A few very long weeks ago, I was finishing up a blog post about our trip to Venice.
It was about Venice, but also it was about the ways in which traveling with children- being with children, having children- enhances your life.
Because: well, because there’s always those voices out there talking about all you can’t do with children, and yet there’s so much you can do & experience with children that you wouldn’t if you didn’t have them.
Which is all another way of saying that we last visited Venice on our honeymoon. Returning now with 3 kids, the contrast was just glaringly obvious.
It was a fantastic weekend. And also totally exhausting.
But then *that* Tuesday night happened. Or, for me, Wednesday morning.
And then, like so many others, I fell into a bit of a rabbit hole. Writing about a trip to Venice felt not just indulgent, but practically unethical. I felt like someone had died and I couldn’t stay off Facebook and I obsessively read articles and studied comments and sometimes cried and when my kids caught me staring off into space and teased me about “zoning out,” I didn’t tell them that far from being blank, my mind was simply spinning with fear for the future.
Because that’s the other big catch about having children. There’s what you can’t do, sure. There’s all you can do, yes. But there’s also how much you’ll love –such a fierce, fierce love that is, ultimately, unable to promise protection.
I worried a lot before going away on sabbatical. Leaving a life we liked for a year away – I worried it wouldn’t be there when we got back.
Nonsense, everyone said. Nothing changes.
I don’t mean to give in to drama. I recognize that, back home, my daily life would not have changed. But- something has changed. Something very frightening has happened, and we would be foolish (worse-complicit) to carry on as if hadn’t. And for those who have already been targeted by hate crimes, and for those who have reason to fear for their future in America or the future of their family – for them, especially, their lives have changed.
My world feels unmoored. The world is unmoored. And as beautiful as Rome is- living here we feel all that much more untethered.
Those feelings are likely compounded by our recent decision to pull Eva and Tillie out of school here –so long, Umberto I! – and enrol them in the Victoria School Board Distance-Ed program (SIDES). In the last few weeks it became increasingly clear that we would move to SIDES after winter break; once we had decided that, we realized it no longer made the most sense to wait.
I don’t regret the time they spent in the Roman public school system. Above all, they now both know what it is to be a foreigner– to be confused, vulnerable, dependant. They’ve learned some Italian; they’ve learned a lot about resilience.
Eventually, however, subjecting your children to a daily lesson in resilience starts to feel a bit unfair. We feel like we can provide them with a more positive school experience on our own, and one that will also allow us to enjoy this incredible city instead of having so much time taken up by a long school day and hours of homework.
During our first week of homeschool, the girls and I (Avi is still chilling at his scuola materna) walked through the Centro Storico to the main children’s library. We took our time, pausing before many of the 16th century palazzos that line Via Julia. One palazzo looked particularly impressive–it was white rather than grayed from centuries, and boasted a uniformed guard out front. Peeking into the courtyard, I realized it was Palazzo Spada, the former home of two 17th century Cardinals (the brothers Spada); fans of illusion and tricks of perspective, they outfitted their home, now a museum, with some very neat party-tricks.
Five euros later we were in.
I’ll let a picture tell a thousand words here. Just check out the images (heartlessly stolen from someone else’s blog) of Borromini’s famous colonnade:
According to a sign beside the colonnade, Cardinal Spada composed a poem about the illusion trick. Just as the seemingly looming statue is in actuality just waist-high, so our earthly concerns, overwhelming as they may seem, are ultimately of limited importance.
And now I’m supposed to write about how I swallowed that lesson, and got over the election result. This too shall pass, etc. etc.
But I haven’t.
And I won’t.
At the same time: like so many others, the conflict between staying well-informed and maintaining sanity has never felt more difficult. (Like in that New Yorker cartoon, which no one seems to want me to steal this morning.)
So: how do we do this? How do we keep fighting without becoming furious? Or rather: how do we harness that fury for positive change without also letting it consume us?
And is it possible that the fire is coming, and the time for worrying about political activism while maintaining mental health is passing quickly?
While my grief over the election has abated, my fear has not. I keep waiting for someone to save us, and also realizing that it’s up to all of us to do that saving.
So: I’m making those phone calls. I’m forcing myself to stay informed. I am limiting time on facebook, recognizing that, while it does in fact expose me to some excellent sources I wouldn’t find on my own, it also makes me nuts. And this Thursday I have a volunteer orientation at a refugee centre in Rome – I am hopeful I can be of some use.
Meantime: the surprising first lesson (for me) of homeschooling is that it feels like a gift. Because the most important thing about children is of course that they grow, and so quickly. We won’t get time like this again.
So perhaps rather than seeing it as indulgent, it’s just simply that, more than ever, a bit of savouring is in order.
Here are some pictures of Venice.
It’s sinking, maybe.
It’s overrun with tourists and increasingly impossible for Venetians to live in, absolutely.
And it’s fairytale beautiful, astoundingly so.
PS: The neon art alongside this post (as well as the the tree-bench photo and marble throne photo above) can be found in the sculpture garden of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice. (Which is basically the best museum ever.)