After deciding to cast our career-oriented lives aside and move to Italy to run an inn and tour company, one of the tougher things I had to do was tell my mom.
You see, most people love their moms, and I do too. But I also like my mom. She’s a cool person, a friend, and we are pretty tight.
Caye Clarke is always up for a visit and loves to have a good time. She regularly puts on big dinners for whoever is around. Plus, after she got the new hip, she can lug two pails of water up the hill to our shack on the Ottawa River again during our well-oiled fishing trips.
She’s also a bit of hero to me. She ran a working beef farm while my dad was a university professor. She went back to school in her late 30s and learned computer programming. After starting on the bottom rung in IT at a major insurance corporation, she rose quickly to senior management, all the while hating it, and then decided to retire early to take up painting, which she’s really good at.
She also never quite gave up on me during my aimless late teens and 20s when it appeared that rogue layabout or tavern star were my sole career options.
About the only issue she has, and she’s going to hate reading this part, is that she worries about financially security – hers and yours – constantly.
The rest of my family – brother, sisters, step-dad, dad, nieces and nephews – would be fine with me leaving for Italy. But what would my mom think when I told her I was quitting my secure government job to move 7000 kilometres away from her to start a business?
It was the fall of 2012, and my wife, Lisa Grassi-Blais, and I had already negotiated the purchase of our villa in Italy and we were preparing to sell our house in Ottawa.
I was prepared for her to freak out when I called and told her our plans, but instead, it went like this:
“Before you see the for sale sign on our house, I need to tell you we are opening a business in Italy, and we will be quitting our jobs and moving there in a couple of years.”
Silence on the other end of the line.
Silence. Sniff. Silence.
I thought I could feel the financial security anxiety though the phone line.
“Come on Mom. It’s a good business idea. It will work.”
Sniff. Silence. Then:
“You are going to move away, and I will never see you. You are just going to move away from me,” she said while trying not to cry.
I was floored.
“Mom, you will be able to come and stay with us during the off seasons, and we will be back every year for at least a couple weeks.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Yes, we will.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll get busy, and you’ll have a life over there.”
I felt small. I’d prepared to defend our decision financially, but I was woefully prepared to defend it emotionally. And there was no convincing her and eventually she expressed financial concern.
Right then, I decided that as soon as I could, I would show her that I was serious about seeing her often and that the business idea was good. The first step was to get her over to our place in the Abruzzo Region, 150 east of Rome, as fast as possible.
It took a while, but last summer, after my wife, Lisa Grassi-Blais, and I finally made the move to Italy to get ready for our May 2016 opening, I started encouraging my mom to come over for a few weeks.
I know she still had the concerns, but since that initial talk, she’d been pretty supportive and has kept her worries and sadness to herself. So when she booked a seven-week trip last fall, I was excited to show her the villa and all the cool things in our beautiful area, I was also overjoyed that she was bringing her paints.
I won’t get into a detailed account of everything we did, but I will say it was a great seven weeks from start to finish. We hung out, toured the area, drank copious amounts of fantastic local wine, ate whatever we wanted as much as we wanted, and slept as long as we felt like it.
She even managed to mom me a bit by pointing out I was being too intense about some things and that I should try to be less abrupt and more gentle over all.
And, best of all, she painted like mad in the studio we set up in our guest kitchen. Every couple days at cocktail hour, she would come down with a new, eye-popping canvass, all of which now hang in the villa.
It was a great visit, and I think after seeing what we are doing, she is at least less worried. I also think she knows we will be seeing each other often. Still, it was pretty sad to see her go at the airport.
After she left, I realized just how lucky I am at 47 to be able to hang out with my mom for seven straight weeks. Not everybody gets to do that, and I hope she comes back every fall for an extended visit.
Next blog: Telling Lisa’s mom we were moving to the old country.