American in Spain

State of the Offspring Address - June 2015

June 30, 2015
Sharing a mosto

Plenty of milestones this month. Nora finished her third year of preschool and is now officially a First Grader. It was pretty emotional, since she's had the same amazing teacher, Viky, for all three years. I've been a fan of hers since the beginning. All the parents got together and organized a book of photos and had each kid do a drawing, and then one father spent probably a dozen hours building it into a book of which copies could be ordered. Last day of Kindergarten

Nora feeling melancholy on the last day of school.

On the last day of school, when Viky was ready to send out each kid one by one with their special surprise for each parent (a photo of them in a papier mâché airplane with the background edited to look like sky and clouds), we parents barged in and presented her with some flowers and the book. Viky, who was exhausted from the whole school year and, as I learned later, from the news that morning of a family death, was appreciative, but too worn out to really appreciate it in the moment. All proud of ourselves, we parents went home with our airplane photos happy that we'd done something nice for Viky.

I could see that it wasn't a time to properly thank her for everything, so, before leaving, I told Nora to go give her a hug so we could leave. It was one of those hugs where you can tell that it meant something more than just a hug to both parties. Nora was fine walking across the street to the grocery store, but in the store she began sobbing as the reality of the chapter finishing really sunk in. I remember that feeling at various graduates and comings of age, and did my best to express to her that being sad and cherishing the moment was an acceptable and good use of her energy.

Viky's present

Viky receiving her book.

A week later, there was a meeting with all the parents and Viky, a post-preschool debrief. There, Viky presented everyone with individual ring-bound tomes of pages, each containing a huge collection of drawings, photos and personal stuff from each child for all three years. She totally outdid us. What a truly amazing woman. I cannot thank her enough for her tireless dedication to her students. Especially since Nora really needed someone with extra tender loving care for these three years.

Sadly, Ian will miss Viky as she rotates back around to the 3-year-olds this September, since Ian will start his first year of preschool in September 2016, but Ian isn't going to need the extra comfort that Viky provides; he's more resilient than his sister.

Echo de menos a Viky

A drawing that Nora did for Viky a week into summer vacation. It reads, "I miss Viky".

Applauding Street Performers

One weekend we had some shopping to do in Bilbao, and we saw one of the more impressive diabolo performances I've ever seen. Stay to the end to see what Ian thought of it.

Nora's Drawing

Nora has been doing a lot of drawing lately, and, for whatever reason that pops into the mind of a six year old, many of the drawings are in the form of little postage-stamp-sized [greeting] cards. She has made dozens, but here are two.

Nora's Little Cards

I remember back when I thought every drawing needed to have a flower or four in it. And I used to draw just a blue bar at the top to represent the sky, but using blue to outline a fluffy cloud is good.

Nora's Little Cards

Here's one with a dime to give you a sense of scale. Here, she has shown what Viky tells us is a common step in the evolution of learning to spell: only writing the vowels. She wants to write "Echo de menos a Ian" – you should know what that means if you've been paying attention in this post – but she's got the "ET" sound from "hecho", and "menos" is compressed to just "EO", and so on.

This was during a day or two when Ian was staying with his grandparents, but Nora wasn't. What impressed me the most about this is the thought bubble symbolism and the frown on Nora's face. The frown is the same size as FDR's mouth. Find a dime and look how tiny that is!

Ian's Speech

Ian has advanced to the stage where he can understand just about anything you tell him in Spanish. If you tell him, "Go to the living room and get the red box off the table," he'll probably understand. Whether or not he will choose to comply is another matter. In English, he also understands, but less so. I'm doing what I did with Nora, which is, when he asks me "¿Dónde coche?", I repeat, "Where is the car?", sometimes letting him repeat it in English, before answering.

Also, just like Nora did (although she did it at a much younger age) he sometimes refuses to use English words for things. I present to you Exhibit A:

Tying Shoes

Nora's reading and writing is progressing at a frustratingly slow pace. Sometimes you can help her sound out a word and she'll get to the end of the word, and you say, "Okay, so what word is that?" and she will have forgotten the sounds at the beginning of the word. Or other times we point to an "E" and she makes a "U" sound. So frustrating! I just have to calm myself down and remind myself that it'll happen when it happens and that there is really no rush at this point. I've learned to take this strategy with most developmental kid stuff. Ian is way behind where Nora was verbally, but I can clearly see that he's a happy, healthy kid that is progressing at his own pace, and I have learned to not worry about these things.

One of the benefits of this laid back attitude is that sometimes milestones just pop up without even having to work for them. One day this month, Nora announced that she now knows how to tie her shoes. Several of her classmates have known how to do this for months, so I can only assume that she's been practicing and studying with them. I was a bit incredulous, but then I watched as she did it with no problem. Then, because I know my daughter and her sense of showmanship, when she said, "I can't wait to tell Mommy!", I suggested, "Why don't we wait for Mommy to get home and tell her that we're going to do a magic trick. You will be in the kitchen with your shoes untied, and I will declare that I can magically tie your shoe from another room. We will close the door, and I will say some magic words for about 30 seconds, and then I will open the door and your shoes will be tied!" She loved that plan.

While one can get wistful thinking, "One day I will pick up my child for the last time," there are certain last-times that I don't mind seeing come and go, such as diapers, wiping bottoms and tying shoes. Congratulations, Nora!

Scarlet Fever

Scarlet Fever Ian

While I had heard of scarlet fever before, I was sort of under the impression that it was one of those diseases that we'd more or less conquered, like measles or polio or smallpox. Well, I was disabused of my ignorance, and also enlightened as to the origin of its name, this month, when Ian contracted the disease. Ian's normally a super-active kid, so when he slows down and wants to cuddle, it's a pretty good sign that something is wrong. First he stopped eating, and the next day he had a fever. I think it might be easier to give a bull a suppository than to get Ian to swallow even a single drop of medicine, but we finally got him to drink a little ibuprofen-laden milk and that got him through the day. The following day, he was burning up in the morning, so I gave him a bath, and that's when I saw the rash that was covering him from head to toe. After dressing him and feeding Nora breakfast, we headed to the doctor's office.

Scarlet Fever Ian

In the waiting room, Ian lay moaning in his stroller, and Nora entertained herself by untying and tying her shoes, managing to do it even with her eyes closed. Go Nora!

The doctor confirmed our suspicion that it was scarlet fever, or escarlatina as they call it here. She told us that it was incredibly contagious and that the children should have as little contact with each other as possible. The day before they had been passing a water bottle back and forth taking swigs. Oh well. The doctor gave him a prescription of antibiotics in the form of a powder to be dissolved in water. I marveled at how nice it is to live in a world with antibiotics. According to my research on wikipedia, scarlet fever used to kill tons of children, and now it's but a disease of a few days (so I guess it is sort of conquered as I had originally thought). The doctor went on to tell me how she had just had to give an injection to a child who refused to take his antibiotics, and she also mentioned the suppository option.

If we managed to get a few milligrams of that powder into Ian out of the five or six envelops we opened and dissolved into stuff, I'd be surprised. He did, however, recover fully within a day or two, and Nora nor anyone else ever showed any symptoms. I'm of the opinion that if you can fight off an infection without antibiotics, that's far superior than relying on them, so bravo to Ian's immune system!


One day this month, as I was preparing lunch, Nora and I had this discussion.

Nora: "When the refrigerator door closes, does the light go off?"

Me: "What do you think?"

Nora: "I think it does."

Me: "How?"

Nora: "I think there must be a button that the door presses when it closes."

After that, I showed her where the button was. She hadn't known where it was or that it existed, she just reasoned her way there, by thinking of how one might design a system that turns off a light when a door closes. I was very proud.

On a related note, in the book of Nora's schoolwork that Viky gave us, there was one page on which Nora was asked to describe herself. She said something along the lines of, "I'm very smart, because my Mommy always tells me so." Viky even singled out that response in her post-preschool debrief as an example of how to give your kid a positive self esteem.

Later this month, we overheard her asking Siri (the voice activated search engine on Apple devices) "When the sun comes up, where do the stars go?" and "How are things underground?" Such an inquisitive mind!


From her dance class, Nora knows quite a few pop songs, and can sing along with the lyrics to several. This makes her infinitely more interested in music than her mother. Nora was literally not even a month old before she owned her very own iPod. No, really, look. So I thought it might be time to dust it off and present it to her. She liked it, but there were problems. The 2009 iconic Apple earbuds don't really stay in her ears. No problem, I thought, I'll just order her some headphones. Sure enough, there is a whole array, on Amazon, of headphones for kids, designed to fit prepubescent craniums and to not allow music to be played too loudly, and some even come with stickers with which to decorate them. I let Nora choose which ones she wanted from a shortlist I'd selected, although it was clear that she'd go for the pink ones. I ordered them and they arrived a week later (during which Nora asked me every day when they would be arriving). She loved them!

Sassy iPod girl

The only problem was that they won't work with her six-year-old iPod shuffle, because that was one of Apple's product iterations where they went a little too far towards minimalism (they do that occasionally), and the only buttons to control the playback are on the Apple earbuds cord, making third party headphones unusable. Undaunted, I went to my iGraveyard and found my most recent iPod model – the first one that would play video! – and gave that to her (pictured above). While she can't read the menu system, she's learned that the top menu item is how to get to the songs. We only had one incident in which she managed to switch the language to Chinese, and I had to research on the internet how to count the right number of menu items down to get to the language settings.

In the subsequent weeks, she has been listening to it less and less, but maybe for long car trips this could be a thing. Time will tell.


And now, a random selection of photos taken in June.

Bilbao Playground

Playing in a park in Bilbao. Bilbaínos will recognize where exactly.

Sharing a mosto

Sharing a mosto, a grape juice drink the kids often order in Spanish bars.

¡Dos mostos, por favor!

Ian and Nora on Motorcycle

Why do I get the feeling that this exact situation will occur on a real motorcycle some day?

Playhouse Lounging

One day my "It's too quiet! Something's wrong!" paternal alarm went off, and I found them inside their playhouse. When I stuck my phone in to take a photo, this is what it captured.

Official Bunghole Inspector

I'm adding Official Bunghole Inspector to Ian's CV.

Speed on the water

Ian has put several kilometers on these tires.

Speed on the water

Speed demon!

The state of the offspring is strong!

Holding hands on last day of Kindergarten