It’s raining in Milan, gray and dreary. I wonder if the weather has anything to do with how I feel, missing home. I talked to my daughter this afternoon and learned it was raining there too. As we chat I can hear my eight month old granddaughter, Aria, babbling to herself and laughing. I smile at the sound of her little voice. She doesn’t know me at all, but she will, when I return to the states. I’ll be someone new, someone she never had to miss. For her big brother Luca, it’s a different story.
Luca and I have been attached at the heart since the day he was born. I’ll admit I loved him first. He took his time warming up to me, there were other favorite grownups in his life. Once he learned that I would nurture his every passion, once he trusted my unconditional love, he was bound to love me too. From year round Halloween decorating to Lego building and finding the best Christmas lights in the neighborhood, we uncover adventure in every day life. I react with amazement to his discoveries. Seeing the world through his eyes, it’s easy, even exciting, to fall in love with rain puddles, sandcastles and park swings all over again.
We go on coffee dates and talk about taking care of our earth. We make plans to visit far away places, and we name all the people in our family that we love. He asks me often about my mom and dad. I remind him that they are in heaven, to which he thoughtfully responds, “So, who do you talk to?” I explain that I have my family and my friends to help me. He searches my face for sadness and I smile, assuring him that I am okay. He has a gentle heart and shows genuine concern for everyone, even strangers. On our walks as we pass a homeless person, he wants to know who takes care of them, where do they sleep, who feeds them. I try to explain as truthfully as I can as there are no simple answers. He finds comfort in knowing he can help, either with a little food or spare change. Compassion comes naturally to him.
On the hard days, when he misbehaves or makes mistakes. He immediately asks, “Are you mad Nonna?” I tell him, “It’s a mistake. We all make mistakes, even Nonna. Try again. I know you can do better.” And I remind him that I still love him. To be sure, he asks, “You love me no matter what, right Nonna, even when I make a mistake, you will always love me.” And I reply, “Always.”
When I decided to move to Italy last spring, I thought most about its impact on Luca. Not quite six, he could not possibly understand my grownup desire to transform my life, something that would separate us for a year. With so many changes in his life, I felt as though I was leaving when he needed me most. I searched my soul for answers and put my faith in those who love him as much as I do to care for his tender heart.
Nearly six months have passed since we hugged goodbye in my empty living room, since I kissed his face again and again. It was hard for him to understand the power of this goodbye. We said it plenty of times before, how long is a year anyway? Now, he knows, it’s a very, very long time.
Whenever we chat, Luca tells me he misses me and asks when I’ll be home. I say soon, before he knows it, and it will seem as though I had never been away. I send him silly gifts and souvenirs and write to him nearly every week, telling about my adventures. His mama tells me he holds up his collection of postcards and says, “These are from my Nonna, she sends me a postcard from everywhere she goes because even when she’s far, she wants me to know where she is.” That makes me smile.
It’s harder to hear about his worries. Looking out the window from my sister’s home and down the alley toward my old house he says, “I miss my Nonna. Where will she live when she comes back?” Or on the days he really misses me, “My life is way much more harder when I don’t get to see my Nonna that often.” I text him videos, telling him that when he misses me to put his hand on his heart and remember I am always right there. Missing people we love is hard.
As carefree and painless as I want Luca’s life to be, I don’t have that kind of magic, none of us do. Instead, I use the magic I do have . . . love. I love him without conditions. He only has to be himself, one hundred percent worthy of love and belonging exactly as he is.
I’ll be home in summer, a different person than the day I left. I’ve shed so much baggage I’ll hardly be recognized. Except for Luca, he’ll know me right away because I’ve always been my best self with him.
Unconditional love brings out the best in everyone.