In 2006, when my husband turned 40, I suggested he do something special to celebrate.
Soon he was happily snow boarding in Colorado. I stayed home with our fussy 2 year old.
This summer, four years later, I was the one who was turning 40, and after nearly 12 years of marriage and 6 years of motherhood, I felt as if I'd lost a piece of myself somewhere along the way.
What happened to the woman who once loved to travel–who ate octopus and feta cheese in Greece, falafel in Israel, smoked herring in Finland, and various dishes spiced with paprika in Hungary?
Post motherhood, the farthest from Pennsylvania I'd ventured was Canada, and I'd spent much of my time there nursing our baby, who had a double ear infection and high fever.
On the cusp of 40, I longed to escape motherhood and, once again, immerse myself in the culture and cuisine of a foreign land.
"I'd like to go to Italy for my 40th," I blurted out one night.
"I have no interest in going to Italy," my husband replied.
"Do you mind if I go without you?" I asked.
He did not.
Plans were made, a travel companion (my close friend Deb) was found, and deposits were placed on villas, flights and more.
I would go to Montepulciano, a wine region in Tuscany. It seemed like the perfect setting for an overwhelmed working mother to unwind, recharge, and renew her soul.
Yet whenever I told anyone about the trip, I was besieged with questions like:
You're not going with your husband?
You mean your husband is okay with you going without him?
What's wrong with your husband?
My husband would never let me do something like that. Are you sure he's okay with it?
I continually found myself asking him, "Are you sure you are okay with me going?" and continually hearing him say that he was.
In the months, weeks and days leading up to the trip, my life as wife, mother and family breadwinner became more and more hectic. It seemed as if hundreds of papers came home with our daughter from school–all of them needing a careful read, a signature, a check written or something else. My writing assignments intensified, causing me to get up at 5 am and go to bed after 11 pm so I could finish them.
And as much as I couldn't wait to escape my roles as wife and mother, I did not want to leave my husband or daughter in a lurch, so I made sure the kitchen was well stocked and the bills were all paid.
Two nights before the trip I asked, "If she gets sick while I'm gone, do you know who her doctor is?"
"Ehm," he said with a long pause. "I guess not."
I created list with the pediatrician's name and number, our regular baby sitter's name and number and the vet's name and number. That led to another list of our daughter's school schedule: sneakers on Tuesdays, a check to aftercare on Wednesdays, show and tell on Thursdays, library books on Fridays.
On the day I left, I felt a combination of excitement and exhaustion.
I walked into our daughter's room. Clothes, books, toys and various other things covered her carpet. I thought about frantically cleaning it all up. Then I took a deep breath, and I reminded myself, "He's a grown up, and he's her parent, too. He can handle this."
Hours later, the plane landed in Florence, and I soon realized that every aspect of Italy–from the rolling countryside to the people to the food-was stunningly beautiful.
Would Italy become a lover of sorts? Would I ever want to tear myself away from this lover and return to the boring monotony of marriage and motherhood?
Italy fussed over me, encouraging me to sleep in.
It told me to nap, too.
And it ordered me to eat, eat and eat some more-with not a care in the world as to the caloric content of it all.
I swear that it even told me that I was beautiful and that it loved me. I swear that it did.
Along with Deb, my travel companion, I wandered aimlessly through various medieval towns. I tasted wines. I tasted cheese. I tasted olive oils.
I lounged by the fire.
I ordered, ate, and savored all sorts of foods that my daughter would find absolutely gross and disgusting: pigeon ravioli, wild boar, rabbit, Carpaccio, and more.
I drank wine with lunch. I drank wine with cheese. I drank wine with dinner.
I did not have wine with breakfast. In Italy, breakfast is for espresso.
I relaxed in thermal hot baths.
I got a massage.
I read by the pool.
I pretended to speak Italian.
I became one with La Dolce Far Niente-- the sweetness of doing nothing.
Then around day 6 or 7, the strangest sensation took over my being. I was homesick.
I fantasized about my husband's body. I ached to hug my daughter and to smell her head.
I missed mundane objects like my pillow and my showerhead.
A few days later I was again on an airplane, and I found myself looking forward to home just as intensely as I had been looking forward to Italy only 9 days before.
I was greeted with hugs, kisses, a clean house, a clean dog and a well-stocked fridge.
Along with various gifts and souvenirs, I brought home a renewed gusto for life, love, marriage and motherhood. I hugged my daughter tighter and more often. I ran my hands over my husband's body. I laughed more and at everything.
I didn't mind playing Chutes and Ladders and other games that, before my trip, I'd thought of as boring and monotonous.
I hummed as I took out the recycling.
One night, my husband made his usual commotion as he came to bed, waking me in the process. Before Italy I would have moaned and groaned and did my best to shoot all sorts of "how dare you?" negative energy into the bedroom. Now, after Italy, though, I lovingly ran my palm over his chest and murmured that I loved him.
I suppose, over time, my Italian gusto will ebb.
I suppose, over time, I will again come to find parenthood monotonous.
And when that happens, I will go somewhere–and I will go there without my family.
And I will do it because I love them, and because I love me, too.
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