Reflecting on Five Years in Rome

“Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in…”  

Mamma mia, I’ve been living in Italy for five years now.  That’s a spicy meat-a-ball!

Along with the start of a new year, I suppose it’s as good an opportunity as any to pause and reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

A lot has happened in five years: I moved across the world, changed jobs/apartments/cars more than once, gained friends, got married, bought a home, lost friends, perfected my Italian, became a dual citizen, totally assimilated into another culture, made at least a dozen trips over the ocean, and – oh, yeah – had a baby.  Phew!  It’s almost dizzying when I break it down into a list like that.  It’s pretty amazing what you can do in five years.

I made my move to Rome in late fall of 2008, fresh from three and a half years of a blissful, care-free existence of beach volleyball, industry parties, and lychee martinis in Los Angeles.  For in the great battle of long distance relationships, I ultimately “lost” and accepted the role of the person who would make the move to allow the relationship to continue to exist and ultimately flourish.

Carrie Bradshaw had New York City; I have Rome.  Although I’ll never underestimate the power of Los Angeles, Rome has been my life-changing city.  As trite as it may sound, I do believe in the concept of falling in love with a place.  That head over heels, knock you on your ass feeling is the only thing that could actually push a person beyond a pipe dream and into a move as bold as mine.  I had made the decision to move for purely personal reasons, but in truth had fallen in love with Rome long before falling in love with my husband.  So the change intrigued and excited me, regardless of my relationship.

However, unlike my first experience with Rome as an inexperienced undergrad, this time there was a lot more already on the table after those amazing years in LA: a great start to an exciting career; a circle of bright, dynamic friends I adored; and a life I had built on my own that I was very proud of.  My standards and expectations for a new beginning in Rome were about, oh, the size of the Hollywood sign.

That first year is a bit of a blur of a lot of work, gelato, and an endless amount of calls to the Italian consulate.  I had spent my last year in LA networking with anyone and everyone who had any business in Rome, and I had some great job leads – but they all said the same thing: “We can’t hire you until you have a work permit and/or citizenship.”  ”My dual citizenship will be coming through any day now,” I’d say confidently, since I already knew I was eligible through my blood line.

It was all just a matter of paperwork being processed, which I had already gathered and delivered almost a year before moving (I’ll save the details of what a rottura di palle that was).  I was sure the bureaucratic bull was over, but I was wrong.  In reality, my dual citizenship wouldn’t be official until almost two long years later, just a couple months before I was to be married and receive it by legal right anyway.  Talk about a calcio in culo (kick in the ass).

Anyway, because of all the effort I put into networking, I did manage to hook myself up with a pretty fantastic freelance gig, and walked into a job a week after I arrived in Rome.  I became Associate Producer of two international film festivals, one on the island of Capri and the other back in Los Angeles.  It was a dream job: I dined with Heather Grahm, had drinks with Baz Luhrman, and hung out with Samuel L. Jackson and his family [sidenote: when he unexpectedly called my cell phone the first time asking who would pick him up at the port in Capri I almost peed my pants, seriously.  The last thing you ever expect to hear when you answer your phone is:  ”Andrea?  Hi, this is Samuel L. Jackson…”].

Too bad the whole shebang was headed by a coked-up crazy man who slowly stressed me into oblivion.  I lasted for two festivals, then had to get out.  By the end of it all, the stress of the job and the move had aggravated an underlying thyroid problem which developed into a full-fledged disease, sending my TSH levels through the roof.  It took many sleepless nights and a dizzy spell before I finally took a blood test and realized what the problem was.  Thankfully, I then found a much more relaxed freelance opportunity with a private luxury events company before the stars aligned and I joined the multi-national media company I now call home.  Once I finally got my career back on track, Rome and I began to get along much better.

On a trip to the States a family friend once told me: “You can live in the most beautiful place in the world, but it’s not worth much if you can’t share it with your loved ones.”  As I nodded my head and said, “You’re right,” I realized that as much as that statement may have been true, part of me disagreed wholeheartedly.

I’ve been blessed to have directly shared this experience numerous times with my parents and visiting family members and friends.  We’ve had repeated vacations and adventures in countless beautiful places many only get to see once in their lives, if lucky.  And I’ve treasured each and every one of those times, since I know all too well they don’t last forever.  People pack their bags and leave, and I stay.  Or I pack my bags and leave, and they stay.  It never gets any easier when we have to say goodbye.

Even when my family hasn’t been physically present, I feel I’ve shared this experience in my heart and mind with them all the time.  All the beauty reminds me of them.  They are a part of me, and have therefore also been present for every amazing sight, sound, and taste.

But most importantly, I’ve shared this experience with myself, which may be the most important thing a person can do.  Nothing will teach you more about the world and about yourself than travel.  Years ago I listened to the little voice in my head telling me to go beyond my comfort zone, and it has made all the difference.  I’ve found that once you listen to that voice, it gets louder, and eventually it’s all you hear.

Of course, a decision of this magnitude has had its drawbacks.  Living abroad can be lonely, polarizing, even depressing, at times.  It’s about living two parallel lives, and juggling them can be exhausting.  Striving to simultaneously enjoy your own reality while being present in another can sometimes feel like an endless whirlwind of translations, time zones, and choppy video calls.  Plus, Italy is really, really freaking far from home.  And the older I get and the more children and stuff I eventually accumulate, the harder the trip becomes.  Rather than a jet-setting adventure, it’s now a process.  And there’s nothing sexy about a process.

All the while in this adventure though, there has been one constant: the joy in finally being together with the man I love, which has managed to balance out all the hardships and has gotten me through it all.

Although it already feels like a lifetime ago, that chance meeting on a train in 2004 began to take on its own life once I made my move to Rome.  I love a good story, and ours has all the makings of a great one: drama, adventure, irrational romantic escapades – the stuff Hollywood writers sweat to dream up.

It may sound like some kind of scripted fairytale, but the reality of that particular day was just a random encounter with a kind (and very handsome) stranger on a train.  Fairytale?  Pssh.  Who needed it?  What I was searching for at the time was clarity, and I had left for Europe with what seemed to be my last chance to find it.  The last thing I needed was some Italian fling that would leave me even more confused.  I was twenty-three years old and wanted to feel certain about something – and I got exactly what I wished for.

Since we met, indecision and indifference have been inexistent.  I knew within the first couple of months: it was him, it is him, it will always be him.  It was the kind of love I had always hoped for, and miraculously, it came when I was convinced I may never find it – a perfect combination of luck, destiny, and an open heart.  That random encounter wasn’t about a romanticized, exotic love story; it was merely an appointment with destiny.  It was one day that would set the wheels of a lengthy process of change in motion, and be the catalyst for a new future that awaited long in the distance.

Do I wish my husband would have been the one to move to Los Angeles back in 2008? Sometimes, yes.  But it makes no sense to look back, especially since this is the city that brought me my life’s greatest gifts: my husband, my son, and a chance to grow and mature as a person in a way I never imagined.  Rome is as much a part of me as I am of it.  The challenge of the whole experience has changed me.  It’s molded me.  It has made me who I am, and I embrace that.

It all reminds me of a recent article about marriage circulating the internet lately, essentially communicating the notion that people don’t actually get married for themselves, but rather for the person they love; the idea that marriage is a selfless act, since you do it more for your spouse than for yourself.

What if the key to true happiness is occasionally sacrificing our own desires for the will of those we love – in both large and small ways – whether life-changing, or habitually insignificant?

In many ways, I feel my decision to move here was a major sacrifice I made for the person I loved.  But, in five years, it has evolved into much more: a new life and a new existence, both literally and figuratively.

Brings to mind one of my favorite old Jimmy Durante songs:

It’s so important to make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy.

Make just one heart to heart you, you sing to.

One smile that cheers you,

One face that lights when it nears you,

One girl you’re – you’re everything to.

Fame, if you win it,

Comes and goes in a minute.

Where’s the real stuff in life, to cling to?

Love is the answer.

Someone to love is the answer.

Once you’ve found her,

Build your world around her.

Make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy.

And you will be happy too.

Indeed, I am.

Una passeggiata a Napoli…

 

25 (Universal) New Parenting Truths

All of life’s greatest milestones involve embracing change and accepting a new reality. One of the most earth-shattering of all new realities, in my opinion, is the birth of a child and his/her first few months of existence in our world.

So, in this spirit, I offer my personal new parenting truths. I refer to them as universal because whether you’re in Italy, Iowa, or Indonesia, the shock of those first few months can be pretty intense. Parenthood may perhaps be the most translatable of all life’s experiences – one that transcends borders, cultures, and language.

Anyway, I know it’s just the beginning and I haven’t even gotten through the first year, but I’ve learned a lot so far. I figured I’d better get this stuff down before moving on and putting that entire period of time in the archived file of my burned-out baby brain.

(Sidenote: I’m convinced the ability to mysteriously “forget” what it was like to be pregnant or have a newborn in the house is yet another one of nature’s greatest tricks: one that allows people to even consider putting themselves through the experience more than once, which in turn allows for the continuation the human race. Because, God knows, if our memories weren’t so romanticized, we’d all opt to go back to a life of margaritas, lazy Sunday mornings, and freedom in general as soon as possible.)

Let’s begin with the obvious:

1. Everyone tried to tell you you’d never have a night of uninterrupted sleep again. You thought they were exaggerating. They were not. Wow, were they not.

2. In fact, everything any other parent told you while you were pregnant was completely true, but it didn’t make any sense at the time. Before you have kids, they all sound like they’re members of some secret society, speaking in code. ”Pampers have better leak control than Huggies? These people seriously don’t have a life anymore – who gives a f***?” You will, that’s who. You’ll become more fluent in their language than you ever cared to be.

3. You’ll spend the first few days just trying to wrap your head around the fact that the hospital staff actually let you take the baby home with you.

4. You’ve never touched so much poop with your bare hands and you stopped giving a shit (excuse the pun) after the first week.

5. Silence will never be the same again, because it’s been filled with the incessant, soft lull of ocean waves and babbling brooks. Your life will start to feel like it has its own soundtrack of white noise – and oddly enough, you’ll be fine with that, since it most likely means your child is sleeping. And that is always a good thing.

6. Anything you need while you’re holding/feeding/burping/changing will inevitably be two centimeters out of your reach – or just enough to put you on the verge of a mini psychological breakdown (which is essentially two centimeters away at any given moment).

7. Nothing will humble you more than having someone vomit on your face/in your mouth for the first time – even if it is your own child.

8. Just when you think you have it all under control, your baby keeps your ego in check. And, ironically, nighttime seems to be when all smooth daytime tasks take on a nightmarish domino effect. Example: the baby wakes at 1am, so you decide to give him a quick snack, thinking it’ll buy you some sleep later. Of course, he poops just as you’re finishing the feeding, forcing you to change him. Then, he gets an interminable case of the hiccups from being on his back. Just as he begins to finally doze-off again, you notice his nose is stuffy. You’re scared he won’t be able to breathe, so you decide to use one of those insane contraptions to suck the snot out, which scares and/or completely pisses him off. He’s now wide awake and ready to start the day – at 3am. And you? You, my friend, are screwed.

9. You thought you knew what it meant to be tired. You didn’t. Your body has reached a level of constant exhaustion beyond your wildest imagination. Yet, you’re learning to be a functioning member of society and perhaps even work in this semi-conscious state. If you’re a typical member of the coddled and pampered Generation Y, you’ll almost certainly never have worked so physically hard in your entire life.

10. You used to spend hours getting ready to go out; now, just leaving the house with your hair and teeth brushed makes you feel “glam.”

11. Emphasis on big ambitions and grandiose plans has been temporarily put on hold to celebrate small daily successes – like actually finding time to shower. You are now enrolled in Priorities 101, and your baby is the professor. The self-centered bubble you may have been living in bursts the moment your little one arrives, like it or not.

12. Anyone who’s hitting thirty or older is especially at high risk of shock, since they’ve most likely spent so much time worrying about themselves, their futures, and personal successes. Me, me, and more me. Let me say this: your baby certainly doesn’t care about your success. He will take your ambition and aspirations, and literally poo all over them. And if you happen to have a career you care about, you’ll have to fight hard to rise from the fumes of that diaper genie and back into the mindset of a person who used to have dreams. It all takes more guts, courage, and stamina than you’ve ever had to muster.

13. Relationships will change, and friends who are single and/or without children will not understand (although they may try). You didn’t, either, before it happened to you. Maybe they choose the restaurant with a huge flight of stairs and no parking, or forget to say you have a stroller when making reservations, causing a scene when you arrive. It’s not worth fighting with them – just participate when it’s comfortable for you. You can still go out, but it has to be on your terms. Whoever doesn’t like it, can deal with it.

14. Just when you think you can’t take anymore, even more is thrown (up) at you. You no longer have command over your own life (especially if you breastfeed). Feel like dropping over and giving up? Too bad. There are no breaks until the baby decides to give you one. But something inside you gives you the strength to go on. Xanax? No, hormones, glorious hormones. Your body is designed to withstand the emotional bombardment as well as the physical. And as cliché as it is, that first loving coo or smile sans teeth does rejuvenate you, at least for a little while.

15. Vulnerability is a new and unexpected sensation. Even if you’ve been independent and fearless with your own existence, you care so much about this new one that it’s downright frightening. You’re now very careful, always.

16. You have developed a superhero-quality protection instinct, and are constantly prepared to defuse any and all potential threats to your child. You’re like a secret service agent on Inauguration Day: whether it’s the shady character walking toward you on the sidewalk, or that picture frame sitting a tad too close to the crib, you’ve become hyper-aware of your surroundings at all times and are always ready to go all chop-suey on someone’s ass, whenever necessary.

17. You thought you knew your spouse, but you’ve been introduced to a new side of him/her. If you’re lucky, you’ll be infinitely surprised and blessed by more sensitivity, care, love, and pride than you ever knew he/she could possess.

18. Your thoughts become more philosophical – but however profound they may be, the conversations with your spouse usually end up sounding like a scene from ”Dazed and Confused.” They go something like: “Can you believe he was inside you – just inside you, like, living in your belly, for nine months? And now, he’s just, like, here right in front of us?”

19. You’ve gained a new appreciation for anatomy and biology, and realize the full potential and magnificence of the human body – essentially that the entire process of conception, pregnancy, and birth is nothing short of, well, magnificent.

20. Patience. Dear, sweet patience. It will need to be infinite. You learn to surrender to it, and once you do, everything gets easier.

21. You find yourself reflecting on the fact that everyone you know who has children – even strangers on the street – has actually been through this experience and survived. Suddenly, you respect them (and your own parents) so much more.

22. You realize life truly is a miracle, and that each child who comes into this world is as important as the next and should be treated as such.

23. Birth is just as mysterious and confounding as death: one moment a living being is here; the next, it’s not (or vice versa). This concept will completely overwhelm you every time you sit and stare at your child while he sleeps, repeatedly pondering how he came into your lives. Mind, officially blown.

24. You thought you knew what love felt like. You’ve never experienced a love stronger than when you see your child. And you never get tired of looking at that face – studying each feature, swearing you’ve seen it somewhere before. This little person is so new, yet seems so familiar to you. The amount of love actually is indescribable and unquantifiable.

25. Your previous existence is a blur – not because it was at all a waste of time, but because you simply can no longer imagine what your life would be like without him.

Passing couple on the sidewalk:

Husband says: ‘Amore, vuoi una goccia d’acqua?’ (Honey, do you want a sip of water?)

And the wife (totally seriously) replies: ‘Ma noooo – ho ancora il sapore del gelato in bocca!’ (No way – I still have the taste of gelato in my mouth!)

Yep, it’s that good.