Faraway File #8 - Jade: Sacramento, USA
This series aims to give a snapshot in to the lives of parents living faraway from home – the good, the bad and the ugly! If you'd like to be featured, I'd love to hear from you – please get in touch!
Our latest Faraway File comes from sunny northern California, where Jade Anna Hughes lives with her Mexican partner and two (soon to be three!) children. But Jade is anything but a typical West Coaster: born in England, she lived briefly in The Netherlands before spending most of her upbringing in France. Wide and varied travel and occupations in her 20s led her to New York (the city that she says will always have her heart) where she lived for 11 years, before making the move West a year ago. Here she talks openly and honestly about the challenge of giving up a place you love for the benefit of your growing family, as well as the reality of living and raising a mixed heritage family in Trump’s America. You can read more about Jade’s experiences on her blog, as well as in her recently published first collection of essays With Spring Comes Hope, and you can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Give us the basics: where are you from, where do you live now, and what took you there?
I was born in Rutland, England, and lived in both Rutland and Melton Mowbray until I was 10. We then moved to Apeldoorn in The Netherlands for a bit before settling down in Grenoble, France. I currently live in Sacramento in Northern California (USA), and have been here a year, after living in New York City for 11 years.
How I got here is a bit of a long story, but in a nutshell my mother’s job took her from France to the US when I was 21. I had no intention of leaving my life there, my friends, my studies and all the rest of it, so while my sister and eventually my brother made their way out to California, I stayed put until I finished my degrees and realised that I wanted to be closer to my family and spread my wings a little. Unfortunately my mother’s business contract did not cover sponsoring any children over 21 (my sister and brother were underage so they received their visas then green cards with my mother), so I had to figure something else out – a lot of travelling and living in a few different countries, and then a job offer in NYC and a temporary visa to reside in the US… I loved NYC so much that I just stayed there! (The latter part was in no shape or form easy, but I could write an essay or 20 on the trials and tribulations of the US immigration system and I don’t want to bore anyone with that here!).
France will always be my home, but so will England. And so will NYC! I spent a lot of my 20s feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere really, and thought that I would never plant any adult roots down anywhere, all the while feeling quite content being a little bit of a nomad. Now I know where my roots are, and I hope one day to be back in Europe, but I don’t regret any of the travelling and moving around either. We moved to California a year ago for a few different reasons, but mainly because NYC was becoming too expensive for us to live comfortably and raise a family, and also because my mother, sister and brother live out here, and we thought that it would be nice for the girls to live nearer some of our extended family members.
France is my home because I grew up there and because even after all the years it still feels the same. England is my home because I was born there, because I still have family and friends there and because I will always feel like I belong, no matter how long it has been. NYC will always have my heart, because the streets talk and tell you a million stories and I haven’t ended my conversations with them just yet. California will not be my home, as beautiful as it is and as lovely as the people are, it feels like a temporary place to lay our heads rather than a home. And that’s fine – we have no problem with that!
Tell us about the pre-kid you.
Ah, I have had many a career and lifestyle change! I was never one to settle down: as I said earlier, I’ve lived a slightly nomadic life! Some of the travelling I did was out of necessity, some of it out of choice, but I often just followed where the wind took me. I always wanted to be a writer, but never thought I would be good enough, so I spent much of my teens and 20s making sometimes responsible and sometimes insane choices that have led to a pretty colourful and interesting life up until now! I have worked as a hotel cleaner, in a factory, in a supermarket, as a bartender in the UK, as a server, a teacher and tutor, as a project manager, on a kibbutz, as an account manager and even a senior account manager, as a bartender in NYC and also as a restaurant manager. I’ve never been very career-minded, and working in corporate America nearly killed me and my spirit, so I moved around a lot trying to find a place where I would fit in best. At the same time I slowly started building my own one-person freelance writing business that I focused more seriously on after I had my first child in 2014.
Before I became a mother my down time was spent reading, writing, walking the streets of NYC with my camera, drinking with friends and just generally being on the go all of the time. I spent many years living a real rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in NYC, have no regrets about that and many a story to tell, but at the same time I am also glad I am slightly more responsible with age!
I do miss travelling, packing a backpack on a whim and going off to Israel for a year, making my way around Egypt on $200, visiting five cities in Italy in a week, dreaming of centuries past in Paris, making up stories in Prague, and finding the best non-touristy beaches in Jamaica. But I’m going to instill this wanderlust in my kids too as it’s a great way to learn about the world and about life in general.
And what is life like for you now?
Now my other half (Cesar, the most wonderful man on the planet) is the main breadwinner while I work part time from home writing with two toddlers (nearly 3 years old and 18 months old), and pregnant with our third (and last!). Downtime is usually watching TV or movies with Cesar, going for long walks with the kids, reading and writing my own stuff (I’ve very recently published my first collection of essays, With Spring Comes Hope). I still like to take my camera out but haven’t been focusing on photography as much as I used to. One day soon again!
Both Cesar and I were very used to living far away from family for many years, and while that was fine when we didn’t have kids, it was a little different when we did. Although we have very good friends in the city we never felt comfortable asking people to babysit, and with a high needs firstborn I wouldn’t have wanted to put anyone through that anyway! It’s really lovely to be closer to my family and be able to rely on the help, and we have even been out on some dates since we have been in Sacramento too! The latter is so necessary, a few hours here and there together, as a couple. Having so many children in such a short space of time means that there is rarely any time to actually spend together, and we really appreciate being able to do that. I used to go to live music shows once or twice a week, and this is something that I do miss now, but we are also not in a location like NYC where that would be possible anymore. We did take the kids to a 2-day rock festival last year and that was a pretty cool experience!
How does where you live now compare to your home turf?
It’s very… suburban! Cesar was born and raised in a small town in Mexico and I have been all over the place. We met in NYC where we had both lived for many years. NYC is extremely multi-cultural, we have friends from all over the place and could always find whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. We both worked during the evening/night, and would often be found eating dinner at 5am after work in a diner! I never had any trouble finding real Cadbury’s chocolate or Ribena, and could literally find any type of cuisine within a few blocks radius of where I lived or worked.
It’s been a bit of an adjustment for us both living here. I’ve heard that this area is supposed to be extremely culturally diverse, but it feels very segregated nonetheless. I never learned to drive, so I still have to count on others to get around (I know, I know, I need to get it over and done with). All in all it’s a nice city, but with the current political environment, seeing Trump signs around the neighbourhood during the elections just made it all the more difficult for us. We are waiting for our last child to arrive, and we have a few things that we need to sort out, but we are making plans to move on. To be honest, as a frequent immigrant in different countries the only country I have been made to feel like a lesser human is here. The kids seem to be thriving here, as the weather really is lovely and we spend time running around the huge park, but at the same time I worry about sending them to school here. So who knows where we will end up next! As long as it is a multi-cultural and accepting environment where I know my kids won’t be treated differently, then I’m all for it! I know that England and France, or Mexico, have their own problems, but somehow I feel like we will be safer there.
And what does that mean for your family?
Basically the same thing really. I’m not very good at finding “mom groups” or things like that, so the girls are mainly exposed to English/French/Mexican culture on a daily basis (our oldest speaks with a British accent!), and we don’t have many friends here in Sacramento, and no one that we see on a regular basis. I mean we do a ton of things outside of the house, but usually as a nuclear family or with my extended family. I think mainly because we have never considered this as home we haven’t made more of an effort to really become more integrated in the society. I basically see us as tiptoeing around until the next move. I’m currently working on getting the kids different passports sorted so that they never have to worry about certain things that I did (not being able to join my family in the US for example).
How were your birth experiences, and did they differ from what you would have experienced at home?
I think the US prenatal and birthing care is based on a lot of intervention, something that cannot really be understood unless you have lived through it. I also think that there is a huge focus on prenatal care, but once the baby is born there is barely any follow-up for the mother. Postpartum Depression percentages are out of control here, and a lot of that has to do with there being no real maternity leave, heavy intervention during birth (leading to some traumatic birth experiences), and no real follow-up afterwards.
My first experience was great up until I went into labour when one doctor listened to me but the next didn’t even bother. Both my daughter and I were fine, but there were some issues that I wish I had known about beforehand so that I would have been able to handle them better. There was a huge push on me to formula feed (which was against what I wanted and luckily I fought against it). So once I was pregnant again I actively sought out medical professionals who actually wanted what I wanted. This led to my second daughter being born in what I consider to be the perfect way: I walked into the hospital and gave birth naturally an hour later, was left to breastfeed to my heart’s content and no one woke me up on their rounds at 3am while I was sleeping!
So, all in all, I think it REALLY depends on the hospital and the medical professionals that you surround yourself with. Of course, complications arise, and I am lucky to be in a place where I know that I will be well looked after, but it is also nice to be in control of how you birth your child too.
In addition to all of the above, the health insurance issues are insane. I am lucky to be able to count on state healthcare, especially for my children as one has a heart defect that requires yearly check-ups, although I doubt it will be renewed next year, so that’s another worry that we have. When you are in a place where you can’t afford the insurance premiums but still earn too much to be able to rely on state healthcare it can be really, really hard. It always blows my mind that in a country like the US there can’t be an effective universal healthcare system in the works!
What does a typical day with the kids look like for you?
Cesar and I are usually up around 6am as he goes off to work by 7am, and I answer work emails while the kids are still asleep (most of my clients are in Europe). The kids wake up around 7-7:30 and we will have breakfast and basically get ready for the day. We don’t have a real routine: sometimes we go out in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, but the kids usually nap from 12-2pm, and go to bed around 7:30-8pm. I work around the kids, so depending on how much work I have I will try to either get it done in the morning, or otherwise when they are napping/sleeping. Cesar has Mondays and Tuesdays off, so those are the days when we always try to do something fun!
If a family was visiting the town / city where you currently live for a day, what must they see and do?
Old Sacramento! It’s a lovely little place to walk around, grab a drink or a snack and stock up on candy. It’s like an old Gold Rush town, and has been kept in pristine condition, so it’s a little bit of well-conserved history to walk around.
Website / app: I used Babycenter a lot when I was a first time mum, but now I usually use Mamazou because although it is a UK-based website there are people from all over the world who use it and I love that!
Favourite family activity: We love American diners. They are so kid-friendly and literally have everything and the kitchen sink on the menu! And super affordable too.
Children's book: Well I’m a bit partial AND biased but my mum just started releasing her own kids books with an awesome character called Happy BaaBaa, and the kids love her!
One thing you can get faraway that you can't at home: Real chips [for the benefit of American readers, this means fries, but real ones are much thicker]!! I’m vegetarian so I don’t care about the fish, but there is nowhere on earth apart from Britain where you can get proper chips! (And I don’t mean the ones in a packet).
One thing from home that's been a godsend: Books! My sister brought us some French books when she came back from her last trip there. I love being able to read to the kids in all of the languages that we speak at home.
What do you love about being a faraway mum?
If my mother hadn’t decided to pick up and move to The Netherlands in 1988 I would have never been exposed to the different languages and cultures that I have been in my life. I hope that I can transfer the same love for the world to my kids and that they will enjoy travelling as much as I do.
And what do you struggle with?
Sometimes it’s hard for me to choose where I really want to be. Cesar and I are willing to live anywhere as long as we are altogether and happy. Sometimes I watch those movies where the middle-aged parents welcome their kids and grandkids into the family home at Christmas and everyone has a lovely time together and I wonder if I am missing out on something, and then I think that maybe I should be creating that for my kids, but at the same time I realise that that was never anything I craved either. I’ve always been super independent and self-reliant, as has Cesar, and I doubt we will settle anywhere just yet! I do worry that one day I will regret not staying in the US, or not moving back to one of my home countries. If I leave the US for more than a year I basically give up the right to my green card, something that took me more than 10 years and a lot of tears to get.
Are you forever faraway, or is this just a temporary thing?
Haha who knows!!
What advice would you give to parents new to living far from home?
Try to avoid the expat scene at first and make local friends. I say this in the nicest way possible, but too often I see people missing out on so much because they are too scared to just jump in and discover their new country. And it can be super frightening, but learning a new language, discovering the best restaurant, and all of the rest are the best parts of moving to another country. I have US friends whose parents moved to France for a year or two and who went to school with us for those few years, and all of these years later they regret not being more immersed in the culture at that time. Of course for me they were super exciting because they knew about all these new bands and movies (at the time we got everything so much later), but now I see what they missed out on.
I know there is comfort in finding friends from the same place (I spent a lot of time with French, British and Irish people when I lived in NYC), but it’s really good to have the best of both worlds and really learn to love your new country.
Fantastic advice, Jade – I agree that it can be very comforting to seek out people from the place and culture you know, but there’s so much to learn and gain from making local friends too – something you are clearly an expert at! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences, and very good luck with your impending third arrival!