Choosing schools in Spain. Emigrating with children

Moving abroad with children means making important decisions around schooling. Choosing a school in Spain means getting to grips with a whole new system, and lots of choices. Do you put them into a local school or a more international one? We moved to Valencia earlier this year and had to make decisions about schools in Spain for our native English speaking 4 and 6 year old sons, who had no Spanish whatsoever. Here is some information about schools in Spain and the different aspects to think about. *I am of course no expert, so this information is purely my personal experience and knowledge.


Choosing schools in Spain: preparation

Before the move we had done some research into choosing a school in Spain and particularly schools in Valencia. We visited a few too while my husband and I were over for a recce trip. Were we going to go for an English, bilingual or Spanish school? And what curriculum is best? It is hard to know where to start and like most expats, we looked at the best known private international or bilingual schools first. This was only because they are mentioned most in forums and on expat websites. There are so many

other choices which could be much better suited to your children and your lifestyle. It is worth ‘shopping around’. They may also save you quite a bit each month if you don’t have the funds or the desire to commit to private school fees.


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Schools in Spain: Public, semi-private or private

I was blown away by the vast amount of schools Valencia. They range from public schools, semi-private schools (‘concertados’) to private schools. Many schools have nursery, primary and secondary school/baccalaureate all in one building. That way your child can stay in the same school their entire childhood. No wonder parents get quite anxious about finding the right school.

Public


Public schools are state-run, Spanish, and many parents are happy with their children to go here. They are free, but you pay monthly for the ‘comedor’ or dinner hall at school. That is if you want your children to eat at school and not come home for lunch. The public schools, there are of course many, are the trickiest to select as an expat. You just don’t have any knowledge about which ones are good. Also, if you don’t know where you are going to be living yet, it is pointless trying to enroll them since you need a postcode within the catchment area. But if you are looking for a way to get your children to speak Spanish as quickly as possible, going to a local, Spanish school is a good option.

Semi-private / concertado


The semi-private, or ‘concertado’ status means that they are run and paid by the state but as a parent you contribute a monthly fee to receive the extras that a school offers. This could mean perhaps an extra teacher per class, more freedom in terms of their curriculum and how they design their classes and activities. A lot of the semi-private schools are religious (Catholic). And whereas some of them charge about the same as most private schools (which is around a minimum of 300-400 euro per month per child, often more), others charge very little and are in fact very affordable.


Private, English or Spanish schools in Valencia

There are also a great number of private schools in Valencia. Some are small, other very large, and they are based on either the Spanish, British or American curriculum. The best known among expats are the Amercian school, Caxton College, British School of Valencia, Cambridge House and Mas Camarena. There is even a French Lycee. But there are smaller ones too, such as Los Olivos.

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Photo by Rogério Martins on Pexels.com

Even though a lot of the private, bilingual or English speaking schools call themselves ‘international’, almost 100%  of the pupils are Spanish children. Many Spanish parents nowadays want their offspring to become fluent in English. Future job prospects are important in a country where unemployment rates are still at almost 25%. Being English speaking therefore has advantages. The ‘international’ part has mostly to do with the fact that half or almost all lessons are taught in English or the curriculum is based on the American or British system. It also means for many of these schools there are waiting lists.

what language: Spanish, English, bilingual or…Valenciano?

Choosing schools in Spain, and Valencia, comes with another question. What language will my child be taught in? I believe that the younger the child, the less important it is what the main language is they are taught in and whether or not it is a British (or other) curriculum. Obviously children will learn Spanish much quicker with full immersion. Most expat parents with teenagers say their children adapted better to their new environment in an international school with a curriculum similar to what they were used to back home, especially if exams are on the horizon. A toddler? They just want to play and within weeks they’ll come home using a handful of Spanish words already.

Bilingual schools in Spain


There are a lot of bilingual schools (English and Spanish), with some following the Spanish curriculum, some the British. Some are 100% English spoken schools and then there are some other foreign languages with their own schools too (French, German). Last but not least, this is Valencia and they have their own language called Valenciano which is a bit like Catalan, although I am sure the locals will tell me otherwise.

Valenciano as a compulsary subject


Valenciano is compulsory in all schools, private or not, with a minimum amount of hours per week. It is a political thing, and depending on who the mayor is in any particular year, the hours could go up or down in the curriculum. Most schools choose to teach subjects like music, religion or science in Valenciano in addition to the actual Valenciano language classes, to make up for the required hours.

girls on desk looking at notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Creating multilingual children

A lot of expats freak out about the whole Valenciano thing and get frustrated that their kids have to study it, but to me it’s just another language. This is my humble opinion. Surely it can only be beneficial for a young child’s brain to learn plenty of different languages? The biggest argument against Valenciano I hear all the time is that “they only speak it in the Valencia region so what’s the point?”. Now I am Dutch and Dutch isn’t actually spoken anywhere else in the world other than the teeny tiny Netherlands and a few old far away colony islands in the Caribbean. Any expat child moving to the Netherlands has to learn Dutch if they are not in an international school. Also not particularly useful as a world language.

Your child may not stay in the Valencia region when he or she grows up, but they’ll have had the benefit of studying another language. They will pretty much be able to understand Catalan too as a bonus. Just my personal opinion, you may feel differently. The only advice I can give is to ask the school if it is possible for your child not to get Valenciano lessons until his/her understanding of Castellano is good enough.

How to get a space in a Spanish school?

When you choose schools in Spain, the next question is, how to get your child in it? Now this is the tricky bit. Like everywhere, good schools are hard to get into. Almost all bilingual or fully English semi-private and private schools are very popular among the Spanish parents. They all want their brood to speak decent English. This means it is not easy to get a place.

Spanish parents often start looking at their preferred school almost as soon as their baby is born. Then they enroll their kids as early as they can possibly start. In Spain this is the year they turn 3 and in the private schools that are offering preschool childcare, they even babies accept babies. So by the time you arrive from abroad with your 4 and 6-year old, especially halfway through the year, classes are full. You may find yourself having to put your kids in a school that wasn’t even on your shortlist.

School enrollment times in Spain

Enrollment time is usually mid May and school websites and the local municipality publish the exact dates on their websites . To enroll your child in a public or concertado school you need to live in the right catchment area to score enough points. Other factors are whether you already have siblings in the school and some other criteria – check your council website for the details. For private schools the postcode area is not a concern, but they may still have waiting lists. Many private schools have school bus transport around the city.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Choosing schools in Valencia: ask other expat parents

I hope this post has been somewhat useful for those of you thinking about moving to Spain as a family. It is tough knowing whether you are doing the right thing for your children! At the end of the day, you can start with one school and change down the line if it is not working out for you. I have heard that many people do this. It is also a good idea to join some local Facebook groups and check other people’s opinions on schools. Without one central international school in Valencia, expat children go to many different schools everywhere around town.

Be aware though that asking about schools on these forums is a bit of a mine field. Everyone has their own take on things. What suits them may not suit you and your family. Some love the all singing all dancing international private schools with the beautiful facilities and the matching price tags. Others sing the praises of their little local public school in their own neighbourhood. “The facilities may be poor but the teachers are fabulous”. If you have time, ‘shop’ around. You may just find a hidden gem.

Top 10 Vintage shops in Valencia

Valencia is a city where you can walk around aimlessly for days and still not get bored of the abundance and vibrancy of colours, street art, cafe’s, parks and many different little shops. Of course, with such a great vibe, there’s bound to be some real vintage treasures to be found. Do you love vintage shopping and finding a unique vintage souvenir when visiting a different city? Here is my Top 10 of vintage shops in Valencia.


vintage shops in valencia


1. Madame Mim

Calle Puerto Rico 30, Russafa, Valencia 46006
Hours 11:00 AM – 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Facebook page

Dimly lit as if entering the costume department of a 1920s theatre, you will find a weird and wonderful cabinet of curiosities. Glamourous sequined evening wear from bygone eras, retro telephones, a wall full of shoes, sparkly jewellery and racks of wearable vintage fashion, all reasonably priced. They call themselves a ‘second hand freak shop‘, but this is certainly one of the best vintage shops in Valencia.

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2. Flamingos Vintage Kilo

Calle Cadiz 17, Russafa, Valencia 46006
Hours 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Facebook page

Packed with fashion from mainly the 1980s and 90s, this shop is a great place to stock up on vintage jeans, dungarees, crop tops, maxi skirts and floral dresses. Also the perfect place for guys to get kitted out with a cool hawaiian shirt and denim jacket.

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3. Aiecle vintage store

Calle Cádiz 26, Russafa, Valencia, 46006


Probably the one with the best shop front of any of the vintage shops in Valencia, there is no way you will walk past this one. Aiecle Vintage Store is located just around the corner from Flamingos Vintage Kilo in Russafa. The shop stock is similar, with plenty of colourful 1980s and 90s vintage to choose from. Wearable outfits for OK prices.

vintage shops in valencia


4. Used

Calle Pinzón 1, Old town, Valencia 46003
Hours 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Facebook page

Used is a popular shop, online and offline and sells quality vintage, ranging from 1980s sports wear to vintage Levi’s denims. The hipster in you will drool over its collection. Find Used in the old town in the centre of Valencia.

5. Needles & Pins Vintage

Calle En Bou 3, Old town, Valencia 46001
Hours 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Facebook Page

A gem of a vintage shop right in the middle of the historic city centre of Valencia. Here you will find a colourful collection of vintage and handmade clothing and accessories. Plenty to choose from, whether you are on the hunt for a special summer dress or a cute top.

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6. Ruzafa Vintage

Vintage for the home has not really caught on here in Valencia yet, but there are some great little shops if you look for them. For midcentury furniture and retro accessories, try Ruzafa Vintage in Calle Puerto Rico. A mix of chairs, storage, lots of lighting and smaller items. And a lovely purple shop front.

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7. Second Chance

Gran Vía Germanías 41, Valencia 46006 map
Hours 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM
Facebook Page

Now don’t be put off by its unattractive shop front, because inside it is a treasure trove. Find anything from Atari computers to 100 year old oil paintings, and from vintage trunks to second-hand bikes. Prices can be a bit steep for some things, but nothing says you can’t try and do a bit of haggling. Worth a browse, for sure. Find it on the edge of Russafa, along the busy Gran Via near Estación del Norte .

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8 Studio vintage

Calle Purisima 8 bajo, Old town, Valencia 46001
Hours 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM. Closed on weekends.
Facebook page

A lot more upmarket than the previous shop and particularly interesting if you actually live in Valencia and want to invest in some gorgeous midcentury pieces for your home. But we can look, right? This shop sells vintage design from Spain, France, Britain and Scandinavia. Go here for a good sideboard, some funky lighting or a comfy teak Danish armchair.

vintage shops in valencia


9. El Monstruo


Hours: 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Facebook Page

El Monstruo is one of the vintage shops in Valencia offering a fabulous eclectic mix of vintage, customised and handmade. There is in fact an in-house taylor. You can choose a vintage fabric and get your own shirt made. If you want to browse ready-made clothes, there is plenty on the racks, ranging from 1950s petticoats to cute sixties blouses and much more.

vintage shops valencia
vintage shops in valencia


10. Sabotage

Calle Purísima 5, Old town, Valencia 46001
Hours 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Facebook Page

This concept store and gallery,  across from Studio Design in the old town of Valencia, has a wonderful mix of art, prints, handmade and vintage finds. Some amazing framed artwork as well as screen printed bags and other handmade items by local artists. Well worth a look.

vintage shops valencia vintage shops in valencia

Moving abroad as a family with young children: settling in Valencia

Moving abroad on your own is one thing, but when you have two kids, a husband and a couple of cats tagging along it is a different ball game. Especially when half of the family is Dutch and the other half British (hello Brexit!). It can feel pretty overwhelming. Think about all the paperwork you have to get organised, in particular when you are not fluent in the language of your new country yet. Our first quarter was one with ups and downs. Moving abroad as a young family is wonderful, but not without its challenges.

We moved to Valencia in Spain earlier this year and it was hectic! Our boys, 4 and 6 years old, are at the perfect age for moving abroad, at least, that is what people keep telling us. Still, it is a huge change for these little ones. It certainly can cause a lot of anxiety and meltdowns. After all, we took away all they had ever known in their short lives. Their home, their garden, their school and nursery, their wonderful childminder, their friends, neighbours and village.

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. Moving abroad as a young family


The kids, I must admit, are OK now. But not without a good two to three months of very emotional behaviour, abandonment issues and absolutely not wanting to go to their new school. It has been in the past month only that both of them have been happy to walk into their classrooms by themselves. I am very proud of them. It must have been a nightmare those first weeks, being in an unfamiliar environment, not understanding a word.

Anxiety in the first few months of moving abroad as a young family

My boys were proudly announcing to every man and his dog back in Scotland that they were going to go to a Spanish school and making new friends. The actual settling in phase however was far from pleasant. Once the novelty had worn off after a very exciting first day, they soon realised this was reality. It was not nice at all being put in a strange Spanish school ALL day and having lessons different from their old school. The times were weird and the days long (9am to 5pm!). There were strange teachers, strange children, all speaking in a strange language. How scary can you make it for little ones without their mama by their side? Needless to say, for at least eight weeks every single morning was a drama.

I just waited for you to come back

I had to walk my normally very confident, happy 6-year old into his new classroom where the teacher literally had to peel him off my legs. He was clinging onto me, begging and screaming not to be abandoned. It was awful. I left many a morning in tears, feeling so, so guilty about the whole move and what I was doing to my children. Was this really worth it? Why was I being so selfish? Had I been naive?

This was not what I had in mind at all for my family, starting a new life in Valencia. My youngest was only slightly better, but also always crying at drop off. At pick up time both boys were generally calm, usually telling me their day had been ‘ok’. But I shall never forget the day when I asked my youngest what he had done at school. He replied with:”Nothing mummy, I just waited for you to come back.”

 

Moving abroad with a young family in Valencia.


Ending up in a 100% Spanish school with zero Spanish

The selection of schools did not go entirely to plan either. In November of last year we selected this great bilingual semi-private school on the outskirts of Valencia. We even chose to rent a house in the right postcode area in order to be eligible to enroll the boys. A bilingual school would be best in our opinion, to learn Spanish but also still get a good English based education so they would not struggle too much.

We arrived in Valencia late February. Although the staff of our preferred school suggested that there was a high probability of at least one of our children getting a space (in infantil, the Spanish equivalent of nursery), this unfortunately turned out not to be the case. With the school not being fully private, it was the council who eventually decided and they were unable to provide a space for either children. What a disappointment! We had already moved and the children were at home. What to do next?


Our 6-year old has to be in school by law, so the council was obliged to find us a school in our area. They were only able to offer us two spaces in a local Catholic ‘concertado‘ (semi-private) school we had never even heard of. We are not religious ourselves and were also worried about the 100% Spanish school they were suggesting for our children, so we were apprehensive. We were also very annoyed with ourselves for not visiting more schools beforehand. But we shouldn’t have worried, as when we arrived at the school for our first introduction, the staff greeted us like family, kissing us on both cheeks and making us feel very welcome. We were the only foreigners in the school. The school turned out to be lovely.

MAKING FRIENDS AND NAPPING AT LUNCHTIME

The kids in school, young and slightly older, are all very kind. And although my eldest son gets a tad bored of them all trying to practice their two words of English during break-time, he has already made friends. Teachers all work together to adapt lessons for our eldest, who of course didn’t speak a word of Spanish.

The local language Valenciano (yes! another issue when enrolling your children in a school over here, as they have at least four hours of it each week!) is toned down for the time being in order to bring the kids up to speed with Spanish first. During the first few months at nursery, his lovely teacher let our exhausted 4-year old nap in the classroom while she took the rest of the kids outside to read them a story so he could fall asleep. How sweet is that?

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NO HOMEWORK, VEGETABLE PLOTS AND TRIPS TO THE THEATRE

Another plus at our school is that there is no homework, which is rare in Spanish schools – but for which I am so grateful! School days in Spain are very long, so having to spend even more time staring at letters and numbers really isn’t what I believe any kid age 6 should be doing after school. The school also has their own vegetable plots and they do plenty of (affordable) school trips to museums, theatre and other out of school places.  Teachers with terrible Spanish accents teach English at the school, but my kids being native English speakers already, I don’t mind at this point in time – we do plenty of reading with them at home.

For now, it is good, so we will stick with this school for at least the next year before reviewing our decision and deciding whether this is going to be the school for our boys long term. Just now, all we care about is that our boys are happy, fit in socially, make friends and become fluent in Spanish. Within two months my children were able to understand basic sentences, use some words and count to 30 in the most adorable Spanish accent. That is at least something to celebrate!

NEVER GIVE UP. Street art in Valencia. Moving abroad as a family


MOVING ABROAD A YOUNG FAMILY…four months later

We are now almost four months here and the boys are doing much better, integrating at a faster speed than us. They are both happy to go into school by themselves, no more tears. They are having swimming lessons in Spanish and will also be going to summer camp in July (in Spanish of course!) at our local sports centre. On the weekend we often hang out with international families. This gives them a bit of a break so they (and we too!) can ‘just’ chat in English. Learning a brand new language is tiring!

Our youngest is a sponge, knowing so many words in Spanish already. I guess for him it doesn’t really matter what language he is learning, as he is only 4. He is still developing his English grammar and vocabulary as well. He happily picks a Spanish book at bedtime now, rather than English or Dutch and is hardly aware of it.

Routine, cuddles and a safe home environment

Our six-year old is still showing some anxiety and a need for reassurance, especially at home. I can understand the reasons why and we are trying our best to just be there for him. Being in a Spanish speaking environment all day not knowing what is going on, must play havoc on your brain! Sleep, routine, cuddles and a safe family home is the best cure.

Now summer vacation is here (oh my, nearly three months long!). Perhaps the boys will have their huge anxiety issues again in September when school is back, but a teacher told me that most Spanish kids have exactly the same issue after such a long break. At least a row of other parents and their upset children will join me in the first week of school. To be continued…

Moving abroad as a young family in Spain

The therapeutic qualities of colour and light

Two weeks since we moved to Spain and so far so good! In between the hectic times of organising our new life as an expat, I have discovered the little perks of living in a warmer climate. Cycling! Oh my, how I’ve missed cycling. I don’t mean sporty cycling in lycra on a racer or a mountain bike, no, just using a bicycle to go from A to B. To do the shopping, to take the kids to school. In just a thin jacket. Wind in my hair, sun on my face, smiling from ear to ear. Wonderful. Now I just need to train those leg muscles to get me uphill. Ouch.

Valencia-bikes
Valencia is ideal for getting around on bike! Rental places everywhere.

noticing colour

Have you ever noticed how there seems to be more colour in warmer countries? The blue sky for a start (although lately it’s been grey and rainy too – still 10 degrees warmer than Aberdeen though), but also the architecture. Even the children’s school has great happy colours painted all over the outside walls. The older, colonial style houses in the various town centres dotted just outside the city, as well as old city parts like Cabanyal, are often bright blue or yellow or covered in colourful, patterned tiles. The sub tropical plants in front gardens and on balconies make the streets look so pretty. I realise that being surrounded by lots of colour really energises me. Having lived in the silver city of Aberdeen with its grey granite architecture, makes your eyes used to seeing in black and white. Valencia is a feast for the eyes.


therapeutic qualities of colour

therapeutic qualities of colour
My son’s nursery got jazzed up with some cool geometric colour blocks.
Cabanyal Valencia. therapeutic qualities of colour
The neighbourhood of Cabanyal, with its characterful old buildings
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A wonderful old building in Godella, the town on the outskirts of Valencia, where we currently live.

villaeugenia nuevo godella


Valencia is also well known for its bold street art. In parts of the city centre whole sides of buildings are covered in cool graffiti. I managed to have a day to myself last week and thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets, taking it all in and pinching myself for being here.


therapeutic qualities of colour


feeling better in a light filled house

Then there is our new house, which has giant windows, lots of space and is mostly on open plan. I love it! White walls, sunlight streaming in. (Oh, and look who’s arrived too?). It is a joy to hang up our artworks and make the house homely, room by room and I will post updates on the blog of my decorating attempts, as much as that is possible in rented accommodation. I was shopping for blinds and curtains today at the local Bauhaus store nearby and it is funny how I am suddenly drawn to bright, bold colours, whereas in Scotland I would have gone for the more muted greys, greens and darker tones. I guess yellow blinds just go better with a blue sky.


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So much colour. I think I’ll go for the yellow ones for the master bedroom… Before and after post next time?

therapeutic qualaities of colour and light


 

D Day. We’re off. Moving to Spain as a family

We’re finally moving to Spain as a family. D Day is here. “Why are you so stressed, we’re only moving!” my husband said to me after I had another meltdown in the past few days. I know, right? He wasn’t even joking! Well, he must be the exception to the rule, because I do feel like all those people stating that moving house is in the top three of most stressful things in life.

Packing, cleaning and a broken elbow

Moving house as a family with lots of stuff and two pets, that is, if it had been just me I’d been fine. The packing for the removal lorry was one thing, it was all the stuff that was left to do afterwards that made it feel never ending. Cleaning up and sorting out. Loads of admin. Finishing at work. Getting our cats prepped for the cattery and planned pet transport journey. An X ray to see if my youngest’s broken elbow is healing ok (it’s ok!).

Moving to Spain blogs


Adios leaving parties

Then of course there are the many leaving drinks, meals and parties to attend and host. Even though my tired body told me it really rather wanted to go to bed, it was lovely to be able to catch up and say goodbye to our Scottish friends, neighbours, band members and colleagues. After moving to Spain as a family I would be able to have plenty of siësta’s, wouldn’t I? No rest for the wicked. Hell yes, throw in a 4th birthday party for my little one as well while we’re at it, one day before departure! Crazy.

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Ready for a new adventure

Leaving our home and the local area on D Day was pretty emotional, even though I often cursed the place longing to be somewhere more exciting, feeling cut off and stuck in a far grey, chilly corner of the Great British island. Still, I am grateful, as I believe all things happen for a reason and so I spent over twelve years of my life in the North east of Scotland, always feeling the colourful Dutch outsider but adapting and making it my home. The truth is, no matter where you go, if you open your eyes you will find what matters to you. In some places you just have to try a little bit harder. Up there I found like-minded creatives, found a great band to sing in, started my business and started a family. Aberdeenshire is beautiful and full of hidden gems.

moving to spain blogs


Goodbye beautiful Scotland, thank you for having me

The train journey from Inverurie to Aberdeen was like a trip down memory lane…passing familiar scenery, a previous work place, my husband’s city flat where I started a life in Scotland many moons ago. Goodbye Aberdeen! Thank you for having me and making me work hard, push myself, mature and become resilient.

moving to spain blogs


Looking forward to a brand new life

The night before we left also happened to be the night when labour kicked off for the planned home birth of my second baby boy, exactly four years ago. It was a strange feeling to be sitting on the floor in our empty living room, the same spot as where my youngest was born after a lot of drama and life threatening complications (he was a big 10lb baby and got stuck with his shoulder – BBC’s Call the Midwife anyone?).

Four years later we are sitting here again, excited and slightly nervously awaiting another brand new life. I always dreamed of this moment, moving to a sunny climate, moving to Spain as a family. Let’s hope this birth will be a smoother one!