“Time for gelato!” I blurted, pulling our kids away from a statue at the Vatican City Museum during a family trip to Rome. We had stopped on our way to the Sistine Chapel to take a closer look at the strange female sculpture that we initially thought was covered in some kind of fruit…were they mangoes?
The plaque on the adjacent wall explained that she was Artemis, the goddess of fertility, and she was adorned with severed bull testicles.
While stationed in Europe, my husband, Francis, and I tried to expose Hayden, Anna and Lilly to art, history and culture as much as possible. Typical military brats, they had no idea how fortunate they were to live a minivan ride away from Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Florence, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Prague, and other European cultural meccas. Sometimes to their chagrin, we took them to see paintings and sculptures in every city we visited.
And, as it is with art, many of the renderings were explicit, causing our children to giggle, gawk or grimace in embarrassment. We indulged them — they are kids, after all — and hoped that someday, when it mattered, they’d remember standing before the original works of Manet, Michelangelo, Klimt, Matisse, Botticelli, Cezanne, Donatello and other greats.
However, some pieces were so detailed, they caused our children’s mental wheels to spin. “Wait a minute … what is that, and what’s it for anyway?” their disturbed looks seemed to say.
After fielding many awkward questions, Francis and I got good at knowing which masterpieces we should breeze by quickly.
We shuffled the kids past explicit nudes in Paris’ Musee D’Orsay on our way to see classics like Monet’s Blue Water Lilies and Whistler’s Mother. We didn’t let the kids linger too long at the base of Giambologna’s The Rape of Sabines in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, opting to find Michelangelo’s anatomically humongous but relatively benign David instead. And as soon as we found out that the Vatican City Museum’s statue of Artemis was not covered in mangoes after all, we used the oldest bait and switch in the book — ice cream.
However, on our final trip in Europe before moving back to the States, it became clear that I could no longer avoid the curiosity of our youngest child, Lilly.
It was the end of our three-year tour. Francis had already moved to his next duty station at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and I stayed behind so the kids could finish out the school year. Regretting that we’d never had the chance to visit Greece and Croatia, I booked a last-minute cruise with port calls in Venice, Bari, Corfu and Dubrovnik.
“Perfect!” I thought, looking forward to checking the rest of the boxes on my family’s travel wish list.
But of course, things were not perfect.
Lilly, Anna and I got seasick after departing Venice. After a long night of tag-teaming in our state room’s tiny bathroom and rationing the remaining scraps of toilet paper, we wandered around Bari the following morning, dazed and queazy. In my weakened state, I didn’t have the energy to censor what the kids were seeing. All I could do was sip shakily from a cappuccino while they gawked at nude statues and giggled at paintings.
I could tell that Lilly’s head was spinning with questions.
Later, while Anna and Hayden visited the arcade, I took Lilly for a mother-daughter dinner at the ship’s buffet. Even though my parental judgment was still somewhat impaired from lingering seasickness, I decided to seize the opportunity to enlighten my daughter.
Sitting there in a booth on that Italian cruise ship, using breadsticks and rigatoni noodles as my visual aids, I told Lilly all about the birds and the bees.
Too stunned to finish her pasta, Lilly just sat there, her brown eyes wide. It was as if she was trying to process all that she had seen during our three years in Europe. Whether this bombshell made things easier or more difficult for her to comprehend, I couldn’t say.
All I knew was, if Lilly asked me any follow up questions, I was armed with the perfect answer – “Let’s get some ice cream!”