The news came as a shock. The look on Brian’s face was pure disbelief after he hung up the phone with the principal of the school where he had worked for the past 13 years, and where he planned to return to in the fall.
Earlier that day, I was offered my old job back in the USA. With Brian headed back to the classroom, that meant we both would have jobs to come home to after our year away. Our former lives in Colorado were just sitting there waiting for us. How easily we could slip back into “normal” life.
We were in for a loop.
“You won’t believe this,” Brian said to me without blinking. “She said that she’d approve a request to extend my sabbatical another year if I wanted. And I’d still get my old job back when I returned.”
My heart thumped in my chest, “What? Are you serious? Another year?”
We were both dumbstruck.
We never planned on staying in Mexico for more than one year. That’s how long Brian was allowed by his school district to take unpaid leave and get his same teaching job back. When we first learned about this incredible benefit years ago, we instantly knew we were going to take advantage of it and starting saving money. Four years later, we had saved enough for both of us to take a year off from work and live and travel in Mexico.
Fast forward to that fated phone call, and there we were 9 months into our year away, faced with the unanticipated, complicated and emotional decision of whether to go back home or stay another year. We had just one week to decide. That’s when Brian’s request for leave was due to the district office, and when I needed to accept or decline my former employer’s offer.
The timing was purely coincidental. We had merely contacted our former employers on the same day to get the conversation started about re-entry into our old jobs. We never expected that I’d be offered a job on the same day that Brian would find out he could take another year off.
We were bewildered, excited and frightened out of our wits. What should we do?
The possibility of staying in Mexico another year sent us into a tailspin. With our year away coming to a close, we had already begun to mentally move back to Colorado and were excited, albeit nervous, about coming home.
We promised each other things would be different when we got back home, that we’d take the lessons we learned from Mexico with us. We’d make more time for ourselves, each other, Maya and for our friends and family; we’d work less; and we’d continue our Spanish language learning. Personally, I was ready to be rid of some of the minor annoyances of living in rural Mexico – not being able to drink the tap water, having to put dirty toilet paper in the trash can rather than the toilet; battling armies of ants in the kitchen; slathering Maya in bug spray and sunscreen every day; and random power outages. I missed my house, friends, family and community, and, quite frankly, the easy access to all the goods and services I was used to in suburban Colorado.
Staying another year also presented big challenges logistically and financially. We had only saved enough money for one year without work, not two. Turning down the job offer from my former employer meant I’d likely have to start a whole new job search when I got home, which could take months. Our house, which we had been renting out while we were away, was currently vacant and undergoing a major kitchen reconstruction because of a water leak that hadn’t been properly fixed. Much of our stuff would have to stay in storage and in various friend’s and family’s basements and guest rooms for another year.
Yet the more we thought it over, the more financial and logistical sense it made to stay. Our cost of living in Chacala is about half of what it is in Colorado. That means if I could find freelance work with U.S.-based companies, I could cover our expenses by only working half time (as long as our house was rented). With just one of us working half time, we’d still have plenty of time to spend together as a family, as a couple, with our friends here, and exploring all that Chacala and Mexico have to offer. Our house was already vacant. Why not rent it out again?
And when we really listened to our hearts, we knew we had to stay. Living in Mexico, and in particular Chacala, has been an immensely enriching experience for our family, especially for our four-year-old daughter, Maya.
We have watched Maya blossom into a resilient and adventurous little girl here. Every day, we are impressed with how much she is learning and doing. She now speaks basic Spanish with her friends and teachers. She has learned how to make new friends quickly, despite the difference in language and culture. She can now swim short distances (before we arrived, she was afraid to get her face wet). She loves boats – the faster the better. She likes to ride on paddleboards and kayaks, and loves to bob beside us while we snorkel. She has swum with whale sharks and sea lions. She has been stung by jellyfish twice and still loves the ocean. She can spend hours upon hours of unstructured playtime on the beach.
Some people have told us that because she is so little, Maya won’t remember her time in Mexico. Maybe they are right, but we are certain this experience is building her soul.
When we boiled down our reasons for staying, it came down to these simple truths:
- Our daughter will only be little once. This time is precious with Maya. She is silly and sweet and adventurous and willing to try just about anything. One day we will wake up and she won’t want to hang out with us anymore. We want to squeeze every last drop of time we have with our only kid.
- We are still young and healthy. We are in our 40s and lucky to still be healthy and active. But who knows what ills or accidents may befall us in the future? We have had several young friends and family members face serious illnesses this year. If we don’t do this now, we might not be able to later.
- We won’t regret staying; but we will regret leaving. We have found this to be true with every travel or life experience we have ever had. We only regret NOT DOING the things that open ourselves to new experiences and adventures, we never regret DOING them, even if during the doing we are scared, anxious or miss home.
- Bilingualism is one of the greatest gifts we can give Maya. Maya is already understanding and speaking basic Spanish and she sounds like a local. Given another year here, she is likely to become fully bilingual. Having the ability to speak more than one language is a gift that opens countless doors to new experiences, opportunities, friendships and understanding. We believe it is one of the greatest gifts we can give Maya.
After a week of soul-searching, Brian submitted his paperwork and I declined the job offer. That same afternoon, we took ourselves out to lunch at one of our favorite beachside restaurants. One of the ever-present Mariachi bands was making its rounds among the tables. Brian summoned the band to our table. We had never actually hired a Mariachi band yet during our stay here. We asked them to play something happy. They started playing “Mi Linda Nayarit”, which talks about all the places we love in this state and how great they are. I started bawling. I took the song selection as a sign that we had made the right decision to stay another year. I hope with all my heart we made the right call.
We look forward to continuing to share our adventures with you on this blog site. We’d love to hear your feedback. Feel free to submit a comment below! Thank you.