Monday, March 20, 2017

Perspective, Perfection and Paranoia

When my daughter was two and my son, a new baby, we bought a minivan for our family. It had a DVD player and the movie Frozen was at the height of its popularity. A friend of mine and I came up with the fun idea to eat frozen yogurt and watch Frozen in the van. We sat in the van in the parking lot, happily devouring our treat while watching the movie. My daughter sat in her car seat and my friend and I sat in the back row, while I nursed the baby. About twenty minutes into the movie there was a discerning knock on the door of the van. I immediately got up (baby on the boob) and opened the door. There stood a police officer. He apologized profusely and said that he had received not one, but two calls that a child was alone in the car.

I think they were about this age when we had Frozen Yogurt while watching Frozen!
DVDs in the car! It was a novelty that we had never had before. We haven't done it again. Maybe we will have to do Frozen yogurt and Frozen in the van again when we are back!
She wore her Frozen dress all day everyday.
Here’s the thing, why didn’t anyone bother to peer into the windows of the back row, or knock on the door or window? I would have answered. Why were people so quick to call the cops without first investigating? Maybe, they just wanted our parking spot? Who knows, but it seems our own safety, along with everyone else’s, is of utmost concern for many Americans today. And it seems that Americans have an opinion and concern for everything.

We recently sold a stroller on craigslist. The potential buyer had a million questions regarding the sale. How many people had owned the stroller? How many times had it been used? Did we have all of the accessories? Did we have the original paperwork? Had we replaced the hinges that had been recalled?

We were like, “ummmm, it’s a stroller not a car, and this is it. Take it, or leave it.” Even after the purchase the buyer emailed us with more questions, citing the safety of his children as his main concern.

Ah safety. Is it the fear of lawsuits or what others will think or do, that cause us to take the precautions and cares that we do? It seems to me that American culture survives within a consumer driven shadow of paranoia. Is it that our society has simply become ingrained to buy the best and safest products and hire the best specialist that we can afford? Has it all become about how to make money, how to spend it, and our status in doing both? We share articles about safety and the best products to buy on our social media pages and buy the best merchandise we can find. All in the name of; what if someone gets hurt, sick, or worse, dies? This is especially true when it comes to our families, we all have the things we pick as our top apprehensions and concerns; be it the best medicine or doctor, the soundest vehicle or the safest car seat. Many of us even hire specialists to baby proof our homes. Why is this so important? Why do we need and want all of this stuff?

This little Pueblo is quite the contrast. The homes of the local people in San Juanico are different. Most people’s businesses are adjacent to where they live, so there are often a combo or work and home related things scattered about. Many of the homes probably wouldn’t be deemed legally safe and likely coined liable disasters by the average American. The yards are full of old junk, rusty pieces of metal, random rope, lobster traps, fishing nets, barrels of water, barrels of oil and numerous other unsafe objects. The kids figure out how to play with or around the junk in the yards and are told not to play with stuff they shouldn’t. Houses aren’t baby proofed, things simply get moved when kids get into them. The thing is, some people get hurt and some don’t and it is what it is. It’s not considered abnormal when accidents occur. And there are certainly not a gaggle of adults or children missing fingers and toes due to recalled stroller hinges. If a child’s finger gets pinched in a stroller, they learn not to put their finger there. Nobody calls the cops because they see a child in a car, they knock on the window and say hello. No...wait, people keep their windows rolled down here.
This is a mechanic/tire shop/someone's home.
I think American culture has come to a space where we judge first and feel entitled to state our opinions to anyone who will listen. Why do we feel the need to be heard? Why are we so offensive? Why are we so disapproving? Even in our closest circles, we are often left defensive and stressed out. When did America become such a community of criticism?

There is a strong Ex-pat community here. Mostly retired surfers. They are all friendly enough. They appear to have found their places within the community and live sort of in the periphery of the local society. The locals here feel a lot of gratitude for the foreign influence, it provides them with jobs and perspective. But several comments were made to me by locals this past week, which left me in a reflective state.

This Pueblo is in the desert. Miles of thick cactus set against a large beautiful bay. The water is piped in from a rancho set against a cliff about twelve miles away. Water is divided between the West and East ends of town every other day. In order to have enough water, on water days, each home fills a Pila “water tank” with water. Many of the Gringos here have built houses outside of the Pueblo’s water grid.  They pay to have water trucked in to fill their Pilas.

We are staying in a beautiful home designed and built by my Father-in-Law. The house is connected to the town’s water source. Unfortunately, and sometimes customary here, we are not getting enough water. I hired Arhenis, a local man in his thirties, to fill our Pila last week. He owns a ranch with water near the town’s source. It took nearly two hours to fill our pila and he and I talked with a couple of other locals while we waited. He said something to me that resonated and left me in deep contemplation over my own perspective and my needs as an American.

“Americanos quiere todo perfecto. Quiere un cuerpo perfecto. Una casa perfecto; quiere todo perfecto. Todo muy limpo y todo nuevo, pero…porque? Porque, no les puedan vivir feliz con lo que tiene?”

“Americans want everything perfect. They want a perfect body. They want a perfect house; they want everything perfect. Everything has to be clean and new, but why? Why can’t they live happy with what they have?”

Why indeed? Why are we so concerned about spending money to make everything perfect? Why are we so image driven? Why do we think attaining stuff will make us happier? Why are we so focused on making it appear that we have it all? I think in doing so, we sometimes fail to live and be in the moment. At least, that’s one of my struggles. Living in this community is changing my perspective in many ways. I feel that I have so much to learn. It was a good question. Why are we striving for perfection and why do we have to label everything?

For example, people co-sleep here, but it’s not called co-sleeping…it’s just called living together. They squish their beds together and sleep in the same room (often the same bed) until a child turns about twelve years old. The people here are just living with the resources that they have and seem happy doing it. Nobody calls it co-sleeping and nobody is telling you how you should be doing it.

In the States there is great debate over co-sleeping and many other things. One of the first things people ask after you have a baby is, “is the baby sleeping through the night?” And, “are you co-sleeping?” Then they offer you opinion on what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. Why are we, as Americans, so quick to voice our opinions about people’s living choices and why are we so terrified of the results of potential danger and risk? Why are we so afraid?
A water pila.
I want to make clear, that I am certainly not exempt from any of these observations that I am making about American perspective.

Another local here asked me the other day, “¿Porque los Grings son tan críticos?”

“Why are gringos so critical?” I didn’t have an answer.

What I do know, is that I really feel the locals in this town enjoy their lives. After spending so many years of my life striving to keep up with the fast pace expectations of Southern California living and my own expectations of myself…I am truly enjoying slowing down, looking within and investigating who I am.  It’s really wonderful to have an opportunity to live and parent in a community that views the world from such a different standpoint than I do. And I’ll be honest, it’s refreshing to not be hearing so many opinions about how everyone should be living their lives and what products we should use to do it. It’s also revitalizing to quiet my own opinion, observe and learn how other people live.

I want to take risks. And I don’t mean big risks, I mean small ones. I am talking about letting my kid play in not so liable areas and being okay with it. I want to spend less time worrying about how they “might” get hurt and more time watching them creatively play with old tires, rusted lobster traps and half-broken worn-out toys. I want to practice letting go.

The four of us taking a risk and riding on one motor cycle around the block. 
My husband jokingly made a comment to me recently, “you just want to be Mexican!” And I say, maybe I do, for now. I want to travel the world and understand how many people live. I want to step outside of my worldview and see things with an open mind. To find the perfection in imperfection and understand what happiness means within many different cultures. Hopefully in doing so, I can understand people better and be less critical.

Preparations for the Festival De La Primavera.
I can’t wait to write about La Festival De La Primavera that’s coming up this week and share about a five-year-old birthday party we are attending on Saturday. Thanks so much for reading and sharing this experience with me! I invite you to leave a comment if you have any thoughts and "opinions" regarding the questions that I presented!

Hasta entonces, mas tarde.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Facing Fear and Finding Happiness

“I am going to have to drop you.”

My heart pounded out of my ten-year-old chest and into my ears with fear and adrenaline, as I slowly glanced up at my step dad. The sky was full of gloomy gray clouds and tiny rain drops dotted my face. He was pinned to the floor of the bridge by his motorcycle and his body was twisted at an awkward angle. In an effort to rescue me, he had grasped the hood of my blue winter jacket to prevent me from falling over the bridge and into the water. The jacket choked me a little and the zipper dug into my chin as I dangled above the rushing water. The motorcycle had slid on the wet leaves of the bridge, and out of terror I’d jumped. Only I had jumped the wrong way and now I was hanging next to the bridge. There was no way to grab the edge and climb back up and the drop down was at least twenty feet. His arm was twisted in a painful way over the edge of the bridge .

“I can’t hold you for much longer,” he said through gritted teeth, apology was written all over his face and in his blue eyes.

I looked down at the freezing cold water that bubbled below and then back up at him and tearfully nodded my head. My scream was blood curdling as I fell.  The water was as icy as it looked. The swim wasn’t bad; the water wasn’t deep. The current swept me to shore in less than a minute.

Mom came running when she heard me scream and the event ended with me sitting next to a wood burning stove, swathed in a warm blanket and a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

The point of the story? Fear. Ever since that day motorcycles have terrified me.

I am learning how to ride a motorcycle. I smile as I write that sentence. I smile when I ride the motorcycle down the dusty dirt roads here too.  I am learning to kick start it, shift gears, and safely fly through the air with the wind in my hair and a grin on my face. I even take the kids for rides! I am facing a twenty-six-year old fear and it feels, no…it vibrates freedom through my entirety. My husband loves motorcycles. In fact, he has a reputation for riding dirt bikes. He spends hours in our garage tinkering on them. I’ve always viewed them as something petrifying and to be avoided. He insisted on teaching me to ride before he left for work. With a new openness to life, I swallowed my fear and accepted the challenge. It’s funny how facing your fears can change things. Getting past fear can bring so much joy and liberty.
Me. Accepting and facing fear and loving the result!
Where I ride when I want to check the surf!
The boys tinkering in the garage. One for Daddy Bear, Baby Bear and Mama Bear...Which one will Goldilocks choose? 

In January, after we decided to make this move to Mexico, I began to panic. Every day I would feel waves of anxiety and fear. Most people were excited and supportive of our change, but some comments tugged at my doubts deep within. Was I doing the right thing? Would leaving our daughter’s school be something that we would regret? What about money? What if? What if? What if? My logical and excited side knew that I would never regret moving to Mexico, but the stuck in a rut and routine side embraced the panic. There were so many moments when I thought about backing out of the plan. Oh, the contradictions of the inner voice.  

Change is good, but for some reason it’s terrifying. The thing is, life always works out for the best when we face change and allow ourselves to transform. Comfort and happiness are two entirely different things, and sometimes, it takes a little discomfort to get to a happier place. I think, we often fall into unconscious survival mode and forget to live. We give ourselves so many excuses for why we can’t change things, or why we can’t do what we want, but you know what? If you’re an adult, as long as it’s within the confines of the law, you can do whatever you want. 

I can remember when I was a kid, an aunt of mine whispered something into my ear that I will never forget. I can still hear the resounding joy that came with her statement.

“Being a grownup means that you can have pie and ice-cream for breakfast. Every day, if you want!”

After hearing that…I couldn’t wait to grow up! As adults, we forget the power that we have, we constrict ourselves. We fall into patterns and allow our inner dialog of fear to take over. We give ourselves excuses and reasoning on why we can’t have that slice of pie for breakfast. So often, we consent to our circumstances and give in to fear, preventing ourselves from moving forward. We worry about disappointing and failing ourselves and others. We accept that money and perceived responsibility hold us back. Here’s the thing, if you really want something, all you have to do is decide to do it, work hard, and find creative ways to attain it.

Oh, and quiet that pesky inner voice called fear. 

We don’t have to be stuck in our situations. If something doesn’t feel good, lift us up, and make us happy on a regular basis; it is up to ourselves to change the dialog within and shift our perspective.

If you don’t know what makes you happy, investigate and modify something. Above all, do what makes you happy and shake off the haters.  Find ways around the naysayers.

YOU have the ability, to at any point, change the direction of your life. That might mean making a small adjustment, or you might be like me, where you need something bigger. The bottom line, is that we are the masters of choice in own lives. Live! Choose a path that brings you happiness, our lives are beautiful fleeting moments, why just survive when we can live?

Speaking of fear and anxiety, I’ve had a few people ask me if I feel safe in Mexico or if traveling in Mexico is safe. Whether it’s fear of the Zika virus, getting robbed, or running into drug lords; a lot of people are apprehensive and scared to come here. The short answer is yes, it is safe.

The first night that we arrived here in our little pueblo we went down to Christi’s Tacos and left our truck unlocked. After dinner, we discovered that my phone, the charger, a walkie-talkie and our daughter’s American Girl doll had been stolen.

It was our fault. We had a false sense of security and didn’t lock the doors. I wouldn’t have left my phone out in the open and the doors unlocked in California. Why did I think I could do that here? At first, I only realized that my phone had been stolen. I asked around and offered a $1000 peso ($50) reward to get it back. It was returned in less than twelve hours. Moral of the story, lock your stuff up.

There are several things you can expect to experience at some point while traveling or living in Mexico.
  •  Petty Theft
  •  Military stops
  •  Bribing cops to get out of fines
  •  Narrow roads
  •  Drunk drivers and dangerous things in the road
  • And any number of strange and unexpected occurrence
A standard military check point

Be aware and be thoughtful. I acknowledge, it helps that I speak the language. I've spent a good amount of time in Mexico and have traveled other parts of the world, I am comfortable. Is Mexico more dangerous than other places? Not in my experience. But then, I can say with certainty that I feel safer in most places than I do if I find myself in downtown LA. When I was finishing graduate school I tried to do my research here in San Juanico. The university wouldn’t support my research. They said  the American travel advisory against Mexico implied that it would be too dangerous. I wrote a letter to the dean, explaining that I had grown up in the pueblo and that I felt more unsafe walking through the parking structure at the university, than I ever had in Mexico. It was to no avail. For some reason people are afraid of Mexico.

Skid Row in LA
My perspective and take on travel is pretty simple. If you are respectful of people and their culture, do your best to speak the language and don’t publicly do drugs or get drunk; than ninety percent of the time, you will have a beautiful and safe experience. There are exceptions, but there are exceptions everywhere. 

I live in a nice neighborhood in California and we had a bicycle stolen out of our garage in January. Two doors down a neighbor woke in the middle of the night to discover someone staring in her window. Some other neighbors had their house broken into while they were sleeping. I wouldn't call my neighborhood dangerous. Sometimes shitty stuff happens. 

All I can say is this, don’t allow fear to prevent experiencing other countries and their cultures. In my opinion, life begins when we step outside of our trepidations and boundaries. That is when the beautiful journey of experiencing and understanding diversity begins.

I don’t mean to say that everyone needs to jump on a plane to an exotic location to attain happiness and understanding of the world. My entire hope is to speak to those who might be frustrated by some fragment of their current life experience. I want to encourage those who are reading to try something different and experience something new. To not let frustrations and fears act as their guide. If you are facing any form of pessimism, unhappiness, or anxiety involving your current life path; find a small or big way to step outside of that corridor. In hindsight, no one ever regrets taking risks and making changes.

Living in this little Mexican village is absolutely beautiful. Every day I am astounded by the generosity and kindness of the people. I am amazed at the gusto my children take in being in the NOW and in being a part of the community here.  Life is simpler and people aren't as emotionally confounded by the complications and heaviness of fear and choice. There is a lot to learn here!

A very blurry photo from family night last week with some old friends. 
I think if you've read my first two posts, then you probably have a sense of the fear, stress, and anxiety that I was under. I was really wrestling with finding consistent happiness and purpose in many aspects of my life.

This confusion and stress was a force that drove my husband and I to make this big and creative change. Leaving our lives behind in California and moving to this tiny isolated village is inspiring new perspective about ourselves, life, happiness and what we find most important.  

Shifting and changing are beautiful, but scary things. All I know, is that I am excited to see what comes next and I am motivated to share this journey through writing. 

It is so beautiful when I hear from readers about how they connect to this story and how they are making changes in their lives. If you are inclined, please share!

I have decided to only post on Sundays. I had hoped to post twice a week, but twice a week takes focus away from writing my book. I am a grown-up, and can have pie for breakfast! So Sundays it is!  Have a magical and joy filled day. I am so excited to share more about the nuances of living in this little town! Stay tuned! Thank you for reading!

Hasta entonces, mas tarde


"The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear."