Are you my mother

A few weeks ago I was alone at a bagel restaurant, looking at a gallon-sized glass dish of loose candy that was just there for people to eat while they waited, when I heard my mom’s voice. My mom was supposed to be on the other side of the world still asleep, but in the bagel restaurant in Amsterdam I heard a voice that was unmistakably hers from across the room:

“Dude, with soccer you meet people who are die-hards for their team and I’m like, what team even is that.”

I turned around and to my surprise the voice didn’t belong to Susan, but to a college student in Amsterdam on vacation. This happens a lot.

Growing up I loved a book called Are You My Mother, about a baby bird that thinks everything is its mom. What an incredibly dumb bird, was I think the message. Who would think everyone was their mom? To clarify, I don’t think everyone is my mom. I just think everyone with American accents is my mom. Men, women, children, groups of teenagers, lots of sunburned young women on vacations living their best life: I hear what I’m sure is her voice about once a week.


It seems like almost everyone speaks English here, but the American voices stand out. If there were someone with an American accent talking casually about bus schedules standing next to someone yelling my name into a megaphone, I’d probably notice the American accent first.

I took two handfuls of the candy (that’s fine right? It was just there in a huge jar) and sat closer to the Americans so I could listen to their voices. There were five of them, all college-aged and wearing jeans and polos.

“Can you believe we’re here?” One of the boys in polos asked.

One of his friends in polos confessed that he hadn’t told his parents where they were going, and for all they knew he was at a friend’s house in Connecticut.

Another boy in a polo said that his parents knew he was in Amsterdam — but they didn’t know about the red light district.

“The red light district is sort of Amsterdam’s best kept secret, bro.” he said in my mom’s voice, and his friends nodded in agreement.

In Portland our friends have a dog named Frankie who is about the size of a lunchbox, and it’s fun to watch her interact with other dogs, especially very big ones. We’ll sit and watch them smell each other, and we’ll whisper “Do they even know they’re both dogs?”

I thought about this as I looked at the five boys in polos. Do they even know?

Would any of them guess that the woman at the next table, the one who ate four handfuls of loose candy and then left, likes their voices because they remind her of the voice she heard in the womb? Or am I just another one of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets?

It’s always sunny in Amsterdam

If someone had asked me yesterday what my personal hell would be, I wouldn’t have known off the top of my head.

It seems like an easy enough question to answer – but those are the questions that are hardest to answer.

How many beans can you hold in your hand? No one’s ever asked me that, but tell me the type of bean and I can make a good guess.

What’s the capital of Ohio? I would probably think of it eventually. Those kinds of questions are fine.

But questions about yourself are tricky.

Answers to the questions about yourself are like feral cats, they sneak up on you when you’re alone and least expect them. And they rub against your jeans and you wonder why, and then you’re nervous to smell your jeans later.


That’s why if someone had asked me yesterday about my personal hell, I probably would have just described the average personal hell. Maybe very loud construction, or being in a cab and realizing you don’t have enough money to cover the fare.

Last night I learned what my actual hell is because we had to try to sleep through it: constant daylight.

People talk a lot about the length of days in Amsterdam, and they complain about the short ones. They complain about how in the winter it’s dark all the time. Bring on darkness. I go to the movie theater and pay ten euros to sit in darkness. No one is paying ten euros for constant light, but here in the summer you get it for free whether you like it or not.

Last night I took a ton of cold medicine and got in bed ready to welcome sleep but the sun was still out, and there was daylight deep into the night until pretty much forever, until somehow it started getting even brighter. Then we called it morning and I got out of bed and changed from pajamas to work clothes and went to work with people who all witnessed the same thing, and we’re all pretending it didn’t happen.

There was no night last night. Can it even be morning if it wasn’t night? How do we know today is today and not still yesterday? How did anyone sleep? This doesn’t bother anyone else. And that’s what makes it a personal hell, I guess.

So, if you were going to ask, now you know.

Here’s a photo of a pigeon unsatisfied by the things it found in the trash:

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I can not, all but nothing teach.

I don’t remember why I looked up reviews of our thermostat and then used Google Translate to read them, but I’m so glad I did because they turned into beautiful robot poems about broken thermostats. Here I’m pasting my three favorites.



Regret, regret, regret. We have now a year in use and, indeed, a huge decline compared with our old thermostat.

At that time “forgets” the boiler.

Well, he further plans nothing. I hung him back today.


Everything, except comfort

I have now a few weeks of use. At least half of the time I can not connect what is excellent:

Weekly schedule includes regular way, and must be reset.

Manuals do not go, then, if nothing happens, everything stops.

Try again weeks to connect, in one way or another, Nothing Works.


In short, do not know what to do.


Never buy !!!

The worst part is that you can Never get your story. Worthless

every week, sometimes the connection lost.

If you do not Watch and gateway not again (power off of ten second setback) time starts, deviates from weekly program.

I can not, all but nothing teach. Could at least be.

Before you open a bike shop

My Dutch textbook doesn’t cover most of the things I’m interested in, but it does spend a lot of time teaching me how to ask people how they’re doing: Hoe gaat het. “Hoe gaat het?” asks every character in every single dialogue we listen to.

In the Dutch textbook there are pretty much only two ways things can be going: awfully good, or quite bad.

I’m not sure why we haven’t learned the word for “fine,” maybe it’s because the word for “fine” is so difficult to pronounce it requires at least a year of Dutch lessons. May be it’s a word that’s entirely consonants, or worse, entirely vowels. For now in our textbook life is lived in the extremes. In chapter two a man goes on a romantic vacation to Italy. In chapter eight his bike is stolen and in chapter nine he goes to the hospital, but by chapter ten it’s his birthday and he goes shopping for new pants. I understand. When every day involves either a trip to Venice or a trip to the emergency room, there is no fine. There is awfully good and there is quite bad and that is that.

The only person in real life I could think of who seemed to be living in a world of such disparate emotional states was a man who owns a bike shop in our neighborhood.

The bike shop I’m talking about is staffed by a very tall man with long curly hair. The door of the shop is always open and a few rental bikes are always outside, and the owner runs out frantically every few minutes, as though he’s always just now remembering he has a bike shop. Every time he runs out he looks either thrilled by the realization or horrified. He makes owning a bike shop seem like a real roller coaster, and if you’ve been daydreaming about retiring and owning a cute little bike shop somewhere, I would suggest you talk to him before you get too serious about it. We’d never spoken before, until yesterday.

Yesterday as I was walking past with groceries he lit up when he saw me, and he asked me “Hoe gaat het?”

Awfully good! I told him in Dutch. I could hardly believe my luck that a stranger had asked me the very question I’ve listened to over a thousand times while working my way through my remedial Dutch textbook.

Right away it became clear that the bike shop owner had thought I was someone else, someone he knew. He got flustered and said something I didn’t understand, and began gesturing as though he was tapping the side of an invisible stovepipe hat he was wearing. Maybe he mistook me for a friend who usually wears them.

But people don’t speak Dutch with me very often and there was no way I was letting this conversation end that quickly.

And with you, I asked. “Hoe gaat het?”

He was also doing awfully good.

My vocabulary doesn’t end at hoe gaat het, there are three more questions I know how to answer in Dutch and luckily he asked one of them next: where are you from. I also know how to respond to the questions “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” and “What color are your eyes and hair?” but he didn’t ask. I guess he wasn’t feeling that chatty.

I don’t know how to say it’s nice to meet you, but I know how to say that it’s truly an honor to make your acquaintance, so I told him so with a small curtsey, in hopes that he would think I was a visiting dignitary, princess, or lunatic.

But I meant it, it was truly an honor to make his acquaintance. I hope we meet again on another awfully good day. I hope we’re both wearing stovepipe hats. And I hope mine is large enough that it conceals my face and he has to ask what color my eyes and hair are, because no one has asked me that yet and it sort of feels like I learned it for nothing.

A kid in our neighborhood (I’m assuming it’s a kid) draws on the sidewalk almost every day. Here’s a plane.