Falling into our verjaardagskalender

Shady and I had an adventure with some very good friends from the Netherlands towards the end of 2019. We visited Dumbarton Castle and Auchentoshan Distillery, and at dinner they gave us a ‘verjaardagskalender’—a birthday calendar. They laughingly explained the rather Dutch gift to my American husband:

“You write the birthdays of all your friends in and hang it in the guest toilet, and whenever people go to the toilet at your house they sit on the pot and check to see if they made it into your calendar. So when we visit your house we’ll check if our birthdays are there.”

Shady hung up the calendar as instructed, and he fills out each month as we get to it. May’s picture is of a place I’ve never been: a terrace in Museumdorp Orvelte, in the province of Drenthe.

Loved ones with May birthdays: our apologies, we haven’t gotten round to filling May out.

The thing is, I have been there. Not that specific location, but that sunny afternoon. The cobbled terrace outside a beautiful old building, the bicycles going by, the sound of women gossiping in fluent Dutch. It makes me homesick for a place I haven’t lived in over a decade. Self-isolation makes me long for places less than three miles away—let me walk down a busy street in town! let me sit in a bustling café!—but the curious mix of nostalgia and longing I get when I look at that picture hits like a freight train.

It’s no surprise. The ongoing isolation heightens emotions I’d know how to handle at other times. The whole thing feels like being a teenager again, with that sense that something is fighting to the surface of you and your body isn’t big enough to hold it. Just like back then, it has nowhere to go; there’s just a morass of uncertainty. What will the future hold? It can’t be predicted—not because you don’t know the world, this time, but because the world is changing too drastically for your past experiences to help you.

As if being a teenager once wasn’t enough!

I’m continuing to reach out to people, and my daily life isn’t that different from before. My musician dad does wonderful livestreams on Facebook every Sunday. My grandad sings “we’ll meet again” in the background of my phone calls with granny. I’m grateful for all the ways this isn’t affecting me—but sometimes I sit on the toilet for longer than I need to, and fall into a picture of a sunny terrace in the Netherlands.

Pre-Eurovision last year, on my friend’s back porch in Leiden. We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

2 thoughts on “Falling into our verjaardagskalender

  1. I love this! The comparison of the feelings from now with the weight of the teenage experience is just so apt. And those sunny outside days …… Thank you Valerie.

  2. Having simmered it over an open flame for a few days, I think you’ve hit it on the head when you said it’s like being a teenager again and your past experiences won’t help you.

    I know if another Twin Towers attack happened, or another economic recession, I’d be all like, ‘Dude, I’ve seen this shizzle before,’ but nobody has experienced this type of event for over 100 years when the Spanish Flu hit.

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