August 6th, 2015
Can we go home?
We are in Rome, Italy. In the Colosseum.
It’s hot, stinking humid. I’ve got sweat leaking down the small of my back into my ass crack.
The crying starts. Edie.
David puts her on his shoulders. This is way nicer than I can be. I have a middle-aged womans aversion to heat. I want nothing and no one to touch me while I boil.
The tour guide is showing us where the wild animals entered the Colosseum before they were slayed, some 5,000 tigers, lions and bears, any wild animals they could get their hands on, a day.
Sometimes they fed prisoners and criminals to the lions for sport, she tells us.
And everyone cheered!
She looks at the children and smiles.
Lucy is appalled.
Are you sure this is age appropriate? Lucy asks me.
I watch everyone fill up their water bottles at a tap, and David and I realize we forgot the water bottles. We give each other the look parents give each other when they realized they have royally fucked their day.
Lucy solves this by drinking out of the tap like it’s a water fountain. Edie stands and looks at the running water, crying.
It is obvious we are the weak links in the tour group. When they move onto the Forum and Pallantine Hills, we mercifully cut them loose.
We take our kids to a restaurant to get sparkling water, gelato, relief from heat, relief from walking and from all things historical. We had been to this restaurant before and this makes Lucy pout.
This restaurant again?
Yes, this ivy-covered, gelato palace in the center of Rome? Yes, this one. Again.
Edie is miffed because the waiter is not delivering the sparkling water to the table fast enough, and she explains, between great choking breaths, that if we had just gone to a shop and bought a bottle of water for her, her life would be 1000x improved.
She weeps silently at the table.
The water, gelato, (and ice cold beers, for us, because we need them) come and there is a moderate increase in happiness, but there is a fear we might make them see another ancient building. They are guarded.
But we are benevolent parent dictators and we take them to a store called “Accessorize” (think the British version of “Claire’s”)
This perks them up.
Until we politely refuse to buy Edie 20-euros worth of Italian strawberry lip balm and a new purse for Lucy. This is the last straw of injustices heaped upon them since the Colesseum.
There is pouting, and stomping across cobblestones on the way home.
David sees a mens clothing store he is interested in. He has been talking about checking it out. Edie refuses to enter, and stands in the alley, until I say I will stand in the alley with her, so she isn’t killed by traffic or abducted into a sex slavery ring. All so David can look around a bit. But he can’t really look around, and we know that, because we are being held hostage by cranky children. So he gives up.
But then I see a store with lovely leather bags in the window and I have been wanting one. I almost never buy myself extravagant things, but maybe this one time.
Oh thanks…yes, I got it in Rome.
The bag is dark brown, soft leather, the kind that feels like crushed up tissue paper in your hands. It matches my favorite boots. It looks very high end, and it’s big enough to hold my children’s chewing gum wrappers and bathing suits and snacks and rocks and Ipads.
I will look good carrying this bag.
Even though it will be filled with rubbish.
It’s on sale.
We pop inside and Edie sits on the steps outside, again, and Lucy whines that she is the one who needs a bag, not me, (which strikes me as nuts since I carry everyone’s shit everywhere) and then keeps “accidentally” stepping on our feet, while the sales person does a deep sales pitch on the bag.
But I can’t look around. Can’t focus on what she is saying about the quality of the leather and how the price is ridiculously low for the quality, and its the ultimate Italian hand bag, and it’s so….blah blah blah. The sulking and misbehavior are too much.
We leave the store – bagless – all of us angry.
We silently clomp down side streets and alleys, like bitchy horses, the children mumble about how they didn’t get anything for themselves, and how terrible we are….
How could you be so mean?
And then something happens. It’s weird.
I start crying. Like really crying, not just tears in my eyes. But a full on wall of tears, while walking down this little street in Rome. I can’t hold it back.
My children are sociopaths, I think. Or those odd people who can’t take social cues and keep talking even though everyone wants to run away and they have no idea.
We take our children to Europe and they are bitching about bags and lip balm.
Are they so entitled and given so much they can’t see how lucky they are? Or can’t even be grateful? Or nice?
Maybe I’m just hot and ornery…
But when was the last time I bought a nice bag for myself? Or any bag? Or any thing?
God, are our kids selfish? Like in the bad sense of the word?
I cry harder. Edie tenses. She looks terrified. I don’t come undone that often.
You’ve made your mother cry, David says. He’s pissed.
When I get emotional, he is a bit of a blow torch.
We’ve turned some kind of corner now, and our kids rarely feel the heat as hot as this. They are freaked out.
We get to the apartment. Edie is crying because I’m crying. If I’m undone, she’s undone. Lucy closes up, like an oyster in a shell. Clamped shut, her anger is her fortress. We sit in four different places in the tiny flat.
The kids go for the Ipads, but David cuts them off.
No Ipads until discussions and apologies.
Edie is the first to buckle. As always. She cries in my arms. She cannot handle any unsettled territory between us. She apologizes, but I know she doesn’t know what she is apologizing for. She just wants everything to rewind.
I call her on it.
This makes her fall into tiny ripped up pieces. We know her deal. She switches the focus, her saddness takes center stage, then, we console her and forget why we are upset.
You hurt mummy, David says. He won’t let her off the hook. Won’t let her dwell on herself.
We talk about leather bags, and lip balm. And standing in the street alone in a foreign city. We talk about how much grown-up work has to be done to give them big gifts and little gifts, and we talk about tantrums and anger and self-control. We talk about what we have and what we don’t have, and we take the measurements of these things.
We talk about patience, and faith that the things they need will be provided. But not everything they want. There is a difference, we tell them. We talk about what we don’t do for ourselves, so we can do for them. We talk about when to be selfish and when to be generous, and we tell her we know its not always easy to know when and how much of both is needed, but both are important. We tell her she will learn, and we will help her.
There are make-up kisses and hugs for me and David.
But Lucy is harder to crack.
She doesn’t crumble into our approval. Although she wants it, she will not walk down the path to get it.
She sits in the loft and pouts and mutters to herself.
She will not apologize. She is not ready to talk.
We let her be.
Finally, she comes down from the loft and plunks herself into the big leather easy chair, near us. She’s ready.
She tells us we don’t listen to her. That she was trying to tell us something, but all we cared about was the bag. And the walls of the fortress crack, they are jagged pieces of shell now. She is exposed. I see her. She cries. She won’t hug us or come to us, so we go to her. We pile into the deep chair, which smushes us all together, like a soggy sandwich. It’s uncomfortable, but she doesn’t fight us. This is how I know she needs us.
We hold her, even though she won’t hold us back.
We listen to her talk for a long time, and we tell her that we hear her a lot, but she has a lot of ideas and things going on in her head, so sometimes we need to listen to other people, like the woman showing us the bags. And we talk about patience, and taking stock of other people, reading people, knowing when to talk and when to listen. We tell her there are right ways and wrong ways to get people’s attention. We tell her she is worth hearing, but people will tune her out if she doesn’t find the right way. We tell her she will learn, and we will help her.
We wait for her to tell us how she feels, and her apology.
It comes hard, but it comes, with tears and hugs and smiles.
There is snuggling. Finally.
We are all exhausted.
We are done.
We need a break from Rome.
Rome needs a friggin’ break from us.
We lay around the tiny apartment eating proscuitto, cheese and speck. We read quietly. We open the door into the alley and let in the Roman air, the sounds of people eating together at open air restaurants, and tourists hustling by. We hear someone playing an accordian. Of course there is an accordian – out there is beautiful Italy.
But soon we ignore the beautiful, and all of us flop onto the big bed and watch “Shark Tank” on the computer, maybe because it reminds us of home, maybe because it doesn’t have the weight of an ancient stadium, with all its meaning and significance.
Maybe there is no weight at all. And that is what we need.
We are tiny feet draped across big feet, heads laying on chests, big fingers entwined in little fingers. A mess of a family.