Shit we put into a shipping container and moved across an ocean

by renegademama

So, our shipping container finally arrived – three months after we did. That’s been fun.

Beyond the obvious excitement of opening the front door of an empty rental with six carry-on bags, four suitcases the size of a small nation, four kids, and absolutely nothing in the actual house beyond a strange smell emanating from the kitchen sink, we enjoyed nine trips to Ikea in three days to purchase furniture in boxes. Have you ever tried putting together Ikea furniture while jet-lagged?

Mac has. He didn’t seem to love it.

Since Uber Eats exists, my first thought was “beds.” So we bought twelve – or maybe it was four – of the cheapest Ikea mattresses available: 2-inches of stacked cardboard they refer to as “foam.”

Of course, the idea was that the shipping container would arrive when we did, or within a month or so, but it got hung up in Australia or some shit. Or maybe we didn’t do the paperwork in time. Hard to tell.

It’s funny, I think people may look at us from the outside and think “Wow, that Mac and Janelle, they must really have some shit figured out, moving to Europe and all.” Not that we’ve ever given any indication of such a thing, but rather because it SEEMS like it would be a requirement for relocating to another country. Like you can’t just throw that shit together all haphazardly, because it’s so complicated. Surely you’d have to figure out how to do it for it to work at all.

But what isn’t immediately obvious, perhaps, is that there are two ways to “figure out how to do it.” You can do extensive research, ask people who’ve done it, consult professionals, make notes, and formulate a plan that addresses the particulars of your situation in attempt to avoid unexpected problems.

Or, you can google shit and hope for the best.

You can intend to do all those adult planning things but end up reading twenty-seven posts by standard humans on Facebook discussing the “expat experience” in this particular arena, ending up more confused than before since nobody can agree on anything except Dutch doctors only prescribe aspirin.

So, you call your friend Alexis in Amsterdam and just do what she says because she seems to have her shit together. Or, you just pick an option at random because you’re out of time. Of course we had a lawyer who helped us with the actual immigration paperwork because FUCKING OBVIOUSLY. Know thyself.

Anyway, Mac and I slept on a double Ikea “mattress” on the floor for three full months. My hip would hit the ground if I slept on my side. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night was EXTRA SUPER COOL since I had spinal surgery in March and my left leg is still partially numb. In other words, it’s no trouble at all to get up off the floor with a stiff back and weak, unbalanced leg.

Thank you for giving me a moment to whine about my life in Europe.

Here’s a picture of the Dutch movers hoisting our mattress through a window of our house since it’s impossible to move up the steep, winding, Dutch death stairs. Those fucking movers were so badass. They carried our boxes and furniture UP THOSE STAIRS over and over again for an hour. One of the dudes was wearing Tevas. With socks. How the fuck are you 65 years old moving dressers up death stairs in Tevas with socks?

The Dutch are tough as hell.

Oh, but can I tell you what it felt like to get in bed that first night? Clean sheets. Off the ground. Blankets. My pillow. Off the ground. It even still smelled like home. Well, my old home.

I don’t want to say “the joy pretty much ended there,” but the joy pretty much ended there.

You see, there’s a point in every move job when nobody gives a flying fuck anymore what’s being placed in each box. Half-empty Kleenex box? Yes, pack that. Random metal stick? Could be important. Book nobody’s read in twenty years or ever? Don’t care. Stop asking me.

random metal stick

Empty trash cans. The trash itself. Half-used sponges. Marbles. Four pennies. Lego man heads. One single Christmas tree bulb. Stained dish towels. Just fucking pack it.

life is meaningless

My MA diploma, 12k papers, kid art, random cords, Ibuprofen, tiny turtle!

 

You open boxes like this and you just want to jump off a bridge. Why can’t I do anything that MAKES SENSE? 

When packing, it’s not that we think we need this crap, or even that we want it. It’s that the line between trash and “worth moving” eventually gets real thin because the goal is no longer “pack in an organized, helpful way,” but simply “get me the fuck out of this house before I boil to death in the cauldron of my own consumerism.”

Or maybe we’re just tired.

Nobody starts out like this. We start out methodically getting rid of things, lots of things, grouping items we definitely need in well-labeled boxes reflecting a particular area of the house. It all seems hopeful. We’ve really turned a corner this time. Adult packing!

We ask ourselves, “Does this bring me joy?” and no, no we do not yell I HAVE KIDS YOU DICKHEAD NOTHING IN THIS HOUSE BRINGS ME JOY, but rather, we make deep, mindful decisions about whether or not we need the vase we bought from a dread-locked hippie at a 1998 Lake Tahoe art fair.

Two weeks later we’re writing “Kitchen tools & Clothes” on a box.

we all hit the KITCHEN TOOLS & CLOTHES phase at some point

As one traverses the closets and corners of the house for days on end, the will dissolves. Nay, it is beaten out of us by the external representation of our vapid capitalist souls, until we give up fighting and simply repeat the sins of our past. “Just pack it” you scream into the cold, dead night. Yes, pack the remote paired with nothing and that gallon Ziploc bag of unknown cords and the boots with a broken zipper I bought in 2000 that I will surely fix any day now.

An entire junk drawer dumped in a box. A 900-gallon plastic crate of Legos. Fuck it, you think, fondly reflecting on the days when you cared. Fuck it all.

A stuffed animal, tea, two single shoes, my book, 12k receipts AND A FUCKING PIG MASK? Look, I don’t make the rules.

Yes, yes, these are the things we placed onto a shipping container to move from California to the Netherlands, via Australia, apparently.

But none of this really demonstrates the level of fuck-it-all Mac and I reached, for I recently opened a box called “Mac’s bedside table,” and found this: A book he was reading with my underwear stuck in them as a bookmark.

At some point, my husband lifted a book with underwear stuck in it and said to himself “Yep, that’s going in. Just like this.”

So yeah, times are bleak, that’s for sure, but somewhere, there’s a person packing bell hooks and panties into a shipping container.

The human will prevails.

 

All fucked up and nowhere to go (except this excellent country)

by renegademama

Hi. I haven’t written in a while because I’m all fucked up in my head.

I’m not unhappy. At least I don’t think I am. Depends on when you ask. 4am is sketchy as hell. That’s when I enjoy a little this was the biggest mistake of my life but it doesn’t matter anyway because life is a death march through pain.

Of course, I’ve been enjoying those mental exercises at 4am for the past 25 years, so, maybe irrelevant.

I AM SO FUCKED UP YOU GUYS.

I have no idea which way is up or down and the other day I stood in front of a door that I thought was the entrance to a shop and when it wouldn’t open, I just walked away. I couldn’t handle looking for the actual entrance. I almost called Mac to help me. TO HELP ME.

WITH FUCKING WHAT?

I miss Ava so much I could puke. Some dude ran into me in my car and he was in a Vespa. It’s a long story but I’m pretty sure it was my fault. All of us were okay. A vaguely drunk Dutch woman from across the street saw it happen and came out and stroked my arm a lot. Now I’m afraid to drive.

Did you know the word in English for sparkling water is different in every goddamn country? Water with gas, sparkling water, club soda. Why do I know this? Because I’m an alcoholic and order a lot of club sparkling bubbly water with gas.

The fun part is that every time you go somewhere new and say it wrong, they look at you like you’re a fucking native English speaker how do you not know what this is called?

WHATEVER, SCOTTISH CANADIAN DUTCH GERMAN SPANISH PEOPLE.

Do I sound like I’ve lost it? I have. I have. Okay? I have. 

I miss forests. I like the idea of going to Germany for those. I miss the Pacific ocean. I love being not in a country where Donald Trump is President. I miss knowing where all the good shit is.  IT SURE IS COOL MY KIDS AREN’T GONNA GET SHOT IN SCHOOL.

I miss my best friend. There’s no flip side to that.

I just miss her. And my parents. And Ava. Did I mention that?

 

“Are you happy there?” That’s what everyone asks me. 

At 3pm, when I walk down our road of brick houses, each one with a little striped awning, to pick up my kids from the bus stop, and as soon as they get off they ask if we can get an ice cream or go to the outdoor market across the street (if it’s a Thursday) to get Turkish bread and cashew hummus, and cookies from the Lithuanian grandma, I’m “happy.”

When my family rides along on our bikes and I see Arlo sitting on Rocket’s bike and I hear his little voice chattering away at his big brother – one sentence jamming into the next, hands flailing in animation – and Rocket responding occasionally, sometimes pretending he’s about to fall to make Arlo roar in laughter, until we pull into the big square under the big old church in the cobblestone center of town, I’m definitely “happy.”

When I get off the train in Amsterdam, when I shake my head in wonder at where I live, when I type “Bruges, Belgium” into Airbnb for a weekend trip, when I hear my daughter say “There are no lockdowns here,” when my kids tell me they stood on desks to build block towers to the ceiling at school, when I watch them play every afternoon because there’s no homework until you’re 12, when I realize I’ve lived here three months and have not yet seen a homeless person – well, fuck.

When I see Mac come home on a Wednesday at 1pm so he can take Arlo to play football in the park.

When I see him making lunches in the morning.

When I see him not commuting four hours a day.

When I see three Dutch kids somehow attached to a bike ridden by a Dad at 2pm on a Tuesday (because dads take time off to be with their kids here (“Papadag!”).

Well fuck. I love it here.

“Happiness?”

It isn’t a matter of happiness, though, is it? Happiness is bullshit. We chase it like hungry animals, some fleeting thing always just around the bend. We all know this. It’s a cliché at this point.

What do we get, really, when shit is good? Contentment? Serenity? Freedom? Peace?

Do I have that?

Yes, which is partly why I’m fucked up. Because I have so much more of it here, it’s disturbing.

How can you simply rejoice in the realization that your kids are safer in this country than your own?

How can you just delight in the fact that your husband has been returned to a freedom over his life because the Dutch understand work-life balance and health insurance is affordable?

How do you purely celebrate that when just beneath it is the reality that a return to America is probably an end to it again. How do you feel the loosening of some knot in your guts because this new country allows children to be children and expects you to do the same, and you realize how much impossibility you held in yourself, how much impossibility was yours to somehow achieve as mother. The craziest thing is I didn’t even realize it was there until it was gone.

the homework the reading “norms” the “safety of children” the forms the healthy food the endless march to get to the top of a dying middle class the eye toward retirement for freedom

I almost cried when George came home and told me they made apple pie in school and got candy for a kid’s birthday. It was just the type of thing that would appall and “deeply concern” so many mothers in my old town. Sugar! At school! Standing on desks! Candy!

It’s just, like, not that big of a deal here. Nobody cares. No wonder Dutch kids are the happiest in the world. And it isn’t that there are no rules. That doesn’t make kids happy.

My kids’ school is incredibly strict about sugar in lunches. As in, it’s not allowed at all. So, you know, they’re like reasonable.

Moderation. Weird.

 

There’s no need to complicate this. I’m disrupted. That’s all this is. I’m finding my way in a new reality.

I have to admit though I absolutely didn’t know what it would feel like to have my world contract to a tiny square.

I lived in northern California my whole life. My parents lived there. My grandparents too. My great-grandparents arrived there after making their way out of the Philippines and the East Coast and Southern United States. So, while my body resided in a single town outside of Sacramento, familiar land stretched beneath my feet all the way to the middle of California, to the Nevada border, to Humboldt County on the way to Oregon. To the sun dropping into the Pacific Ocean.

It isn’t about knowing all the mountains and trees and lakes and roads. California’s too big for that. It’s about knowing a place from as far back as you can remember. It’s about imagining the boundaries of your home, the dirt you love, places you know in your bones from memory and history. Living your whole life in the same place feels like circles expanding so far beyond yourself, one after another, boundaries of familiarity wherever you go.

And in your mind, you can see it, how far your friends and family and feet stretch around you. It seems to hold you there in the center with old, massive hands.

It feels like safety.

Apparently it’s no small thing to let it all go.

I knew I wouldn’t get out of this without some sort of reckoning. Nothing comes for free. Nothing is that simple.

There’s so much left behind.

 

My brother left for ten years for college and medical school. But I, I don’t leave. And if I leave, I certainly don’t get somewhere new and find a mirror to the insanity of my former life. I certainly don’t feel the relief of a saner, more humane and pragmatic society next to the reality that it isn’t mine.

How much new can the heart and brain hold? Where the fuck am I?

One foot at home, aching. Aching. FUCKING ACHING.

One foot here.

I didn’t come here seeking happiness. I came here seeking a life more aligned with freedom of profession and time, with family, with choice, with something beyond endless work for survival then hopefully a retirement and something more than a big house to celebrate on my deathbed. I came here for a fuller life right now, a slowing down, a different kind of safety circling us.

The fact that I found it is somehow excruciating.

Haarlem Central

Haarlem from the other side of the central church AKA We Live on a Movie Set

stepping out of the train station in Amsterdam I see this and it’s never not startling. not sure why. BECAUSE IT’S THE TRAIN STATION IN AMSTERDAM AND I LIVE HERE SOMEHOW

Dam Square in Amsterdam, of course

the ice cream shop in question

the Haarlem central square where we hang out a lot

“futbal” is a thing we do now and by “we” i mean everyone else but me

****
Hi. I have three writing workshops starting next year.

JOIN US

We’ve got WRITE ANYWAY, for the writer sick of her own mental shit (fear, mostly). And the RENEGADE WRITERS’ GROUP, for the writer ready to get a first draft done. And finally, FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR, which will bring you from memories of your life to actual story, or help you shape and enhance a memoir draft you’re wondering what to do with. Email me questions or to set up installment plans (which I offer for all of these).

Oh and my book didn’t write itself. And you can totally still buy it!

(Please do. I owe people money.)

43 Comments | Posted in I guess we're moving to the Netherlands | September 30, 2019

I have fucking had it with motherhood

by renegademama

First, the world makes me think having a baby is the greatest fulfillment of my woman-self paired with pastel nursery items and tiny duck sleep-sacks. Like having a doll only more fun because it gives life everything you need to not worry about death.

Okay, so maybe I’m the only asshole who believed this.

I am not. I am not the only asshole. Look around!

I was, however, twenty-one when I found out I was pregnant with my first kid, and had, admittedly, spent the previous few years face-down in my own alcoholic vomit (aim high), but I really thought having a baby was like adding a small tasteful accessory to the lapel of an otherwise-totally-unchanged life.

And then, I get that kid, and realize having a baby is no more or less fulfilling than any other life activity but your body

We were babies.

will change and your identity will feel like it’s been sucked out of your breasts by this separate human being without whom you would die, which is the whole fucking problem.

And if you get postpartum depression, which many of us do, you’ll feel like a lone monster in a world of organic cotton harem pants while your husband looks at you like “But we wanted this,” or sleeps. Quite soundly, actually.

Not to oversell it.

And then it seems I have nothing but time, all those years of childhood – eighteen! So much can happen there, can’t it? And I’m thinking my life is going to be this raucous, fun thing of running around and telling kids to do shit and watching them grow and thrive and when they finally do – grow and thrive, that is – I will send them off with beaming pride and vague sense of relief.

I sent Ava off four days ago.

This morning I looked at the wad of her hair, permanently placed over our shower drain no matter how or when I ask her to clean it, and I thought to myself “I can’t clean that. It’s my last memory of Ava in the house.”

IN OTHER WORDS I’M DOING REALLY FUCKING WELL HERE FOLKS.

On the morning she left, I walked into the house and buckled, feeling like the air had been removed from my body. I spent the next fourteen hours walking around in a daze, crying, and not showering. I only broke my silence to tell Mac how I wasted it all and “only yelled” and “now it’s gone.”

I also ate a significant amount of brie and played Two Dots on the couch. When she left. Not during her whole childhood. There was a Candy Crush phase in there.

OH MY GOD I HATE EVERYTHING I DID WASTE IT ALL.

On day two I got a shower in at 4pm. That’s it. That’s what I did.

On day three I got a shower in at 3pm, and read an entire James Baldwin book for a book club I’m in.

And today, today I showered at 10am and now I’m writing to you with absolutely nothing to say beyond this: Motherhood is a crock of lies and I’m done with it. I’m out.

Please allow me this tantrum thanks.

Much like the way we don’t recall the pain of childbirth twelve seconds after they put that adult diaper on us, when that child leaves 18 years later, do we remember the endless work of raising her?

No, goddamnit. What you remember is her face beaming in the hallway as she comes out of her room, eight years old, in the most ridiculous outfit ever imagined, ready to go out for the day, and you remember her hair all frizzy in the beach wind and you remember her toddling and you remember her on the first day of middle school and you remember the way she became a woman. Do you remember the flaming cauldron of bullshit that is no sleep? Fuck no, you remember the way her body felt pressed against yours for the first time, the way it felt insane to drive home from the hospital – to actually place something this precious in a vehicle and move it around on streets shared by the common man.

I’m a mess without her. Her absence is a gaping hole in my home, this family, my heart.

The world tells me to be proud. Sure, but give me time. People say the happiest moment of their life was when their kid left. Cool. Good for you. I feel like my bowels have been removed. That was gross.

People say “It hasn’t ended.” Oh but it has. Part of it, at least. Can’t we let that be? Can’t we say “yes, the unbroken 18 years are broken.” It HAS changed. It’s okay, but for things to change, other things also have to end.

LET ME WEEP ABOUT HAIR WADS IN THE SHOWER IS WHAT I AM SAYING.

Nobody told me about the shower-hair sadness. Nobody tells you shit.

 

Since she was about ten, Ava would play music while getting ready for school. She’d turn it up to wake up the other kids, to lure them out of bed to start the day. She’d play Disney soundtracks. She’d play Hamilton. She’d play horrible pop music I couldn’t name. Sometimes she’d play the Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead. Always she’d play the Beatles. And she’d sing. She’d sing and sing and sing.

I lived for that music. So many mornings, I held that music as my lifeline, proof that our family wasn’t really that fucked up. Here we were, singing. Look at us.

Well, the kids. I may be racing, late, yelling, so tired my bones ache, wondering how and why I’m going to face another goddamn day of driving in circles wondering how much is left in the bank account, but by god here are these four little humans and there’s music playing and it’s our home and we did this, Mac and me. Somehow, we did it and we’re alright.

She’d crank up that music and pull our family into her joy, and I heard it, goddamnit, I heard it.

The morning before she left, I heard it again. She was in the bathroom next to me, singing along to a country song, playing her music just as she’s always done, only I sat on my bed and wept.

It is just her I will miss. The rest we move on from – the regret, the pain, the shock – but her person with us, every day, bringing only what she can bring – for that I’m grieving, for now.

It’s funny, isn’t it, the way everything can change in a single meaningless moment, a single bad country song? It isn’t that I’m fed up with motherhood; I’m fed up with every story we tell about it. All the expectations I have around it. All the ways I think it’s going to be, or should be, or would be if I were a better person.

It is a tragic, heartbreaking, limitless joy, contracted sometimes into my own disappearance. I get smaller, this whole thing does, eighteen years pressed into her voice, singing oblivious to my ears, right next door, dying for her sound and its end.

One of these days, when my heart can bear it, I’ll turn the music on myself. Maybe I’ll even sing the way she did. Maybe we all will.

the day before she left we spent the best afternoon ever on the square in our town, listening to some dude play guitar and sing. I walked over and saw them like this.

 

***

Hey, hi. Look. There we are, a long time ago.

Also, holy shit my hardcover is $9.50 on Amazon.

Cheaper than the paperback. No idea how these things work, but for sure it will change soon.

33 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | August 14, 2019

Hey Moms: If we could have done better, we would have.

by renegademama

Look what kind of bullshit the world handed me recently. These two photos are taken one year apart, to the day:

One day, we have the child we’ve always known, and the next day, we don’t. This is hitting me so hard right now, and I’ll tell you why: The boy who I somehow felt was always going to be a little boy is suddenly a teenager with size 13 shoes and I feel like all I did was yell his entire childhood.

Get off my case about the soaring drama, okay?

Sometimes, I don’t care what my Facebook and Instagram look like and I don’t care about that time you had dinner in my house and thought we were just such a loving family. What we really were is a fraudulent rage family.

Was I ever a real mother?

So many nights I’ve rested my head on my pillow and wondered if I said even one kind thing to any of my kids that day. I don’t mean “You’re the most special creature I’ve ever encountered and I’d die for you.” I mean just a compliment, at all. A recognition of them as human beings trying to grow up.

Or did I simply bark orders? Did I simply lose patience? Did I simply tell them to do this and do that and then, that night, did I think tomorrow, damnit, tomorrow I will be better. Tomorrow I will ask my boy about how things are going in general and maybe I’ll suggest we go get some tea together and my god Janelle you went to the grocery store with him – you could have talked – were you on your phone?

Were you too busy? Did you even notice?

 

And as I rest right now at 3am on a mattress on a floor in Holland, my four kids tucked into their rooms, the boy in the photo who used to sleep every night in a pile of stuffed animals and blankets on our floor, currently snoring behind a CLOSED DOOR if you can imagine that shit; as I lay here next to my husband who does not stay up at 3am wondering about these things, my whole body aches for some relief. My whole body seems to shiver with a desire to go back, to see him one more time as the little boy I’ve always known, the little boy I held held held until he shut the door to his room.

Those nights, when I’d watch my life screaming past me in frenetic monotony, I’d tell myself, “At least he’s still a little guy. At least he’s still just a boy. Tomorrow.”

What do I say now?

 

After a week of these highly fruitful midnight contemplation sessions, I have decided I am sick of this fucking guilt. I am sick of the way my brain wraps it all into regret, wraps it all into you coulda done better. You know what? I obviously could not. If I could have done better, I would have.

But let’s talk about this, the “mom guilt.” What a terrible feminist I am for even admitting I have it. MOM GUILT!

We don’t have that since we’ve been liberated. We don’t have it because men don’t have it, because it’s an invention of the patriarchy, because we congratulate dads for bathing their offspring, so this is all nothing more than internalized self-loathing, so stop.

Okay fine, good talk. I feel so much better.

I don’t. I don’t feel better.

And you know what? I’m tired of every feminism that doesn’t meet me where I am. Every feminism that tells me I have to love being fat all the time. Every feminism that tells me feeling a loss of identity when I became a mother is a betrayal of my bra-burning ancestors (read the comments).

Yes, it matters where the guilt comes from so we can deconstruct it. Unexamined life, etc. But HEY FRIENDS I’m here now. There’s no solution in “Don’t feel that way, Janelle, because it’s a construction of the patriarchy.”

OH SO FAKE IT THEN? What a fresh take!

And as much as these self-empowerment gurus tell me to shed that shit alongside all lingering desires to diet, the feeling is still here. If I were to declare otherwise, I’d simply be lying to myself. How is that “empowering?”

I want something real, something tangible, something actually freeing, not just some fucking band-aid rhetoric.

We are where we are, and if you can’t help me from there then you’re just trying to sell me another line. A workshop, perhaps. A retreat. A book.

Weird how the world makes money off polishing my shit into something more palatable.

 

And the truth is this: I have missed a lot of my kids’ lives and I feel like shit about it. Some of it I missed because of alcoholism, but most of it I missed because I was living a life of seemingly impossible circumstances.

Years of a husband leaving at 3am and coming back at 5pm only to not see raises except in healthcare costs and student loan payments while babies keep getting shot in school and the rich get richer and my degree gets smaller and they keep telling me my discs are crushed because I’m fat, which is probably true. I’ve just spent so much time so fucking tired. Always, it seems. Tired, worried, drained. A frantic monotony. How quickly life can become something to survive, kids something to manage. Manage. Manage.

Play with? Engage with? Cuddle with? Stolen moments here and there. A glance.  A book before bed.

But inside of myself, you know, there was often such turmoil. So much goddam pain.The world suggests “self-care.”

You know what? Sometimes we’re too poor for self-care, too tired to even remember. We squirm under the boot of a damn-near impossible life then beat ourselves up for “missing it.”

And that, my friends, is some bullshit.

 

After more tears than a feminist like me (lol) would like to admit, as my breath stops in my throat when I think about Ava going back to America in three days to finish high school in the States, when I think about my first two babies never returning to how they used to be, and I feel once again I may die from the sadness of what’s gone, of what’s lost, of all that was once in my hands, I follow it all the way to the end – past regret, shame, wonder – to a deeper part of myself. The part that knows I did the best I could with what I had, and I always fucking have.

We always, always fucking have.

And sometimes, sometimes for years, it isn’t much. But if I look, I see those stolen moments. I see the times I looked at my kids as they sat on our front porch, and handed them an ice cream to watch a movie with me, and watched them sleep, reached for their hands while driving.

Hey, little one. Here I am. And damn, you’re beautiful. In this mess, this fucking crazy life, I race and race but I show up when you need me more times than not and sometimes, for mere seconds, I stop to feel your palm against mine. Could that be enough?

The other day at dinner I asked my teenagers “Do you feel like all I did was yell at you your whole life?”

They threw their heads back and laughed. “Absolutely! It’s been terrible!”

Ava then turned to me, her voice a serious tone: “Why would you ever ask that, Mama?”

And I see in a flash that today is where the freedom lies, the healing, because today is the day I will someday yearn for, when they were young, when we were young. Someday, I’ll look back at today as the years I can’t get back, and I’ll remember the time I asked them if all I did was yell, and I’ll remember the way they glanced at each other and teased me, the sun against their sweaty teenage necks, and the way I sat between them, almost in their hands.

****

Speaking of mom guilt, have you read my book?

It’s not really about mom guilt I just couldn’t think of a segue. 

Also, did you know I’m teaching a five-day writing retreat on a magical island in British Columbia? 

 

40 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | August 7, 2019

Eleven days in Holland

by renegademama

Heyyyy, so we’re in the Netherlands now. I had all these visions of videos and blog posts, recording it all and telling you all in great detail, but as it turned out I was just trying to get through it.

For the week leading up to our departure, I just felt fucking numb. So numb that I wondered if something was wrong with me. I guess the mind/body has a way of protecting us from that which is too massive to comprehend. Intellectually I knew I could just come back, that it was an adventure, that it was a great thing we were lucky to do, but my heart kind of broke anyway and all the unknowns lit fires of anxiety raging, so I mostly sat there staring at suitcases, vaguely throwing shit in the them.

The hardest part was causing pain in the people I love. People in my family don’t really move away from northern California. I chose a college that was close enough that I could still see my parents on regular old days. Not just Christmas. A Friday. Some wintery Tuesday. That’s the way I like it. That’s the way I’ve lived.

But this thing happened to Mac and me a couple of years ago. We went to Spain and France. And we knew we had to come back. We had always wanted to go somewhere, live elsewhere, show our kids something other than America, and when my grandmother was murdered, we lost all delusion of that “someday” will present itself. There is no good time, no reasonable time.

It will never make sense. This isn’t some “follow your bliss” Eat Pray Love bullshit. This is fact.

The time never comes.

And one day you may be eating Chinese food with your family then find yourself ten minutes later taking your last breaths on a linoleum floor. Was that too intense? Sorry. But that was the reality we had to fucking digest and I’m telling you it changes a person.

How the fuck are we going to live a life we can hardly stand (Mac commuted 3-5 hours/day), running circles on some rat wheel, hoping “someday” it will all mellow out and we’ll be happy and free and able to afford insurance without a job that’s sucking our lives dead and dry?

How do you “focus on retirement” as the time when you’re going to do all the things you meant to do when you have indisputable evidence that life is a fleeting motherfucker and you may not make it that long?

Ah, I’m bored of myself. I’m sick of this talk. It’s simply impossible to talk about any of this without sounding like a motivational speaker in some soul-crushing Marriott conference room during a self-improvement weekend retreat in Bakersfield. “Someday never comes, guys! Follow your dreams!”

To which the world responds: “Fuck you, Janelle. I’m just trying to feed my family so fuck right off with your ‘sell everything and go to Europe’ bullshittttttt.”

And I agree.

 

Anyway on July 6, we found ourselves in the airport. I told my mom we are not doing a goodbye. There will be no goodbye. I told my best friend that, too. Some goodbyes are impossible, pathetic. They hover in the air like a gnat. Irritating, meaningless things.

But it doesn’t matter. At some point you have to walk away. The goodbye forms itself.

It’s strange how things in the mind are dreamy and exciting, but when reality hits, when you’re actually living it, the physical logistics of moving through the world take over, and you’re just trying to check your bags and feed your kids and not lose your five-year-old and get on the fucking plane and not miss the connecting flight in Copenhagen and sleep on the plane (no way in hell) and get the rental car and SIM cards and through customs. It just becomes activities your body is accomplishing. Ain’t that annoying?

Everything and I mean everything becomes REAL. That’s the part on Instagram we don’t get to see.

We had friends who met us at the airport. I don’t know if they’ll ever understand what it meant to us to see their faces.

They held a sign that said “Welcome home.”

 

But then, that first night in Haarlem, Mac and I walked out of our Airbnb and stood on a little bridge over a canal as the sun was setting over the old town, and we could see the big church that stands in the central square, and I looked at him and said, “Do we live here now?” We both maybe cried a little but in a totally tough guy way.

And that was a moment when it all felt just like I imagined it.

A Dutch man walked by just then, grinned at us, and said something in Dutch. We ended up chatting with him (in English), telling him it was our first night in our new town, that we had just moved here for California, and he was so delighted we felt like he was our very own tiny welcoming committee.

He said, “You’ve come to the most beautiful city in Holland. Time to open champagne, you did it!”

And then, the fucking mayhem began. We had two nights in the Airbnb. The morning after we arrived, still basically hallucinating from exhaustion and jet lag, we got the keys to our house. It was entirely empty. We drove with a friend to Ikea and loaded up on cheap ass mattresses, plates, silverware, cups. Some toilet paper and food from the grocery store. It’s really fucking weird to realize you have NOTHING IN YOUR GODDAMN HOUSE AND THERE ARE SIX OF YOU WHAT DO YOU BUY WHERE DO YOU START?

Coffee. That shit’s obvious.

I went to Ikea five times in three days. Going to Ikea was my new hobby.

 

But we have a table now, and a TV and a couch. We have a couple of lamps. Mattresses on the floor. Hoping to get our shipping container in six weeks or so.

So, do we like it here? Well, yes. It’s gorgeous and laid back and there are moments when we look at each other and say, “Do we really live here?” Moments in cafes, drinking lattes and hot chocolate under some old ass church. Cobblestone and gelato and those wonderful cafes in old European squares, with all the people facing out so they can watch the passers-by. That was my dream. That was what I missed from Spain.

We live across the street from a beautiful park. Everybody rides bikes with no helmets, and the cheese is spectacular. We don’t have a car so we ride busses and trains and bikes. I find myself sitting at bus stops now with my kids, chatting and waiting. Our refrigerator is the barely bigger than a hotel fridge, and the grocery store is .5 miles away and we have no car, so I walk, almost every day, a mile to get food. It’s a different pace of life.

We are fifteen minutes from Amsterdam, three hours on a fast train to Paris. It is a dream.

But there are moments, moments when a strange loneliness washes over me. It feels ice cold, bone-deep loneliness and a touch of unrest, anxiety. This isn’t my home.

And I think again of my parents, my friends, of California redwoods and the thick fog of Santa Cruz. I wanted to come here to build a new home, to look around at a new world and try something outside what I know. This is my home now, and I’ll find my way, but everything has a cost. Those moments of strange loneliness remind me things are never simple. We don’t just cut off our lives, our people, and walk away. We remain tied, inextricably, as if it were all just one mile away. You just leave a part of yourself over there and walk along to some new place. They both become you. But only one wraps you in the history of your life, your place.

I am right where I’m meant to be, that I know, but the pieces of my life have been thrown into the clouds. I’m waiting for them to fall into something I recognize.

In the meantime, I’m letting this whole thing teach me. That is, after all, what I’m seeking, isn’t it?

Haarlem

I’m telling you the fucking cafes.

The park across the street from our house.

Seriously Haarlem is gross

Our living room. I can’t believe we actually pulled this shit off. Or have so far.

BTW, I write more off-the-cuff daily (or mostly daily) updates on Instagram and Facebook, but mostly Instagram. So if you’re interested in following along, that’s where to do it. I am going to try to write more often on the blog, but it’s a different kind of writing. 

***

Hey, so I’m still here talking about my book. People are reading it and still sending me pretty wonderful messages. If you haven’t checked it out yet, THERE IS STILL TIME.

27 Comments | Posted in Netherlands | July 18, 2019