Alas, Courtney has returned to the motherland. Last week was one of the best I’ve had all year. It was so great to see her and spend time showing her things I love about living in der Schweiz. Plus, we had an amazing trip to Istanbul to visit Jill, which was icing on the cake. I will get to all this fun stuff in due time, but first I will fill you in on my time in Italy with the family.
The ten days I spent in the northern region of our southern neighbor were, hands down, the longest of 2010. Not only did I simply not want to be there, I was looking forward to the following week with a religious zeal. Therefore, the days crept by painfully slow and I found myself performing the role of sullen, angst-ridden teen, a role which I never even played when I was a teenager. I know I could have been more social or perhaps even remotely positive, but in all honesty, it was just too darn hard.
A typical day: I would hear the little angels rouse at approximately 6:15 a.m. and be shooed back to bed by the grandpa until at least 7:00. I would roll out of my horrible excuse for a bed (sheet rock is a more accurate description) around 7:30 and slowly shuffle downstairs. I would putz around, follow the kids, or sit in one of the big leather chairs, staring off into space until we were called to the tisch for breakfast. At this point, the grandma would come downstairs and discuss the most recently broken antique or rare piece of porcealan. The children would be scolded for playing with ancient artifacts and reminded that they could be doing much more fun things around the house (it went without saying that I was responsible for coming up with such activities). After a lengthy morning meal, the kids would brush their teeth and I would clean myself up and prepare for the day. Then, we would head down with the grandpa to the chickens and geese, where we would stay, feeding and harassing the animals, for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. The rest of the morning would be filled with a variety of activities: coloring and playing drawing games, hide-and-seek, playing “restaurant”, reading, memory games. Other stimulating activities included: chasing cats, screaming and slamming doors, poking geese with long sticks or ski poles, covering each other in mud, and of course, breaking things. After a cardiac-arrest-inducing lunch, which often included me eating my feelings covered in cream sauce, the kids would go down for a much needed nap. For the first hour of this nap Taz and Rapunzel would usually giggle and yell at each other or play pretend games from between their beds. The second hour was usually more peaceful and consisted of actual rest.
All this doesn’t necessarily matter because by this point I was free. I could do as I pleased. My afternoons were a mix of yoga, going for walk/run/explores, reading, and studying for the GRE. I spent a significant amount of time in my room, away from everyone. This is when I was an especially moody 15 year-old. I usually surfaced around the time for an aperitif– a glass of wine and a snack. Then it was time for another 7,000 calorie meal. Blessedly, it was then bedtime for the wee ones and I could spend a few more hours narrowing my eyes at book pages. I love to read, obviously, but even 5 hours a day can get a bit much for the avid reader. I wish I would have brought my computer so I could have watched movies or at least scrolled through old pictures, something to break up the monotony of the day.
I wish I could be more positive about the experience. I was in one of the most beautiful regions of the country and spent a disproportionately large amount of time scowling. From my window I could see miles and miles of vineyards and rolling hills, and yet I found myself unnecessarily sassy and short with people. By the end of the trip I was just shy of being completely mono-syllabic with responses; I was, pure and simple, ready to get the heck out of there.
It didn’t help that the mom wanted little to nothing to do with her family (the dad had to stay at home and work until the end of the second week). She commented that she wanted to get a lot of “work done” while there. Thought-provoking activities I heard about or saw included, but were not limited to: watching “Confessions of a Shopaholic” on DVD, reading the new Mini Shopaholic book, listening to books on tape, playing solitaire on her iPad. To be fair, I did see her tap away at her computer. But I wish she would have been honest with me. I think she could have said, “I want to relax in the morning and just have some time to myself.” Rather, she had to put a pretense of doing work, thus leaving me in the dark as to what she was actually doing, and in turn making me feel like one of her (dare I say, neglected) children. At one point we were talking about a neighbor-friend who just got a dog. The mom was relating that this woman was feeling overwhelmed by taking care of the dog. I agreed, saying, “Yes, some people forget that having a dog is just like another member of the family. They can be a lot of work.” She counters with, “Of course she can always get someone to take care of it.” I looked her back in the eyes and said, “Sure, but what’s the point of getting a dog if you’re just going to hire someone to care for it?” This is her clear solution for her children– hire someone to play with them, read with them, teach them, raise them.
Often, what I find is that I am a luxury for this family, a showpiece. It gets quite old to feel unnecessary. These children want to spend time with their parents. It’s plainly obvious when spending any amount of time with them, and it makes me sad.
One very cool thing I was able to do was help harvest grapes. As I said, the grandparents live on a vineyard and make their own wine. They also sell some of their grapes to a local cantina. The kids and I were able to help them cut grapes off the vine and collect them in baskets. It was sehr cool to be a part of that process. As I mentioned, I also saw beautiful landscape and was able to spend hours in the afternoon exploring. I’m grateful for the experience of spending time in such a gorgeous location, but I am happy that this was the last time out there for me.