Are We There Yet?

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I feel pleasantly numb and it makes me smile. My evil plan worked—a four-hour night’s sleep to disconnect from reality for most of the following day. Take that, stupid brain!

The Nantes to Montreal trip is straightforward, I can do it in my sleep.

Actually, I’m hoping to sleep for most of the flight. It’s part of the plan, you see.

Emotionally, it’s not that easy to leave.

“Is that yours?”

“No, it’s mom’s charger.”

“This thing?”

“Tweezers. Mom’s as well. And before you ask, this is an epilator and it stays here because I bought it in France and this kind of appliance doesn’t run on 110 volts unless you want each hair to be plucked out very slowly—and yes, I tried.”

My mom left for work at 7 a.m. My dad is supervising our final packing efforts. He’s allowed around us because 1) he’s not a morning person and he is as sleepy as us 2) he doesn’t cry 3) he thinks he masters packing because like most men his age, he did the one-year compulsory French military service in his twenties.

“Cool, you left a few cans of Coke!”


“Bon voyage!”

Mark and Feng rush downstairs. I follow them without looking back and I make sure to stay focused on a book I’m not actually reading during the thirty-minute bus ride to the airport.

I have practice, you see.

There’s a long queue to go through security. It’s everything I hate—slow and full of people saying goodbye. The couple in front of me and their two kids can’t let go of the grandparents. “Au revoir papi au revoir mamie!” The goodbyes are never final because every few metres, as the queue moves, the grandparents wave goodbye again. “Au revoir papi au revoir mamie!” The little girl, who is maybe three years old, manages to wrap the loose strap of her dad’s backpack of around her neck. “Non non non,” I say. “C’est dangereux!” The mom thanks me. “My parents are banned from the airport,” I joke. She nods. She looks stoic enough until she no longer is and I look away because I know she is about to cry and I will too.

Passengers are a weird mix of French retirees with their Guide du routard and big winter jackets (apparently, the guidebook forgot to mention it’s unlikely to snow yet), binational families (the French half is the one crying) and students. I think about Isa who is coming back to Canada this fall, I think about all the immigrants who moved across the ocean for better opportunities, for love or just because and I feel completely overwhelmed by the thought of so many souls away from home or looking for a new one.

I briefly remember how excited I used to be when I was flying to Canada, back when I was travelling to France alone and leaving Nantes meant going to see Feng.

There’s an even longer queue to go through passport control and by the time we make it to the gate, boarding is well underway.

Retirees sitting too close to young kids are sighing loudly, kids are complaining because the entertainment system isn’t on yet and parents are trying to fit booze and cigarettes—French souvenirs or personal stash for the months to come—in the overhead bins.

I close my eyes and I listen to the flight attendant giving the safety briefing to each family with a baby. Child must be held in arms, bottles can be warmed up at the back, there’s a change table in this bathroom… Parents look either freaked out either blasé depending on the number of trips they have under their belt.

We haven’t taken off by the time we were supposed to and the flight will be longer than planned because of a storm.

I close my eyes and fall asleep.

When I wake up, food is being served and Air Transat ran out of the only acceptable option—pasta—by the time the flight attendants get to us. Mark isn’t very happy with chicken curry, neither is Feng. I butter a tiny piece of bread for Mark.

Fuck. I wanted pasta too.

Kids are insensitive little bastards. Well, maybe not yours, but mine definitely is. “I can’t wait to fly to Canada,” he’s been saying for the past few days, as if he was held hostage. “I’m going to Canada!” he tells my parents who stoically listen to him listing the perks of the Great White North—mostly specific toys he has and the fact people conveniently speak English.

With his red “Canada” hoodie, he looks like a tourism ad.

I tell myself he had a good time in France, he just doesn’t understand that we can’t pop over for the weekend when he will eventually miss something or someone. After all, Mark is more Canadian than Feng or I, Canada is his home. And he’s mostly happy to go back to Canada because it means watching movies in the plane.

“And I can’t wait to see Yéye and năinai!”

Never mind the rationale I’ve just developed, most of the time, I just want to slap him.

Yeah, I can’t wait to see my in-laws as well. You bet. Oh, they will be here, waiting for us at the Greyhound station, exactly where they reluctantly dropped us off six weeks ago. I wonder what the blame du jour will be—mark is too tan, mark isn’t fluent in French, mark isn’t appropriately dressed, mark looks tired… take your pick.

The Montreal airport-Ottawa Greyhound bus is thirty minutes late. Feng is leaning on the cart and falling asleep, Mark is goofing around because he’s overtired—obviously, watching movies was more important than sleeping…—and I’m smoking the cigarettes I couldn’t smoke for the past ten hours. I don’t get bad looks because this is Quebec, the smoking section of Canada.

The bus fills up fast and the last few passengers are told to take the next one. We have seats. We have experience securing seats in a packed bus.

It’s cold inside. I do the motherly thing and put a blanket on Mark, then I do the sensible thing and ask him to put his head on my lap to sleep. It’s not just love, he also keeps me warm.

Although he weighs a ton now. Ouch, my bladder.

The sun is setting by the time we finally exit Montreal after being stuck in the traffic for an hour.

I mentally reframe the evening. It’s going to be late. Shower for Mark, then bedtime… fuck, what are we going to eat? I heard Feng begging his parents not to fill the fridge, they always buy weird stuff we don’t eat. What time does the supermarket close? Right, 11 p.m. Can I make it on time? Probably. Do I want to go grocery shopping? Probably not.

The bus is speeding up on the highway. The scenery feels familiar. It should. I’m going home, don’t I?

Why doesn’t it feel like home?

Can I have several homes?

Waiting to go through security at Nantes Atlantique Airport

Boarding Air Transat TS 603 to Montreal

Boarding Air Transat TS 603 to Montreal

Waiting for the Greyhound bus to Ottawa at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

Waiting for the Greyhound bus to Ottawa at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

Waiting for the Greyhound bus to Ottawa at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

Mark wrapped into a blanket by my in-laws on the way from the Greyhound station to home


About Author

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


  1. Martin Penwald on

    I’m going back in France in november, and I was a little bit pissed by Icelandair because there is no Keflavik-Edmonton flight anymore which was very convenient. I had to choose between a Keflavik-Toronto-Edmonton with almost 4 hours of layover and a 00:36 arrival time or a Keflavik-Vancouver-Edmonton with a 2 hours layover and a 21:50 arrival time. It’s pretty annoying. Next time i’ll try something else. Maybe the Edmonton-Amsterdam’s KLM direct flight, with a train to Lille.

    Home is where you park.

    • 😆 I like your philosophy too!

      We have it easy on this side of Canada, going to Europe is pretty straightforward. I flew KLM a few times, they’re good. Also, you get these funky Dutch waffles as a snack.

          • Martin Penwald on

            No, it’s not too cold, there was -1° this morning in Whitehorse, and up to 18° yesterday afternoon.
            I had to deliver a load from Milwaukee, WI, in Whitehorse and I pick up here another load for Vancouver this morning.
            Lot of forest, green and yellow colors, with lakes and rivers on the side, and mountains at the back. Some of them had snow on top.
            It’s beautiful, but you can find the same thing in west of Alberta in Banff or Jasper. But it’s not as vast as here.

          • It’s funny what you’re saying about the scenery being somewhat similar to some parts of BC and Alberta. Yukon kind of makes people dream but I guess it can be not *that* exotic. I felt the same thing abut Patagonia. When we got to Ushuaia (which took… a long time and many buses), I was like “mmm… yep, looks like Canada!”

          • Yes, the trip is interesting, the scenery exists somewhere else. But for people interested by wildlife (either for fishing, hunting or photographing), there is a different fauna there. For example, I’ve seen a herd of wood bisons on the side of the highway, around 30 or 40 of them glandouilling on the side of the highway just south of the BC/YT border.
            And there are indeed travelers from everywhere crossing the vaste spaces just for the sake of it, I guess. I passed a German-plated 4-wheel drive mini-van and a Dutch-plated 4-wheel drive truck on the way.

          • The concept of traveling to get there appeals to me, that’s why we made our way all the way down to Patagonia as well.

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bison… but I’m stealing the neologism “glandouilling” 😉

  2. Awww you almost made me cry… until the comment on kids and Mark!
    I mean kids are awful in so many ways! this summer the two little brats I have for kids made their grandmother cry.
    I swear, she was here only for two weeks, but after one week they came to her to ask: “when are you going back to France, you’ve been here long enough already”. I mean, they do love her, but well kids are indeed sometimes insensitive.
    Afterwards it was funny but still…
    Welcome back!

  3. Et bien … Je lis beaucoup de lassitude dans ce billet … Ça me semble clair qu’il est temps d’envisager un départ vers un nouvel ailleurs ? Avez-vous envisagé de bouger au Canada, ou même de venir vivre en Europe (pas nécessairement en France, peut-être dans un pays anglophone, type Uk ou Irlande) ? Est-ce que ton mari et toi vous pourriez transposer vos métiers respectifs facilement dans un autre pays ? Après on peut toujours changer de métier, rien n’est impossible.
    Bon courage pour la rentrée.

    • Tu lis très bien 🙂 Ça fait un bout de temps que j’ai d’autres envies, mais je ne suis pas très claire dans ma tête encore, et pour de nombreuses raisons, nous sommes un peu coincés à Ottawa. Tout est possible, mais faut le vouloir… et je suis celle qui aspire au changement 🙂 Une chose est sûre, Feng n’immigrera pas ailleurs. Comme beaucoup de couples (d’après ce que je vois autour de moi), la question de savoir où vivre est toujours un point délicat. Cela l’a-t-il été pour vous/toi?

      • Réponse en deux points : mon premier couple (mari allemand) s’est formé pendant nos études (vive Erasmus) et rapidement il est devenu évident qu’on vivrait en France, parce que c’est c’était notre souhait à tous les deux. L’envie d’aller vivre en Allemagne m’a effleurée parfois, uniquement pour que nos deux enfants aient une vraie expérience biculturelle et deviennent réellement bilingues, mais cela n’est resté qu’une vague idée … Après une année d’expat aux US qui s’est avérée un fiasco, notre couple est arrivé au bout de son histoire. Divorce etc …
        Mon deuxième couple (mari bosnien) s’est formé il y a 4 ans, et nos situations respectives étaient bien différentes (moi divorcée avec 2 enfants à charge et un CDI en France / lui sans enfant et entre deux petits boulots en Bosnie) donc quand on a décidé qu’on voulait tenter de vivre ensemble, il a tout quitté pour venir vivre en France avec moi. Dans tous les cas, il y a ce qu’on aimerait faire et il y a la réalité (j’ai 47 ans, deux grands enfants dont il faut financer les études, et des parents vieillissants sur lesquels je dois veiller car je suis fille unique). Je regrette parfois de ne pas avoir été plus aventureuse mais le temps passe vite …

        • Merci de ta réponse! Ça m’éclaire un peu, je suis toujours curieuse du parcours de vie des autres. Comme tu le dis et le constaste, il y a toujours ce mélange d’envies, de réalités, le tout saupoudré d’un peu de sens pratique (effectivement, venir en France de Bosnie avait du sens, dans le contexte). Je suis assez curieuse du “fiasco américain” que tu mentionnes. Je sais que certaines choses aux États-Unis t’ont fait bizarre, mais est-ce qu’il y avait d’autres raisons à ce que tu nommes un “échec”?

  4. You can have two homes. Or even three, or just no home at all!
    Alas, I doubt we’ll be in Canada this fall (at least we’ll be there to pass the canadian customs in order to activate our visas) but won’t be settling there until early next year (let’s hope) due to health issues 🙁 And you know how the healthcare is in Canada without an insurance card… 🙁

  5. When my dad asked my kids if they like to travel on a plane, they replied “yes, because we drink juice and eat chips and cookies!”. You’d think I don’t feed them (truth, I don’t feed them chips and cookies, but in the plane what the hell as long as it keeps them quiet!) 😆

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