April 1, 2011


All of this for one night in Chicago.
One night.

In a word? 

In my defense I only packed one clean outfit and a pair of footed pajamas (hotel rooms creep me out) for each kid. Joe and I were no different though I did splurge and cram in my running shoes.  This was the final breakdown:

Pack-n-Play & mattress
2 Vests (for breathing treatments)
2 nebulizers (for breathing treatments)
diaper bag
‘family’ suitcase
grocery bag of picnic/snack items
media bag (computer & camera)

Thank goodness we ended up buying the minivan is all I can say. It lay stacked in the back from the floor all the way up to the ceiling so neatly, like trouble dolls in a box nested a little too tightly together - vertically. I wouldn't have to think about any of it for another 300 miles save for the potty breaks and diaper changes that loomed in my not so distant future.

So why the whirlwind trip?

We were on our way to the famed Michigan Avenue, home of the Magnificent Mile and (drum roll) the Spanish Consulate. This trip has been more than eight years in the making, even longer once you know the Full Monty.

You see, long before Charlie was even a thought we decided to reclaim Joe’s Spanish citizenship. Born Joaquin Jose Hidalgo to a single Spanish mother in Córdoba during the Franco years he not only came out with a mighty Olé but with all the rights and privileges of any other Fulanito. He was by every account Spanish.  By the time little Joaquin was just three years old his mom had landed herself a handsome American pilot and the family of three played house quite nicely in Alicante, then a sleepy little beach town on the Mediterranean coast.  Life rambled along those first newlywed years relatively uncomplicated until the family of three moved Stateside and formal adoption papers were filed.  It was official:  the Pilot was now Daddy.

And this is the part of the story where a giant ball gets dropped, then lost, and eventually buried over a span of ohhhhhhhh...about 30 years.  For whatever reason, the U.S. adoption of Joaquin Jose Hidalgo by Donald Geist was never communicated to the Spanish government.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal had his parents' marriage ended in a bitter divorce and his mom gone back to Spain to lick her wounds and raise her brood. But that never happened. Donald Geist and Mercedes Hidalgo Polo were the quintessencial match. She with her dark Spanish eyes, that carefree gypsy spirit and he with his polished good looks and rigid Pennsylvania Dutch sense of right and wrong.  They would go on to have two more children, both girls and they hopscotched back and forth between the U.S. and Spain.  Joaquin Jose Hidalgo grew into his American self: Joey Geist and the Spanish passport with his former self lay safely in his mother's lingerie drawer lonely, untouched and very nearly forgotten.

Fast forward to 2011 and we were Windy City bound; the GPS 'recalculating' after every potty break.  Our appointment at the Spanish Consulate was the final step; the circle drawing to a close.  Our marriage, our family name and our children would be legally recognized and recorded by the Spanish government in a libro de familia.  I had neither seen nor heard of such a document and imagined a Quijote sized book bound, it's pages trimmed in gold leaf.  Camera charged and bags packed, we were off.  I would digitally record every second of this momentous event for my future nietos.  March 28, 2011:  the day the Geist's (re)turned Spanish.

We made the most of what little we could do with the kids that late Sunday afternoon.  We stretched our legs up and down Michigan Avenue, filled our bellies at a Brazilian restaurant and broke in the hotel room in a way that would have made even Charlie Sheen proud.  Then the five of us snuggled in for the night and I dreampt of the the gold embossed letters on three maroon colored passports that were awaiting us three blocks away. 

To be honest, yes, I had certain expectations of the Monday morning appointment.  Did I expect a guy with a crown and septor to greet us?  No.  Did I expect the Himno Nacional to bellow as we walked through the doors of the Consulate?  No, not even.  But I did think they might have at least one Spanish flag hanging in the reception area;  its bold red and gold stripes reaching out as if to say ¡bienvenidos! 

Instead, we walked into a sea of beige.  Beige carpet.  Beige walls.  Beige bulletin board.  Beige counterops.  Beige pamphlets.  Beige periodicals.  Even the middle aged guy behind the glass partition was wearing a beige sweater.  How impossibly boring.  Where was my pomp and circumstance?

Promptly at 10 o'clock, which okay, I'll admit was a shock for me, the security door swung open and a tiny Spanish woman called our name.  And yes, she was beige too.  She escorted us to a large, wooden conference table, possible the only bit of color in that whole office, we were seated and she pulled out two official looking documents from her dossier. 

Joe signed.
I signed.
Joe signed again.
I signed again.

And that was it.  6 hours in the car for four signatures.  I hestitated for a moment before rising.  This would be her chance to cue the music.  When nothing happened, I rose slowly.  This would be her chance to flash a toothy smile and lean in for the dos besitos; her congratulatory gesture.   Nope, not even a handshake.   Could it be she was really American trying to fake her Spanishness?


As promptly as we had been ushered in, we were dismissed.  We walked out, the five of us.  Me, somewhat deflated but trying not to show it,  my Spanish-American husband and our three little Spanish-American monkeys.  And not one picture to prove it.


I guess that's what the libro de familia is all about. 


  1. I just love the way you write Kelly, it's like opening up a good book :)
    Really pleased you got this all sorted even with the anti-climax at the end.

    I love the bottom picture btw

    Take care xx

  2. Thanks so much, girls. Glad it all made sense and gladder (yeah, it's a word...MY word) that you liked it!

  3. Forget feeling let down, thank your lucky stars and throw a HUGE party. You have NO idea how lucky you are. FIVE years later we're still embroiled in bureaucracy over that little book.

    Not an anti-climax at all, if you realise.

    Congrats in a BIG fat way.

  4. Right you are, Oreneta! When we started this process some 8 years ago we actually went to Cordoba and met with a judge. She listened to the whole story, took our documents and said she'd work on it. Well, apparently if you're not there to hound them to death it just gets filed away. The irony though is that while she did NOTHING with our case for all these years, SHE was the one who signed off and gave final authorization for the libro de familia.

    Long live Dona Blanca! Geesh.

  5. Ah HA!!! OK, I am feeling less jaded and jealous, which is unkind of me I know, but I am, in some small inner unpleasant place, glad to know it isn't just us this happens to...nothing like fellowship in misery. 8 years, eh, that's actually pretty depressing. 5 down, 3 to go.

    Glad you got your though....party time!!!!

  6. So glad you wrote Oreneta because I was thinking about you this morning on my way in to work. Are you married to a Spaniard? What's the story? Are non Spaniards eligible for the LdF? I guess I'm still not very well versed in the ways of the Libro de Familia. It seems so archaic to me~especially in this digital age.

  7. great story, love the background on your suegros

  8. Enhorabuena! All that bureaucratic stuff is such a hassle. We had to visit the American Embassy in Madrid three times, once for each kid, to get their American citizenship. Hours of waiting, lots of senseless paperwork, and then I had to "prove" that I actually lived in the U.S. for an extended period of time, so I showed them my high school and college transcripts....and what did they say? That I could have been living in Canada and crossing over to go to class...in Southern California! If that isn't the stupidest thing I've ever heard then I don't know what is. We finally managed to convince the guy that it would have been very difficult, not to mention highly impractical...and why the hell would I have wanted to live in Canada and go to college in So. Cal? And I've been trying to get Spanish citizenship for years now, but the paperwork is just so impossible that I've all but given up on it....someday maybe. Stupid bureaucracy. Anyway, congrats on getting that little book, it's so important over here.

  9. Congratulations! How exciting!