14. One Year Done, One To Go

All together! (black eye compliments of basketball practice)

Our adventure in Amsterdam just surpassed the one-year mark. We have one more year to go with this current format where I live in Italy most of the time, and Marianna and Sean live in Amsterdam most of the time.   There are so many ways to describe what it has been like. It’s been awesome at times, it has sucked, it’s tiresome and sometimes it’s invigorating. I suppose that if you take an entire year of life, you’d get all of those emotions even without the added dynamic of living in-between two places.

I’m taking a pause from writing about interesting aspects about life in places like Siena and Amsterdam. I’ll get back to that and there’s a lot more to say.  For this post, I’m just going to elaborate on some of my own reflections on the past year:

Skype and Airplanes

We see each-other all the time.  While Skype will never replace real human contact, it’s really nice to be able to have that daily, visual contact. It’s strange to remember that this has only been possible for a very short time.  I’m not sure that Sean really gets it, although recently he’s been more talkative via skype.  Mostly he just kind of looks at me, perplexed by my sudden regression to two-dimensionality.

The flight to Amsterdam and back has become as easy as taking the bus to work.  I think that I might be able recognize one pilot’s voice.  Sean has also understood his role on flights and usually he just takes a nap. Checking in and security is another story.  Going through security is not fun by any definition.  Sean perceives this and his reaction is often to scream and cry.  Yes, we all have to do things that we don’t want to, and honestly, if it were socially acceptable, I think we’d all do a bit more screaming and crying.

Sean totally remembers who I am and he’s tri-lingual (we’re not).

A coffee and a “baby-ccino” before music class on Saturday morning in Amsterdam.

I was a bit worried that I’d have to re-introduce myself to Sean with every visit. Maybe that sounds a bit ridiculous for the more seasoned parents, but at my beginner level of fatherhood, the idea that Sean might forget who I am was a possibility in the back of my mind. I’m delighted to see that every time Sean sees me in person his eyes light up and there’s no question about who I am. Whew.

While he does recognize me, I’m not Dad to him. I’m Papà. If I talk about Dad, he knows what we’re talking about, but he’s made the decision to go with Papà. It is really remarkable to watch him pick up words in both Italian and English with ease. He doesn’t switch between languages yet, meaning that he usually uses a one word for one object.   He is just starting to understand that there are two words for the same thing. One evening he wanted more milk despite having already doubled the normal night-time serving. He asked twice for latte. Marianna’s response was twice no. Then he thought for a moment and asked for milk!

I speak English to him and Marianna speaks Italian when directly addressing him. Of course he does hear both of us interacting in both languages. What he doesn’t hear from us is Dutch. Daycare is Sean’s immersion in Dutch.

Everyday learning new things.

His teachers say that he knows quite a bit and that he interacts with the other children without any problems. Of course, he’s not even two years old, so it’s not as if he and his peers are discussing philosophy, but still, I’m pretty amazed to see that he can hold his own in Dutch just as in English and Italian.

Our Dutch is not so great yet. Marianna took a beginner’s course at the university and was among 5 out of the whole class to pass. Amazing considering her circumstances. I’m taking an online course. Marianna is definitely ahead of me as she can understand a good amount and interact at a basic level. I do get a bit better every time I go to Amsterdam, but without the opportunity to be immersed on a daily basis, progress is slow.


For me, there are two kinds of weekends

Of course, the best weekends are the ones when Marianna and Sean are around. I have to be honest that I do feel like weekends in Amsterdam seem more exciting. I can’t tell if that’s just the plain truth or if it’s that Amsterdam is still such a new place for us and thus every experience feels fresh and new.

At the zoo in Amsterdam.

Whether were at home in Amsterdam or we’re at home in Siena, one thing that is certain is that we don’t spend a whole lot of time inside our house(s). Maybe it’s because our houses are pretty small. If you were to combine our two apartments, you’d end up with two rooms and two bathrooms. Or maybe it’s parenthood, or maybe it’s just Sean, but if it’s 9:00 am and we’re not on our way out the door, he starts to get pissed off. Nobody wants to be in a one-room studio with a pissed-off one and a half year-old, so out we go. After breakfast, Sean will often bring me my shoes as a not-so-subtle hint that we time’s a’ wastin’. Once he’s decided that we need to go, the race against time begins.  Losing that race results in freaking out.   Though often I may feel exhausted, I personally appreciate his resistance to the sedentary life. Even when Sean falls asleep moments after leaving the apartment, and there we are in the rain as he naps peacefully, I still appreciate being out and about.

Discovering Siena.

We’ve discovered so much of Amsterdam, and even new aspects of Siena. I doubt that we would have been so active without the mandatory daily excursion laws imposed by our little dictator.

Then there’s the other kind of weekend for me. The ones that can seem endless unless I make conscious efforts to fill the time with activities, projects and social events. Our decision to live separately was one that was made based on the idea that it seemed like the logical thing to do given the circumstances. I question that a lot. Whether it is or is not the most logical thing, the fact remains that it’s the reality of the moment. I’m very aware of how focusing on the negativity of not being with Marianna and Sean can be counterproductive and even downright dangerous. In order to steer focus away from not being together, it’s important to stay busy. Sometimes it’s not that simple to fill the days. I try my best to organize things to do with friends or stay active with local organizations, but inevitably there are times when I’m on my own. All of the excess time can be seen as a gift and I consciously make a point to remember that. This blog is a product of that time. I embark on cooking adventures that I wouldn’t normally be able to (with mixed results). One thing that I have come to appreciate a great deal are podcasts. There are some really interesting podcasts out there that feature incredible people and incredible stories. Some of my favorites are: Radiolab, Serial, Invisibilia, Freakanomics, The Minimalists.

While I’d rather be with Marianna and Sean, I do appreciate the time that I have to sit, listen, and reflect.


Marianna is Amazing

In all of this the most important thing is to acknowledge the wonderful Marianna Bolognesi. She’s my wife, and you’re supposed to say things like that about your wife, but what she’s doing, and making look rather easy, is indeed incredible.  I’m so proud of her.  She’s alone in a foreign country, running her own post-doctorate research project all while raising our son. The skill with which she can be successfully operating so many things at one time often goes unnoticed. Since she’s actually got everything relatively under control, people just assume that she’s got it easy. People often comment on how she’s lucky because Sean is so good. Yes, Sean is good, but maybe he’s that way because his Mom is so skilled. He’s also still a toddler and no toddlers are easy.  Others have told her that she’s lucky that the type of research that she can be done from an office, without time constraints. True, but it still takes time and extreme concentration.

IMG-20160226-WA0007It isn’t easy at all. She’s doing it though, and she’s doing it well. I’m humbled to see how much she accomplishes. Anything I do seems meager in comparison. It’s really hard to not feel guilty when she tells me about Sean’s latest tantrum in a public place, or how she can’t find a babysitter in order to attend a meeting. I can’t focus on that guilt though. I can try to be as helpful as possible when I am present, and if nothing else I can stay positive so that when she is exhausted she can at least count on a smile.  Even that is not easy to do, but when things seem hard for me, I compare my hardships to those of Marianna and it’s easy to see that being positive is the least that I can do. This summer there will be a few periods where It’ll be just Sean and I as Marianna has a few important conferences on the horizon. I’ll have some big shoes to fill.

What next?

We have another year. We’ll explore when we’re together and stay positive when we’re apart. We’ll watch Sean grow and probably start learning more Dutch from him than anywhere else. We’ll take advantage of all that we can under these unique circumstances 20151128_140902and I’ll keep on writing about it when I can. Soon the time will come to make a plan for what happens after February 2017.   We’re not sure what that plan will be. The goal is to be together, somewhere.

2 thoughts on “14. One Year Done, One To Go

  • Mike,
    I really enjoyed reading this! I can relate to it a little and it does not compare to what you and Marianna are going through but similarly my boyfriend and I are stuck in between our responsibilities in two different states and hoping next year we can finally be in one place together. Thanks for sharing!

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