Sometimes traveling with a kid is a charming adventure; other times it’s a lot like carrying around a bag full of angry lions. The term “traveling mercies” and Anne Lamott’s book of the same name was on my mind many times throughout our recent trip to Venice.
It is unearned love — the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.” ― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Our train ride from Germany to Venice was actually pretty fun. We saw the German, Austrian, and Italian countryside with snow-covered mountains and evergreen trees as far as the horizon. My son found a little German girl to play with in a little fort they found between some seats.
The man who checked us into our Venice apartment gave us a map and showed us how to get everywhere we wanted to go and then gave us his cell phone number in case we needed any help on the go.
By the time we dropped our backpacks at the apartment and got back out into the Venice nightlife to find some dinner, my son was DONE. He was tired and hungry and now he found himself sitting in a super touristy restaurant at an outdoor table (on a kinda cold evening) given super fancy, four-cheese, thin-crust pizza with fresh herbs on top. He lost it: full meltdown, the super embarrassing kind, and of course we were surrounded by honeymooning couples feeding each other forks full of Spaghetti Bolognese.
The next morning our spirits were low and everyone was a little grumpy. At one point my husband and I looked at each other and actually considered turning around and going home.
I think that is why we stay close to our families, no matter how neurotic the members, how deeply annoying or dull — because when people have seen you at your worst, you don’t have to put on the mask as much.” ― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Off we went as a family, hand in hand, all three of us, no masks needed. We got an early start that morning while women were still hanging wet clothes high above the canals.
We decided to just wander for a bit and quickly ran into a small, used book store. The owner was sorting books in the back and found a children’s book in English for my son. He tried to dictate the story by looking at the illustrations and saying things like: “This is the mama and papa!” It was really sweet.
Shortly after that bookshop, we ran across an antique bookstore (which I already wrote about) called Libreria Emiliana. The lady who worked there found a book she wanted to give me that she called a “modern book,” which was a graphic non-fiction travel guide to the city’s writing/plaques on buildings. She also gave me her card with her email in case I needed help translating the book of Venetian poems I bought. I was so grateful for my husband who practically shoved me into the store and took our energetic son on a walk while I had my special moment in Venice.
…most of the time, all you have is the moment, and the imperfect love of the people around you.” ― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
That night we found a restaurant that was a little closer to our apartment called Al Poggio. I saw french fries and free wifi on the menu so I was sold. They brought out french fries for my son stat and all the waiters and waitresses paid special attention to him and kept coming over to refill his “plate” of ketchup with the packets from the bar. Towards the end of dinner a man came by playing an accordion and also charmed my son by paying special attention to him (possibly because he was clearly enjoying the music more than anyone else in the restaurant)!
After dinner, a middle-aged Italian woman (a tourist I think?) was blowing bubbles for what appeared to be her grandchildren and she invited my son to join in the fun. It was late and he was tired and restless, but here was this wonderful woman just sitting there asking to entertain him for a few moments. With BUBBLES!
The next day was cold and overcast. We took a gondola ride and our gondolier sang a beautiful song for us; a song that his father taught him. He also told us about growing up as the kid of a Gondolier and how he was excited to have a Gondola of his own.
Later, in one of the tourist shops on a busy street, my son found a magnet he wanted, but he had already picked out a mask. So after we bought the mask (and some postcards I still haven’t sent) he really sadly put the magnet back as we were leaving. The shopkeeper followed us out and instead of offering a lower price as others had done at different shops, he asked me if it was ok if he gave my son the magnet. Which was both thoughtful and kind.
For our last night we decided to go back to Al Poggio. We knew exactly what to expect and I didn’t want a repeat of our first night in town. The food and wine were delicious again, and the staff recognized us and everyone was especially warm. At one point I asked a waiter if there was a payphone nearby for local calls because I needed to get in touch with our rental apartment manager to coordinate the key drop off. He went to the back of the restaurant to get his own cell phone from his bag and dialed the number for me and handed me the phone. Everyone waved goodbye as we left and I couldn’t help but feel a surge of gratitude for the place that really helped us enjoy an Italian family dinner with the added benefits of french fries, unlimited ketchup, free wifi, musical entertainment, a kind gesture offering the cell phone, and mostly just making our messy, exhausted selves feel welcome.
My son found another friend to play with on the train ride home, a little blonde-haired German boy and I spent a couple hours chatting with the boy’s mother. I had to sit in a backward facing seat for most of that time and miraculously I didn’t get nauseated. It’s the little things that make ya grateful. I asked her if it was ok that the boys were playing in the aisle and sometimes climbing on the train seats; it’s always a little nerve-wracking trying to figure out the norm for this kind of thing in other countries. I suspected the other German passengers were disapproving, but her response was, “Kids have to be kids and it doesn’t matter what other passengers think. Most people are more understanding than you think when they see you dealing with small children or babies.”
And I started to see the other passengers through different eyes; the way the woman with a suitcase giggled when my son tried to give his toy to a girl and she kept refusing; the way the elderly man couldn’t stop smiling watching the kids play; the way his wife kept retrieving the toys that slid under her seat, over and over again, and handing them back with a twinkle in her eye.
“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they do.” ― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
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