Posts Filed Under I guess we’re moving to the Netherlands

California human experiences first Dutch Winter. Doing great.

by renegademama

Good news. I have figured out how boilers work. Is that even what they’re called? I don’t know. Those metal flat things attached to walls that run water through them, getting warm but not hot enough to burn your house down if your kid leaves a stuffed animal on it (not that I checked this five times a day for the first month we used the fucker).

You know, the heating system everywhere in Europe built in approximately 1743? Those.

Anyway, the way they work is this: When you are cold, so cold, like ice melting across your wordless soul, you turn the thermostat up one degree Celsius.

Seventeen minutes later you are so sauna-hot you go outside, into Dutch Siberia (which is the whole country), on purpose, to cool off. Then, about two hours later, you start the process over again.

It’s a wet cold here in Holland. Humans I wanted to punch in the face used to tell me that the 110 degrees in California I experienced wasn’t really that hot because it’s a “dry heat,” and yes, I get it, humidity is a special hell, but can we all just fucking agree that 110 is like living in Satan’s ball sack no matter what the conditions? You can’t breathe in hot humid you can’t breathe in not humid hot.

Oh, hot sounds nice.

My toes will never be warm again. Jeans do not cut the wind. My socks are 12% effective. People say I should wear two pair made of merino wool. They are clearly not taking into account my laziness here. Two socks.

Fun fact, it’s not even full winter yet.

This has all been perhaps a grave mistake.

I burn 3-7 candles at all times in my house. George says I “have a problem.” I say, “I AM TRYING TO CREATE SOME COZY SO I DON’T DROWN MYSELF IN A MOTHERFUCKING CANAL.” I say this with my brain not my mouth because saying that word to your kid even as apt modifier is frowned upon.

The Dutch word here is “gezellig.” It means “cozy” but more than cozy. It’s like comfortable, lived in, warm, general togetherness, friendly. For example, when a Dutch neighbor came over and I did the standard apology for kid shit all over the floor, she said, “No, I like it. It’s gezellig. It means children live here and are comfortable to play here.”

And then I cried and cradled her in my arms for a good ten minutes. I didn’t. The Dutch would hate that. Niet gezellig to force affection on acquaintances.

I got a heated blanket because I’m elderly and also I take a lot of baths in our giant tub. God gave us a long, deep, massive (that’s what she said) tub because he knows I used to think closed-toed shoes meant “winter.” And this is definitely how god works, an act of divine providence as opposed to just, like, luck, since this is the only house that would rent to us.

I’m really into the really good tea from the tea shop in the center of town. I also like the way I bundle up to go outside then SWEAT CONSTANTLY once I get inside where I’m going because gezellig and boilers.

Did I mention it’s going to get colder and rain like this and be gray and get dark at noon even though the sun rises at 10am for the next four months?

No need to look at the weather app. IT’S ALL GRAY ALL DAY ASSHOLES.

It hails occasionally. That’s fun. But no snow. Snow is too pleasant. Too bright. Whoever said white is the absence of color has clearly never lived through a Dutch winter. Sea of Gray, a love song. If it snowed, maybe the moon that peaks out the clouds for 3 minutes every tenth night would reflect off it, almost giving the impression of light. And we don’t do “light” in Dutch winter.

Okay fine. I’m exaggerating. The sun comes out for at least ten minutes over the course of a week.

Meanwhile, Dutch families ride their bikes in this shit, all day, shaming with their toughness and stoic “what’s your problem” attitudes. Some of them even smile. They aren’t like positive about it, they just don’t seem to care. I feel personally attacked. They cart 2-3 kids on those bikes, in the fucking rain, with or without ponchos or gloves.

They’ve obviously given up on life.

Or embraced it. Your call.

Yes, I am aware that It is nowhere near as cold here as Chicago or Minnesota or Canada or wherever else people put kids in snowsuits and have tears freeze to their cheeks. My friend Antonia said that happened to her here, so that’s a nice thought.

But, where I lived in California we had two seasons: Hot as Fuck and Orgasm-Level Perfect.

Mixed in there between December and January would be a week or two of “Guess I shouldn’t wear Birkenstocks today” AKA “Where’s my coat?” AKA “Do I own a coat?” AKA “WHY CAN NONE OF US DRIVE IN THE FUCKING RAIN?”.

One thing I have learned about “actual winter,” though, is that one always complains about actual winter. Every year. Just like I complained about the one-hundredth 90+ degree day in a row, people with winters complain about winters. Unless you’re Dutch, in which case you get all gezellig and shit, throw some flowers in your bike basket and say things like “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

I FUCKING DISAGREE DUDE BUT SURE LET’S DO IT YOUR WAY (sorry for yelling please don’t kick me out).

In conclusion, apparently Mac wears scarves now.

COZY.

****

Hey friends I’m running three writing workshops in the beginning of 2020.

Check them out.

FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR, for the writer ready to write her story (January)

RENEGADE WRITERS’ GROUP, for the writer ready to get lots of actual words written (January)

WRITE ANYWAY, where we gain a new relationship to our fears of writing (March)

A FOCUS ON CRAFT, um, where we work on becoming better writers (only more fun than that I swear) (April)

I found this a year after I named my workshop “write anyway,” which basically means I am Junot Diaz.

 

27 Comments | Posted in I guess we're moving to the Netherlands | November 14, 2019

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

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.”

.   .