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Basil category archive

Pictures from the Week 2

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Over the Hump 2

Yesterday there was a morning walk under the pines, cut short by a squirmy toddler. But not before we heard doves, and saw them perched among the branches. Not before we saw the tall rattlesnake grasses, as high as my shoulder. Not before we felt dry, golden grass against our legs. Not before we heard the sound of our feet crushing crispy brown pine needles. Not before I felt my muscles working as they pushed the stroller up and down the hills, and remembered how a morning walk opens things up like nothing else.

But the day was still long afterwards. Wednesday, the middle of the week. When the heat bears down all day long, it’s easy to go stir crazy. To feel like a prisoner of the air-conditioned house. To crave an outing of any kind. But even a walk around the block or to one of the parks nearby has no appeal when it’s 100 degrees outside. When the black asphalt radiates heat that is almost visible in its intensity.

So in the evening we went to the library. The county library here is in the top floor of the Alcazar, the famous and imposing fortress that reigns over Toledo’s skyline. From the windows there are sweeping views of the city, and the wide open plains beyond. I look through the wooden shutters into the distance and imagine a watchman warning of the approach of an army in the distance in centuries past. Basil jiggles with giddy excitement at the sight of another child, toddling up to him and offering a book. “Hi” he says, and when the other small boy says nothing, he tries “hola”. I smile at the mother and wonder if she’s as glad to have her child entertained as I am, or if I should redirect my enthusiastic little boy.

After the library we went to a park. The parking garage where JJ’s parents have passes hugs the side of the hill by the Alcazar, its roof level with the street next to the fortress. There is a big square on top of the garage, and in the late evening when the sun goes behind the buildings and it finally cools off a bit, children play there. Parents sit along the edges talking and looking down at the river below, or have drinks in the café tucked in one corner. Basil watches a group of boys playing soccer. He follows two little girls riding their bikes around. And then he toddles into the play area and climbs up the slide behind a much bigger girl. I watch his cheerful attention to the other children, and feel guilty for how little he sees other kids here.

Now it’s Thursday and I can feel how things are shifting towards the end of our trip. Basil’s abuela has started saying she can’t wait until he leaves, which is her way of saying how much she’s going to miss him. Abuelo has begun to ask Basil for kisses all the time, linger longer over him at mealtime, and get jealous when we spend time with Great Grandma. JJ comes back from Barcelona tomorrow. We are going home soon, and a sense of possibility has replaced the mid-trip restlessness.

 

Tonight 1

The restlessness continues, fueled by the oppressive heat that keeps us indoors most of the day. Basil still takes two naps, so that keeps us close to home too. He’s still afraid of the water, so the swimming pool is no fun. A storm finally blew through tonight, dropping rain for just 10 minutes but cooling things enough to enjoy being outdoors again. The smell of dried summer grass wet from the rain reminds me of the fog-drenched hills in Northern California right now. The curtains swoop and billow in the wind, and the air feels cooler than it has in days.

There was a visit to Great Grandma tonight. Raindrops on my bare arms as we walked to her house, a ground floor apartment down a narrow cobblestone street in the old town. She has lived there for over 70 years and her house is full of dearly loved china, photos at toddler level, and old-fashioned fans that whip around and entice small fingers to explore. Needless to say, I spent the visit managing Basil, trying to let him look and climb but not break anything. The best was opening and closing the shutter, looking out at the street below, saying “hi” to people passing by.

You parents: how do/did you manage to enjoy visits to non-childproof grandparents’ houses with toddlers? I feel like I need to plan for it like I would plan for a flight, filling my purse with snacks and entertainment. Otherwise, I spend the visit chasing him around telling him “no” like today, and where’s the fun in that?

Alone with the In-Laws 4

As in-law relationships go, I have a very good one with JJ’s parents.

I know I love them, and they love me. JJ and I have spent a lot of time in Spain since we met nine years ago, so we’ve had ample opportunity to get to know each other. I already spoke Spanish and had lived in Spain for two years when I met them, so we had an easier start than other international families. “Que suerte has tenido” JJ always tells his mom, teasing that she’s lucky I speak Spanish since she knows little English despite private lessons once upon a time. We know each other well enough that we’ve been able to navigate the inevitable clashes over how JJ and I are raising Basil without lingering resentment. Lately, I talk to them as often as JJ does so that they can see Basil over Skype. We’re all comfortable together.

This trip to Spain is more of a business one for JJ. He is spending the weeks in Barcelona, the weekends here in Toledo. It’s the longest time I’ve spent without him at his parents’ house. With Basil at the center of things, it feels easy. I know their routines well, and I have my own here. We all know what to expect of each other.

But I know they’d always rather have their son, just like at the end of the day, I’d rather have my family. It’s the way it is, with in-law relationships. These ties created by marriage. Strengthening the ties, turning them into real feelings of family, takes time and effort. When you are crossing cultural, national, class, political boundaries, it takes a lot of patience and humility too, like learning a new language. And even when you’ve done all that, when the relationship is pretty good, you’re still the in-laws to each other. They didn’t choose you, and you didn’t choose them.

I feel good about the relationship we have. But I know we’re all glad to have JJ home for the weekend.

If you are married, how is your relationship with your in-laws? I’m especially curious, if you crossed some kind of big boundary in your marriage (religious, cultural, etc.), how have you navigated the differences with your in-laws? Do you spend much time with them without your husband or wife?

A Faraway Fourth 2

Evening brings a neighborhood phone tree of yipping dogs, one fierce bark setting off another at intervals. The barks ring out in synchrony with the children’s yells that puncture the air. It’s 10pm, and the sun just set. The sky is a soft steely blue. The cicadas hum in the tall junipers, then stop, until just one is left in the wisteria arbor across the pool. A breeze as gentle as grass blades whispers at the curtains.

Independence Day is a funny holiday to be across the Atlantic. Like Thanksgiving, its ours and ours alone. No fireworks, no BBQs here in Spain. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner like any other day. The heat pulsed like a July Fourth in Northern California, but the sweetish smell of sparkler smoke did not fill our lungs tonight. When Basil is older, maybe we will do something special for the Fourths we spend here.

Today, we swam instead. In and out of the pool before lunch, then again before dinner. Basil was uncertain about the water. His small body clung to me at first. We hadn’t been in a pool since last summer. But then he warmed up to it. His abuelo grinned at him, and swam to the end of the pool and back, blowing bubbles and making him giggle. In a moment of excitement, Basil lunged from my arms towards his abuelo, dipped his face in the water, and came up crying in surprise.

This is why we’re here. For afternoons like this. So Basil can feel his abuela’s love as he gets wrapped in a bright green towel by the pool. So Basil can feel the happiness he causes when he decides to come back in the pool again, lets his abuelo hold him.

The shadows deepen now, the street lights click on, and the last cicada falls silent. I can hear only silence now, a hum of soft crickets in the distance. The children have gone inside, for their late Spanish dinners, then bed. Just one child across the scrubby meadow calls out now, setting off the dogs again. I lean back and feel my dress get soaked from a wet pool towel hung to dry on the chair behind me. The air still hangs heavy with the day’s heat, so it will dry soon enough.

One Year Old 4

A year ago he was tiny and wrinkled, learning to nurse, and waking up at night to eat. Today, he is nearly 3 feet tall (yes, 3 feet, at age 1), learning to walk, and waking up at night from teething.

What a joy, to be his mom!