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Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective
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Guest Post by The One & Only Frank O’Grady–Retired Firefighter, Solar Entrepreneur, My Right-Hand Man, Husband, Best Friend, Partner-in-Adventure, Father to Our Children and Love of My Life…

Authored by Frank O’Grady

Our immigration to Mexico was my dream, not my children’s.

We moved here when they were eight years old and, in my eyes, still babies in so many ways. 

Their faith in us was paramount to us having a successful move to Mexico—a part of Mexico where we were not going to be able to bounce back easily over the border to whatever perceived comfort zone that might have existed. 

My dream for Liam, Mairead and Katie was for a life that was not completely centered on commercialism and struggling to keep our heads above watera life without the incessant chasing and worrying about dollars in a world gone mad with the need to buy and consume just a little bit more than can be reasonably earned…a life with involved parents, instead of home just being a place everyone gathered at night after a day or days at work.

I knew there was a different and a better way and like with many of my other dreams I laid plenty of groundwork.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Retirement at 50?!

We did not just pick up and leave a life in the USA on some fantastical mid-life crisis.

We prepared our children in a multitude of ways with many experiences in and about Mexico well before we even broached the subject of moving here.

Katie was only a few months pregnant and Mairead and Liam were fishing with us on the Sea of Cortez out of a tiny aluminum boat. 

We journeyed down the Baja Peninsula, stopping at the same restaurants, rest areas and hotels…our twins hugged and held and squeezed and cheeks pinched by every female worker in these stops.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Redheaded Twins in Mexico Make for Fun Rest Stops!

A love for Mexico was born in our twins from a very early age…

Moving to Mexico With Children, A Father's Perspective

Little ducklings following Katie down to the water’s edge~Camp Gecko, Bahia de Los Angeles

As they became more aware of the differences in their country of birth and the country we vacationed in, they eagerly looked forward to our journeys to a place where we all felt very much at home, a place where we had the time to be together as a family instead of constantly trying to meet an agenda or drive across a city of two million to get somewhere.

Moving to Mexico with Children~A Father's Perspective

Jumping for Joy!

It felt as if every time that we went to Mexico that we were actually going home.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

Driving lessons on the Baja Peninsula!

At a certain point in our careers, Katie and I both realized that continuing to support our lifestyle in Southern California was going to essentially condemn us to many decades of work so that someday, when we were close to 80, we might have a paid off house that we hadn’t had much time to enjoy because we were constantly working to pay for it.

When Liam and Mairead were around seven we really started talking to and involving them in our plans to move to Mexico. The existing paradigm wasn’t working for us emotionally, physically or mentally…we knew there was a better way and we were determined and committed to create it together, as a couple and as a family.

We viewed this move through our children’s eyes…how they would experience it as 8-year-olds, as 10-year-olds, as teenagers. We knew that we had an age window to move successfully with them and to do it as a team.

I retired from firefighting at 50, Katie from teaching at 44 and with our 8-year-old twins and 5-year-old chocolate lab, we immigrated to Mexico in 2012.

Our children speak, think and navigate life in two languages and through the lens of two cultures. 

They know that their lives are not just their parent’s dreams and creations, but also their own evolving adventure and story.

Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father's Perspective

San Pancho, Nayarit *photo by Shannon Hughes*

They know and see that living a life with intent is a choice.

For more on our family’s move to Mexico: 

Moving to Mexico~ A Wife & Mom’s Perspective

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While we consider ourselves fairly seasoned travelers, we never once thought that packing a carbon monoxide detector would be an essential and life-saving item in our travel preparedness until tragedy struck and my husband nearly lost his life to CO poisoning at a “boutique hotel” in Central Mexico.

After dropping our twins off at their much-anticipated 6th grade camp in a rural community outside of Guadalajara, Frank and I set out to enjoy our weekend together, knowing that our children would be in good hands in the company of their classmates and counselors.

But instead of enjoying a romantic couples-only weekend, we spent it at the Red Cross, an ER and a Hyperbaric Chamber Facility fighting for Frank’s life.

How could such a thing happen? 

Do mistakes and bad things just happen? Absolutely.

But in this case, the hotel management jerry-rigged a malfunctioning water heater to the room we were bumped to due to overbooking on a holiday weekend.

After several hours of working next to the open window—not knowing that just on the other side of it was a yellow-flamed carbon monoxide-leaking heater—my husband was overcome by severe visual disturbances, weakness, confusion, headache, difficulty speaking and vomiting.

Retired Firefighter Fighting for His Life

Retired Firefighter Fighting for His Life

Confirmation by the hotel staff that two carbon monoxide leaks had been found in this hot water heater, together with all of Frank’s symptoms, clearly pointed to CO poisoning.

All medical diagnosis and treatment further confirmed that it was indeed carbon monoxide poisoning that the simple installation of an affordable CO detector would have prevented.

Hospital Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Hospital Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Removal from the source of the CO, immediate medical intervention and continuous high-saturation oxygen therapy saved Frank’s life. Prayers, support and good thoughts from family, friends and followers tremendously helped as well. Thank you

Hyperbaric Chamber~One of Two 80-Minute Treatments

Hyperbaric Chamber~One of Two 80-Minute Treatments

As a result of this terrifying, near-death experience, we now ALWAYS travel with carbon monoxide detectors. 

We can’t emphasize enough the importance for others to do so too.

Protect yourself both at home and on the road with the simple installation and packing of a CO alarm.

Something so easy and affordable to acquire and install can save your and your family’s lives in the event of a carbon monoxide leak. 

*Carbon monoxide is silent, odorless and tasteless*

CO Detectors Save Lives

CO Detectors Save Lives

I hope this information saves just one life. Please share it with your loved ones.

~Katie O’Grady

 

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It was our first big summer storm since our return to the jungle from San Miguel de Allende. The lightning came cracking down over our house like an arrow landing its bullseye, resulting in my jumping about three feet in the air and one of our rooftop AC compressors catching on fire! 

Fortunately for me, I share a home with a fireman and knew that our family (and my nerves) were in good hands. The tropical downpour helped to diffuse the situation as well.

Thanks to the ingenuity, reuse and repurpose mentality of the Mexican culture, the compressor’s wires were changed out and the unit spared! Hard to believe, I know…fire and all. 

This is Not Normal!

This is Not Normal!

Jungle storms can be unforgiving, powerful, messy and destructive. They are equally exciting, cleansing and replenishing—popping out those dense, lush, green canopies and the multitude of ecosystems that thrive inside of them—reminding you of the absolute grandeur and magnificence of Mother Nature.

The rainstorms also provide an opportunity to identify where exactly more silicone is needed, such as around the collection of leaking windows at the base of a 20-foot high boveda ceiling! Tall ladder anyone? Those first few falls on our slick marble floors were not so fun (especially after back surgery!) and made us delay not in tending to this issue ASAP.

The jungle wasted no time in welcoming us back and reminding us of the fortitude, sense of humor and determination one must possess to both survive and thrive here. Yes, there are prices to pay for living in paradise folks!

The following are a few of our suggestions as to how you can maximize your enjoyment (and minimize your frustrations) in both coastal and central Mexico.

1. High-Quality Roof Sealant

Make sure that the roof of your home has been properly sealed and therefore protected against leaks and moisture intrusion. We learned this the hard way when our 2012 San Pancho rental grew large circular mold spores from the outside in after our first rainy season there. A disgusting and unsafe “inconvenience” to say the least and one that duct tape alone would not remedy.

Use a quality product that has not been watered down. Hire a reputable company to assess the roof’s condition and if needed, to powerwash it prior to putting on a new coat of sealant.

What a difference a powerwash can make! The Before and After in Progress!

What a difference a powerwash can make! The Before and After in Progress!

There are various types of impermeabilizantes (sealants)  Spending a bit more to ensure a quality result is well worth it. We went with an eco-friendly, waterproof one believing it best to have maximum protection considering the amount of rain we receive here on the coast in Nayarit. 

2. Air Conditioners

Have all AC’s serviced. The filters should be cleaned of mold/dust/debris and the electrical panels checked for unwanted critters that can wreak havoc. Apparently, wires are a delicacy to geckos—ridding your AC’s of them is far easier than having to replace the units.

3. Mosquiteros

Screens on all doors and windows are not a luxury but an absolute necessity lest you want to share your home with mosquitos, spiders, geckos, scorpions, iguanas and stray animals. Even with window and door screens, these over the bed mosquito nets come in handy as well!

Mosquito-Free Sleeping

Mosquito-Free Sleeping

4. Bathroom Drain Covers

Just think—golf ball-sized cockroaches and sewer smells. Trust me, you’ll want to use these

5. Ventilation

Jungle, hot, humid….ventilate your home as much as possible lest you want to find fur growing on your clothes, shoes and other household items. Using these moisture absorbing bags inside closets and other closed spaces helps to absorb excess humidity and to protect your items from musty odors and mold. 

6. Check Outlets for Proper Wiring

Check all outlets with a polarity tester or hire a qualified electrician to do so.

Just Say No to Electrical Fires

Just Say No to Electrical Fires

7. Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you’ve been following us for any time (or at least for the past year), you know why we recommend these for both home and travel.

 

While the list could, in theory, be endless, these are our Top 7 Tips to consider whether you are renting or purchasing a home in Mexico.

Do you have any that you could add? 

Feel free to share them in the comments section below. 

Saludos,

~Katie O’Grady

Reader Tips:

Arturo: For the summer months it is highly recommended to put your clothes in airtight bags or vacuum sealed bags so that mold doesn’t grow in them especially if you skip town. I highly recommend to do this process with your shoes because if you don’t, the soles will disintegrate completely from the salty air and humidity.

Margaret: Keep all your food in the refrigerator, even if you wouldn’t normally, especially fruit. Clean up your kitchen messes as soon as possible to deter unwanted scavengers and never ever ever let your kids eat in the bed unless you want… ANTS ANTS EVERYWHERE! (And they bite). Even with screens and drain covers, if you leave food out they will find you… 

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When we lived in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, we had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Nancy G. Shapiro–Author, Life Coach, Advocate of Calm and an overall lovely person.

While I was recovering from major surgery, Nancy came to visit me at our home with a goodie bag of home remedies.

More notable than the items themselves, was Nancy’s calm presence and healing energy.

It comes to me as no surprise that she has authored a timely and much-needed book in today’s world, The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice in a Turbulent World. 

I am honored to share with our Los O’Gradys in Mexico readers an excerpt from Nancy’s book, featuring some of my husband Frank’s very real and raw thoughts on a life well lived.

 

*Parts of this essay were originally published in The Book of Calm

Listening to Your Own Story, by Nancy G. Shapiro

I’ve lived in San Miguel de Allende twice, the first time for over five years, currently for almost a decade. San Miguel is a World Heritage site and much-loved city in the central high desert of Mexico. Its large expatriate population began with the arrival of American GIs who came here after WWII and enrolled in the two local art schools using their GI Bill benefits. The flow of foreigners hasn’t stopped since, resulting in a population in continual flux, changing with the seasons and other, less definable cycles.

Expats often speak of a more relaxed lifestyle, with more community and more time for family—in stark contrast to the 21st century’s assertion that all problems and challenges can be resolved through economic means, resulting in the mind-numbing story of dedication to work, busy-ness, consumption of goods, and a subsequent loss of values once widely appreciated, respected, and practiced. The families I spoke with while gathering stories for my book had a conscious awareness that something was amiss or missing in their former lives, something that compelled them to move and create their own version of a life well lived.

Frank O’Grady’s words were some of the most poignant, an example of the conscious self-awareness necessary to take such action:

“I’m a dreamer,” said Frank, a San Diego fireman for twenty-five years. “I’ve lived death in every form imaginable; it’s a soundtrack of blood and screams inside of me. Old people just wanting a human there while they die, babies who never even got started, the critically ill dying after wasting away for years, the addicts. None of them able to live their dreams. I have a responsibility in this life to live as if every day is my last because, in all reality, it is. My wife and I both retired early, left the rat race, and moved to a Mexico beach town several years ago when our twins were young. Then we moved to San Miguel, and now we’re back at the beach. The kids are thriving. The beach is what nurtures us, warm water surf, the freedom. If I don’t live my dreams and seek the beauty, who will do it for me? No one.”

The creation of a life full of meaning, values, and the richness of choice doesn’t mean one has to pack up and leave a place for years at a time. Or at all. Generation after generation, change occurs within families, cultures, and countries when what was ‘known and correct’ is transformed by chaos and upheaval, or by innovative progress and relative calm.

                                     As the poet Rilke reminds us:

                                                Again and again some people in the crowd wake up,

                                               They have no ground in the crowd,

                                               And they emerge according to much broader laws.

                                               They carry strange customs with them

                                               And demand room for bold gestures.

                                               The future speaks ruthlessly through them.

Sometimes letting go of what was once called home, passing forward one’s belongings and starting again is exactly what is needed when one ‘wakes up.’ My husband and I seem to get itchy feet and hearts every seven years or so. We are looking at travel trailers, and have no idea what is coming our way, only that something new is calling us.

Officially seniors now, our years add up to one hundred thirty-three years on this planet. What we’ve learned in those years is that we are ongoing creations—work, homes, places, our ideas of who we are and what we need have changed many times over. For change is inevitable, and embracing the shifts that come our way gives our actions a spunky energy and creative zing. We love and laugh more than ever, and are curious and excited to create another version of our lives filled with all we value and know to be true for us. As Frank says, “If I don’t live my dreams and seek the beauty, who will do it for me?”

Nancy G. Shapiro is the author of The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice in a Turbulent World. She advocates calm as a Professional Certified Coach, writer, and workshop leader. Her expertise is supporting people through the inevitable shifts of personal and professional transitions, while celebrating their resiliency, spirit, and wisdom. www.nancygshapiro.com

If you would like to order Nancy’s book for yourself or a loved one, click on the cover image below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Living in truth is the highest form of self-empowerment*

~Katie O’Grady

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks to creating a radical change in our family’s lives, we no longer live under this paradigm of life in a 21st-century modern society.

I can remember being STUCK in traffic—more often than not—anxiously and impatiently tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, moving along, inch by inch, so fed up with that being the “norm”, knowing in my heart that it didn’t have to be and feeling so READY for a change.  

The picture above represents so much of what we were ready to eliminate in our lives—breathing in exhaust fumes, missing out on active, joyful engagement in life because we were on hold in a sea of cars. That was not how we wanted to spend our valuable, once-in-a-lifetime time. I would take pictures from the dashboard of my car to the hundreds of bumpers in front and send them to my husband with the message, “One thing I will NOT miss”.

And I don’t, not one little bit. 

Since immigrating to Mexico in 2012, we have gone from daily traffic congestion and the frequent witnessing of road rage to driving on jungle roads and 16th-century cobblestone streets. We have traded in mind-numbing, lost hours in the car to engagement in other, far more meaningful activities of our choice

If one of my jobs as a Mother is to support and nurture the emotional well-being and development of my children, then moving to Mexico has been one great step in supporting that endeavor.

Freedom and Horses in San Pancho, Nayarit

Freedom and Horses in San Pancho, Nayarit

 

A Dream Birthday Party!

A Dream Birthday Party!

We immigrated to mainland Mexico when our twins were eight years old, during the middle of their third-grade year, and within three months of our arrival, we became Permanent Residents of Mexico. The process went rather smoothly for us because we did our homework prior to our move and had all of our required paperwork in order. Patience, planning and having the right legal liaison were in our favor as well.

Arrival in LA Bay and ready for some tacos!

Arrival in LA Bay and ready for some tacos!

Our twins were seasoned Mexico travelers prior to our move, having spent the first eight years of their lives adventuring back and forth between San Diego and Baja California. Frank’s firefighter schedule and my school teacher’s allowed us blocks of time off together as a family and we took full advantage of them to head South!

Mairead and Liam fondly referred to their Baja home as their “other home” and Mexico forever became ingrained in their hearts as a place of fun, discovery and family connection. 

Adventuring in Baja

Adventuring in Baja, 2006

 

Baja Babies La Gringa Beach 2008

Baja Babies! Bahia de Los Angeles~2008

Aside from the inevitable emotion of parting ways with loved ones, our move and the preparations leading up to our departure from San Diego were relatively seamless in the sense that it was meant to be and something we collectively were all on the same page about and ready for

saying goodbye to mom at SD airport 2012

Saying our goodbyes to my Mom at San Diego airport~2012

We arrived in San Pancho on a Friday, and that following Monday our formerly homeschooled twins began their first ever five-day-a-week program at Escuela del Mundo. Surrounded by tropical trees and open green space, our children experienced freedom and discovery like never before.

1st day of a 5-day a week school in the Mexican Jungle Coastal town of San Pancho, after homeschooling for 5 years in San Diego, California

1st day at Escuela del Mundo

While the Spanish immersion component of their new school was a bit of an initial challenge for The Reds, they transitioned and acclimated rather quickly, having been exposed to Spanish in a border city the first eight years of their life. Even without those language advantages, we all know how sponge-like children’s brains are, and if given the opportunity, they are able to assimilate and adapt with great ease. I do believe they were the only ‘Mairead’ and ‘Liam’ their classmates had ever met, but their new friends and teachers warmly accepted them and made great efforts at learning and pronouncing their unique, Celtic names.

Liam 1st Day of School 12-4-12

Liam making new friends at Escuela del Mundo~2012

After Escuela del Mundo in San Pancho, they went to Costa Verde International in Sayulita, Nayarit—a neighboring village just 10 minutes down the main jungle road, famous for its bohemian, surfing culture. Moving to another school was indeed another change and adjustment for our children, but one that they embraced wholeheartedly with the amazing, trusting, positive attitudes that they approach most things in life with.

Located a few blocks from the beach, Costa Verde is a bilingual, multi-cultural school that focuses on environmental sustainability and the advancement of ecological responsibility in Mexico…and surfing! In fact, it was part of their PE program!

Mairead and Liam continued to explore, discover and develop their own sense of community and connection within the larger context of their family’s move and immigration to Mexico. Their language skills progressed and improved to where at this point, a year or so into our move, they could flip back and forth between English and Spanish with great ease.

Costa Verde

4th Grade at Costa Verde, Sayulita

After a year and a half of coastal jungle living, we were ready to experience another part of Mexico and set our compasses on something completely different. Sight unseen but with lots of research, we chose San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato in the interior of the country—the birthplace of Miguel Ignacio Allende, one of the leaders of the insurgent army during Mexico’s War of Independence. San Miguel de Allende was the first municipality to be declared independent from Spanish rule, and as such, life here is steeped in history, culture, national pride and one festivity after another

La Parroquía, San Miguel de Allende

La Parroquía, San Miguel de Allende

 

Kids in Watering Hole

School field trip to Cañada de la Boca!

Our children are developing their mental and physical capacities in a loving, nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment of freedom and growth, with two hands-on parents who are no longer trying to keep their heads above water in the rat race.

They see a life without limits, that anything is possible, that dreams do come true, that carving one’s own way in this diverse world is not just possible, but doable. They have witnessed their parents reinvent themselves from teacher and firefighter to Writer/Relocation Consultant and Photovoltaic Designer. They have gone from being monolingual homeschoolers to bilingual life learners of this world, interacting and learning with not only Mexican Nationals but also with many other adventure-driven families from various parts of this globe.

Liam volunteering at Lindero de la Petaca School in Guanajuato

Liam volunteering at Lindero de la Petaca School in Guanajuato

From San Diego to Mexico, we embrace our re-invented, re-inspired lives south of the border and give thanks daily for Mexico and her people’s warmth, hospitality, graciousness and generosity…for welcoming and adopting us O’Gradys and allowing us to feel at home in our new land.

May the adventures continue on!

~Katie

*Please protect yourselves and your loved ones with carbon monoxide detectors for both home and travel safety: Kiddie

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