Northern Italy is full of lakes and small towns. Treviso, Asiago, Prosecco, Parma… it’s like reading an Italian menu. The trip between Venice and Verona also led us through Padua, where Galileo went to school, and the UNESCO city of Vicenza.
Sirmione, on a long, skinny peninsula of Lake Garda, is a picturesque jumble of churches and wellness resorts, protected by a castle.
There are the pretty tulip-shaped ramparts again!
There is Eli being attacked by a starving Brain Sucker.
Quick, get that guy some ice cream!
Brain Sucker Standing Down.
We got the boys two scoops but it was more like four. How does anyone eat that much ice cream? Jake picked mint and mango, Eli picked lemon and some weird black flavor. The kids did pretty well but I know there will be leftovers. My kids may be the only ones on earth who don’t always finish their ice cream.
They are also funny when they visit castles. Groaning and moaning, they lament the hardship of another castle! But then they get inside and the goofy genes take over. Here they’re playing hide and seek, first from each other and then from us.
They changed jackets somewhere along the way, but we can always pick out Eli because he runs like a cartoon character.
Mike does the fun work, capturing it on film.
I’m busy elsewhere, trying to capture a tower centered in a parabola. Those guys who built this must have KNOWN that! Fascinating.
There was also a drawbridge and a real mote, which Jake and Eli thought was cool.
We’d never heard of Sirmione until we got here, and were surprised by the quintessential Italian Holiday vibe with sidewalk cafes, racks of sunglasses, paper cones of fried calamari, and heaps of bright gelato swirled up under the glass. So charming and busy! The town square was mobbed with people eating pizza and cruising with baby strollers.
We were tourists too.
From the top of the castle, the view stretched all the way across Lake Garda.
At the other end of the island we skipped rocks and took selfies.
I like that the boys like to take selfies with me. We took a little hike and stumbled on a naked guy sitting in a natural hot spring. Did not take a selfie of that! They noticed the olive trees everywhere and I told them stories about growing up in Arizona, where we climbed up the olive trees to build tree houses, and had olive wars in the front yard.
After Sirmione we wanted to sit in the hot springs too, although not with naked guys. So I researched hot springs online and found the Thermal Park del Garde, a huge natural hot springs resort bubbling up between acres of trees.
It felt like we were in a movie!
The water was hot, just a perfect little bit of heaven, and the boys jumped right in. Mike and I stacked our phones under folding chairs and joined them, our feet shuffling over the soft mud and smooth stones. On one side of the pool was an underground “grotto,” with bubbles and hot water jets and signs that warned “No Eating, No Drinking, No Loving.” Fortunately everyone respected the rules.
There are Mike and the boys, frolicking under the jets.
At thermal resorts, there are a lot of cultural norms that are different from ones back home. It hit me, as Jake and Eli were excitedly changing in the co-ed locker room and running out the door, that they didn’t notice everyone around them was naked, or that no one else spoke English. I think I like to believe that my kids are just like any other American kids, but then sometimes I think maybe they really ARE absorbing a different version of life. Unconscious at this age, but still real.
I think, I hope, that this international perspective is good for them. That living in Africa gave them a basis to understand racism, and because of our time in Zambia they will know from real experience that all people are just people, whatever we look like. We are all friends, hard-workers, families, and to view it any other way is prejudice. I hope that because of our life in Ukraine, no matter how high the tensions between Russia and the U.S. escalate, they’ll remember they had a Russian-speaking nanny who loved them, who made them soup and taught them to walk, and who lit candles for them in the monastery behind our house.
I know all parents want what is best for their kids, and we all worry that what we’re doing may cause harm instead of good. More insecurity, more instability… but maybe, also more compassion? Maybe even though castles are boring, the unavoidable story of Hitler and WWII is not?
As the boys dive into their noodles at dinner, they say “This is the key to a happy life!” I guess if they are saying that, we are doing something right, even if we didn’t go to Legoland or the beach this year for Spring Break. I guess if the Big Picture is okay, we just need to keep plugging away at the other “keys to a happy life.” To help them figure out what they like. To trust themselves. To do their best to follow their dreams. To know they are unconditionally loved. And to let God do the rest.