Creating New Rituals
In each area we have visited, we have stayed long enough for Everett and Louie to develop new little rituals that add a new flavor to the sense of “place” in each environment. It has been incredible to see how new experiences and environments ignite the imagination and expedite learning. When we return, Ben and I will likely narrate our epic vacation by summarizing the cities we strolled in, the beaches we played on, the historic sights we toured, and the new culinary delights we savored. However, this experience has been so different and so much richer through the eyes of our little boys, who find a sense of wonder in the unexpected and remind us that being young is a daily adventure no matter where you are.
As Ben and I sat on our Elba balcony this week, we sipped Espresso and recounted all of the little rituals that our boys have crafted that have added so much fun and whimsy to this trip, but that will likely be forgotten details when we look back at photographs and reminisce of this experience in years to come.
So this blog entry is dedicated to Everett and Louie’s “Top Ten” as we have just crossed over the midpoint of our time abroad. Obviously the list favors Everett’s curiosities, but Louie’s ever-developing outgoing personality makes a few appearances as well. This zoomed-in perspective may not capture the sweeping mountain, beach, and countryside vistas we are experiencing in this beautiful corner of the world, but it will offer a glimpse at what this journey has been like with a one-year old and three-year old in tow.
Everett & Louie’s Top Ten
- Food Lion
In Switzerland, Everett was intrigued by the wildflowers that grew abundantly across the mountain meadows. Within hours of being there, he became a collector and treasured a plastic grocery bag I found crumpled in the zippered pocket of the Ergo, strategically placed there months ago to assist in poop pick-up on a walk with Otis. The bag was labeled with “Food Lion,” meaning that it had to be leftover from a grocery trip in the Smoky Mountains that we took last October. Everett grabbed on to this and created a game of being a “Food Lion” on the mountain, filling the sack with sticks, rocks, fallen wildflowers, and any other remnant of nature that attracted his whimsy. Even on our dreariest of hikes through cold rain, desperately trekking towards the gondola that would deliver us to drier ground, Everett carried that water-weighted glob of white plastic with him, searching for his next natural treasure.
- Number Hunting
In Cannobio, Everett developed a fascination with the house numbers that denoted the individual residences that dotted the old narrow cobblestone street where we stayed. Every time we walked down the charming Via Castello, Everett would find great thrill in calling out the numbers that he recognized and asking us to identify the ones that he did not. The quest was always for “Number 50,” the placard outside of Tommaso’s apartment where we stayed. Louie would get in on the game too, excitedly pointing when we got close to the green shutters and tiled 50 that denoted our “lake house.” Everett had never really shown much interest in numbers before this trip; I find it fascinating and inspiring to see how new experiences can spark the hunger to learn.
- Coming Around the Mountain
On Elba, Everett has developed a love for the folk song “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” I think I busted it out on one of our first days here in a desperate attempt to quell a double tantrum erupting from the backseat as we were all getting carsick, while Ben did his best to jolt the stick shift Fiat around the winding mountain roads. Now as we take the stone staircase down to our “beach house,” we have to enact a very specific musical number every time. I carry Louie to the bottom of the twenty stone stairs, while Everett waits at the top. When we get to the bottom, Everett will not descend until I begin singing “He’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” I sing, Louie bounces excitedly in my arms, and Everett makes his cautious way down the steps with the biggest grin imaginable. And this is our daily ritual here, every time we return from a day on the beach.
- Bell Towers
In both Cannobio and all over Elba Island, there are old stone bell towers, usually standing guard above churches. The bells sound every 15 minutes, and both my boys think this symphony is something quite grand. Everett has become an expert bell tower spotter, spying the brassy bells peeking out of the pines from the Elban mountain road. Each time we hear the bells ring, Everett shouts excitedly, “I hear the bells!” while Louie perks up and begins pointing in the sky until he locates the tower. Everett usually follows his regal declaration with the question, “What are the bells telling us?” prompting Ben and I to look at our watches and tell him the current time or in situations when we need a little transition help, we may respond with, “They are telling us that it’s time for dinner… that it’s time to go to the car…or that it’s time to get in the stroller.” While the other Italian kids are building castles in the sand, Everett is busy building churches and bell towers from the white shingle rocks and sand that blanket the Mediterranean coast. He has also pocketed two keepsake rocks from the beach: one that looks like a small circular pizza with olives and one that looks like a wedge of Parmesan cheese. These stone snacks might be coming home with us.
- The Gondola
Despite the fact that we spent far too much of our first week here using the gondola to flee from the horrible weather in the Swiss Alps, the transportation experience has rooted itself deep in Everett’s imagination. Even though it has been two weeks since we rode the gondola for the last time, Everett still beckons the mountain cable car scene to both our Italian lake house and island beach cottage. Several times a day, he is a “gondola worker,” focusing intently on pushing imaginary buttons and arranging kitchen chairs to ensure a smooth glide up the mountain to our “snow house.” He has constructed gondolas from the rocks on the beach, from our cell phone charger wire wrapped intricately around a table leg, and from a piece of dried smuggled seaweed draped from his car seat to the car door handle. Forget choo choos. Gondolas are way more preschool-chic.
It’s no surprise that this Italian delicacy has won our little guy’s heart. Everett can spot a gelato stand from a mile away, usually by the garishly colorful trash cans perched outside every gelateria that are shaped like large ice cream cones. “I want to get gelato!” in a little sing-song voice has become a frequent chorus on our daily soundtrack and in most cases, we are happy to oblige. For two Euros, you get a “piccolo” cup of two flavors and Everett’s reliable favorite has been “mint and melon.” We keep encouraging him to branch out, but this combo has become his trademark treat. And oddly enough, we can’t get Louie to eat gelato. He continues to ask for a taste each time we cozy up to a park bench with those colorful little spoons in hand, but the instant that cold creamy goodness touches his mouth, he cringes at the lip freeze and lets the delectable glob fall wayward. But don’t worry, he is definitely down with little Italian cookies from the pasticerrias—and again, we are happy to oblige.
- Italian Radio
Everett has developed a newfound fondness for music on this trip, specifically new sounds that he hears on the car radio. The day we drove out of Switzerland, he began “singing along” with a catchy tune sung in English by a female vocalist. When the deejay came on at the song’s end, I tried to decipher his German to catch the singer’s name and heard something to the effect of “Sophie Homan,” helped by the fact that the name “Sophie” showed up on car dash display. While Internet searches have not turned up this Swiss/Italian/Euro diva’s identity, Everett continues to ask for his “Sophie Homan” every time we get in the car.
And in the evenings, when we are making dinner, Ben has put Andrea Boccelli on the iPad, to construct a lovely stereotype of Italian kitchen artistry. Everett immediately stops what he is doing and just listens, transfixed by the melody and focused on mimicking the pitch and notes with his little voice. It’s pretty darn cute.
- What Do You See Next?
This popular vacation pastime is Everett’s version of “I Spy” and we play it constantly as we explore new places. In the car, on the balcony, while hiking, on the beach… Everett is constantly inquiring, “What do YOU see next?” Some favorite sights: bell towers (obviously), wildflowers, mountains, the ocean, the beach, motorcycles, bicycles, and Fiats (also paired with a new interest in types of cars).
Even before our grand adventure, Everett was known for being a potty aficionado. Ever since he became potty-trained, he has had a fascination with public restrooms. He wants to see the potty in every establishment and then describe it with adjectives such as, “This is a tall potty; a nice, clean potty; a dirty potty; a potty with pink, vanilla soap, etc.” So you can imagine the amusement that potty patrol has brought us here. The flushers are not handles, but large flat buttons that you press in to the wall. Some of the sinks in Elba restrooms are turned on by stepping on a pedal on the floor. We have experienced the stand-up-and-pee-in-the-hole-on-the-floor potties at Lake Orta (much easier for Everett than for me). In Cannobio, Everett favored the “lake potty,” a public W.C. located in the center of the main promenade and his first experience with a urinal. (There is no using the regular toilet anymore if the urinal is an option). At our Cannobio “lake house,” Everett had his own potty to himself, outside his bedroom on the third floor. He would only go in “my upstairs potty” when he was in the apartment and has told us how much he misses this latrine now that we are in Elba. The only downside to Everett’s potty hobby is that public restrooms seem to be an endangered species in Italy. I’m still trying to figure out where all these Italian tourists are peeing when they are out and about. Maybe I don’t want to know, given how much time Louie spends crawling on Italian soil.
10. Island Walking
And this last one is for Louie, who is getting closer and closer to taking his first independent steps everyday. Last night, he held Ben’s index finger and walked a long pedestrian mall stretch in Marino di Campo, shuffling his little bowed legs with controlled awkwardness and beaming with exhilaration at his newly realized freedom. Everett might be even more excited than Louie about this anticipated milestone. Every time Louie sets out to practice a micro-step or two, Everett will stand a few feet away, arms open wide and shout joyfully, “Walk to me, Louie. Walk to me!” Each stumbling shuffle ends with the sweetest brother hug.
So years from now when I am scrolling through photographs of the majestic (albeit underwater) Alps of Riederalp, the paradise of Aquavivetta Beach, and the bustling charm of Cannobio, I hope that I can also recall these daily moments and little rituals that made traveling with two munchkins so unique.