Wilson has been at CISV (Children's International Summer Villages) camp for nearly a month now. My other kids have been involved in this program since they were each 11 years old (Emily to Paris as an 11 year old and then DC as a junior counselor and then Brazil as an adult leader, Zach to Sweden as an 11 year old, and Wilson to Michigan City, IN for his 11 year old village. There are kids from 12 different countries around the world (2 boys and 2 girls from each) . It's tough to send your BABY to this camp for a month, but such an unbelievable experience - so grateful for the opportunity. I've been writing him the regular boring mom letters and this morning I was thinking of all the things I want to say to him about his experience when he returned, and I just thought I'd write him a letter. I thought I'd start this with that letter, because I think it pertains to all of us and how we deal with people and life.
Good morning Wilson!
It's your last weekend at CISV and only a few more days until you are home! I went to a yoga class this morning and while I was there I was thinking about you. I was thinking about this experience you are having and how it will open your eyes to so many things - even if you don't realize that just yet. As you look around the room at all the people there, I hope you will find something beautiful and wonderful in each of them. I hope you will find that children from all over the world are the same and they are different and that we all have something to offer to each other and to the world. I hope you are sharing your true authentic self with all of those kids and that you realize it's ok to feel happy and sad and joyful and mad - and that all of those feelings are temporary and are just part of life!! I also hope you are learning some things about other cultures, customs, foods, and people!!
You are a fortunate young man, Wilson - at only 11 you have experienced so much and so many people! You have so many people who adore you, who think you're funny and smart and a great athlete. You show your kindness all the time - to people around you, to people in need, and to your family. We are all so grateful for you.
Don't ever hide your light - let it shine for all the world to see. You often have thoughts and opinions that make me stop and think "yeah, he's right. I can see how he thinks that." Sometimes you are wise beyond your years, and sometimes you are still just my sweet little boy with the big blue green eyes and amazing smile. I am so grateful for you Wilson.
Try to write down your experiences if you can; you think you will remember everything forever; sadly, you won't. But if you write it down, it's always there to remind you of funny experiences, of happy and sad moments, and of cool places you have been. I was recently re-reading a blog post I wrote about my trip to Italy with my friends (did you even know I write a blog? I will share it with you if you want) and just three months later, I had forgotten so many details and am so happy I wrote them down. It's fun to relive the experience later. I bet you have had little moments where you've felt joy or some kind of pure emotion - write it down! Your grown up self will love it later.
Mostly, take in the PEOPLE. Breathe in all of these amazing people you are interacting with - think of at least one thing you really like about every single person there and FOCUS on it. You will have moments of annoyances with the other kids and most likely the adult leaders too - let them be that - just moments. We all get irritated from time to time. But there is sooooo much to learn from other people. Ask them questions about themselves, their thoughts, their feelings...and your perspective will grow and deepen. Give Courtland a big hug and thank her for taking on this huge responsibility - caring for four children for a month! THIS is the experience I want you to have this summer. THIS is why I was willing to trust the universe and let go of my young child for a month. This experience will change you; you won't recognize it now, but you will later. This experience will open your heart and mind and down the line when you read something in the news about someone from another country, you will remember YOUR personal experience with someone from another country, and you will KNOW that we make our own reality and that almost all human beings operate from a place of love and compassion for others and the world.
I am so grateful for you Wilson - I can't wait to give you a giant hug when you return. I'm so proud of who you are, how hard you work at the things that are important to you, and of the person you will become on this journey of life.
You know I will have a million questions for you when i see you later this week, Wilson! (brace yourself!) lol I really really can't wait to hear about your experience, so start creating your story now - I'm not going to settle for "it was fine". !!!!
Give Ari and Lucie and Anna Claire a big hug from me!!
See you soon
As I read over this letter to Wilson, I think about how seldom we REALLY tell our kids how much they mean to us. We rarely tell them that they are the brightest shining stars and that they TEACH us so much every day. My three kids - Emily, Zach, and Wilson - what a gift! The best gift I’ve ever been given. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been a perfect mom..lol…but my love for them is perfect and grows every single day I know them. When all together, they are such energy and so unique it’s hard to believe they all came from me. I love nothing more than their differences!!! Emily is this wonderful bundle of love and joy and compassion and empathy with a wonderful ability to connect with people. She has so many friends and is so smart and funny and kind and sarcastic (in a good way). Now that she’s almost the age at which I had her (!) - 25 - I realize how grown up she is and how much incredible change and growth is right around the corner for her as her life expands. I am so excited to see what her future holds, and I simply adore the person she has become.
Zach - my sweet Zach- I just spent a few days with JUST him in Italy and it was so very special for me. (he probably tired of me…but I loved every single second of it!). I know Emily wanted to travel to Italy with me (I love traveling with that girl), but something told me I just needed a few days alone with Zach. We had some tough times when he was in high school - but tough times are the foundation for extreme growth and self awareness, and I think we both experienced this - he has taught me so many things. I’m so proud of Zach - he has so many talents and is so ridiculously creative and multi-faceted.
He’s a self taught chef and just spent the summer working his ASS off on a vineyard in Italy. Laura, who I met on my trip to Italy for my 50th bday, opened her heart and her home and her vineyard and agreed to take Zach on as an “intern” of sorts. ( I will be forever grateful for her generosity and belief in me and in him) I think this summer was wonderful and challenging for him; he’s got an unbelievable work ethic and is always willing to pitch in and lend a hand, and he worked some long, hot days on the farm and then again in the kitchen of a wonderful local restaurant in San Gimignano. I think he operated on little sleep and too much pasta (if there is such a thing!), but I could also see the developed muscles and sun kissed skin from the many hours outside working. He made friends like family on the farm, and laughed and joked in broken Italian. I think he missed having long, deep conversations in his native tongue, but in exchange, he has gained a vast knowledge of Italian swear words. :)
The days I spent with him were full - ranging from a day in Siena with food and wine and tower climbing - such spectacular views from the top of that tower - to cross country driving in that Audi with a manual transmission (sorry about the frequent halting stops, but it had been ten years since I’d driven a stick shift!) . We travelled well together, comfortable in our words and in our silences. Zach held the phone and navigated through the myriad of roundabouts - EVERY intersection a ROUNDABOUT in Italy! We crested hills to a view of sunflower fields - wow. Miles and miles of golden flowers; pure joy.
We ate delicious food - searching for the best vegetables, bread, and wine that we could fine. We finished dinner at midnight one night - rounded out with my favorite -grappa. We discussed the varietals of wine he has been learning about; I’ve developed a love for the Brunello di Montepulciano - so wonderful and bold and earthy!! We enjoyed a bottle of this special wine at our dinner in Siena - I will always look for it on wine lists now.
I signed us up for an air bnb experience - a bike ride. I was kinda thinking a leisurely bike ride at the beach (we drove from Lucca out to the Tuscan coast). It ended up being a ride of about 65K - covering beach, town, fields and farms, an ecopreserve, more sunflower fields, lakes, rivers, mountains (!), Roman ruins, elk gracefully running in our path at one point, and then back on more paved roads. In the middle of all this (at 40 k) we stopped for a wine tasting with the most delicious bruschetta, cheese and charcuterie, bread and olive oil. Ah - this was such a lovely respite from the 90 degree sunny bike ride - a nap would be good. But, no, we had 25 k or so to get back to where we started. I (half jokingly) asked if someone was picking us up. Our guides, Alessandro and Annamaria, a married couple who do this multiple times a week, openly laughed at this and we headed back out. At some point Zach and I both realized we needed to get our heads on straight (our marathon and wrestling minds on, if you will) and focus on the return journey. The physicality of the ride wasn’t so bad (there was this little electric boost thing available on the bike both Zach and I tried to not use it much until the end)— but boy oh boy was my butt sore!! I’m not used to riding a bike and several days later, I think it still hurts a little bit. We were sunburned and thirsty, the cross country journey through fields and over viaducts and on sandy trails had left our legs scratched and bruised (or I was bruised from the bike bar on my thigh from a rapid stop to avoid taking out an 80 year old Italian woman who walked right in front of me), but there was also an elated feeling from the completion of this epic journey. We saw parts of Tuscany the average tourist will never see - incredible beauty for as far as the eyes can see; animals, landscapes, humans, cars, villas, shops, birds, plants….we experienced it all!
We crawled off the bikes and back into the car; I put Zach in charge of navigation, and we looked for a gas station or someplace to buy some water - soooo dehydrated! (this trip came on the hills of 8 days in CA, planes, trains, automobiles for me and endless days of working in the field for Zach - I think we were living in a state of dehydration even BEFORE this ride). We pull into a gas station and realized it wasn’t open but there was a vending machine…we gathered all the spare euros and Zach bought us four bottles of water and two candy bars - a Twix and a kit kat. I don’t know why Italian versions of American candy bars don’t taste the same, but they don’t. We broke into hysterical laughter in the car over this or over nothing at all (the fact that I was parked in the middle of the gas station at a weird angle had something to do with it I think)….sheer endorphins kicking in I think. It’s hard to drive a manual transmission car WHILE eating a funny tasting Twix, WHILE nearly peeing my pants with laughter (tears literally streaming down my face). This is a moment I will cherish. Nothing beats a good belly laugh with your son.
We headed back to Lucca - reliving the bike ride to each other - and our amazement that we did it and lived to tell! We were both looking forward to checking into our air conditioned air bnb apartment; we were exhausted, filthy, and on the edge of hunger. We showered and decided to nap for a bit. My sleep cycle in Italy was ridiculous, but I decided to just lean into it and sleep when I could. Two hours later I wake up sweating - this apartment was GORGEOUS but all glass on one side and the sun streaming down on it created a greenhouse effect of sort (the air conditioning was questionable….). I peeked in Zach’s room - dead asleep. My stomach was rumbling, it was around 8 pm, so I decided I had to wake him. If there was an Uber Eats of Lucca….we would have done it. As it turns out, there was a huge music festival in Lucca (I was missing Lenny Kravitz by a couple of days - dammit!) ; neither of us could stand the thought of going inside the walls of the city (our apartment was right on the outside of the ancient wall) and facing the parking and too many people situation. We were wiped out. I googled “best restaurant outside the wall in Lucca” and found an amazing pizza place that was mostly locals. We shared a bottle of crisp white Italian wine, had a gorgeous green salad covered in veggies (Zach and I both love vegetables, and they aren’t always easy to find!) and the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. We were grateful for the awesome post bike ride meal and satisfied with our two days in Lucca/Tuscan Coast. We had spent day one exploring the city, shopping (Zach looks AWESOME in Italian shirts!), and of course, eating and drinking wine.
We went back to the apartment and sat on the rooftop deck for awhile and listened to the music festival in the distance, drank a little of Laura’s sparkling rose wine, and looked at the stars. The weather was complete perfection - while the summer days in Italy are hot, the evenings are cool and breezy….just lovely. I went to bed before Zach (so tired), slept my 10-2 that I had been sleeping while in Italy, and then got up and read a novel I’ve been working through. Back to sleep briefly and then went up to the rooftop to watch the sunrise. It was so quiet and beautiful. I looked at the wall - the wall that dates back to the 12th century - the green, green grass surrounding it, and the blue of the sky awakening to another brilliant Italian day. I wandered into Lucca around 7 am to find coffee; enjoyed two Americanos and a delicious croissant while I read more of my book, and then ventured back to the apartment to shower and awaken Zach for our journey back to San Gimignano. We took the highway route this time; the back roads on the way out had been such a wonderful adventure - but also involved a near head on collision by a driver who decided to venture into our lane. It took me a solid 30 mins for my heart to recover from this “flight or fight” response.
Thanks to the modern marvel of facebook, I knew that a colleague and her husband were also in Italy and we arranged to meet them in San Gimignano and had a delightful lunch at the small restaurant where Zach had been working a bit. Ristorante San Marino 26 - WOW! This was such a treat - both the company of Lori and Jeff - and the delightful creative food of chef Ardit Curri - they gave us such special treatment throughout the meal - the chef coming out multiple times. His food is amazing, the ambience of this place cozy and romantic and wonderful - I’m so glad Zach had the opportunity to work with such a creative soul!
As usual, it was more food than we could eat, and we rolled ourselves out of there, did a bit of shopping, and headed back to Fattoria di Fugnano - Laura’s Winery - Zach’s home away from home.
It was late on Sunday afternoon, Jennifer (my Italian trip planner from my bday!) and her sweet two year old Amelie were there to visit us and catch up with Laura. This place - I can’t begin to describe it in words! I’m grasping for them…but it’s seriously one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen in my life. The vines meet the land meet the hills meet the flowers meet the tall tall towers of San Gimignano. And a rustic stone home surrounded by flowers and vines and rocks and plants….and filled with love. Filled with the love of the people that work there - Zach’s new friends - every day an adventure in very hard work. Most days there are wine and food paired tastings in their beautiful tasting room (Zach was able to serve wine to people from all over the world!), and in the back the donkey is braying, the dogs are running around, and the sun is shining. Today was the final game in the World Cup, they had a tv pulled outdoors with some elaborate electric connections - and everyone was lounging, conversing, and napping in the newly built couch/gazebo area (getting ready for a huge party the following week). The heat was thick but comfortable in the shade. I felt myself nodding off (catching the sleep when I could!); probably a result of the large lunch, champagne, wine….. sweet relaxation. I got the opportunity to snuggle a bit with Amelie and chat with Jennifer - hear her remarkable story of how she, a New Yorker, would up living in Italy since she was around 20. The simplicity of the life here is raw and wonderful. The life of the farmer/winemaker is not an easy one; remember this the next time you taste a beautiful wine. On these small vineyards, so much goes into each bottle - and so few people are involved in the process! Laura’s wine is wonderful; her significant other, Fabio - also has a vineyard about 80 k away and makes the Brunello di Montepulciano - wow. We had the opportunity to sample that with our pizza dinner on the long outdoor table that night. The candles were flickering, the sun was setting, we had the company of Italians and Danish, and we all chatted lightheartedly as I enjoyed my last evening in this beautiful place. I had an early flight home the next day - short but oh so sweet journey - and my heart was full. I drove back to the simple but perfect apartment I was staying in on her property (she rents apartments year round - gorgeous pool!), and slept well until my alarm went off at six. I had said my goodbyes and got my hugs from Zach the night before, knowing he wouldn’t be up when I left. I enjoyed two (tiny!) Italian coffees with Laura - my soul sister - and headed out in the Audi. I can't wait to see my Italian "family" in the US later this year. (wine tasting on the way....more info soon!) I missed Zach as I had to navigate all by myself on my way back to Florence.
It was a lovely and easy trip - pulled over just once for a sunflower photo! (I wanted to take a picture EVERY five minutes while there) I had done it! I have to admit I had had some anxiety leading up to the trip; traveling alone (everyone knows I hate to fly….. need to write about that soon!), venturing across the Italian countryside in a manual transmission Audi, I don’t speak the language, etc…. then I remembered. I’m a badass. I can do this shit…and guess what? I did! One of my favorite trips ever. It was going to be good to be home though - after 11ish hours of flying - my own bed for the first time in nearly three weeks!! I arrived home to the lovely surprise of Robb at the airport waiting for me, and found my happy place in his hug. Travelling is wonderful. Coming home is the other side of wonderful.