Hanging On

After we made the decision to head back to Mexico and have our baby there, things fell into place as they usually do once intentions become clear. We found a great family to rent our house, and Mark had so much work thrown his direction that he was able to be choosy about what worked best for our family. As he packed up for one last job in Stanley, Idaho, he simultaneously packed our car like a sardine can. We kissed him goodbye and caught up with him a few days later in Stanley.

Our last day in Missoula--getting some road treats from one of our favorite bakeries.

Our last day in Missoula–getting some road treats from one of our favorite bakeries.

Finalizing the packing and cleaning the house was a huge chore for my 5-months-pregnant self, but it had to be done. It felt really BIG to drive away from Missoula, just Owen and I, knowing that when we returned we’d be a family of four. We made our way to Mark’s hotel and spent a couple of nights there waiting for him to finish. Mark’s schedule is always kind of insane when he’s working, and this was no different. Awake before dark and home after dark, he put in long hours doing hard labor with just enough time at the end of the day to eat, shower and go to bed. So by the time he’d finished his job, he was pretty tired. And I was raring to go.

The view from Mark's hotel room in Stanley, ID.

The view from Mark’s hotel room in Stanley, ID.

Before we’d left Mexico in April, I’d been told by the head of the ‘artesanos’ that if I didn’t return in time for the first market of the season, my spot would go to someone else. “And everyone wants your spot,” he said cryptically in his thick, Chilean accent. I’d nodded back at him, wide-eyed.

I. Would. Not. Lose. My. Spot.

So that meant that we had to book it down to the border to make it back in time. Mark’s project had gone over by a day or two, and there was no time to spare. He was tired with no desire to rush, while I was a wound up pregnant woman about to move to Mexico. We clanged against each other for the first day or two on the road. Actually, I just clanged against him.

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Nevada. Love driving through Nevada!

When we finally crossed the border into Mexico and arrived at the visa office, we were right on track to make it back in time for the first market. But then it all went to hell when we realized that we didn’t have our car registration. Who doesn’t have their car registration in their car, like, all the time? Us, apparently. Our nomadic lifestyle had caught up with us, and neither of us could recall what we’d done with the registration. I had a vague, dim memory of possibly throwing it in the trash after peeling off the sticker and putting it on our license plates. The visa office didn’t care about our sticker—no registration, no car permit. Adios, amigos.

At this point, all of my exhaustion, anxiety and freakishness came to a head, and I burst into tears in the parking lot. Then Owen started crying. It was no bueno. Some locals saw the commotion and asked if they could help. They offered to make it happen for us. We just needed to give them some pesos, and they’d meet us at the OXXO convenience store right down the road with our paperwork. We hesitated for a second, thinking that maybe this would be the quick fix that we needed. Then a police truck rolled into the parking lot, and our helpers all scattered. One of them chatted with the police and returned to our car to ask if we wanted to do it. “No, gracias,” was our reply. Seemed just a tad too sketchy. So back across the border we went. We got a hotel room and arranged to have our registration overnighted from the fine people at the Missoula County Courthouse. We rested. It was glorious to be forced to slow down.

Entering the oasis of San Carlos on our first night back in Mexico.

Entering the oasis of San Carlos on our first night back in Mexico.

Once we had the registration in hand, things went more smoothly in every way. Except we’d had our car A/C fixed right before leaving Missoula, and it wasn’t working. As we headed into southern Sinaloa with our windows down and sun beating in on my side of the car, I wondered if I might die of heat stroke. All of the sudden, the heat became too much, and I begged Mark to pull over ASAP. He pulled over under an overpass, and I jumped out and dumped water on my head as if my hair were on fire. Since the sun was only beating down on my side of the car, I took over driving for a bit to get a break from it. Thankfully, the sun hid behind the clouds for the rest of our trip to Sayulita.

Owen making the most of a hot and windy car ride. Such a trooper.

Owen making the most of a hot and windy car ride. Such a trooper.

We arrived in the dark after our longest and hottest day of driving and pulled up to Tacos on the Street to eat. We called my new friend, Leia, who I’d only met online, to get the keys to our place. I’d met her on a Facebook group called Sayulita People when I was asking around about having a baby in Sayulita. She’d responded with great info, and we’d developed an email friendship. I brought her some things down from the States, and she’d checked out our house in Sayulita to make sure it was okay to rent. She was hugely pregnant and due in 2 weeks when I met her for the first time on that hot and humid night.

Leia, the most lovely surprise of a friend, with baby Evelyn.

Leia, the most lovely surprise of a friend, with baby Evelyn.

We found our place in the dark and opened the gate. It immediately felt amazing and like we’d hit the jackpot. We peeked inside and all let out huge sighs of relief. Yes, we could live here. It would be just fine. It was laid out like a studio, with a half wall separating the living area from the bedroom and one king-sized bed for all of us. But it would work.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

During the first week, the mosquitos found Owen and were well-fed. The ticks found Rosie, too. It became the norm to pick up to 40 ticks off of her per night. Owen’s scratching led to the common (here) and annoying staph infection on his legs. It is a pain the butt to deal with, and all the tea tree oil in the world won’t beat it. Believe me, we tried everything. As the staph infection peaked, so did a fever and crazy rash. It came on in the middle of the night and had us worried, so we took him to his new pediatrician the next day.

The rash. Yikes.

The rash. Yikes.

It ended up being just a common (to here) virus, but the whole welcome-back-to-sayulita-here’s-a-staph-infection-and-scary-rash experience had me seriously questioning what I’d gotten my pregnant self into. To say that I felt vulnerable is an understatement. And if I’d known in that moment what was coming down the pipe, I’m fairly certain I would’ve packed my bags and headed home.

 

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Limbo

 

Last summer, we were living in a month-to-month rental in Missoula with every intention of returning to Mexico for the winter when we found out that I was pregnant. Suddenly, everything was up in the air. Should we have the baby in Mexico? Should we stay in Missoula, ‘settle down’ and live a ‘normal’ life? What would it be like to give birth in Mexico? Would we be able to keep working south of the border with a newborn? How would we feel if we gave up on our dreams?

Mark, Owen and Rosie at Rattlesnake Creek shortly after returning to Montana.

Mark, Owen and Rosie at Rattlesnake Creek shortly after returning to Montana.

Before finding out that I was pregnant, I’d made a little list of goals for the summer. Number one on the list was ‘Apply for Mexican temporary resident visas.’ This would allow us to stay south of the border for a full year instead of just 6 months on a tourist visa. After moving back to Montana for the summer, we were all realizing just how stressful it was to find housing and make a living in two different places. Acquiring the resident visas would also be the first step toward working legally in Mexico. While researching how to do this, I quickly realized that our family didn’t qualify. Mexico had just changed the requirements, so as a family of three we would have to show around $3000/month coming into our account in the States even while in Mexico. We have rental income from renting our house, but it sure isn’t $3000! I asked two different attorneys—one in Mexico and one in the States—and both confirmed it. I really didn’t want to return to Mexico again and work with just a tourist visa and have to cross a border after six months with a 2-month-old baby, a 6-year-old and a dog. So that decided it. We were staying. It was heartbreaking, but it seemed to make sense.

Owen and Rosie on Waterworks Hill in Missoula.

Owen and Rosie on Waterworks Hill in Missoula.

In the midst of all of this, we started putting out feelers to find a full-time, year-round job for Mark. He hadn’t had a ‘real’ job since 2010 when he’d quit as General Manager of the Western Montana Grower’s Cooperative to build our house. Since then, he’d been piecing things together, working seasonally doing ecological restoration to allow for our winter escapes south of the border. On one particularly fear-filled day, I approached someone to inquire about work with their business. Talk turned to meetings, and meetings turned to a sweet job offer. After much hand-wringing and discussion, we decided that he should take the job.

When I think back on last summer, I remember lots of stress. But there was also lots of this.

When I think back on last summer, I remember lots of stress. But there was also lots of this.

Before leaving Mexico, I had applied to be a permanent vendor at a market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. At the time, I considered it to be The Best Market in the Bay of Banderas. While we were trying to make the decision about the job offer, I kept saying, “I wish I could find out about the market before we decide anything.” Well, two days after Mark accepted the job, I heard that I’d been given a spot in the market. This alone was amazing news. But on the exact same day, I shot an email to my attorney contact in Mexico asking if having our baby in Mexico would change anything regarding the visa situation. “Absolutely” was the answer. She would be a dual citizen, and we could apply for residency without any problems. Unbelievable. I. Was. Giddy. But shit! Now what?! I knew what it all meant. It was crystal clear to me what it all meant. We should go to Mexico. But we didn’t decide to go for it overnight. Because staying in Montana seemed like the safe choice, the responsible choice. Maybe even the best choice.

Owen at Holland Lake with his boogie board.

Owen at Holland Lake with his boogie board.

Mark’s job wasn’t to begin for a few weeks, and this turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It meant that we had time to waffle back and forth and drive ourselves crazy trying to make a decision. It was one helluva summer and fall. Owen started Kindergarten to ‘see how it felt.’ (It felt okay.) We put our house on the market to ‘see how it felt.’ (It felt bad.) We decided to move back into our house to ‘see how it felt’. Well, on the night that we moved back in, I stared at the walls of the house that we’d planned for and built and painted and at the concrete floors that I’d stained and sealed and thought, ‘This isn’t enough.’ It wasn’t the bright colors of Mexico. Or the endless sunshine. Or the amazing street tacos. Or the smiles of Mexican strangers. Or the ocean waves or the beach or my son boogie boarding or the locals touching his ‘recitos de oro’ (golden curls). It wasn’t exciting or exotic or interesting. It was nice and comfortable but not right.

The house.

The house.

Mark was simultaneously having a very different experience. After living in other houses and apartments for two summers, he was falling back in love with the solid, near-perfect house that he’d built with his own two hands. And who could blame him? He started talking about how the new job would allow us to _______________________ (fill in the blank) while I was wondering if the new job might get us stuck. There is nothing wrong with living that way: working 9-5, kids in school, etc. Unless you don’t want it. But I was also appreciating how we could have a nice little routine in Missoula for the first time in years. For the 8 years that we’d lived at 428 and 434 N. 1st St. W., we’d worked our tails off renovating the old house and building the new one while juggling jobs, a baby and all of the rest that life brings. Now, if we stayed, we could live more freely with just a job and no house projects. That sounded pretty sweet.

Owen and Rosie on Waterworks Hill in Missoula.

Owen and Rosie on Waterworks Hill in Missoula.

But then I started really taking stock. I imagined my days: Mark would go off to work all day. Owen would go to school all day. I would spend my days home alone with a new baby and maybe try to fit it my art. That didn’t sound like the worst thing in the world by a longshot, but it sounded damn lonely. We’d just spent a couple of years being together as a family like never before, living the life that we wanted and I wasn’t ready for that to change. Not yet anyway. One night it just all came together. I said to Mark, “You can go to work all day every day building someone else’s business and being away from your family. Or you can work with me growing OUR business, have whatever schedule you like and be with your family whenever you want.” That made things pretty darn crystal clear. We both knew then that we had to go for it. So he turned down the job. It felt exhilarating and scary and crazy. And really, really good.

And so we started packing.