Paradise or Pair O’ Dice?

Settling in Mazatlan

To travel is to stretch time between your fingers and test its tensile strength. As nomads we might as well have been permanently suspended in the stratosphere, for all that time slowed and even seemed to reverse itself on occasion. That was life with one child and two backpacks. 

Fast forward to the intensity of settling into permanency with three children, and time burns as it screams by. It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Mazatlán for a month. We have managed to: secure a year lease, move house, enroll Spencer in school, buy his uniform, meet the school staff and a few other parents, and thanks to the continuing generosity of David’s friend Noah, arrange transportation. We have found one babysitter, made plans to switch to a Spanish speaking babysitter, arranged house cleaning, set up water and gas deliveries, ordered and installed a larger bed for us and a bunk bed for the kids, installed internet, had the internet moved for better reception, enrolled in a gym, set up local phone numbers, and embarked on numerous Uber trips to hiper grocery stores. Such an apt word for the big stores, and for life here so far. Hiper. 

No lights in this pic — the entire hallway’s ceiling is a skylight

Our house is a three bedroom, 3.5 bath for $900/month plus utilities. David found it via obsessive daily searching on local sites, making Facebook posts, etc. I think it’s probably my favorite house of all our travels. It’s peaceful, with separation, light, and a meandering flow. Everything is on one level, which is a relative rarity. Spencer has his own room is important to him, the two babies have an enclosed atrium off of their room to which we added a play kitchen and a tent. We even have a yard, which is almost unheard of here. A yard means that the mosquitoes are plentiful as well. Poor Cormoran is so riddled with bites that I’m moving beyond bug spray and into more serious measures like bed netting and an outside fumigation. His swollen limbs are heart-breaking. Everything is a tradeoff. We live right across from the baseball stadium, and the local Venados made it to the Mexican world series. On game nights, it’s not that much noisier than a night in Centro, or in Guanajuato. No kids play soccer against our wall, no brass band practices in a neighboring courtyard, no fireworks illuminate our faces through the bedroom windows. Only two neighboring dogs have made their presence known. Although it’s not as romantic as old-fashioned, flower bedecked Guanajuato, it’s practically silent by Mexican standards and that’s a nice change.

Cormoran scratching a bite

We have been very spoiled, as usual, by Mexico. Gas, water, and internet people have been accommodating and speedy. Everyone forgives our rusty Spanish and waits patiently for us to get our verb tenses together. (We have to adjust to feeling stupid again. I thought my Spanish was decent, and then I accidentally told someone that we had our bunkbed delivered by airplane. Facepalm.) The sky is cloudy once in a while, the sea generous with a breeze. The taxi driver had no problem turning around in the parking lot when I realized that I left my purse in the store, harried by a zillionth trip alone with two babies, who, inexplicably, hate grocery stores and shopping cart rides. All in all, we really appreciate Mazatlán’s convenience for our young family. Having a Sam’s Club, Walmart, and three Sorianas within ten minutes is great, though we wouldn’t have wanted that five years ago. We also love that Uber drivers are ubiquitous, and that we can find a lot of easy food delivery options, even vegan ones! 

Despite this relatively soft landing, the transition has been wrenching. I often find myself close to tears. David and I are a few date nights away from marital recalibration. The kids scream and cry so much still that when they’re sleeping I still find myself shushing no one in particular, out of habit. For David, I think the stress of catching up at work and settling in on his off time means a deficit of relaxation. He’s not yet getting to enjoy what he loves about Mexico: exploration and discovery. Our wonderful house is not in a great walking neighborhood, and we don’t yet have a car in which to explore. For me, it goes a little deeper.  

Many expats love that Mexico is so different from their origins. Many expats are actively escaping something that didn’t work about their home countries. I applaud the deliberate, fearless intention with which they made new lives.

As for me, I am no immigrant, but an exile. I spent all of my adult life moving, and finally, for two brief years, I came home. I was never happier than when we were back in Spokane. My family and I are unusually close, I think. I am most myself when I’m laughing with my brother, walking in the pines, making holiday plans with my mom, watching the sun go down on the ridge or a Zags game with my dad. I know Spokane’s every season, the smell of every temperature degree change in the earth. You think I exaggerate, but it was my mother’s and my tradition to mark the date when the August light changed, often weeks ahead of the fall. Winter nights during the last weeks of my pregnancy with Piper, I slept alone on the couch, cocooned in warmth and preparing for a birth so miraculous that I’d like to rewrite every ridiculous screenplay that teaches women to agonize. Our time in Spokane arranged itself around Piper’s beautiful birth, and made for a magical two years. The crystallization and meditation of winter, the smell of hot wood and cool rivers in the summer, autumn’s clear blaze and the traditions that knit them all together into a lifetime, an opus of memory.

Unfortunately, my innate happiness there was wrapped up in things that David couldn’t share. If he had been a different person, he might have grown to love the forest the way I love it, to feel as at home with my family as I do. But I fell in love with his independence and intrepid nature, and I cannot blame him for those facets of himself now. As a couple who has traveled together, integrated surprises, hurdled money problems and new careers, our mettle was never tested more than when we struggled over where to live. Nothing articulated our core differences more than the decision whether and when to leave Spokane. We ended up as we always do, committed to growing in the same direction.

Taking groceries and furniture home from Sam’s Club in one of the convenient truck taxis

That leaves me, for a while, with grief. Every day I pray for gratefulness, for a good attitude and an open heart. I know that I have more free time, less financial worry, and an opportunity to check off my bucket list goal of speaking fluent Spanish here. There are new, loving communities in which I can earn my place over time. I know how lucky I am to be welcomed into this country, and I know, at least intellectually, how to make the most of it. I even know that part of making the most of it means forgiving myself for the days I order in food, escape into books, and spend money on furniture. The more I grieve, the sooner I can hit the Spanish lessons, the more energy I have to plunge into those faltering, uncertain conversations in an alien environment.  

As for Spencer, the school environment is a great fit. He is happy, and making friends. He doesn’t have homework, which I appreciate. Back in Spokane it felt like too much after a long day of school to ask him to push his brain for another hour. I like that he can come home and be a kid, play with his brother and sister, and generally enjoy his childhood. I can see in his bearing and demeanor that he’s happy and confident. His school day is in English for four hours, and in Spanish for two. Given the trouble he had with Spanish in the past, and the fact that verbal skills take longer for him to master, this is an ideal situation. In Spokane, he had already begun to label himself as “stupid.” Here, he feels slightly ahead compared to his Mexican classmates for whom English is a second language. This difference in confidence should allow him to learn the same verbal and reading skills his compatriots are learning, but at his own speed. Apparently, Colegio Rex is the only English language primary school in Mazatlán. Our time here really centers on Spencer. If the move would have been damaging for him, I don’t think we would have made the decision to uproot him. 

Piper and Cormoran, still attached by an invisible umbilical cord, are happy as long as David and I can be present. They miss their family, but, unlike me, their young hearts are resilient and flexible. We have noticed more tantrums and crying in Cormoran, who is 2 and a half. Whereas Spencer always liked traveling, even at a young age, Cormoran needs a bit more structure in order to feel well-adjusted. Seeing this difference, I’m glad that we’ve planned to make Mazatlán our home base for the foreseeable future. NO MORE MOVING. Piper is young enough, and surely a different personality altogether. We discover more about her every day, but so far she seems to roll with the punches. She’s even slept through the night a few times, which is unusual! 

All in all, I think it will be a very long process to really feel at home, but we’re making progress every day. We haven’t yet been to a doctor here, or explored a lot of the city, so other expat experiences will be chronicled in future posts. If you have a question we haven’t answered, let us know and we’ll try to accommodate!


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