From Iceland — Expat Diaries #1: Puddle Duckling

Expat Diaries #1: Puddle Duckling

Published September 18, 2012

Expat Diaries #1: Puddle Duckling
Rex Beckett

I had been expecting the latest care package from my mother for a couple of weeks when, this evening, just before dinner was ready, the doorbell rang. Moments later my boyfriend re-appeared in our doorway with said parcel in his hands, much to my glee. The parcel was a saviour delivery of orthotic supports and ankle braces for my severely fucked up feet, wrapped in plastic pharmacy bags and rubber bands.
My parents’ parcels to me are almost purely business. We email constantly and talk on Skype frequently—so except at my birthday/Christmas (same thing), brown cardboard boxes from Canada to me contain necessities, personal documents, clothing and sometimes delicious food. None of it is gift wrapped or attached with sentimental messages or long parables of description. To a stranger, they might look like the sloppiest eBay delivery imaginable. I love this.
Each parcel also contains, just for posterity, a minimum of one completely surprise, frivolous, random and generally incredibly silly item. This is something I have certainly never asked for, hinted at wanting, ever considered needing or in some cases knew existed.
After tearing open the tape and lifting out the various pharmacy bags of medical gear, I found a small clear plastic cylinder full of some crumply yellow object.
I took the lid off and pulled out a shower cap made to look like a duck’s face, complete 3D bill made of inflated orange plastic. I put it on my head and looked at my boyfriend. “Fucking. Awesome,” he said, delightfully baffled. “This… is my mother,” I replied.
Since the beginning of my slow, on-and-off move to Iceland in 2009, my mum has probably sent me close to two-dozen parcels. Once, in a huge box full of my own clothing, she sent me a box of Saltine crackers. I was actually hopeful because Saltines are one of my most longed-for food items that I can’t get here, but I was still sure to abide by my Grandma Lois’ lifelong gift-wrapping mantra—“Don’t believe the box.” Nope. The box was full of delicious crackers.
Here is a small sampling of other random items that have found their way to me, via my mum in Montreal:
– Four pairs of day-glow neon gym socks with less-than-zero elasticity
– An extra-large, dusty green t-shirt with the slogan ‘Single and Ready to Mingle’ (I wasn’t even technically single at the time)
– More food colouring than I will ever use in my lifetime (I only needed the blue variety)
– A miniature teddy-bear wearing corduroy overalls which now leans on a Garfield figuring in our bathroom
– A “snow globe” made of interlocking slices of paper and plastic that lies flat one way, 3D another
– Electrolyte rehydration powder mix, orange flavoured
– Matching oversized monkey-toques and kitten-mittens for me and my boyfriend (Montrealers have a thing with silly hats, I can’t explain this)
And now, the duck face shower cap. If not having eventually turned out to actually be practical for one purpose or another, all of these have brought me stunned amusement. I’m half-tempted at this point to paint the duck face the colour of spray tan and the bill a rancid peach-pink and renaming it the Guidocap. It might happen. However more than anything, even if none of them had ever brought me any “use,” so to speak, their accumulation has brought on the gradual dull throb of homesickness, because as I reflexively told my boyfriend at this latest addition to the roster, all of these things are like pieces of my mother that have managed to break out of her hilarious, delightful, thoughtful and well-wishing character and land in my transatlantic living room.
This afternoon, a few hours before the arrival of duck face shower cap, I was having a coffee break with a friend. I told her that I was finally feeling homesickness. I admitted that when I ran into some immigration nonsense back in the spring and had to go to Montreal for three weeks, I was really quite happy to be there and genuinely sad to go. It can take a while to resolve that you can love the place you chose to live in and love the place you had no choice but to grow up in and neither love diminishes the other. Because of this, I have always quelled my outward unabashed homesickness and denied its possibility or obvious presence.
When I was a kid, my mum took my sister and me to see a puppet show, which we fucking loved. On the bus home we asked her how those puppets worked and who made them talk. Never one for romanticising mystery, she explained that people put their hands inside those puppets and then moved them up and down. “Like this,” she said, flapping her four aligned fingers against her upturned thumb. It looked like a duck. My sister and I were amazed. We petted her hand and gazed as she nasally made it say hi to us. Then she raised her left hand and flapped it the same way and it had a friend. They were Bill, the right-hand joker, and Arthur, the left-hand straight-duck. For the rest of my childhood, those ducks got us to go to bed, got us to eat shit we hated and even got me to take the cough medicine that always made me barf.
The shower cap might not have the same sort of influence over me that Bill and Arthur did, but it is my mother—from her duck-hands to my duck-head. It is also the riddle solver, the one that puts all the other ridiculous random gifts in my purely functional parcels into perspective. That although I have moved away, by very determined choice, she can take care of me at a distance and the simple facts of our parent-child bond can transcend nostalgia and into the physical realm. My mum has found her natural way of making herself a part of my expat experience, of existing in the place I now do and letting me know that I can paddle away, but I’m still a duckling.

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