I am the middle of five children. My older two sisters and I are all three years apart. My brother Anthony is four years younger than me, and the baby of the family, Laurel, is 6 years my junior. I am the younger sister of Audrey and Leah, so naturally I followed them around when I was little, tagging along to barn visits and piano lessons. However, as I watched them mature and endure the painful tediousness of adolescence, I learned from them. I watched, asked questions – and perhaps also eavesdropped on telephone conversations and read their diaries. I learned from them how to resolve fights with friends, how to ignore bullies, how to better cover up house parties, how to survive Hell Week in sports, and how to do a messy bun. Once my older sisters entered high school and then eagerly moved out for college, I was left on my own to figure life out. We weren’t close enough at that point to casually talk about partying, boys, and a social life. So, I made my own mistakes, suffered the consequences, and carried on. I watched friends fail or succeed and learned from their trials and errors.
While I was forging my own path with no map or directions, I was also the older sister to two other siblings. As they reached the impressionable years of middle school, I was the only older sibling left in the house. It was my duty to be a good role model; unfortunately, I cannot say how well I fulfilled that part. Chaos tends to precede change. So there was a lot of chaos during the years the three of us lived at home. Our family was changing and evolving – they just happened to be in the midst of it. I was further into my teenage years when our family foundations became unleveled, but Anthony and Laurel were just entering the prime years of young adolescence. Nevertheless, we had to grow up fast. There was no time or opportunity to be coddled or spoiled. We were raised to be strong and independent.
So years later, at a restaurant for dinner in Florence, Anthony and Laurel honestly declared that they wouldn’t have changed a thing about their childhood and I sat amazed by the growth and resilience of my siblings. They could have been bitter and broken or have gone down a dark road – but we are Perri’s and we survive, flourish and excel.
This spring, I invited Anthony and Laurel out to visit me in Italy so they could experience a different culture and I could share a part of my new life with them. So they worked hard, saved their money, and after a whirlwind of emails and excited messages, their tickets were booked.
It has been almost a year since I have seen them or any family members so this reunion was much needed and desired. I planned two weeks of day trips to Modena, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Rome. I also arranged for them to spend a long weekend on the Amalfi Coast with American study abroad students. The rest of the days were filled with sight-seeing, dinners, and nights out in Florence.
Over those two weeks I had to balance being a friend, tour guide, guardian, and sister. I wanted to share a part of my life with them and indulge in the comforts of family. Surprisingly, I still had not been to Venice or Rome so their visit served as the perfect opportunity to see these grand cities before I left Italy. We spent long, full days in each city and absorbed as much of the culture, sights, and nuances that we could.
I traveled down to Rome to pick Anthony and Laurel up from the airport. As they walked through the arrivals gate joy, freedom, and excitement was oozing from their smiles and eyes. Tears swelled from the oldest parts of my heart, spurred by seeing family and from realizing how long it truly had been. We spent most of the day in Rome, visiting the Colosseum, Forum, and Trevi Fountain. They were jet-lagged but the bustle of Rome and the excitement of being abroad kept them energized and charging ahead. Rome was a pleasant surprise for me. I assumed I would not like it as much because it’s a busy city and I have grown a strong liking for a quiet, countryside life. Nevertheless, Rome took my breath away. Weaving streets opened up to grand piazzas and turning a corner revealed ancient ruins or striking feats of architecture. Rome is crowded, busy, and touristy but I was never overwhelmed. You become so absorbed in the raw beauty of the city and amazed at the architectural engineering that has survived over the centuries that you fade out the white city noise behind you.
Venice began with a boat ride down the Grand Canal. Seeing the smiles plaster across the faces of my siblings warmed my heart and pleased me to know that they appreciated it all. Besides the copious amount of tourists in the small, sinking city, Venice is an incredible ancient labyrinth of narrow alleys and winding canals. We saw a glass-blowing demonstration, enjoyed a seafood lunch, and toured the streets with a Venetian native. The colors of Venice - from the glass, water, sky, buildings, and Gondolas - blend perfectly and reflect the city’s gentleness. Later than night we returned to Florence, exhausted but thrilled by the special beauty that new environments bring.
The days passed quickly in Florence. We strolled through the piazzas, bargained in the San Lorenzo markets, roamed the Boboli Gardens, and made our way up the Fiesole for a Tuscan sunset. We ate and drank well, and exercised in the morning to make up for our gluttonous appetites. Anthony and Laurel joined their newly made friends for some typical study-abroad nights out and got to experience the Florentine night life for an America college student. The following weekend brought them a trip to the Amalfi coast where they jumped off cliffs, soaked up the sun, toured Pompeii, and climbed Mt. Vesuvius. Amalfi was a vacation within a vacation and served as a breather from the immense amount of family time we were having.
Eventually the two weeks had come to a close and it was time to return to Rome and depart for America. A hectic morning came to an end once we entered Vatican City. We marveled at the museums and stood bewildered beneath the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Crossing the bridge led us back into Rome and we continued our wandering through this ancient imperial city. We bought art in Piazza Navona, gazed into the sky through the oculus in the Pantheon, coincidentally met an old friend from New York in Campo de Fiori, and scaled the Spanish steps. Our night ended with a delicious meal of the Roman delicacies, amatriciana and carbonara, and with a night cap in front of the Trevi fountain. At four am the following morning I put Anthony and Laurel in a taxi for the airport. Sadness laced each hug and farewell. I do not know when I will see my family next; perhaps it will be in another country on the other side of the world or in another year. Yet even as I hugged them and cried, I know that family ties are strong and we will have each other to the end.
Their visit was fun, exhausting, adventurous, and worrisome. Anthony and Laurel have always been ‘the kids.’ However, once they came to Italy, ready to explore and party, I quickly realized that they are no longer young and innocent. They are at that same pivotal time in their lives as I was where we evolve from adolescent to adult. We discover our limits, wants, and abilities. I know that sharing my horror stories will not keep them from making the same mistakes. They must observe, try, fail, experience, and learn for themselves. They must find their identity and become an adult in their world on their own terms. I cannot fix, control, or protect everything all the time. It is not my place to tell someone how to live their life and what decisions they should make. I can only share my wisdom, not judge the choices others make, and help those when needed.
So as Anthony and Laurel drove off in the taxi, I knew that they both grew and matured from this adventure. I can sever the ties of being a guardian or caretaker and simply enjoy being their friend and sister. I do not need to worry about them – I have no doubt that they will thrive as we were raised to do.