What my child is teaching me about travelling

Red and green plane toys

We’re on the road. We left Greece a couple of weeks ago for the first time in over a year to travel to Italy overland to see my parents and meet my brother’s daughter, Ines, who was born five months ago.

Those 14 months in Greece were the longest I stayed put in my adult life. This may not come as a surprise, if you’ve been following my work for a while. You may remember that my son Lorenzo was born while we were housesitting in Umbria, central Italy, and lived in that home until he was three months old. We didn’t have a fixed address again until we decided to settle in Greece between lockdowns. If you’re new to this space, however, let me tell you that I was born in Naples, in southern Italy, and I left when I was 17 to study abroad. It was 1999. Since then, I’ve lived in a dozen countries across the Americas and Europe for studies, work and love.

After meeting Nacho, my Argentine partner, who’s also a journalist, we decided to live out of suitcases while pursuing writing projects. Friends would tell us that we would stop once we had a child. Now they tell us we will stop when Lorenzo starts primary school. My father has given up guessing the future and has settled for calling us hippies.

When Lorenzo was born, we did not stop travelling. He came along with us during work trips to Lampedusa and Amsterdam, to conferences in Switzerland and Sweden, to visits with friends and family in France, Germany and Argentina. I sometimes worried whether this nomadic lifestyle was too much for him, but I usually concluded that travelling was an intrinsic part of my life I couldn’t shelter him from.

After so much movement, staying put in Greece felt strange but also quite natural. There was the pandemic, of course, and a lengthy lockdown. We dealt with a tough year: I lost my job at …

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6 thoughts on “What my child is teaching me about travelling

  1. As a child I moved many times with my family because of the work of my father and it didn’t bother me at all, I liked to be in a new place and had no problems to make new friends.

    But as I was used to it I did the same with my daughter and she didn’t like it at all!
    So I think it depends on your character whether you are ground-bound or easy to move around.

    Now that I’m retired I am very happy with our second home in France where I really enjoy being ground-bound in the nature that surrounds our place, so things can change as well!

    1. Dear Catherina,
      Thanks for sharing this! I think you are right: there are people who struggle more with change and are more attached to routine and people and places. I remember longing for that when I was a child, and doing a lot of travel over the years. But I feel that my son likes routine more than me, and that’s why I sometimes worry.
      That said, I am feeling more and more attached to the idea of having a fixed home now. For the first time in years, we travelled back “home” after a road trip, and it’s been great to find my office and books in their place for once.
      So, yes, things can definitely change!

  2. I definitely think children adapt to such lifestyles, and I also think that their acceptance of moving around so much depends in large part on how we deal with it ourselves as parents (as with most things). Children’s individual characters will definitely influence this as well, but overall they naturally adapt.

    So far (with COVID measures so definitely not a normal situation), our daughter has always been fine moving around: we were the ones having the most difficulty with it and likely making things more complicated than they were in reality.

    There’s such a richness in cultures, languages and visiting places that you don’t get from staying in one place. Some may move around more than others, and over further distances, but the idea remains the same.

    Very interested in the newsletter to come about raising a multilingual child: we’re raising our daughter bilingual (Dutch/French) but we speak English between us so she’ll likely grow up speaking all three, or at least having a good understanding of them. We’ve heard that the most important thing is consistency, but not sure whether there have been any new developments in that area. Many families we know are raising their children multilingual, sometimes even three or four languages (one family we know has a rule at home that the kids can watch TV only in a language they don’t know: they’ve had French, English and Dutch, and are now on to Spanish). Interested to find out more and see what the different experiences are.

    1. Dear Patricia,
      Good to hear from you, and I totally agree that often it’s us parents that complicate certain things. I always think that going outside in the rain or cold is so much harder than going outside when it’s warm and I probably have an influence on how Lorenzo feels about being outside in the rain… But anyways. We do our best!
      As for multilingualism, there is a lot of information out there on consistency. If you check out the Parentland podcast I refer to in this newsletter, consistency is not the only important thing. I personally find it hard to start a relationship in one language and then switch the language, but I also know that it’s hard for other parents to stick to one language only, for several reasons. One of the things that I learnt recently that I think is very valuable is that children learn a language more deeply when they hear more people talking it. So community is as important as what we parents do, it seems.
      I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on multilingualism!

  3. As a mother raising her first child abroad, I wonder: don’t you miss having your friends or relatives around, Irene? Of course the pandemic didn’t help me and my partner find mates here in France and, as my child grows and becomes more responsive to the external world, I desperately would love her to have “a village” around her as it would be case if we were in Italy/as it is the case when we go on vacation there. I’m surely more worried than her about this because I was so unhappy with my parents not having any friends hanging around when I was a child.

    1. Ah, Viviana, this is such an important question! I guess that part of my answer has to do with the fact that I left Italy when I was 17 and I went on to live in a dozen countries or so. So, I don’t have a clear sense of what “abroad” means to me. I do however think a lot about community, and where to have or find one. Unfortunately not even in Naples, where I was born, I have a community. Most of my friends left, and my brother did too, so there are mainly my parents there. My parents are scattered around the world, but we do have a clear community in Argentina, where most of my husband’s family and friends are. But is there where we want to go back to? We never have a clear answer. But I know for sure – and with Covid more than ever – that a “village” or community is what I would like to have around me and my family in the future, and that it takes time to build or find.

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