I’ve felt solid with myself lately after a few heavy years of change, but a bit stagnant in my new skin. My content management work at LinkedIn has been busy recently, just as I’ve also been focusing most of my free evenings recording an upcoming album project. It’s been quite a blur this last 6 months of fumbling forward into my newfound full-time single dad life.
The first week of July – vacation time – was always blocked out in my calendar for a vacation, but all things considered I went a little bigger this year and booked a 2-week sojourn for my son and I across Italy and France starting on the 4th of July. Kaboom.
Perfectly sandwiching itself between the United States’ Independence Day on the 4th, and the 14th de Juilliet (Bastille Day/French Independence Day), it presented an equally poignant shift between cultures. For my son Devin, having not yet left the States, it was an eye-opening experience – speaking in broken sentences in languages he didn’t understand, adapting to strange and different local and cultural norms quickly, leaving his all-too-comfortable preconceptions of the world behind like footprints.
The trip certainly netted us both a truckload of fresh perspective.
In so many ways.
I just needed something focused and outside my box. We opted to only take two small backpacks- no additional carry-ons or pull-behinds. Only 4 days of clothes and basic living/hygiene/charging essentials. A phone and an iPad. My son may be 10 years old but we’ve done significant Scout camping trips and know how to go ninja. That part was really fun for me. If you consider my last few years as rebirth, well fucking A I’m gonna do my backpack trip across Europe, dig? My son’s gonna get it out of his system early. Done and done. This trip taught me lessons before we boarded the first flight.
As soon as we locked my car at the airport garage and walked to our first flight, however, it felt like I dropped anchor and started flying before our Airbus even left the ground. It was magnificent. The thought of having only what was on my back, my son (and best friend) with me, and 2 weeks of unbridled adventure ahead. It was easy for him at first, the novelty of the experience and the rushed checkpoints and connections. But once we dropped into sunny Rome things got a lot tougher.
It had been a grueling 2.5 hour tour in the blistering sun through the Colosseum and it’s surrounding grounds culminating in a quick hike up Palatine Hill for what was promised to be an epic view, and Devin was already a sweaty, groaning mess. I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it all the way. But he pushed through, and once he saw his effort repaid I watched him grow up and get a little wiser in front of my eyes. I did see him slip out more than a few tears of pain as we walked back down that infernal hill out to taxi hailing range, but also felt his swells of pride in the memory. That magnificent view he’ll hold for the rest of his life now made each miserably hot downhill step resonate just a little more confidently. To see that happen as a father… well, moments just don’t get much better.
Educationally, it was pretty much a infield double. We learned everything we set out to learn, got exposure to two languages and cultures, and checked off each of the must-visit sights on our list. Although we didn’t dive as deeply into Italian or French language conversationally, having Devin able to speak a week bit of Italian helped him so much in getting basic concepts across in the language, and the effort was repaid by many kind Italians in return.
The sights, oh the sights. From the Roman Colosseum to Herculaneum in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius (on fire while we visited, no less), to the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, Devin was whirlwinded through a first-hand cavalcade of bucket-list sights and landmarks that you just can’t replace with Google and Wikipedia. The ‘secret spots’ were even better. Wandering through the temples of Athena and Hera at the ruins of Paestum before nibbling fresh gelato and observing mozzarella di bufala production at a huge organic buffalo farm. The catacombs underneath both Napoli and Paris, monuments to tragedy in similar but drastically different ways. The transparent pyramids of the Louvre, and the splendour of the Tuileries Gardens. Just breathtaking.
I wish I’d been able to have seen these sights at Devin’s age. His view of the world is so much deeper than the 2 centuries of American history now. You can’t get that without putting boots on the ground, I’m afraid. I wish every American kid had this opportunity. This chance to see the world from an accurate perspective, a truer baseline.
Most of our language education came from being corrected or assisted as we tried to fumble out rudimentary Italian. Although I often initiated much of our conversations with locals, Devin was incredibly bold about jumping in and trying each day, and honestly – it was far more fun to watch situations develop with him in the conversational hot seat. Through his playful interactions I ended up learning a lot more about the local languages and cultures myself.
For recharging myself and getting some perspective on my own momentum and directions, it was a success beyond my wildest hopes and dreams. You notice a lot of things when you’re literally on the opposite side of the globe as your comfort zone.
I noticed, or more accurately was reminded that we take our abundance of personal space very much for granted in America. You have much less privacy and personal space outside the US. A week away from my own condo, bed, bathroom, and local haunts has made me both respect others’ boundaries more while also not taking the minor, daily intrusions upon my own quite as personally. It’s helped us both live and let live a bit better, I suppose.
I noticed the need to talk less and listen more. When you’re the one on the wrong side of the language barrier, sometimes you just need to shut up and let the locals figure out how to convey an address, or point out a direction, or just recommend a good appetizer and drink for the entree selection you could barely pronounce in the first place.
I realized that I’ve missed traveling, and really wish we’d been able to do more of it as a whole family before Des and I separated. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a regret, per-se, but certainly a goal we shared before our marriage went haywire, and I feel like Devin really missed out on having both his mother and his father be part of experiences like this.
I realized that I can do it on my own. The whole tour manager/travel agent thing, that is. And that’s not something I had thought I’d be able to do all by myself after years of a logistical spouse and great travel department at Adobe. Our itinerary was pretty complex, hopping from hostel to B&B to inn nightly across the first week to accomodate a roving travel plan. Despite the patchwork of trains, planes, and Übers required to usher it all along, we never missed a beat and always (except for one horrible trip between Naples and Paris) had a smooth transit town-to-town. I’m just gonna give myself a big high-five here for pulling it off, and leave it at that. Phew.
I just feel like stressing over life a lot less right now, and fighting it even more less. Letting natural rhythms and gravities help lead me as they have been, to equally positive results. Respecting the journey and not obsessing over the destination. Getting a little me-and-son time helped remind me who I am. I know who I want to be, too. No need to overcomplicate things.
I’m not sure if you can put fresh perspective into a few short paragraphs, let alone sentences. But what I’ve brought back from this trip is a much broader view of the world around me, much less of a focus on the narrow slice I’ve been living in, and a real desire to move forward with my creative writing (words and notes), alongside my broader career. Pauses are nice when they recharge you for a big step forward. I really got that charge this time. It’s been beautiful to reconnect with the world, but I’m now itching to get back to it.
And that’s the best perspective I could have right now- one slightly blurred by rapid forward momentum. And starting to plan my next vacation abroad, lest I lose perspective again. 🙂