Carpe diem…

di Sheila Pierce Ortona

Every time we move from one diplomatic posting to another, I ask myself if it’s easier to leave or to be left behind. After numerous, heartbreaking farewells, I have always thought it was easier to leave.

But, lately, I’ve changed my mind. I’m finally starting to see firsthand how it feels to be left.

One of my most challenging moves is on the horizon: this September, my son will leave our Roman home to attend university, at Milan’s Bocconi. It’s not about the distance as he will only be a short train ride away from us in Rome.

It’s about the journey, and that he has reached the finishing line of one marathon, and about to start another. Or, as one friend said, as if I have spent 18 years playing musical chairs, the music has stopped, and I’m no longer sure where to sit.

As spring bloomed in Rome this year, I observed my budding young adult designing his future garden. After years of pruning it and him, I struggle to understand how much I should still continue to water both.

This fall, our Roman nest will feel more spacious. I will set the table for only three, boil less pasta for dinner, and miss my confidant in books, writing, reading, dog-walking, trashy Netflix series, and tech support.

Quietly, my son has been going down his own to-do-list before he leaves. He records his favorite recipes, organizes annual subscriptions to Spotify and The Economist with the family credit card, and takes notes from the passenger seat for his own driver’s license test.

Nostalgic for family time, I recently insisted we spend a foursome weekend together.  Although my 15-year-old daughter groaned, my 18-year-old son did not object. Off we went to Tuscany, which included an afternoon in Panzano with our old friend, Dario Cecchini, whom many laud as Italy’s most famous butcher.

On the road, our playlist shifted from Italian house music to Lucio Battisti, Lucio Dalla, Mina and Rino Gaetano as my kids sang along and rolled their “Rs” in their fluency of Italian car karaoke. Eventually, we all ended up screeching in unison to Antonello Venditti’s “Notte prima degli esami.” By the second stanza, I pretended I had Tuscan dust in my eyes as I wiped tears away that fell behind my sunglasses.

On their first night, our kids slept separately in sibling peace. On their second night, my daughter snuck into the queen-size bed next to her older brother.

Before dinner one night, my son asked my husband if they could smoke two cigars together and watch the sunset. From my bedroom window, I watched them puff and laugh over conversations that have evolved from Lego and Minecraft to legislation and politics.

In 2016, right after arriving at our most recent diplomatic posting in San Francisco, our kids, then aged ten and seven, were struggling with the transition from Italy to America. Dario Cecchini was one of the first of our Italian friends whom we saw in our new life in San Francisco when he visited as the star of La Settimana della Cucina Italiana. He immediately sensed our kids’ homesickness for Italy every time their frowns turned to smiles whenever they heard his Tuscan accent.

Not only famous for his delicious cuts of beef, Dario also procures tasty salts. Before leaving us in California, he sprinkled our kids’ heads with his salts, professing good luck. He insisted that, with just the right amount of Italian seasoning, they would adapt well to America, and, from thereafter, anywhere in the world.

Our recent reunion with Dario, on the verge of a milestone moment for all of us, bodes well for my son’s imminent take-off. During our Tuscan trip, I observed how my son’s face no longer carries the smooth baby fat of a little boy but the rough stubble of a young man. I know it’s time to let him fly.

And, in my heart of aching hearts, I also know this: although I may be left behind, my son won’t ever leave me.

But, just in case, before he goes, I’ll sprinkle him with some salt, hoping he’ll return even more seasoned than he left.

Sheila Pierce Ortona

An American journalist temporarily based in Rome, fumbling through the Italian foreign service and motherhood, Sheila Pierce writes about Italy and Expat Life in her weekly Substack-newsletter “Missives from a Metropolis and on her blog (

Giornalista americana temporaneamente a Roma, cerca di destreggiarsi tra  le esperienze in sedi all’estero e gli impegni di madre alle prese con una città non sempre facile. Scrittrice e corrispondente, scrive di Italia e di “Expat Life” sul suo blog ( e in una newsletter settimanale, “Missives from a Metropolis”. Su Altrov’è animerà la nuova Rubrica “Greetings from Rome” indirizzata soprattutto ai lettori non italiani e disponibile, sul sito web, in italiano e inglese.  

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