The small things


Living in Italy has taught me many things. More importantly it’s taught me to appreciate the small things. And when I say small, I mean REALLY small. Everything here is smaller; the homes, the cars, the roads, grocery stores, the portions at restaurants. You name it, it’s smaller. The only thing that’s not smaller in Italy is the churches!

When we first found out we’d be moving to Rome, and I saw for the first time the tiny apartment my family would be moving into for at least the next few years, I was beyond nervous. I was leaving my brand new, luxurious and spacious two bedroom, two bath condo, with every kitchen amenity one could dream of for THIS! I mean “this”.  The university’s campus here in Rome is located in what used to be a convent. Our apartment is made up of one long and narrow hallway with three little rooms, a very nice living room area, a ten foot galley kitchen and through the kitchen is the entrance to our tiny bath, senza tub. When I first saw the apartment, it was and had been housing a family of four for the past eight years. I remember thinking “How do they live in this space?”

Then we moved in. I was six weeks into my first pregnancy. I had just left the only state I had ever called home. I had no friends, no family, other than Mike of course. I remember getting out of the car after Mike picked me up from the airport after a very long and lonely flight. He walked me up to our new digs with my two suitcases. He helped me get settled for a few minutes and then he had to get back to work. I walked around my new house. (It took me a mere two minutes to check everything out). Yep, two minutes. Wow, this is it? We had been left two chairs in the living room and two odd uncovered foot rests. The whole apartment was hospital white with fluorescent lighting.

My pregnancy hormones quickly signaled immense emotional breakdown and triggered an unbearable headache. I sat on the floor in my new “kitchen” facing my sink/counter space, next to my four feet tall tiny fridge. My back nearly touched the tiny hutch for storage behind me. I sat and I cried. My crying turned into bawling and hysterics. I cried for the dishwasher I left behind, my stainless steel super sized appliances, the boxes and boxes of fancy wedding gifts we’d received just 10 months earlier, which are now sitting collecting dust in storage at our parents’ places.

My husband and I didn’t live together before we were married and we had spent the first six months of marriage making our apartment our “home.” How could I start all over? How could I do this here; with no Crate and Barrel, no Target, no CAR, AND while pregnant and experiencing the worst “all day” sickness ever?! I sat and I cried. I sat on that floor for nearly 2 hours and just cried. (At least I was close to the bathroom for when the pregnancy nausea got the best of me.) I was scared and nervous and all the excitement I had when I learned we would be moving to Italy suddenly evaporated. I wanted my mom and my sisters to be there to help me plan transforming this “space” into my home. Thinking about not having them there for mere decorating purposes made me realize they would not be there the day my baby was born. I had always pictured that day my whole life. The man in the room’s face was always blank (until I met Mike), but my mom and Amalia and Kaylea were always right there. Or at least in the waiting room with my three brothers and Dad. This realization was the onset of even more nausea.

After two very long hours on the floor, I composed myself and started unpacking. My husband was amazing and dedicated every weekend that first four or five weeks to trips to IKEA. THANK GOD for IKEA! Our entire apartment could be an ad for IKEA. We picked out paint with the help of a few of Mike’s amazing colleagues; Martha, Gabriella, and Cristina. They were not my mom and sisters, but the job got done and the colors made an enormous difference. I learned I was not alone, that Mike’s colleagues who had been strangers just days before would become great friends and a source of great comfort when I was missing home. I learned quickly after Annie’s birth that I was wrong, they would become “family.”

I spent days frustrated because I didn’t know where to go to buy things for the house. And then once I would find a place and finally get there they would be closed for siesta! I hated this two years ago. I have learned to love it and that life is to0 important and short to work 24 hours a day. That stores should close for family time. And that, though maybe inconvenient, the Europeans have got it right. Why do we always have to have everything at our fingertips 24 hours a day? What does it hurt to wait til tomorrow and grab your family and go for an unexpected outing, or spend the evening concocting meals from what seemed like an empty pantry, or starving and, instead of moping, having a tickle session on the floor to distract from the pangs of hunger?

I learned that having a tiny home is a gift. It forces us to spend our days outside exploring and learning and soaking in our beautiful city. Of course, we make memories in our residence, but home is much more. Home is Rome. It is the tiny cobblestone alleys, the beautiful piazzas lined with artists and musicians, it’s the delicious gelato melting down the side of  your fingers on a hot day, it’s the kind neighbors you meet on the autobus you’d never have met had you stayed inside. I pray I can take this attitude back to the states, where things are faster paced and super sized, whenever we move back . That Chicago, or Springfield, or Hersey, or Smallville will become our next adventure with hidden treasures to discover.

Our house is our “home”, of course. But it has made me realize that it is primarily a place for sleeping, getting clean, and eating. That memories are made under our roof, but our most spectacular memories are made under the stars. Or under the columns in St. Peter’s Square. Or sitting beside the fountains watching the tourists and feeding the birds. Stumbling upon a surprise concert in front of the Spanish Stairs. Tasting carciofi alla giudea or stracetti con porcini e tartufo for the first time. Taking in the sunset from il parco degli arancia.

The most spectacular memories are the small things, the stumble upons. I stumble a LOT in my tiny apartment. I stumbled over the boxes that didn’t fit when we moved here. I stumble constantly over our fold out dining table that hardly fits in the hallway, our “dining room.” I stumble when I try to pass Annie’s highchair (that takes up the entire kitchen) when trying to get to the fridge or the stove. When I stub my toe or feel cramped in my space, we pack up and get outside! Just yesterday, Annie and I packed up to explore and we stumbled upon three amazingly friendly French women visiting Rome for the first time, a five year old boy celebrating his birthday, a new gelateria, and caught the glimpse of a beautiful green parrot in a palm tree.

The dishwasher I cried over that first day, I don’t even miss. I would, however, miss all the things Italy has opened my eyes to. That if you don’t “get out there” and experience all the small things your city or town has to offer, your life just passes you by. What will you stumble upon today?

One response »

  1. Well said, Colleen. You’re right – it’s easy to get frustrated here, but it’s an experience unlike anything else. The good outweighs the “bad” and the “good” just gets better.

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