Nell, Kim-Kim, Costanza, and Darcy signing each other’s yearbooks.

June has been a wildly social, frenetic, and satisfying month. We decided not to plan any travels in June so that we could enjoy our time in Rome. That turned out to be a very fortunate decision.

One thing that we did not anticipate was the intense flurry of social activities happening at the children’s school. Birthday parties seem to be taken very seriously here. But nearly all of the families flock from Rome as soon as school ends. Italian families head to their beach villas in in Toscana, or Sardegnia. The UN families get their leaves and are eager to have their children visit families back home. And international business people often send their children to visit grandparents or to camp. Because of this, children with birthdays in June, July, and August all throw their birthday parties in the first half of June.

Nell waiting to get her teacher Cristina’s autograph

A custom here is that parents rent a “party bus” that picks the party-going children up from school and takes them to the party destination. Often these festivities are held way outside of the city center. So we’ve been spending gobs of Euros on taxis to pick the children up. One weekend, we rode the metro back and forth across town shepherding the kids to their various events . . . our combined subway time was almost enough to have flown to North America. Fortunately, many local friends have been gracious enough to offer a helping hand to our auto-less family, and delivered or picked the kids up for us.

Eli collected signatures on his soccer ball.

In the meantime, Eli and Nell had a blast—and we did not see very much of them. They go off to school in the morning, then take a party bus from school to a birthday event, then are picked up by another family for a sleepover, and are then shuttled to another party the next morning! It’s really been non-stop festivities and fun, and an especially nice tradition that many kids invite the entire class to their birthday parties (and sweet that some kids choose very intimate 2-3 friend parties instead).

Hugs from Eli’s teacher, Ms. Curria.

As birthday parties began to wind down, the last day of school approached. The kids moved in opposite emotional trajectories across the day. Eli started the day excited and eager to get to school. But Nell was very sullen and moody in the morning. She was so quiet that one of her only utterances was a melancholic “I’m going to miss this place” as we all sat in the bar near the kids’ bus stop having breakfast.  Her eyes looked so sad that we knew the impending goodbyes were on her mind.

More hugs from Eli’s PE teacher, Ms. Lisa.

Many parents show up at the school on the last day to say goodbye to the teachers, and we had been looking forward to that. But it turned out to be an intense morning. Thankfully true to the stereotype, southern Italians are extremely warm and effusive people. Just as we walked into the school building, Eli’s Italian teacher, Ms. Ana-Maria made a bee-line for us, and in the most touching and heart-warming way, started telling us about how sad she was that we were leaving, about how wonderful Eli’s Italian is “. . . .his pronunciation, it is just beautiful, beautiful . ..,” how we had to help him continue his Italian, what a great experience this has been for him and how glad she was to have him as her student. I literally got a lump in my throat, and then we were all hugging. And then we saw the school librarian, Ms. Viola, whom Nell became very attached to this year. And again, as we were saying goodbye, Ms. Viola became tearful about saying goodbye and so did we.

Nikos, Eli, and Laith

But then we walked up to Eli’s classroom, and the affection being displayed was so lovely and not at all what one would see in an American school. The boys all had their arms around each other. And as kids were being picked up they would run over to Eli and hug him, then begin to walk out of the room, then run back and hug him again. And this was repeated so many times that the parents gave up on trying to get their children home because they were all hugging and some crying, and telling each other how much they would be missed. And although it might sound like a mess in the re-telling, it was all so sincere and affectionate and, frankly, lovely to see a culture where boys are encouraged to be so emotionally demonstrative and expressive. Everyone felt very loved.

Arrivederci, Ambrit.

In Nell’s classroom, the children had each made her lovely going away notes that were so sweet and thoughtful. There was much merriment in the room . . .apparently when the children were seated in a circle to watch a presentation on the SmartBoard, the teacher had accidently left Nell’s report card open on her computer.. .so it was broadcast for all to see. Although we won’t receive her grades for a few days, the word from Nell’s friends is that she got excellent marks this year. . .and many of the comments on her goodbye cards reflected this purloined information. Nell had regained her composure by the time we arrived and was having a great time running around the building having people sign her yearbook. And it was especially nice that the parents of her dearest friend have invited us to spend a few days at their beach house next week. So Nell appreciated not having to say goodbye to that friend yet.

We made our way out of the lobby, stopped by so many parents and children and teachers saying goodbye and wishing us well that I told jenny if I had to say one more goodbye I was going to burst into tears. But then just as we were leaving the building, this all caught up with Eli and he had a good cry. We stood outside the school for a while as he was thinking about how much he has enjoyed his friends this year and how much he will miss them. It was hard to say goodbye, and great to have made such great connections!

Lunch at Da Gino afterward to try to cheer everyone up!

We then headed for a celebratory lunch at one of the children’s favorite restaurants, Da Gino. There, we all toasted each other on a great sabbatical year and offered the kids special recognition for so many of the things they accomplished. We celebrated Nell and Eli’s having integrated into a new culture and new school, having learned to get around in another language, having braved and excelled on the soccer field, having formed such rich friendships with genuinely delightful children, and having become truly inquisitive world travellers.

Then we went home and had a nap.

– Seth