Visions of Italy filled my adolescent bucket list. In my imagined post-high school life, I had moved there and married a suave Romeo. We toured the Amalfi Coast in a sleek red Ferrari. We wore elegant clothes and oversized sunglasses. Wind in hair, sun on cheeks, opera in air. Informed by American movies, I thought this was the customary way to experience southern Italy.
After college, I’d come to view sports cars as impractical, and red cars were rumored to have higher insurance premiums. I had encountered some uncommonly handsome Italian men, but long ago realized that I was no match for their unnaturally stunning female countrywomen. My Italian is as clunky as my actual car door, despite years of language courses. I’m no superstar, but I wasn’t ready to give up on the Amalfi Coast dream.
Instead of the athletic Italian, I traveled with my not-tall husband and our six-month-old daughter. Instead of a red Ferrari, we rode trains to the end of the line, and then continued by bus. Instead of Dolce & Gabbana, I wore anything that could be burped on and washed in a sink.
We traveled at the end of the season, when our busy schedules permitted, rates were lower, and the scenery was just as breathtaking. The Amalfi Coast stretches along the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula. Whitewashed villages perch precariously on the rugged seaside cliffs. We settled into Positano–one of the most picturesque of these storybook towns. As John Steinbeck wrote in the early 1950’s, “Positano bites deep…It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
I wanted that core of my Amalfi dream to be real; I wanted the spirit and beauty of the place to urge me to return. I had hoped that I could enjoy that dream with my real-life family. As we left home for Italy, I wasn’t sure.
Cora was a cranky baby. She was impossible to put to bed, and wanted to be held constantly. She cried a lot. As a new mom, I lacked the confidence of experience. Planning for the trip and trying to consider the ever-changing needs of my baby was stressful. I worried about the way others would respond to our crying baby. I worried about where I would nurse her discretely. I worried about how many diapers I would need. I worried about how to apologize in Italian. I worried that I would be a poor representative for all the other American mothers.
I never imagined Cora would like Italy as much as I did. I learned that she was happiest on the go, cat napping in the baby carrier, grinning back at doting strangers, posing for photos, and sampling gelato. We came to understand each other on that trip. For John, it was an important opportunity to bond with his firstborn; she started depending on him, and I could see the love in their eyes. She was fun, and others wanted to share in her wide-eyed wonder. My worries evaporated in the smiles, gasps, and kindness of Italian mamas of all shapes and ages.
As a new mom, even the simplest things made me happy. I smiled as I enjoyed a hot shower on our last day in Positano. The bathroom window offered glimpses of the sparkling seaside. John and Cora played together in the other room. He would tickle her while they babbled and giggled. Precious! I was doing it! We were enjoying this place and making lasting memories! My fantasy had evolved into something deeper and richer. As I laughed to myself, I was startled to hear John exclaim, “Oh crap! Erynn, I need you! No. Wait. Crap! I’ll bring her to you!”
Cora was naked and smiling. He laughed and rotated her in outstretched arms, revealing her backside and hair. Both were thickly buttered in a wide stripe of baby poo.
“Dude! What happened?” I asked.
“I was just playing with her! I drug her from the top of the bed to the bottom before I realized that she’d blown out! Help!”
When the baby and I emerged clean, my next shock was the sight of the bedding; the skid mark was even more impressive than her backside. How would I explain this to the staff of our charming boutique hotel? I was completely embarrassed. In all my worry, I never considered what I would do if she blew-out all over a hotel room.
“What now?” I asked.
“I’ll just tell them what happened.”
“You’re just going to tell them that you drug your baby’s body through her poo and ruined their bedding?”
“You better tell them it was you!”
He did, and it all worked out with smiles and understanding.
Perhaps that embarrassment was just the nudge I needed to be willing to leave the dreamscape of Positano. We checked out of the hotel, enjoyed a beachside lunch, found my all-time favorite dress (75% off at an end-of-season sale, thank you very much), and said our goodbyes.
I had hoped that we would have a great trip—that this would be the first of many with our growing family. We learned that Cora made the trip better. With her, the Italians embraced us in a way I never expected. We were recognized as parents, not just tourists. She opened doors of friendship. Grandmothers joyfully held her while John and I were encouraged to linger over dinner. Shopkeepers and guards cooed over her. She was our ticket to priority boarding and express service.
By the end of that trip, we felt differently about traveling with her. We’d become the happy, American family who enjoyed seeing the world together.
We felt sincere gratitude to a nation of compassionate strangers-turned-friends. Italy had left its mark on us. And we left a bit of a mark ourselves.
The full photo gallery from this trip to Italy is found here.