Editor’s note: This is Part 5 in a continuing series by Amy Conroy. To read the other parts, go here.
What is ‘normal’? ~ the question of my life ~ To be honest, life in Mexico is really not so different than life in the U.S. The details vary and one might say there is more ‘flavor’, but the basics are the same: Jack has soccer practice, Calvin does art class, Cecilia is starting gymnastics. I grocery shop, we go to the hospital for stitches, and I still manage to jack-up cars even when they’re not mine! Socially we’re not missing any milestones: Jack’s interest in girls has just begun to bud (which is made a wee bit more complicated/funny by the language component), Calvin’s first tooth is loose, and Cecilia is (still! ugh) potty training. Just about boring, but normal.
The differences are the spice of life: Jack’s soccer coach is an Italian former pro player for A.C. Milan, an emergency hospital visit in the middle of the night is WAY easier, cheaper, and quicker than in the States, and Cecilia actually took a sweet nap the other day… on the front of my bouncing ATV. I don’t know how her head didn’t bobble off. Last Sunday, Jack was stuck in the middle of a zip line over a muddy pond, while Cecilia was cordoned off due to stalking geese. Normal.
Some of what I love in San Miguel de Allende has nothing to do with the fact that we’re in Mexico; it’s just a nice change of pace and scenery from urban living. Landscaped oasis’ surrounding natural hot springs that flow into paved pools, set on a knoll with a view of the plains and a slight breeze… it’s not a dream, but an alternate reality that somehow seems sweeter and simpler than my LA life. It’s also a life, for us, that has fewer rules and regulations, definitely harkening back to ‘simpler days’ of my mother’s childhood.
The truth is, however, that the ‘craziness’ of urban living is possible here, too, though it seems more of an ‘option’ than an inescapable aspect of life. You could sign your child up for an extra curricular activity every day of the week, and join carpools, camps, and hire specialized tutors. Initially, the options were dizzying. We needed to settle, not busy ourselves. Three months later, we’ve slowly joined what works for us.
However, it’s kind of nutty that such different ‘sides’ of Mexico co-exist simultaneously, and I don’t think that’s the picture of Mexico that many North Americans know. There are shades of gray that thrive in this landscape, but the extremes are really interesting: alongside the extreme poverty of Mexico that is known worldwide with chiclé-selling tots, there exists a thriving affluent community that participates in every aspect of modern life that ‘First Worlds’ enjoy: gyms, yoga classes, behavioral therapists, Yakuit (otherwise sold in Whole Foods), fine dining, home & garden tours, art openings, country clubs and philanthropic groups galore. And all of this exists alongside what is left of the ‘old world’… and THERE I go to buy our vegetables and fruit when I can, to pick up fresh tortillas, or better, maza, to make our own. There, we visit caballos and bring them carrots; we watch burros tote heavy packages through cobble-stoned streets.
There is great charm and simple beauty to the undeveloped world – I crave it and the kids eat it up. Perhaps it’s because we’ve previously only lived in a packaged world of ready-made products, I don’t know. It’s not that we don’t appreciate our First World amenities – we miss our flushable toilets (see Part Three), like our organic milk cold, and bicycles have become our favorite comfort activity aside from Leggos. But we are really captivated by the campo and prefer to spend all of our free time there.
So maybe we’ve done it backwards? Traveled from a complicated world to a simpler one in some aspects, and I can’t help but wonder which is wiser? Or truly more sophisticated? There seems to be a depth of understanding of humanity here that is not so transparent in other places. It dawned on me that wisdom is not correlated to sophistication, complicated infrastructure, or simplicity, but exists in its own space – and the wisdom I’ve found in the life here is what truly captivates me.
How do the kids respond? Cecilia has suddenly declared she’s not going back to her school in “L.A.”, because you can’t pack a lunch there. Very complicated, that one. Calvin, to my complete chagrin, answered a Mexican-American friend’s innocent question of how he was with “No me gusta Mexico.”
Stop the press. Really? Did he really say it out loud?! Crap.
I could have died! How do you deny it? Back peddle? And he said it fairly emphatically. I was horrified by his retort and embarrassed by his blind stubbornness. I could give you a million excuses as to why that flew out of his mouth, but really I think that’s part of the ‘normality’ in living here, there, anywhere. It was just him. This child does not perform on cue, or seek to please others (great quality DOWN the road). So after berating him about how rude and offensive it is to say something like that, I quickly realized he was just a normal tired 5 year old. He’d had a 5 hour day at school, followed by a 2 hour art class (that he begs to attend), and he was tired. But for the first time, I actually did not worry that there was something terribly wrong with our time in Mexico; I didn’t worry that it was somehow harming his psyche or scarring his emotional growth process. For the first time, I felt confident that it was the right move for our family. Afterall, he was acting as he would have in Los Angeles! Keep in mind, we’re talking about a child who has plenty of playdates and amigos. It is Calvin who wants to be a vaquero after his first horseback ride, and Calvin who declared that he will smash his face into the cake for his birthday a la Mexican tradition. This kid was not having a hard time in Mexico; he was just having a hard time! But it was normal = hooray!
Here’s my large caveat that I should have disclosed earlier: Despite my desire to wax prophetic about our romantic adventure, I am a completely normal mom to 100% normal kids. Oh yeah, and they/we are not always perfect.
So I guess you could say that we’re all adjusting ‘normally’. We all have our different way that we are navigating this experience, and we will each bring back something unique. I can only imagine how it will come pouring out when they’re in their 20’s (lounging horizontal on a psychotherapist’s sofa)… but I also dream that it will all be normalized by then. That they will, in fact, be citizens of the world and better equipped to love, and help, and create, and be in spaces regardless of borders or ethnic differences. And, mind you, he told Daddy via skype that his day at school today was “great!” and then played “zapatito blanco, zapatito azul” with his brother and sister for the next half hour.
It’s great to read about your adventure! My kids and I are having our own adventure this summer, we’re in Lima, Peru for 10 weeks… 7 1/2 so far. I truly believe that seeing and living another culture opens their minds and helps them see beyond race, color or language
absolutely! can we keep in touch as I put together a website for places around the world specifically for family sabbaticals? would love to have Lima in there…
Congratulations on your and your kids adventure in Mexico. Sounds like a lot of fun and immersed indeed. Regarding the luxuries you can enjoy in Mexico, that is true of most Latin American countries too. Each country seems to have a striving middle and affluent class and also a vast of people in poverty. I find that the biggest difference is that in the US it has been much easier to move up the socio economic ladder. In Latin countries this movement is much more difficult, although it is possible.
Keep having fun and enjoying life………..
Hooray for you and for your kids!
I just came back from taking the kids to Mexico for 10 days to see their grandparents etc. I’m quite sure the more time that can be spent, the better. In our short time we did not get to “normal” or settled in. But it was still really valuable.
Where we were is definitely a more isolated area than where you are, see a few houses with windows and I guess they probably have showers but very few. Things like yoga, art classes, restaurants are in Morelia about 5 hours away on a mountain road that even they themselves consider a nail-biter. Somehow in Huetamo many young people are on Facebook on their cell phones even if they don’t have plumbing. They have Zumba, and pizza. But you still feel the pre-Spanish culture everywhere, a strong, deep, old community. The kids did not complain at all about small discomforts– maybe just too busy with all their cousins, but also I think enjoying a sense of freedom. In this day and age where can you send a 7-year-old on a REAL errand, up the street with money and the storekeeper knows which kind of milk their grandmother likes. What I treasure is how there are watchful, responsible eyes peeking out, following from every house, and no question of being given the right change. I think what the kid will remember is actually being truly useful and entrusted with an entire 50-peso bill. The day we went just about 20 minutes out of town, where there’s no electricity, they thought riding the donkey and feeding the pigs was fun but I know they were getting so much more out of this than just fun, and a taste of life with no tv. I know it’s a cliche but it does put things in perspective. That is hard to accomplish and I’m grateful for it. We talk about the joys and importance of family and community, but to see it / live it first hand is way better than any amount of blah blah blah. Good reminder for me too… And just the fact of walking everywhere, you could almost feel yourself getting healthier. Also– amazing– no asthma meds for me THE ENTIRE TIME– very low air pollution.
There was also a huge leap forward in all the kids’ Spanish skills (ages 9,7, and 3). It was so gratifying to see the expression on her grandmother’s face when my stepdaughter, after a few days of listening to her cousins, spoke properly with Ud. — something many kids raised in the US don’t know how to do. Somehow, speaking that way, although it is the “formal” form, it connects them more intimately, because that’s the way all her other grandchildren with her in Mexico would speak. Just one example.
I think it’ll take me months or years to process mentally what all this has done for us. A poet would have a field day. I really like how you have explained the aspect of wisdom and understanding. I often feel awed by it, at age 43 I’m used to being competent but surrounded by them I feel like a young girl just learning.
I loved reading your comment – thank you! my favorite part, that I totally concur with you, was giving the 50 pesos to a 7 year old – that is what I love too! that they can have the independence and responsibility that isn’t possible where we live off of Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles!
How amazing for you all to be in such a remote place – it sounds very romantic.
and please, please, find us a poet! Travelling with my children makes me feel like I haven’t in years – everything IS so exciting, and new, and glorious. It makes me so grateful to be a mom.
anyway, congratulations to you all – it sounds as though your trip was a wonderful moment in time to treasure always! would love to stay in touch to exchange ideas…
all the best y abrazos,
What a great post! I love reading about other families living in Mexico. I’ve lived in Mexico with my 4 kiddies for a little more than 10 years and absolutely love it!
Thank you, Leslie – we’re returning because we can’t not!!
best wishes to you and your little ones… perhaps we can meet up sometime for a bilingual festival with lots of kiddies?!?!
Loved the post! Thanks for the virtual adventure (from another mom of 3 little ones!) It’s funny how kids are, no matter where you live. Great message, thanks for sharing it!
Thank yo so much for your blog! I came across it by accident (as so often happens with these things) and I couldn’t stop reading! Loved every word! I have lived in Mexico for 18 years now and my son is actually tri-lengual speaking my native Swedish, English and Spanish (and going for a fourth). I came here thinking it was going to be a one year asignment and was never able to leave!
My mother is an Anthropologist just like you and from a very young age we always travelled and I can’t agree with you more on the importance of immersing children in other cultures in order to erase the barriers of intolerance and create an atmosphere of better understanding on all levels! Your writing inspired me and made me realize I have probably given my son the right platform to be the wonderful young man he is turning out to be.
I hope your stay in this beautiful country is as fullfilling and wonderful as it has been to me!
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