I’m going to start talking about our first weeks living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, by describing our last week living in Alexandria, Virginia.
With a week to go before we left Alexandria we had a lot on our plates. R was dutifully trying to be as professional and thoughtful as possible in grading her end of semester papers for the law class she was teaching. Coconut and J were on winter break and busy making plans and asking for rides to go here and there to say goodbye to their friends. And I was busy at my office trying to summarize and preserve 18 years of files for the colleagues left behind.
While we continued to attend to these daily chores, it was the butt-farting coldest it has been in Alexandria since we’ve lived there; we didn’t have a renter for our house; we didn’t have a buyer for our car; and we were packing personal belongings from our entire 1,200 square feet of living space and dividing them into piles of things we would bring to Mexico now, things we would bring to Mexico later, and things we would put in a box and never see again. It was a stressful time and it’s only because we were all so busy that we didn’t strangle each other. At least that’s how I’m going to remember it.
On our last night before our flight the house looked better than the day we moved in. All the floors had been mopped and the walls painted, every paper clip had been removed from every junk drawer, and all the pens that didn’t work had been tossed in the trash instead of put back. Heck, even some of the pens that did work landed in the garbage. It was a tough time to be a pen. I mean, you really needed to come out rolling to survive the purge.
Before we left the house for the last time as permanent residents, R and I sat on the couch and let the memories wash over us – and at a time like that, it is only the good memories that get remembered. We experienced a lot of life’s milestones while we lived in that place – we got married; we had babies; we watched all seven seasons of Mad Men. If we had stayed there a few more years, I may have even become an adult.
But if you know us at all or have followed our travels you may have anticipated that this shift in lifestyle was coming. R never really got her soccer mom feet under her after experiencing the freedom of our life on the road in Wesley when we traveled from Virginia to Panama and back. I went back to my full-time office job and liked it well enough but just didn’t have the passion to spend another decade of 8 hour days toiling for a few more dollars so that I could retire to do what I wanted to do now. Plus, it interfered with “me time” – playing Dungeons and Dragons, going for long, leisurely walks to Trader Joe’s for free coffee, and sitting on the couch picking lint from my belly button.
This restlessness conflated with our feeling that the comfortable middle-class upbringing our children had settled into wasn’t serving their best interests and the political atmosphere which is creating a palpable divisiveness in the country created our perfect storm for change. So we decided to move to Mexico.
We choose San Miguel because 1) it is beautiful, cheap, and has awesome food; 2) it has a large expat community, including families with kids who have felt the awkwardness of being the new kid in school, just like our kids will; and 3) it has less of the stupid things that annoyed us about the U.S. like Fox News and $12 martinis. I don’t want to bore you with all the nitty gritty details of our first week, but here are a few general takeways.
We love our three-story rental house (counting the roof terrace with its commanding view of the city, three colonial-era church spires, and surrounding mountains.) This is despite the fact that when we wake up in the morning and go downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast, it feels like a dank, cold, dungeon. The days are beautiful here – sunny, clear, and mid 60’s to 70’s – but because we are at 6,000 feet elevation, the temperature drops quickly when the sun is down and a few mornings have dipped into the 30’s. Most houses here are uninsulated and do not have central heating; many have no heating at all. The second floor is where we spend most of our time - it is south facing, comfortable, and beautifully sunny and warm during the day - and this makes up for our forays into the kitchen.
We don’t have a car, but the house is just a few minutes walk from the city’s main plaza and also an easy stroll from a vegetable and fruit market (4 oranges = 20 pesos = 1 USD), an awesome rotisserie chicken place (90 pesos - $4.50 - for a chicken, potatoes, and salsa), a tortilla shop (20 fresh made tortillas for 10 pesos/50 cents), a gym (25 pesos/$1.25 a visit), a grocery (18 pesos/80 cents for a can of tuna, and not that flaky crap. This is 18 pesos for a can of premium tuna), an enormous Tuesday market where you can get everything from a pair of underwear (40 pesos/$2) to a fried red snapper filet (35 pesos/$1.75), and probably a whole lot more that we haven’t discovered yet. It’s also within walking distance to the kids’ school – which takes about 15 minutes at a leisurely pace or five if you have to hustle because you’re going to be late for pick-up. We probably walked 30 miles during the week, and not even at the request of a Fitbit.
The school is a small affair that has about 60 kids ranging from Littles (about 5th grade) to Prepas (high school seniors). 9th grader Coconut is in the Bigs and 6th grader J landed in the Big Littles. Each group has less than 15 kids in the class and the schedule is set up so they change classes each period. Before the first day of school, a family that has relocated to San Miguel from Massachusetts hosted a party with margaritas. It gave our kids a chance to meet their kids and other kids before the semester began and gave me a chance to wake up with an awful headache. Despite that, the party was a success. On Friday afternoon Coconut brought two classmates home and J has plans to go to a friend’s house next weekend.
R and I drop the kids off at school at 8:30. This week we spent the time each day before 2:30 pick-up unpacking, cleaning, shopping, and visiting new friends. However, this move is not about having more time to do household chores. San Miguel is very cosmopolitan for a mid-size city and offers nearly as much as Washington D.C. in the way of arts, culture, and history – which are just a few of the things we enjoy that I can talk about in a family blog. The difference between here and there is that here we have the time and energy to invest in ourselves, rather than in our jobs and in meeting other societal demands. This, we hope, will feed all the ideas that have been buzzing in our heads on how to create a more fulfilling path forward. And if it turns out that we aren’t as philanthropic and entrepreneurial as we think we are, we can always just spend our time bonding with our new puppy.