Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Dream of Italy

Almost three years ago, on the way home from the hospital with my daughter, we got a phone call that would impact our choice to live minimally as a family.

It was an invitation for my husband to work with Mike + Doug Starn for two months on their Big Bambu project in Rome, Italy. With a three day old in the backseat, my husband and I knew if there was any time that we could make this work, it was then! When the baby was two months old, we packed a suitcase of tiny clothes, diapers and a toy and headed off to live in my mother country.

The good thing about Rome and Romans is that they loooove babies. And when I say "love", I mean random strangers will cross the street just to oogle over a little one. To hold their hands, touch their faces, ask for names and ages, and, if you're up for it, even hold your little one and take them back across the street to show their friends! I know some parents might be appalled, and honestly it did surprise me the first time it happened, but after I got used to this different way of living I decided it was simply AMAZING. Not only could I get a much needed break from holding my daughter (you know the concept of the fourth trimester?), but she was socialized, introduced to the Italian language AND we met many wonderful people we never would have otherwise:
Copyright 2010 Beth A. Mackey
(Okay, okay, I know he's not Italian! But apparently he knows that "when in Rome...")

Anyway, here we were 4,000 miles (for the rest of the world, that's 7,000 km) away from home with a two month old baby and a suitcase of "stuff" in a hotel room for two months. (Sounds like the start of a new Vacation spin-off!) It probably could have been a disaster - and we did have language barriers, diaper blow-outs, and some breastfeeding challenges on our tour of the Vatican Museum - but I have to tell you it was basically The Best Time I'd Ever Had.

Partly because the way we lived in the Eternal City was minimalism at its best - and pretty much perfect. Since Rome is full of real neighborhoods with local markets within walking distance, we didn't need a car, a big refrigerator or a lot of packaged, preserved food. We ate fresh and healthy food, got exercise, and met the local people in our amazing neighborhood of Testaccio. With a bed, a desk, two closets, and a kitchenette, our hotel room became our first experiment as a family in small house living. 

Except for needing to buy a sweater while we were there, the suitcase of clothing we brought was completely adequate. In fact, I brought some articles of clothing I never ended up wearing - so I learned to pack lighter on subsequent trips. Even though she grew through a size by the time we left, I had more than enough for my daughter, too. Maybe a washing machine would have been helpful, but we managed just fine without it and didn't miss the space or the stuff we had left at home. 

This was our first of several times travelling as a family, but so far it's been our longest stay away from home. Every time we travel, we absorb our experience and it changes us in some way. I brought home from Rome the understanding that everything I need to raise a child could fit in a suitcase. 

As I settle into life with our four week old son, I seem to be reliving the time when my daughter was the same age and feel like I should be preparing for some epic trip. I find myself reminiscing about the streets we would wander down, the historic sights we would pass by, the friends we made, the feeling of living in such a family-centered city. I miss trying to sputter out some broken and improperly conjugated Italian. 

I think I'll get my son a passport. Tomorrow.