“But didn’t you guys just buy a house? And have a baby? And now you’re planning to leave?”
… Yes. We’re planning on leaving October 9th, to be precise.
And it’s complicated. Ending a long relationship with a city isn’t easy. There’s not just one reason to leave, there’s a million little reasons, but I’m going to sum it up as best I can with the top two.
- We’re leaving Amsterdam because E’s work contract is up, and will not be renewed (this is not due to anything performance-related).
- We’re leaving Amsterdam because the weather is depressing and terrible.
Yes, the horrible weather is really playing that much of a role in the decision. The work stuff is the driving force, but the fact that it’s the middle of July and I had to put socks, pants, and a jacket on my daughter in order for her to play outside, under gray skies – I’ll be perfectly honest: it’s a truly depressing way to start the day. After she had her breakfast and played and crawled around this morning, it was 8.30am and she was BORED. She crawled over to the back door, doing her whiny cry. When I picked her up and opened the door, she instantly stopped crying and tried to wiggle away so she could escape outside. “But it’s really windy,” I thought to myself. “And gray. and chilly.” She cried as I closed the door. I felt bad as I lead her back inside – I mean, it wasn’t actually raining and it’s not like she was “demanding” anything crazy.
So we went out to the backyard, after getting ready. Getting ready, you ask? What do you need to do to get ready to go into your own backyard, when both myself and the baby were already dressed and fed? Well, I had to get a long-sleeve shirt and shoes. I had to find socks and a jacket for the baby. I’ve mentioned she’s not a fan of getting dressed, right? I wiggled her in her socks and jacket anyway as she protested. But once we were out, she was happier – and a quick glimpse of the forecast showed me to expect rain pretty much every day this week, so I figured we may as well take advantage of the fact that it was only chilly, windy, and gray.
I guess the grayness doesn’t really depress a 10-month old (I hope), but it depresses me. I did not wake up happy today. I did not take my daughter to our backyard happily, despite the fact that we have spent a LOT of time and effort to make our backyard beautiful and child-friendly. All last week I think there were maybe one or two days that I happily took her outside. The rest of the time was too cold, too rainy, or too windy (or usually all three at once). We’ve taken her to every indoor baby cafe in Amsterdam, we’ve taken her to cafes and restaurants, and we take her to the supermarket when we need to go just for an excuse to get her out of the house and do something, even though we live between two lovely parks and have a baby seat for the bicycle.
Now let’s just say you live in Amsterdam and make a pretty decent income (like I used to do when I worked in advertising), and you don’t have a baby. The weather still sucks just as bad, but you probably take a lot more trips to sunny places, because you can afford it. Even with a baby, and without my advertising salary, we’re doing good on the travel front: we spent over a month in California and Mexico back in March and we just did 10 days in southern Italy in June. But we can’t afford to just drop 500€ on a weekend in Barcelona at the last minute the way we used to. In theory, I’m completely fine with this as there’s not a single fiber in my body that wants to return to working in advertising, so I consider having less money but more free time to spend with Ayla a very fair tradeoff. And in theory, I love Amsterdam, and getting to take say, 3 or maybe 4 trips a year isn’t exactly suffering, right?
Well, the reality is that it sucks. It sucks to be stuck in Amsterdam with crappy weather most of the summer, absolutely unable to make plans in advance (like getting together with other moms) that involve being outside. Do you know how much we were looking forward to doing a nice long bike ride through the north this past Saturday? The plan was to pack up a lunch, put Ayla on my bike seat, ride around the little villages looking at cows and sheep and enjoy the scenery. We have a little tent for Ayla, so she could have her afternoon nap as mom and dad lay on a blanket and drink a beer while watching the bikes and water. All we need to have in order to make this happen is a warm, sunny, weekend day, preferably without too much wind (as that makes the biking part a little less enjoyable). It ended up chilly and rainy. So another day spent inside – well mostly inside. We ran out into the backyard anytime it stopped raining enough to let Ayla get a change of scenery.
When we were in southern Italy, it wasn’t that complicated. We went to the beach. Ayla wore a little swim diaper and a hat. She took her afternoon nap in her tent while mom and dad drank a beer and went swimming (one at a time). When she was awake, she played in the sand and the water. It was… easy.
This morning Enrique and I were bitching about the weather, which almost feels like part of the morning routine these days. I told him that it doesn’t depress me, exactly. I mean yes, it’s depressing. But I’m not depressed, I’m angry. I’m pissed. I’m annoyed. And I have started so many days like this, and with each passing gray, chilly, windy, rainy day, I grow more and more annoyed. This deep-down pissed-offness is not going to go away with extra vitamin D supplements or a sun lamp or an extra yoga class or whatever bullshit suggestion people offer. Before there was a baby in the picture, one sort-of-good way of looking at the situation was that Amsterdam is a great place to work. I mean, if you’re inside all day, you may as well be inside all day in Amsterdam. And if you can afford to go out to dinner and drinks a few times a week, to have memberships to nice gyms and cinemas, to go away for long weekends to visit friends in Rome and Barcelona and Lisbon, it’s manageable – and you don’t need to be rich to be able to have a really nice life in Amsterdam. But now there is a baby in the picture, I very rarely go out after 8pm, and going to yoga a few times a week isn’t really bringing about the inner peace that I simply don’t have because parenting is harder when you are confined to the great indoors.
Back when we bought our apartment (when I was 7 months pregnant), we went into it thinking “this is a five year thing.” It’s a lovely apartment and suits us well, but it’s small and not the kind of place that we’d want to stay for say, 15 years. But for a few years, sure. It’s cozy and cute and in great condition, and we have this amazing backyard that we put a ton of work into and hardly use. We have a place for storage, plenty of bike parking, nice neighbors, a great location near parks and supermarkets and a pharmacy across the street. We were in no rush to leave Amsterdam when we bought our place. We thought we’d enjoy Ayla’s childhood, see how things go with Enrique’s job, and then either upgrade to a bigger apartment after a few years or move outside the country (by the time Ayla was 4 or so). I wanted to see how things went, to allow myself to feel re-motivated to integrate a bit more, to make (yet another) effort to learn Dutch. We were open to the idea of the fact that we might just stick around forever – even though the weather is never going to magically improve, there still are a million reasons why Amsterdam is a wonderful city. Both of us craved things like stability and a chance to work at our careers. We wanted to get a dog. We’ve done so much traveling and adventuring and moving around that stability seemed absolutely lovely. That was the attitude that we had a year ago.
But there was unexpected news, work-wise. Enrique’s contract is up at the end of August and can not be renewed. I am working very part-time (about two afternoons a week), finally at a job I love and feel proud of, but it’s a job that pays me a fraction of what I used to make. In exchange, I get to spend a lot of time with my daughter, which is priceless. Enrique also spends a great deal of time with her – when I’m at work, he’s the one spending time with her. Neither one of us would have changed anything about this arrangement, and there’s no part of me that is willing to quit a job I love to return to advertising, just so we have the money to stick around a city where it rains all the time. My current job is something I can do from anywhere, so I can easily move.
So we’re moving away. And maaaaaaaaan I am nervous, because there is so much more to take into consideration that there used to be. It’s hard to figure out where to start, but we had to start somewhere – so we rented an apartment for three weeks in Merida, Mexico. A city that neither one of us has ever been to. The average high temperature in October is 32C, average low temperature is 22C. Regarding safety, “In Merida security rates are at the level of Europe, even among the levels of the safest countries in the world” (source). I don’t know if this is going to be our new home, but it’s a place to start. We’ll be warm.
When we got the news that Enrique’s contract couldn’t be extended, we made a concious decision to see this as an opportunity to get it right and make the move. We are choosing to leave to find something better, we’re not being forced out. If we really wanted to stay in Amsterdam, we could figure it out and make it happen – but instead it seems that there’s another adventure ahead of us – an adventure to find stability. At the end of the day, I’m ready to go. We both are.