Posts Filed Under Netherlands

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

We leave in ten days. Still don’t know how.

by renegademama

“Mac, THIS IS THE CRAZIEST SHIT WE’VE EVER DONE.”

“Honey, I’ve been with you 18 years and this doesn’t even rank in the top ten.”

I guess he has a point, but dude. This is fucking nuts. We just got a place to rent in the Netherlands. As in, yesterday. So the day before yesterday, we were thinking we may have to delay our arrival date. That woulda sucked.

Look, I know people do complex things, but selling all your shit and moving to another country with kids really has a lot of moving parts. Who woulda thought?

Schools, housing, bank accounts, immigration application, cell phones, health insurance, drivers’ licenses, tax implications, shipping your shit overseas, getting to the actual other country, figuring out what to bring, getting from the airport to the town, getting the keys to the house, and then, once you arrive, remembering it’s an empty house because it takes 8 more weeks for your shit to arrive.

Sooooooo we arrive in Amsterdam July 6 with our four kids. We rented a VAN because that’s all we fit in, and we’ll drive to a hotel in Haarlem for 2 nights. The next day, we’ll get the keys to our house, and then we’ll head to Ikea to buy a sofa bed and beds for the kids, and pray to god they can be delivered that day so we have somewhere to sleep. DOES THIS STRIKE ANYBODY ELSE AS A SHIT PLAN?

Whose idea was this?

 

It’s funny how things change when you’re in the middle of them. They seem to get, well, super real.

A few times a day, I ask myself or Mac: “What the fuck are we DOING?” He laughs.

Are we really doing this?

Is this actually going to work?

If this works it will be a fucking miracle.

You know that feeling when you’ve been thinking and packing for a family vacation – and packing and thinking more – and you finally load into the car, throw it in reverse and know you’ve forgotten shit but you just can’t care anymore, so you just hope it isn’t anything tragic?

Yeah, I feel like that, only if I DO forget something, it could be a massive fucking problem. Like, I’m on the wrong continent to fix it. That kind of problem.

I’ve surrendered. I’m at the point now where I’m saying “Okay, we have birth certificates, passports, immigration paperwork. FUCK ALL THE REST.”

I suspect this also a shit plan.

 

The hardest part of this move, however, is not the moving parts. It’s hurting people I love, which is really happening a lot lately. Goodbyes, real goodbyes. Grandparents with a voice that cracks as they ask Arlo to write them letters.

“Where will you stay?” asks Grandma.

“Right here,” George says, patting Grandma’s heart.

Tell me you can watch that without bawling.

That’s a really shitty thing, isn’t it? When you know something is right for you, for your family, so right that you just couldn’t shake it for years, no matter how hard you tried, no matter how many times you told yourself “You can’t do it.” “It’s too hard.” “It’s irresponsible.”  “It will hurt your family.”

We tried to dodge it. We tried to not go. But it because like a fire in our guts, this all-consuming thing that raged harder the longer we tried not to extinguish it, until we couldn’t take in anymore. We knew we had to go. And yet, in doing so, we are harming others. We are taking grandkids away. It feels unnecessary sometimes, ridiculous.

It feels so fucking self-centered. Funny how a thing can feel like all those things and still be right.

 

People have been asking me why we’re moving. They seem to want a clearly defined REASON. People assume we have a job change. That’s not it.

I want to answer the question, “Why are you going?” with the words, “Just for life, mostly.” To live, pretty much.  But that doesn’t go over well. Confuses people more.

And yet, that’s kind of all I can say. First of all, I spent a year in Spain from 1999-2000 and always, and I mean always, wanted to return to Europe. I didn’t return because I had Ava.

That dream went into hiding, mostly, poking its head up occasionally. Mac had the same dream, though he’d never lived there.

Why have we had that dream? Because we want to experience something else. Because we want our kids to experience something else. Another way of living, breathing, thinking, speaking.

We just felt like we wanted to DO SOMETHING. Try something new. Check out what it’s like to not live here.

And for the last few years, we found ourselves simply existing with no end in sight. We worked all the damn time to barely survive. Barely cover our bills. Barely keep from drowning. Is there another way to do life? Are we allowed to try? Could we just do it?

We started looking at retirement as the time when life was going to get easier, when we’ll live freer. And then we started thinking about how sad and risky that is, because who the hell knows if we’ll get to live that long?

We began thinking about our deathbeds, about how we’ll feel if we never tried doing a thing that lived in our guts and souls as the path for our families.

Look, maybe this is just a midlife crisis. Let’s not rule that out.

Y’all. We were feeling dead and just wanted to fucking do something. Is that enough reason?

 

And I’ll be real frank with you all right now:

I am extremely nervous about where our country is headed. I am not at all convinced we can defeat Trump and his authoritarian regime. We elected a democratic House and they aren’t doing shit. Congress is our last line of defense and they are cowering. They are cowards. The disgust I feel.

So yes, we’re getting the fuck outta here to see if it gets better in America so we can come back. I hesitate saying this because, well, let’s just say not everyone in my family is politically aligned, but also because I’m a white middle class woman. I ain’t even the person they’re coming for. Yet.

But yeah, we want out. That’s it. Period. We want out.

I feel ambivalence about this: Indescribable relief to get the fuck outta here, and deep guilt for getting the fuck outta here. A friend said, “We need people out of here, to remind us of other ways of living.” Yes. But I think of people who want to leave and can’t. Fuck. There’s no right way. There are no answers. I am deeply grateful. I don’t know. This is all so complicated.

But I can promise you I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep voting and I will keep fighting these fucking fascists with my words. I hope getting distance from America will allow me to understand her better, see her more clearly.

I realized while sitting at the foot of the Grand Tetons, staring up at those snowy peaks, the sun cutting through the trees – my beautiful, wild, scrappy country – I fucking love her. And that’s why my heart is broken.

If I hated America, I wouldn’t care about her being brutalized like this. And yet, I’m saying goodbye anyway. For now, at least.

God, nothing is simple, is it?

Here we go.

somehow my overall mood don’t even know how exactly

***

A relevant excerpt from my book

“Sometimes I would imagine myself on my deathbed, looking back on my life, and I would feel – I mean really feel – that this life is all we get. These years, one shot, ninety years if we’re lucky. And I’d grow so terrified of just not doing anything that l would grow almost frantic.

And yes, standing among those other mothers, I was searching for meaning, even when nobody was looking – for connection, purpose, color – some taste of recklessness in a neighborhood of neutral tones. I’ve always been looking for Barcelona.”

 

28 Comments | Posted in Netherlands | June 25, 2019

Hey, I’m alive! And my body mostly works!

by renegademama

I really want to tell you all the things going on in great detail but these fucking pain medications remove my brain. I’m nodding off or irritable as hell or sitting here staring at a wall. This appears to be my full range of options.

Lies. All hail Netflix.

It’s like somebody has taken a thick sheet of fog and just stuck it over the parts of brain that feel things and produce thoughts. See? Even my metaphors suck. In other news, been seriously wondering how the hell artists made music and wrote books on opiates. HOW. It must have taken so much more work, to push through the fog, to power through the misery. It almost breaks my heart more, and I’m taking only a tiny portion of what an addict takes. HOW THE FUCK.

Anyway, I can’t formulate complex thoughts but I can probably just list random shit that’s happening. So let’s do that.

  1. For those of you who don’t follow me on social media, my back exploded (perhaps not the official term but it’s the one my surgeon used and it’s definitely what it felt like) into my spinal column, crushing the nerves running down my spine, resulting in a five-day hospital stay and emergency spinal surgery. I’m three weeks out now, and walking better, but still limp and my left leg is mostly numb and tingling, which is fun.
  2. It’s not actually fun.
  3. Because God is hilarious or things are just this way, we were in the final week of moving out of our house when I was admitted to the hospital. You know the hellish stage when you’re just gathering shit by the arm-full and throwing it into boxes thinking surely it will never end and there’s no hope ever anywhere? Yeah, Mac got to do that alone, while I was an hour away in the hospital.
  4. So when I got out, we were living in my mother’s house. That was strange.
  5. Also, I have to say, though I didn’t talk about it online really at all (another topic to discuss, probably), I had chronic back pain for about five years before this. It got worse every year and before the disc blew, I THOUGHT I was in the most pain I’d ever been in. And then it blew and I really understood what pain is. Anyway, a couple of weeks after the surgery, I got up and took a shower and got dressed and made my kids lunches then drove them to school and the pain I knew like air, the one I had to breathe through every day just to make it through my morning, the one that sometimes, randomly, brought me to sobs while my kids looked on and I felt like I just couldn’t to do it anymore, was gone. I put my socks on and my underwear on and bent down to help Arlo with his pants and it didn’t hurt. I sat in my car near the school parking lot and cried. Hope comes in the strangest ways, doesn’t it? That was the worst part of that pain: THERE WAS NO WAY OUT. And here I am, mostly out. There’s residual sciatica pain, but compared to how I lived before, gimme a fuckin break.
  6. We are selling the best, warmest, most perfect and cozy home we’ve ever had. It feels surreal and sort of nuts to walk away from a home like that. We knew it was too small when we bought it five years ago, yet somehow leaving it never felt real. And it’s breaking our hearts. A few days ago I went back there alone, to say goodbye, and I cried and kissed its walls and said “thank you,” and I looked at the walls that held my family. I could still feel us there, laughing and crying and yelling. It was where Arlo was born. It was where George was a toddler and Ava and Rocket became teenagers. It was where we held each other after my grandmother was murdered. It was where our dog died, and we wept again. But that home? Fuck. I never passed a day there wishing I wasn’t there. I never walked in and thought, “Oh, this place again.” It will always, always be our family’s home, and I imagine it will be the place we all remember when thinking of the wild, young, growing days of our family. “Thank you,” indeed.
  7. And yet, we look forward to what’s to come, and that’s getting so fucking real too. We have settled on living in Haarlem, which is about a fifteen-minute train ride from Amsterdam. We have the kids enrolled in schools there. IT IS SO FUCKING WEIRD THAT IT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING. Every now and then Mac and I look at each other and say, “Can you believe we’re really doing this?” It was a pipe-dream for so long. A fantasy. “Let’s move to Europe.”
  8. And now it’s real, but the details aren’t. Sure, we know what city we’re going to live in, but we don’t know much of anything else. He and I are going over there April 29 – May 8 to hopefully find housing and check out the schools in person, but holy hell. WE JUST SHOW UP AND THEN WE FILL OUT OUR APPLICATION FOR A RESIDENCY PERMIT WTF.
  9. That’s the process. Speaking of cool, weird shit, I’m doing two book events while we’re over there: One on May 3 in Amsterdam at the American Book Center and one on May 6 at the American Women’s Club in The Hague. Please, please come see Mac and me if you’re around.
  10. We are planning on leaving America in early July, and until then, we’re staying with my mom. She’s an absolute saint and we all get along, I mean, as much as families “get along,” but seven people in a three-bedroom house is rather interesting.
  11. The six-years of chronic pain culminating in a blown disc and subsequent surgery, the recovery, house-selling, transitional housing, move to the Netherlands, it’s all wild and weird and wonderful and what I’m learning – again, because sure as hell isn’t the first time – is that sometimes things have to blow up to be rebuilt. They just have to be fucking decimated before the new can rise. Someday when my head is clearer and I’ve had some space from it, I’ll write about all I’ve learned from this back injury, surgery, and recovery. I’ve spent my life powering through – just do it no matter what – and I’m pretty sure the lesson here for me is that I need to slow the hell down, listen to my body, accept help, take some fucking better care of my mind and body.
  12. Oh, and Rocket spent three weeks in Paris, visiting also Edinburgh and southern France. He watched Notre Dame burn, and met his new baby cousin. What a strange world all this is, huh?

I am so, so grateful for all your kind words and supportive messages. You really are the goddamn best and I feel it.

Here we go.

heavily medicated waiting for surgery. the filter is fixing a lot, here

 

this shit blew my mind.

FIX IT, motherfuckers goddamnit

 

********

 

The paperback version of my book comes out May 7!

So fucking excited to see a physical copy at a lower price ($13.54 most places).

There’s an interview in the back that you may find funny (I fuckin hope). I interviewed myself. I’ll share an excerpt in the next couple days. Wheeee.

(And if you liked my book, please please maybe mention it again to your people, and/or review it on Amazon or Goodreads. Books like mine, that don’t get much media attention, survive fully on word-of-mouth. Thank you thank you thank you.

 

We have some big news. #notababy

by renegademama

Well, I’m just going to say it: We’re moving to the Netherlands.

We are selling our house, getting rid of most of our stuff, and moving to the Netherlands this summer.

I’ve started this blog post about ten times and keep giving up because I know you’re going to ask me “Why?” and I really want to explain why, but it’s hard. We’ve been contemplating this for years and I don’t know how to wrap ten thousand hours of conversation up in a single blog post.

And no matter what I say, out loud or to myself, I am acutely aware of how lucky we are to do this, how we are nowhere near the people threatened by or suffering the most from what’s happening in our country right now, and our reasons for leaving sound a little like a blend of Eat Pray Love (puke) and some sort of DITCH THE CUBICLE FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS weekend workshop in Missouri.

Our reasons are small and material and vast and, dare I say it? Spiritual.

Fuck.

Fine.

We want to live. We want to do something. We want our kids to witness a reality that isn’t American.

Our lives aren’t working. No. They are just working. That’s it. We are surviving. Full stop.

We work and drive and pay and sleep and work and pay and drive and look to the future for relief. Someday. Someday it will get easier and better and we won’t feel like we are spending our ONE SINGLE FUCKING LIFE working and paying and driving in circles, all of it in circles, still living paycheck to paycheck, so we can turn 65 or 70 and maybe retire, hoping we make it that far, ten or twenty years before we die, thinking finally Oh good, now I get to do some shit.

When I say this, I think of how damn near all of us live this way. I feel the privilege of even contemplating a different life. My life as a writer. A house we can sell. No dependents we need to stay and take care of (as in, ailing parents). A family that I’m 99% sure would buy us plane tickets home if we were about to hit the streets of Amsterdam.

I don’t think a life lived in the crushing grind of late-stage capitalism is a wasted life, a life less lived.

What I think is that Mac and I are tired of being trapped in a life that works on the outside but costs us everything we’ve got on the inside.

We want to try something else, somewhere else.

We have always wanted to not live here for some portion of our lives, but when we had kids five minutes after we met, we gave up that dream. When we visited Spain and France in 2017, it re-planted itself in our foreheads and refused to leave. It spun around our brains but always fell dead against another thought: But we can’t do that. How would we do that? We have four kids. We aren’t trust-fund babies.

Eventually, we began to wonder who gets to decide what we can and can’t do with our lives, what’s “immature” and “irresponsible” versus “mature” and “reasonable.”

WHO GETS TO DEFINE WHAT MAKES SENSE IN OUR LIVES?  Who convinced us that this is life? And why and how did we buy so fully into it?

When you’re on your deathbeds, you’ll never regret going. But you may regret not going. Those were the words of my friend Lisa that did us in.

 

We’re going on a freelancer visa. Mac is going to make & sell custom steel and wood furniture (as in, starting a new business) and I’m going to continue writing and teaching.

I don’t think everyone can do this, wants to do this, or needs to do this for “fulfillment.” I don’t think we’re braver or more profound or harder workers than anybody who wants to do something like this but isn’t or can’t. I don’t think we are special and to be quite honest I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as exposed as I do right now, telling you this, which is why I’ve waited so long.

Because I can’t control what others do with this narrative. Of course I can’t control what the internet does with any of my words, but normally, by the time my fingers hit the keyboard, I know what I think and I know what I want to say and I am prepared to stand in the truth as I see it, knowing, of course, that I could be wrong, but that’s another topic.

Normally, I have considered and thought through and feel comfortable standing by what I say.

But I don’t know shit about this. I don’t know if it’s the “right” decision.

It’s messy and I’m afraid.

And the truth is, if we fail, we’ll move back. What else can we do?

 

And so, here I am, telling you this, and inviting you to hang out with us on this fucking adventure. We are packing and selling our house now. This is the first place I’ve ever felt is a real, real home. That’s another post, but we’re saying goodbye to the happiest home we’ve ever had, the brightest, most comfortable place, even though there’s a triple bunk in one bedroom and Arlo’s dresser is in a hallway.

I don’t know how to leave my parents. I don’t know how to leave my friends. I don’t know how to say goodbye to the roar of the northern California ocean and the redwood trees and Lake Tahoe and the vineyards of Sonoma County. There’s so much here for us.

Mac has never lived outside of this county. Not country. COUNTY. We don’t speak Dutch (I know everyone there speaks English but still).

What if it all goes wrong? What if we just can’t do it?

But what if we didn’t try?

 

the trip that did us in

****

If you read my book, you’ll know this was a dream of mine since I lived in Spain in 2000.

Fuck it, here we go.

137 Comments | Posted in .....I make bad decisions..., Netherlands | March 10, 2019