I was in Osborne Village last night, getting my haircut and then running a few errands. It was misty and was drizzling a little, and the air was humid and smelled vaguely of pot and delicious fried foods from around the world. The aroma instantly transported me to my younger days in Vancouver, in Kits or East Van, and I thought to myself, “this is the smell of my misspent youth”, feeling happily nostalgic. Of course, I was being melodramatic (I was actually a fairly responsible young adult), but smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers, and I find for the most part, I love those unexpected recollections brought on by that sort of sudden sensory experience.
But it made me sad in a way, too. I’m an introvert, and as a child, once I realized this about myself, I think it caused me a certain degree of loneliness and anxiety, despite always having had friends. Even then, I understood that the world favours extroversion. Looking back on my 20s, many of my most cherished memories from that time are highly social and decidedly not alone. So many awesome adventures with my friends: drinking sangria on the beach, stumbling to Solly’s for a coffee and babka on a Sunday morning, dissecting the day’s successes and failures over after-work drinks, a certain legendary hobo-themed party, and all the little moments of fun and frivolity between.
But it was also during this time that I came to discover – and embrace – that being by myself was a pleasure; something to be savoured. Nowadays, I keep finding myself thinking about how lovely it was to walk to and from work on a sunny spring morning, the magnolia trees in bloom and the cherry blossoms falling all around me. I listened to the several years’ worth of the A Way with Words podcast on those walks; just me and the words and my thoughts. I was accountable to no one other than myself. I did as I pleased, and I explored the city on my own terms. I’d go to a movie on my own, and eat popcorn for dinner. If I felt like going somewhere after work, I did, because unless I had other plans, no one was going to wonder where I was. The freedom was almost endless. I miss it.
Since moving to Winnipeg, though, and with family being my top priority, it feels like I’ve had very little opportunity develop and nurture my identity as an individual within the city. It’s silly, really, to think about consciously seeking out this time, because it doesn’t really work that way. You develop relationships by living them. And of course, I truly would never trade family life away to have the chance to be a swingin’ 20-something single now.
But my moment in Osborne Village last night made me think, it’s more than just the “who am I?” time in Winnipeg that I feel I’ve not had enough of. I think it’s the impossibility of having established any relationship with the Winnipeg that existed here before I did. I realize this is getting pretty abstract, and I’m not even sure I totally grasp what this sense of missing is. Maybe it’s some broad, civic incarnation of FOMO. How could I have been here, while also having those wonderful experiences on the other side of the country at the same time? Es imposible.
It’s an interesting exercise in my imagination, though. What would it have been like to spend my 20s here? Where would I have made my stomping grounds? Which pub would have been “my local”? What concerts would I have seen, and at which venues? When I hear Winnipeggers my age talk about the bars they used to go to (and the drink specials… oh, the drink specials!) and the events that stand out in their memories, I sometimes have a moment of regret that I can’t actually relate to any of it.
Because I am interested in the city as a fascinating place, worthy of getting to know, I’ve become pretty good at recognizing Winnipeg-specific references (I probably even cut the mustard sometimes!). But I realize there are things that no amount of YouTube will be able to teach me. I will never really know what it was like to grow up here. And I suppose the inherent sadness in that comes from the fact that likewise, no one here will really ever know what it was like to grow up where I did. Why should the the inability to relate on such an inconsequential level matter? I really don’t know.
Maybe it’s that my older child will starting school soon, and it feels kind of scary to have no idea what’s in store for him. I guess I’ve always had this assumption that if you grew up here, then your kids starting school wouldn’t be a big deal because you’ve been in their shoes, you’re familiar with the local schools and school systems, so no big deal. But just writing that out, I see how naive that is. After all, how many kids go the same school their parents did? And even if they did, what are the odds that many of same teachers and administrators would even still be there?
I think maybe, as a newer Winnipegger, I get a deep impression of permanence and stability in the population, and so I’ve been assuming that certain things in this city are timeless and unchanging, and therefore comforting and familiar. But I realize now that it’s a bit of a stretch to apply that logic to things like your kids starting school. (I honestly never understood how parents could be so emotional about their kid’s first day of kindergarten, but I am eating crow now. It’s months away and I’m already feeling teary. Another walking, talking cliché!)
And so. This has been quite a rambling, introspective post, but I think I have come to one optimistic conclusion. I have been focusing too much on the past, forgetting that history is in the making all the time. What remains to be seen is how I will look back on this time, the trenches of early parenthood, the most physically attached and freedom-restricted of all stages. I’m actually really looking forward to finding out, long from now, what I remember fondly or distinctly about this time; this experience of negotiating a civic life not just as a full-fledged grown-up, but as a parent. I think I’ll be okay. When I really think about it, I have a lot of sweet memories in my back pocket already.