Looking back at that first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can see clearly how sheltering at home for months after having just moved to Seattle was rough in many ways.
The hardest thing for me was seeing my 7-year-old slowly suffer through our isolation and grow more and more frustrated by the total impasse of it. I knew moving to Seattle would imply drastic changes. We'd have to go through a transitional period that would bring challenges such as enduring the weather, adapting to a new school, being away from family and friends, making new acquaintances. Those things were tough enough in their own merit without the threat of a pandemic lurking around the corner.
Back then, I had envisioned fun outings to explore our new city and its surrounding areas. The Seattle Children’s Museum, the Pacific Science Center, the aquarium, road trips and sea adventures. I had promised her all of these things in hopes of helping mitigate the many other things and dear people that would be missing in her life when we moved. Of course, no one knew that all those things would have to wait, and then wait some more. She barely made it through 2.5 weeks attending classes at her new school in West Seattle when we were told to stay home like everyone else at the start of March 2020.
Having no support network wasn’t easy, especially for my daughter, who all of a sudden was trapped in a tiny apartment with no school, no friends, no extended family, and no fun time with mom, who was busy juggling a new full-time job together with single parenthood + homeschooling.
We did our best and learned a LOT from it and from each other. Sometimes that involved dancing and laughter, others it involved tears, both hers and mine. As the summer approached and the weather warmed up, we took walks and packed picnics for two on sunny days. But without contact with others, her usual sunny disposition started to fade. Kids shouldn’t be forced to be without other kids. Those days she would spend hours under the bed building secret dwellings for her imaginary friends. She lost interest in school and showers. She was irritable and challenged everything I said. Single parenthood in times of COVID-19 is like nothing else I’ve had to push through as a single mom.
Unsettled as we felt, I knew I had to do something to inject joy back into her heart. And so, after much consideration, I decided to take her back to Mexico to reunite with her father and spend time with her beloved cousin and other family members. At first it was only meant to be a 2-month summer break. I went back to Seattle pretending to be strong enough to deal with the ongoing pandemic alone. But as the summer came to an end, I could find no good reason for her to return to Seattle or for me to spend one more week away from her. Seven months after moving to the Pacific Northwest, I asked my employer if I could go back to Mexico to reunite with my daughter and to continue working remotely from there. To my delight, they said YES! So I packed up and put our furniture, winter clothes and personal belongings in storage, and booked a one-way flight to Cancun in September 2020!
Mexico remained open during the pandemic. Not many other countries around the world kept their borders open for tourists and nationals alike. The government doesn't require COVID-19 testing or quarantine periods upon arriving. And while Mexico experienced high numbers of COVID-19 infections, things remained relatively under control compared to the number of cases and deaths registered in the U.S. and other countries. New people continue arriving each week to soak up the sun looking to forget for a minute about the pandemic and all the other things the world is suffering through these days.
This is where family is. Even though things aren’t always peachy in my family, it’s been good to be around them through these crazy times. We’ve been there for each other. June's relationship with her dad has grown stronger. She's surrounded by love and familiar things. And we were able to get safely together to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday and Christmas and NYE 2020 -- the last time we would spend with my father before his passing.
Living in Mexico costs less than living in the U.S. Here, June goes to a bilingual school that costs a fraction of what I had to pay for her after-school care in the U.S. Groceries, healthcare and gas are also more affordable. Having lived under the ongoing stress of having to cover most of our expenses as a single mom, I can finally breathe better knowing I can afford to give her a better quality of life.
We are happy. I work long days that often leave me mentally drained, but I’m also able to start my day with "me" time to go for a walk, workout at the gym, meditate, study new things, listen to audio books, journal, and ponder life in general. I have more balance. For June, this is her happy place. She loves her school and her friends. We are happy and grateful for our health, and for all the good things we’ve been able to surround ourselves with despite the turmoil in the world.
I don't know how much longer we will be here, but whatever it is, I know it’s going to be what it needs to be. I’m not planning too far ahead anymore, just trying to live in the present as much as possible. And I'm at peace with it.