For the past year, I have been sending out an email every Sunday evening to those traveling with us to Italy. The emails contained updates, reminders, fun facts, and cultural information. This past Sunday was the last email because, this Wednesday, we're off.
This is our last Sunday email. When Laura and I introduced the itinerary for the 2019 Girls’ Trip to Italy at that very first information session last September, it was exciting to witness the enthusiasm from those who traveled with us in 2015, as well as those who considered joining us for this trip. You asked questions, we provided answers, and by the end of that afternoon I had completely lost my voice. Then, we waited to see who would sign up, and it wasn’t long before one at a time, or in pairs, you did.
It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago we embarked on this journey, one which began before we’ve even left home. And if the last twelve months are any indication, the next two weeks are going to be great.
Last night at Mass, Timothy opened up my both my missalette and his to the correct readings, something he always does whenever he's not altar serving and can sit in the pew with us. It's a sweet gesture from a 6' 2" fifteen-year-old with scraped knees from playing soccer earlier that afternoon, and it transported me to a place of remembering when ...
Timothy is busy. He's dragging a stool, rummaging in the drawer for a cloth napkin, lining up kitchen chairs, and looking for a plastic cup. He asks me for a prayer card.
He announces that it is time for church and everyone has to come. RIGHT NOW.
He means business.
We sit in chairs before his makeshift altar. He lifts his hands and says please rise and sets mad at his older brother who is a little slow in responding. Vanilla wafers are the host. Water is the wine. He makes us say the Our Father and the Prayer to St. Francis. When his brother asks for another vanilla wafer, Timothy tells him to be quiet.
Then, he blesses us and tells us to go in peace.
And calls us back in ten minutes to do it all again.
Earlier this week I wrote a funny post about meeting some friends at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. We were supposed to meet in the front of the church, but we waited behind the church because we thought it was the front. Anyway, the day I wrote the post I had just dropped off my parents at the airport for their trip to Italy.
The very next day my parents and their friends were touring the same church I had written about, Santa Maria Maggiore, when YOU KNOW WHO walked in. Pope Francis, having just returned from a trip to Africa, made an unscheduled and unannounced visit to the church to place flowers at the altar of the Holy Mother.
For my 40th birthday, Joe planned a surprise trip to Rome, Italy for four nights and five days for me and my friend, Jill. Coincidentally, my parents were going to be there a few days before heading to Sicily, so we arranged to stay in the same hotel.
During the day my friend and I hit all the sights; in the evening, we joined my parents and their group of friends for whatever fun activity they had planned. Who knew that hanging out with a group of seniors could be so much fun? There was an opera singer on the bus, coins in a fountain, and a delicious dinner on the Appian Way complete with wandering minstrels and lots of napkin waving. We had a blast with them.
Joining my parents and their friends for dinner.
See? Napkin waving. That's my dad.
While we were in Rome we also wanted to take a couple of seminarians from our diocese (Fr. Pablo and Aaron Killips) out to dinner, so Fr. Pablo suggested we meet in front of the church, Santa Maria Maggiore, near the train station in the center of Rome.
My friend and I, along with my parents, arrived to the church at the appointed time. We sat on the steps and waited. No Fr. Pablo. No Aaron Killips. We double-checked Fr. Pablo's email with the instructions. Yes, we were at the right church. Yes, this was the correct time, except now it was half an hour later. We sat there until my mother had an epiphany.
"You know," she said very seriously. "I don't think this is the front of the church."
Here we are, waiting at the back of the church ...
which we thought was the front.
Laughing in the back, which we thought was the front.
OH. MY. GOSH. We had been sitting at the BACK of the church the entire time! We quickly ran to the front where we found the seminarians waiting for us. Needless to say, we felt very stupid but, in our defense, the back of the church looked like the front of a church! Even the seminarians agreed!
Still, we had a lovely dinner. At one point I shared with them with this epic family joke (as told by my Uncle Luciano who likes to tease my mother): "If Pontius Pilate, instead of giving people the choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas had, instead, offered them Jesus or Massimilla, the crowd would have definitely chosen Jesus which would have altered the entire course of Christianity."
They really laughed.
Dinner with the seminarians.
We met them several times over the next couple of days--Aaron Killips took us all on a Scavi tour (the necropolis underneath St. Peter's Basilica and the actual tomb of St. Peter), after which he invited us to the rooftop of the Pontifical North American College for a wonderful photo opportunity; Fr. Pablo, the very next day, gave us a private tour of St. Peter's Basilica.
In the end, it was a great trip, largely due to the fact we met up with my parents AND were able to hang out with Fr. Pablo and Aaron who, I guess, liked us despite the fact we didn't know the back of the church from the front.
But I still say it looked like the front.
View of St. Peter's Basilica from the rooftop of the
"Mom, for literature class I need to bring in a photo that represents who I am as a person," said Timothy. "I was thinking a photo of our family in front of a church, maybe in Italy, to show how faith, family, tradition, and travel define me."
As a mother, sometimes (well, more times than I care to admit) I wonder if anything we do or say even registers with our sons. But then there are moments like these and just like that I know all will be well.
So together we went through photos, trying to find one that best conveyed one or more of his themes. It took a long time because we kept getting distracted. Is that what Nicholas looked like when he had braces? Why does Jonathan look like he's dancing? Which one of us was the fattest baby? In the end, he narrowed it down to these five.
Grandfather, father, son.
Gathering from near and far.
Following in their footsteps. Always.
A family tradition.
St. Joseph Celebration
In the end, he selected this photo because it conveyed everything with which he identified: Family (and friends), faith (Catholic), tradition (St. Joseph Feast Day), and travel (by celebrating our Italian heritage).
In 2010, two weeks before a family trip to Italy, a home in
our neighborhood was burglarized. Among the items stolen were passports.
Then, one week before that very same trip, there was an
airline strike in France (we were flying Air France) and volcanic ash from an active volcano in Iceland was causing flight disruptions, cancellations, and delays at all European airports. In fact, for a few days the volcanic
ash resulted in the largest air-traffic shut-down since World War II.
And just to make things more interesting, a few days before
our trip I was on pins and needles waiting to see if anyone in our family would
be stricken with the stomach bug that was making its rounds among family,
neighbors, and friends.
The period leading up to a trip is a strange time, filled
with a range of emotions. You’re waiting, but in an active way. So you prep,
plan and pack, all while feeling a little overwhelmed (anxious?) because no matter
how much you meticulously see to every detail, there is also so much that is
out of your control.
Yes, it’s a strange time, but an exciting one.
Today, two weeks away from our Girls’ Trip to Italy, I am
again experiencing the array of emotions—excited (we're really going), hopeful
(for sunny days and cool temperatures), anxious (head cold or allergies?),
preoccupied (check this, confirm that).
Mostly though, I have an overwhelming
sense of gratitude, for all of these emotions are part of a wonderful whole.
Joe and I come from loving families with parents who gave us
everything (and more) of what we needed, but not necessarily everything we
wanted. As a result, we learned at a very young age the value of a strong work ethic.
The summer after our family moved to Georgia, my sister and
I walked around our entire neighborhood taping 3x5 index cards to mailboxes
advertising that we were available for babysitting. The venture quickly turned
into a veritable business and families booked us in the fall for New Year’s Eve. During
that summer I also worked at Dairy Queen, and because I didn’t have a car I walked
to work, changed into my uniform (a disgusting brown polyester thing), and then
changed again before walking home at the end of my shift.
In high school I was hired as the nighttime librarian for
the children’s department at the downtown public library. I loved that job
because I was in charge; I shelved books, answered questions, decorated the
bulletin board, and did inventory. I loved helping people find books. One
night, a desperate father came in looking for a book on “that island about Charles
Darwin and the finches” for his son’s book report and I said, “Oh, you mean the
Galapagos Islands?” and he was so relived he gave me a hug. I worked there
until I left for college.
My husband was equally industrious. In grade school Joe had
a paper route seven days a week—every evening Monday through Saturday, then in
the morning on Sunday. The job involved him walking to the distribution point,
loading his papers into a back satchel, and then walking his route to deliver
the papers. On Sundays he loaded the papers on a wagon because, being a larger
edition, they were too big and heavy for the satchel. He delivered papers rain
or shine (although in inclement weather sometimes his mother or one of his
sisters took pity and drove him around).
On his 16th birthday Joe walked into Hardee’s and
applied for a job. The manager was so impressed he applied on his actual birthday
that he hired him on the spot. He worked there from 10th grade until
he graduated from high school. The summer before college he worked in a lumber yard
cutting wood, filling orders, and making deliveries.
In college we both continued to work. Since one of my goals while
a student at The University of Georgia was to study abroad, I worked (and
saved) to pay for it—at a women’s department store, as a dorm night clerk (midnight
to 7 a.m.) until they promoted me to the day shift, and briefly for Nanny-to-Go
(a babysitting service in the Athens area). One summer I worked as a counselor
for Camp Villa Marie in Savannah and to this day I think that is the hardest
job I ever had (and that Savannah during the summer is the hottest place on
earth). Eventually I saved enough money for a study abroad in Salamanca, Spain.
At Penn State, Joe worked in his dorm’s post office,
collected the trash on Sunday mornings, and had two work co-ops (both in
upstate New York).
When we look back, Joe and I agree that working was just
ingrained in us. If we wanted that car, or a study abroad, or a new stereo
system, we worked to pay for it. We were also cognizant of family finances, so
we contributed to college tuition and textbooks.
Simply, this was how we were raised, and it is how we’ve
tried to raise our sons.
When Nicholas and Jonathan were in high school, they both
held jobs while continuing to play sports and be active in school activities.
Nicholas worked as a busboy for Mellow Mushroom and Jonathan worked at Arby’s.
They coordinated schedules in order to share the family car; in fact, neither
of them had a car until their sophomore year in college. They also had internships
every single summer, and every fall before school started they sat down with
Joe to figure out how much they could contribute to next year’s tuition.
Of course, as parents we are always filled with self-doubt. Are
we too hard? Do we expect too much? Should we just buy them that iPhone or give
them a car instead of having them work for it? But then we see how Nicholas was
offered a job before he even finished college (a great job in which he is now
head of a team) and how Jonathan finished his internship this summer and
received a job offer once he finishes grad school (he accepted), and we are
assured that maybe it is all good and that the lessons our parents taught us
are good ones to pass on to our sons.
This past April, we were in New Orleans wandering through
the art galleries on Royal Street when Timothy asked for a souvenir—a drawing
on canvas of a hedgehog typing away at a computer. At the top are the words:
work, work, work, work, work. It made us laugh—say the words fast enough and it
sounds like the clicking of a keyboard—and so we purchased it. Once we returned
home, Timothy placed it on his nightstand where it reminds me that those very same lessons—passed on from our parents, then to our sons, and even brother to brother—are catching on with him, too.