I wrote this blog a few weeks ago:
We are in Italy.
My husband, myself, my just-turned-four-year-old, and our 18 month old twins.
Utterly luxurious, I know.
This blog isn’t supposed to be about that though.
Of course, it is wonderful to be here. I am constantly aware of my privilege, being able to visit such incredible places. And Italy – even with 3 young children – is as tantalizing and historically rich and eclectically beautiful and delicious as I remember. We are here because we needed a break and time away from Uganda to reflect on what we are doing with our life, and rest. This seemed like a logical, close place to travel to with relatively warm weather for late autumn in the northern hemisphere, which offers us our greatest therapy in life – good FOOD!
Michael’s parents have met us here, and it really has been so special to catch up with them after a crazy 7 months, and also enjoy them enjoying our children.
But as always, letting two riotous 18-month-olds loose anywhere – EVEN in Rome – is not easy, and I feel that ‘rest’ as an agenda item may have been a little overly ambitious. It’s been a fantastic holiday, but travelling anywhere with so many children is just plain exhausting, a lesson I probably needed to learn the hard way. There are all sorts of challenges travelling with children internationally, leave alone keeping children entertained on planes and trains! For example, of all things, I never really considered food would be an issue considering the food on offer here is AMAZING. But uprooting our 4 year old from rural Uganda to Italy, was actually quite a culture shock for him. He responded to the differences, as he has in his life every time so far, by narrowing his food choices down to the bare minimum in order to control his world. For the first 4 or 5 days, while the rest of us sat at restaurants enjoying the magic that is home-made Italian pasta, David sat obstinately munching on rice crackers and greek yoghurt. The tradgedy.
We are currently in Lucca. Which, like all good Tuscan towns, has a number of towers, one of which it is possible to climb. It may have been one of my proudest family moments so far, all 7 of us climbing that tower (grandparents included). Michael and I, each carrying a twin on us, our 4 year old galloping up the steps, as if there wasn’t about a million of them! The view was marvellous, but I was much more impressed by what our family reaching the top represented: the niggling hope in the possibility of really living, whole heartedly and adventurously – not just surviviving – with 3 small children. I was suitably impressed by the pure discipline of my husband, who I watched overcome his fear of heights in order to make the climb, sweating it out as he carried his squirming twin, to make it to the top.
But I digress. My point in sharing all this was because I had the opportunity today to spend an hour and a half in Lucca, Tuscany ALL BY MYSELF, while my husband and his parents looked after our 3 children at a playground nearby.
Walking down the streets of Lucca today – armed only with some Euro in my pocket, my camera and a novel, was simultaneously a wonderful and bizarre experience. It always feels a little odd these days, spending time away from all my children (when not at work). I feel free and light and full of possibility, but paradoxically insecure and – I think this is what surprised me the most – lacking a key part of the explanation of who I am, and how I earn my worth.
I was reflecting on this as I sat people-watching and remarking on the beauty and effortless style of the Italian women in the piazza, in contrast to my own appearance. Even on holidays, I haven’t washed my hair for a week, my clothes – mostly purchased second hand – had day-old stains from various children’s snot and food, and my jeans fit a little snugger since arriving in this country of mouth-watering treats.
In that moment, I felt embarrassed.
I felt like I needed to wear a sign saying “I have three young kids, including a set of twins. I live in Uganda. Please be gentle and kind when you look at me. Be proud of me for being here. Be aware I rarely do this kind of independent gallivanting. Don’t judge me for my extra weight and my unwashed hair. I have survived a really tough few years.”
I wanted everyone to read the sign. To know. To understand. To accept. To approve.
I let out an incredulous sigh as I realised what I had wished for.
I was in a foreign country, as a completely anonymous stranger, and I still cared what people thought of me.
Then I decided.
I am going to wear this sign on the inside. And read it as many times as I needed to, to remember that I am worthy. Without my children. Without my excuses. Without my doing.
Who I am is ok.