WILD & FREE

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY KAREN RILEY-GRANT

When we found out we were having baby #3, we began to try to make sense of a life with an expanded brood. And a dog. And busy corporate jobs. And all the craziness that already existed in our lives. It made our heads spin. The baby wasn’t a surprise. We'd wanted another kiddo, but on paper it all seemed so straightforward and simple. The reality was a bit more jarring.  

Knowing that a new baby would change our family dynamic forever, I began to savor every single moment with the family. We created a bucket list of things we wanted to cross off before the baby arrived and by God, we were going to make the most of our limited time (and apparently spend a fortune) doing so.

WORK VS. LIFE

Late nights, the anxiety would set in. I’d been striving for years to establish some level of work limitations. As I climbed higher on the corporate ladder, the expectations and pressure grew and those limitations seemed nearly impossible to set. I worked hard to keep work from spilling into my personal life and taking over. Work trip to NYC? No problem: take a kid, fly up a G-ma and make it work. Lengthy commutes kept me from sharing in bedtime the story? I’d work overtime on the weekends to squeeze in all the fucking fun they’d every imagined. The pressure I put on myself to achieve it all was damaging my health and killing my spirit. The reality is that my drive at work seemed to continuously trump my personal life, inclusive of family needs. I was addicted to both, but work seemed harder to say ‘no’ to. The merry-go-round was going faster and faster, it seemed nearly impossible to get off.

JUMPING OFF THE MERRY-GO-ROUND

Then it happened : that electric moment of clarity, when everything is sorted just like that.   My husband and I had a rare double-charged moment of perspective – like looking into a crystal ball.  We decided it was time to get off the merry-go-round and slow life down. We yearned to escape somewhere where we could focus on our family without competing external factors. Simplify life. Quiet the mind. Focus on living in the moment. If we could adjust to life with an expanded brood somewhere where the stresses of life were at a minimum, we thought we might just have a chance of not killing someone. Possible? Just maybe. So the planning began.

We’ve always loved Costa Rica – a place we’ve been traveling for over 15 years. It’s where time stood still. Where we could put everything behind and chill, reset and figure stuff out. Next level therapy. I’m fairly certain most folks have these places - they’re critical to one’s survival. If you don't have one - find it. Now.

So Costa Rica is was. When do we go? What do we do with our house? Can the kids go to school? What about our jobs? Is this insane? Can the pooch come? How long do we go? How long can we afford to go? This shit was getting real. It may have been the extra surge of testosterone from the baby - but my planning was fierce. I was determined to make this happen. Spreadsheet upon spreadsheet, checklist upon checklist we tackled our dream. We were going to move to Costa Rica.  Pause our careers, rent our home, store our belongings, sort the kid’s schooling and save, save, save. The plan was so far out and crazy it had to be right.   

ONE WAY TICKET TO PURA VIDA

Time flew and before I could say, “Epidural, please” Charlie was born, job resignation delivered, belongings packed away and off we were on a one-way ticket to CR.  We planned to go for one year – the equivalent of a European maternity leave. Something I could wrap my head around and help reduce the fear of losing my rung on the corporate ladder. 

But, that plan got squashed. I’m not sure what I expected to feel that would indicate my readiness to return to “normal life," but I wasn’t feeling it yet. I didn’t have answers. I didn’t know how to be a mom of  three, a stellar wife and a grounded, happy human. It also didn’t hurt that our kids were happy as could be and we’d met amazing people who enriched our experience beyond. And the weather and surf didn’t suck.  So, we continued on the adventure. Learned to live without hot water, dryers, air conditioning and hot showers. We learned how to manage through struggles we’d never anticipated. Mastering the 3-kid thing became a tertiary mission and learning how to embrace the Costa Ricans ‘Pura Vida’ state of mind became the primary. 

We learned to let go. Let go of the shit that didn’t matter, the stress of the everyday. And learned to hold on to and focus on the things that did matter: family, health & happiness.

Nearly two years after we packed up and headed south, we realized we’d paused our lives in the US for too long and it was time to go home. Wah wah. While I still felt I had things to figure out, I realized I’d always have things to figure out. It’s a never-ending process.   You can go off the grid. You can toss your iPhone. You can change jobs. You can minimize the toxic external factors.

LETTING GO

But no matter where you go or who you are with – it’s about your ability to peel back the insanity and creating enough space in the brain to think. And let go.  It’s how you choose to gracefully wade through it all in an effort to enjoy every moment.

Now that we’re back, the real adventure begins. I’m on a constant quest to let go. My drive to do and pressure I put on myself to accomplish is like muscle memory. Two years off the grid couldn’t undo it.  I guess you can take a girl out of the craziness, but you can’t take the craziness out of the girl. Right? It’s a very real part of me that I’m working to embrace and nurture, but not let dominate. 

But, it’s going to take a moment - she’s one stubborn bitch. 

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Karen lives in a small coast-side town south of San Francisco with her kids Phoebe (10), Margot (6), Charlie (2), her husband Andy and their pooch Taco.  When she’s not trekking around the beaches of Northern California with her fam or dreaming about future travel, she’s an entrepreneurial marketing consultant and advisor to Bay Area companies.