For an entire month my family and I lived, traveled and ate our way through Italy. We picked herbs from our garden, painted watercolors during the hot afternoons, swam in the pristine lake, ate endless amounts of fresh pasta and gelato, and drove all over the country in a quest to open up our daughters’ eyes and minds as well as their taste buds. You’d think after an entire month away we would be ready to come home, but you’d be wrong.
However, they call it vacation for a reason right? It’s a break, a time away, and in the end real life beckons – and there is no more real life than life in New York City. With barely enough time to recover from jetlag both my daughters went off to day camp, worried about which swim group they’d be in and anxious about coming to camp mid-session. My husband went off to a new job, literally went off on the train to Washington DC to have his own orientation and new “real life.” And me? Well, after writing everyday for a month straight I took a week’s hiatus to get my home back in order. Plus, after writing in hotel rooms, basil scented gardens and in the sunroom of an Italian villa, I was not ready to go back to windowless back room at Cosi.
At first the alone time was actually nice. After being together as a family for 33 straight days and nights we all needed a break. But then the other stuff seeped in. We had sublet our apartment while we were gone and now I had to put everything back together again, and find all of the things we swore we’d stowed away in places where we’d never forget. Where were the checkbooks? The metrocards? The girls’ diaries? All of those camp clothes I’d put away so they’d be easy to get to upon our return? We put Old Mother Hubbard to shame with our bare cupboards and still, after going to the grocery store 3 times in one week I will reach for something – ketchup maybe? – and discover it’s not there because I forgot to put that on the list. Then came the emails about the new school year, the pending political decisions being made, gossip and a months worth of catalogs and snail mail piled up on the table too! (What I need on the shopping list is some wine!)
In the end of course it’s worth it. Nothing can compare to going away – far away – for a length of time. We were beyond lucky to have had the opportunity and I don’t know when we’ll have it again. But for once it would be nice if the vacation could spill over into our life at home. Maybe I’ll buy a pot of basil for our windowsill so at least I can close my eyes and inhale and pretend that outside my window is a field of sunflowers, instead of a pigeon family and the glow of my neighbor’s big screen TV.
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I thought nothing could be a better sign of great things ahead than my daughters sleeping 12 1/2 hours our first night here. Still jet-lagged and starving we stumbled down to breakfast. I put on a pot of hot water since tea is my caffeine source of choice, even here in the land of endless espresso. Well, not being fancy Italian designers we didn’t realize that the sheet of glass covering the stove top was decorative. To us it looked like all of those glass top halogen stoves that seem to populate the counter tops of every suburban house we’ve ever visited.
We should have known better. As soon as my husband sat down at the table there was a huge explosion and glass literally flew everywhere. The girls jumped out of their seats and away from the stove. My husband leapt out of the way and I dodge the hot glass that fell on my bare feet and immediately turned off the flame. The kitchen was covered in hot shards of glass both small and large and we were horror stricken that we had broken something our first day here, and that now had an entire kitchen full of glass to clean up. It took us about an hour to fully clean the floor, counters, stove, table and assorted corners and crevices. But the scariest thing of all was the metal strip which had jagged edged of glass jutting out of its center that we found lying about 3 inches behind where my husband had been sitting. If he had been sitting or standing just a few inches back it would’ve gone right into him.
Three months ago while I was in the middle of preparing dinner my husband called from work and told me that he had been laid off. You’d think in this economy I wouldn’t have been surprised, but the mass lay offs at his company had come in January and he had survived, so come April, and the brand new fiscal year, we thought he was in the clear. As I slowly recovered from the initial urge to throw up he told me that his company had a very generous severance planned for him, as well as a three month “transition” time before he would be officially unemployed. In other words, he lost his job but he was being given the gift of time. At that point one thing was clear to me, we were going to get the hell out of here come June 30th and plan a trip – a long far away family summer trip.
It probably sounds ridiculous that in the midst of financial uncertainty my reaction was to plan a major vacation, but there is one thing I’ve realized in the all of the career ups and downs we’ve been through and that’s that money comes and goes but time only goes by. We’ve been through this before (pre-kids) when the dot com bubble burst and the company went bankrupt after working 80 hour weeks, including sleeping overnight at the office. We took off for Japan and Thailand to recharge and get some perspective. In 2001 we actually won a trip to China, but we were never able to take it first because of September 11th and then because my twin pregnancy was deemed too high risk for long flight travel. We were officially grounded.
So now its been seven years since my daughters were born. For the first 4 years we never went anywhere without them, and never for more than a week staying with family. Fun, holiday vacations for sure but the kind of trips that work and school allow. For the past two years my husband and I have gone away together for four days once a year. The kind of trip that grandparent babysitting will allow. So this chance, this opportunity to have an entire month if we wanted to take our girls and show them something of the world that their imaginations had yet to uncover seemed too priceless to pass up. And things began to fall into place – camp refunded our money, extended family generously gave us a place to stay in Italy, we were able to use miles for one of our tickets.
When we told our daughters that this is what we were going to do – go to Italy for the month of July and explore the country, their first reaction was “What about camp? We can’t miss color war!!!” Guess what, we told them, camp will still be there. The ability to have a whole month off to travel? Well that may never come around again. I don’t think they entirely get it yet, but they’ve been studying their Italian picture dictionary and reading Magic Treehouse books about Italy and starting to get excited because everyone around them is so excited for them.
And maybe its the fact that my girls are seven now that made this trip even more appealing. Soon enough they’ll be going to sleep away camp and not wanting anything to do with us. And they will have a way bigger say in how they want to spend their own time. For now, time is a shared family expense, and if they can see the value in using that time to the fullest then I will at least feel like we provided for them in a less tangible but more meaningful way. At the very least they’ll learn that when life gives you lemons you should make limoncello (or in their case some sorbetto limon)!
This post originally appeared at nycmomsblog