Last week, two people asked me what I do all day. I don’t take offense; I’m obviously too poorly dressed to be independently wealthy and young enough that folks don’t assume I spend all my time drinking Ensure nutrition shakes and playing cribbage.
Before we moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I was prepared for people to ask me this question and had a ready reply - I was going to write, practice my Spanish, get involved with any philanthropic endeavors that seemed worthy, work on growing all the experience and ideas R and I have about travel into money-making ventures, and spend more time with her and the kids than I was able to when working a 40-hour week for The Man.
It seemed reasonable that if I could spend portions of each day involved in one or more of these “life-enriching” activities, it wouldn’t seem so irresponsible to people that we planned to leave good-paying jobs and a comfortable home in the U.S. to uproot and move to Mexico.
But when I was asked these questions recently it caught me off guard and I didn’t know what to say.
When my sister asked, I gave it to her straight. We wake up, walk the kids to school, take the dog for a walk, go to the gym, go to the market, come back home for a few hours and do some stuff that needs to get done, go get the kids, horse around with one of the other expat families, come home, eat dinner, maybe watch some TV with the kids or play a game or read a book, take the dog for another walk, and go to bed.
It seemed lame to describe our daily routine to this other guy that we had just met when he asked the same question. I felt we owed him a more exotic and awe-inspiring answer. Something less like, I make fruit salad for my kids each afternoon, and more like, we teach giraffes to ride on the backs of sharks and attack aliens to protect the earth.
Anyway, I came up with something - not the giraffe thing - that seemed to satisfy him, but his question got me thinking about what it is that I do actually do all day.
I’m happy to say that my assessment is that we are doing all the things that we hoped we would be doing - and more. I’m writing - this blog and a few articles for International Living magazine. We volunteer with an organization that builds houses for local families and R is chair of the legal committee of a new non-profit angling to help Mexicans returning from the U.S.. We are in the process of launching several business ventures. R and I spend so much time together we are running out of things to talk about and I’m available to spend more time with the kids if they would ever put down their screens and look at me. The only thing I haven’t gotten started on yet is improving my Spanish from poor to mediocre.
And our day to day existence is so unscheduled that we have time to do other things that we enjoy doing that have no obvious benefit other than to ourselves. We spend a lot of time during the week with the friends we’ve made - either going to lunch, having dinner, or just hanging around shooting the shit like we were in college. We exercise regularly, play sports, read, go on hikes, and check out local culture. I’ve even taken an afternoon nap.
When I was working 40 hours a week I never understood those people who said they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves in retirement. Really? They couldn’t think of two things, or even one thing, that they would rather do than go to a job? I understand them even less now. What R and I are finding is that when we have the time to do the things we want to do, there isn’t enough time to do them all.
Comparing our current existence to college is actually quite apt - minus the stupid reading and writing assignments and Thursday night keg stands. We are free of almost all “adult” responsibilities. We realize, of course, that we are lucky in that the rental income from the house we own in the Washington D.C. area is paying most of our expenses in Mexico. So any plans we might have to write, or brainstorm business ideas, or basically do anything that might eventually make us some money, can easily be cast aside for some spur of the moment thing because there is not a lot of urgency to make bread to pay the bills.
Eventually there may be a reason to have more structured "work time", but right now it's nice to be able to enjoy ourselves with the time we have and take the money slowly as it comes. Of course, we have kids and a damned dog so we suffer the curse of responsible people - which is what my sister could relate to. To her, our routine sounded like her routine, only we live it in Mexico and she lives it in New Jersey. The difference that she may not have grasped, because I only understood it myself after reflection, is that the time we spend awake is time spent living the dream.