Karen Takes on Italy … and wins!

When I mentioned I was going to Italy for the month of July, the suggestions and recommendations poured in. Everyone who had been to the boot told me of all the places I absolutely must see. It was overwhelming, and, quite frankly, a little frightening. With 5 kids in tow, few activities other than hanging out by the pool, swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea and drinking Tuscan wine sounded appealing. This trip was not meant to be a Karen Takes on Italy Reality Show. It was just a way to do something different, to infuse ourselves into Italian life for a few weeks and take a break from reality.

Now, I am at the tail end, and I am happy to report … success.

If you’ll allow me, I will toot my own horn for a bit.

This is what we did right.

1. We learned from our mistakes.

Don’t let the smiles fool you!

Day Trip #1 ROME: We took all the kids, had a very specific agenda, dragged them from place to place, tried to cram in as many facts and figures as possible and expected them to be awed and amazed, and to feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity. We ended up carrying the boys through enormous crowds in 100 degree temperatures, boring the other kids and generally exhausting and frustrating everyone.

Note the Duomo in the back right. Check!

Day Trip #2 FLORENCE: We left the 3 year olds at home. We planned to visit only three sites: the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens. We had some minor setbacks, left late, couldn’t find convenient parking, walked a mile on the Arno and sat down to lunch. We bagged the Duomo as we could see it in the distance, walked over Ponte Vecchio, got lost in the Boboli Gardens and walked about another mile to find our way out. We ended up boring the kids and generally exhausting and frustrating everyone — but not nearly as bad as Rome.

 

Day Trip #3 SIENA: We took all the kids, had no plan, left late in the day when the sun wasn’t so high, walked around, had gelato, ate pasta and left. Needless to say, Siena is the kids’ favorite Italian city.

2. We made them fend for themselves.

If they were thirsty, or hungry or had a question, we made them figure it out. Stepping outside your comfort zone is the key to fully enjoying a foreign country, also a key to fully enjoying many aspects of life. None of us speak a lick of Italian and the few words they’ve been trying on for size like, “Grazie” and “Prego” get muddled on their American tongues. Yet, when I made my daughter go into a shop where the owner speaks no English and ask for directions, she got them. She also got a valuable life lesson and a healthy dose of confidence. From there on out, she had no reservations about approaching an Italian speaking person, and nine times out of ten, the interaction was successful.

3. We avoided words like strange or weird.

If my children take nothing else from this trip, it is my hope they take a better understanding of the differences in cultures. It is not weird Italians use a bidet (O.K. I know, it is a little weird. How exactly do they work? How do you dry your butt? Don’t your clothes get wet?) It is simply different. It isn’t strange everything closes for the afternoon only to reopen at 7pm. (O.K. I know, it is a little strange. How do they accomplish anything? Why would they give up the possible income? What do they do back there?) As you can see, my parents failed at the “it isn’t weird, it is different lesson.” It is my intention to parent differently, so I keep my thoughts to myself.

4. We didn’t try to do too much.

With a whole month to kill, we had the luxury of being able to spend many lazy days poolside and at the beach. The kids played soccer every day, read, played games and made pizza. They learned much more about life in Italy by picking rosemary off the bushes, playing pick up with a bunch of Italian kids, and taking a moment to watch a moon rise over an olive grove. They sipped some wine, met some new friends and tried some new things. They may not remember who painted the Sistine Chapel (please let them at least remember who painted the Sistine Chapel), but they will remember what it felt like to soak in a Tuscan sun. Who could ask for anything more?

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Doctor, mom of five and founder of Tips From Town.

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