It was Pakjesavond, my first here in the Netherlands. That’s the night before the feast of St Nicholas, and it’s when good little Dutch children get their Giftmas presents. Since we were going to be celebrating Christmas in Scotland, we didn’t do much for it—just a present and a chocolate letter each for the kids.
I can still remember both presents, and the sick terrible dread that somehow they weren’t enough, that the kids wouldn’t be pleased. It wasn’t really about the Barbie puzzle or the marble maze, of course.
It was a terrible time for us. My SAD was all but out of control. We were living in a rented house with black slate floors, which seemed to suck all the light out the world. Martin was miserable. Alex was wretched. Fiona broke a finger and swallowed a battery. We wondered whether we’d made a terrible mistake coming here. We had to choose soon whether to sell the Edinburgh house and buy something in this strange and difficult country, or go back with our tails between our legs.
It was time for a new Open Thread. I wrote and mailed off a piece of abject homesickness after everyone else had slunk off to bed. I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere but there in that chilly dark space, typing at that cheap laminate desk in a house full of other people’s stuff and no bookshelves, the oven too small and high, the coffee machine whose coffee I couldn’t love. I was listening to Lowlands by Gillian Welch, and half-laughing, half-crying at the literal meaning of the word “Netherlands”.
And then Patrick contacted me on IM and told me he thought I was a good writer and did I want to post that piece on Making Light myself? And I did, and at the tail end of that thread we started talking about familial dysfunction. And spring came eventually. We bought the oak-floored house we live in now, changed jobs, got the kids settled into the school system. Obama was elected twice; puppets and puppies came and went. There was poetry and politics. People we loved died or blew up or drifted off. New people came, became beloved.
It’s been, on balance, a wonderful nine years. We’ve been in a number of dark places along the way, and we’re certainly in one now. I don’t know if, or how, we get out of this, but I know that we’re more likely to do it together than apart.
I’m glad to be here. Happy Pakjesavond, happy anniversary, happy Open Thread.