I hadn’t thought much about Rosie’s motivation to walking 1,500 miles through Italy. It was still early in the summer and we had blasted halfway through the country already. We began on the Swiss border, and swept through each region in just a few days. I was in hiker mode. Keeping a schedule and establishing rules. I demanded we start early, get a minimum of 35 kilometers (20 miles) in, and then usually pushed for more.
Rosie was compliant. She happily and easily knocked off this distance, and further distances came with negotiation, mostly in the form of gelato, or proper accommodation.
In Rome we got our Certificate of Completion at the Vatican, for completion of The Via Francigena (the way of St. Francis from Northern Italy to Rome). Rosie felt good about what she had done. I felt comfortable with her and saw her not just as my little girl but as a hiking partner.
We stayed in Rome only a few hours before pushing onward. Rome was crowded with tourists, mostly Americans, and it was a shock to our system. Italy is a beautiful country with lovely and welcoming people. It’s all the Nonna’s that invited us in for pranzo as we walked by and the piazza’s filled with families after Church on Sunday. In the little villages we discovered the soul and beauty of Italy. In Rome, little of this is on display. It is shrouded by the traffic, stands selling trinkets, tour buses with gaudy ads, sweaty overweight Americans, and blistering heat.
We pushed through the rest of Lazio, and into Molise and eventually Campania, where my family is from. Rosie began to give me more push back on the miles. She needed a gelato just to get through the morning. If I wanted to get her through the afternoon possibly another.
Finally on another 100 degree day after 40 kilometers, Rosie told me something I hadn’t given enough consideration to.
“Daddy, I’m still just a little girl you know.”
It hit me like a punch in the gut. I knew I had maybe pushed too much. I felt terrible. I questioned the entire endeavor. I took her on this trip for so many reasons. It will be an education, she will stay fit, and it also solves the child care problem for the summer.
I apologized to Rosie, for forgetting that my 10 year old daughter is still just a little girl. What was this trip about? I still don’t have the answers. Was it good for her or was it my will and her need to impress her dad that motivated this trip? I believe the trip was good for Rosie, although truth be told I would have shortened it to 4-6 weeks if I could do it again.
The remainder of the hike we did it as she wished. We did the remaining sections of Italy in the order she wanted to do them. We jumped up and hiked some of Switzerland and Grand Paradiso before we were attacked by a feral horse and she chose to return to Campania. We polished off that section, a quick sweep through Basilicata before tackling the disappointing Calabria. We reached the tip of mainland Italy with time to spare. We hiked a few days through Abruzzo and the spectacular Gran Sasso before Rosie was ready for the Dolomites. It was her favorite, and she blasted through the 150 kilometers from Belluno to Bolzano in less than a week.
This ended our glorious summer. I had just completed the hardest task of my life. I spent 24/7 alone with my 10 year old daughter one on one for three straight months. This is something mothers do regularly, and I never imagined how difficult this is. Sure I spent lots of time with my kids before but I always had work, or my stuff that provided plenty of mental respite. I never considered that 24 hours of not a minute to just sit in my own thoughts or tune out the world would be so hard. It’s something mothers do without the acclaim that I get when I do something basic like do the laundry once in a great while. My few achievements are met with great fanfare and my wife and most mothers do everything and it’s often met without a second glance.
Each night I would call my wife from Italy and ask her questions/vented: “Does Rose ever stop talking?” “I can’t even listen to music or podcasts because I have got to watch and listen to Rosie intently!”
For a mom this is just life. For a dad, at least most dads and certainly me, it’s an occasional chore. Twenty four hours a day focus on my own child seems like it wouldn’t be such a task, but ashamedly I felt it was! How have I missed how tough it was on my children’s mother?
Her mother came out to Italy and after a few days of family vacation, they returned to the US. Early indications are that the trip had a profound impact on her. She has seen things, learned about history and culture. Where we come from is real to both of us now. She has developed a sense of how our food should be and tasted the difference between pervasive real organic food and the processed and genetically modified poison we eat in the USA. She saw refugees. Hundreds of them. Not just characters on a tv screen but real, breathing people. Highly intelligent folks caught in a game they can’t get out of. She saw that when her dad was in some sort of trouble he usually when to a refugee because they usually spoke great English.
Her confidence is palpable. I can hear it in her voice over the phone. The trip might have been a mistake, but it wasn’t without rewards that’s for sure.
I’m still here in Europe. I will stay till I complete all the miles between the Dolomites in Veneto through Austria, Switzerland and Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia. Perhaps Greece as well. I miss my baby girl. I suspect that the girl I see in two months will appear far different than the one that left for Italy after Memorial Day.
At least that’s my prayer.