I finally succumbed to sitting on the grotty stoop of the apartment building by the bus stop. I leaned away as residents pushed by me to enter their building, muttering something in Italian. Looking directly up from my perch was another striking old building. By this point, I was less into the architectural details and more interested in how the little overhang protected us from the drizzle, which had progressed well past the tolerable early evening mist. It was well past dark. The kids and I were damp, and although it was July, we were getting chilly from sitting still as we huddled in a residential neighborhood a few blocks from the Vatican.
We had crossed the street back and forth and jumped around the block from bus stop to bus stop. Most of the drivers were kind, and though their facility in English was about as good as my knowledge of Italian, they each assured me that their bus went nowhere near our hotel. How that was possible puzzled me since our little hotel was in the historical center just off a major thoroughfare. Isn’t there some saying about all roads leading to Rome? I guessed Rome was just bigger than we realized. I tried not to complain as it was futile. We were so hungry for real food, not gelato or street cart popcorn. I missed my husband and his planning. I longed for the chipper young Parisian women donning perky green uniforms that we had met a few weeks prior in the Paris metro, with ready smiles and pens and maps in hand.
Honestly, I just wanted to cry, but every time my eyes welled up, my children looked all the more hungry and tired. I was alone with them. I knew that had Jorge been here, he would have figured out our transportation home long before we had even left our hotel for the morning. And if he hadn’t taken care to plan, I could gripe and complain to him, as unjust as I knew that behavior now was.
The stark truth was that after more than 2,000 years, Rome was clearly tired of accommodating tourists. And after a nine-week odyssey in Europe with my kids, I was ready to go home.
We were stranded, hungry, tired, and cold. Later when my husband asked why we didn’t just do the obvious and take a cab home, I explained that it hadn’t even been an option for me. When he and I travel, we have a hard and fast rule about walking or public transport whenever possible. It’s cheaper, you see more, and you are given a better glimpse into the lives of the people that a cab can’t give. There were chickens under the seat in Bali, a uniformed school boy traveling alone who was almost too small to make it up the bus steps in Japan, and an interminably hot bus in Egypt by the Libyan border that stopped at a roadside shack with the best ground meat kabobs I have had ever had, along with scary looking big men with big guns, lots of flies, and a yucky hole-in-the-ground toilet. Give up these experiences in exchange for the comfort and security of a cab? I’d rather stay home.
I also confess I had something to prove. I could do this trip alone. I wouldn’t take the easy way out. After a month with my husband in Spain and Morocco, I had five weeks alone with my kids to see a bit of the rest of Europe and I was going to show the kids, myself, and my husband that this life of a gypsy was in their blood. Wanderlust would become a part of their psyche by nature and nurture.
But I wasn’t thinking all those lofty thoughts as I cursed the bus schedule under my breath.
Then the moment of responsibility came to me and I was released from my paralysis. I stood up, looked at my two raincoat-hooded children and knew what we must do. Though I have a habit of making broad proclamations, I knew I couldn’t force anything. At this moment, I asked them if we should start walking. I genuinely wasn’t sure if they had it in them.
They knew it was through the rain, in the dark. I didn’t know how far we would have to go or how long it would take us. We were all dead on our feet. Our legs ached from the long day of walking and standing in our extended tour of the Vatican, preceded by many long days of traveling.
The consensus was to strike out into the dark and start walking in the direction of what we thought was our hotel. We went a block and then another. Soon we had crossed the bridge over the Tiber. Our paces quickened in our soggy shoes as we started to recognize a few landmarks. We had been walking for no more than 15 minutes at that point. We soon became giddy with excitement as we realized we were close. And we had been so close all along. Within less than half an hour, we were back in our neighborhood and looking at the al fresco dining options. The rain had stopped, and though we were still wet, we couldn’t help but notice that we were actually late enough to experience dining with the Romans instead of our usual habit of eating in quiet restaurants that were barely open for the evening hours.
As we were seated with our wet bags and jackets hanging off our chairs, I looked at both of my children. I was so proud of them. Proud of their bravery, their willingness to take that first step away from the security of the bus stop, and their sense of adventure, not just today, but every day on this journey we had taken them on.
I told them that they must never forget what happened that night. Never forget how far away we felt from home, how dark the night seemed, and how discouraging the rain felt. Never be afraid to take that first step away from the complacency of a bus stop into the dark unknown. Avoid the trap of letting the temporary situations of life, like rain and darkness, hunger and fatigue, overwhelm them and keep them from making their way. I wanted them to know they always have the strength to make the journey, to remember that more times than not, we are much closer than we think. Just remember Rome.
And yes…my children do sometimes roll their eyes when I remind them of this night. But I know that as they grow, there will be many moments in their lives that they think that they cannot go on. It’s then that they will remember that night in the dark and the rain in Rome and, I hope, take the necessary steps toward their dreams, whether those dreams are as simple as coming home again or launching themselves onto a completely foreign road in an untried direction.