Unpacking

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The Experimental Farm, Ottawa, March 2017

“How are you, Mark?” my father-in-law inquired as we drive off.

“I’m fine. Just looking out of the window.”

I grin. Thank you, Mark. I know you’re fine. Backpacking is fun, please, tell people.

“The window?” my mother-in-law repeats.

“Yes, the window. You know, the… thing on the car. There. The window.”

I stifle a laugh. Mark’s irreverent side must be his French genes.

My mother-in-law opens the front door. I step in, followed by Mark.

“Shoes off!” I remind automatically. But my mother-in-law is already taking Mark’s sneakers off. I have yet to convince them that he can perfectly put on and take off clothes by himself—it’s a losing battle, they still tell Feng how to dress.

I pause at the doorstep. It’s a bit overwhelming, really. Do we really live here? Do we really have this house—small, by Canadian standard—to ourselves? A shower, a microwave, a TV, Internet access?

Feng is already upstairs and my in-laws took Mark to his room to change him to whatever winter-appropriate outfit they must have bought when we were away. I sneak out for a smoke.

“Looks like they didn’t touch anything in your room,” Feng announces when I come back.

“Good.”

I sigh with relief. My in-laws tend to replace or add stuff when we are away. Sometime, we come back to a different house. Last summer, they boxed the entire content of my desk and chest drawers and moved it to the basement. I think there was a message, although Feng insisted it was just a misunderstanding.

I check the kitchen. Nope, all good. When I reach for a bowl I actually get a bowl and not a pack of Chinese mushrooms. Nothing changed here. The only addition to the house seems to be a desk and chair in Mark’s room and Chinese calendars pinned in every room.

Since Mark is still with my in-laws, I start a load of laundry, the first of many. We have two backpacks to empty, after all. It’s not like we are going to wear shorts and tank tops any time soon but I can’t leave dirty laundry in there.

I feel like a stranger in this environment, a feeling I often get when I come back to Canada. Feng has his parents waiting for him but I don’t have anyone. Oh, sure, I have friends and I’m looking forward to seeing them but it may take weeks because kids or no kids, everybody has a crazy schedule.

I don’t know if Feng missed his parents or if his parents missed him—or us. Chinese don’t display feelings that openly, we stick to practical comments.

Feng is enjoying the break from parental duties. He is munching on bāozi his mom left in the kitchen.

We aren’t talking about the trip at all. My in-laws still insist we should have flown this morning. “It was a nice bus ride,” I say to no one in particular.

The first load is done and my in-laws leave. We rush to Mark’s school to make sure everything is okay on this side—I did email the office two weeks earlier—then I open my mail, put my passport away, make list of stuff I have to buy. While Mark is rediscovering that, indeed, he has “a lot of toys!” Feng and I move little busy bees in the house, carrying things from one room to another, decluttering, organizing, emptying, putting away.

I must have complained so much about cleaning chores on this blog that the good folks at Pine-Sol mailed me a huge bottle of cleaner with the new Spring Blossom scent—along with a pair of yellow rubber gloves. I open the bottle. Yep, smells good, yes #SpringBlossom, #YesitsPinesol.

“I’m going to clean,” I said.

“The house is clean,” Feng protests. “We weren’t even here!”

That’s one way to see it, I guess. But hey, I wouldn’t assume the Lascaux Cave is clean even though no one has taken shelter there since the Paleolithic era.

It’s not so much about cleaning, anyway, it’s about keeping busy. We each have our own way of dealing with this post-travel period. Feng likes to relax, enjoy the memories, linger in the moment. I can’t. If I do, I get sad because frankly, I didn’t want to come home. I need to start a new chapter, go through my elaborate and detailed to-do list and damn it, I need a house that smells clean and fresh.

So I clean and even though it’s too early for a proper spring cleaning, and even though there is snow outside, I enjoy the fresh floral scent in the house.

There. Now we can start a new chapter.

I’m ready.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

15 Comments

  1. You mentioned school, and this reminded me of a question I’ve had for a while. How does Mark get 2 months off of school? I know they must have winter break, and I am guessing they don’t have a winter break that long!

  2. I’m the same, I like cleaning and getting busy when coming home from a trip (the only time ever when I like to clean I think lol).
    Love that Mark is standing up for himself 😉 At least it sounds like your in-laws (annoying) actions come from a place of love and concern? My MIL can’t help herself and just cleans and rearranges stuff in the kitchen when she comes over (one a year these days…)

    • Oh yes, they are just trying to help. They are good people… we just come from different generations, different backgrounds and we have different perspectives on… pretty much everything 😆

  3. Welcome back dear Zhu..
    Thank you for all the wonderful pictures from your travels I thoroughly enjoyed them all 🙂

      • Life in the wild wild West has been good so far I mean I survived my 1st Canadian winter (woohoo!) and I am starting to think yeah I got this.. lol

        On a serious note though, it’s been going well, I am still adapting and learning a lot.. Thank heavens for your blog, I have learned so much valuable information from you before I even set my foot on Canadian land. It’s made my new immigrant life a little bit easier, don’t mean to sound creepy but there’s been numerous instances where I found myself scratching my head about something I didn’t understand and then remembered you writing about it.. 🙂

        I have said this before and I’ll say it again… THANK YOU! I mean it, not only are you a witty and talented writer but you selflessly share what you know just to make someone else’s life as an immigrant easier:)

        I am looking forward to reading your posts for many years to come 🙂
        Now.. let’s get your book published already shall we?
        Fingers crossed, good luck!

        • 😆 That’s not creepy, I’m honoured! Seriously, I’m happy to hear that somehow, I helped you to make a move easier.

          And you totally deserve a maple syrup candy for surviving your first Canadian winter! Now you will be able to start your sentences with “well, last winter, we had (insert relevant winter phenomenon)” 😆

          Are you working?

  4. Pine-Sol sent your cleaning supplies unsolicited??

    That would drive me crazy if someone moved my stuff! When I lived with a host family in Paris, after a couple of weeks I asked if the femme de menage could not clean my room because I wasn’t used to coming home and seeing all my papers and items moved around.

    Well, we all enjoyed reading about your travels even if your in-laws didn’t ask, haha.

    • Yep, Pine-Sol delivered! Well, they did ask for my address 😆

      I don’t like people touching my stuff… but again, losing battle with my in-laws.

  5. Bon retour au Canada, je connais ce sentiment… Surtout que dans votre cas, vous revenez d’une longue période d’aventures. Ce n’est pas comme quand tu pars seulement qq jours quelque part. Quel est le prochain chapitre? J’ai hâte de savoir!

    • Ben je ne sais pas encore trop. Je me sens assez bien, mon rôle de maman a changé aussi, tu as dû voir ça avec ton aînée : ils gagnent vite en autonomie!

      J’ai un projet au fond de ma tête… j’aimerais y croire, mais je sais pas. Je vais voir. En attendant, travail et sousous!!

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