The plan is to leave Amsterdam

“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.

  1. We’re leaving Amsterdam because E’s work contract is up, and will not be renewed (this is not due to anything performance-related).
  2. 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.

A typical day in July, Amsterdam

A typical day in July, Amsterdam – waiting for the tram in the rain

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.

June in Southern Italy

June in Southern Italy

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.

Deep breath.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another first year in Amsterdam: life with a baby

I wanted to pick a more milestone-ish date to post this entry – when Ayla turned three months. Or six months. Or even nine months, which felt pretty monumental to me (nine months in, nine months out!). But I’m writing this on her 10-month “birthday,” which is not marked by any huge milestone other than a lot of teething pain and some very dreary weather.

So I skipped writing about anything during these first few months past the birth story, but I composed a million posts in my head. And now it’s time to write again, but I have nothing clear in my mind. I just want to see what I remember.

I remember the first 10 days so clearly, because they were rather amazing. I had the best two kraamzorgen (maternity nurses) care for me for 8 days following the birth. For that first week, my house was spotless. The laundry was always done. There was always something to eat, I was encouraged to nap and rest and bond with my daughter as much as possible. I was given tips of breastfeeding when needed, but I was also one of the lucky ones: breastfeeding came rather easily and naturally (but it was still exhausting and all-encompassing). I remember the first walk to a nearby cafe, with Enrique wearing Ayla in a wrap. I remember how amazing my hair still looked then. I remember thinking “I just slept three hours, my god I feel amazing and ready to take on the world!” and genuinely meaning it.

I remember how intimidating and scary it was to really go out-out for the first time, when she was about three weeks old. I got Ayla in the stroller, took her on the bus to a friend’s house, fed her, hung out a bit, and came home. This journey exhausted me in ways I never experienced before. I was so insanely alert to everything. The traffic kind of terrified me. I felt terrible for not having a proper rain cover for the stroller because of course it rained. I didn’t know how to properly fold up the stroller so I just left the entire thing in the stairwell of my friend’s apartment. There seemed to be an endless amount of things I didn’t know how to do, but we got out and got back in and were all still alive in the end.

I remember how going out got easier. She napped so well when I wore her. I started finding the stroller really cumbersome pretty early on. I remember one day going out into the center of Amsterdam and going to H&M to buy her a dress – the first article of clothing that I picked out and bought myself – and then hanging around and getting coffee. It was so easy while she slept next to me in the ergo, and I didn’t have to deal with the public transportation rules for strollers or worry about stairs.

I very, very fondly remember weeks 10-18, when she started sleeping through the night. I also remember the first night she slept all night, because I sat awake from 4am onward watching her and checking to make sure she was breathing. During this time in her life, she was the easiest baby. We went out to dinner with her, we’d go to museums, to bars, to exhibits, and we’d all get a full night sleep. She was so cute, she started smiling, and when I put her down she’d stay in one spot. Life was amazing.

I remember hearing about the “four month regression” and man, I remember experiencing it. The waking-up in the night again, the 30-minute naps, the change from newborn to baby. Her nighttime sleep kind of resolved itself within a few weeks, but naps became A Thing. I started wearing her for pretty much every nap, and walking. I walked with her in the rain, cold, dark, everything. I felt grateful to A) have the time to do such a thing and B) that at least wearing her worked. This phase passed as well, but it took longer.

I remember our travels, and how different they became. We took her to Italy (twice), London, California, and Mexico. There were some hard moments in those travels but generally speaking I loved it. She was a great traveler, no major horror stories with the plane (cars on the other hand…) or even with jetlag.

I remember how much I loved seeing her with family from both sides, both when they came to visit Amsterdam and when we bought her to the US and Mexico. It gave me a glimpse into the world of people who raise their children in say, the same country as their family. Here in Amsterdam, Enrique and I don’t have a grandma, aunt, cousin, etc., to help out here and there. Having help/support – and seeing other people who loved Ayla on a very real level – was really eye-opening.

I remember when she started rolling in her crib, when she became a tummy sleeper, when she started crawling and standing and laughing and clapping and saying “Mama.” I remember having to lower the crib mattress and take away the mobile that hung over it, and feeling kind of sad about that. I remember the feeling of putting away her small-baby clothes as she grew more and more, and having no idea what to do with them.

I remember holding her in the night as she screamed in what I’m pretty sure was teething pain. I felt like I would cut off my arm right then and there if it meant she would be calm and happy again, but I’d hold her close and rock her and breastfeed and feel awful yet grounded. As long as she was in my arms, I could try to make her feel better and calm down. I als remember her screaming in her carseat in Italy, and actually crying myself, because I couldn’t pick her up and comfort her. I hated that, it is so far the only time in her entire life that she actually “cried herself to sleep,” and it was absolutely awful to witness. It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses – there are very memorable moments that tear on my heartstrings in a painful way as well.

I remember buying my new bike – my mamafiets, or mama bike. A big, sturdy, beast of a bike with a baby seat up front. I was so ready to stop taking trams and walking everywhere – honestly, without a bike I find Amsterdam such an annoying city to move around. I hate the trams and that suddenly it would take me 45 minutes to get to places that would take 20 minutes on a bike. We started doing short rides around 8 1/2 months, and by 9 months she was a pro.

And I remember the first time she fell asleep on the bike, and how we had become one of those typical Amsterdam sights. Maybe a tourist saw us and marveled (the way I used to when I was a tourist here), but what no one around me knew was how I was squealing on the inside, that I had become a mom with a sleeping baby on the bike.

These days I have a very active little girl, and there are non-stop changes and new firsts every day. She crawls, eats solid food, contorts herself into the oddest positions while she’s breastfeeding, stands on her own, says “Mama,” has upped her decibel level of screaming, and is a true pain in the ass to get dressed about 90% of the time. I wear her on my back more often than on my front. I take her everywhere by bike, as long as it’s not pouring rain. And today, on her 10-month-brithday, it is in fact pouring rain. Well, on and off, but it’s been between a drizzle and a pour all day long. We left the house with the plastic cover over the stroller, long sleeves and pants, and headed to a “baby cafe” not far away. She had a blast while we were there – getting out of the house was essential to survival (for me) on a day like this. I’m really grateful these baby-friendly cafes exist and I have spot to meet other moms and dads and watch Ayla play with different toys and different babies without having to pay anything (well, of course I had a coffee, but that was it).

But the fact that I dressed my baby in socks, pants, onsie, shirt, and jacket – and I made sure to bring the umbrella, plastic rain cover, and all the other normal stuff you should carry around in say, October – this is one of the many, many reasons that we are planning to leave this country. The forecast is the same all week. This is just how it is here. It’s actually kinda perfect if you have a newborn, or an under 6-month-old who doesn’t move around that much – rainy, cozy days inside with a small baby are pretty delicious.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that soon, if I don’t let another 9 months go by before I post again. Getting back to things-I-do-just-to-make-myself-happy is critical, and writing is one of those things that is on that list.

August in Amsterdam

The spring in Amsterdam was just perfect. I was in boats, parks, cycling to the beach, taking my clothes of in empty fields (in the north) in the middle of the afternoon, wearing dresses, putting on sunblock. Then I went to NY, where the humidity and heat had just kicked into full gear. Came back to Amsterdam around 9 June, and since then haven’t felt a real summer in this city.

Sure, there were days in June… maybe even weeks. I know I had some good times at bar terraces and I wore sandals all month. There were even a few really hot days, I remember having to leave my house because it was so warm and wishing I owned a fan because sleeping was uncomfortable.

But that was a few days here and there. that’s it.

Enrique and I escaped to Italy for over 2 weeks July, where it was real summer. Tank tops, shorts, skirts, wearing sunblock, clothes drying outside in a matter of hours instead of inside on drying racks for three days. we swam and got tan and would only go inside due to mosquitoes, not due to cold. So when we got back to Amsterdam, the cooler temps didn’t even bother me at first.

Now it’s August 29th and I want to turn on the heat in my house.

If I end up leaving Amsterdam, it’s not because I dislike the city. I adore this city. I love my group of friends here, I love the prettiness of it, the cycling is obviously unbeatable, it’s the cleanest city I’ve ever lived in, work opportunities are abundant, interesting and cool projects are all around me, and I have a giant apartment with no neighbor issues in a great location.

If I end up leaving Amsterdam, it’s because I. Can. Not. Deal. With. This. Weather. anymore. I’m freezing. I had an entire weekend off and I did nothing with it. I didn’t go cycling anywhere, I didn’t have a picnic in the park, I didn’t go on a boat ride, I didn’t drink beer on a terrace, I didn’t do any of the things that I like doing in Amsterdam because of the awful weather. What good is it to have a city full of awesome things if I don’t go out and do any of the awesome things?

I wouldn’t be this dramatic if it was just one bad weekend. I can handle a bad weekend. I can handle a bad week. I can handle not having it be perfect; I don’t need Barcelona or Rome weather to have a good life. I’m being this dramatic because it’s been a bad MONTH, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. That’s it folks, summer has been pretty much over since the beginning of August. Tt won’t get about 20C/68F again, and I highly doubt there will be too many days when it’s above 16C/61F.

Two months of beautiful weather in the spring is not enough for ten months of crap.

I’m going to put on my gym clothes, my hoodie, and my rain jacket and go to the gym. after my workout I’ll sit in the sauna, where it’s warm. At the end of August I should find the idea of sitting in a sauna absurd, yet here I am.