I’m back from Italy! And this time I didn’t even need my passport. You may not have even realized I was gone but I was. At least in my mind as I read Susan Pohlman’s delightful book Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home, which I just finished this morning and had to write about because I was so moved.
If you read the “postcards” I wrote when I lived in Italy then you may recall Susan. I shared her inspirational story then and continue to do so every time a parent tells me they can’t move somewhere because of their school-age kids. I point to Susan and her husband Tim, who on the spur of the moment during a business trip to Italy, made the courageous decision to give up their fast-paced lives in LA and move their daughter Katie, 15, and son Matthew, 11, to the boot-shaped country, where life is slower and the family could reconnect. We moved to Italy within a couple of months of each other but didn’t meet until several months later when Lucy and I stopped to visit them en route to Monte Carlo. Tim is a major player in the radio business and two of my friends in radio suggested I contact him, which I did.
Today I went back to see what I wrote about the Pohlmans (that’s Tim and Susan below on ONE of the three terraces in their apartment in Nervi, Italy) in Postcard 7, dated March 25, 2004, and found this:
I spent the night in the small town of Nervi at the Pohlman’s, an American couple who moved to Italy from suburban L.A. last year. A couple of you guys put me in contact with them. You might recall I was going to meet them last fall but I never did make it as our schedules conflicted. I’m glad I finally got to meet them as they are so inspiring. Their story: a husband is on a business trip in Santa Margherita, which is on the Italian Riviera and near Portofino. His wife is with him. As they relaxed by the hotel pool they said, wouldn’t it be nice to move here. They both agreed and said, but what about the kids. They asked the pool man if there was an American school nearby and he said yes and told them where it was. The wife has a master’s in education and grilled the schoolmaster. Convinced that their kids could receive a proper education they wondered where they would live. They went to a nearby real estate agency and were shown a fabulous, and I do mean incredible, three bedroom, three-bathroom, rooftop apartment with three terraces facing the sea. They had to decide that day whether to take the apartment because other people were interested. They signed the rental papers, which were written in Italian, not even knowing what they were signing as the extent of their Italian was “Ciao.” They went home and told their kids, now age 16 and 12, that they were moving, sold their house, their furniture, their cars and the husband quit his job. Within two months they had moved to Italy. Is that incredible or what? After a torturous 6-week period to adapt to Italy (they moved in late July, there was a heat wave and their air conditioning didn’t work) the kids fell in love with their new surroundings. But not every story has a happy ending and sadly the Pohlmans have decided to return to the States in August. Like all the Americans here who don’t earn money in euros, the weak dollar is killing them. The American school costs $20,000 annually for two kids. Prices are as high as Los Angeles. They really don’t want to go but sometimes one has to be sensible when you’re talking about an entire family.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Susan had planned to tell Tim she wanted a divorce as soon as they returned from that fateful business trip. The move to Italy saved their marriage! The couple is still married today and lives in Scottsdale. I know what my two years abroad did for me personally. Multiply that by four and I know, after reading Halfway to Each Other, what it did for the entire Pohlman clan.
Of course I connected with the book because I was able to reminisce about the disorganization of Italy’s bureaucracy when it comes to things like getting a permesso di sigiorno (permit to stay), the lack of air conditioning during the horrific summer of 2003 when record-breaking heat killed thousands throughout Europe, adjusting to grocery shopping, the infamous transportation strikes, parallel parking Italian style, being reluctant to cook for Italians, and the sheer joy of waking up without the stress of being anywhere or having to do anything at any certain time. I laughed out loud while reading this book and teared up at passages relating to the simplistic beauty of tender moments the Pohlmans shared.
Because Susan is brutally honest in her book, it was educational for me, a true singleton, to read about real experiences of the joys and struggles of being married and constantly compromising. She doesn’t sugar coat what marriage or motherhood is.
Susan envies me for being so brave to move to Italy on my own (okay, so I did have Lucia too) but I marvel at what she did with a husband, a teenager and a pre-teen. It was not easy but my goodness, what an experience to savor for the rest of their lives. That family, especially Katie, was forever changed for the better.
If you’re not able to spend a year in Italy like the Pohlmans, do the next best thing and read Halfway to Each Other. You’ll swear you were there. I know I did.