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Before takeoff, I was pushing the wrong way down the crowded aisle in the airplane, and the young woman trying to get past me to her seat said, “Excuse me. I’m sorry,” though I was at fault. There’s a Canadian, I thought. I’M GOING HOME!

We flew over the whole of England, countless tiny crowded plots of land, villages and towns, and then the ocean, and then, at last, many hours later, the first glimpse of Canada – a thousand miles of nothing but trees. Labrador. Nothing except trees and an occasional road or lake – after five months in Europe, an incomprehensible expanse of uninhabited land and wilderness.
I was concerned going through customs that they’d smell the Camembert and chèvre I smuggled in, but they let me though, and there waiting at the gate was my son, my very tall, handsome, kind, funny son. A long, joyful hug, my face pressed to his breastbone, the moment we’ve both been waiting so long for.
Yet, thrilled as I was to see him, I couldn’t help but notice the new, very noticeable, long tattoo all down his arm, joining the five or six others; the new circle thingie in his ear. Even as I melted with love for my child, it hurt to see what he is doing to his body. He is coming through the worst year of his life, during which, among other things, a good friend died of an accidental overdose. He’s still traumatised. The new tattoo was a favourite expression of his friend’s, scrolled down his arm in the dead boy’s handwriting.
An hour after landing, I was overwhelmed by the essence of parenthood – the greatest love imaginable, mixed with pain and fear. Regret and guilt. Empathy and acceptance. Pain. Fear. Love. And then he told me about trying to defend a friend of his who’d been jumped, and now he has a fractured rib and three staples in his head.
Let it go, Beth. Let it go. He’s alive, he’s wonderful, he’ll get through.
He brought me to the house, which is rented out till Sept. 1 but where I have access to the basement suite that flooded last month, to leave my suitcases in the subterranean disaster area – the once cosy suite dirty, furniture piled up, the floor peeling, a small lake in the drainage area outside the door. The garden is an overgrown jungle. Rooting through my bags, I couldn’t seem to find anything, including the most important notebook of the trip, that contains all the names and addresses – did I leave it on the plane? Where was everything? Waiting, a giant pile of mail, including angry notices about bills that inadvertently have not been paid. Ryerson has had a computer melt-down and registration for the courses has been difficult and delayed.
Etc.
The family renting upstairs, an extremely nice couple with a small daughter, were welcoming and helpful, allowing me to borrow the phone – call my daughter, my bank manager, a few close friends. But for a bit there, something of a slump. I think I’ll go back to Paris. Life is simpler there.
It’s the oddest thing, being home but not home. I get my house back Monday night or Tuesday and in the meantime, spent my first night at my daughter’s, where we too had a joyful reunion and a dinner of Thai takeout. I have to remember that I often won’t understand my children’s choices; that they are their own people. I’ve just published an article in More magazine saying exactly that. And yet I want the best for them, and what “the best” means is what I think is the best; the right way to live life is my way. Not their way. A hard lesson to learn over and over again.
Spent last night at my friend and neighbour Jane’s where I am now. She made spare ribs for supper – mmm, one thing you don’t get in France. In a few minutes, back to the basement, to sort through the bills, try to put some order in the chaos and begin to chop down the garden. Later today I’ll go to Ottawa to visit my mother, aunt and brother, partly because I am anxious to see them and partly to be fed and have somewhere, for the next few nights, to sleep.
If this sounds like self-pitying complaint, it’s not. It’s good, very very good, to be home. Outside Jane’s window right now, someone is talking in English. Canadian English. What a beautiful sound.
Riding in the streetcar, I look out at Toronto. Extremely casual in comparison with Paris. The streetscape often a mind-bogglingly ugly jumble – stores allowed to put up whatever they want, no matter how hideous it is. I think about my friend in Paris talking about the city’s “architectural unity.” The idea is meaningless here, unfortunately. And why is everyone carrying paper cups of coffee in their hands as they walk? When you want to drink coffee, you should sit down at a cafe with your friends, not stroll about.
There’ll be a lot of comparisons like this, the next while.
But I went back to the Y, to receive a whole bunch of hugs: “Welcome back!” The most marvellous reunion, after the one with my kids, was at one of my favourite haunts – Doubletake, the second-hand store around the corner. When I walked in, Jasmine and the other East-Indian women who work there came over to greet me. “We have been wondering when you’d be back. We’ve missed you.” I was floored.
Imagine – I was deeply missed at the second-hand store. Maybe I should think about what that means, but not right now.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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A new book by Beth Kaplan, published by Mosaic Press – “Midlife Solo”

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