As much as I tried to think about some nugget of deeper meaning or insight to tie into this post, really the only thought sprung to my mind was: we did it, we clucking did it (only I didn’t say clucking).
We made it to the famous Alba truffle festival, we went “hiking,” we stayed at an agroturismo and we did it all in one weekend with a puking toddler and an insomniac baby.
And as Chris and I high-fived each other over the crying babies while tossing back a glass of Barolo less for the experience and more to get rid of it before Shiloh could grab the glass, I realized that our pre-kid selves might have been horrified.
Pre-kids I wouldn’t have found myself sleeping in the crack between two lumpy twin mattresses on a sofa bed sandwiched by two restless children. The sheets would not have been covered in toddler puke. We would not all have woken up at 4am for a puke-necessitated shower. We would have sipped coffee leisurely the next morning at a reasonable hour rather than from a dripping mug as we ran around saying good morning to various farm animals.
We would have eaten at fancy restaurants instead of making pasta on a cook stove in our bedroom two nights in a row. I’d like to think I would have worn something to the Alba truffle festival other than muddy running shoes and corduroys soaked from a backseat diaper change gone horribly wrong. Lunch would not have been a nutella crepe and half a rotisserie chicken eaten straight from the bag the chicken seller gave it to me in in–or maybe it would have–you really never know.
We would have actually gotten out of the car in the little town of Neive instead of lying through our teeth that this side trip was actually on the way home to Milan. We would have spent hours at the truffle fest instead of just minutes, trying wine and truffle-covered everything. We would have hiked for far more than 1500 meters before realizing we really weren’t up for carrying two kids down a trail into “the valley of death” on 4 hours of sleep. We might have visited a winery or two or three.
Chris would have driven like an Italian maniac through the gorgeous countryside instead of at less than 20 miles per hour while I consoled our nauseous toddler in his carseat.
Anyways. The point is, this was not a trip of luxury and leisure, but we made it all happen anyway and our kids had fun and we had fun. And it could have been so much more of a trip had we done it pre-kids but I know for certain that it would have also been so very much less.
We wouldn’t have gotten to hear Will say good morning to the sheep, we wouldn’t have heard him say “Bye-bye cows, we have to go now!” I wouldn’t have watched Chris carry our kids through a vineyard at sunset or watched Will and Chris share wine grapes straight off the vine. I wouldn’t have gotten to share one of the most gorgeous vistas I’ve ever seen with my little girl whispering in her ear that, as soon as she can walk, we’ll take her hiking for real.
We wouldn’t have gotten to watch Will smack his lips and smile after trying fresh milk straight from the farm for the very first time. We wouldn’t have seen Shiloh devour as much of the farm’s sheep’s milk pecorino as I’d let her have. And those Lightning McQueen napkins placed especially on the table just for us…they wouldn’t have meant a thing.
We’re entering a new chapter in Milan. There are orphan socks resting on a table in the corner of our living room (clean ones).
They are the kind of socks that will never find their mates, the kind that I’ll move to another room when company comes over and then move back again and then finally throw out two years from now when I realize that the baby who once wore the sock now runs around on feet twice as big as they were when the sock still fit.
They are the kind of socks that you really only see when home still doesn’t feel like home, when every single object–from socks to light fixtures–is noticeable, enhancing or detracting from some theoretical concept of what a nice-looking home should look like.
Until one day you don’t really see those things anymore. Until one day you realize there’s a pile of socks and you have no idea how long it’s been there but it’s comforting in a way to know that you didn’t see it, that the rooms of your new home are no longer an interior design challenge but instead finally just a backdrop to the living that happens there.
This would be a great segue to a tour of our apartment but, for all my orphan socks, our couch has yet to arrive from the factory and half of Will’s nightstand is still sitting in Chris’ office waiting for us to get our car so we can schlep it home. We’re still waiting for half the pictures to be hung and there are stripes of two different orange paint colors behind a door in the entryway that may or may not get painted over before we leave Milan. There’s duct tape covering a nasty bit of water damage that I swore I’d make “them” repair but have now given up on and we have some truly terrible Ikea lamps scattered across the house. Someday I’ll post pictures, in theory before we leave.
But in spite of or perhaps because of all these nagging little to-do’s, this house finally feels like home.
(not our house)
Home never feels homier than when you unlock the front door after having spent half the day out somewhere else. We aren’t ringleaders here by any stretch, but we finally have play dates and playgroups and trade text messages again with people who aren’t related to us.
It was hard going for awhile. For the past four years I’ve spent most of my time with other serial, mostly American, expats. In the past, conversations were easy, if a bit superficial. We could always fall back on bidding, next post, last post and how hard it is to get kids sleeping normally again after a 24 hour journey back to the States.
Milan is a whole different universe for us, full of European bankers and finance people– most of whom operate far above our income bracket. It seems that for half of the expat moms here, Milan is a one-off adventure, something for the scrapbooks. After their time is over in Italy, they’ll simply go back to their old lives, old house, old friends as if they never left. The other half of the people I meet are women who’ve married Italian men, speak fluent Italian and have lived in Italy for 10 or more years. Home for them, from now on, will always be somewhere in Italy and that’s a very different kind of expat experience.
For the first time since we’ve been overseas, we are the odd ones out, with a lifestyle people find curious but not enviable in the slightest. I’ve met only a few people who’ve ever had to move to a completely foreign country with young kids–much less who’ve had to do it over and over again every few years. It took me three months to meet another American here outside our tiny Consulate community and when we did meet it felt stranger than I had thought it could.
(A mostly unrelated but necessary aside here: the other day Will asked if he could have “uno (one) dosa (Indian snack) for dinner (aka lunch but a term he picked up at his British preschool) when his NaiNai (Chinese for paternal grandmother) comes to visit.” It’s hard to imagine a more perfectly expressed mash-up of his worlds than that)
I’ve never been very good at small talk and, amongst a crowd of Europeans and Australians, my usual foreign service-related conversational crutches don’t do me much good.
But a friend of mine from Delhi and I have a theory. We’ve found that, amongst expats, the people you get along with most easily on the first meeting always end up to be casual acquaintances at best. It’s the people with whom it’s not so easy, the people you have to work the hardest to get to know–those are the people who end up being the closest friends.
I hope our theory is correct because we’ve been working pretty damn doggedly here at making connections over the past few months. And if our theory is at all correct, we hopefully have some pretty great friendships in the making here Milan.
Last weekend I finally hit a stay-at-home-Mama wall in which I was so desperate to drink a cup of coffee sitting down and go to the market without balancing both babies and bags of groceries in my arms that I finally left the kids with Chris for a few hours and took a break. I hopped on the tram down to Navigli, took some pictures, sat in a hipster cafe that played an old Tracy Chapman album on repeat and went to a bustling market where I was free to buy several kilos of fruit and bread and nuts without having to wonder how I was going to get home with both kids and my produce intact. My film camera broke right before I left the house but that hardly took away from the glory of simply wandering quiet city streets alone with my thoughts. The next day a new friend texted to see if I wanted to go for a quick run around the park together. All in all it was one of the best 48 hours I’ve had yet in Milan.
Oh and Halloween. It wasn’t a huge party but maybe next year. I baked a cake for a party at the marine house that we ended up not getting to attend. We gave out cupcakes to the neighbor kids when they came around dressed in witch costumes and did some important diplomacy work in teaching the phrase “trick or treat.” Chris and I stayed up late peeling 60 clementines to serve as “pumpkins” at Will’s school and Shiloh’s playgroup. Will was predictably anti-Halloween and never even put on his costume, but he was thrilled to eat pumpkin pancakes and “traffic cone candy” (candy corns) with his yogurt for breakfast. Shiloh–being too young to protest–wore her pumpkin costume around town all day. People really like babies here but they like babies in costume even better I think.