Monday, August 30, 2010


In the day or two since I’ve been back from Rome, a bunch of people have asked, thoughtfully, “How was your vacation?”

Not an absurd question by any means. But I do feel compelled to disabuse them of the notion that ours was a vacation in the conventional sense. If you’ve traveled internationally with a 3 and 5 year-old, you will already understand what I mean. But ours was not just a “family” vacation because we took our kids with us: we had additional family members with us, since we were crashing at my aunt’s apartment in Rome.

My aunt has a gorgeous apartment, with little balconies that overlook narrow cobblestone streets, located in the centro storico, where you can walk to the Pantheon and St. Peter’s and the Roman Forum, all in under ten minutes. If we hadn’t been able to stay at her place, we’d never have been able to make the trip, there’s no way we could afford it. None of this, however, changes the fact that her apartment is a one-bedroom. And there were six of us staying there.

This means that every night, there were three or four of us to a bed or fold-out couch, often with someone lying horizontally at the foot of the bed, getting kicked all night long. I’m not saying it was tenement conditions, and it certainly wasn’t the most crowded vacation I’ve been on with my family (once my father lined up three suitcases and slept on those for the entire stay) but it was tight. Particularly since sleeping with my children is about as restful as sleeping with two aggressive gorillas. It’s not so much that they kick me – my nerves are already deadened to this – but that every time they make a sleep sound I am ripped from my sleep into a totally alert panic mode. This is just PTSD from the infant years but I can’t get over it. To get into deep sleep, I need a wall between me and the children, the thicker the better,

I’d braced myself for the crowded-bed situation and considering that my aunt and cousin were incredibly cool about letting the kids sleep with them, we managed quite nicely. But I hadn’t braced myself for the other problem with sleeping at my aunt’s place. This problem I discovered at 7:45am on our first morning there.

We’d had a horrific time going to sleep the night before. After a sleepless red-eye flight, I was destroyed by 10pm and, if their behavior was any indication, so were the kids. I put them in my aunt’s bed and they conned her into laying with them and telling them stories til they fell asleep, which I assumed would be imminently, since they’d been up for two days and a night. David and I collapsed into the fold-out bed and surrendered to a sweet delicious sleep, for precisely one hour. Then I was woken by the children yelling like maniacs. Not only had they not fallen asleep since I’d left them with my aunt, Primo was raring to go, still on New York time, and inspired by the sleeplessness of the night before to generally forgo sleep. After a half hour it was clear that this would take more or less all night so I sent my aunt and cousin to freedom on the fold-out couch and commenced begging, threatening, bribing and pulling my hair out. At 1am, Seconda surrendered and by 2am, Primo did as well. I, however, was then wide friggin’ awake, thanks to agida and jet lag. I don’t know what time it was when I finally fell asleep, but I can tell you I was so desperate I took out the only Ipod we had – Primo’s -- and listened to the soundtrack from James and the Giant Peach, to facilitate my relaxation.

At 7:45 am the next morning however, I woke to the sound of a demolition crew knocking the house down. Yes, the only people who were not closed for ferie in Rome were the members of the construction crew renovating the apartment upstairs. And they were making up for all the other Romans on holiday. They were banging with a vigor that was literally mind-boggling. Over and over again they smashed on the ceiling directly overhead until I picked the kids up and moved them into fold-out couch with my aunt and cousin. I lay on the cushions nearby. The living room, though, had its own set of noise problems. On the street below the window, people were already awake, and, I have learned, when Italians are awake, they are loud.



Then the garbage truck rolled in, making such an infernal racket I thought my ears would bleed.

What, in the name of all that is holy, is wrong with these maniacs? You can’t get anyone to do anything between the hours of 1 and 5pm but by 7:30am, everything’s totally up and running, full steam ahead?

To have a vacation, in my humble opinion, one must sleep. So I wouldn’t call it a vacation. But yeah, the trip, the trip was great.