Curves Ahead

04 Jul 2024

Lessons from driving through Italy with three small children

By Anne Postic  

Once upon a time, I traveled to Italy with three small children to see a dear friend, all on a strict budget. That budget meant booking flights with airline miles instead of actual money. And booking free flights means not having a lot of choices regarding routes. My three sons and I endured a journey of more than twenty-five hours, involving (multiple) planes, trains, and automobiles, to reach our destination. I learned a lot, but the life lessons emerged during the last 45 minutes of that journey.

The final leg began with a long wait on the (very clean) floor of the train station in Rome, and a three-hour, un-air-conditioned train trip. As we descended from the train/dollar-store-sauna, I saw our dear friends, who had arrived to help me claim our rental car and navigate the highways and winding (often dirt) roads to their summer place, just 45 minutes away. I was in the home stretch, but the hardest part of the journey was yet to come.

My friend Mariah rode with me while her husband drove ahead with all of our children, so I could concentrate. I offered just to follow them, but Mariah wisely insisted on riding with me to impart the wisdom I would never forget.

The first lesson: Go at your own pace. Her husband drove way too fast to follow. ("Uh. Are the kids safe?" – "Totally! He does it all the time!") Trying to keep up with him instead of doing it my way, at a much slower pace and with a personal guide, would have been disastrous. A wretched effort to keep up with the Joneses (or an experienced Italian driver) won't get you where you need to go. You'll end up in second (or third, or fourth, or last) place, and you may not even survive the trip. I learned the importance of setting my own goals and reaching them my way.

The second lesson: As I anxiously checked my rear-view mirror on narrow roads, worried that I was holding up other drivers, Mariah gave me the next lesson, "Don't worry about what's going on behind you. There's nothing you can do about it when there's nowhere to pull over anyway." Country ditches are not safe for cars, so I drove on. In life? The past is in the past, there's nothing you can do to change it, so you might as well keep moving, striving to reach your goals without dwelling on the road already traveled.

The third lesson: One peek into the rear-view mirror yielded a view of a red-faced motorist and a few universally understood gestures. Mariah knew what to say. "If someone's yelling at you, pull over and let them pass. It'll only take a minute, and we have time." And if you can't pull over? Refer to the second lesson. As you probably already know, no one goes through life without incurring some wrath. Sometimes you've earned it. Other times, someone's mad at the world, and you just happen to be in it. If you can mitigate the anger, do it. Made a mistake at work? Ask how you can fix it. Hurt someone's feelings? Offer a sincere apology. Keep making the same mistake? Work on that so you can avoid it in the future. But if there's nothing you can do about someone's anger, do your best to just get out of the way.

The last lesson, and probably the most important: Don't take it personally. Road rage is a thing. Some people feel it as soon as they see another driver, no matter how skilled that motorist may be. But I know I operate a car with a solid amount of skill so that rage is not mine to bear. It's not about me, and it'll take far less time to ignore it, get out of the line of fire, or just move on. Life can be action-packed, but that action isn't usually about me, or you. The mental shrug has served me well.

We made it to our final destination, a beautiful house surrounded by rolling hills. I took glorious beach naps after meals of fresh seafood, ate all the gelato, reveled in the charm of medieval festivals,  joined our hosts in making pizzas, and had more new and wonderful experiences than I can outline here. But the greatest takeaway was the crash course I got in life. It's easy to focus on the day-to-day stress of having young children, but one exhausting drive through the country taught me how to keep moving forward without losing my mind.

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