woke up yesterday to a July morning so damp and raw i had to swathe the kids in sweatshirts, jeans and socks just so we could huddle in our early morning stupor without getting the collective shivers. it’s not that we were tenting, or even in a cottage.  just at home, in our stolid old Maritime house, replete with insulation. and furnace. with our teeth chattering.

turning up the heat in July either feels like sinning or being sinned against, i can’t decide which.

and i thought, other people are having summer, like, REAL summer. where they don’t need SOCKS. and i turned a bilous shade of green that matches my eyes.

other people were apparently in the City of Big Shoulders, either meatpacking or Oprahing or doing wild, drunken things with each other at BlogHer ’09, or…uh…whatever else it is people do in Chicago. i will admit imagination fails me on this front. sometimes one needs to feel a place under one’s feet to foster any fantasies about it.

but they were there, those other people. or if not there, at least warm.  i spit the last from between my teeth with venom.

because i was here, staring down my last week as a stay-at-home-mom in temperatures better suited to October and a town better suited to anything but teeny tiny kids in rotten weather, and i sulked in my ennui.

sometimes one gets to know the sidewalk so well one forgets that it ever held any magic, or made one fill with longing.

five years ago today, my feet were in Paris. i got lost wandering, mapless, and gave not two shits. there were cafes in every neighbourhood, even the weird commercial garment district i found myself circling. at first i thought i was a red-light district, then realized that nope, there were no live women anywhere to be seen. it was likely the block from which prostitution retailers the world over buy in bulk, but, heck, it was Paris. even tacky lamé fishnets look exquisite in Paris.  and Parisiens managed to somehow both smile and yet ignore me utterly all with the same little flicks of their wrists, but even the smoke they blew in my face smelled sophisticated.

eight years ago, it was Ireland, a tiny little town with ancient stone walls and sad old men in the bus station, and the whole place sodden with history.  and my feet tread the cobbles of tracks used for millenia, out in the impossible green of the drizzly countryside, and i’d barely stuck out my thumb when a car pulled up to offer a ride and respite from the rain. and i spent that night playing shaker egg for a band who sang ballads in a rickety pub.

and later, under a sliver of moon, i walked down to where i could smell the Atlantic Ocean in the harbour, and i peered out across the water and tried to imagine the prosaic sidewalks of home on the other side and i keened and moaned for this place i come from, this place i then lived half a world away from.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++two years ago, when BlogHer was last in Chicago, Whymommy offered me her ticket. she’d just been diagnosed with cancer, was embarking on an urgent, consuming battle for her life, and couldn’t go.

the conference was only weeks away. it was my second morning at a new job, my first time back to full-time work after Oscar’s birth.  i sat in front of my computer screen the morning her email came in with tears streaming down my face, moved and aghast and utterly steamrolled by the honour of her asking, by her generosity, by my fear for her.

that was before i’d met any bloggers in person. that was the first time i really understood why bloggers would even want to get together for something like BlogHer. marketing for me is foreign, awkward, terrifying, like door-to-door vaccum sales or my agnostic self trying to witness for Jesus.  the idea of a conference for what i considered a hobby had baffled me. but the idea of sitting face to face with all these people with whom i spoke of myself far more freely than with the real people in my life…that appealed.

so i sat there at my desk feeling sorry for myself that morning two years ago, my feet encased in the cement of impossibility.  just up and buying a plane ticket to Chicago felt as ridiculously crazy to me as a ticket to the moon. i’d just started a job, after the panicky gap that came at the end of my mat leave income. we had longstanding plans for Dave’s family reunion in NB that weekend, and leaving fifteen-month-old Oscar for three days while i spent a few thousand on a trip to Chicago sounded surreal to me. we’d already tried flying with O just months before and taking him never crossed my mind.

i told Whymommy no, thank you.

i wonder now how my horizons got so small.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++i for a brief window in my life, i had the freedom – financial and personal – to hop on a plane when i wanted, to consider vacations in Thailand or summers in Ireland or a Ph.D program in Switzerland within my grasp.

i paid for that freedom by being an expat English teacher, a self-perceived exile, with no clue how the hell to ever get back home. we didn’t make much money, but we paid almost no taxes and i had no debt, so income was discretionary. i ate the world up in those few years, and called myself ESL Whore with a tilt of my chin, and scrabbled desperately to make a plan that would allow repatriation someday, so i could have a professional life that i respected and a world that didn’t shift on its axis year to year.

i snort a little, writing that.

because we came home pregnant with a baby who would be born too soon and die and all the best-laid, carefully-timed plans fell apart and four years later i am still struggling, Humpty-Dumpty-like, to put a life together again.  not just a professional life, but an internal one, one in which i have a sense of agency, one in which i can pretend to see more than a few weeks down any road, one in which i can make plans and not expect that the world will bitch-slap my undeserving ass more often than not.  one in which my horizons are not so self-limited, so small. one in which planning a trip to Chicago – or next year’s NYC BlogHer – weeks or months in advance wouldn’t seem comical, insurmountable, foolish. one in which a Ph.D or an M.A. in counselling or a professional program in writing or project management – hell, i’m flexible – are things one can enroll in, locally, if one is interested and talented and willing to pay. one in which i dare things, one more time.

i wonder if i chose the wrong place. or if i am just the wrong person, with the wrong timing as usual.

next week i start teaching ESL again. this time without the four-months paid vacations and tax-free status.  it is a safe job, one i’m relieved to have.  i will be working for someone i like and respect.

but i could have done this job twelve years ago, and it stings a little, to recognize that at thirty-seven this is where i am. and that i seem to have no clue how to get anywhere else, literally or figuratively.

the sense of belonging i feel here in this place that is my home is a conflicted one.  i was born to this red mud and this insular, proud people and yet i feel forever slightly an outsider here, a poor relation in this place that is itself a poor relation to civilization.  sometimes i feel the place is too small, too lacking in opportunity. more often i end up feeling too small for what opportunities it does have, as if i lack some key capacity to operate appropriately in this particular theatre where people still ask “who’s your father?” and make me feel gauche in a way Paris never could.

people flock here from all over the world, imagine this place a pastoral haven from their own daily grinds, their own burdens of home and responsibility and traffic snarl and concrete. and it is. and i am lucky, huddled here on my couch with these two children in their wooly winter clothing, even in July.

but there are days i wake up and imagine my feet on the pavement, somewhere, under my own steam, and i wish i knew where that place was and how to get there.