I’ve never been one to make New Years resolutions. It’s always seemed hokey and artificial to me - like an excuse to put off changing bad habits for a few days more.
If I am feeling fat and slobby, shouldn’t I do leg adductions on the floor with Jillian Michaels as soon as possible and not wait until my resolution to exercise more kicks in on January 1? If I resolve to be a better person next year, does it mean I can continue to be a jerk the rest of this year? Is planning to drink too much on New Year’s Eve a problem if I’m planning to drink less in 2019?
Despite my hearty scoff at the new year thing, I do have to admit the idea of putting the past in the past has always appealed to me. There’s plenty of wreckage in my rear view, and leaving the bad stuff behind and moving forward with a clean slate is like salvation. As the Black Crowes sing in the song “Good Morning, Captain” - “If I can make it ‘til Sunday, I’m sho’nuff gonna ask the Good Lord for help.”
Like any confession, however, my overtures towards betterment have met with varying degrees of success. Let’s face it, some things are easier to abide by than others. It’s not hard to swear off micheladas (a spicy tomato juice and beer concoction) because, frankly, they taste terrible. But it’s not so easy to be a more patient person because some of the interactions I have on a daily basis are with cabrones (jackasses.)
Rather than resolving to do this or that, I tend to do a lot of introspective looking back to see if I am on track with where I want to be. This new year was a particularly good time to do that because this week (the first week in January 2019) marks the one year anniversary of when R, Coconut, J, and I eschewed the good life we lived in Alexandria, Virginia, for (we hoped) a better quality of life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
A common question people asked me after they learned I was leaving my full time job to move to Mexico was how I planned to spend my time. I had a ready answer - I was going to learn to speak better Spanish, I was going to write, I was going to spend more time with R and the kids, and I wanted to do something philanthropic. Setting those goals was a good way for me to begin our new adventure.
So, as our one-year anniversary in Mexico approaches, I began to think about whether I had done what I said I was going to do. Here follows the reckoning.
Learn better Spanish - I’m sorry to say that I still know just enough Spanish to make people believe that I can speak Spanish. I can walk into a store or restaurant or run into someone on the street and say my piece, but once people start talking back at me, I have to resort to head nods and gesticulations. To be honest, it’s probably more frustrating for me than it is for them because I come away from the interaction not sure what the heck happened and they only walk away shaking their head about another poor gringo who doesn’t speak the language.
I can make excuses about why my Spanish hasn’t improved, and, to get the word count up on this blog post, I will. First, it’s because all of the people I interact with as friends and acquaintances on a daily basis speak English. I have no incentive to improve my Spanish other than my will. Even the locals know enough English so that, combined with my middling Spanish, I can walk out of the hardware store with 6 medium sized screws and a 7/8 inch drill bit.
The second reason I haven’t improved my Spanish is because the beginner’s Spanish class that I have been waiting for, at the school where I want to go, and at the price I want to pay, hasn’t been offered yet.
There were a few times I was told it was going to be offered, and like someone who has been asked to dinner, I got excited and ran off to wash the little hair that I have left and put on my fancy shirt. But then the class is cancelled until next month, or until January, or now that it is January, until some unspecified date. It’s like I’m waiting around for the first girl that I ever kissed to come back to me and profess her love. But, it’s a new year. I know the time to move on has arrived. Goodbye forever, Linda Lawler.
Write - International Living magazine has purchased a few articles I’ve written about taxes and travel/finance tips. Now, when people ask me what I do, I can tell them I write. And the coins make the same sound when they hit the bottom of the piggy bank even if only me and the editor have actually read the things.
I’ve also written 100 pages of a memoir about the year that R and I traveled with Coconut and J in our camper van. Some of the writing is even good enough that it doesn’t make me want to vomit when I re-read it. The real challenge has been finding time to work on it, and to make a joke that doesn’t riff on how many times I changed my underwear. You would think that a guy like me who doesn’t have a job, house chores, or, really, anything consequential to do could dedicate even one hour a day to write, but you’d be surprised how easily and quickly the days fill up.
Spend more time with R and the kids - I’m not going to go into details about how much more time R and I are getting to spend together other than to say that we like laying in bed at one in the afternoon in a warm and sunny room playing Word Cookies together.
I’ve especially enjoyed the time I’ve gotten to spend with Coconut and J. And even though they are both teenagers and only tolerate me and R, I am not making that up. In fact, one of the reasons we moved in the first place was because the kids were growing up and the time R and I have to spend with them is winding down. One reason I don’t have as much time to write as I would like is because I spend time with my kids, or doing things for my kids. Another reason is because we have a dog.
Coconut just turned 16. In a few years she’ll be off to college and, chances are, she will not want R and me to be her dorm mates. Being able to go out after school with her to bubble tea, or hang out at the library, or (gulp) take her shopping for clothes at the market whenever I want (really, whenever the mood strikes her) is a new opportunity and experience that I would not otherwise have.
It’s been the same with J. Instead of just making him breakfast before school, I now also get to make him lunch after school. And sometimes dinner. I teach his gym class at school and he saw me pull my hamstring while running the 50-yard dash and nearly break my nose playing kickball. I’m sure he’ll treasure the memories of witnessing from the front row his old man’s demise into irrelevance.
When we first arrived in San Miguel, R became a board member and chair of the legal committee for Caminamos Juntos, a nonprofit in town that assists people who have been deported from the U.S..
As the Central American migrant caravan made its way through Mexico on its journey to the U.S., R provided humanitarian aid and legal support to the masses. All of this while continuing the legal practice she maintained in the U.S., where she provides top-flight immigration services for loose change.
What does any of this have to do with me? Well, as one of R’s colleagues put it, I’m the man under the rug. What the heck does that mean? Well, what I think she was trying to say is that behind every great woman is a man who cooks the meals, does the laundry, and watches the kids. So, while R is off tending to those in need in Irapuato or Celaya, or giving radio and television interviews about U.S. immigration policy, I walk down the street to get a rotisserie chicken for us to eat and make sure Coconut and J have clean clothes and water to drink. It’s really the least I can do.
In summation, I’m not perfect. But, I am hitting at a 3 out of 4 clip, which would pretty much place me in the Hall of Fame in any existing sport and may qualify me for person of the year. At a minimum, it ranks as one of the best years of my adult life.
There have been ancillary benefits as well. I’ve always enjoyed reading but used to only have time to read from about 10:15 to 10:18 at night, which is when my eyes would roll back in my head and drool would start to come out of my mouth. Now, I can read in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings. I’ve read dozens of books this year. And I know the luxury of an afternoon nap.
I’ve gotten a full on experience of the joys and annoyances of dog ownership.
In addition to spending time with my family, I also spend more time hanging out with friends. It’s easy to get a game of Risk together on a Wednesday afternoon when my friends also control how they spend their time. It feels like college again, without the refrigerator full of cheap beer and the six-foot bong extensions.
And now that I’ve figured out how to create a WhatApp group, I can get three guys to drive to Costco with me on a Tuesday morning with just a few keystrokes. It’s great to have unemployed friends and I wish more of my friends from the U.S. would lose their jobs and move to Mexico.