If I'm honest we didn't think too long or hard about quitting our jobs and moving to Mexico for six months. I casually suggested it one spring night, by summer we'd handed in our respective notices and bought flights and by autumn we found ourselves in Mexico. The only thing to which we did give much consideration was the impact our decision would have on the kids.
In principle, of course, travelling, exploring, seeing new cultures and learning new languages all looks like the perfect thing for everyone but what would the reality bring? Obviously, we couldn't actually know for sure, we just had to cross our fingers that it would work out well, that our children would thrive and that they would be fine.
And you know what? They are thriving and they remain, fairly well-adjusted kids. We had our concerns though; neither of our kids has ever dealt especially well with separation from us and we planned to send them to school in Mexico so we knew we needed to prepare them well.
As soon as we bought our tickets and our dreams began to look like reality, we told the children what was going to happen. They were only four and two at the time but we told them exactly what we were planning and why. We explained that we were going to leave the UK and go and have a big adventure. We made it clear that one of the main benefits to leaving was that mummy and daddy would be able to spend more time with them. We explained very clearly that we were sad that every day we rushed them to nursery so we could work, and then picked them up when we were all tired, fed them and put them to bed. We explained that we wanted to spend much more time together.
We talked about Mexico a lot. We talked about what we'd see and what sort of food we'd eat. We showed them photos and asked what they wanted to see (volcanoes and beaches, obviously).
We involved our nursery in everything. We told them immediately and asked them to help us build enthusiasm and excitement. The staff were amazing and were so enthusiastic that the kids began to get excited too.
Their dad speaks good Spanish so he would read Spanish books with the children before we left. And we hired a Spanish nanny to look after the children once a week. Apart from some early mishaps including our son locking her in the garden, it actually went very well and the children did seem to pick up a few Spanish words from her. We weren't expecting much from once a week but we hoped that hearing Spanish regularly would make arriving in Mexico feel slightly less scary for them.
Did all this preparation make everything run smoothly?
Well, yes and no.
The kids were super excited about the trip, they didn't complain, they loved the packing and they were fine saying goodbye to toys, family and friends. But, behaviour did take an understandable nosedive. They went from being pretty helpful and calm to being far trickier than normal. They were presumably picking up on our stresses as we tried to figure out what we were doing. Our four-year-old locking the nanny in the garden wasn't a malicious and nasty boy acting, it was a small boy not being sure about what was happening around him and needing to express his fears. I talked to him regularly about his feelings about the up-coming trip but he didn't have much to say except for wondering if they had Spiderman in Mexico.
What do you pack for two small kids for such a long trip? A few clothes and a few toys are all they need. We told them they could take two toys each. Books were a must. We packed a number of favourites and a few new books. We also ensured that we had our kindles so we could get new stories whenever needed. We discovered a world of bilingual kids' books out there, which has been wonderful in helping the children pick up Spanish. I also packed fruit roll ups, figuring I could use them as bribery when things got tough!
Of all the aeroplane gifts I bought, the longest lasting and most popular are the water pen colouring books. They're brilliant. Just fill up the little pen and let the kids loose. They have done them over and over and every other child who sees them wants one. The gifts were all wrapped up (husband thought I was nuts but I think it added excitement for the children) and given to the kids every few hours. Dealing with the mess on the plane was a pain but I think it was worth it.
A few months in to our trip and I can confirm that ripping up the rule book to middle class life in London has been worth it. I still yell at my kids but it's so much nicer to do it in the sun than the pouring rain!
I'm blogging regularly at: http://yacasillegamosblog.wordpress.com (it means, 'are we there yet?', something we hear a lot, in both English and Spanish!)