Saying Goodbye to My Life in Tuscany, a Love Letter
As I enter into the final stretch of my fleeting stay in Italy, I’m starting to look at things around me in a different way… again.
When I first arrived over 2 months ago, I walked and drove around in a state of hyper-awareness. I eavesdropped on every conversation, usually not understanding. I drove with my brain on high alert, worried about turning down a one-way street the wrong way, focused on every road sign, forcing myself to memorize landmarks. If you know me, you can imagine the mental effort that went into ensuring that I would not get lost.
Then something magical happened. I began to not notice the conversations around me, while still absorbing the general topic under discussion. I began to drive with my brain on autopilot, as we all do when we know our way around. I started picking up the phone to make a dinner reservation or nail appointment without gearing up and rehearsing my speech. You could almost say that I began to grow comfortable in my surroundings.
Now, with scarcely a month remaining in Italy, my point of view is changing again. I’m starting to notice things again. I’m starting to think about the last time I’ll do things, like my yoga class, like a morning cappuccino at my neighborhood bar, like hanging our clothes out to dry crisp in the breeze. I’m looking at the kids’ school uniform shirts as I hang them. They will look so small someday when we pull them out to reminisce. Most of all, I’m starting to think about having to say goodbye to my life in Tuscany.
This trip has been hard at times, of course. But mostly it has been incredible. One thing is for certain. It would not have been successful without the support of friends, near and far.
From the moment the girls and I stepped onto campus at the International School of Florence, we felt welcomed and embraced. ISF is a unique community. Being an International school, families come and go. This could have explained why everyone was so welcoming to us despite our status as short-timers. But most of the people that took me in from the start, and most of the kids’ close friends, are here permanently or at least for the foreseeable future. So why bother with us? I don’t know, but I’ll be forever grateful that they did.
The other day while attending a weekly “boot camp” exercise class with friends, I decided to look around and really take in my surroundings. First of all, the class is taught outdoors on Tuesday mornings, the one day of the week it seems magically to never rain, on the patio of a friend’s beautiful home overlooking the city of Florence in the distance. Second, I looked at the people around me- an eclectic mix of ages, backgrounds, genders (well, just the main 2) and life experiences. At that moment, the only things we had in common were that we were ISF school parents and that we all felt the same squat-induced burn in our quadricep muscles. With representatives from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Japan, South America and the USA, we are a melting pot. After boot camp, we like to retire indoors for coffee, where we exchange stories, laughter and sometimes even tears.
The kids have gravitated to an equally diverse set of friends. Eve’s first friends were a pair of girls from Ukraine, and she now plays on a daily basis with an expanded girl gang that also includes one fellow American and 2 sweet Italian girls. After a rough start as the only new girl in her class, Kate now cherishes her friendships with a group of Italian girls, plus a close friend from the Netherlands and a very nice Texan. As Kate laughs and relays a story at the dinner table about a friend that makes funny mistakes with English phrases and expressions, it occurs to me that she’s just young enough to not fully realize the beauty of that moment among her multi-cultural group of friends. I believe Kate and Eve will walk away with a new perspective on the world, and some new pen pals.
One or two days per week, I run with a small group of ladies known as the ISF running club. It’s amazing, listen to this: They found out that I like to run on occasion, and they just welcomed me into the group. Simple as that. They always make sure everyone knows the location of the day’s run and that it’s a distance and route that is OK with everyone, or in my case that I have an escape route if the distance is too long. We talk about things, big and small. Once again, there has been much laughter and even some tears. I enjoy the camaraderie of this group so much and will miss them. We’ve started a “Runner’s Lunch” tradition and my turn to host is coming up. I’m so glad I get to do that as a small gesture of thanks to these new friends.
There is one friend here in particular to whom I owe so much, there is no way to thank her enough. Christina Hellawell – a German-Italian with an Aussie accent, lived everywhere and experienced a lot, boot camp sergeant extraordinaire, ultimate party hostess, most inclusive person I’ve met in a long time, or ever. She spotted Kate, Eve and myself at orientation looking like deer in the headlights and took us under her wing. She invited us over for a family swim playdate that very first weekend, and the rest is history, brief though it is.
When Bob came to visit weeks later, he hit it off beautifully with her awesome husband Charles. Here’s Charles kicking my butt in boot camp, literally. Hellawell family you will always have a special place in my heart.
Another dear friend that I rely on more than she knows is my amazing business partner Brandy. Though she is 6,000 miles away at all times, I know that her thoughts and support are with me, and that she is in tune with my experience here. One evening, after a Skype call during which I briefly mentioned some stress I was feeling, she wrote an email that showed me she was listening beyond just my cryptic words, and understood me. She and her daughter will be here to visit soon and I cannot wait to share my little Italian world with them.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the husband. You know, the one who has a crazy wife with a hair-brained idea about moving the family to Italy, whether or not he can even come along? Yes, that one. Bob has supported me in this venture from day one. Back when it was just an inkling of an idea, he made suggestions that helped it become a reality. I cried the day that we received his care package- 3 huge boxes of everything from legos to gum to mac ‘n’ cheese to peanut butter to comfy pillows to smoke detectors (he’s the one who worries in the family). I know that he did not do all this because he relished the notion of being left alone in California with the dog. He did it because he loves us. Well, we love him too. Missing each other is hard. But I know it makes the time together that much sweeter.
I read somewhere that the part of your brain that processes smells is close to the part that processes memories. I was telling this to Kate one day when we walked through a park in the small medieval town of Volterra after she said “Mom, I can smell a fig tree, like the one by our house.” Before this trip, she did not know what a fig tree smelled like, but now lives with it on a daily basis. From now on, whenever she is in the vicinity of a fig tree, she will be reminded of this brief moment in her life. For me I think it will be the smell of the laundry that’s dried outside. Or maybe it will be mildew (the stubborn musty fragrance of the downstairs bathroom). Or Nutella on toast. OK that one is more of a taste than smell. Anyway, however and whenever the experience creeps back into my life from now on, I will be grateful.