Christmas Day 1999. That was the first Christmas I was away from my family. I was 24 years old and had just arrived in Puerto Vallarta 10 days earlier with a huge backpack, no place to stay and the need to find a job immediately. The job was easy; I found a good teaching job just 4 days after arriving. It took me over a month to find a place to live though.
I was exhilarated by the adventure, by the challenges and the opportunities that I had.
I was exhilarated by my freedom and my ability to speak in Spanish and to also be able to communicate and fit in with the tourist world of Puerto Vallarta.
I felt young, bold and confident. And then there were moments I felt young, scared and unsure.
Traveling alone is one of my favorite things to do. I get to do what I want to do when I want to do it (not that I’m selfish or anything) and best of all I meet all sorts of new friends and interact with interesting people. It opens a new world that I don’t have access to when I travel with others and we plan and coordinate and isolate ourselves within our group. I also had moments of fear, and loneliness. I was an American woman alone traveling in a foreign country. I missed my family and my friends and fought to earn respect in many new situations.
I don’t remember Christmas Eve at all but I’ll never forget Christmas Day in Puerto Vallarta that year. Quickly after arriving in PV I had met the owner of a local coffee shop and became friends with one of the women that worked there. They helped me find a cheap hotel to stay in while I search for an apartment. It was a busy time of the year and my job didn’t start until after the holidays so I offered to help out in the coffee shop. We wore Santa hats, sang Christmas carols and served lattes to tourists all morning. In the afternoon I joined her and her friends at Los Muertos Beach, by the blue chairs, which is primarily occupied by a fun Gay and Lesbian crowd from all over the world. I was surrounded by people but felt 100% alone. I was lying on the beach looking out at the ocean missing my family when I saw a huge whale roll up, spray through its blowhole and perfectly slide its tail up and under the waves. It was so magnificent. It was the best present I could have ever asked for. I looked around and realized no one else had seen the whale. Among the crowded beach I was the only one. I felt like it was an angel sending me a message that as lonely as I may be, confused, troubled and searching for answers, I was in the right place, at the right time. It reminded me to hold on to the little bit of faith that I had.
Moments like those make me smile at the unknown world around me. It felt like I had a secret from above that I wasn’t really alone. I cherish every moment like this that I’ve experienced throughout my lifetime. I keep them tucked away safely in my pocket and I pull them out when I need them.
Being in Mexico on Christmas this year is new for us. For the past 11 years I’ve been creating and polishing our traditions in Madison and this year it is completely different. Nothing is the same. I was anxious about what it would be like to give all that up and try something new. In the US I was determined to create the perfect experience for my family based on our values. I felt like it was up to us to make it what we wanted to make it. This year I was challenged to let go of planning it all out. I promised myself I’d go with the flow and be present. I still felt responsible for bringing Santa’s magic somehow but I didn’t have the same pressure I had put on myself before. Being a parent is a lot of responsibility (sooooo much!) and I make it more than it needs to be most of the time. I want to let go of my own expectations. I want to experience today with my children, next to them and not be ahead of them creating something for them that they may or may not appreciate.
I wish I could say it has been liberating and wonderful. But it is a process to let go. It makes me laugh that I struggle with it and I see that as a good sign. It means I am aware of it, seeing it for what it is and knowing it isn’t a part of me but a decision I get to make.
I believe that God gave me that moment with that whale in 1999. I’m grateful that I can pull it out of my pocket today and remember to be in the moment more and let go of my desire to make something perfect when I know, I really know deep in my heart, that it is already perfect. Right now. Just as it is.