This was all super dreamy in my head.

by renegademama

Hello. Hi. It’s been a while.

I’m not sure where to start. Mac and I went to Paris and Amsterdam for ten days. We spent very little time in Paris, mostly stopping by to visit Mac’s younger sister and her husband, or, their new baby, who is our new nephew, and the most perfect baby ever to baby. Not that we like him.

Anyway, around midnight the night before we left for Europe, just as I was about to turn off my light, I felt a sudden, strange anxiety, like a freight train roaring toward me. As it got closer my fear grew, until it became something along the lines of abject terror.

It was super fucking weird. I felt dizzy and wide awake, my heart pounding. I sat up in bed and sort of stared at the wall, feeling like I was going to die if this continued, and yet I couldn’t stop it. I realize this sounds dramatic, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I truly felt like I was going to be annihilated. I guess this was a panic attack?

“I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.” That’s how I woke up Mac. He sort of blinked at me, settling in for the long haul.

Suddenly it all felt wrong, insane. The whole decision to move the Netherlands, even though we made it over years of contemplation, suddenly felt like a pipe dream invented in an immature, escapist haze, a fantasy that sounded fabulous as a dream, and only as a dream.

But suddenly the motherfucker materialized in front of me as a living, breathing thing that is my life now, and yet I can’t see it yet. A life I don’t know at all, that doesn’t feel welcoming or safe, but cold and unreasonable. A mistake. A fuck-up.

 

I thought about Mac quitting his job and the notice I gave to give up my office. I thought about the home we sold – WE SOLD OUR FUCKING HOUSE – and then I fucking bawled.

I cried for the porch, the big couch, the scratched, pen-marked kitchen table. I cried for every goodnight and good morning there, every step of my baby’s feet on the wood floors, every Christmas morning and Easter basket joy and every moment I crawled into bed at the end of a long day, feeling the questionably clean sheets. That feeling. I know you know it.

I thought I’d die to go back to that house, to the walls we know, to our babies running around.

“What have we done?”

When I thought about it more, I realized I’m not actually mourning the house. Sure, it’s a great house, and yes, I somehow hate the people we sold it to (rational!), but it is, in fact, just a house. What I’m really grieving is the time we spent there. The day we unlocked the door for the first time and I took a picture of Mac smiling with the key in the lock and I was pregnant with our fourth child. George was three and Rocket was eight and Ava was twelve.

It was a time when our family was still expanding, when our babies were little and when Arlo was born into Mac’s arms, right there in the living room, the whole place became filled up with us, just right. The kids and I spent that first summer going to the library and holding our new baby and I nursed him on the rocking chair by the big window, almost all day and all night, because he had a lip tie and it was fucking awful and also, I didn’t mind so much. I liked sitting there in our house. It was an excuse to sit there and watch him, watch our other kids run around. It was an excuse to not do shit other than nurse my last baby.

He grew fat. We all grew fat with each other and love.

It was a time before we had two teenagers, and all the changes that go with that. It was a time before our oldest was gone most of the time: Job, boyfriend, car. The focus just shifts. It’s all as it should be. But those years won’t come back.

My friend told me I needed to kiss the walls of the home and thank it, and I did that. Alone one day, I walked through every empty room and felt us there. Before I left I said thank you. I suppose we have to do that to the years as well.

 

We returned home on May 8, to gather our kids and close out our lives here. Ava went to prom. She’s staying here for her senior year, and then joining us in Europe for a gap year. This, I cannot even discuss. This, I cannot even address with all of you. It’s too complex. There are too many hours of discussion and too many reasons. No, we couldn’t wait another year, and it would be a 2k word blog post to explain the thinking behind her staying. In short, it had to do with age and immigration laws and high schools over there and what she wanted and a whole lot more.

But you see? The sale of that house felt like the sale of our family as we know it.

I know kids do senior years abroad. I know she’ll be 18 in six months. But I am going to miss her daily life. And that, that was what caused the freight train. The idea that my baby will be away from me her last year of high school, and even though she’ll be with my mother and return to us over Christmas and spring break and we’ll come back for a month for her graduation, how can I leave her?

If she doesn’t like it, if it doesn’t work, she can join us. She knows this. I know this. We all know this. And yet. FUCK.

Every now and then, in Europe and here, a strange loneliness settles into my bones. It cuts through me like a sheet of ice. It doesn’t matter how many new friends we’ll make. It doesn’t matter how insane America is right now. The fact is that this place, this northern end of California, the people we’ve known here for twenty years or our whole lives, will no longer see me as part of them. I am stepping away. I am leaving. I am disconnecting.

Where are we going?

I suppose this is the price we pay for the rest of it, for the feeling of adventure and newness, for the relief I felt sitting on a train traveling through countries that believe climate change is real, that don’t have an authoritarian for President, that don’t have a rising, empowered fringe right-wing that’s achieving their desired full control over women’s bodies.

I suppose that loneliness is the price for a chance at a new life, for a chance to see if it’s better over there, more sane, more free.

We booked the tickets. July 6. Ava is coming too, and we’ll spend the summer together and then she’ll return in late August. We visited Arlo and George’s school, a special school for immigrant kids to learn Dutch before entering public school. It was so humane and generous, Mac and I cried. We visited the town we’ll be living in. We walked canals and stood next to churches from the 14th century.

How beautiful to be surrounded by so much history. How lonely to leave your own.

 

I don’t know how it will all turn out. I can only feel all of this fully, and cry when it comes, and look to tomorrow for whatever it holds.

This feeling? What is it? Displacement?

I wanted disruption, I guess, a shaking up of a life that felt dead. An injection of something, anything, that felt like movement, life, growth.

Well fuck me we’re covered there.

I want to make this more romantic, more dreamy, but there’s always a fall from grace and right now, friends, I’m simply afraid. I knew it was coming.

And I know fear is a shitty life guide. It can take my mind, but it can’t stop my feet.

 

And fuck it, I’ve got my best friend.

 

****

Hey! My paperback is out!

Here’s an excerpt from the interview in the back:

“The idea that the act of reproducing somehow fundamentally alters who we are as individuals is more of the vapid sanctimony surrounding motherhood. It’s more erasure, really, the idea that a woman is distilled into goodness merely because she had a baby. No part of me was erased when I had a child: not the good or the bad. My life obviously changed, and motherhood has the capacity to teach and enhance our selves just like any other life activity, but we do a number on women when we argue that motherhood will or even should recast them into some vastly elevated version of themselves.

Of course, this expectation is placed on us alongside the bulk of the domestic work as well as the emotional and physical labor of child-rearing. This is all still mostly our job. And as if that’s not enough, most of us are also earning money to feed our families. Oh, and in our free time, we better manage the friendships for the family, schedule the haircuts, get the kids at grade level in math, do yoga, eat clean food, organize the entryway.

When we don’t manage all this, when we snap under the obscene and unbearable “requirements” of motherhood—when we’re human—we’re blamed for our kids’ failings. Now and in the future. We “become the voices in their heads.” Rapists and murderers are the result of “bad mothering.” All day long we hear how we’re going to destroy the next generation of Americans with our yelling, our fallibility, our dissatisfaction with impossible circumstances.

We’re smothered, we’re suffocating, we crack, and we’re blamed for it. Or they throw “self care” at us. Tell us to take a eucalyptus bath.”

.   .  

  • Madelief

    Where are you moving? I was born in Holland, and we emigrated to the US when I was one and a half. But all my family still lives there. So if you’re moving anywhere near them, I’m happy to reach out to them and see if they have any rental connections. I’m hoping to visit with my teenager girls next summer (2020), maybe I’ll look you up!

  • Cat

    Reading this post made me realize I’ve been loyally reading all of your articles for over seven years. We were pregnant together, too. Arlo was born a month before my third, and your family, much to my husband’s dismay makes me want just onnnnnnne more. Best of luck. Doing things that scare us makes us grow.

  • Dee

    Inspiring! Use your fear to propel you forward into this unknown. I’ve found so often in motherhòod we must feel the fear and use it for growth & change ♡ I so look forward to reading more of your journey! Best wishes from Canada!

  • Melanie Epstein-Corbin

    You’re living bravely and it’s inspiring. Thank you for taking us on the journey with you. I’ve been following you for 6 years, ecr since I had my first baby. I can’t wait to hear more. So much love your way.

  • Vicki MI Macchiavello

    You are the bravest woman I don’t really know but admire from afar. lovelovelove to you and your family on this journey.

  • Ahaul

    Hey girl, I bet you already know that your move doesn’t have to be a permanent one and you could always come back! At least your trying it! That’s more than most of us are doing 😉

  • Kim

    Because this breaks me with everything going on here and I wish I could say it’s all okay and it’s going to be better… I love you and your family and you give me hope and I do pray – feeling like Steel Magnolia over here – yes I pray.
    For you, your family, me, my fucked up crazy life, my family- our country… I can’t have any more babies but the choice over my body that our country is stripping away…
    I feel that freight train in my own chest.
    Thank you.
    You make me know I’m not the only person who feels like this.
    And I want to take my new passport (for our family Disney cruise) and just go to the Netherlands with my boy and try life there…
    You give me hope.
    I need it.

  • Susan Sowder

    Believe it or not, we did the same thing recently. My husband got a job in South Africa and we moved with our youngest son (to go finish high school where my husband teaches) and LEFT our three oldest girls in the states. Our youngest had to move herself into her first year of college. Talk about guilt… what kind of mom moves halfway around the world and leaves her three kids?? But, two years in, it’s been hard, very hard indeed at times, but I do feel like we made the right decision. It’s challenged all of us, but it also makes you realize what is really important. And it’s not the house (we also left a cozy house that our youngest was born in). It’s the family, even as it grows and changes. But I mourn the end of our young family too…I so understand what you’re feeling now!

    • Lor

      Oh wow, exactly what I feel. Mourning our young family.
      So glad to see you made the right decision and do not regret.
      Laure

  • Claire

    Ack, I can’t even. We’re doing the opposite and winding up almost 15 years in Europe to return ‘home’ to Australia end of May. Heart. Being. Torn. Apart. Best of luck with your move. x

    • Wendy

      Welcome home!

  • Raphaela

    Dear Janelle, just wanted to comment on Ava staying behind…one of the most important gifts my parents gave me was freedom. Because they felt free to pursue their dreams, even if it meant we were apart from when I was about Ava’s age, I always felt free to pursue my own. It helps to have role models! The pursuit of happiness, no matter where it takes you, is radical and inspiring. Your children are lucky to have parents like you and Mac. Wishing you all the very best start to your new life in Europe (it’s nice here ;-)).

  • Norita

    And you all are DOING IT ANYWAY! Fuck the fear & keep walking (or flying, or mountain biking)

    I love how human you are in expressing every bit of TRUTH with this full spectrum of emotional life experience.

    Hugs and love all around – thanks for being on this planet Janelle & family – you make our crazy fkd up world a much better & more compassionate place.
    Xox

  • Erin

    Yes, what you experienced was a panic attack: all dread and the only thing you know for sure is you’re about to die. The good news is, it was JUST a panic attack. You are going through major changes, so your brain and body’s response (which is just an adrenaline dump, by the way, not that it feels like it’s “just” any little thing) is totally normal. Breathe (I like the 3,2,3 method: inhale to 3, hold to 2, exhale for 3) and talk and cry and ride the wave, and please avoid shame-talking yourself for it.
    Also, you’re gonna do great and be great and have great, and I’ll be sending hugs from afar. <3

  • Katie S

    “I wanted disruption, I guess, a shaking up of a life that felt dead. An injection of something, anything, that felt like movement, life, growth.

    Well fuck me we’re covered there.”

    This was my exact sentiment after having my first baby 10 months ago at the age of 35! Wishing all good things for you and your family. Thank you for so honestly and poetically sharing your human journey, with the occasional F bomb.

    Also, this might seem odd, but have you followed Alexandra Sacks, M.D.’s work on matrescence? Her work and yours have normalized new motherhood for me in a priceless way. I would have been so lost without your voices and the communities you’ve created. Thank you!

  • Fiona

    I so feel this – I’ve read your blog for years.
    We are Australian, lived in the USA for 10 years then back to Australia. Both times it felt like going to my own funeral – the breaking of bonds with people and places that we were so much a part of. Visiting both places again and feeling like weird tourists in places that had been homes.
    It’s weird and very hard, heart breaking and cool but just so very draining. I miss my USA life so much, all my wonderful friends but life in Australia and new friends is good too – torn between places.
    I wish you all the best, looking forward to many more of your stories about your new life.

  • Eva Bush

    Having packed up 3 kids to make the move to Sweden, selling most everything we had to live there for what we thought may be forever, I recognize this! I went through so many stages; excitement, joy, fear, panic, disbelief, regret, confidence… The list goes on… In the end the 4 years were a great experience, and I would do it again. Going back I went through the same range of emotions, and we are now forever “unsettled”, wishing we could create an “ideal” place to live by picking things we like from each country. The best of luck to you all, we will miss you at the races!