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Living the Pura Vida

As a kid, this river was my playground. And now it’s my office,” George, our Costa Rican adventure guide said with a bright and genuine smile as we paddled down the gentle rapids of the Sevegre river. George grew up just a few kilometers from where we were rafting, in the small village of Santo Domingo, a remote town with just 120 inhabitants. For generations, his family has been exploring the rustic trails and wild waters of this lush region, equipping his mind with knowledge of the area and fill his heart with love for it.

His sinewy muscles rippled underneath the grey surf shirt he wore to shield him from the midday sun – a physique not earned through hours at the gym, but rather, through a life well lived. Raised by a family of local guides, George grew up simply doing the things he saw happening around him – running rivers, climbing peaks, jumping off rocks into cool pools of fresh water, catching fish, slurping coconut water freshly out of the coconut, and eating sweet mangos and pineapples from nearby trees. And so life continues in this remote region…someday, when he has children of his own, they will likely have no choice but to join him in living the “pura vida.”

As a visitor, it’s hard not to contrast this existence with the one my own kids have, in the suburban bubble of Silicon Valley. A calendar alert reminds me when it’s time to sign up the kids for swimming lessons or soccer league, boosting my pulse rate and causing me to drop everything and complete the enrollment process within the minutes or hours before the prime time activities fill up. My son spends his afternoons not running up mountains, but running laps around the school playground, rewarded with a colorful little trinket he proudly clips onto his backpack when he completes the day’s magic number of loops. On good days, my kids get fresh pineapple in their lunches, and on not as good days, they wind up with organic gummy “fruit” from the supermarket that I know isn’t anything close to fruit, but nevertheless, buy for ease and speed.

Don’t get me wrong. These kids live blessed lives — lives that are the product of the choices my husband and I have made for ourselves and our kids, opting for good schools and cultural variety over living off the land and running free from dawn ‘til dusk. But with these choices comes a level of compartmentalization that leaves me uneasy. We – kids and adults alike – schedule in exercise at defined increments, rather than moving our bodies all day long. We work to raise healthy kids by taking them to gymnastics on Saturdays and swimming on Tuesdays and feeding them kale chips for lunch, but we sometimes forget to teach them the simple truth that health is a way of life.  We fail to show them that the way we spend our days is indeed, the way we spend our lives.

Our time with George gave me a welcome jolt. In whatever form it can take in the busy lives we’ve constructed, my husband and I need to make sure we’re showing our kids (not just telling them) what the essence of the pura vida is.   It’s easy to overschedule our kids into “healthy” activities and pack “healthy” lunches, but it’s harder to be in the trenches with them. It’s easy to read books about riding bikes and growing broccoli, but it’s harder to take the extra time to bike to the grocery store and find a few minutes to water the garden each day. It’s easy to talk the talk, but it’s harder to walk the walk. Our challenge and our responsibility as parents is to help our children see and feel the pura vida – however the pura vida shows up in each of our complicated modern lives.  And then support them in navigating whole and healthy lives of their own.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, I love this… I feel like I often overhear conversations between fellow city parents about how we’re choosing urban life and that’s a sacrifice for our kids, who should be running in streams and playing in the dirt from dusk till dawn! 😉 (They say this about themselves — they aren’t passing judgement. They’re just wondering what our kids are missing by gaining other valuable things in return). Anyway, I feel this especially now with my crazy active boy who goes to toddler gym and swim class… it is complicated, you’re right. Thanks for sharing.

    April 8, 2014
  2. Love this. Such a good message. Scheduling activities doesn’t take the place of “playing like kids” with the adults joining in. Adults benefit equally from “play time”. But it is a reality of life.. trading off education etc opportunities that are found in the city. I live in a small village in Bali, surrounded by kids who make their own fun and are at one with the outdoors. There is nothing better than seeing kids who travel to us playing with them in the same way.. no language barriers.

    April 8, 2014
  3. I just want to tell you how happy I am to have stumbled on your blog and welcome your thoughtful stories in my inbox whenever they come. Thanks as always for the fresh perspective.

    April 9, 2014
    • Thanks so such a nice comment, Monica! I’m glad you like the blog. Thanks for stopping by. Be well!

      April 9, 2014
  4. Wonderful read! I too want my children to immerse in nature, to detach from metropolitan living, so I bring them to mountains. I wrote about the reasons why I let my kids climb mountains in my blog 🙂

    April 12, 2014
  5. Vikki #

    Every word you write and experience you describe rings so true in my ears we could tell the same story from two completely different sets of circumstances, experiences and geographic locations. Wonderful message – thank you for sharing!

    April 15, 2014

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