Strolling the cobblestone streets of beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
When I started my job as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a progressive public elementary-through-high school in Brooklyn, NY, I thought I might never leave. At the very least, I thought I would stay until my then-theoretical children graduated from elementary school.
It seemed like the perfect job for me. It was two blocks from my apartment. The politics of the school were amazing, with a focus on prioritizing racial and economic diversity as well as social justice. The teachers were warm and devoted, some of them spending decades at the school. Admissions to the school were through lottery, but as long as I worked there, the odds were high that my future children would be able to attend this gem of a school. I was providing primary care to children ages 4-19, including reproductive health services to adolescents, and seeing a dramatically reduced rate of teen pregnancies in our community as a result. I was treating many asthamtic children, addressing their symptoms as well as starting them on preventative medicines to improve their long-term outcomes. I was making a difference. And it felt amazing. I was happy to work long hours to achieve these results.
Thirteen years later, it was feeling far less ideal. My commute was now 45 minutes or more, by subway and on foot, dragging a tired child behind me. The demands of the job had increased radically. My popularity meant there was an ever-increasing demand for my clinical services, while at the same time, the advent of electronic medical records and other new documentation requirements meant my administrative work had increased exponentially.
I was exhausted. My child was exhausted. I was missing my baby at home with the nanny. I was almost never fully emotionally present with them, because I was racing the clock throughout the day. It was a battle to get out of the apartment in the mornings -- especially with the nanny often being late herself -- and to get home in time to relieve the nanny at the end of the day.
Then I rushed them through dinner and into bed at night so I could cook dinner, eat, clean up and fall into bed exhausted at night, only to get up at 5:15 the next morning to start the cycle all over again.
I was also rushing through my patients during the day, anxious to keep up with the ever-growing pile of paperwork. Our funding was always in question, and we got laid off several times, only to have funding reinstated when our devoted patient families fought on our behalf. I was humbled by their efforts, but exhausted by the stress of job insecurity.
One day my beloved medical director made a comment that I mistakenly interpreted to mean that our program's medical assistants would be laid off. One day of working solo without my assistant was miserable -- swabbing a sore throat for strep before dashing back to the waiting room to check on the latest patient to arrive. An eternity of working alone was intolerable.
A switch flipped. I was done.
I started looking for other jobs and even had an interview for a similar job with another, more well-funded and stable organization. I realized I couldn't start over, doing the same job again, just in a new and more geographically distant community, no matter how stable the organization.
A couple of weeks later, I had an evening off and went to get a pedicure, blissfully alone. My pedicurist was Mexican and we cheerfully chatted together in Spanish. A lightbulb went off. I loved speaking Spanish.
I remembered a conversation I had recently with my older friend, Scott, who was beginning his retirement and talking excitedly about the places he would travel. I remembered thinking wistfully that I didn't want to wait until my own retirement to travel. I wanted to travel now, with my children, while they were still young enough to want to travel with me.
I remembered my years' long "conversation" over Facebook Messenger with my friend and fellow single-mother-by-choice, Jackie, about our desire for immersion travel with our children. We had traveled together the previous summer to San Miguel de Allende. I had always thought "immersion travel" meant trips during my glorious summers off from work.
But now I started to have a different dream. What if I gave up everything -- my newly remodeled apartment, my beloved community of friends, my devoted patient population -- and moved to Mexico?
It seemed like a crazy idea. And yet. I knew I had to do it. I had to make the leap.
I got in touch with Jackie and shortly therafter, to my amazement, she decided to make the same leap. She already worked remotely so she didn't have to give up her employment but just like me, she packed up her home, sold or gave away most of her possessions, and flew her family to Mexico.
Saying goodbye to the only life my children knew wasn't easy. It was particularly hard to say goodbye to Amy's family -- we had shared a nanny and raised our children together every day for seven years -- and to Emily's family -- we lived in the same building, were both single mothers, rode the subway together every morning and often shared meals. I couldn't speak as I silently, tearfully said goodbye to each. They weren't just my friends, they were our family.
But I knew that the time we spent together, as precious as it was, didn't make up for the hours and hours of stress and exhaustion every week. As much as I loved being in their lives, it wasn't enough.
So on August 6, 2018, we boarded a plane with 7 overstuffed suitcases and flew to our new lives in Mexico.
to be continued....
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.