We had spent the day exploring the most beautiful sites I'd ever seen. Museum after museum, monument after monument, we looked up and around in awe of all the magic we were witnessing; Boticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo- Geniuses, and to be even close to their creations, so close to the things they touched, the air they breathed...just magic. My chic leather sandals I bought specifically for this trip make me feel as Italian as I can feel; an American mutt with zero Italian blood, and with my designer sunglasses and bag I bought here, I feel fully integrated into this foreign, beautiful world....And my husband; Well, he is ever the model of GQ perfection. We laugh heartily at passionate, hands-speaking Italians as they fawn over our perfectly behaved and equally as well-coifed children. Luca giggles as he's passed from Italian mama to Italian mama, and Beckham takes up a game of hybrid soccer/catch with a group of children by the fountain, as we sip limoncello, lick gelato, and repeat over and over until we fall into a pile of luxurious Italian linens at the end of a long, fulfilling day, exhausted and energized all at once.
Bahaha. Kidding. SO, so kidding.
Yes, I had big dreams of this Italian escape. Truth be told, it had been my 1/4 Italian husband's dream to travel here, and I wanted desperately to make it come true. I wanted desperately to prove how capable we were, how completely we would be able to break the stereotype of overwhelmed 30-somethings with kids who lost their mojo to see the world in exchange for car pools and backyard barbecues.
Now, I know the secret: It's not that's anyone's lost their mojo. They just are in better touch with reality than we are, have been, or may ever be.
The reality is: We have walked by several beautiful places, sites and museums. With the exception of The Vatican, we have unsuccessfully maneuvered every.single.one. My chic leather sandals are less "chic" and more "practical", and I feel like the most obvious American in these cities with my blonde hair, large stature, and more-obvious-than-I-thought-it-would-be-scaredy-cat money belt. 110% of the time, I am sweating. And not, like, shiny sweating. Like, pouring down my face, forming a pool at my cleavage, soaking through my shirt sweat. Not because it's necessarily unreasonably hot, but because we're walking more than usual, climbing 6 zillion steps, toting 2 rather-unwilling (or over-willing) children, acting as pack mules, and finding little relief when we stop to eat in air conditioned restaurants, where our youngest child- who is typically the world's most agreeable baby- screams bloody murder, soliciting stares and sighs from literally every human within a 20 foot radius. No Italian mamas take him while I eat. No Italian children invite Beckham to play (there are barely any anywhere it seems?). The limoncello is delicious, but is used as much as elixir as it is an experience, and the gelato licking is almost always overwhelmed by the "gelato supervision" of a 6 year old who is quickly unraveling via a dark chocolate sugar high, while simultaneously getting gelato all over all the things. At the end of the day, we put our children to sleep in the living room, which has the only exterior door, and we become hostages in our bedroom, with spotty internet and no TV, with several hours to kill, both of us- as in love, if not more than, any couple I've ever known- so exhausted and weary we can barely form words to talk to one another.
Ok, so this isn't all day every day, either and we've had some absolute magic on this trip. The entirety of our time on Capri was brilliant, and as amazing and happy as it looked on Instagram. The Vatican and Sistine Chapel were awe-inspiring. If we had to be held hostage anywhere, our place in Florence is divine, and even if all we do is get to look at the city without making it to any of the restaurants, museums or places on our wish list, it's a city worth being in- stunningly beautiful, far less frantic than Rome, but just so...indescribable in its feeling. I know how lucky I am to be here, and to have had this time. But I'm sad that it wasn't/isn't perfect for Shaun. I'm sad we didn't get whatever movie I imagined in my head; the dancing under the moonlight in the Piazza, the biking (for him) through the Tuscan hills, the wine tasting, the "Walk in the Clouds" through vineyards, the gondola rides, the hikes, the swims....
It's hit me many times, but never more than tonight, Saturday. We're staying in the most lovely Villa about 10 minutes into the foothills of Florence, with breathtaking views of the Duomo and the rest of the city. Our host, Vivi, is the most kind, generous 75 year old woman, with her children and grandchildren living here, among the 4 guest suites she has on her Tuscan Villa estate, complete with gardens and a lovely pool. We went out to the pool after an afternoon of walking around the smaller town we're near- San Dominico- and from a couple villas over, I heard laughter and chatting...very obviously a family having a dinner party. And I realized, in the middle of this dream-like place I've fantasized about over and over, that I already HAVE my dreams come true. And they have nothing to do with limoncello and vineyards. Nothing to do with being put together, or perfectly behaved children. My dreams fulfilled are about my family- my big, loud, precious family that, especially in the last couple years, I've come to understand make my life. I thought about how, if we were on the Cape tonight, we would likely be at Silvamar, or my cousin Erin's house, or our own, barbecuing grocery store burgers and making a salad. The several children- Erin's, mine, my niece Alex's, and whoever else happened to show up, would be out of control, no doubt, circling the living room hopped up on sugar, or just one another. Someone would probably get hurt, or yelled at, or ignored. But we would all be happy, together, and....full.
It made me think about people we've lost this week. People who seem to have had it all. And I wonder if they had a Silvamar. Not that that could have saved them, or not, but I've realized, sometimes there's nothing more challenging and lonely than striving for the instagram-perfect experiences, when, in actuality, it's the mess of every day that makes you collapse at the end of the day fulfilled, exhausted and energized all at the same time.
This trip has been messy, but I feel like Shaun and I have gotten a Ph D in parent traveling with two young kids internationally. Here are the lessons I've learned. For my future reference, if nothing else:
Tomorrow, we try and see the Uffizi. Fingers crossed for minimal meltdowns. If we accomplish only that, we win.
Monday, we see Shaun's dad's exhibit at a local museum here in Florence. If we accomplish only that, we win.
I'm glad for this time I've had learning myself, and my boys and my men in a new light. I cannot wait to be home. I think the next time we adventure like this it will be when our youngest is 8-9. And that's ok. I'm ready for some nesting. I'm ready for dinners at Silvamar. I'm ready for family, and friends, and ice cream, and boats, and beaches, and every day, and love, and time alone, and quiet, and familiarity....because, while those may not be Michelangelo's or Boticelli's masterpieces, those are mine.
Sunday nights are hard in this house. No matter how graceful the divorce or the blended family- and I think ours rivals maybe any I’ve ever seen- there is no cure for the commonplace broken heart of a child who doesn’t understand why ALL their parents can’t live under the same roof.
For those new to my life, Beckham is my 6 year old son. I made him with Jon (my once-husband, my now-ex, my friend) and raise him with Jon, of course, my husband Shaun- both of whom are called “dad” by our boy. Shaun and I live in Nashville with Beckham, our 5 month old, Luca, and our 12 year old puppy (yes, he’s a puppy), Otis. Beckham is with us mostly, but spends every other weekend or so with Jon, Jon’s parents- Nana and Papa- and sometimes Jon’s girlfriend, Tracie.
Over the course of navigating these waters, Beckham’s grief for us not all living together (perhaps his only disappointment...or at least the only one he vocalizes) has morphed into strange shapes and articulations. When he was little, he’d just poop. Anywhere, anytime. All up in whatever clothes he was wearing. Then, he went through a phase where he’d just act wound up. Now, it’s maybe the most familiar manifestation of disappointment: tears. But not over the obvious stuff. No. Instead, he picks something that shouldn’t be upsetting and somehow configures it into something that is.
Tonight, it took the form of braised short ribs.
Now, Beckham has been an optional vegetarian basically since he was born. In the past year, he’s grown his tastebuds, trying burgers, barbecue chicken and fish (if it’s fried a la fish sticks). Anything else is pushing it. So I shouldn’t have been surprised.
But as I spooned dinner out, he just lost it. Through sobs, he told me how much he didn’t like ANYTHING I had given him and it wasn’t fair. Shaun and I gently sent him back and forth to his bedroom to “take a minute” and “pull himself together” more times than I can count, until finally, we prompted him to take a shower.
He wailed about us not being fair, especially disallowing him from watching the predators play hockey. We heard his cries nearing hyperventilation through the running of the shower water.
He came down, eyes bloodshot and cheeks tear stained, and I took his hand to put him to bed, as he refused dinner a jillionth time.
We lay in his bed- hiccups of sadness still engulfing him with its heavy hands. He told me how upset he was he didn’t get to see the predators play. I promised him highlights over breakfast. He told me he didn’t like the food. I told him maybe he would tomorrow...and then finally:
”And I think I’m sad because I just miss Jondad.”
Statements like this used to make me oddly...competitive? Or sad? Or jealous? I don’t know, but it wasn’t a good look for me.
I’ve learned now that Beckham missing one of his dads has NOTHING to do with him loving me any less.
“I get that...” I started, slowly, not wanting to diminish or undermine his pain; his reality...”but let’s choose to be grateful for what we have.”
If he were a teenager, he’d have rolled his eyes in that moment. I could feel his exasperation with me.
“Name 5 things,” I implored.
“Ughh....my room? My house. My mom and my dads....my cars? And, uh, my moon nightlight.” He said, lacklustered with my parenting skills.
“...AND YOUR BIRTHDAY GIFTS! AND YOUR TRIP TO DISNEY!! AND YOUR HOUSE ON THE CAPE!! And, and, and...”
With the furthest pendulum swing from his lack of enthusiasm I could muster, I began listing every wonderful thing I could think of. Beckham joined in. Soon he was smiling. Laughing. High-fiving me about how awesome his life was.
We exhaled gratitude for 81 things, people, adventures and ideas in 12 minutes and collapsed together, a pile of happiness and joy. With just a glimmer of the silver-lined-heartbreak that follows kids of divorce around (no matter how great the divorce is, or how young the kids were when it happened).
“So what DID you eat today, anyway?” I asked casually, not wanting to stir up another episode I couldn’t contain.
“Some yogurt. Hummus. Eggs. A salad. I’ve been working really hard to eat vegetables, Mommy.”
I look at the clock. 7:20. Almost an hour past his usual bedtime.
”Beckham...if I made you a spinach and feta omelet, would you eat it?”
”Yes”. Almost in a whisper. Excited, and not sure if it’s a “would you ever?” rhetorical question or a real life option.
“Come on,” I motion to him.
Like a puppy, still full of gratitude and grace, he bounds down the stairs after me in his Santa robe that’s too small. He was given another one this year, but won’t retire the old one. The special one.
I start cooking and he sits at the kitchen counter with a crayon and a strip of paper.
“Mommy, I’m just drawing something.”
”Ok!” I singsong. I am admittedly happier ending the night a bit later to get to be free of tears.
I finish cutting watermelon as a surprise and putting his omelet on his plate, and he is standing by me.
“I couldn’t fit my whole name”, he explains, holding the paper scrap, “...but at the end that’s meant to say ‘Beckham’”
I flip the paper from side to side, deciphering what it could be and then I make out his sounded-out words:
”Thac yooe for ledeen me hav suthen else. Love Beckham”
I scan again and once more and it’s clear:
”Thank you for letting me have something else. Love, Beckham”
I choke back my own hot tears now, as I pull him into my arms.
It’s the best note any boy has ever given me.
I turn on the predators game, 82 minutes past bedtime, and he watches until he’s done. Then he goes to bed with kisses, hugs, gratitude. But no argument and no tears anywhere in sight.
I’ve struggled with realities and disappointments similar to my son’s for years. I am the product of a unique family that had lots of bittersweetness and silver linings. I have terrible fear of missing out. I have anxiety, and struggle with being present and satisfied with the “now”. I’ve found the only cure to be gratitude.
Tonight, I’m not sure who taught who a lesson, but I think we both learned it.
Gratitude is the last thing I want to think of while I struggle in the moments. “But THAT doesn’t matter!” I want to yell when someone points out one of my TRILLIONS of blessings. But it does. What we hold, right now- or, more accurately- WHO we hold right now, who we are right now, WHERE we are right now, is so, so much more beautiful and promising and fulfilling and perfect than anywhere or who or what we think we’re supposed to be or hold. Because what we have is meant for us- just like anything we have received or will received is ours.
No, Beckham will never share a home with his 3 parents. Instead, he will get the privilege of having expansive families across many households who love him desperately.
And no, Beckham will probably never be excited about my perfectly executed short ribs, braised in red wine.
But make that boy a spinach feta omelet and watch: his gratitude might be so big, and so great, and so perfect and beautiful that it will give back in ways you didn’t even know you could, or needed to receive.
So in addition to my trillion eighty one items I am so grateful for tonight, I add a trillion eighty second: I am grateful for the little boy, who, unprompted, wrote me a perfectly imperfect note that I will cherish for the rest of forever because I made him an omelet.
May everyone be so lucky.
Hey everyone! Welcome :) This section is under construction, but don't worry- you can read my varied thoughts on life, love and other stuff all over the interwebs:
What I Learned About Love By Ending My Marriage
8 Things I Learned By Being a Contestant on The Biggest Loser
5 Attitudes That Actually Change Your Life
6 Mantras For Accomplishing Your Wildest Dreams
What Jillian Michaels Taught Me About Being Good To My Body
8 Promises You Should Make To Yourself
Why I'm Grateful for My Struggle With The Scale
Why I Stopped Using Tampons and How This Changed My Life
Just Stop and 8 Other Things Clients Want to Tell Trainers
Coaching and Being an Under-Construction Athlete
Until next time, which I promise will be soon!
I'm a mama, first and foremost, to 2 beautiful boys (3, if you count the furry one).