The Next Thing

map SMA.jpg

We’ve been home for over a year.  The transition back to our pre-trip lives was difficult.  As we ruminated in Nicaragua, we ruined our lives by hitting the open road for a year.  We were no longer satisfied with the perfectly good house, our perfectly stable and financially secure jobs, and the perfectly fine public school education that Coconut and J were receiving.  It was all too stifling and we recognized that though our situation is ideal in many ways, we don't want to live the same year for the next 40 years and call it a life.  I guess that’s what you would call a midlife crisis.

What to do in such a situation?  Wise friends who have realized big life dreams told us that we would have to find a new dream.  We’ve learned that doing crazy things is a slippery slope.  Once you do one crazy unconventional thing, other crazy unconventional things just don’t seem crazy or unconventional. 

So we’ve decided to move to Mexico.

As we’ve told friends and family about this next phase, we’re met with many questions.  In case you’re also wondering the same things, here’s are some answers to our frequently asked questions:

Q: You’re really doing this?


Q:  Where are you going?

San Miguel de Allende (“SMA”), is a colonial town about 4 hours north of Mexico City, in the middle of the country, in the middle of the mountains.  SMA has been a popular destination for foreigners since after WWII, when an intrepid GI realized he could use his GI bill to study art in this picturesque town.  Today about 10% of the population is foreign, primarily American and Canadian retirees, however there are also a fair number of families with children living there.  Though our first impression of the town wasn’t exactly positive (too many foreigners), we realized that those same foreigners and their influence make SMA an easy place to relocate.  It was the only place on our year-long travels where we were able to buy both good cheese AND good bread.  Also, there are several international schools to choose from, as well as an established infrastructure to entertain our kids.  There’s a rock climbing gym, a baseball league, and even a circus school in town.

Colorful houses, narrow streets, and friendly people add allure to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Colorful houses, narrow streets, and friendly people add allure to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Q:  When do you leave?

School starts January 8, so we will fly down sometime during the first week of January.  (R is pushing to leave on Jan 4 because she moved to Germany on that same day in 1979.) 

Q:  Where will you live?

We’ve found a funky house right in the center of town to rent.  We spent 10 days in SMA earlier in the month and after looking at multiple places with a realtor, we connected with the owner of this house via a mutual acquaintance.  The house has 3 bedrooms plus a guest space on the rooftop terrace, as well as an interior courtyard filled with lush plants.  R has always loved an interior courtyard, so perhaps this will be her actual dream house.  Well, it could be, if not for the roosters that live next door.

The inner courtyard of our new house is filled with huge tropical plants and hummingbirds.

The inner courtyard of our new house is filled with huge tropical plants and hummingbirds.

Q:  What about the kids' school?  Will you homeschool again?

Though we are satisfied with our homeschooling experience, we recognize that neither of us are meant to be our children's formal teacher.  So we found a school that people described as “small, quirky, and unconventional.”  The school’s director confirmed that description and added, “family-like.”  There are 50-60 students, from grades 6-12.  What a change from the 4000-student high school that Coconut attends and J’s middle school of 1000 students.  Instruction is in English with a student body of approximately half foreigners, half Mexicans.  When we went to register the kids for school, the director told us we would have to pay a registration fee.  So we went to the ATM machine, withdrew a big wad of cash, and brought it to her.  Without counting it, she took the money and said, “Congratulations. You’re registered.”  Exhibit 1 of how Mexico is different than the US.

The inner courtyard/common area space of the kids' new school in San Miguel de Allende.

The inner courtyard/common area space of the kids' new school in San Miguel de Allende.

Q:  What about your jobs? (aka, what about income?)

After 18 years working for the Federal government, Paul will be leaving at the end of the year.  R also plans to close down her immigration law practice.  We recognize that this means walking away from very secure and rewarding jobs and yes, it makes us uneasy.  That said, over the years we have always prioritized saving over spending and so have a nest egg for our eventual retirement as well as the kids’ higher education.

Q:  What will you do? (aka, what about income?)

We don’t know.  We don’t have jobs lined up but we’re also too young to retire, so we won’t.  We’re looking forward to seeing what comes along.  Paul plans to study Spanish and is looking forward to writing.  R has connected with an organization that works with migrants.  We’re happy that we will be able to spend more time with the kids again, recognizing that their time living with us is quickly growing shorter.

Q:  What about income?

The cost of living in SMA – one of the most expensive cities in Mexico due to the high foreign population – is still a fraction of what it is in the DC metro area.  We will rent our house on AirBnb in Virginia and anticipate being able to fully meet our monthly expenses just on the rental income.  We have marketable skills and can supplement the rental income with something immigration or tax law-related if we need or want to.

Q:  How do the kids feel about this?

They both seem to have accepted this plan and are cautiously on board.  (Maybe it’s because we spent 2016 telling them that we would move to Mexico if the presidential election turned out a certain way.)  They’ve given surprisingly little push-back and in fact have been somewhat helpful with the non-stop purging and packing going on here.  J has always been resistant to change of any kind (including his clothes) but also is a naturally optimistic kid and can find the good in most situations.  We think he will be fine once we settle in.  We are more worried about Coconut, our 9th grade introvert.  She has settled in nicely with a really good group of friends and is creating her own community in high school.  We worry about uprooting her right at the age when peer relationships are so important.  That said, we’re interpreting her lack of resistance to the move as a positive.  As an example, she’s already told us which of her friends she thinks will come visit. 

Also we've bribed the kids with a dog when we get to Mexico.

Q:  Won’t this hurt/ruin/destroy your kids?

Quite the opposite.  We view this experience as a gift we are giving our children.  We hope that they will become fluent, or at least conversant, in Spanish  We know that though we are leaving our comfort zone and the only house the kids have ever lived in, there are upsides.  A few of the benefits we hope that they some day recognize are gaining perspective, having a global outlook on life, and seeing that there is more than one way to live.

We are strong believers in challenging our children.  We want them to face some adversity in their lives, and making them wait 15 minutes for us to pick them up after school isn’t the kind of adversity we mean.  We are certain that at some point the challenges they will face - being the new kid in school, being a foreigner and a cultural minority, not understanding things that are happening around them - will make them more resilient and will be positives in their life's journey.

The hardest part is leaving our family and community.  The kids have a strong relationship with their grandparents, who are incredibly involved in their lives.  We know that we are changing a beautiful dynamic and that is frankly the most painful part.

Q: Isn’t Mexico dangerous?

Being a foreigner in Mexico has its own privilege.  Most violent crime in Mexico seems to be targeted - as opposed to the random violence that we experience in the US – and the targets are locals who are somehow involved in or related to the drug trade.  Active shooter drills, like the ones that our kids have at school in Virginia, are non-existent in Mexico.  In the US, we have become shockingly used to random gun violence.  The shooting that took place at a congressional baseball practice, in which two congressmen were shot and the assailant killed, happened right where we drop Coconut off for school.  Had it happened 30 minutes later, we would have been caught up in it.  Danger is relative and the US is no safe haven.

Q:  How can you immigrate to Mexico?

As US citizens, the process of applying for temporary or permanent residency in Mexico is relatively straightforward, fast, and simple.  Applicants must prove financial solvency, which means showing 12 months of bank statements with a value of at least US$26,000, or after-tax income or pension of at least US$1400.

Q:  What about Wesley?

Wesley is the 5th member of our family and we are keeping him/her!  We're not finished adventuring and exploring with him/her and though s/he will not take us to Mexico in January, we plan to drive him/her down some time in the spring or summer.  We just need to find a couple of weeks to do so, because although google tells us it should take 36 hours, in Wesley time it's more like 2 weeks. 

We wouldn't be Vanamos without the Van.

We wouldn't be Vanamos without the Van.


Q:  How long will you stay?

We don't know.  We are open to staying in Mexico for as long as we all like it and as long as it works for our family.