When I was 18, I went on the trip of a lifetime to the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, Italy, and France. While the French ports were quaint and beautiful, and Barcelona open and inviting, it was Italy, Italy, ITALY that had me from the very beginning.
From the awe-inspiring architecture of Rome, to the quiet coastal paths of Cinque Terre, to the mélange of garlic and jasmine smells haunting the harbor of Capri, I was devastated by Italy’s beauty. Near the end of the trip, sitting under the chiming bell tower in Vernazza, I swore to myself that I would do anything to live in Italy. Before I left, I bought some famous Italian silk lingerie (which I have still never worn) and an Italian Vogue (as a reminder to learn Italian when I got home; I didn’t). Needless to say, within a few months of returning I was swept up in my fall classes at college, thrilled to be curled up in the campus coffee shop studying and thinking of nothing else except the tantalizing possibility of all the classes available before me. I threw myself into the next four years with every intention of picking up my dreams of Europe once I was done.
Fast forward three years: I had a year and a half left of college, and just enough money saved to apply for the au pair program in Paris I had been reading about for some time. But Life, in the form of a certain future Naval Officer, intervened. Fast and furiously, I might add; Six months after meeting Jake, I was engaged. Even after we got married I held fast to the dreams of Europe, and why not? There were certainly enough duty stations over there to support them. I wasn’t worried.
And then, Now. NOW. This blurry, stretching, infuriating, love-filled, unpredictable, insane and unsettling Now. The Now where Kai thinks his Daddy lives in a phone until he appears for the weekend and then disappears again for weeks. The Now where Jake and I spend hours dreaming up and talking about his shore tour when we might get to see each other for more than 28 days out of the year. The Now when I sit and wonder what happened to that girl in Italy who swore she’d do anything to get back there and Now probably wouldn’t want her husband to accept orders there even if they were offered.
When I was little I watched Dr. Suess’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” every year; I was in love with the part when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes and his wrinkled scowl transforms into a smile. But there is something that Dr. Suess’s imagery doesn’t quite get across to grown-up me: the pain. In my experience, when your heart grows, it HURTS. It rips you open- this heart-growing- it leaves you raw, it leaves you vulnerable. I said yes to Jake and my heart swelled a size and it hurt so bad to say goodbye to Paris and hello to deployments, but I had his brown eyes. And those brown eyes had needs and meeting those made my heart grow more, and it hurt. And then Jake held my hand on the surgical table and he laid a crying baby boy in my arms and my heart swelled and it hurt. It hurt to kiss sleep goodbye and to worry about his fragility and to give up things for him, but every time I did my heart grew. Every time I do, my heart grows. Heart-growing hurts. It hurts every single time. But God, oh please, don’t let it ever, ever stop.
And so, Italy. It still makes its way to the top of
our my dream list sometimes. But to be honest, the things I loved about it just don’t seem to mesh with incredibly active baby boys. The insane cab rides I found thrilling and hilarious at 18 would feel like a game of vehicular Russian roulette with my toddler in the car. Not to mention that I can’t even imagine desecrating the ancient cobblestone sidewalks by pushing a stroller through the crowded marketplaces (I don’t remember seeing a single one when I was there). Where at 18 I ordered by asking the small hole-in-wall Italian owners to bring their favorite dish (much to their creative delight), I would now have to order by asking, “What do you have that is gluten-free, tomato-free, dairy-free, everything free? My baby boy is allergic to every ingredient on the known earth.” Mamma Mia!, indeed.
All of this has come up recently because Jake will be meeting with his detailer this fall to talk about possibilities for his next tour. It helps to know where you’d be willing and able to go- even if you don’t get the final say- so we’ve been writing and re-writing duty station ‘hopeful’ lists a lot. And while Italian dreams will persist even in the face of all logic and necessity for diaper-changing tables in public places, our list will most likely end up being a much more practical one than my 18-year-old self would hope for. That’s alright, because that girl had a much smaller heart. I say, as long as I’m going with those Brown Eyes and those Baby Boy Feet, any place they send us is the top of my list.