I met my husband four and a half years ago on a snowy and bitterly cold night in Philadelphia. I never believed in love at first sight, but standing there on my aunt’s freezing front porch as I answered the door to let him in, it happened to me. It would be months before we actually started dating; living in different cities neither of us wanted to start off with the distance between us. But about every three weeks Michael would fly to Chicago to play in his band with his buddies and we would meet up for a drink or a dinner or quick coffee. During our second meeting in Chicago over a beer and peanuts, Michael explained to me his plans to live and work abroad in Italy someday. Without a second’s thought, I reacted, “Well then, I think you should date someone else.” (I should remind you that at this point we weren’t even officially dating yet.) I explained that my family was my life, Chicago my home and I could never live far from them. That if he wanted to fly me to Italy or anywhere else in the world six times a year that’d be just fine, but my family was the only place home could be for me and I would never leave them. I wanted my children to grow up like I did, down the street from cousins, constantly surrounded by family.
Funny how life doesn’t always turn out like you plan.
Nine short months after that very conversation we were engaged with plans to establish Chicago as our home. Nine even shorter months after we were married we learned we would be moving to Rome.
By then I was extremely excited about the opportunity to live in Europe and obviously more on board than I had been during my initial reaction to my husband’s dream job. When your other half has the opportunity to follow life’s dream, something that had been dreamt about years before you came into the picture, you give up anything to make that happen. You have to at least try. Right?
And it’s been great. I love my life here. There have obviously been ups and downs. My first four months living here I cried a lot. Didn’t know if I could really make this my home. Really missed my family. Mike has always been so supportive and his reaction to my tears was and is always, “You say the word and we’re on the next plane home.” That only made me cry harder. If he would do that for me, I needed to try harder. We came up with a plan (Ha! You’d think by this time I would’ve known better than to make “plans”). We decided that three years would be enough of an effort and that if by then Rome didn’t feel like home, we’d start making plans to return to the states. Annie was born and things were rocky for a bit. I was unsure if I could handle everything here so far from family. But as her therapies and doctor’s appointments continued to go extremely well, our new plan was “A day at a time.” If the day comes that we feel we’re not meeting Annie’s needs in Italy, we head home. She’s doing great, her therapists are great, we have no plans to leave.
We’re starting that third year right now. Year three in Italy. And as I boarded the plane this last September to head back to Rome after a long visit in Chicago, I thought. “Wow, I really can’t wait to be back home.” That’s when I knew. Whether we stay here only one more year or the rest of our lives, Rome has become my home.
And though I feel like we’re where we’re supposed to be, it’s still hard. It was hard during my pregnancy to not have the convenience to hop in the car and drive to my parents for a comforting meal. Even coordinating phone calls can be hard because of the time difference; so when I was sick during the last months of the pregnancy I couldn’t even just pick up the phone to vent to or cry with my mom or my sisters. It was unbelievably hard the day Annie was born to not have any family there. It was even harder to hear the news of her diagnosis with our strongest support system an ocean away. It was hard that my mom didn’t hold her first grandchild until she was four weeks old, even harder that my dad didn’t hold her until she was three months. It’s hard being away.
I miss them every day. But somedays are worse than others. This weekend has been especially hard. Maybe it’s because of the recent posts from my dad and brother. That I sometimes feel guilty for keeping Annie so far from all that love. I miss the Sunday brunches around Mom’s dining room table. I miss sitting on the porch with all five of my siblings laughing through the wee hours of the morning. I miss living just neighborhoods away from my sister and brother-in-law and the weekly, even daily dinners we’d have together. I even miss how much my brothers make fun of me when I am home. I miss coffee in the morning with Mom and Amalia and Kaylea or whoever’s up for it that day. I miss the ability to see them everyday. Cause that’s how we are, if we can see each other everyday we do. Every minute we can be my siblings and I are together. My dad’s my hero, my mom my complete and absolute role model, and Molly, Kay, Danny, Tommy, and Bubba are my very best friends. I miss them so much it hurts.
Now that Annie has been added to the equation, it’s tremendously difficult. I miss watching her dance with her uncles every afternoon when they arrive home from work or school or the days events. I miss them fighting over who gets to hold her next. I miss watching them make her laugh and as they teach her new things. I miss the boys sitting with her teaching her about “great music” and compiling Annie playlists of the greatest artists of all time. I miss them all laying around the vintage record player listening with their ears as close as possible to “The Band” and “George Harrison.” I miss how all five of them will break out in song singing “Baby, now that I found you I won’t let you go. I built my world around you, I need you so. Baby Please don’t go. Babe I need you. Yes I need you!” Or “Here comes the Sun.” I miss Molly’s squeals every time Annie does something cute. I miss Kay getting Annie up in the morning or having her crawl into bed with her. I miss sitting back and watching all that aunt and uncle magic.
And I know Annie misses them too. In a glass case in our living room, on a the second shelf from the ground, sits two picture frames. In one frame sits her mom’s family, in the other her dad’s. All her aunts and uncles and grandparents in one spot. Everyday since we’ve been back Annie crawls up to that case, gets up on her knees and knocks at the frames until I come over and get them down for her. She then holds them one at a time and carefully points to each family member’s face. She usually isn’t done until she’s pointed to everyone three times, and the dogs at least five times. She then gives each picture a kiss and we place them back on the shelf. Which reminds me, those frames could use a good wiping down.
I feel so blessed that Annie has two amazing sets of grandparents. Thirteen wonderful aunts and uncles. Two adorable cousins and one on the way. We are so grateful for all this love in her life. And we miss them everyday.
Colleen, you so have it together! You, Mike and Annie get to have two homes. 9 (?) hrs. apart! I have told my friends when their kids moved away, They could live 9 hrs away by car, or 9 hrs. away by plane. It’s the same 9 hrs. I loved reading your post! Life can be so lonely at times, but it is always full of blessings!
You are such a great writer! You make me laugh between my tears! I can’t imagine how much your and Mike’s families misses YOUR family.