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Unpacking

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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