For most of my life, I’ve preferred autumn to the hot, wide-open days of summer.
We didn’t take many vacations growing up nor did we escape to a family “cottage” “Up North” on the weekends in Northern Wisconsin as was customary among so many of our friends and neighbors. Until I was a teenager, we spent most of our summers in the exact same places we spent our springs, falls and winters.
Summer was a time for long bike rides to the park with friends, to the community pool, to the video store. My generation in America may be among the last that was even allowed, by the age of nine or ten, to ride a bike two miles to a swimming pool, swim for two hours and ride home–without adult supervision or a cellphone.
Summer was the time when I’d lie on the couch for hours consuming as many books as I liked without a school schedule to interfere, when our friends and I would hold sleepover marathons for days, rotating houses whenever one parent got too fed up with the sleeping bags taking over the living room floor, when we would play in the ditch water creek behind our house, floating on rafts of fiberglass leftover from nearby construction sites coming home red and and itchy and badly in need of a shower.
It was all these idyllic things and yet, I feel a little weary just remembering the way those long summer afternoons felt so vast and endless. Time moves so slowly in childhood and sometimes I felt trapped by summer, dog-paddling in a hot sea of yellow, as though I might never escape the staidness of those hot, aimless days to reach the cozy shores of autumn on the other side of August.
As I’ve grown, summer has grown on me. Summer no longer feels endless nor does the break from school-year routines feel unwelcome. We may not spend a month on the beach or in the mountains like our Italian neighbors, but there’s a sweet sort of childish magic to our own summer visit to the grandparents’ homesteads.
In Wisconsin we help Papa mow the lawn, play “golf” in the driveway and poach my sister and my collection of Beanie Babies and Bernstein bear books for new favorites. We sleep with the windows open, waking at dawn to run through the cool dewy grass in the backyard, picking tomatoes and teeny-tiny carrots from Mimi’s garden.
In Charlottesville we visit the community pool, we walk along the river, the kids play with the same sturdy toys and read the same imaginative books which their Daddy played and read when he was a little boy. We visit the City Market and Whole Foods to stock up on a few of the “only in America” ingredients for our kitchen that we either can’t buy or can’t afford on the internet.
Whether in Wisconsin or Virginia, we eat well, we enjoy the freshest air we’ll get all year, we stock up on the kinds of extended familial togetherness we don’t get to experience first-hand for most of the year.
For the past five years, these summers have held a sort of rhythm for us the way the beach or the mountains or the “lake house” may keep a beat for other people. Our son always begins talking about what he will do at his grandparent’s house “next summer” within a few minutes of the plane touching down in whichever city we’re currently calling home.
This summer though, in spite of the beautiful weather, the faithful reappearance of treasured playthings from my husband’s and my childhoods, the wonderful meals and the dozens of ice cream sandwiches eaten, we all felt a bit more antsy in the States this summer than we have in summers past.
For the past five years, these two kids have been my rhythm, so close to me all day long that there’s rarely a moment in which one or both of them are not in my arms, in my sight or at least one room away from me in our apartment. I feel their presence around me in every breathe I take.
But in the past six months or so, I’ve begun to feel them slowly spinning away from me into new orbits, a bit larger, a bit more oblong. For the first time in over five years, I’m running regularly again–my kids no longer fly into an inconsolable panic if they wake up and I’m still five or ten or 30 minutes from home. This past March, for the first time ever, we had a babysitter come over before we’d put the kids to bed for the night. We told her to call us if they got upset without us. Instead, she put them to bed. It was the first time in their lives I wasn’t there in bed next to them when they fell asleep.
Will turned five a few weeks ago, Shiloh is two and a half. By any account, they are still babies in the world, Shiloh still nurses, I still snuggle both kids to sleep every night. But I can feel the shifting winds as we leave behind the years of dream feeds and diapers and set course for the deeper waters of Legos and chapter books and playground dramas for which I will not always be there to bear witness.
This year, for the first time, both kids will be in school. Shiloh starts preschool in September while Will will begin Grade 1 (kindergarten in the American system) at an international school. For the first in five years, I will spend nearly four hours each day separated for the warm, demanding company of our kids.
I’ll be going back to work very soon, part-time and at a job I’m taking for the paycheck rather than any career aspirations. But that’s life and I’m mostly just grateful for the opportunity.
The backpacks have been ordered, the school supplies purchased, I’m working my way through digital paperwork and trying to imagine how our lives will change now that I won’t be home all day, now that no one will be home all day. For years I’ve lived to clean up yogurt off the floor, help stabilize couch cushion forts and balance bundles on long walks home while carrying children, groceries and the surplus of sticks, leaves and conkers collected as treasures along the way. Shiloh will still be home in the afternoon, Will will still need me to read him to sleep (I hope!) but life is changing for us, as swiftly as everyone always told us it would–but still at a rate that feels unbelievable.
Trying to see through the humid sweaty mist of late August to the school year beyond, I feel a little like a first-time mother again. Except, this time, I know that the real hiccups and learning curves will only come in all the ways I haven’t prepared us for, the ways I can’t really prepare us for. It will be a roller-coaster for all of us for awhile as we three venture out of the nest–not together–for the first time.
For now, we are muddling through the end of summer, watching way too much Daniel Tiger and Dinosaur Train but also climbing ancient rock towers in the parks and visiting some of the museums I’ve been doggedly trying to get our kids to for the past two years. It seems they are finally ready to venture out into the world in a way we haven’t seen before.
We’ve one year left here in Milan and, as much as I despised this city for our first year here, I enjoy it now in almost equal measure. We move through our days here now as, if not insiders, than as people who have been jostled and knocked off balance enough and reformed enough to have gained rueful respect and maybe even passing glances of affection from the baristas and bakers and neighbors who fill our everyday lives.
When it is finally time to leave, we will miss the mountains the most I think. Even as I write this, I’m dreaming of our hike tomorrow up somewhere in the glacial borderland between Italy and Switzerland.
But there will be other things. As much as I complain about the extremes of the “bella figura” Italian mentality, I will miss the beautiful mosaics on the ceilings of entryways in stately old apartment buildings, the way women and men alike dress with such care for shapes and elegance and the ways different fabrics drape and move in the breeze. For as much as our oldest disliked Milan when we arrived, even he breathed a sigh of relief when we landed back in Milan a few weeks ago, back to the foccacia he and Shiloh request whenever we’re out of the house, back to the parks he knows, the relative freedoms of this place. America or wherever we end up next will certainly be adjustment in ways both wonderful and challenging.
And even if we had never found the mountains, the cafes where people gently correct our Italian and kindly overlook our more embarrassing faux pas, I would still owe this cold, aristocratic city a great debt because Milan is where I finally learned to live as an expat–as someone for whom home is a family of people and a frame of mind rather than a real place on the other side of the ocean. It’s taken me six years to get to this point but now that I’ve made it here, clawed my way up to this scenic overlook, I’m not entirely sure how or when I’ll be able to go back.
I don’t know what comes next. Life is full of unexpected surprises and, even when it’s not, this fall will be a whirlwind of school, work, bidding on my husband’s next assignment, and waiting with bated breath to guess at the aftermath of November 8th. Before I know it, it will be Christmas and then time to begin Organizing and Getting Ready for Packout. It takes my breath away to even type those words.
For now, I’m trying to enjoy this place we’ve arrived at, in this city, at this time, with our kids at ages which, I understand better than ever now, they will never be again. Whatever comes, we are lucky to be here and to be here together.
Shiloh turned 1 years old on Tuesday, an Italian holiday by happy coincidence. We celebrated quietly. Shiloh opened a few presents (ok, fine, Will opened a few presents) we made pancakes, and played. We went out for some pizza and followed it up with what was probably Shiloh’s favorite moment of the day: her first solo cup of (yogurt) gelato. We walked, we played some more. Shiloh demolished a mini carrot cake after dinner and then it was off to bath and bed.
And in between we nursed and cuddled and I stared into her deep brown eyes a thousand times, willing myself to understand that my baby is hurtling towards toddlerhood faster than seems possible.
As much as I love throwing parties and entertaining, for the most important days we celebrate, I much prefer to spend the time quietly with our family, wallowing in nostalgia and sentimentality the way I do on this blog instead of rushing around the way I usually do in real life.
So, Shiloh, she is one. She is feisty and determined and fast. She points at everything, wanting words for what she is looking at. She is curious and head-strong and cries if we don’t let her touch the leaves on trees or the Christmas lights on the sides of buildings. For Shiloh there are no obstacles, only benches, boxes and challenges to be surmounted. She always, usually very quietly, finds her way.
She is so on-the-go, so independent, so easy-going in so many ways that sometimes I forget that she is still so very little–which in turn makes me treasure those moments when she does let me baby her even more. Those moments when she reaches up to be held, when she naps on my chest. When she covers my face in open-mouth kisses and force-feeds me orange slices covered in peanut butter. She still sleeps in our bed and spends hours attached to my hip. I know these days of babyhood are waning now and I miss them already even as I live them. She will grow up to be such an amazing and strong and fearless woman but for always she will be my baby.
That’s what Will has been saying to all of us lately, a seasonal adaptation of the usual “sweet dreams” nighttime routine.
And already, Christmas feels a little like a dream. I both cannot fathom that it is already New Year’s Eve and at the same time, I’m itching to tear down our Christmas tree already like it’s actually a vector for the winter flu. Which, who knows, it could be. I’m told by our pediatrician that the 104 degree “virus” I called her about the week before Christmas was probably the flu, followed by complications thereof for Boxing Day, and so on and so forth until, fast forward to New Year’s Eve, it’s antibiotic cocktails for everyone, yay.
So yes, Christmas came and went in a haze of present-wrapping, cookie-delivering, temperature-taking, tylenol-administering, sheet-washing, gift-giving and general mayhem. But the mayhem makes the magic doesn’t it? Because it takes a hell of a lot of effort for five adults to stay civil and sane while cooped up in a not-huge apartment with two sick kids and so those moments when everyone is feeling the joy all at the same for all the same reasons–those moments really make it all worth it. They are pure magic.
This was the first Christmas Will has really understood and anticipated and Shiloh’s first Christmas ever.
I nearly cried watching Chris’ Dad read The Polar Express to Will for the first time (my italicizing button is just not working, sorry!).
And we logged many hours playing “tree football,” a game Will invented in which all of the adults in the room take turns tossing a soft, stuffed Christmas tree at him.
Shiloh and Will both obsessed over the Christmas tree,
attempting to eat redecorating the tree for days on end.
Babies in Christmas pjs playing with strands of Christmas lights, because, you kind of have to.title=”Shiloh setting up christmas tree-3 by Dani, on Flickr”>
Ditto with the Santa hat shtick.
Will decorated his first plate of Christmas cookies for Santa this year with both sets of grandparents (one set on Skype) oohing and ahhing over his careful work with the icing. He also brought home a slew of Christmas crafts from school that I’m pretty sure will live among our Christmas decorations for years to come.
On Christmas Eve Chris spent 3 hours assembling the play kitchen that Santa brought, but I think he’ll agree with me that the effort has been totally worth the hours the kids have logged already whipping up “breakfast” and handling the mini saute pan like a pro (Will) and flinging the entire contents of the pretend refrigerator on the floor over and over again (Shiloh). Having grown-up thus far with old-fashioned GSO refrigerators, Will does not believe that an in-fridge water dispenser could possibly be a real thing. He says it’s like the juice-pressers at the cafe bars we go to, it’s for making “spremunta”. He answers the kitchen phone saying “Top Chef here, what do you want?”
We had roast beef, latkes and gingerbread for Christmas Eve dinner and homemade Chinese dumplings for Christmas Day. And all of the leftovers from my “cookie diplomacy” efforts with the neighbors. We made Panettone french-toast (Panettone being a Milanese invention it gets passed around like, well, like fruitcake, during the holidays here) and the kids saw their first snow fall. Granted, they were both sick and we didn’t so much play in it as tiredly trudge through it on a particularly ill-timed run to the grocery store but in any case, snow! It didn’t stick but it still felt pretty magical.
And then, suddenly, Christmas was over. Chris’ family was packing their bags for their return flight, the doctor’s office was open again, prescriptions got filled and after a particularly grueling night with the sick, wee ones, we walked into our living room yesterday morning dazed and confused. Where was the houseful of people who needed little more than coffee and oatmeal and fresh towels and who gave so much in the way of stories and games and hugs and adoration? While Chris took the kids to the park yesterday afternoon, I cleaned the house and the silence sounded so very loud.
This morning, for the first time in nearly two months, there were no guests to prepare for, no cookies to be baked, floors to clean, parties to plan for. So we drove to Parma. But the real photos from that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got syringes full of antibiotics to administer and a hot New Year’s Eve date sitting on the couch next to me waiting for me to quit typing and start opening a bottle of wine instead.
Happy New Year!
Oh where to start.
NaiNai came to visit. It was wonderful, amazing really. Where she gets all of her energy I don’t know.
5 days later, we celebrated Thanksgiving. Twice. Our little Euro kitchen produced 49 biscuits, 18 Parker House rolls, 4 pies, 1 turkey, 2 batches of life-changing spicy hazelnut sweet potatoes, green beans, truffle-spiked mushrooms, lots and lots of salad and a batch of cinnamon rolls. We celebrated on Thursday with some American colleagues and again on the following Sunday with the best group of Brits, Irish, New Zealanders, Italians and Germans I could have asked for. And we felt thankful. Really thankful.
36 hours and many dishes later, friends from Delhi came to visit for a week, Will and his best buddy reunited. We ate too much gelato, danced to “Pani Pani” and oohed and ahhed over every single Christmas tree between here and Lake Como. Shiloh came down with a massive ear infection and cut a tooth in the same week. So, you know, we were well-rested the whole time.
We’ve collected leaves and fed ducks in the park, played, written letters to Santa, water-colored, flooded bathrooms, scrubbed kitchen floors, chased Shiloh away from Christmas tree lights approximately 546 times, paid more than I ever thought possible for a 4 foot tall Christmas tree,. We’ve wrapped presents, made gumbo, fudge, gingerbread and at least 6 batches of Christmas cookies. We’ve hosted dinner dates, hosted playdates, watched Will decorate his first real, live Christmas tree, and laughed at Shiloh and Will wrestling in their Christmas pajamas. Will has sung Jingle Bells and Oh Christmas Tree for us approximately 326 times. We’ve walked like a gajillion miles. We’ve been introduced to the first version of eggnog we actually like (it’s Panamanian). We finally got our car and I’ve driven it exactly once (and was cut off by a Lamborghini for the first time in my life while doing so).
Shiloh stands up on her own and cruises around holding onto me with just one finger. Will knows how to ride a scooter and crack the eggs for our traditional weekend pancake batter. The stocking are hung, there are fresh pine boughs and candles all over our living room. Chris’ family arrived yesterday for the holidays which obviously coincided with both kids running 104 degree fevers for three days straight and Shiloh cutting another tooth. In theory, I’ll have the Christmas shopping for the family, the cousins, the neighbors, the portanaio, the school, the office, etc, etc done by..the 25th? Screw Christmas cards this year. We’re aiming for St. Patrick’s Day instead.
I am exhausted. My kids aren’t nappers, not even when they are really sick so there’s not a lot of downtime in our days. I thought by now, I’d have dusted off my nascent photography business or maybe even hired a babysitter. I thought by now I’d be speaking Italian. Instead, most days, I’m in the weeds, doing battle with dirty diapers and play-dough, hauling 30 pounds of groceries and 50 pounds of children from our neighborhood market upstairs to our kitchen counter.
I’m often surrounded by fellow stay-at-home mothers who don’t spend as much time with their children as I do, they have babysitters and nannies and time on the weekends that they spend away from their husbands and children. And while I try to take a very “to each her own” approach to other people’s parenting, there are plenty of days when I wonder if I should be more like these other mothers. Will my children really be better people for me being with them every single moment of their lives?
After all, my mother worked for all but two years of my childhood. I know for a fact my babysitters weren’t always the greatest. And still, my mother and I are incredibly close and always have been. Do my kids really need as much of me as I give them? Are they really going to benefit from all of the hours I’m here when I could be working or at least sneaking out to get a decent haircut instead of hacking away at my split ends in front of our bathroom mirror?
Definitely I need some balance. I miss working, I miss sleeping, I will someday hire a babysitter. I will someday go back to an office. I will do so many of the things that I cannot fathom getting time or head space to do right now.
But today I found a battered Thomas the Train paperback that Will used to make me read to him first thing in the morning, every single morning in Delhi. At the time, it sometimes felt like torture as I’d read and dream I was eating breakfast instead. Now I’m lucky if I get a minute of morning snuggles from my energetic little boy.
And I’m beginning to realize that so much of the time I spend with them, the hugs and kisses and snuggles I give are not really for them, they are for me and for the future me who will long for these days when every hurt can be cured with a kiss and every problem solved with a hug. I will long for these days when the sweetness of our breakfast conversations fuel me through the morning and the bedtime snuggles cap off our days more perfectly than even the best glass of Italian Barolo. These kids, they really do grow up so astonishingly fast.
I’ve been an absentee blogger these past few weeks obviously, but I do miss it and I think I’ll be around this space with hopefully a more functional website and more frequent posts in the new year. Until then, if I don’t make it back onto the site before the end of the year, Merry Everything and Happy New Year.
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.
Will starts school this week, Shiloh is crawling everywhere now and it’s finally occurred to me that, sooner than I may be ready for it, there will come a time when I’m not in a constant exhausted state of childcare, unpacking and settling in…for likely no more than a year before it’s time to pack up and move to a new country, but still. For the first time in nearly four years I can imagine a day in which I spend more time working for a paycheck than changing diapers or kneeling in a pile duplos. I’m terrified. I’m exhilarated. I’m terrified.
I breathe in Shiloh’s babyness and kiss her chubby cheeks a hundred times a day. I scoop Will into hugs as he crosses the room to pour a “pile of Cheerios” for himself. On week days, for now, we are a merry band of three doing everything together from folding laundry to buying paint to exploring the Duomo in the center of town. It’s thrilling, it’s maddening, it’s all-consuming.
It all leaves scant room for wondering what I’ll ultimately do with my life when the kids go off to elementary school, for wondering how or when I’ll go back to work before they get to elementary school, for wondering how I’ll make money, whether anyone will ever hire me or what kind of work I’d even like them to hire me for.
Back in Delhi a few months ago I had a conversation with a good friend who, unlike us, employed a nanny to tag-team her daughter’s care during the day and take her to a few nanny-led playdates every week. The reasons why my friend has a nanny and we didn’t are complicated and myriad I think but I’ll never forget the look of deep love mixed with fear in her eyes the day she said to me “I’m afraid of being with her too much, being too attached. If I am, when she leaves for school, I’ll be left with nothing. She will break my heart.”
I think back on the vulnerability in her words nearly everyday lately. My kids are still so all-consuming, so needy but someday, if I’m doing my job at all right, they won’t be. And I will miss these days of snuggles and struggles, of having my day job and the most important job of my life be one in the same.
I’m thinking too much, brainstorming too little, fruitlessly whiling away minutes and hours of those precious hours after they fall asleep for the night. I want to start a small business, write and photograph. I want to clean my house and throw a kick-ass Halloween party and pretend that I can live without professional fulfillment or a paycheck indefinitely. More than anything I want to bottle up the smell of sleeping Shiloh, peals of Will’s laughter, the scheming looks in their eyes when they play together. Because in a few years they won’t need me hovering around all day, but I will still need them.
Enough thinking for tonight. We took the kids to Bellagio yesterday. We went through multiple wardrobe changes, there was a 12-wipe diaper change on the floor of a men’s restroom, I made Chris bring me the smallest styrofoam cup of espresso I’ve ever seen when Will refused to let us leave the train station for fear of missing the train (not due into the station for over an hour).
Will made out with two lollipops from strangers, the guy at the gelato shop gave our “bella piccolina” a hug and a preciously-decorated cup of gelato. Will got to throw rocks into the lake. Shiloh ate a lot of pizza. The ferry ride was a hit. If you are a retiree looking to add to your scarf and tiny glassware collection in a beautiful place, it is the perfect place for you. As for us, we couldn’t take our eyes off the lake.
When people ask me how our time in America this summer, I hope I tell them about the lilacs. Continue Reading
I’d always aspired to do a ‘day in the life” post here in Delhi to record for the kids the banal, everyday details that really defined our lives here but that we might otherwise forget. With only 5 days until movers show up at our front door though, I think I’ve finally procrastinated past the possibility of recording a “typical” day for us here. Our friends keep texting with increasing urgency, our tough, no-nonsense housekeeper burst into tears last week when we tried to talk about pack-out, and our house looks like two years worth of living abruptly flew out of the closets and landed in haphazard piles across our family room. Nothing feels ordinary here anymore.
But if I had to aggregate two years worth of quiet little rituals and experiences into a single day, we’d have a day like the one I describe below.
Motherhood has taught me…
the value of waking up at 5:00am and defining a 20 minute sprint on the treadmill as “me time.”
And that it’s better to err on the side of being washed and dressed by 6:00am so that no matter what comes next, at least one of us is ready to be out the door in time for preschool.
That classical music playing softly in the background does amazing things for the mood in our living room and that getting outside at 4pm is usually the only way to beat the witching hour. Continue Reading
I don’t feel like the dust has settled enough around here for me to make any grand, sweeping proclamations about life with two kids but I think I like it. There are moments of crazy, there have been days I wonder how I will get dinner on the table or whether Shiloh will sleep long enough for me to play with Will for more than 10 minutes at a time. There was the time Chris had to work until 9pm before Shiloh was 3 weeks old while I had two sick kids at home. Continue ReadingOlder Posts >>>