Our family and friends were not entirely surprised we decided to rent out our house in the US and move to Mexico. That might be because we’ve moved a lot over the years, for reasons big and small, and sometimes for no reason at all. As a couple, we’ve moved eight times, to seven different states (that’s a lot of U-Hauls).
Scott and I have always enjoyed that “new state smell” – meeting new people, exploring nuances between cities and towns in different regions, discovering new parks and trails, tasting local and regional food, and listening to people say “pecan” in their regional dialect. As U.S. regions become more homogenous (as in, you can find a Target in every town and know JUST where to find travel mugs without wandering) it’s become harder and harder to find those fun differences we crave within the U.S. and an international move was the next step. We also wanted to do this for our kids. Because what’s more fun for a kid than getting pulled from a comfortable life with loads of friends and getting dropped in a setting where they don’t know a soul and can’t speak the language?
Learn a foreign language through immersion. I know from personal experience that it’s very difficult to learn a language sitting in a class, twice a week for an hour, reciting nouns, writing out verb conjugations and watching telenovelas. The best way to learn a language is to show up in a country where you don’t speak the language and try to rent a house, make friends, get the gas tank filled in your home propane tank without getting ripped off, and order cuts of meat from the butcher that you know how to cook (for example, not tripe). Immersion is hard, and that’s why it’s effective. We’ve made it a rule that if they want it, they have to ask for it themselves. Out of eagerness to buy a fedora from a street vendor (Chief) and order a hamburger without onions (Hoss), the kids have improved their Spanish conversational skills. We’ve also signed up for 3x/week intensive Spanish language classes to help us learn to speak in full sentences because while nouns are important, it’s really awkward just announcing everything (“enchiladas verdes, por favor!”).
Spend time together as a family. There’s nothing more bonding than navigating a new country and culture with only each other to rely on. Considering the older kids have already lived half of their childhoods (clench, weep), it seemed like a great time to have an adventure together. We figure we’ll either create amazing memories as a family and the kids will all be the best of friends or they’ll all want to live on separate continents when they’re older.
In this time of family togetherness, we take a lot of walks together in the hills surrounding the city with Aldo, checking out the amazing plants that grow in the mountain desert, wandering past horses grazing along the trails, and talking about anything and everything. Aldo has a love/hate relationship with the horses. He runs up to every single horse, enthusiastically, all gusto and glee, but then sprints away immediately with his tail between his legs when they move or make any noise, terrified of being murdered. Aldo is covered in mud and horse crap within minutes of our walks, but he rinses off in the pond at the end and that takes off 43% of the odor. The kids run, laugh, play with sticks, fight, and beg to move back to Wisconsin, so we all have an amazing time.
We also spend a lot of time exploring the city. I’ll save the details of those excursions for another blog post, though, because getting from A to B is not a simple task here (and the churro sellers slow us down). In between all the walking (no Fitbit needed, we walk between 1.2 and 1.3 gazillion steps a day), we spend some time at our rental house, relaxing. We do wholesome, Pinterest-worthy things like cook meals together, play board games and card games, read, and cuddle on the couch while watching movies on Netflix. We also do un-Pinterest-worthy things like scroll Facebook and UK Daily Mail and play Cookie Jam while the boys play video games with their friends via headphones and Pickles watches YouTube videos of people unboxing Littlest Pet Shop toys.
Family time – that is what this is all about. And churros.
Slow down. American life is fast. It’s busy and filled with activities and work and non-stop entertainment when the work is done. In the U.S. when someone asks “How was your day?” the normal response is “Good…busy.” Busy is a value in our society. It’s really eye-opening, walking around San Miguel de Allende on a Tuesday evening. Kids play in the streets in their school uniforms. Couples stroll through the park. People are everywhere, not going somewhere, not hustling to some destination – soccer pickup, Pilates class, Boy Scout meeting, Paint & Sip, or Costco. They are walking, sitting, talking, laughing and observing. Relaxing in cafes enjoying a meal, people watching in the park, or chatting with a neighbor on the corner. Everyone has smartphones, but they aren’t repeatedly checking them. It’s contagious and cathartic coming from a world that tends to compartmentalize work, extracurriculars, and entertainment into boxes that are opened at intervals. Efficiency is not the top concern here, so stopping separately at the butcher, the vegetable stand and the tortilla maker is all part of the meal prep process. We are a product of our culture, though, so we have to constantly remind ourselves to CHILL when the garbage truck blocks both lanes of a road for a good 6 minutes when we’re trying to get somewhere. Or the neighborhood grocer is closed at 7pm when we want to buy something for dinner even though the door has posted evening hours from 6pm-11pm.
Motivation to build new enterprises. Even after all these years of sobering adulthood, Scott and I have dreams. We have dreams of self-employment, new businesses, and flexible schedules that allow us to travel. We’ve had these dreams for a while, we just lacked the motivation and time to do anything about them. Scott had a full-time job with the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula, Montana – 1,500 miles away from the family, for the record – and therefore I had a full-time job taking care of our kids and our life in Wisconsin. For a year before we decided to move to Mexico and Scott resigned, we lived separately and Scott “visited” every 4-6 weeks. Our life in Wisconsin was like the chaotic intro of a Supernanny episode. I ran in a hundred directions at once and mealtimes and bedtimes, in particular, required Zen-level patience – one kid flooding the bathroom because he forgot to put the curtain inside the tub before his shower, another crying because she wanted three stories and a song and I forgot to scratch her back, one kid remembering, at 9pm, that he had a social studies report due the next day, and another rolling around on the living room floor with Aldo while “looking for his toothbrush.” And that was just an average Tuesday. The kids sobbed every time Scott returned to Montana and Hoss left letters under my pillow that said things like “I can’t wait for Dad to come home because we can throw the football together and you won’t yell at us so much.” Meanwhile, Scott was homesick and living in his friend’s basement in Missoula (Thanks Brandon!). It was all the motivation we needed to think creatively, cut the cord with stable employment and decent health insurance, and take a leap.
Life is short. During our particularly grueling year of living separately, we were hit with some heavy blows. My dad died. A few months later we lost Scott’s mom’s husband, who we’d known and loved for 20 years. If I were religious, I’d say God was testing us. But I’m not, so instead I’ll say we experienced LIFE in all caps, which involves grief and struggle, and had to figure it out and deal with it like grownups.
My dad was an adventurous guy. He smiled a lot and had this easy-going confidence about him that made me, as a kid, feel 100% safe at all times. Even during times that, in hindsight, were not particularly safe – like hanging my legs over the bow of our little speed boat while he drove it through huge swells in Lake Ontario. I remember how the water would pull me and I’d have to hang on really tight to the railings and hold my breath to not inhale water. But it was fun and he’d always laugh and whoop and I figured I was in good hands. He and my mom always seemed so sure and able to handle whatever life threw their way, which was the normal dose of crap (job loss and financial worries while raising five kids, blown tires on remote Canadian highways long before cell phones, severe food poisoning on a sailboat in the middle of nowhere, to name a few). My dad had a sense of humor and was able to laugh at himself and life. So when the shit hit the fan for us and I really wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep/drink/cry it away, I thought of my dad. He had fist-pumping enthusiasm for adventure and I felt a duty not to let this time be sad and desperate. Because life is short. One minute you’re wrestling with your kids on the living room floor, and the next, they’re talking about wrestling with you on the living room floor at your funeral.