So much has happened since we crossed the border two months ago that I’m not even going to try to recount the details sequentially. Though I’ve paid in crowded thoughts and congested perspectives, stepping away (virtually) for a minute was exactly what I needed and about the only way I could manage the (primarily emotional and secondarily physical) load of this move. When The Here and Now demands my presence that loudly, I’m learning to pay attention and let it lead.
We’re home now!! and though I hardly know what that means anymore, these mountains ARE home for me. I can feel it. Our boxes broken down and the neighborhood full of kids, today is the first day in months that processing has taken priority over packing, unpacking, soaking in our friends and family or staring blankly in disbelief and sensory overload. (Remember the mess last summer made of my mind? Yeah, that had nothing on this season.)
The most common question asked of us is, “So, what’s it like to be back?”
In the same category as “How’s the fam?” or “Tell me about the girls!” this question requires that I…
And though I’m capable of the generally-expected reaction of, “Everyone’s great, thanks for asking!” it’s never easy for me, as it cues each family member to parade through my heart and remind me how complicated the truth really is.
So, because a simple, “Our move has been…great!” is not necessary here (yet the whole thing still feels like a giant fuster cluck), I’ll just throw out thoughts at random, pair them with pertinent photos and trust that you understand my kind of crazy.
Feels good to be back. I’ve sorely missed writing you.
Reverse culture shock is even more intense. Though moving abroad was big, returning to the U.S. feels a good deal more shocking. While this could easily be attributed to the pace alone, I think it has even more to do with having re-sensitized. After four years of living with minimal possessions, consuming less than ever and with little (and laughable) exposure to advertising, I no longer have many filters in place with which to handle the overstimulation inherent to stateside living. Even the most seemingly-benign activities (such as grocery shopping) feel overwhelming and likely will until I relearn how and what to ignore again (or lose my mind). I wonder if this is true of anyone who returns to their native soil, or if it’s a phenomenon unique to hyper-stimulating cultures such as our own. Thing is, I don’t particularly want a new set of filters just to function. Is desensitization really necessary? Or could it be, given a fresh perspective on what’s essential, non-essential and worthy of my attention, that discernment might prove sufficient to keep me sane? We shall see!
There are seasons for adventuring, and seasons for rooting. Many have asked why we decided to move back, as much as we loved living in Mexico. The answer has less to do with which culture we prefer than it does what best suits our family during this season. Our girls — now street smart, bilingual and savvy travelers — also deserve the gifts of constancy, rhythm and friends they won’t soon be leaving. The heartbreak of that; of repeatedly saying goodbye to places and people we adore, was wearing on us all. Our need for community suddenly trumped any wanderlust whims.
Fortunately (and apparently), prior inhabitance is not always a prerequisite for feeling at home. My roots are eager to grow here, and conditions seem quite conducive.
I think about my appearance more in the states. Most everywhere I go here (though less in Asheville than in Austin), I’m reminded of what I “should” look like, want and be striving for (as a woman, mother and “privileged” human). There are also more mirrors, more images created to elicit certain feelings and WAY more people clearly invested in what’s trending. And while I’m pretty secure in my minimal making-ready routines (throwing on secondhand standbys and tying my hair in a knot, for example), it does occur to me that without makeup, hair dye or any clue (or care) about fashion “rules,” I’m often the least put-together person in the bunch. This doesn’t bother me so much as it intrigues me. How fascinating to feel more self conscious here at home than as a gringa among latinos.
Smartphones are crazy cool and kind of concerning. Between the distraction, potential for instant connection, easy access to information and sense of obligation to respond immediately, I’m both infatuated with and a little sketched out by my new iPhone. The fact that I’ve been totally bummed a couple of times when I accidentally left it somewhere and then “needed” it (when I’ve never before enjoyed the luxury in my life) really speaks to its addictiveness. On the other hand, I rather love the accessibility of my people, camera, music and…meditation chimes (oh, the irony). But then again, am I obligated to respond every time the darn thing dings? I suppose it’s like anything else and once the newness wears off, I’ll settle into a reasonable balance. Gosh, but will our teens? How do we guide them through a world they know more about than we do?
It’s always better to rent a bigger moving truck than seems necessary. You might be surprised by how much stuff you actually have, and mattresses generally win in wrestling matches.
There are definite dos and don’ts when it comes to leaving the country for extended stretches. For example: DO store your things somewhere you don’t have to pay, such as the corner of your garage in the house you rent out…
Also, DO rent your house to awesome people with common interests, if at all possible…
DON’T, on the other hand, store your things in outbuildings prone to rodent invasion…
I was happier without my stuff, but that doesn’t mean stuff necessarily hinders happiness. This one has been a really big deal for me since we’ve been back. As we began rounding up our things and I realized how many more of them we had than I’d remembered, I began to panic a little. WAIT! But I don’t even remember what’s IN all those boxes! Do we HAVE to open them?! I’m not sure I want ANY of it!! By the time we’d packed it all in the moving truck, driven it across the country and unloaded it into our (rather small) house, I was in a bit of a funk. Fearfully equating things with our pre-adventure stress level, it took a good deal of thought checking, deep breathing and letting go of stories to realize that though minimalism suits me, the change that matters most happened within. Now that I’ve lived without my things, I no longer feel an attachment to them. Now that I realize how much happier I am without many attachments, I’m less likely to accumulate needlessly. AND, now that the boxes are all unpacked and their contents proving more useful than scary, I’m actually quite pleased about the reunion. All that STUFF represents not a life of stress and hoarding, but years and years of good finds, careful craftsmanship, thoughtful gifts and artists supported. The lesson I was meant to learn? Possessions can’t cause us stress nor free us from it. Our thoughts about our possessions determine our reactions to them.
The real riches are in the process, not the end product. I’m learning that noticing the beauty in moments such as THESE is much easier when I first slow down and then zoom in or out. By zooming in, I’m able to focus on one thing at a time, appreciating its unique role within my story. Zooming OUT allows me to see chaos as natural, necessary and relative, and peace as an INNER state of being. I can’t claim that I held true to these perspectives throughout the whole move, but I DID notice a heck of a lot of beauty amidst the madness.
The coupling of pre and post-Mexico adornments and housewares feels quite symbolic. The best part about unpacking our things (for me) has been the melding of our two seemingly distinct lives. It’s served as a reminder that I am not the woman I once was but neither am I exclusively the woman I’ve become. Loving and honoring myself means loving and honoring every stage of my story and celebrating the continuum; the compilation.
I set up the girls’ toys for myself as much as I did for them. They’re all a little old for their kitchen, play stands and many of the toys we’ve made and collected through the years, but I kinda needed to set them up anyway. Judging from the fun being had, they kind of needed it, too.
My kid needs pop culture. I never thought I’d say it, but plugging into “what all the other kids are doing” seems to be exactly what Eli needs right now. Starry-eyed over all she’s been “missing,” she’s beside herself over the chance to develop friendships in English within a culture she identifies with. My hope is that she’ll also soon realize that Mexico was a gift, not a four-year punishment. Oh, the irony. One of our kids swears she’ll never leave the U.S. again.
It is possible to adventure while rooting. Given the fact that we’re both now self-employed (doing things neither of us have ever attempted), our adventure has really only just begun. (What’s that? You sense fear and trembling? Nah, must be the chilly mountain air.)
I don’t have to miss and yearn for Mexico in order to fully appreciate our time there. It’s easy to get lost in sadness. It’s easy to let it convince us of life’s injustice, pain’s relentlessness and the fleeting nature of joy. But when rooted in a mindset of sufficiency, it seems, sadness has a greater purpose: it points us toward the abundance we’re overlooking. This summer it also occurred to me (much to my relief) that either way — whether steeped in scarcity or in-tune with abundance — life is still heavy. The difference is that we either fear or love the loads we shoulder.
Having all my girls together, no matter how complex and chaotic, will never again be a gift I take for granted. There’s a satisfaction I feel when this happens that rivals no other sensation I’ve known. And anytime I’m looking to practice my new sadness-within-the-context-of-sufficiency theory, I’ve always got my girls for skill refinement.
Living in the flow is simply slower going. Putting my book (and blog) on the back burner this summer has not been easy, but in my experience, resisting reality never yields a better outcome (and kids don’t really allow it anyway). That said, school starts in less than two weeks!!!!!! which means more rhythm, writing and serenity soon to come.
For this and so much more, I’m immensely grateful.
May late summer bring you joy and a nap in a shaded hammock,
More soon! and more often,
Make a commitment to follow the path of no resistance. This is the path through which nature’s intelligence unfolds spontaneously, without friction or effort. When you remain open to all points of view — not rigidly attached to only one — your dreams and desires will flow with nature’s desires. Then you can release your intentions, without attachment, and just wait for the appropriate season for your desires to blossom into reality. You can be sure that when the season is right, your desires will manifest.
Wonderful to have you back and back to writing. I am sure it will still come in spits and spurts as you and your family continue to adjust to your life in the US. Grocery shopping for the first time in the US in years is exhausting. It will get easier as you determine which flour you will regularly buy. Soon you will be whizzing down the aisles plucking exactly what you want from the very same spot each visit. I think it took us (only shopping for 2 people) 1 1/2 hours the first time. Now we can do it in about 15-20 minutes. It does get easier. Also, avoid TV especially the “news” – which only causes stress. You can get all the “news” you want the same way as when you were in Mexico and keep the stress levels down. The family looks awesome. I hope Hunter will start posting/blogging about his new adventure too.
You totally rock!! I’m so excited for your new stateside adventure! xoxo
I’ve been in Mexico for 14 years. When traveling back to Texas, the first thing that hits me between the eyes is all the “Stuff”. Grocery stores, clothing, toys of grandchildren, phones everywhere. It truly is overwhelming. I forgot to mention the traffic!
My life in San Miguel is so uncomplicated and peaceful that I often wonder if I could blend back in….it might happen some day. Thanks for writing an absolutely beautiful and thoughtfully written manifesto of the trip.
Enjoy. Your family is lovely. Good luck on this new adventure!
Sorely missed your writing, too 😉
Quite an intense phase you´re going through. So much resonates with my heart, thank you for sharing 🙂
You´re an awesome human+e being – love yourself!!
Big hugs <3
Happy to have you back in Internet Land! Sounds like things are going exactly as would be expected (maybe even a little better?). I love how you are able to step outside of a situation and figure out the root of your fear/insecurity/anxiety in order to learn how to best move forward. It’s a remarkable skill that I really hope to better hone.
p.s. Love your office/studio. What an inspiring place!
‘Re-entry’ as we called it is difficult, it took about 4 months before I felt like I could exhale. And it took another 3 months before I started to actually understand what our time away had been all about, how we had changed and what we had learned about ourselves and about how we wanted to live our lives.
We have now been ‘home’ almost a year and this week we have decided to ‘go back out’ into the world, but this time we shall put our house up for sale as opposed to rent it.
I’m filled with that heady mix of excitement and fear, but the one absolute truth that I know for sure is that we are always looked after. We never went hungry, we were never without somewhere to stay, and we met the most incredible people along the way.
Be gentle with yourself, being ‘home’ is as much a part of the adventure as being ‘away’. And like a pebble dropping to the bottom of a pond, it takes time for everything to ‘settle’. Thank you for sharing your journey and your wisdom. Catherine x
Thank you for sharing! I love the feeling I have after reading your posts! (I live near NYC and also spend 10 minutes picking out flour, always.) I have longed for a simpler life with less choices, options, advertising (I love Tulum!), but my girls are now women making their lives here, so it’s refreshing and comforting to read your perspective and see your process.
When people ask me how Mexico was, how I am, why we came back, if I am SO happy to be out of that place, if I love being back home, what place I like better, they don’t actually want an answer.
It’s all a lie. They don’t care.
I am so sick and tired of lying to everyone. I’m sick of lying to myself.
Instead of saying “I’m great, thanks! Mexico was good but I’m glad to be back home.”
Here’s my answer:
Mexico was amazing.
I’m pretty crappy.
We came back because it was time, for ALL OF US.
No, I’m not so happy to be gone, nobody in their right mind would be. But my time there is done and no, I don’t really miss it.
Mexico changed me forever and I am so so glad to have had the experience.
But I’m sick of people trying to understand what I went through. It was hell. If there is anything that stands out about what I learned from living there is that even in the darkest moment, there’s always light. In hell there is always something beautiful.
I love Mexico and I always will and it will forever be home.
This place is not home. Not yet at least, and I’m hoping that will change. But for now, it’s just another place I’ve lived.
I like Mexico better. Period.
So there’s your answer. Sorry to disappoint you. But you weren’t even wanting a real answer now were you. 🙂
My mind is open and I have no expectations. But I’m done lying.
Taos Preciosa!!! Send you Huge hug full of Love!!! All of you are always in our hearts, and hopefully one day we will get to visit you, the kids miss you girls! Life is a great adventure!!!
We all love and miss you!!
Mi amor a los ninos!
We don’t want your lies anyway. We want your truth, the vulnerable, frustrated, raw, messy, and beautiful truth that encapsulates how you feel at.this.moment. And when you let it out like you did here, you will move people more deeply than any little white lie will ever soothe them.
It is worth noting your mama’s words early in the article, though, to realize who is ready to support you in voicing your truth vs. those who really just want to hear the easy lie and move on.
You, your sisters, your Daddy, and especially your mama, are very loved and very appreciated–by many, no doubt–but I’m speaking for myself here <3
Wonderful post as always, I have really missed you online! You say what I think yet much more eloquently and organized.
In my family, wanderlust is a bit threatening to those who haven’t traveled much because they can’t comprehend the need to travel or how those of us who love to travel see the world. Answering a question like that for me has been very dependent on the same things you mention above, I now know who really wants to know and who is just being socially chatty. Both are fine, we need this world to be diverse, to travel to places and spend time with those that don’t.
Hugs to you and your family. May this chapter in your lives be amazing and full of wonderful memories.
Beth, great to see you back posting! Taos — thank you for your real answer.
Love you’re back and love reading your blogs. So true it’s how we view our possessions that causes stress. The people I’ve met and love in Africa have so much joy and have very little. Such a big lesson learned.
Love you, love your family and hope to visit you soon! 😉
Thanks for sharing. So glad you are online again!
Love your office space!! I love that house! It’s so cute! I also love you , Taos !!
this was really wonderful to read. it felt easy and breezy. i loooove the pictures too of course. i CAN’T wait to come visit. it was a tease seeing you all. much loooove sister.
Your girls are beautiful! And your new home too, especially your office! I’ve missed yr writing but as a busy mama too, I totally get it even though my life is much less complicated than yours at the moment! Phew. My husband does most of our grocery shopping and I avoid malls and glossy mags, so when I do go into a store other than a thrift place, I’m totally overstimulated, overwhelmed and bewildered by the choices. And a little nauseous. I used to think there was something wrong with me for getting anxious and seasick in a mall but now I take that as a sign that I’m actually more in touch with what’s real.
I love that you’re back to just sharing what/when you’d like! Enjoy! (We will!)
so happy to read your post today! you have been missed!
Yup. I do love your kind of crazy. Welcome back, in so many ways.
Yay, you’re back!! Yay yay yay!
Wow, what a great update. I didn’t realize I’d been missing hearing from you 🙂 I totally agree with you that re-entry into our culture is super super jarring. Thank you for sharing all of that, it was so wonderfully stated. I just finished reading, “Eat, Pray, Love”, today and Elizabeth’s thoughts and yours (on culture, transitions, love, etc.) blend together perfectly for me. I’m going to wrap them up in a little satchel and carry them on my wrist <3
HI Beth! It was so nice to meet you and some of your family at Carly’s the other night~ I look forward to getting to know all of you more in years to come. I hadn’t been over here in a while and our meeting prompted me to check in again to see if you’d written at all since you returned. I really enjoyed reading about the whole process and (ongoing) transition. I will say I laughed as I read your words about reverse culture shock, having difficulty shopping, and references to your post about the garbage-strewn beach, as they were all things that came up in our initial conversation- I laughed not necessarily because they were funny, but because you’d just written this and there I was mentioning all these things. we should get together~
cheers from down the road (sorta)
Welcome back. Good to hear from you again. I completely relate to your culture shock upon return – resonates with my experience returning from Kenya. I remember being absolutely amazed at how smooth the roads were – it felt surreal. And I remember standing at my bathroom sink turning the water on and off again in complete wonder at running water. It was actually quite difficult, though, in a lot of other difficult-to-describe ways. I think we allow ourselves lots of space to adjust to a new culture, but just assume we’ll jump back into our own culture upon return, but that process needs just as much space and kindness and curiosity and understanding as the other. You probably already know all that, though. The main reason I’m writing is to ask if you’d share your financial story with us. How is it you are able to afford such a beautiful home, and the opportunity to both pursue your own interests professionally? I don’t ask in a “hey! How come she gets to have all that?!” Or in a “she can only do all this because she must have family money somehow” way, but in a genuine “share with us how you’ve made it work” way. Money is so often an obstacle preventing us from taking the leap to pursue our dreams and gifts to the world. How have you managed/overcome/dissolved/worked around it? I would so very much appreciate your wise perspective on that element of life. It seems to have remained a mystery on your blog – a missing piece of your story – and I can only imagine that sharing your insights about it would be really valueable. Thank you for the work you do and the gift you give of your viewpoint and experience. Your life inspires my own.
Beautiful writing. We were in Lebanon in 2012 for 6 months and while it wasn’t that long comparatively speaking, it was still a culture shock coming back home to Canada. Hoping you settle in soon!
Totally intrigued by your writing. Although I haven’t had the same journal (moving internationally), I can relate to some many of the things you write about. Just love it. Thanks for making the time for this.
Welcome back. My friend Donovan spoke of you today so I figured I’d swing by and howdy and all. Crisp writing. Great internal/external observational stance. Everything and more Donovan had so warmly implied.