DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley and her three children in front of the Trevi fountain in Rome

Team Brimley

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.”

Oh, Austin.

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.

Team Brimley.


  • Karen

    Aww Marjorie, what a lovely post. Sounds like you guys are finding your own way and making amazing memories.

    I did the same last year taking my two boys (she 4 and 10) to a trip to London 2 years after losing my husband. It was daunting but after we had a great weekend I felt empowered and now look forward to more trips with the boys and making more amazing holidays. X

    • Marjorie

      Yes – it’s NOT EASY, but we are just taking each city slow. I don’t feel the need to show the kids everything, but rather I want them to try some new foods and see another way of life. We’re doing just that!

  • Kate

    This is so good, Marjorie and I just love it. I experienced some of these exact feelings the first time I traveled alone with my son. The first day was hard and I felt overwhelmed seeing all of the other intact families, but as we relaxed by the pool, I encountered other single parents and by day two, we felt like a ‘new family’. Just me and him. We bonded and we had a blast. I love traveling with my son. He is adventurous, a great dining partner who is willing to try just about anything and an excellent conversationalist. I’m feel like the luckiest Mom in the world. We may no longer have our third person with us, but we can still discover the world, just the two of us. Wishing you much fun on your travels and I hope you make memories. In the end, this is all that we have to hold onto….

    • Marjorie

      Yes – I think having those moments of joy with my kids has really helped me re-think all of my family dynamics. Without other adults around, I am certainly more present with my kids (even if I’m also more exhausted.)

  • Laura Ann Matthews

    Love this. Can you tell me which tour company you used, since it sounds like it caters to kids?

    • Marjorie

      I’ve been on a Disney tour. Now, in Barcelona, we’re on our own, but Disney was a great way to start off the trip!

  • Henry

    I suspect a lot of us feel that we have been reading about Team Brimley for quite a while now, because of the way you have loved and supported each other as a family. You have been eloquent in describing how fractured and broken it has felt to “brave through,” but I think the reader has perceived the workings of a real functioning family. How wonderful that this trip is bringing you to the cusp of discovery that you really are in this life together as a family that is “complete in its own way.”

    And Austin, of course, is absolutely right.

  • Sheryll Brimley

    Oh Marjorie, I just can just see our dear Shawn just beaming with pride & love for you & his team Brimley. You are such an inspiration to so many. And Austin is so much like his dad!!

    • Marjorie

      I know – love my Austin. He’s the most like Shawn, and in that, is a daily reminder of his awesome dad. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Heather Willis

    I hope you’re eating all of the pastries and none of the pesto… Keep sharing your magic!

    • Marjorie

      Oh, friend, you know I would never have gone abroad if it wasn’t for your encouragement. So glad you gave me that push all those years ago.

  • Gabe

    I love team Brimley and Austin—what a sweet introduction! It’s fun to remember making wishes in that fountain so many years ago. So much of what you wished for is right there with you. Remember our teacher Peter as he jogged is around Rome, “Hurry bambini, There is so much to see, the art will not wait for us, we must keep going!” Brave on and keep your eyes open to all the beauty, Marjorie!!! You are wonderful!

    • Marjorie

      Oh Peter! Love that so much. I thought of you, Rubi, Obi and Data so much for the time when I was in Italy. It’s just so beautiful.