My friend Launa wrote beautifully about her own family’s year abroad and how it defined and strengthened their identity as a family of four. She used the metaphor of a shopping cart; when one wheel wobbles, the others can pull it straight. (Of course in any year abroad, there were times when all four wheels are wonky…).
Maybe because of Launa’s experience, I’ve had the same expectation for ourselves or the same question: what will this year reveal about who we are as a family? And the honest answer is (as it is so often this year), I’m not sure. And I certainly don’t have a metaphor in mind. But I did get a little insight last week at the beach in Italy.
Terence and I get antsy easily. For our honeymoon, instead of lying on a tropical island, we accepted invitations to two weddings on consecutive weekends, one in Belfast and one at Disney World. We spent three days in each place and the intervening time on an island off the coast of Georgia. Staying still is not our style.
I think that holds for our kids, too. I’ve always felt a tension here — on one hand, I believe the conventional wisdom that kids thrive on structure and routine. But on the other, I think they too can get bored, and benefit from new stimuli. I will never forget bringing eight-week old Hannah from the quiet of Delaware to New York City for the first time. As we stood in Flushing, under the 7 Train and the LIRR and the airplanes thundering towards JFK and La Guardia, with traffic honking all around and every language on earth being spoken, she looked at me with wide eyes as if to say: all this was here, and I never knew it.
We spent last week at a charming small town by the sea in Italy. It was scorching hot. We did the evening passeggiata, ate gelato, made sandcastles, swam in clear, refreshing water. But after a few days, we had itchy feet. Terence and I researched and found a Cistercian abbey that was accessible by public transportation. We were so excited. We are such geeks.
Of course I come from a long line of geeks. Another title for this post could be: “My Father’s Daughter.” All throughout my childhood, my dad packed us up for Outings. The point was to get out of the house, go somewhere, discover something new, with extra points for historical importance or cultural value. The family photo albums Dad painstakingly created are full of evidence of Outings all over New England and Europe. We visited so many churches we created a family acronym — ADC, Another Damn Cathedral.
Now I’m the adult, dragging my kids to ADC instead of spending another day on the beach. We sweetened the deal with hot chocolate and cornettos. As the train pulled away, the whole family seemed to relax. Margaret grinned up at us: “where are we going?”
That isn’t the point my love. The point is simply to go.