GUEST BLOG POST: Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Together by Susan Pohlman
Like many couples, my husband, Tim, and I could not wait to have children. Though it was not something we rushed into, we were not prepared to navigate the uneven terrain of the emotional landscape of family life. Following every cultural norm as our guide, we found the perfect house, landed the perfect job, and sent our over-scheduled children to the perfect schools. We never imagined, even for a minute, that this formula would bring us everything but real happiness.
In May of 2003, on a business trip to Italy, we took a break from entertaining clients and walked along the Ligurian sea where Christopher Columbus had learned to sail as a boy. The elegant beauty of Santa Margherita lulled us into silence as we ambled along, lost in our own thoughts. We had been married sixteen years, had two beautiful children, and a cozy home on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
From the outside, our lives were idyllic, but on the inside we were painfully disconnected and confused. Neither one of us could figure out why we were so miserable, but we both agreed that we were tired of trying. I knew that our days were numbered since I had quietly hired a lawyer prior to our trip. What I did not know was that a mere five minutes in the future Tim would utter the phrase that would change our lives forever. He stopped, asked me to move my empty gaze from the blue of the sea to the blue of his tear filled eyes and said, “I could live here.”
These four simple words began an unexpected, heart wrenching, two day conversation that ultimately ended with our signatures on a year’s lease to an apartment in Genoa-Nervi and Tim’s resignation from his job. We made an unexpected decision to sell our house and move our two children, ages 11 and 15, to Italy. It was irrational, ridiculous, reckless and the best decision of our lives. It saved our marriage and our family.
By embracing adventure and drastically simplifying our lifestyle we realized that over planning our days had stifled the excitement of discovery. Dawn to midnight schedules extinguished any possibility of happenstance. Letting go of shoulds and musts and adopting an attitude of “let’s see where this takes us” allowed for the rebirth of enchantment and delight, two important elements that feed one’s soul. Adventure became a surprisingly powerful and restorative way of life. It forced us to live in the moment and be present for each other.
Halfway to Each Other, the story of our year, began as a series of emails to trusted girl friends who insisted that I share with them the moments along the way. (Truth be told, they were worried about my sanity!) It evolved into a manuscript when a writer suggested that I consider sharing, in a broader way, the powerful life lessons that brought our family joy and renewal at a time when we felt hopeless.
Though our story is extreme, couples do not have to relocate in order to foster a stronger sense of unity. The challenge is to make the commitment to remain aware of the hidden downfalls of living in a culture with so many wonderful choices. Though most of the things that fill our lives can be argued as good in and of themselves, too much is still too much.
Points to Consider:
• Give yourself the permission to step out of the norm and do what is best for your family to maintain balance and emotional health. It is the “doing” together rather than the “owning” together that creates family culture and a treasure box of memories.
• Slow down to recognize the times that matter. Relationships strengthen or weaken in small moments. Be present.
• Embrace adventure in the everyday. Adventure is simply stepping out of your routine: a picnic dinner on the back lawn, a surprise trip to the movies on a school night, a cup of hot tea on a cold night under the stars. One does not have to travel the world to experience delight.
• Simplify life to allow time for rest and to create the emotional space needed to interact in meaningful ways.
• Stop planning and controlling every moment of the day. Leave room for happenstance. And as the Italians so aptly taught us: what’s your big hurry? There is always tomorrow. Domani. Take a deep breath and relax already!
Susan Pohlman is an educator and freelance writer. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and two children. Her essays have been published in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, HomeLife Magazine, AZParenting, and Italiannotebook.com. She has written three award-winning short films.
Halfway to Each Other is her first book, and it was awarded WINNER in the Relationships category at The 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Visit http://www.susanpohlman.com/.