Some may call me a lazy mother. I know I’ve thought of myself that way at times living in Mexico.
Today, I’m sitting at a beachside restaurant with my girlfriends drinking margaritas, while our children – ages 2 through 10 – play. They run up and down the shoreline, darting past the string of palapa-roofed restaurants, in between sun umbrellas and sunbathers and in and out of sight. Maya – my 4-year-old daughter – and her friends are full of boundless energy, happy and laughing, oblivious to any potential danger around them. They are out of sight more often than in view.
I am barely paying them any attention, happy to be having an adult conversation – something that I get pretty often now that I live in the small beachside community of Chacala. I should be more concerned about my daughter’s whereabouts, I tell myself. I should get up from this wooden bench and cold margarita and find her, make sure she knows where I am, tell her to check in with me more often.
I finally catch sight of her playing under a grove of coconut palms with her 2-year-old amiga Ela. They are chasing a stray cat, which, not wanting to be captured by the two over-zealous kitty lovers, darts away every time they get near. The girls continue to chase it and are soon out of sight again.
I think back to when we lived in suburban Colorado, and how I would have never let Maya run so far and so free. The places she played there were contained spaces – parks, indoor gymnasiums, fenced backyards – not entire stretches of beach with no real borders other than the wide open ocean. I used to hover more, control her more – in an attempt to honor the unspoken code among suburban parents that kids should always be under parental supervision. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a bad or lazy parent. I didn’t want to be judged.
Maya eventually comes to me. She excitedly tells me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. In them, she deposits two little fistfuls of treasures she’s found on the beach – rocks, sticks, feathers, shells and random bits of colorful plastic. I open my eyes, make the appropriate fuss over her simple gifts, and she’s off again, as happy with her own freedom as I am with mine.
This is a scene we play out time and time again in this small Mexican town – at the beach, the plaza, the Saturday market, and on adventures to neighboring beaches and islands. Me, enjoying being myself without hovering over her, and her enjoying being herself without being hovered over.
We can do this because we feel completely safe here. Yes, completely safe in this small Mexican village. I know nearly everyone in Chacala if not by name, then by face, and they know us (we are one of only four expat families that live here). Most of our children all go to the same school, and their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great aunts, great uncles and cousins pretty much all live in this same town. If I don’t know the person, chances are they are related to someone I know. I can also do this because this is how it is done in Mexico. Kids have more freedom (and responsibility) than they do in the States. Families and friends hang out together in large groups and let their kids be kids.
So when our kids play, in a sense they are all part of the same family. It is not one parent having to watch over one or more child. It is all parents watching over all children, and all children – from oldest to youngest – looking out for each other.
This makes for a very parenting-light existence. I don’t have to hover. I don’t have to control. I can watch from a distance and enjoy Maya exploring her world. This makes me a happier, more loving and patient parent, and Maya a happier, more independent child.
Still, some may call me a lazy mother. Maybe I am. But after more than a year of living this way, Maya and I are happier and closer than ever. So, I’m ok with being a little floja (lazy).