Sometimes I think that 90% of my “blogging career” has been spent writing blog posts that say “I know I haven’t blogged in a while… but I’m back!” See the last post I wrote, in September, about how I was going to try to write on here more often. That didn’t go very well, clearly.
I’ve been on sort of a journey with my digital life. A few years ago I gave up Facebook, then I took an Instagram hiatus last year and never fully returned. But, the most recent development has been that my smart phone stopped working and I just never replaced it. Also, around the same time that my cell phone abandoned me there was an election that happened (maybe you heard?) and I sort of spent a few weeks/months holed up in my house feeling sad.
All of this has sort of lead to me not really being online a lot. I miss out on a lot of stuff, I think, not having my smart phone. I’m not in the group chat we have going with other homeschoolers, so I miss some of our meet ups. Sometimes I get super lost because I don’t have a GPS. And I miss out on a lot of cute photos of my kid not having a camera constantly in my pocket. But, I kind of love it. I do not miss the feeling that I need to capture every adorable thing Margot does. I do not miss the bad feelings of comparing my life to other people’s lives. I do not miss worrying that my child is falling behind because my friend’s kid is learning to do something that Margot doesn’t know how to do yet. I don’t miss the feeling that I need to be constantly available.
I do actually miss things, though. I miss having connections with people around the world on Instagram. I miss seeing other people’s journeys with unschooling and sharing our journey. I miss the inspiration I get from seeing what other families are doing. Which leads me to NOW.
Now, there is about a foot of snow outside, but I’m itching for spring to come and am feeling like getting back to this whole “documenting our life as unschoolers” thing.
Also, the dishes are done, and Margot is playing a game by herself and I was sitting here on my computer with a mug of tea and once I was done checking my e-mails and catching up on the news I thought “what else can I do on this machine?”
So, here I am. I have a few big topics in mind to talk about, but for now, a little update:
Things That Have Happened Since I Last Updated This Thing
Today I was looking back through old blog posts and realized it has been exactly three months since I declared I would be taking a three month summer hiatus. So, officially, my hiatus is over. I did not intend to take the summer off from blogging, although I barely blogged over the summer. My only intention was to step away from Instagram and to try to spend more time “in the moment” as they say.
It was an experiment, and a successful one. So successful, in fact, that I don’t plan to get back on Instagram. So many people have told me how much they miss seeing Margot’s photos on Instagram and it means a lot to me that people say so. But, I think it was just really taking away from my experiences to add the filter of “Instagram worthiness” to all the moments in my life. I still took plenty of photos over the past 3 months, some of which you will see below in a little summer hiatus slide-show. And I still shared a lot of these photos. The difference was that when I took a photo I thought someone particular in my life would appreciate, I sent it to them directly and they would often write back and we would connect with one another over this photo. So often I felt like I was posting things and my photos would get some comments and likes but it didn’t really foster any connection with the person on the other side of the little red heart.
I will try (really hard!) to be better at updating things on here once in a while, because I know that our friends and family who we are not fortunate enough to live closer to do still like seeing these little glimpses of our lives. Hopefully by writing on here, I can satisfy some of those curiosities while also making a meaningful record of our lives as an unschooling family. So, without further ado… a glimpse through the lens of my cell phone camera into our summer filled with hikes and friendship and sunshine and fresh tomatoes from our garden and only one trip to the emergency room:
At the beginning of the summer Margot was afraid to put her face in the water. She wasn’t afraid OF the water, she loved to go in the pool. But, she would only do so while holding on to an adult. Usually me. And usually pulling down my bikini top in the process.
So, we enrolled her in swim classes. We looked around a bit for classes in the area. I had read a lot about Infant Self Rescue classes and had almost enrolled her in one of those classes two summers ago. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough families signing up and cancelled the class, so that was a bust. Now, the closest ISR class is about an hour away.
With a little research and very little debate we settled on swim lessons at the Y in Nyack. The Y is less than 5 minutes away driving and is walkable from our house. And they offer the most affordable classes in town. We had heard a few mixed reviews, but we enrolled Margot in a two week intensive and decided if she wasn’t into it, we would stop the lessons and it wouldn’t be a big loss.
Now, before I start blabbing on about how much Margot loves swimming and how much she has improved, I’d like to talk about the problems with the class first. The biggest problem we have with these lessons is that they schedule one lesson to end at the same time that the next lesson begins. So, on the half hour it’s a mad dash to get one set of children out of the pool and the next set of children in to the pool. This also means that we do not get any face time at all with Margot’s swim instructors. Which is a problem only because I’d appreciate a little snippet like “She is really improving at x, maybe you can practice y with her a little bit.” Or just, “Your child is a special, special snowflake and I have never had a student as lovely or as intelligent as her. You have clearly done a stellar job at parenting this unique creature!” This also leads into my other big complaint. I don’t know her teachers’ names. AND! The teachers kept changing from day to day. So, one teacher would see Margot succeed at something and then the next day a new teacher would be there and then would start from square one, not knowing that Margot had already mastered a certain skill.
Those are my complaints. And they are not insignificant, except that they kind of are because this past week Margot swam across a pool by herself. She LOVES swim class. And she LOVES swimming. And she has improved so dramatically we are constantly amazed by her skills. She no longer clings to us in the pool and, in fact, if we try to hold her she scolds us and asks to be left to her own devices.
After her first class was a success, we signed her up for the next two week session, so that she was in swim class 5 days a week for an entire month. It made it really hard for us to do anything else since we had to be at the pool everyday by 3pm for an entire month, but she never once said she was tired of going and so, we went. Now she is in swim class once a week and at least three times between classes she asks “is it a swim class day today?”
We really could not be more thrilled and we intend to keep up with lessons as long as she keeps wanting to do them. We especially want her to continue lessons through the colder months so that next summer she is ready and raring to go. Since Todd’s parents have an in-ground pool I have been so anxious for Margot to learn how to swim. She is never out there unattended, but it’s a skill that I have really been nervous about her acquiring. Todd and I both tried to teach her, but she would get frustrated with us (and, admittedly, we with her) when we asked her to do things. We realized that this was something that we couldn’t teach Margot on our own. So, we found someone (or in the case of the Y, multiple someones) to teach her instead.
Now maybe you can see how this all ties in with unschooling. We are dedicated to unschooling. I believe now more than ever that we made the best choice for our child when we chose unschooling. Seeing how well Margot responded to a teacher in a small class with me nowhere in sight (the adults watch the children on a CCTV in the waiting room) showed me that this is a model that works for Margot. It did not for a moment make me think “oh, crap, maybe I should enroll her in school after all.” Being dedicated to unschooling does not mean that we are anti-schooling. I think (some) schools are wonderful and I am very grateful that they are available if my child ever wants to make use of them. I am grateful, also, that there are so many opportunities for Margot to learn skills from people who are not me. I intend to accompany Margot for as much of her educational journey as is appropriate for us both, but I have no intention of being her only teacher along the way. We are so thrilled that Margot has had so much success in swim class, and maybe someday she will break her Daddy’s backstroke record!!
Today, July 30th, is International Friendship Day. Happy International Friendship day, everyone!!
What? You’ve never heard of this holiday which sounds totally amazing but also totally made up? Well, International Friendship Day was started by the UN in 2011 “with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.” Sounds pretty great, right? I thought so, too. Which is why Margot and I went to the library in search of some books about friendship to celebrate the occasion. I went up to the desk in the children’s room and said “Hello! Tomorrow is International Friendship Day and we were hoping you could give us some suggestions of some diverse books about friendship!” The librarians laughed at me. They turned to one another after I asked my question and laughed.
I said, “Is this a strange question?” They continued laughing as they said “No, of course not.” Smiling though discouraged, I said, “Okay, well, we will be right over here if you think of any books that might be useful. Thanks!”
They came over with a stack of half a dozen books for us to look through. They apologized for the fact that they did not find any “International” books for us. Of the books that we were given, three of them featured animals who are friends, and the others all featured white children. All of the proffered books had male protagonists. I groaned. (Internally, I mean we were in the library after all.) Margot still wanted to borrow some of the books and so we borrowed two friendship books from the pile the librarians offered us. One about a boy who moves to a new town and is afraid to make new friends, but, he does. The other featured unidentified green creatures and was a heavy handed book about how to be a good friend.
I knew I was cutting it close to get any more books in time for the Official UN Holiday, but I was determined to find some suitable children’s books to mark the occasion. When we got home I turned to coloursofus.com a website that is all about multicultural children’s books (and one that I encourage you all to check out…) As soon as I logged on to their site, today’s post came up and! I knew they’d have my back! The title of today’s post is “18 Multicultural Children’s Books about Friendship“. I guess they have the same amazing calendar of holidays that I do.
I put all of their suggested books on hold and sat back from the computer pleased with myself. But, then I started thinking more about it. I had asked specifically for books that showed diversity and I was laughed at and then handed a stack of books that did not meet my request. Maybe they were laughing at my enthusiastic desire to celebrate a non-traditional holiday with library books? Or maybe I had walked in on them sharing an inside joke? Did I have kale in my teeth?? The rapid cycling thoughts of my social anxiety, however, are not the issue. But, they did not know of, or have available, ANY books AT ALL that featured an actual diverse cast of human characters? To me, this is a problem.
This is where I make the disclaimer that some of my best friends are librarians. (Hi, Auntie Sue!) And that I have spent months of my life inside the library and it is a safe haven for me and I have gotten many, many wonderful suggestions from librarians in the past. We make great use of our library because we are voracious readers and because LIBRARIES ARE AWESOME.
Margot and I each have our own library cards because we kept maxing out the number of books we were borrowing. (At our library you max out at 50 books) But, we are hardly the only ones using the library. According to a recent Pew Research poll, the most frequent users of public libraries are minorities and families with children.
So, let’s imagine, for instance, a young Latina approaching the librarian’s desk and asking if they have any good books about magic. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they handed her a stack of books featuring diverse characters, including some young Latinas? Wouldn’t it be great for her to see someone who looks like her in a powerful and interesting role? But, they will probably direct her to Harry Potter. Which is about a white boy. So, for the fun of it, let’s imagine also that a young white boy asks for some books about magic. Wouldn’t it also be amazing if he got his hands on some books featuring characters that look nothing like him, so he can see that there are other types of people in the world who have interesting stories? But, he also will be directed to Harry Potter, confirming his worldview that white men are the most powerful and interesting people.
What can we do about this problem? First, we need to have more children’s books published featuring non-white and female protagonists. And then we need to get libraries to buy them and display them proudly on the shelves. But, we also need them to cull some of the books featuring white male characters, especially stories that perpetuate dangerous gender and racial stereotypes. I’m not talking about burning books here, or about censorship. What I am suggesting is that we not only need to have more books featuring diverse characters, but we need to make room for those books. It can not be a shelf with one-hundred books about white people and one book about a person of color. Or, one-hundred stories featuring a male protagonist and one featuring a woman. That’s what we have already and it’s not good enough.
What if we had a library that had zero books about white men and endless shelves of books featuring women and gender non-conforming people and people of color and people with disabilities and all the varieties of human life that exist? Wouldn’t that be amazing? White children do not need to see more characters who look like them. But, children of color DO. Young boys do not need more stories about how interesting and powerful they can be. But, young girls DO. When considering the possibility of such a library, I remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s answer to the question “When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?” which is, “When there are nine.” People are taken aback by her answer and she responds “but there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” We are supposed to accept stacks and stacks of books about white boys for our children, but could we accept that they might benefit from having stacks and stacks of books with no white boys?
It is not good enough for our libraries to have shelves and shelves of books featuring white male protagonists. It is not good enough for our libraries to have shelves and shelves of books written by white men. It’s not good enough for our children to see token diversity in the form of sidekicks for white male leads. It’s not even good enough for our children’s books to feature diverse casts of animal characters.
We need more meaningful representation for our children in their library books. There are books out there that fit these criteria. They even exist on our library shelves. But, it means nothing to have them there if they are drowned out by many, many books that do not satisfy these needs.
We need the librarians to have stacks and stacks of diverse books to recommend to interested children. And so, when my stack of multicultural friendship books comes in at the library, I’m planning to take them over to the librarians who laughed at my question so that next time, instead of laughing, they can say “I know some great books I can show you!”
Recently we went on a beach vacation with my family and I decided to spend the weekend cellphone free. I posted one last photo on Instagram then used my phone for GPS to get us to our destination (of Solomons Island, MD) and once we arrived I turned my phone off and put it away for four whole days. I wandered around without even bothering to bring my pocketbook with me. It felt really wonderful.
I was at a bit of an advantage in this scenario because Todd was always with me and he had his cell phone in case anyone needed to reach us, and his camera in case Margot did anything noteworthy and adorable. Also, my parents and sister were usually with us, along with my brother in law and my neice. So, most of the people who I would be worried about missing an emergency call from were with me.
Still, I felt really great not carrying my cell phone around with me. I liked not having that familiar weight in my bag as well as not having that familiar itching feeling to check what was happening on Instagram.
A few years ago I realized the Facebook was taking up too much of my time. I was a new mother and a new vegan and I was desperate for community and Facebook was my connection to hundreds of like-minded people in similar stages of life. It is perhaps hyperbolic to say that I would not have survived that time of my life without the familiar blue glow of Facebook on my cell phone, but it was, indeed, an important part of my life. I have made friends on Facebook who I now call my best friends, I used it to educate myself and expand my world. But then I started to feel bad when I went on. It was an addiction and I needed to break it. So, I decided to take a 3 month hiatus and after a few weeks of no Facebook, I never went back. I decided life on the other side was much clearer and happier. And, in some ways, I replaced my Facebook addiction with an Instagram addiction.
I have always felt like Instagram was less insidious than Facebook. I still, for the most part, believe this is true. But, I was noticing the same pattern of obsessive checking and I decided, rather on a whim, to take a 3 month summer hiatus from Instagram. I have had mixed feelings about taking this break because I have, again, met some wonderful people on Instagram, most of whom live very far away. So, it feels a little like I shut down a bridge and have no way of crossing the river anymore. But, also, it feels kind of amazing. I feel like I am present in my life in a way that I wasn’t always being present when I was looking at events through the lens of “Instagram worthiness.” I like to think that I was not curating my life so that it was worthy, but still, looking at all of the things that I do together with Margot and thinking “oooh, I have to post this.” It added a step between experiencing something and enjoying it for myself. I also began to realize how strange it must be for Margot when everyone around her knows about all of the things that she does. It was not uncommon for me to post about something that Margot did and then run into someone the next day who said “Oh! Margot, I saw that thing you did yesterday!!” Margot never made any comments about this or seemed distressed, but… it started to seem odd to me.
A few days after I began my hiatus I decided to finally do something with Margot that she had been asking to do for a while. We dyed her hair purple and pink. And I went through the process of thinking “OMG, if I don’t post this to Instagram, NO ONE WILL KNOW HER HAIR IS PURPLE.”
And then I realized how absurd it was that I was worried about that. Was I dying her hair purple so that I could show the internet or because it was something fun that Margot wanted to do? And… what happens if we do something and DON’T post about it online. (I realize, also, the absurdity of positing that question ON MY BLOG, but… bear with me…)
So, I’m taking a hiatus. I think I will still post on this blog when the mood strikes me, but I’m trying really hard to be more present in my life. I think it’s important for my health and well-being and also for Margot’s. I know that there have been times in her life that she has had to share my attention with my cell-phone screen and I feel bad about that. I still have my phone, and I still find myself looking at it more times per day than I “should,” to check the weather, to look up an answer to some random question, to zone out for a few minutes reading news blogs. But, I am absolutely feeling more present in my life. Instead of watching Margot play in the frog pond and thinking of the perfect Instagram caption for what she’s doing, I’m just… enjoying watching her do it. I mean, I still did snap a photo and send it to some of my best friends… the ones I met on Facebook… but, come on, I am still a millenial!
I think, absolutely, that unschooling is for everyone. I do not think there is only one type of person who could benefit from being allowed to follow their own interests rather than following a path pre-determined for them by a group of people they have never met. For the record, I also do not think that unschooling has to mean that you never go to school. There are many ways that unschooled children may find themselves in a classroom.
I liked school as a small child. I have very fond memories of attending pre-school in a trailer, and of my elementary school in Hawaii (where we walked outside to get to our classrooms, not in fluorescent lit hallways) as well as my elementary school in New York. I remember making occupation puppets in 1st grade (I made a female trash collector.) I remember my 3rd grade teacher reading aloud to us from a chapter book ghost story that I still think about ALL THE TIME. I have quite a collection of little memories like these which make me look back fondly at the years I spent in grade school.
Middle school and high school hold some similarly pleasant memories. I was involved with lot of after-school activities in High School, and held office in a number of clubs. One of my proudest moments (still) was winning a journalism award from the New York Press Association for an article I wrote in the school paper. I didn’t even know that my teacher/adviser had entered me until she got the letter saying that I had won and chased me down in a hallway to share the good news.
But, there are other things I remember, too. I remember having nightmares about unfinished homework in 2nd grade. (Jem and the Holograms were roller skating around me taunting me with a marble notebook.) I remember being teased and bullied in Middle and High School. I remember having an anxiety attack during a math exam and being carried out of the room.
I do not think “school” is evil. In fact, 87.5% of my and Todd’s immediate family members work or have worked in education (I did that math by googling, not because I remember learning how to calculate percentages…) and that includes both me and Todd. I imagine that Margot will, at some point in her life, attend some sort of school. But, I hope that when she does it will be her choice and she will be enrolling in school to follow a passion of hers.
I also wish, very much, that I had been unschooled as a child. I had a bit of a lazy streak (still do), so I’m sure I would have given my parents a bit of a panic at some points had I been an unschooler. I may have engaged in quite a lot of laying about. But, also, I would have read. As a young person I had a plan to read every book in the library. I would go each week and pick a random book off of the shelf, and then the next week I would pick a random book off the shelf one shelf down, and so on. Maybe, if I had been allowed unlimited time to lay around reading, I would have made a bigger dent in the Pearl River Public Library.
For what it’s worth, I just asked Todd what he would have done if he had been unschooled and he says “I would have spent more time riding my bike through the woods and building dams in streams.” Which makes me feel like kind of a nerd for saying “I would have tried to read every book in the library!”
But, that’s kind of the beauty of it all, right? That instead of little Todd and little Alexsis being sat down in a room to learn exactly the same things in exactly the same way, we would have both been doing the things that we loved and learning the whole time in our own way. We both still would have learned to read and write and do simple arithmetic. I might have learned more about history through reading, and Todd might have learned more about engineering by taking apart bicycles. And those skills that we learned would have served us well and would have been meaningful and, therefore, well-remembered.
I don’t think my parents made a bad choice by sending me to school (Hi Mom and Daddy, I love you! You DID A GREAT JOB!! Look how amazing I am!!). And my parents have always been extremely supportive and enthusiastic about anything that interests me. But, I will always wonder “what if?” What if I had been given that unlimited time to read and write? Would I have written the great American novel by now? Would I have the career I always dreamed about as a professional writer? Or, would I be writing a blog just like this one all the same? And I guess now I will wonder the same things about Margot. What if we had decided to send her to school? Who will she become and how much will the choices we have made for her influence that person? And, what will she choose to do all day?
Right now it’s looking for bugs and painting all over her body.
As for me, I’m still trying to read every book in the library…
One night Margot and I were lying together in bed talking and cuddling and she said “wow, Mama, you have hair on your belly.” I do. I have hair on most parts of my body, in fact. And not cute, blond, downy hair, but like, dark, brown, sometimes wiry hair. And I have never ever felt good about that. I have bleached and shaved and plucked and waxed the hair off of my body. I have tried every way possible to deny that there even was hair there to remove. Because girls are not supposed to be hairy. Girls are supposed to have smooth and flawless skin. Girls are “supposed to” look a lot of ways that I do not.
So, when Margot pointed out this “flaw” of mine. This thing that I have always wished was different about me. This thing that I have been teased about. This thing that I have hated about myself. When she pointed to that hated hair on my body, I cringed.
This had happened to me once before. As a teenager, I was babysitting two little girls and we were playing on the monkey bars in their backyard. I flipped upside down and one of the girls said, “You have hair on your belly.” And I said, “Yeah, it happens when you get older.” Then as she replied in disgust that her mother definitely did NOT have hair on her stomach, she confirmed the belief I had been carrying around that my body was wrong. That it was wrong and ugly. It was too big and it was covered in disgusting hair and it would never be beautiful.
So, when the hair growing on my now 32 year old body was pointed out to me by my impressionable young daughter, I cringed first but then I said “Yes! Isn’t it beautiful?”
Margot looks like her Daddy, everyone says so. But, there are a few things she got from me. She got my olive colored skin and, along with it, the dark hair that covers it. I did not choose to have hair on my body, and neither did Margot. I can choose, though, to love my body with all of it’s dark and unfeminine hair. And I can do my very best to teach Margot to love her body, too.
I said, “Isn’t it beautiful? You have hair on your skin, too.” Wide-eyed and joyful, she asked “I do??” So, I pointed out the fine baby hairs that cover her skin. I said, “I love the beautiful hair on your body.” And she said, “I love the beautiful hair on your body, too.”
She will not remember that conversation 30 years from now, but I will always remember it, because it was the exact moment I decided, “I need to love my body.”
Which is what led me to posting a picture of myself on Instagram in my underpants. It received many likes and some lovely comments from my lovely friends. But, I’m sure a lot of people were confused, or annoyed, or had other sorts of not-nice feelings about seeing me in my underwear with my unshaven underarms and my unkempt bikini area and my round soft body parts. I would like to say that I don’t care AT ALL about those not-nice feelings that people might have about my body. I would really like to NOT care at all about them. But, I’ve put in a lot of years hating my body and it’s a hard habit to break. Which is why I’m really hoping that Margot never develops that habit in the first place.
I know that I can not shield Margot from the influences of society. As homeschoolers, I hope that she will, at least, be shielded from some of the intense peer pressure that many young girls experience in school. We try to never watch television with commercials. I have shied away from showing her “princess” movies (I have never forgotten that in the dance scene the Beast can fit Belle’s ENTIRE WAIST in his paw… nor have I forgotten longing to feel so tiny…). And I try, in all forms of media that she consumes, to show her a diverse range of humans. In other words, I do my best. But, even with me doing my best, she does not live in a cabin in the woods with no exposure to the outside world, which is the only way I can imagine raising a daughter who never realizes what society deems to be beautiful.
But, maybe I can raise a daughter who never feels like she has to conform to those standards? Right? Maybe I can radically love my body and show her that she can and should do the same. Maybe I can convince her that the hair on her body is beautiful and that all bodies are good bodies. Maybe I can teach her to wear what makes her feel happy and eat what nourishes her soul. Maybe, if I stop saying “I need to lose weight” then she will never feel like SHE needs to attach her self worth to a number on a scale. Maybe, if I am unapologetic about how my body looks, if I stop hiding it away under clothes designed to alter it, if I show the world myself in my underpants and say “THIS IS MY AMAZING BODY” she will never feel that she needs to hide her own beautiful body away. Maybe, just maybe, if I can show her how, my daughter will grow up loving herself.
So, now I’ve written loads about our experience in Italy, we have been home for as long as we were there and, as such, I have done a lot of reflecting on our experience. I’m ready now to figure out: was it all worth it?
The short answer is an emphatic yes.
It was so worth it. It was worth the exhaustion, the expense (which was something I really fretted over), and the weeks without Todd.
Would I travel alone with Margot again?
Well, yes. I would. I mean, here’s the thing with having an only child (a topic I plan to write more about in the future): this experience of travelling alone with her is the worst it would ever be. As she gets older, she will be better equipped to handle herself and I will be better prepared for the challenges that may arise. This trip was hard, but it was also wonderful and magical. So, if we were ever again presented the opportunity to travel somewhere and Todd was not able to join us, I would not hesitate for a moment to say yes. Because we have been through the worst and it wasn’t that bad.
Of course I am not so naive to think that things could not still go wrong with an older child, but I feel so much better equipped to handle anything, now. That last hour on the airplane flying home was probably the most difficult hour of my parenting career. And, I did it. I made it through. I didn’t really have any other choice, did I? What could I have actually done other than just… get through that awful hour of parenting?
And, when we got to the other side of that hour, and to the other side of those two intense weeks, Margot and I are even closer and better equipped to handle each other and whatever else the universe throws at us than before.
I could look back at this trip and remember the bad times. Like Margot screaming “You’re not a good mommy” at me in front of a church. Or, me screaming back, “I can’t do this anymore.” Or I could remember the last day of our trip when we set out just the two of us and had a wildly good time just being together and eating an ungodly amount of french fries and exploring the world at our own pace. When recalling those two memories, the screaming makes me cringe just a bit, but it’s the other memory that brings tears to my eyes and causes the corners of my mouth to turn up. That’s the part I will think about forever.
I am not a perfect parent. And being the only parent to Margot for two weeks helped to make that fact even more apparent. But, it also showed me that I’m not an altogether terrible parent, either. I have reserves of patience and kindness that I didn’t know were there. I have ways of communicating with my child and relating to her that are based on the years of time we have spent with each other and that other people may never understand and will never be able to replicate. I am the best parent that I can be. I try really hard, and sometimes I get frustrated and overwhelmed and I do things that I will later regret. But, I am the best that I can be. And my best is pretty damn amazing. And I think that Margot thinks so, too.
So, yes. It was worth it for the amazing opportunity to see Italy. But, it was also worth it for the opportunity to explore myself and my relationship with Margot. And it was worth it for the time we spent with our friends. And for the time Margot got to spend with Will, which is a relationship I probably could write another entire post about, but, alas, I promised this would be my last about Italy. And it was worth it for the time I got to spend with Katie, time we spent talking (possibly too much) about our children and our job as their parents, and contemplating the life story of Roberto the gelato man, and having real, grown-up conversations about interesting topics. And it was worth remembering how much we love Todd, because absence (as it has been stated so many times before) does make the heart grow fonder.
But. For all my emphatic “yes”ing to the question of would I do it again… The next trip we take will be with Todd. Without a doubt.
Maybe it seems strange in all of my writing about our trip to Italy to dedicate two posts to talking about airports and plane rides. I probably should be writing more about all of the wonderful things we did and saw in Italy and all of the vegan gelato we ate and how wonderful our friends were to invite us on this incredible trip. I have been questioning, myself, why I feel the need to write about (and therefore reflect on) those hours (and hours and hours) spent travelling more so than the beautiful weeks we spent in another country.
I think I’ve finally come up with some kind of explanation. I did a lot of really hard core parenting during those hours of travel. I mean, yeah I did a lot of parenting the whole time and, for that matter, every day of the last 3 1/2 years, but… at the airport and on the airplane we were out of our element, there were so many factors beyond our control, so many variables, so many things that could go slightly or horribly wrong. When we were in Italy, even though we were in another country and living on someone’s couch and without Todd and all the comforts of home… at least there was a predictable rhythm to our lives and things were really rather ordinary.
But, on a big tin can hurtling through space? Nothing ordinary about that.
I knew before we even left NY that the flight home was going to be the biggest challenge. When we flew home from Nepal last year Todd and I were both dealing with sinus infections (probably due to the poor air quality in Kathmandu) and we were MISERABLE on the flight home. We were all exhausted from two weeks away from home and the excitement of travel had worn off. Things were no different this time around, except for that (other than not having any sinus infection) everything was a little bit more intense. I had spent two weeks solo parenting and Margot was missing home and Daddy so, so much. We were so ready to be home… we just had to get through 18 hours of international travel to get there.
Found a vegan carrot cake in the Bergamo Airport and Margot was pretty excited about it.
We didn’t leave Germany without a pretzel!
Coloring in the airport.
We made it through our first flight fine, despite a one hour delay. We spent a few fraught hours in a German airport waiting for our second flight. Then we boarded our last plane and settled in for the long haul. We were chugging along fairly well, but my nerves were starting to get a bit frayed and the patient smile I had plastered on my face was beginning to fall down at the edges. And that’s how I ended up crying to a flight attendant.
It was a small thing that happened. But, it just felt so BIG. After all I had been doing. After the hours of travel to get to Italy, the two weeks of being the only parent, after handling so many issues big and small that came up from the moment we said that tearful good-bye to Daddy at the airport. After all of that, what broke me was the fact that they didn’t have our vegan meals. I had ordered them. We had wonderful meals on the flights to Italy, so I was fully expecting the same type of wonderful meals to arrive at our seats on the way home. But, we were towards the back of the plane, and by the time they got to our seats and offered us Chicken or Fish and they were all out of even the vegetarian meals, and they didn’t have our special meals, we were just… out of luck. So, I cried. I tried so hard to be calm, but my body did not allow it. My eyes filled with tears, and I looked pleadingly at the very kind person from the airplane staff and said “This is a 9 hour flight. What am I going to feed my child??”
So, what I fed my child was plain white rice left over from some 1st class meal.
It was not the best meal of her life, but… I mean, she didn’t starve, so. Thanks, Lufthansa.
I relied a lot more heavily on screens on the flight home. After my dramatic performance following the vegan meal problem, I decided I needed to give myself a little break in the form of good old fashioned “using a tv as a baby sitter.”
I tried to recreate the lovely nap Margot took on our way to Italy, but, it didn’t quite work out. What happened instead was she remained awake for 8 hrs and then fell asleep with an hour left in our flight. Which meant that 30 minutes into her sleeping I had to wake her up for the descent. Which meant that for the 30 minutes that the plane was landing, I had a crying, whining, borderline-screaming child on my hands.
I spent those last 30 minutes pleading with her to stay awake and not scream. I did not want to have to wake her up again to deplane and then deal with the whole thing all over again. I kept saying “we are so close, this is almost over, we are almost home.” At one point I asked her, “what can I do to help you feel better right now?” and her response was “The only thing that will make me feel better is if we go back to Italy with Will.”
Finally, the plane landed, and we got to stand up and wait for 5 billion people to take their crap down from the overhead bins, and I was *thisclose* to screaming “LET ME AND THIS CHILD OFF THE PLANE OR YOU WILL ALL BE SORRY.” But, probably “you’ll all be sorry” is the wrong thing to say on a plane, so instead I just kept up with the pleading and tried to hold back my own screams/tears.
Once we made it off the plane we were directed to customs and to the SLOWEST MOVING LINE OF ALL TIME. Margot was so exhausted, she was falling asleep on her feet, but I knew that if she fell asleep in my arms before we got through customs, she would miss seeing Todd and she wouldn’t see him until he got home from work the next day. So, I did everything that I could, I used every ounce of strength and love and kindness and patience that I had left and. We made it. We finally got to the customs officer who was painfully nice and chatty (which is why the line was moving so slowly) and on a normal day, as opposed to my hardest parenting day yet on record, I would have LOVED to talk to him about how I ended up being born in Hawaii, but, not today, kind officer! We made it through, we got to the end and… there he was. Todd. I love that man, but not ever before in all of our years together have I been quite this happy to see him. Margot ran to him. She jumped in his arms, she giggled uncontrollably, she was overjoyed to be reunited with her Daddy.
And me? I collapsed onto him and cried. He said “what’s wrong?” and I sobbed “I am so exhausted.”
And just like that. It was over. Our trip, our travels, our trials and tribulations. And just like that, we were home.
Coming up: Italy: The Conclusion and then I’m done, I promise.
While Margot and I were in Italy we didn’t do a lot of traditional sightseeing. We spent a lot of time exploring nature and playing outside with our friends. Just like we do at home. There were times when we were in the woods and a fellow nature lover would come by and say “Ciao!” and I suddenly realized “Oh yeah! We are in ITALY right now!”
Field of wild flowers
Playing in a stream
Just walking through a field with a centuries old building and the alps in the background
My little Forest Spirit
It’s one of the advantages/disadvantages of travelling as an American that we get to walk around in this little English-speaking bubble. I did study Italian before our trip, and I used a very little bit of it. One of the friends we were staying with spoke Italian beautifully, so he acted as our translator for most of the trip, and, in general, when I spoke to people in shops or on the street with my halting Italian, they responded in perfect accented English. So, it happens that on our trip to Italy, sometimes I forgot I was in Italy until a well placed, drawn out “Ciiaaaoooo” brought me back to reality.
I tried to explain the concept of how far we were travelling to Margot. I showed her on our globe and I explained the basics of air travel, but… it’s a really hard concept. And if I was forgetting that we were in another country, then I can’t imagine what Margot’s experience was like. Just last night she was talking about an indoor playground that we have been to which is a 5 minute drive from our house. She said, “Remember when we went to Billy Beez in Italy?” and I had a hard time convincing her that Billy Beez was not actually in Italy, but it was here, in New York. So, her understanding of international travel is a bit… loose.
Someday she will understand it, and she will look back at these photos of her at 3 years old in these magical places and she will be grateful (I hope!).
But, you’re not here for me to wax poetic about how appreciative my daughter will be when she’s older. You’re here to hear the story of me getting peed on. I know. So, here it is:
When I realized we would be 2 short hours away from Venice, I knew that was the one item on my Must Do In Italy list. It worked out that the day we went there was a bit rainy and dreary and we were meeting up with some other friends of our hosts (who were visiting from Israel.) So our day in Venice got off to a slow start, and when we finally arrived we spent a while waiting in the train station for the rest of our group to arrive. Waiting around Margot (who has inherited my keen sense of smell) commented that she smelled bananas. I said, “oh, I see that person over there is eating a banana.” And then, that person came over to us with a bag of fruit and… gave us a bunch of fruit. This part of the story really has nothing to do with anything else that went on that day except for the fact that, like a fairy tale, a stranger in a train station gave my daughter an apple. I let her eat it. And, we are all still here. Sometimes an apple from a stranger is just an act of kindness*.
So, finally, we were off on our Venetian adventure! We roamed the streets and… promptly got lost. Which is, apparently, a rite of passage. To add to our sense that as English Speakers we are entitled to always having someone around who can speak to us in our native language, right as we were reaching the point of desperation, a man approached us and said “Can I help you? I recognize the lost look on your faces.” Turns out he and his wife were retirees from the UK who had lived in Venice for 4 years.
They directed us to a gondola taxi cab (a ride which lasted about 30 seconds) and set us on our way to Piazza San Marco.
We were making our way there and just getting to the point of feeling a little lost again when I said “let’s go through that little archway, it looks like it might be cool on the other side.”
I was right. It lead us right into Piazza San Marco, which, if you are wondering what it looks like, I suggest googling, because I did not really get any pictures that do it justice. (Another major bummer about not having Todd on this trip is that my cell phone photos don’t show anything properly. Todd is the photog in the family.) When we were standing in the center of Piazza San Marco, I compared it to standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, it was too big and beautiful to see it all at once.
The lines to go inside of anything were way too long to stand on with three little humans, so we just gawked a bit and then got gelato for the 5 billionth time.
We really wanted to see Venice by boat for more then 30 seconds so we headed to the water to get on what is essentially a Venetian bus. Right before we got on the boat-bus Margot said “I have to go potty.” And I said, “Okay, we have to go all the way back through the Piazza.” Margot said, “Nevermind, I can hold it.”
Okay. Obviously, it is now apparent to all of you that I made a huge mistake. I should have insisted. But, here’s the thing. Sometimes Margot really CAN hold it. Sometimes she doesn’t REALLY have to go right at that moment. And, most of the time, if she says she doesn’t have to go anymore and one of her loving parents tries to get her to go anyway it turns into a 10 minute long battle of wills, and the boat was leaving in 2 minutes. So, we got on.
We were about 5 minutes into the ride when she started to wiggle on my lap. She was miserable, I was miserable, the rest of our group was on the other side of the boat, and the end was not in sight. So, I said, very calmly to Margot “Just pee, I have a change of pants for you, just, go ahead and pee.” She said, “But, then you will have pee on you.” “It’s okay, Margot, I will be okay, just pee, Baby, it’s okay.”
She refused. I went on trying to convince her, she went on wiggling and crying and saying “no.” I finally caught the eye of one of our friends and said “We have to get off at the next stop, she needs to pee.” And then, immediately, “Nevermind.”
Friends, I was not really prepared for HOW MUCH pee my child had stored up in her bladder at this point. We had used the bathroom not that long ago, and she hadn’t been drinking a lot that day, so, when the pee came and kept coming, I prayed to the gods I don’t believe in that my jeans would be sufficient to soak it all up. They were.
So, the rest of our boat trip was actually pleasant. Margot stopped wiggling and crying and started enjoying looking at all the buildings and the gondoliers passing by. And, I was covered in pee. For the rest of the day. Because of course I had a change of clothes for my 3 year old. But, I did not have a change of clothes for the 32 year old…
Other highlights of sightseeing: We went to Milan and on the line to go to the roof of the Duomo… we saw someone we knew from home! BECAUSE THIS WORLD IS SO BIG AND YET SO SMALL…
Monkey wearing in Venice
Pigment shop in Venice
Castello Malpaga in Bergamo
Leonardo Da Vinci statue in Milan
The Duomo in Milan
Church door in Venice
On the roof of the Duomo in Milan
The Duomo in Milan
On the roof od the Duomo in Milan
Okay, I have two more posts coming up about Italy, and then I will get back to our regularly scheduled programming of random posts about nothing in particular.
*always use proper discretion when eating food from strangers.