So, is moving our family abroad really the right decision?
Let me start to answer that question with a picture: this is the back of our backyard. Walking tour, left to right: hammock swing stand (made by Johel) that our kids adore (and regularly fight over) - 2015, sandbox and raspberry bushes (made/planted by us) that is frequented by our kiddos and chickens - 2012, chicken coop (made by Johel at my request, almost led to a divorce, visited daily by Leo and Yori for an egg-check) - 2011, firepit (dug by yours truly, used during awesome outdoor movie night birthday parties) - 2014, and most recently, Johel's fabulous COVID house project to keep our kids entertained while otherwise limited in where to go and what to do: the "tree" house. Yori's dream come true. This yard alone is a testament to how much we love our house, our kids, our life, and our time here. We picnic nightly in our backyard before mosquitos start to feast upon us (tonight, in fact, under a tepee we just created today from fallen trees from the nearby park), and we are within walking or biking distance to anything we want to do or visit for 80% of our daily life. Each November, the kids collect food from neighbors on the street to donate to a local pantry. We planted the trees on our lot, love who we live next to, and have truly made this place home in every sense of the word. Our three kiddos were even born here, for cryin' out loud (that's another blog, too!)
Yet even with all this goodness in our life, yes, we are still convinced that we are ready for a change.
My older brother said to me, at the start of 2020, "what is your next decade going to look like?" I had never thought of anything in that sense, but he commented on his observation that Johel and my first ten years together had been all about family: starting and growing one. Settling into a home and a community. Creating traditions. Creating routines. We knew where we liked to eat, where we liked to bike to, what parks were awesome, where the best beach was (by best, I mean cleanest. We have pretty low expectations for public beaches here in Madison...), what Asian grocery store had the best mangos (and the fact that they arrive at noon each Wednesday from February to August), and more. And it was all great. He was right: 2010-2020 was all about establishing ourselves and getting our family up and running. Did we want 2020-2030 to be the same? Hmmm. While our moving seed had already been planted, this thought definitely added a heavy dose of fertilizer.
Next came me, stuck in traffic, on the way to school drop-off one morning. We were incredibly lucky to have found the perfect private school for our kids: a good match for them academically and socially. The problem was it was about a 30 minute drive in rush hour one way, meaning I was making about 2 hours worth of trips a day to school, every day. Worse in January (arg, blizzards!), but really a pain all year round. One insignificant day, while stuck in traffic on the way to this school that was so great for our kids, I thought "Is this it? Is this what we are going to all be doing every day for the next 9+ years? E-v-e-r-y-d-a-y?" It wasn't so much the traffic or the length of the route, but more the routine of it. The sameness of it. Our kiddos were young. Flexible. Adaptable. Curious. Why aren't we taking advantage of this? This is the thought that really put the moving wheels in motion. And from that came the moving rationale we developed:
Our kids are young. In theory, flexible. Somewhat open to change. But mainly, young. As in not old enough to hate us for taking away their friends, their home, their traditions, their extended family here (big factor - another blog entry!), everything. Well, not old enough to hate us for too long, anyways.
This will be incredibly beneficial for our kids' language skills. They are currently bilingual Spanish-English, but I'm not gonna lie: my Spanish grammar ain't perfect. So while we speak to the kids completely in Spanish, there are a few areas of improvement that will seriously benefit from a year immersed in an area where no one speaks English.
This will be incredibly beneficial for our family's quality of life. Don't get me wrong: we are happy. But during the school year, even as one of the "less-committed" families at our school, with three kids and two working parents (who, in addition to jobs, were starting a business), life was just plain crazy busy: pick ups, drop offs, music lessons, after-school clubs, outdoor time, homework, meal prep, visits to the gym, Johel and I working opposite shifts so as to avoid major childcare costs: AHHHH! Too much. We were all always tired, often cranky, and just over-booked. A change of pace was needed, and we weren't seemingly able to make it happen here. One major promise we've made to ourselves: we will get more sleep in Costa Rica.
This will be incredibly beneficial for our children's worldview, creativity and personal development. Very soon, we will be in a community with people with a very different way of life. Many of them are family who we have happily visited for short stints but never lived around. Life will be slower, and we will get more time to experience and absorb what we are doing. We will try new foods, observe new traditions, meet people with professions we don't have here, learn at a school (if it's ever in session again) in a different country, play with kids who aren't surrounded by toys and tech to keep them occupied, and have a whole lot of free time. We'll have time to truly work with the kids for a year on building life-skills and foster their innate curiosity in a more open, less-restricted setting. As Sir Ken Robinson said in his infamous Ted Talk "we have a huge vested interest in [education], partly because it's education that is meant to take us into this future that we can't grasp...nobody has a clue...what the world will look like in five years' time." So let the imaginations soar (they better....otherwise it is going to be a pretty boring year!)
This will be incredibly beneficial for our children's ability to adapt. Long after we officially planned our move, a parent of a student in Ollie's class (who had moved quite a bit as a child between countries) mentioned to me how good she thinks big moves are for kids. "It's good for kids to get jostled around. Otherwise, they get stuck and even small changes in life can become hard to handle." Amen! This sure was reassuring to hear; this is one of those few quotes I refer to whenever I doubt what we're doing (I am very conveniently logging supportive comments in an easy-to-reach spot in my brain whereas the naysayers' concerns tend to get lost in the shuffle:)
This will give Johel and I chance to step away from being someone else's employee and instead focus on working for ourselves. Our small-group travel organization, Go Tico! Costa Rica, which we started in 2018, has always been something we tackle
starting at 10 p.m. nightly once work is done, kids are in bed, dishes are washed, and the next day's plan is set. We wanted to truly give this small business a shot and part of that was going to come through growing connections in our region of Costa Rica so that we can truly provide our travelers the best experience ever. We needed to live there. Experience these places ourselves: try them, photograph them, see if our kids can survive them before we offer it up as a family experience, and grow the relationships we have already started with schools and communities that support our immersion travel experiences. The only realistic way to do this was to spend a year exploring and growing the business without the constraints of having a US-lifestyle while both being employed elsewhere.
6. The last, but surely the most important, was the acceptance of the fact that this does not have to be a permanent move. Once we convinced ourselves that this doesn't have to be forever and got over thinking that if we moved abroad and gave up everything here that we know and loved, we'd never get it back, it became surprisingly easy to move forward (and be excited about it). We let the "what ifs" slowly fall away: What if we leave our stable jobs that can't be done remotely and struggle to find work? What if our kids fall way behind in school after leaving for a year? What if we can't find anything to do and are bored out of our skull (really?! All we did here was gripe about how crazy life was! But surprisingly, this concern kept cropping up...) What if we move down there and hate it? What if no one comes to visit from the US-side of the family? And on and on. But ultimately the "if we don't just do it now, it will never happen and we will always regret it" kept winning out. And the rationale that if we do hate it and want to come home, then for the love of God, let's just move home. Back to Madison. Back to our neighborhood if we want. The rationale that this had to be permanent was a surprising roadblock we just had to get over over time. And get over it, we did. This-does-not-have-to-be-permanent. Phew. I said it. Now it's real and we are good. Time to pack!
All of this and many months of late nights calculating, sketching, reading, analyzing, planning, and second-guessing has led us to YES! It is the right decision. So come end of August, this lovely home with our lovingly crafted backyard full of kid-friendly projects won't be ours anymore. We'll be off to house #2 and our second decade's story together as a family will just be beginning.