It Takes A Villa

(excerpt from Blended)

Since my children were small, I’ve dreamt of renting a villa in Tuscany. I envisioned my family hiding and seeking in tall sunflower fields, swimming in an infinity pool nestled in the hills, and eating home-made pizza hot and fresh from our wood fired outdoor pizza oven. Somewhere between that fantasy and reality, my marriage crumbled. Yet, the idyllic Italian dream didn’t -- it simply morphed into a happily-ever-after-post-divorce-family-vacation with kids, significant others, and all.  As this year marks my son’s high school graduation and daughter’s 21st birthday, the timing couldn’t be better.

Louise, my partner of nearly four years, is on board with the idea although she periodically questions my motives with inquiries such as: “Are you serious? Or “Have you really thought this through?” 

Of course I have.

I’ve been working overtime for a decade layering good over bad and creating the most intact-broken-family Divorce has ever seen. Why? Because children depend upon their mother and father for safety, security, and stability; we owe them at least that much.

Via a little denial of the not-so-easy moments between us, a lot of friendly friendship, and regular weekly dinners, my ex-husband Mark and I have earned ourselves a perfect landing under the Tuscan sun.

                                         *****

Mark and Leyla are late. Perhaps they missed train connections in Rome. Maybe they got lost -- this place is hard to find deep in central Italy, high atop a grassy knoll, down a narrow street, up a 3 mile driveway, behind a wrought iron gate. I tend to worry.

When we finally hear the sound of tires crunching along the dirt road, both Gary and Angela race outside and run towards the taxi, laughing, waving, and yelling “Heya Dayad!”   I watch from the veranda, brimming with achievement. It’s really true -- we are all in Italy. 

Mark emerges from the back seat with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and 2 boxes of Cuban cigars in the other.  His first words to the kids are, “Hi guys! You can legally drink here – we’re gonna get ripped!” He shows off the liquid gold like it’s an Olympic medal. Then looks at me directly and offers, by way of reassurance, “Don’t worry Barb, I’m going to teach them some hard lessons about overindulging.” 

Let it be noted:

#1) Mark’s a recovering alcoholic/addict whom I thought was clean and sober. 

#2) Our genetically predisposed kids shouldn’t drink.

#3) Or smoke.

#’s 4, 5, and 6) Mark knows these things. He’s their father. I’m paying for this damn vacation.

*****

Mark and his longtime girlfriend, Leyla (who’s sweet, fit, beautiful, and very close to our daughter’s age) choose to stay in the 2 story guest house instead of the main house with the rest of us. Angela is immediately concerned they feel ostracized. I fear she might be right.  Louise thinks they’ll enjoy their own space, and Gary just wants to get tan.

Anyway, the entire compound is spectacular. Both the main villa and guest house are surrounded by gardens of lavender, thyme, rosemary, red roses, electric blue lobelia, a large grassy yard, and olive trees.  It’s also so very Italian – constructed of honey colored stone with a red tiled roof and terracotta floors, Podere Scopicciolo was built on the foundation of an1800’s farmhouse, which itself was built on ancient Etruscan land. Our kids are less amazed by its historical significance than by the fact we have a chef and infinity pool.

Mark and Leyla down a bottle of local white wine before dinner while the rest of us play net-less water volleyball.

Upstairs in our room, I rant. “Louise! Did you see that? He drinks? Jack Daniels?  And Cigars?  Leyla drinks too? Who are these strangers?? I thought I knew them.”

To which Louise responds in her usual Zen-master tone, “You gonna tell them to leave?”

“No.”