It was a cloudy March day when we strolled through my favorite neighborhood in Florence. Santo Spirito is located on the west side of the Arno River, is filled with tiny streets, bustling restaurants and artisan workshops. I’m drawn to this area because it illustrates true Florentine culture. I was on a weeklong vacation with three close friends from home in Los Angeles and San Diego. We had met up with a realtor and American Expat living and raising her family in Florence. She was acquainting us with the real estate market and history of the area when I was briefly distracted by the sight of two little girls walking by, clearly on their way to ballet class. Their slicked hair, pulled tightly in a bun was the giveaway. The dance bags and comfortable clothing was a sight I knew very well. These girls were the Italian version of my daughter and her friends at their dance studio at home in LA. As they held my gaze with them all the way down the quaint, cobble-stoned street, the dreamer in me thought, “what if?” I loved this neighborhood and I imagined what it would be like to actually live here. Strolling to a local bar for my morning cappuccino, buying fresh produce from the market in Piazza Santo Spirito and my daughter dancing at that studio within walking distance. I could envision it, but it was a distant dream.
That was a little over a year and a lifetime ago. I longed for those moments when I experienced the liberty to shed my domestic self during travel. In recent years, I was lucky to have made annual trips to Italy and it was during those times that I became reacquainted with myself. Travel allowed for complete abandon to be in the moment and open to whatever adventure presented itself, and I couldn’t get enough. When I was in Italy, I felt at home. The balance of life, the passion, the people, the food, it all resonated with me. At home in California, during my daily routine of carpool and laundry, I’d let my mind wonder to what it would be like to live in a foreign country. I studied Italian and lived vicariously through blogs written by expats. I fantasized about someday enjoying extended or permanent stays in Italy.
It was also over a year ago that my 21 year marriage came to an end and I embarked on the difficult journey of building a life on my own. There was much mending to do as I began new relationships with my teenage daughters. They were angry and didn’t understand what had changed or me. The reality was that they didn’t know me. As many women do, I put aside a career and passions to be a mother. We often don’t share with our children who we are outside of our roles as parents. I was fortunate to stay home from the moment they were born, embracing being a wife and mother and creating a welcoming home. Life was not always easy because we had to make many sacrifices so that I could be a stay at home mom. The budget was tight as there was upper education for my husband, followed by private school for the girls. However, I was extremely resourceful with decorating and clothing and could put together a delicious meal with the most basic of ingredients. We had a very nice life in a beautiful suburb of LA.
As the girls got older, I began looking at the next phase and longed to discover my calling. This is when it started to become clear that my husband and I were on different paths. I realized that within our marriage, there was no room for me to be me so I made the painful choice to end it. The courage and strength to continue my search for me came from the overwhelming need to honor my feelings and live authentically. I soon discovered that I had the power to live the life I chose. It has not been an easy journey and I often called on that newfound strength to get me through it. With anything difficult, there is much opportunity for awareness and growth and ultimately, you end up better for it.
Today as I write this, I sit in the peaceful place I now call home, in full appreciation of that life I have created. I have a solid and close relationship with my daughters and complete freedom to follow my calling as a writer and traveler. In a few short months, my daughter and I will be boarding a plane to Italy for an exciting adventure. For a brief time, we will be living like locals on the west side of the Arno in Santo Spirito. We will begin each day with cappuccinos at the local bar, buy fresh produce at the market in the Piazza and walk to her ballet class. She will be attending a two-week course at a dance studio, on that cobble-stoned street, in my favorite neighborhood, hair pulled back in a tight bun and carrying her dance bag, just as I envisioned a year earlier. A distant dream that will very soon become a reality.