I really never thought I’d do a guided tour anywhere. Especially Italy. I remember being a student here, watching the crowds of tourists following a guide with a little flag and thinking, “what lemmings. I’ll never be like that.”
Well. 3 kids later, with no partner of my own, the tour started to look really nice. And lucky for me, I had someone who helped get me to Italy with the kiddos. “The trip of a lifetime!” I said a million times to my family and friends back home. I meant it. (I’m not sure I would have ventured so far from home without some serious encouragement from my generous friend from way-back-when, so here’s a private thank-you to her.)
The first night of our tour, each family had to introduce themselves. Most of the families with kids had children that were older than mine. When it came to our table, Austin and Claire did the introductions together. Claire told everyone her name and pointed out her baby brother, Tommy. Then Austin said, “my name is Austin and I’m here with my wonderful mom, Marjorie.”
Every single person went “awwwww” at the same time. It was that cute.
I’m not quite sure why he said it. A few tables before, one of the older couples had stood up together and the man introduced his spouse as “my wonderful wife,” so maybe Austin got the idea that way. Maybe he had noticed that I was the only single mom in the group. Maybe he was already feeling protective over our family – the only one without multiple adult family members. Maybe someone had one told him to watch out for his mom.
Later that night, as I put him to bed and he curled up like a small child, I said, “Austin, that was so cute when you called me your ‘wonderful mom.'”
“Well,” Austin said, “you are wonderful and you are my mom.”
The first full day of touring was exhausting. I mean, it was amazing – there’s nothing like watching your kids run down the Spanish Steps or gaze up at the Pantheon. But it was really hot and I carried Tommy for much of the time. By mid-morning, everyone was pretty tired. When the kids whined, I’d tell them that we had to work as a team, together, in order to make it through the day. They’d keep walking when I said that, but I could see the exhaustion in their faces.
But then we got to the Trevi fountain. I mean, I’d been there before. But it had been almost 20 years and I’d forgotten how magical it is. It’s one of those places that’s so famous that people from all over the world swarm there. Yet the crowds somehow don’t take away from the beauty. Somewhere I have an old photo of me in a heavy coat with my friend and roommate, Gabrielle, posing early in the year 2000. And now here I was with three kids I could not have even imagined back then.
The tour guide was talking to us, but I wasn’t listening much. Mostly, I was trying to keep Tommy out of the fountain. Claire ran up to me after a few minutes, carrying some small coins. “We have to throw them in the fountain,” she said.
“That’s right,” I said, “and then you’re guaranteed to return to Rome some day. It worked for me!”
She looked at me excitedly. “The tour guide said that if you throw in two coins, you will find your one true love!” Claire said. She had a wide smile on her face. I smiled back at her.
But she was one step ahead of me, because her face became a bit more serious almost immediately after she said those words.
“But,” she said, “you already found your one true love. So you don’t need to throw two coins.”
“That’s right, baby,” I said.
We went over to the fountain. The tour guide took a photo of us and then we threw the coins behind us. The kids all cheered.
In the photo, we all hold a singular coin in our hands. Claire is the only one who holds two. When I thought about it later, I wondered, should I have put two coins in my hand? I mean, it’s just superstition but….it couldn’t hurt, right?
And yet, this trip is about something totally new and different. For the first time, I’m starting to reimagine my family. Before, I thought of us as a puzzle, with a massive broken-off piece that would forever be missing. And that remains true, in many ways.
For the past year and a half, I was spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to “fix” my family in a way that would make us complete again. In many ways, I couldn’t imagine that my family could ever be whole if we were always missing Shawn. I thought that we would forever be broken.
But you know what? I’m not feeling very broken right now on this trip.
Instead, I’m starting to think about my family as a team of four. Our team looks different than a lot of the other families we know, but lately, it’s felt complete in its own way.
I had a one true love – that I know for sure – and I may or may not be able to ever find that again. But what I do have now are these three kids and our life as a Brimley family.
Maybe Austin would have introduced me as his “wonderful mom” even if Shawn were here, or maybe not. It’s impossible to know. But what I think we’re all discovering on this trip is that we’re in this life together.