The Truth About Being an Expat with Three Kids

On an afternoon in early November, my husband and I stood face to face slightly shivering from both nerves and from the autumn chill in the air. Friends and family joined us, but for that moment it seemed Tony and I were the only ones there.  Bright-eyed and giddy, a few less wrinkles back then for me, a bit more hair for him.

As we read our vows to one another, our promises for what life together would look like, there were tears through smiles. I read aloud my dreams of starting a family together….. putting an extra emphasis on having “many children”…..and received a rather loud giggle from the crowd.  Hmm…

Tony and I turned and laughed along with them as a gracious bride and groom would….but we didn’t entirely grasp WHY.  What was so funny about a full house?  What did our audience of friends and family know about having children that we didn’t anyway!?  I mean, we had cats.  They seemed to be doing great!  They haven’t said otherwise.  Feed em, change em, stroll em – and repeat until the age of 18.

I mean, right? 

Well, (insert smirk) almost ten years later, “many children” turned into a mere three!  Somewhere in between our first child climbing and our second crawling, we knew three was our number.  Someone once said that three is the perfect hug – a kid for each arm and one squeezed right in the middle.

When we found out our third was on the way we were over the moon, but as my belly grew so did my anxiety.  We would officially be outnumbered by our offspring – and that scared the hell out of me!  Would we have enough love and attention to go around?  Would we be able to financially support three hungry mouths?  Would one always be left out – that whole “three’s a crowd” thing?  How would having a third change the dynamic of our happy little foursome?

I could feel myself getting carried away with worry.  So, what did I do to console my mind?!  I went against my better judgement and GOOGLED it.  Uff!  Classic moron moment that I know ALL moms can admit to at one point or another.  Stories from other parents with three (or more!) kids of money woes, exhaustion, constant clean-ups, endless laundry, dilemmas of an uneven family size such as sitting in a restaurant booth, choosing the right vehicle or sleeping in a hotel room!

And although my highly credible scientific research (haha!) produced a mental picture of chaos rather than family bliss, one mother wrote something that put my heart at ease ever so slightly.  She said the third child “completed” their family.  Completed.  I didn’t totally understand what that meant at the time, but it sounded…comforting?  I felt strangely thankful to this complete stranger.

And then London Olivia was born.  As soon as I held her in my arms, I found out exactly just what that mother meant.  It’s not a tangible thing, like when you place the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle in its place.  But rather a satisfying feeling of wholeness.

The days ahead were of course filled with exhaustion, clean-ups and other things my mind tormented me about – but our family felt full, final and yes…complete.  This was our family, our dream.  We had all we needed in the world at that very moment.

And then our world took an unexpected turn…

When London was just nine months old, my husband was offered a job opportunity overseas in Barcelona – and we said YES.  Never had I imagined selling our home, packing up our treasures and saying goodbye to everything familiar in exchange for an entirely new life – with our three babies!

And amazingly through this journey, this time of incredible change and transition for us, I’ve experienced the joy of our third child in a way I never knew was possible. The world identifies moms as strong, supportive, unwavering and fierce – but as we experienced the ups and downs of life abroad, it seemed I needed London just as much as she needed me.

Sounds nuts doesn’t it?

On days when we got stuck waiting for the bus in an unexpected rain storm (without umbrellas), there was London clapping her wet hands and shrieking with laughter.

During moments when my frustration trying to navigate a new city would skyrocket, London was busy in her stroller throwing cookie crumbs to a flock of hungry pigeons.

One day, I took a rather bad spill off the bus with London asleep. We both went tumbling…got a few bruises.  Locals insisted we call my husband and take a trip to the nearby hospital.  I’ll spare the details, as the experience shook me up a bit, but London was right next to me squeezing on tight moments after it happened.

When my two older children have had one squabble too many, London is there to offer a simple and quiet game of blocks or books.  She is the first person they look for when I pick them up at school.  She is the one they held hands with on that nervous, scary first day as new students.

When she took her first steps down the hallway of our Barcelona apartment, she had the rest of us cheering right along – and it felt like a family victory for us all.  My two older children have become more nurturing and gentle as they experience life with a baby sister.

And on days when I find myself missing home, thinking of our familiar suburban life back in the states, my baby girl is there – bouncy blonde curls and all – to offer a snuggle and a smooch.  She’s been there when I needed her most – and she never even knew it.  I often get asked why London is not attending school yet here in Spain.  The answer is simple, “She’s not quite ready yet,” which really translates to, “I’m not quite ready yet.”

Some afternoons when it’s just her and I at home, we run around the apartment laughing and chasing one another.  We sing and dance.  She is my happy place.  She is my little friend.  In those moments, I find myself kneeling down, gazing into her sparkly hazel eyes and whispering, “Please don’t ever get big, ok?”

But I know, as all moms do, getting big will come.

It already has.

Every day is an adventure, sometimes a struggle, usually hilarious, occasionally painful and ALWAYS humbling. Some nights, I lay in bed with satisfaction and a smile feeling like, “we’ve done good”, and other nights I’m wiping away tears just before drifting to sleep.  Parenting is friekin hard, ya’ll!  No matter how many children you have!

But no matter what each journey of motherhood may look like, we are the lucky ones.  It’s not easy. Those Goggle parents showed me this early on. I still worry each and every day.  And things still get stressful and hectic – especially with three.  (I MARVEL at moms with four or more!) 

But as I said, three is our number.  And it’s amazing!  My life, as an American expat wife here in Spain, has been enriched beyond my expectations – yes because of the beautiful architecture, the culture, the food, the weather. But mostly because of the gift that our third baby has brought.

London is the link that has completed our family and along the way, she’s completed me too.