¡Vuelta al cole! ¡Vuelta al cole!
...on the current Spanish high streets, sounds a lot more romantic than
¨Back to School ….’
which, splashed all over various high-street signs, used to inspire slight fear and disappointment when wandering around my town centre, on a wet-ish August day, in my distant school holidays. The signs were in every stationery shop, every big, bland department store. ‘We’re only two weeks in; leave me be’ I would think. There were only six weeks to enjoy in total.
Being a parent in Spain, things are very different.
For kids, the Vuelta al Cole deserves to sound more romantic; it comes after a mammoth twelve weeks of sunshine and swimming pools, of trips to see cousins and grandparents all over the country. More like my university holidays were, it’s a time when as a kid you may not see many of your usual friends for nearly three months and you’ve changed and grown in ways that require you to perfect some cute summarising anecdotes by the next time you do see them. It’s a kind of rite of passage and it happens every year.
This all sounds delightful, though if you are a parent in Spain, it can be tricky. I must admit, June and July are easier since it is possible to be smugly booked up with Fun Things To Do fizzing all over your calendar: horse-riding, surf schools, mountain-based summer camps and more, and most will cover you from 9 am until 3 pm. But August, AKA ‘Spain’s scorching, 4-week Siesta’ is where anywhere inland grinds to a halt, shops are shuttered up and tumbleweeds fill the streets. For anyone unused to this yawning chasm of no-school or activities - while you still need to work - this is tough. We see friends, Spanish and otherwise, plan carefully to evacuate and each year we promise we’ll do the same but it never quite happens.
So here we find ourselves as this summer creaks very, very slowly to its conclusion. In fairness, there have been many fun times. I’ll look back fondly on endless barbecues, holidays with old friends and all our many kids, very long beach days and that thing they do so well in Spain: spontaneous late evenings where kids are part of it all and odd late nights for them are maybe not the big deal I’d once been led to believe.
In other fairness, for all the Vuelta al Cole signs, the school prep for September here has nothing of the military air about it that it had in my country. Being measured up for blazers and stiff black shoes? Our kids don’t wear uniforms. A mad flap to order all new pens and books in time? Our laid-back school (Gomez Moreno in the Albayzin of Granada) doesn’t even send the stationery lists out until the first day back. There is an enforced relaxedness here which does become infectious- maybe that’s how we’re meant to approach the holidays too. I’ll let you know how I go on that one.
And lastly, if you’re living in Spain I wonder if, like me, this becomes a time where once again you marvel at your kids’ ease in slipping back into full-time Spanish when it’s something you can still feel so, well, foreign at, the times you use it, however long it’s been. If you’re new here you’ll likely have been spending endless days queuing in giant marble corridors or the beige, plastic-seated Extranjeria trying to cobble together impossible lists of documents to get the first steps of immigration all sorted to begin with.
But somehow it all comes together. Each time it does, for all my waiting, there’s still a pang for my eight, six and two-year-old as I send them back to their respective centres, backpacks bouncing. Who knew, eh- maybe the weeks have flown too fast after all.