This is Part 2 in a continuing series by Amy Conroy. To read Part 1 go here: One Family’s Total Immersion Adventure in Mexico.
Some truths I’ve learned:
A. Vacation Mexico is not the same as Living Mexico.
B. Quaint, charming, ‘manana’ Mexico is different from Mexico 2011 with a family.
C. Your children are your favorite people and most ingratiating part of you, i.e. your personal ambassador and ticket in.
Some truths I’m coming to terms with:
A. No age is too young for telenovelas – my 3 year old would sit and watch these for hours given the opportunity.
B. While you can live cheaply, it’s a lot more pleasant to have a bit more.
C. Safety regulations are relative.
D. Bribes work.
I have to start this account of our experiences in full disclosure: we have visited San Miguel de Allende twice before for about a month each time. I didn’t realize the impact this would have on our stay. While our plans are to be here for four months, I distinctly feel that we’ve had a jumpstart because of our previous visits and contacts made. Immediately upon arrival, each child rattled off their favorite things that they wanted to do around town: go to Xote water slides (always #1 in their books and about #100 in mine due to safety), get ice cream, go to Parque Juarez, play with 10 peso toys in the Jardin, stand look out for the ubiquitous fireworks, etc., the list is long. When we couldn’t produce all of those experiences in the first 24 hours, our children began to seriously doubt our abilities to successfully proceed with this adventure. But, everyone was excited.
I am now in the middle of our second week. Daddy has left, and I wake to welcome sickness to my youngest and myself. No matter, today all parents have been invited to visit Jack’s school to view English class in the morning 8-9 am, followed by Sports Day at the preschool 11-12:30 am – please take a minute to consider somersault races with your most charming five year old, which couldn’t sound more unsavory with the disorienting affect of a pounding headache and clogged sinus’! In between those invitations, I navigate Cecilia and I to the Farmacia for medicine. I really cannot afford to be off my game; I need meds. Our trusty taxi driver advises me that I should rest a little more – ‘don’t I have some help?’ he asks sweetly. Truthfully, he’s probably right, but I am thinking that I have to be there for my children in this critical time of adjustment to new schools and life in Mx. All I want to do is take a nap and I find myself bribing my children –“a peso if you sleep through the night”, “chocolate chip cookies if you stay the whole day at school”. No matter where you are it’s difficult when you and your kids are sick, but it is magnified in a new city with a new language and customs. It’s as if they are the matadors circling around me, the dizzy bull, and they can sense my weakness. Another cookie?
Let me back up, we arrived Saturday, made school introductions Monday, and started ‘em up Tuesday @ 7:45 a.m. It felt hyper-speed-like and surreal – very similar to when you give birth and then all of the sudden have a baby to care for! My younger ones have started a Montessori preschool, which is lovely and I dare say could rival any in the States. We leave my 5 year old listening to classic music and studiously drawing red squares at his appropriately sized desk. My three year old gives me the finger when we stop in to her class to say good-bye – the finger pointing us out the door as she’s dancing around with little bilingual girly friends. The school is a bilingual immersion school and I leave, basically, feeling like this is too good to be true. Day One is awesome!
BUT I leave with a gi-normous TO-DO list – what?! By tomorrow a.m., I am supposed to bring two shoeboxes covered in paper (do I have to buy 2 pairs of shoes in town? How am I going to get my hands on 2 shoeboxes?), 2 Oral B toothbrushes (seriously? as though they had stock in the company or something – the brushes had to be Oral B), 2 cups, 2 hairbrushes, changes of clothing, photos documenting a timeline of their long little lives, a folder made of a certain cardboard and taped along the sides, and random other things that gave me the anxiety produced butterflies that I haven’t had since I last took the GRE! The scavenger hunt sent us to the Mega (which is like a Super Wal-Mart), and then to the Papeleria – four times. My head hurt and where was that margarita anyway?! I love the old lady in the Papeleria, and thanked God for her. Somehow she knew what I was talking about, because apparently it is quite common to buy an oversized posterboard that you fold in half to make a ‘folder’. The reasoning seems questionable, however, where there is a local Office Depot and there are ready-made manila folders available everywhere, but anyway… When I was finally assembling all of the ‘crafts’ required, I had that eerie feeling that all moms, no matter where we are, are doing the same sorts of things for our kids.
Jack’s school is another story. While the two schools are connected, they are in different locations and the elementary is based on Multiple Intelligences Theories. The school looks extremely different from his Los Angeles school – set on the outskirts of town with only 6 classes of 10-15 students each. It is small and simple looking. I was so nervous for my little guy, my eldest. He is thoughtful and pensive by nature, a sweet and gentle boy, i.e. not overly gregarious at the start and soft-spoken. How will he make friends? Does he understand that it will all be in Spanish? He bravely walked forward, and they whisked him away with smiles rattling away in Spanish.
Retrieving him was another thing: I arrived five hours later down the same dirt road with burros tied to trees and shacks nestled between modern castillos. I sit in the shade to size up the situation, and am greeted by the voices of Mexican school children singing “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train. Crazy, the music is a comforting bridge between our spaces. Again no different than home, parents drive in a loop to pick up their children while the Directora calls each child’s name over a PA system. When I approach, she switches to English in a way that sounded as if she could somehow elongate her audio track, “Ja-a-a-a-ck, yourrrr (roll your tongue with the ‘r’) mo-o-m is he-e-ere (rolled ‘r’ again)”. It sounded funny because it was so different from the rapido Spanish to which everyone was accustomed. I was grateful, however, for their thoughtfulness of both of us, and super grateful to see him walk up to me with all of his fingers and toes just as I had left him. Admittedly, I felt really… ubiquitous.
Driving back to our house, I petitioned Jack with all my might for information about the school day to no avail. I was locked out with no information, which made me privately insane. Hours later, we were getting dinner together and working on a family puzzle, and he said “there was this Star Wars song going on… like the whole day.” If I could only be a fly on the wall! I guess the day was a success. He seems non-plussed about it all.
I’m a Canadian living in Mexico City (going on five years) and currently we are raising are 22 month old here (she is born and raised) and we are expecting our 2nd this October. I’m curious as to what prompted you to choose San MIguel de Allende over all of the other great options in the country (both in terms of your visits and now your longer stay)? Do you find yourself immersed as you planned? Do you find it hard to not fall into the ex-pat scene that is so prominent there? Do you plan on travelling to other parts of the country while you are here?
Your comments about travel advisories, family worries and the like made me laugh. I find that those who do not know this country rely too heavily on the news. There are dangers here, but thankfully those (for the most part) can easily be avoided. I’m glad they did not deter you from this great adventure.
I hope you and your kids enjoy your time here; it really is a great country but it is not without it’s frustrations and differences for sure.
Thanks for reading – and your comments! I would be so interested to hear YOUR take on living here, and Mexico City, and other recommendations for travel within the country.
I’ve travelled (prior to children) a lot in Central America for work and for pleasure. I had never visited San Miguel de Allende and really knew nothing about it until a friend of ours invited us to his home several years in a row. At the time, we politely declined (repeatedly) citing our desire to visit the ocean instead for our limited vacation dates. One year we accepted his generous invitation and quite frankly, I fell in love. Yes, there is a large ex-pat scene. But my reality is that I have three young children. If I can stay anywhere longer than a week than it is typically without my husband due to his demanding work schedule. Consequently, San Miguel is a really good fit for us – I can easily manage being a single-ish mom here, he can travel here on a moments notice with a 3 hour flight, and most people (Mexican, American, Canadian, European, etc.) are very gracious and accept the returning visitors every year as if it is a very normal way of living. I have found schools and friends to be very open to mid-year visits or enrollment. Also, I don’t entirely mind the ex-pat scene – I don’t know if it is because it is a self-selecting community, but again, generally they are all very kind, interesting, and here for similar reasons as myself. Admittedly, my children are quite relieved to meet other kids who speak some English, so I guess you could say that it’s not all immersive linguistically. Again, however, I’m OK with all of that. I want this to be a positive experience for them, not one that they loathe. I am as much interested in my kids having a positive cultural experience as a positive linguistic one – and at 5 & 7 years old, my boys are very keen to have friends for playdates. I think the social interaction for them is key to all of it, so if they have friends that are bilingual then awesome – I just stress how amazingly intelligent those bilinguals are
All that said, we are totally interested in visiting other parts of the country. And while the cultural hotbeds (Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatan, Cuernavaca, etc.) are super enticing, I am really excited to visit Mexico City! the archeology, museums… I’ve been dying to feel the energy of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world for a long while. So, please, I’d love recs for the City in addition to other areas of the country.
It’s really not that we chose SMA over another city, but it’s just so easy to do here given our restraints and limitations. And again, this is a truly beautiful city, UNESCO World Heritage Site – not so bad. I am happy to live in a place so different from Los Angeles, because that IS my home. I was looking for a different experience for my family, so I like the small city, cobble stone streets, policia on horseback, and campo at our fingertips. Hopefully, however, this serves as a springboard to travel and live in other places as our future develops… so please, please, tell me where we should go while here – there is nothing I love more than a new adventure with my kids! gracias…
I love your posts! Like I commented on your last post, I will want some recommendations.
I am doing the same with my family this summer in Cusco, Peru. Hopefully if all goes well, I will be able to make some recommendations too. I am not a native speaker, but am bilingual and speak to my kids in Spanish. Making the arrangements for our trip has been challenging since I don’t have family in Peru. I have done a lot of research on the internet, and I do have a Peruvian friend helping me out. He visited some of the schools I had researched and advised me on the one that he felt would be best. Because our children are so young, (almost 2 and 3 ½) I will just have a private teacher for them. It won’t really be a class, I just want them to have some one-on-one play time to be able to hear and use the language with native speakers. We will also be living with a Peruvian family arranged by the school. They are hoping to find a family with children. I am also going to see about doing some observations at some of the Peruvian schools. I am a teacher in California, and would love to learn by observing and talking to some teachers in Peru.
I hope to learn more from you. We plan to travel with the kids every summer. A new destination would be great, and probably after this summer, I will have much to share too.
Cusco is so amazing – what lucky kids you have! I cannot wait to hear of your experiences… yes, the research does seem to be the trickiest part of it. With kids, I don’t feel that I can wing it as much as I once did. I think that’s another reason why we are here, in San Miguel. Having visited the previous 2 summers, I’ve been able to speak with a lot of locals and really gather my own information via school tours and personal meetings. I don’t know how I’d have done it otherwise, and feel tremendously grateful to the other moms I’ve met over the years who have shared their experiences and specific details with me.
On the other hand, we dream of possibly trying this elsewhere. Without a personal connection in the new place, however, I think that you’d need to allow yourself the time to do your own research in situ/the country, so to speak. I love the idea of it, but having the time to figure it all out seems like a far off dream…
Another idea I like to throw around is… wouldn’t it be cool if we all collected and assembled all of the information that you’d need to do this with families all around the world? It’s not brain surgery, but the details do seem overwhelming to track down at times. And it’s one thing to do it in a country where you can communicate, but when I tried to explore the idea in France without any French, it seemed really complicated… anyway, let’s please share all of this. I can only imagine it benefitting our children and their generation (OK, and really fun for us).
I definitely see the need to put this information out their for other families. There is very little out there and the research is extensive. Maybe we could collaborate and really make it happen. It would be so much easier if there was somewhere to go for help. I had to do it all on my own, even researching any immunizations needed and what to do about the altitude. I think that my research for the Peru trip is pretty much wrapped up. I am very excited since a homestay family with a little girl the same age as my eldest son has been found. I will be calling them this weekend! Fortunately my husband and I have traveled extensively and we are pretty flexible. The kids just go along for the ride. They seem to take it all in stride.
I am already starting to look into our next trip which will probably be Costa Rica in 2012. I have been there before prior to children, but my husband’s company has an office there so maybe we can combine work and a summer abroad.
By the way, I am in the OC (Huntington Beach). I love to visit LA too. I took the kids to the Jose Luis Orozco concert in Santa Monica last Friday and we are going to LeaLa tomorrow.
Looking forward to hearing more about your trip.
yay! yes, I’ve been thinking the same thing for awhile… I have a meeting planned with a web guy who could help us to put together the infrastructure for a site whereby people could email in all of the particulars for “Family Sabbaticals” around the world. I’ve already started brainstorming for contributors – let’s def collaborate on this, and if you can think of others, send them my way!
btw, LOVE Jose Luis Orozco, no?!
awesome – I’ll look forward to talking further…
What would be the best way to get in touch with you? I think that my trip to Peru is set. I talked to the family we will be living with this weekend. It took forever to put this all together, but it looks like it is now a go. I can’t wait to be immersed in the Spanish language and to learn more about Peru.
Its great to read about your adventures! I love to hear about the trials and jubilations that you experience. Our family moved from Germany to San Miguel about 10 years ago now to live in San Francisco and I understand where you are coming from.
Just one request-Could you please write them so they flow better? Its tough to follow your writing. I apologize as English is not my first language. However, they way you write is like you are a very high anxiety person…its difficult at times because I hear the tenseness in your written words.
Please take care in Mexico and be safe. Relax and enjoy life with your kids in Mexico.
ay yai yai, I must laugh! yes, it was a bit nerve wracking in those first few weeks… I guess you could say that others might agree with you, though I prefer the term ‘high-energy’ to ‘high anxiety’. Regardless, thank you for your comments. I’m kind of tickled by the fact that you could read into the words so much. Still, I’m taking your advice… one mezcal down. kidding! have a great night, I love the City by the Bay and hope you do, too.
Susan – as a teacher have you thought about working abroad? I have been doing just for over 5 years and love it!
I lived in Spain and Japan. I do love living abroad and may do it again in the future. Now that I am married it might be trickier. For now, I’ll be using my summer vacation to travel.
Thanks for sending this & I am forwarding on to those that know & love you & your gang !!
Sounds like all is going well (even if you don’t think so at times ) and NO MATTER WHAT-you WILL be able to say ” We did this ” , which is amazing !!!
Happy Mother’s Day to you my brave Mama friend-we will be anxiously awaiting your next blog update !
With love from Los Feliz,
ALison, Glenn & Ella
oh, THAT is why our pals have emailed me about this (!)…when I thought I could fly under the radar with the reports – thank you, my friend We would have never gone on walkabout without knowing the love & support we have at home to return to. Seriously, thank you. I take so much support from your words.
Of course, Happy Mamacita day to you as well! but thank YOU for being such a good friend… xx, A