I am not sure if true silence exists. As I sit here writing this, I am listening to my washing machine spin, chatting on the street below, pigeons cooing outside of my window and I can vaguely even hear the flame on my stove-top warming curried lentils. What I am sure of is that a lack of silence exists. That being said, it is really quiet in my home today. Today is the first day of school.
2 months ago, we arrived in our new home in our new town of Montepulciano. We were filled with excitement and apprehension as well as curiosity and naivety. I am incapable of truly articulating my experience as we have transitioned, other than to say it has been destabilizing. I know that I should have expected this but one of the reasons that I pull the trigger on crazy things like moving to another country for no apparent reason is that I don’t think through the possible struggles. It is a blessing and a curse.
As I have shared with close family and friends, one factor that I did not consider aside from being in a new country and not speaking the language or knowing the customs was that I would be alone with my kids non-stop for two months with no built in breaks like playdates, camps, or shipping them off to grandparents (really missing those grandparents about now). In addition, the 2-3 hours per night I am used to having with my husband and alone when he travels has been erased from my life due to Italian bedtimes ranging from 11pm-1am. For my kids and me, this was way too much time together without breaks. I felt a constant need to entertain or plan outings for them and they felt the almost constant need to irritate each other. I resorted to shoving technology in their faces enough times to feel serious mommy guilt. For any parent that has stayed home with their new babies or young toddlers for an extended period, there is a common understanding that one of the challenges is that you are never alone, but consistently lonely and isolated. It feels like silence, but it is never quiet. It takes a long time for the brain to get a hold of the concept that your children can make you feel lonelier than you have ever felt when you were actually alone. I think it must have something to do with the giving of so much energy to a little being that is incapable of giving back. That being said, 2 months, no breaks and I think I experienced actual insanity. So much so that I began to separate all of my drastic and life-altering thoughts and place them into tiny brain boxes labeled “you are not capable of making life decisions so address this later”. The voices in my head ranged from whispering to blatantly screaming disparaging statements about my marriage, my mothering, my career (lack thereof), and my body image. In moments of clarity, I tapped into my experience with yoga and meditation and watched the thoughts scramble around trying to find a permanent space in my definition of reality. In other moments, I grabbed those thoughts, owned them and inserted them into my identity. On the tail end of a 12-day road trip through Spain, France and Switzerland, I realized that I was enjoying very little of this incredible adventure. I was locked in a state of overwhelm and fielding other’s need and emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I am not delusional, fielding needs and emotions is in the of description of being a parent and a spouse. But when there is never a break and never a moment to field your own thoughts, needs and emotions, it is possible that you might want to just quit your job or at least rewrite the job description. all of this while being surrounded and engulfed by a once in a lifetime opportunity to live abroad with young kids and soak up a new culture..guilt, guilt, guilt.
When I reached my breaking point, I sat in the “giardini” (basically a city park) at 11:30 at night and dumped every crazy thought onto my mother over WhatsApp. That was phase one in getting to a stable headmspace. Step two was declaring the need for actual alone time, desperately and frantically to my husband. The following day, he took the kids out and about for 4 hours and I binged watched Big Little Lies and ate a giant bowl of popcorn. OK, this is not exactly silence but it felt dang close to it. The voices continued with commands and requests to use the time more productively by cleaning, cooking, figuring out how to use my lengthy education to do something worth-while with myself, etc. etc. With all of my might, I fought the thoughts and sat on my butt.
I can’t back up any of what I am about to say with science, but I can tell you anecdotally that the absence of stimulation, obligation and responsibility, even for 4 short hours, is necessary and valuable for health. Maybe not a binge session of HBO dramas, but pushing the off switch in whatever way you do that. This was almost a week ago and I am still riding the high of time alone and unattached. Someday this may look like 4 hours on a meditation pillow, but for now it looks like Netflix.
Today marks another transition that has offered me even more alone time, the first day of school. I am 3 hours post-drop-off and not sure what to do with myself after finishing all of the chores (guess I will write a blog post!). What I am learning about myself is that in times of transition, the voices in my head act up more than normal. The voices are telling me that I should be enjoying every moment of this adventure, but that is not what adventure is. That is what vacation is, or at least has the potential to be. And this is definitely not a vacation. The voices, the thoughts, the ideas, and pressure are not me. They are transient and they are often liars, so while I move through this next transition, I hope to appreciate the lessons that relative silence will bring. And maybe by the end of this experience, I will have learned how to quiet the voices in the silence and in the chaos.
On a side “travel” note: Here are some things that I can definitely say rocked my world and distracted me from my crazy:
Northern Italy visit: Stayed at Ca ‘Del Lupo in Montelupo Albese near Alba after visiting our favorite winery nearby in Nizza Monferrato. If you are in the area do not miss out on Cascina la Barbatella where you can schedule an intimate and beautiful tasting of local Barbera as well as some whites that will knock your socks off. The owner is gracious and generous and you will leave well fed and very relaxed.
Avignon, France: This was not my favorite town but we loved kayaking down the River Gardon under the Pont du Gard aqueduct. It was beautiful and a relaxing way to spend the day. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and water bottle. It is about a 2 hour trek and there are plenty of places to dock your canoe or kayak and enjoy the beautiful river. You will be provided a dry container for things that you prefer to keep dry!
Barcelona: Barcelona has a lot to offer but I would not go again in 90 degree weather in the midst of tourist season. Kids loved eating at The Good Burger and feeding the pigeons in the square. We got our fill of Gaudi which was definitely a highlight! Might have done a little fall shopping too!
San Sebastian: All I have to say is “pintxos”. This was one of my favorite experiences because my son, Parker, was able to use his Spanish fluency to dominate the pintxos bars and make sure his parents and sis were well fed. By the end of our 3 days there Parker would sit at the bar to order and then stay there to eat, helping other English speaking travelers order their tapas and wine. Additionally, we landed an incredible AirBnB which gave us space to spread out and put us in the middle of the action. Kids would probably report that the aquarium was their favorite excursion but the rickety old amusement park that overlooks the whole city was pretty fun too! San Sebastian is stunning, clean and all around incredible. Make time to take a walk or run along the shoreline and play on the gorgeous sandy beach. Don’t miss it if you are headed to Spain.
Central France: En route to the epic town of Murren, Switzerland, we needed two pit stops between San Sebastian and our Swiss destination so we popped into Domaine Des Monedieres. Ahhhh, how I wish we would have had more than 14 hours at this lovely little resort that features individual cabins, a spa, playground, lake with peddle boats and canoes, hiking trails and a sweet restaurant. It was also amazing to wake up to fresh croissants and baguettes on our porch. This place warrants a return visit for some serious outdoor family time.
Lyon: Yet again, I needed more time….mainly to eat. Lyon is a beautiful old city that we could have meandered around for days (sans kids) but primarily, I would have preferred to eat there for multiple days instead of one night. For our kids, who were pretty much wasted at this point (Finn fell asleep on my lap in the restaurant), we found a burger joint, Les Frangins, and binged on one of the best burgers and fries that I have ever had. Go hungry!
Murren: Just go….it needs no explanation other than to empty your savings account because it is SPENDY!!!! OK, I will say a bit more! After parking your car, you will take a giant gondola up 2500 vertical feet and then a train to the little town of Murren. We stayed at the Eiger Guesthouse which was perfect. Really comfortable rooms and a great restaurant/bar on the main floor. Everyone speaks English in Murren so we were thrilled because after 4 countries, we were spitting out random fragments of languages in all of the wrong places and making absolutely no sense. We spent a good portion of our time at a playground in the mountains that sits outside of a cute restaurant. To travel to the playground, you take another gondola and then you drink beer, eat fondue and watch your kids play for 3 hours. Murren is stunning. Pack warm clothes because the hiking is worth it if you can bundle up!