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Long before my life as a mother to two children became cemented by routine, I longed to take off on a grand adventure.
For years, I dreamed about traveling with my family for a year around the world. I schemed and saved, but somehow, there was always something in the way – a new job for my husband, a commitment to a new soccer team for my son, fear that it would just be too complicated and expensive to pull it off. But I know deep in my bones that as a family, that adventure is just what we need.
I feel that more strongly having read Susan Pohlman’s book, Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home. She does manage to pull off the dream and reinvents her life. On the verge of divorce, she and her husband decided to sell their house in L.A. and move to Italy for a year with their kids, 11 and 16. I couldn’t wait to read about how she did it, what the experience was like and how exactly the trip saved her marriage.
I can’t say the book is a gripping read, but for someone like me, who is interested in taking a similar journey, it was a fascinating look at how travel changes a family.
One of the things that changes the family dynamic is living without constant awareness of the news. She writes: “I did not know the crime rate. I didn’t know who had been kidnapped or molested nearby. I didn’t know who had been caught stealing or what part of town was considered taboo. I didn’t know which politician was having an affair or which Hollywood star had anorexia and/or had entered rehab, again…I had become a happily uninformed citizen. I was trusting my own instincts and doing just fine. For the first time in my life I was not riddled with doubts or in a state of constant consternation. There was more room in my brain now for matters close at hand and close to the heart. I felt God’s constant presence and the deep peace that such awareness brings.”
Okay, so the God bit is a bit much for me and has too large of a presence in the book for my liking. But there are some beautiful moments she describes like swimming at night in the sea with her daughter, something she admits she was reluctant to do and never would have done in L.A.
What I liked most about the book were her revelations about her life back home and her marriage. I’ve had my own share of marital problems and have often wondered if a year off would transform us back into the couple we were before having children. The author wonders the same thing: is staying together worth it? That is ultimately the question for which she is seeking the answer in Italy. The answer is a resounding yes.
They find a new routine – and neither have to work so that would clearly make things a lot easier! They relearn how to be together and enjoy life’s simple moments. Even sharing a coffee on their sea view terrace becomes a pleasure that wouldn’t have existed for them back in L.A. where her husband would have left at 5:30 am for work, coffee in hand, to beat the traffic. Their new routine in Italy seems a little unrealistic – and I quote: “Coffee together every morning, see the kids off to school, gym, market, lunch, sex, nap, read, nap, laundry, more sex, nap, kids come home from school, homework, dinner, bed.”
Really? Sex twice in one day? If that’s what happens when you take a year off to go to Italy with your family, count me in. But I know that’s not really realistic. Nor are many things in her fairly predictable and uneventful journey. And it is, after all, such a bourgeois dilemma: being so unfulfilled by the privileges of life in North America that you have to seek happiness elsewhere. That is such an American problem. Perhaps the more interesting book is what happens when she comes back home and resumes her life of routine and materialism. What happens then?
What do you think would happen to you if your family took a year off? Do you think about it? Want it? Why?
Next Month’s Book: Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal
Cori Howard is the editor of Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood, an anthology of personal essays on the transformative process of becoming mothers. In her book, you can read honest and emotional accounts of how having children has affected our marriages, our careers, our friendships, our identities and our deepest selves. She’s also the founder of The Momoir Project, an online writing centre. The Momoir Project connects mothers from around the world and teaches them how to write their own stories – before they forget. Many of her students have said it’s better – and cheaper – than therapy. Check out the Momoir community blog, written by Cori and her students, about the day-to-day struggles of modern motherhood.