB is a bit cranky of late (which is to say, occasionally she cries--she is still the smiliest, happiest baby that I have ever met). She is teething and growing and generally uncomfortable, constantly tugging at her ears (it's teeth and not an ear infection) until we dose her up with baby crack. She is still just the most awesome, lovely, huggy, happy baby ever. But more on her in a soon-to-be-written post. Suffice it to say, I love having an 8 month old--it is a wonderful, happy age, and watching her and Miss M interact and laugh and begin to play together is just AMAZING.
Miss M is also doing well. Preschool is going fairly well. I don't love it, but it seems good enough for the brief time we are here. Miss M seems to actually listen to her teachers. Every time I go to get her she is sitting still, paying attention, in a chair or wherever else she is supposed to be (unless she is supposed to be running around playing, in which case she happily complies). The other day, I asked her teachers if she listens to them, and they looked at me in surprise and said "yes, until Mommy gets here!" She was running out the door at the time, without her coat on of course. Argh. Three is both a glorious age, and a difficult one. We are trying to be kind and consistent, but there are definitely moments when I wonder where our lovely, pleasant, polite little angel went, and wonder how she became such a sassy, cantankerous bossypants.
We've been able to spend two weekends with family since we've moved here, which has been good for my girls and my family. I think, truth be told, that my family finds the full-on onslaught of a toddler and an infant to be a bit. . .chaotic. I wish I had a camera in my hand to memorialize the moment when my oldest decided she did not want to eat something, and spit it into my hand at the dinner table because she refused to wait one...more...second for anyone to get a napkin in front of her mouth. My stepfather's face was simply priceless, a study in horror and disgust. He loves the girls, but I think he's a bit mystified by them, too. Needless to say, he comes from a generation that was not actively engaged in child-rearing. He's been remarkably patient with it all, though. It's been a joy to watch my mom do ordinary things with my girls, like bake Christmas cookies with Miss M. These are the moments that I treasure, the ones we simply don't have when we are abroad. The beauty is in these simple joys.
We are settling into our life here, catching up with old friends and making new ones. We venture around the city on outings every chance we get, exploring new parks and museums. It was T's birthday this week, and we dragged the kids across the city on a weeknight (albeit at only 5pm) to visit a restaurant that he loves, for milkshakes and burgers and breakfast-for-dinner and homemade pop-tarts. It's a happy, family-friendly place with old-school yet trendy decor and a big ole bucket full of toys for the kids (in addition to high chairs AND booster seats and crayons and coloring paper and an awesome kids menu that includes pancakes for dinner). As the staff ogled our children as we headed to our booth, T happened to mention that we've been living abroad and he's been craving one of their adult milkshakes (because nothing makes a birthday milkshake better than booze!) for the last two years. They kindly sent his favorite one over, on the house. It was a big, kind, only-in-America gesture that made us love the place even more. We find these little, perfect moments around every corner here. Every day brings a new little blessing: a card in the mail for Miss M from a friend in Africa; an offer from a new playmate for a Play-doh playdate; running into an old friend on a pre-playground Starbucks run. This is a time of renewal for us, a time to reconnect with our friends and our family and our country, to learn a new language, to get ready for the next big adventure abroad. I am happy here, now, in this space. It's weird to think our time here is so short, and that in just over six months, we'll leave again for our next destination. I think that might be what makes this time so valuable, though--we know it's fleeting, and we are making the most of every moment.