Spain with a toddler – adjusting my expectations


No sé por qué, pero me siento rara, un poco depre, I told D. the other evening at the dinner table.

¿Por qué? He asked.

(It was the dumbest of answers.) Pues, porque no hemos podido ir a comer un menú del día en toda la semana.

(But, it was also the most telling of reasons: This – our first time in Spain with a child – trip hasn’t aligned with my previous expectations.

Although D. and I have visited Spain countless times over the past twelve years of our marriage, this trip marks the first as a family of three. As with any major trip there is a lot of preparation and even more eager anticipation.

Finally, no humidity, and hence amazing hair days every single day!

El menú del día! (A fixed three-course meal, probably one of my favorite Spanish inventions)

Long, slow days that last until 11pm.

Yet, while I’ve been having amazing hair days since we landed in Madrid, I have had to adjust my expectations in other ways now that I have a daughter:

El horario (schedule)- 

After months of 5:00am wakings with no solution in sight, D. and I were eager for our trip across multiliple time zones (Spain is six hours ahead of the East Coast of the USA) to finally correct E.’s early risings. Not only because we selfishly wanted more sleep, but because we knew that our American schedule of lunch at 11am, nap at noon and dinner at 5pm, finished off with bedtime at 6pm would mean we wouldn’t get to do anything or see anyone in Spain. Here la comida (lunch, or the main meal of the day) is between 2 and 3pm and dinner isn’t until 9 or 10pm. E. will totally adjust, I thought. I can just see our little family of three sitting on a terraza at 9:30pm sipping sangría.

The first few days of our trip proved optimistic, but when E. and I started our first day of preschool, her sleeping habits regressed, and now – I find it so hilarious to say – we have the most American schedule here. But, you know what? I’m okay with it. After talking with some parents at E.’s school, I have found that many families here don’t keep the “typical” Spanish schedule. Lunch, for example, is served at the school at 12:30pm. And, children go to bed anywhere from 7:30 to 10pm (during the school year; later in the summer months). I’ve just had to remind myself that I’m experiencing Spain in a different role, that of a mother. I’m no longer the 22-year old study abroad student.


The order of things

Spaniards like to remind you of what is “lo normal.” And, lo normal is to eat lunch and then take a siesta. Definitely not the other way around. But, life with a toddler isn’t always normal, and that includes our comida-siesta order. E. and I get home from preschool around 12:30: I feed her a light lunch and then we both take a long nap. Around 2pm or so, we both wake up and together, with D., we either prepare lunch or find a restaurant with a menú del día. This flexibility has allowed to partake in at least one of the most important cultural events of Spain, la comida. 


Getting around –

On previous trips, D. and I would make last-minute plans to meet up with friends. Dinner in downtown Madrid at 10:30pm? No problem! We’ll just hop on the metro. One of the first orders of business would be to purchase an abono transporte (monthly public transportation pass) so we could move around the city as often as we liked. Not this trip. Now that we have a toddler in tow, we’ve rented a car with a car seat. We’re staying in the outskirts of Madrid and the easiest way to reach E.’s school is by car.

This trip has marked my first time driving in Spain! With our rental car and D.’s six-day absence to attend a conference last week, I had the opportunity to conquer the Spanish highways. Talk about a learning experience. Highways upon highways next to highways upon highways. I’ve honestly never seen so many numbers and letters crammed onto signage in my life. People make right turns from the left lanes in roundabouts. What’s that about?! I can now (proudly?) say that I’ve driven in and survived Madrid traffic.


Activities/Leisure – 

This trip will most definitely not be remembered for our trips to museums and famous Spanish landmarks. That’s partially due to the fact that D. and I used to live here, so we’ve already done that touristy stuff, but also because our priorities and interests have changed since we had E. The thought of carting her off to the Prado museum is the least appealing thought to me. Instead, we are spending our free time with grandparents and outside. There are neighborhood parks and playgrounds everywhere, and with sunny weather in the upper 70s every day, there has been no excuse to stay indoors. Far from getting bored, I’ve enjoyed observing E. interact with other Spanish children (finally! In a language she can understand!).


True, I may not have the freedom to do what and go where I please on this trip, but I wouldn’t change a thing. As we say in Spanish, ¡Nos lo estamos pasando pipa!

How have your travel habits changed post-children? I’d love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “Spain with a toddler – adjusting my expectations

  1. Our changes are similar to yours. Maybe with the addition that there are many new travel destinations for children that are fun for adults too and that I never thought of before kids. And that we are doing less in a day, quite enjoyable really. But then we’ve also taken kids to “adult destinations”, eg museums, and i think kids can take a bit of those too as long as we don’t expect to admire a painting for half an hour (which I never did prekids either). Being able to change the plans, like you have, is, I think, a key to being able to enjoy travelling with kids!


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