Blog about living in Mexico by Photographer Erin Parker

Ever dream of selling everything & moving to Mexico? I did it and these are the stories of living in San Pancho, Mexico.

Exploring the Unexpected

Unexpectedly, I received two boxes of graham crackers this week. They are my favorite and they are unavailable in Mexico. Both boxes are in the fridge, safe from ants and today I made graham cracker, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Go ahead, try it - with a glass of milk, it's awesome. As I savored every bite, I got to thinking about my latest unexpected delights and how they punctuate my life, all our lives really.

I fixed a pair of torn motorcycle pants for my friend and she thanked me with a bottle of wine. Wine is a luxury (yet cheap Mexican beer flows like water) and that bottle was such a bonus to the night. 

A casual conversation with a stranger in black socks with a darling baby in his arms led to a friendship with his amazing wife. Their time in San Pancho is almost over but that chance encounter resulted in a life-long friendship. 

Jumping into the pool at my parent's house - that refreshing shock of cold water jolted me back into time to Woodlake's Swim & Racquet Club in Midlothian, Virginia. The deep pool below the high dive was my favorite as kid and for a few seconds underwater I felt like I was in that place. When I surfaced, there's my daughter, clapping gleefully, ready to get in too. She's probably too young to form memories but how unexpectedly poignant that flash from memory to motherhood that moment felt. 

A new inquiry. I never know when the next one is coming, who they are or where they're from. It's a thrill every time. 

The aforementioned new friend introduced me to adult coloring books. Don't snicker. I love them. Coloring is cathartic, they're beautiful and they don't involve a screen. Never thought I could like it so much.

Seeing Syd learn. C'mon. Kind of unfair to lump her into this but she never ever ceases to surprise me.

I go for these long walks, almost daily. Sometimes on the beach, sometimes through the jungle. I'm not always alone but I am always looking for spots to photograph. When I find one, I get one of those serotonin surges. You know that visceral burst inside when something ignites your pleasure center. Just listen to this Radiolab podcast - my definition never does the sensation justice. 

I never imagined living here and creating my own business, making such great friends, having my parents so close and becoming a part of this beautiful community.  I always liked the idea of live the life you love. Unexpectedly, today, writing this, eating my graham crackers, I realize I do. 

Celebrating Karebear

My favorite day of the year is my birthday. Mine's the best but all birthdays are freaking great. My mom gave that to me. It's not about age - it's about the celebration of that person on THEIR day. 

Today is my mom's birthday and she's so deserving of celebration. I want to run down the street in front of her announcing to everyone it's her day so they'll step out onto the sidewalk and clap as she goes by. Maybe I should completely cover our car in balloons, open the sunroof and perch her on top. We could cruise through town as a one float parade - all for her. Skywriting would be a nice touch too ... 

Saying I'm close to her is an understatement. Calling her my best friend is inaccurate. She's my mom. My greatest teacher. My shining example. My voice of reason. My fiercest opponent. My loudest cheerleader. My closest confidant. She's not perfect but she's close. 

I'm her oldest daughter. I'm her occasional scapegoat (three-legged dog? my fault. trouble with the durango? this girl. rouge wave boogie boarding incident? all cause of me). She calls me her rock. I'm her golden thread. I'm her little earth mother. She knows I'm the one that will always call her house home even though I have my own family, my own house. Where she is is home. 

Birthday gifts are tricky cause sometimes they aren't celebration enough. Tangible stuff is great. Experiences create wonderful memories. Today, she got a little gift. We had a lovely breakfast overlooking the ocean. We'll hit the beach. I'm gonna make a gourmet dinner. Sydney will do some very cute singing. And I'll give her these words: 

I love you momma. Happy birthday. 

Lovey Love Loverson

Another contest entered today. You can't win if you don't play. 

I was sick; so sick that I got sick of myself and self doubt triumphed over precariously balanced self confidence. Right this minute, I'm better with the where-with-all to refocus. And that feels so good. 

I worked a wedding this weekend that also really felt good. The couple was pleasant and the guests were interesting. The location was new and the weather: ideal which matters cause it's different here. Like moving to the high desert in January from the midwest via New England different. I met a man who lives on small island on BC's Sunshine Coast and swapped Swahili pleasantries. I met a war photographer and talked phot-oj using names that I associate with images - the heart-stoppers, the defining ones. 

I shot after the photographer left. I shot breathing easy and dancing. Oh god how music makes a difference. 

It was Valentine's Day. My sweetie gave me a card. He's a writer. He writes to me and that's better than sunshine. Being in love and at a celebration of love getting to do the thing I love with music I love is something that is so easy to love.


Why Me?

The results of The Best of Sayulita were released today and I was not voted Best Photographer. Some dude who takes photos of vacation rentals won. There are 16 photographers listed on SayulitaLife. Only two are architectural photographers. The rest are societal - portraits or weddings. Semantics, I know. Other categories were specific facets of a broader spectrum (best pizza, best burger - not simply best restaurant). I wish photography had been too. Would I have won? I don't know. There's not even mentions of runners up. 

I'm competitive. I like contests. In the photojournalism world, I regularly won. I was repeatedly acknowledged for excellence. I'm new to this market. I'm new to this industry. I'm NOT new to this craft. What a boost it would have been to be recognized. 

The contests I was winning as a photojournalist were judged by photojournalists. The work, the photographs were judged against one another, not the photographers. Names were blocked out, not even allowed to be taken into consideration as the images were viewed. Best of Sayulita was a Facebook contest. To vote, one had to log into the social media platform. Does this technically make it a popularity contest? Yea. Kinda. The more "friends & followers" the more votes. I'm gonna look at the winner and run his numbers against my own. I bet he out friends me. 

I wanna poo-poo Facebook so hard right now, but I can't. 

Without Facebook, I wouldn't be married to Phil. Without Phil, I wouldn't have Sydney. Without Sydney, we wouldn't live here and This Mexican Life would be someone else's reality. 

A friend and I had a tequila fueled argument about photography recently. He kept asking why other photographers are hired when given the choice between me and them. Why doesn't every couple chose me? The simple answer is people have different tastes. Blue isn't everyone's favorite color. Lasagna isn't everyone's favorite food (though it should be). My friend is not simple, and as I mentioned, tequila was involved so I was forced to flush out "why me?".

 Me, knee deep in a lagoon, shooting a welcome party in Bora Bora. 

Me, knee deep in a lagoon, shooting a welcome party in Bora Bora. 

I'm a storyteller. Every wedding day has it's own story. Yes, the components of the day are always similar. the couples aren't. The location isn't. My experience in newspapers trained me to blend in. I can seemingly be everywhere at once. It's easy for me to relate with all walks of life. I take time to meet couples before the wedding, and their family and their friends. Not a minute of their "big day" is wasted on me being introduced to the who's who in their lives. I do my research. I know the moments they want me to capture and photograph the unexpected ones too. 

I entered a different contest recently. I submitted 10 photos from one wedding to Fearless Photographers Best Wedding Stories of 2015. I didn't win that one either. Rightly so. The winning images were mesmerizing. The photographers inspire me. Their work teaches me. Just looking at it makes me better. 

It doesn't matter, really, if I win anything. What matters is that people trust me to tell the story of their day. The reviews past clients share of my work are more satisfying than any award. They're personal. What matters is that I love what I do and I will always strive for excellence. 



Newsroom Nostalgia

Last night we watched Spotlight. It should win the Oscar for best picture this year. Like papers, it's incredible. It made me long for the newsroom. I worked for six different papers but there's only one newsroom I'll ever miss - Albuquerque Tribune. The Trib closed in 2008. It's newsroom stands empty today. I met my husband in that newsroom. I worked for the perfect boss and with inspiring & talented photographers, writers, editors & designers. I produced great work there and absolutely regret not working harder, doing more, doing better. 

I never tried to work for another paper after the Tribune. I tell people it was like being a rookie who won the Superbowl their first season. It couldn't ever be better. No paper, no staff, no town, no nothing could ever be as good as what we had there. 

Go ahead and call me dramatic but look at the face of journalism today. Powerhouses of print are scraping for survival. Our beloved small market paper died right before large market papers folded (do you remember Seattle's Post Intelligencer or Denver's Rocky Mountain News, among others). Staffs were cut to sub-skeletal levels at the big boys (New York Times & Washington Post). 

Whenever newsroom nostalgia grips my husband or me, we wallow for a moment and then smile. We wouldn't be where we are today or even together if we hadn't lost our jobs at the Trib eight years ago. The journalism landscape is different but the impact of sensational stories is irrefutable (thank you Serial & Frontline). 

Photographers are always separated from the heart of the newsroom (thank you darkroom days) but we weren't immune to the buzz. Deadlines or big stories, breaking news or the eve of project publication, all of it made me feel like I was part of something important, something much bigger than myself. The work was always for our readers. Telling stories, getting invited into the lives of strangers to reveal their truth to the unknown, faceless reader was a privilege. God, I was lucky to get to do that. 

Today, Phil is working on his novel & I'm a wedding photographer. We're still telling stories. We still have deadlines. But c'mon, it's no where near the same. 

There was a rogue night parade during the holiday season. A local politican glad-handed down Main Street with Christmas carols bumping out of a blown speaker and costumed supporters passing out prepackaged bundles of deliciousness. I'm incapable of ignoring a parade and there was a giant blow-up Olaf. Bedtime came and went as we camped out and waited for the hullabaloo to pass. Somehow, the politican's propaganda, published garishly on newsprint, found it's way into our daughter's hands. 

Maybe becoming a journalist isn't a choice. Maybe she naturally appreciates print. Maybe selective screen time is damming her as much as I'm afraid it is. Maybe her parents will never be part of an investigative journalism team that blows the lid off a shocking story and inspires massive social change. Her parents were a part of something incredible. We did work for a newspaper we are very proud of. We continue to question everything and seek truth. And we will always tell stories. 

Resolute

It's hard to write a blog with a toddler crying in the background. There are also not enough hours in the day to sit down and draft something clever, interesting and worth a click. The list of excuses for not writing a blog entry in four months is long and not worth the read. That list didn't stop me from including "increase blog frequency" in my New Year's resolutions. 

This picture sums up my blogging as well as about pretty much everything right now.

It's kind of beautiful, but not unlike anything you've ever seen before. It is a little messy. It's light and dark with pleasant midtones. It's not hard to figure out and it doesn't contain much that actually needs figuring out. I don't hate it. 

Thank you for reading. 

 

It's Better for All of Us

I thought it was clever when I told people that it takes a village to raise a child, so we moved to one (envision this followed by a smug grin). In Santa Fe, we were lucky to have Phil's mom & Lauren, the world's greatest nanny, take care of Sydney while we were at work. We are here in part, because I didn't want to miss out on the milestones of raising her. What I didn't anticipate was my omnipresence with her. We don't have rigid work schedules, Phil writes and weddings are seasonal. As a result, I've pretty much evolved into a stay-at-home mom. 

It's not working for me. 

I love her. She is a marvel and I'm so lucky to have such a free and spirited little girl. But all this togetherness is robbing me of my free and spirited self. I'd like a couple open hours in the morning a couple days a week. I'd like to be rid of the guilty feeling I have when I long for alone time. I hate myself when I succumb to the temptation of plopping her in front of Dispicable Me 2 for the umpteenth time. 

For months, other expat moms suggested I put her in the local day care and I use my parents willingness to help and the support of a flexible and incredible husband as my polite rejection. Then Sydney turned two and my sweet tempered toddler turned on me. 

I started trying to rationalize with her. I was making deals with someone who has zero capacity for reason. She was begging to play with other kids. PInterest and MommyBlogs have great suggestions for ways to entertain and educate but they all feel like five minute band-aids on a situation that needed so much more. My shit was gone. I was failing as a parent. I went to the day care. I found out the requirements. I spent the weekend second guessing myself. On Monday, she started. 

That's her sitting in the high chair on the far right, looking back at me. The teachers took her right in and engaged her as tears welled in my eyes. She didn't cry. Not at first. I heard her calling for us, "Momma, Momma, Eeerrrrrinnnnnn, where are you? Pheeeel? Daddy?" We got in the car. My head went into my hands. The coveted alone time seemed like a selfish, stupid idea. We drove away. 

She survived. 

There are hiccups, but we'll work them out.  I can't communicate with her teachers for shit. The main lady - maestra name unknown, speaks english as poorly as I speak spanish. We fumble through pick-up. Day one, she told me with pantomiming and sound effects that Sydney fell and had a bump on her head. They smothered it in some mysterious white cream so Sydney looked a little like Cameron Diaz in that classic scene from Something About Mary. The bump is a hemangioma (do YOU know the spanish term for confluence of blood vessels?) that will eventually be absorbed into nothingness. My response was "La lunar. Siempre aqui". It's a birthmark. Always here. The look of relief on their faces let me know her semi-perma bump scared the shit out of them. Day two's comical language mix up was about Syd's unwillingness to take off her backpack. I think she wore it the entire four hours. I'm not sure. When I picked her up today, she proudly pointed to the colored and glittered duck art she made with the name "Cindi" scrawled across the top. Cindi is not a nickname I anticipated for Sydney. 

If anything has motivated my desire to learn Spanish, it's this daycare. 

This big scary change is good. She's learning how to socialize with other kids. She's learning Spanish. She's exploring a new world without me and I know that is fostering independence I am incapable of teaching. The daily breather from one another rejunivates our free and spirited selves. When I pick her up in the afternoons, she climbs into her seat on the back of our bike and immediately starts singing. She can't articulate what happens during the time apart, but her song tells me all I need to know. She's happy and I know it. {clap clap}

American Girl

I want my daughter to adore my sisters like I do. I want her to think they're magical and have secrets with them. They should spoil her and be who she turns to when she absolutely hates me (sometimes, with the tantrums, I feel like we're already there). They are amazing women and she needs to know them.

These two talk via FaceTime almost daily. Some days, when she wakes up from her nap, Sydney will ask for Cali. The opportunity to visit L.A. popped up like a dare so for the first time since our move to Mexico, I took Sydney back to America. This picture was made on our final full day but the expression Sydney has happened over and over during our five day visit. She was in awe ... Tia Cali is real

Admittedly, she was inundated with new circumstances before we even left Mexico. She and KareBear discovered riding the suitcase was more fun than walking. There were more people inside the departures terminal at the airport than live in our little town. There was a little boy seated in the row in front of us that spent the entire flight trying to get her attention and all Sydney has asked for this summer is, "Play with kids?". Sure, babe, just don't fight the buckle. 

When we landed and cleared customs, I called Cali to let her know we were early. The traffic gods smiled on her that day and she was close. I managed to get Syd and our luggage to the curb without incident but she'd already seen the phone and she wanted it. We were arguing for control and she was begging to "Call Cali, call CAAAAAA-li) when like a fucking magician, Cali pulls up to the curb and hops out of her car, stunning Sydney into silence. She recognizes her, she knows her voice, she knew we were going on the airplane to see Cali but the surprise on her little face was perfect. She was enchanted. 

The car ride to the apartment was long and full of singing (we were very happy and we all knew it). There was a lot of "Cali, watch this" followed by nothing exactly to watch but Cali looked every time. Sydney was exhausted but she didn't dare close her eyes. There was too much to take in.

Think about it. We left the states when she was nine months old. There was no walking. Her world was limited to our loft and the grassy park across the street. When we were walking to the apartment from the parking garages, she stopped and got on all floors and touched the carpet. She'd never been on wall-to-wall carpet before. Cali bought a plush Minion to appease Syd's latest obsession (it's better than Frozen!) and he was sitting on the sofa chair, just inside the front door. Sydney froze, squeezed my hand and squeaked "Scary ...". She thought he was real. When she laid down to finally go to bed, hours past her normal bedtime, she looked around the room and said to me. "No lizards, no froggies". No Sydney, in Los Angeles, geckos don't climb the walls and frogs won't sing you to sleep. 

Aside from spending time with Cali, getting to play on zoomie American playgrounds was one of the big planned highlights of the trip. So was escaping the oppressive heat of our tropic summer. The playgrounds did not disappoint. Syd climbed (my heart swole), she swang, she discovered tunnels and swirly slides. Unfortunately, our trip coincided with a heat wave. We hid in shade, we ate popsicles but we never lasted long at the parks. 

Shopping. It's where she was the happiest. Nordstrom's was not my idea (we had to pick up some items for Karebear) but Sydney fit right in. She lounged on the couches in the shoe department and made googly eyes at the tall dark and handsome salesmen. She oohed when she touched fancy garmets in the lingerie department. She ate her Teddy Grahams and cast eyes of approval at the different things we tried on in the dressing room. Target was like baby heaven. There were so many different Minion things to hold. Cali let her run down aisles, crawl in clothesracks, bounce balls, ogle at toys, take caps off lipstick. It was like she remembered how much I love Target and knew that it's Momma's happy place. She didn't muster the same enthusiasm at Trader Joe's but I can't blame her. She's in love with the produce man here in San Pancho and gets showered with affection by the girls at our local tienda. No grocery store in America is going to usurp that. She'll get Trader Joe's one day. 

She was unphased by the huge American Girl store we visited. The zombie dolls are lined up in their pink boxes with celophan windows in front of their faces, right at Syd's eye level. She walked up to them and looked in and asked me to carry her. That a girl, the ARE creepy. The horses and pets for the dolls were more interesting. She looked sideways at the little girls who dashed into the store, dressed in the same outfits as the dolls tucked under their arms and running to the "salon" at the rear of the shop where the mini-me's could have their hair done in the same style as their owners. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm sure there's a whole world of make believe and doll play that Syd will grow into. My little Mexican just wasn't into American Girls. 

americangirl08.jpg

The final stop on our hit parade was a children's concert at the Getty. Clearly, I was trying to cram as many kid activities into the trip as I could. I feel starved for diversity sometimes. Yes, we live by the beach and it's great. Options at home are limited and in L.A., they're flush with things to do. We packed Stuart (the Minion), a picnic and our blanket and headed up. Look at that face. She ran barefoot in the grass with other kids. She twirled. She rolled. She laughed and laughed. She's got these real good dance moves that she was busting out. 

She was so damn happy at the concert she couldn't be contained to take a selfie. 

When we got back to Mexico, my husband and parents couldn't believe how much more she talks. She was belting out songs she barely mumbled before. Stuart is a constant companion. And Cali understands Sydney language almost as well as I do. It was a great trip, Sydney and Cali forged a little bond that will just get better the more time they spend together (shopping, naturally). Cali is 100% wrapped around Sydney's little finger. They're exactly how I dream them to be, despite the distance.

Now all that remains is how Cheyenne will top it when we visit her in October. 

Company Hates Misery

I went to the beach alone this evening for a hot minute. I've spent more hours than not with our little babe lately so after a chunk of writing time today, Phil took Syd to the pool and I had glorious alone time. 

I took the Kindle to the beach and nestled into the shade of an umbrella knowing that a mango margarita was inevitable but pretending like I wasn't going to order one. Thunder rumbled in the mountains behind and the surf pounded the beach - so hard the ground shook. It was a wonderful respite from the heat and the mommy-dums of having a toddler. Just as the book got its hooks in and the spray from the ocean started to cool me down, this little bitchy voice started yelling complaints. 

It was classic teenage angst with a British or Australian accent. The nasty jabs were so loud and inappropriate I turned and looked. The dark-haired big mouth had steam coming out of her ears. Her siblings were cowering. I looked away after realizing I was staring at her, aghast. 

I moved. Close enough that I could order my margarita but far enough that the girls voice wouldn't cause a ringing in my ears. My hour of alone time proceeded pleasantly. The margarita was delicious. The book is good. I got up to leave just as the girl was headed out with her two siblings in tow. It was a coincidence, I swear. I didn't even realize it was happening until I heard her nip at siblings. 

We crossed paths. Without slowing down but absolutely lowering my sunglasses so she could see my eyes, I said to the girl, "Just because you're miserable, doesn't mean you have to make everyone around you miserable".

She gave me a nasty teenaged nod. I know her parents were out of earshot and her siblings didn't hear either. But she did. 

I don't pretend to be the politeness police. I've received MANY dirty looks from women in town because of how publicly naked I allow Sydney to be. I know my parenting techniques aren't always up to what the people around me think they should be. I'm okay with that. I certainly don't think that this girls parents were failing. They were letting her be an asshole. Fine. Whatever. It's their vacation. It's their family. She's their asshole. 

It was my hour of serenity. My book is about gangsters. Maybe the combination stirred up the gumption to say something to the girl. Maybe she'll be nicer to her parents tomorrow. Maybe she'll be on the lookout with a baseball bat and enact her own politeness police on me. Maybe Sydney will grow up and spit venom at me akin to what this girl did today. Maybe. But probably not. 

Mourning Rain

Tonight I'm classing life up a bit by drinking white wine with three ice cubes out of a plastic cup inside a leftover wedding koozie.  There is thunder overhead but the rain hasn't hit yet. That pre-storm heat that just sucks the life out of you is doing just that. I'm gasping for rain like it's air. It kind of is - cool cool air. 

There was a car wreck on the jungle road leading from Puerto Vallarta to San Pancho a few nights ago and all four women in the car died. Three were from San Pancho. All were moms. This town has been rocked by it but I haven't felt much of the weirdness. I'm sure it's there.

I dug enough on Facebook to see who they were. I'm afraid I think I only recognize one of them and that may or may not be one of the girls who worked in the tienda between our house and my parents.

It makes me feel shitty that I'm not sure if I recognize them. Is it because I don't have things to associate them with? Is it because I don't have any friends that aren't gringos? We've been here more than a year, I barely speak Spanish and I don't have any friends that are Mexican. Writing it makes me realize what a shit job I've done at assimilating. 

It's weird to be in this town that's so traumatized and not know who to even acknowledge as a bereaved. Maybe the whole town is. The signs are there. 

I was raised to acknowledge death. It's not overbearing, it's usually, I'm sorry for your loss. When my grandpa died, I couldn't hold myself together when someone simply uttered those words to me ... grief is overwhelming. I also know that we're in a Catholic community (the only church in town is Catholic). There are cultural difference and rituals that need to be respected. I'm just not sure how to go about it. 

There's a procession from the church to the cemetery after the funeral. I missed that. Acknowledging loss and gawking at mourning aren't complementary behaviors. Instead, I went up to the cemetery days later. I'd heard the girls were buried side by side. Alters to the deceased are beautiful arrangements of flowers and icons and candles and I wanted to see. I wanted to pay respect. I was curious. But as I got close, i saw that their graves were surrounded by family. I huge blue tarp was being secured above the graves, to protect it from the weather. I kept walking up the hill, to the older part. There, grass grows over the headstones. Jesus and angels adorn nearly every grave. 

I watched the area around the graves from the hilltop and the clouds above mounted. The novena, the nine days of mourning, had already begun. The graves were adorned with flowers, candles, religious icons, crosses. There is nothing easy about dealing with death. There is sadness. Even for someone who didn't know the women, there is so much sadness.  

Of death, poet Octavio Paz once said, "The Mexican ... frequents it ... caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it ... he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain or irony." 

These deaths have confronted me with my own disdain. I'm a stranger in my small town, unable to express condolences. Like everyone else, I wait for the rain.