Illustration by Arnel Reynon
I started 2012 on a beach in Tulum, Mexico. Divorced almost two years, I still struggled with the intensified demands that came with being a single mom — the full-time job, two kids with busy after-school schedules, needy pets, a historic house with old pipes, no time for myself, bills, bills, bills. Now over 40, I was challenged by obstacles that many women face earlier: how to balance a checkbook (use checks with carbons), change air filters (this should happen every month — who knew?) and mow my lawn (hire someone). But beyond managing life on my own, I still hadn't figured out my identity as a single person. My marriage began the week after I graduated from college. I traded three roommates for a husband.
This past Christmas accentuated one of the many complications of divorce — sharing children. My ex and I both wanted our kids. The ex's celebration offered a ski house in Park City filled with grandparents, uncles, aunts and close cousins. Mine had none of the above. Utah won.
Socially, my holiday looked bleak: My parents had passed away, and I had no date for parties. With kids 2,000 miles away and a brother visiting his fiancée's parents in Boston, I faced celebrating Jesus' birthday with only my dog and incontinent cat for company. A pity party loomed. So I used the money that should've gone toward bathroom plumbing to hire a pet sitter and book a trip to Tulum. Water and sunshine always rejuvenate me, and this resort touted an all-inclusive fitness program and healthy meals. It was the opposite of a traditional Christmas with snowy pines, fireside carols and a five-course holiday dinner, but why not?
The white-sand beach at Tulum proved close to paradise with clear water such a perfect shade of blue that it blended into sky. I'm used to the dark, drab Atlantic where you're glad you can't see your feet for all the sea debris brushing past your bare legs.
As promised, I delighted in platters of fresh fruit, vegetables, grilled fish and granola-sprinkled yogurt. Pre-selected meals meant my only decision each day was how many exercise sessions to attend. Ongoing classes began with an early morning beach walk and ended after sundown with either yoga or meditation. I sampled everything and fell for kickboxing, salsa dancing and circuit boot camp.
I fondly remember my Latino salsa teacher who crooned that I had sexy moves (he said this to everyone, but I still drank it in) and my kickboxing instructor who complimented my POWER when I punched the pad in his hand. In between workouts, I swam in the warm, turquoise ocean and napped in hammocks hung between palms.
I created my own mini-version of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, where after a divorce, the author travels to find herself through good food, exercise and soul-searching. My respite lasted only a week, not the almost-year Gilbert spent circumventing the globe. Yet a legitimate transformation occurred. My worries lifted. I felt empowered, grounded and more energized. I learned a lesson; I didn't need anyone else to make my music.
I wanted to be with my kids and family in Utah (after 20 years of marriage, I will always think of my in-laws as family), but I proved that I could turn around a glum situation to appreciate life and my own vitality. I still don't know who I am on my own — that journey lies ahead — but Tulum gave me a jump-start.
I returned to Richmond with a calmness I thought disappeared forever with adulthood. A simple Google search later, I found salsa dancing, kickboxing and boot camp classes all over our city. Committed to a burgeoning healthy relationship with myself, I signed up. These things were in my backyard all along. Sometimes you need to leave, if only briefly, to reconnect to self and home.