When I talk with friends and family back home, the most common question is: “So…what is it you do with your time?” The short answer is that we spend most days working with injured jungle monkeys, writing poetry in the native Quechua language and breathing in the mist of waterfalls. On good days we do all three at the same time.
Yea, right. The truth is the things of normal daily existence seem to take up a lot of our time. Just cooking, cleaning up, getting the boys to and from school, doing extra school lessons with the boys, grocery shopping, running errands, finding ways for the boys to burn energy and relaxing a bit can take up whole days. Some of these daily to-dos are made more challenging simply because they are done in a foreign language and culture. For example, the idea of one-stop-shopping is so far-fetched as to be laughable. Just today I tried to buy superglue to repair one of Luke’s toys. The quest for one simple items involved numerous half understood conversations, visiting four different stores and walking two or three miles all around town. When I reached the much discussed store, it was closed for some unknown reason.
Entertaining and educating the boys, it seems me, also takes more time than it did back home (I say it “seems to me” because I might just be realizing now how much work it took Jamie the past six years!). There is the extra time for the English and math lessons which we anticipated, but man do I miss sending them to the family room to play with their numerous toys or to the yard to run in the grass and dig in the dirt. Here in our apartment the “family room” and “back yard” are the same thing, which is the space right next to our desk. It’s where I hooked up my Rip 60 exercise equipment so I could get…well ripped!. Although I have only used it maybe four times in nearly two months, the boys spin and swing on it for hours on end. Thank God for Rip 60. Here’s a short video of Luke building his core strength!
Even with these new challenges we do have more free time than we used to. A lot more. I’m not working and that frees up countless hours. The boys are in school five mornings a week. Also, we have a wonderful lady named Elena who comes to help around the house three mornings a week. We pay her twice the going rate, but I’m still amazed at how much we get for so little. This extra time allows Jamie and me to split the family responsibilities and chores pretty equally. We have settled into a nice routine where we have a date on Tuesday mornings, family adventures on Saturdays and where we take turns with the boys in the afternoon allowing focused attention on them from each parent and large chucks of open time for the other person.
With the extra time I am doing more yoga and trying to learn to meditate, but not trying too hard or that defeats the purpose…I think. I’ve taken up running, which is much less fun and more painful than biking. I read more than I used to and watch less TV. The extent of our TV comes from the pirated $1 DVDs of recent American movies and TV shows sold out of ubiquitous little stores (which also somehow have selections of cheap Oakley sunglasses and Converse All Star shoes?). We go for long meandering walks through the countryside and these walks may be my favorite thing about where we live.
We study Spanish a lot; or maybe more accurately, I study some and then watch Jamie study Spanish more. Last, I’ve also found a surprising number of ways to stay busy without actually doing much which boils down to either spending hours on sites like reddit.com or taking naps bookended by games like tetris on my iPad.
So how do I feel about how I’m spending my time? Pretty good actually. The main reason is that I get a lot more time with Luke, Vaughn and Jamie. We’ve spent the last 88 days together. At first, it was a bit much for me to be around the boys almost all of the time, but after maybe week three or four it started to feel normal and a never-before-seen casual comfort set in. Daddy being around was no longer just for evenings and weekends. Much of our time here is spent doing unspectacular things like riding a bus or eating a meal but what a blessing to be able to enjoy and just be in these moments with my family. Back home I was often too busy or preoccupied to simply enjoy just hanging out with my boys.
And that touches on the second reason why I’m okay with how our time is going: namely, it is a great chance to practice taking each moment as it comes. After settling into this sabbatical thing, I’m now a bit less focused than I was back home on making sure every moment is productive and aimed at some big goal. Paradoxically, when it is time for me to focus on something or respond to a surprise, I often have more energy to do it. When it is time to just chill out and have a beer at lunch I do that with a bit less guilt. Put differently, it seems I have slightly more patience with reality, whatever it happens to be, because I’m not trying to impose my will it with the same intensity.
Don’t get my wrong; I’m no zen master here (I don’t think they drink rum) and life is not a continual flow of pure bliss. This place often overwhelms me to the point that I just feel like hiding. I still want and even need a routine, to-do lists and goals to stay on track, but it is fun to see some changes showing up in how we spend our time and how we see the world. It makes me feel okay about putting my wife, children and self through all of this.
We are blessed to be able to have this unique time away to get closer to each other and practice living in the moment. Often I wonder what it will be like when we return to normal life. Then after wondering a bit, worry sneaks in as I contemplate the stress of moving back, jump-starting our careers and rebuilding our lives. But then I remind myself that those are challenges for another day, they are months and even years away, so for now I just need to figure out where to get some superglue.