SFP 165: Journey to Simplicity | Jane’s Story

Today I’m chatting with Jane Monnier about her journey towards reducing mental and physical clutter. Jane is a longtime member of the Simple Families Community. She’s also is a rocket-scientist-turned-military-wife-and-mother who has lived around the world with her family. I think you will enjoy Jane’s wisdom in this episode!

(Full episode transcription below).

Show Notes/Links:

Jane Monnier

Full Transcript:

Denaye:            For those of you have been listening to the podcast for a while, you’ll know that occasionally I do these journey to simplicity stories where I follow members of the Simple Families audience, and they share with us more about what their journey towards a simpler life has looked like.

Today I am chatting with Jane Monnier. Jane has been a part of Simple Families pretty much since I have since the very beginning. And it’s been a pleasure getting to know her through the Facebook community and through the programs that she’s done. She’s a veteran of The Mental Unload. She’s actually done it with me three times now and she joined me this last round as the community manager. Which was so great to see her be able to take the tools that she’s used and support other women.

So she’s joining me today, and we’re talking more about what her journey to simplicity looked like. Jane is a rocket scientist turned military mother and wife, and her family has moved all over the world. And they’ve definitely faced obstacles and their own share of stress and overwhelm, and the accumulation of stuff. So Jane is going to share a little bit about how she’s been letting go of the physical and mental clutter. I hope you enjoy this episode.

Conversation Begins:

Denaye: Hi Jane, how are you?

Jane:                I’m wonderful Denaye. How are you?

Denaye:            I’m good. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.

Jane:                Of course. My pleasure.

Denaye:            So Jane, I’ll first say how I’ve gotten to know you over the past couple of years. You have been a part of the Simple Families community for how long has it been, do you know?

Jane:                I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was before you even had your actual blog website up. You were doing an email list.

Denaye:            It was probably early 2017 maybe, I’m guessing.

Jane:                So I know I only had one child I think, and she was born in 2015.

Denaye:            Okay. Wow, it’s been a long time.

Jane:                It’s been a really long time.

Denaye:            I’ve loved having you as a part of Simple Families and you participated in The Mental Unload. You’ve done a few rounds with me. I this last round you help to co facilitate it with me and I really enjoyed getting to know you better through that too.

Jane:                Well thank you. I really enjoyed it and I loved being bigger part of the community during that last Mental Unload because there’s some really awesome ladies that were involved. And I always learn something new every round I do about myself. And every round I do of The Mental Unload affects me in a different way because there’s always something new going on in my life. So it’s wonderful.

Denaye:            The Mental load doesn’t go away, but you can learn to balance it better.

Jane:                Exactly.

Denaye:            Keep it a little quieter.

Jane:                Yes. And I have.

Denaye:            Good, good, good. So I am excited to hear your story. So tell us a little bit about you and where you started. Where’d you grow up? Where have you lived, because I know you’ve lived all over.

Jane:                Yeah. So I’m originally born and raised in Minnesota. And I was really excited to leave and do other things, and went to college down in Florida to get an engineering degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which nobody really knows about unless you’re in the aeronautical community. And then my husband and I actually reconnected. We went to high school together but weren’t high school sweethearts or anything like that. And reconnected right after we graduated college in the same year when I was living in Florida. ANd he joined the air force, and we were dating long distance. I moved to Texas and then we got married in 2009. And shortly after we got married, we moved to Japan, and were there for three years due to his job.

And then about 28 or 30 weeks into my first pregnancy in Japan, we moved to Arkansas where we were there for about three years. We added another child. I finished my master’s degree in Arkansas and started working again as an engineer there after taking a few years off in Japan. And then he got a surprise assignment that we were super excited for, which required us to move to Italy, where we are right now. But before that, he had to go to language school in Washington DC. So we lived there for six months while he learned Italian and then we moved to Italy.

And we’ve been here just over two years now. That’s my geographic story in a nutshell. We have two daughters. My oldest is almost six. Her birthday’s at the end of May, so she’s an almost six year old, and a three and a half year old, two daughters.

Denaye:            Wow, that makes my head spin.

Jane:                There was a lot going on.

Denaye:            So much movement and change, and wow. So tell me a little bit about your career background. What type of engineering were you doing?

Jane:                So I graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, and I worked for Boeing at the Kennedy Space Center for the space shuttle program back when we were still sending us astronauts to space off of US soil. So that was a pretty-

Denaye:            So does that make you a rocket scientist?

Jane:                It does.

Denaye:            I’m just checking. I thought.

Jane:                Yes. Technically it does. And I really liked saying I worked for the space shuttle program a lot, but my actual day to day job wasn’t super fulfilling to my interests, I suppose. So I transferred within the same company to Texas and made airplane parts instead, which is a lot guess more blue collar for lack of better words. I got dirty at my job. I got to wear jeans and steel toe shoes and stuff, and work with some really, really talented machinists that could build any part that you needed for these really old cargo and tanker airplanes that the Air Force is still using today that need to get basically completely overhauled with new stuff all on the inside of them. And some of these parts, there’s not a manufacturer for them anymore. So we build them in our shop. And that was really fun, and I really love that job.

Denaye:            So was it just a coincidence that your husband was in the Air Force or was this all, was that one of the big pieces that you reconnected on?

Jane:                So I would say it was a coincidence because it wasn’t why we met or anything like that. But having a shared interest in aviation definitely helped us have a bond, and something that we could talk about and enjoy. He had always wanted to be a pilot his whole life. And so it was really easy to support his dream to do that because I was also then still a part of the aviation community. Even when I quit my job to go with him to Japan, I was still in this community that I found a lot of satisfaction being a part of, even as a different role, which is military spouse.

And I kind of naively also thought, “I work on military aircraft. I’ll be able to find a job at any military base.” But that’s not really how it works. There’s different bases that do a lot of the work with contractors or companies like Boeing. And there’s other places that they don’t do anything. Only active duty people work on the aircraft. ANd I’m not in the military, so I couldn’t have that sort of job. So I naively thought I’d be able to continue my career wherever we went. Which has not been the case at all.

Denaye:            Now was this a career that you had dreamed of your whole life or is it something you stumbled onto?

Jane:                I was always really good at math and science, and I loved the movie Apollo 13. I thought I want to be an engineer, but I negated the other types of engineering that I didn’t want to do because the job sounded more boring or I wasn’t interested in. Robotics or something like that. But I liked aviation and I liked space.

So I kind of went into it not really knowing what I was going to do in the career field, but just wanting that challenge to say that I have an aerospace engineering degree, I suppose.

So my whole joke has always been I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up because I really like being a student, and I really like having a challenge, and I really like learning. Unlike my husband who’s always wanted to be a pilot in the military, I haven’t had that direct of a goal for my childhood or even my adult life.

Denaye:            And I think that’s so true of many adults that some of us know exactly what we want to do and we start down that path, and we stay on that path forever. And then others of us, I feel like we are a lot more open to learning new things, and to learning about new novel areas, and diving deeper into many different things. Sort of like a jack of all trades.

Jane:                Right, right. Totally. I still do love engineering. When I had to take a break from it while we were in Japan, I decided to get my master’s degree through an online program. So I also have a master’s degree now in mechanical engineering from the North Carolina State University’s online program, which was a really cool experience to do. And I just always thought I was going to do that.

Denaye:            So now you’re home with your kids. Was that ever in your plans?

Jane:                It was never in my plans. I grew up with a mom who always worked. She worked part-time. She was home at three o’clock, so I always had her home after school, but she always had a job. And I just always assumed … I’ve worked really, really hard for my degrees and for my job. And why would I not do that anymore, I guess. And I always think I went to daycare, I’m fine. So my kids can go to daycare and they’ll be fine too. And it never really crossed my mind that that was something I was going to do.

Denaye:            I’ve talked to a lot of moms in the past year about this idea that when you’re coming from a career where you have found success and moving into a new role as a mother, whether it be a stay at home mother or a working mother, that you come in with this idea that I’ve done this other job well, and I have succeeded and experienced success in this side of me. Motherhood is going to be easy. This is just going to be one more thing, one more box to check, one more thing that I can achieve and succeed at. Did you feel like that at all going into motherhood?

Jane:                Definitely. And I also have had a lot of experience with kids. My part-time job in college was as, I call myself a nanny, but I didn’t live with them. But I was regularly at their house for three years, multiple days a week and saw these two boys grow up. I always liked kids. I’ve been a camp counselor. I’ve done things even when I was in Japan, one of the things I was doing there was teaching English to little kids and substitute teaching at the high school on the base and things.

So I’ve always had kids as part of my life. So I always thought that becoming a mom would just be that natural next step. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and I’ve always liked kids, so I’d never really thought that I couldn’t do everything.

Denaye:            So tell me a little bit about your experience becoming a mother and your first years. What did those look like?

Jane:                They were … looking back at it now, I can see that I was trying to do a lot. But at the time, it seemed I was just doing my life, you know? We thought we were going to be staying in Japan another year. So I expected to have my first daughter while living there. And we actually had a really wonderful community there. So that didn’t scare me. I was happy to have my daughter there.

And then the military always has a mind of its own. So they decided that my husband needed to move back to Little Rock a year sooner. And so I moved seven months into my pregnancy which I was not expecting, and we had to find a house to live in, and buy new cars. And all of that is a lot when you’re not hormonally pregnant and dealing with that, find a new doctor, choose a hospital to deliver in, all those things. Suddenly I had two months to do it in and not nine.

So that was a lot. My husband was in training for a new airframe, which is really demanding. So we always joke that our daughter was a good military baby because she was born on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, which means he got Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off of work. So he was back to training on Tuesday when I had a four day old child.

And that was just normal. That’s what everybody around us had to do, so that’s what I had to do as well. I took a break from my master’s program that semester that I was moving and having her. I did know I couldn’t do all of that at once. So I took a break for that semester. And then I finished my master’s degree while at home with [Leah 00:18:12] is her name, our oldest. And around when she was nine months old, I started getting applications out, and finding a job, and I started full time as a design engineer for a cylinder company. Not exciting compared to airplanes and space shuttles and things. But I’m in Arkansas, so this is where I can get a job. And I was so excited, and I was going to do it all. We found a great Montessori daycare school for her to enter in once she turned a year old and everything was great, except I hated doing the job.

I did not like it at all and I really had some great coworkers, so that helped. But I missed my daughter. I missed her so much. And my husband was supposed to deploy. And I just was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” And I was visiting a friend of mine who I went through college with, and she doesn’t have any children, but she’s so supportive. She’s one of those best friends who even if your lives are completely different, she’s just always in your corner. And she told me, “Jane, when you talk about your daughter, your face just lights up. And when you talk about your job, you seem miserable.”

And it was her that gave me that permission to say I don’t have to do this. It doesn’t define me being an engineer. So I decided to stop, and I quit, and I didn’t have anything else lined up. I just said I need to be home right now. And I eventually found a variety of other things that I liked to do. One of them was writing for a online math program that I wrote tests and quizzes, and I wrote little stories to teach people about calculus, and the unit circle, and different things like that. And I really liked that little job, which I did while my daughter stayed in school. We kept her in Montessori school and just put her part-time, which was I found out a perfect balance for me. I loved having her home most of the day, but also having a break to do other things. And it was a really good balance for me, and I never tried to find full time work again after that.

I ended up finding a really awesome job as a museum educator for a children’s science museum, which was so much fun. I got to bring in my passion for science education, but they were really nice about around my schedule with at this time now I had two kids. And it was really a great mix of both my family and the science world that I really liked.

So when we were in Little Rock for about three years, and I added two kids to the family in that one three year period. And I switched jobs twice. So that’s a busy three years to go through. But at the time, it didn’t seem that way. I guess I was just doing what I had to do.

Denaye:            In retrospect, were you feeling overwhelmed at that point?

Jane:                Yes. Yes. I was. I was struggling to find some sort of meaning for myself other than just a mom. And I kept feeling like I wasn’t doing enough because I wanted my kids to go to a preschool or to a Mother’s Day Out. They call them Mother’s Day Out programs in Arkansas. I’d never had heard that until I moved there. But-

Denaye:            They have those in Dallas. I always hated that name.

Jane:                I don’t get it. I hated it too, that’s what it was called. We said daycare. They thought I meant putting in a home, which would have been fine too, but I didn’t know anybody who did that. And so-

Denaye:            I just felt like it gave this perception that Mother’s Day Out, go get your nails done.

Jane:                It was like Mother’s Day Out to go to my job now at the museum.

Denaye:            I was writing my dissertation. My son was at Mother’s Day Out two days a week. And I’m just like, “No, I am not going to get my nails. Not that there’s anything wrong with getting your nails done. But I think just the name of it like triggers, at least for me, it triggered me to think this is all moms have to do is have a fun day out.” When there’s a lot of us who do other stuff.

Jane:                Yes. For me it really was a mean sense of child care for me. That was where I expected my daughter to go so I could go to have my job. It was my daycare, my childcare. But nope, it was Mother’s Day Out apparently.

But it was a great facility, and my daughter was very happy. My oldest was still at the Montessori. But that didn’t start until a year old. So I couldn’t have them both at the same place. But the other benefit of Little Rock was that childcare there compared to other areas of the country, was very affordable for us. So it meant that I could put them in a part-time program without a huge sense of financial guilt that my job wasn’t bringing in a ton of income. It literally just paid for her to go to her childcare program. It did not pay anything extra. But it gave me a sense of happiness and I’m a good balance that I was craving. I was craving balance. I will definitely say that.

Denaye:            So do you feel like having this outside outlet really helped with the mental overwhelm that comes with moving and having a second kid, and just the big life changes that you were going through?

Jane:                Yeah, I definitely think that if I would have either stayed at my full time job or stayed home completely, I would have really struggled that I was missing something. But by finding a bit of balance between working part-time and still being able to be home, allowed me to feel like I was still doing something for myself as well as still there for my children. And I was really lucky to find a work from home job writing that math curriculum that I could do in the night, I could do in the morning. I just had a deadline. It didn’t matter when I wrote it. So that was really flexible with young children.

And then also, the staff at the museum was so wonderful and so supportive. They really set a bar for what I expect my future employers to do as far as being a family friendly workplace. Because if I was sick or my children were sick, there was no guilt that I need to stay home with them, and my husband could travel for his job and be gone. And I didn’t feel this doom of what am I going to do if I wake up tomorrow and my child has an ear infection. Which was really stressful when I was working full time because I don’t live near family, so I don’t have anybody that can just step in and help me.

So having just the stress of not having to give all of myself to a job but not also having to be fulfilled entirely by staying home with my kids, was a good mix of the two.

Denaye:            So were you able to keep at least in your online job after you moved?

Jane:                I wasn’t, actually. There’s some really strange rules about when you move to different countries for the military and how those countries are supported. An agreement and stuff. So actually in Italy, I’m not allowed to work online because the rules haven’t caught up with the modern day life of 2019. So I’m a rule follower, so I didn’t keep that job even though I would have liked to. And I was a little bit worried-

Denaye:            Are you allowed to work at all, or just not online?

Jane:                I’m allowed to work in a US military base.

Denaye:            Okay.

Jane:                But we are in a remote place. So there really isn’t a lot of opportunity for me. I would be very underemployed if I decided to work at the nearest military base, which is a tiny base that doesn’t have a lot of jobs at it to begin with. And definitely no engineering or STEM education jobs for me.

Denaye:            Got it.

Jane:                Yeah.

Denaye:            So within all these moves, were you hauling all your stuff around with you or were you putting it into storage? How does that work when you’re moving so often?

Jane:                We had it all Denaye. We had all our stuff. And that was a huge catalyst in me saying enough is enough. I’ve got to simplify my belongings and my home. Because it wasn’t so bad when we move to Japan, because we were a young couple. We were just a few years out of college. We just didn’t have that much stuff. But then we gathered more things while we lived in Japan. And then adding a baby, your things just explode. You get so much stuff when you have kids. And we moved into a three bedroom home with a den, and a living room, and this big kitchen. And it’s like we just had to fill it up. And I love that house. It was great.

But when we found out we had six weeks to move from Arkansas to Washington, DC, and then from there onto Italy, it was a mad panic to try to get the house in order for a realtor to come in to try to sell it, and trying to decide what to pack and what not to pack, and are we getting rid of things? Are we just going to bring everything? But we have to downsize to this tiny apartment in Washington DC because we can’t afford a big house there because it’s a completely different cost of living.

And it was not fun. And when we finally got to Italy and we moved into an Italian style home, which does not have closets, that’s completely normal here. We were lucky to have a tiny little garage, which I don’t know if our car would actually fit in it, but we use it for storage. My laundry is out there and stuff. I got into this house and I said never again. I will never again panic to move like I panicked this last time. I will never feel overwhelmed with my house and my stuff ever again. And it has been a really, really good change since.

Denaye:            So you brought everything with you to Italy. ANd did you get rid of a lot of it?

Jane:                So we started the big purge. I guess probably, we tried to get rid of a bunch of stuff before we moved to Washington DC but we just didn’t have enough time. So we got of a lot of little things. But a lot of the bigger stuff, we had two shipments. One shipment was going to storage to then go to Italy, and the other shipment was going to our apartment in Washington DC. So I was scrambling trying to figure out what to bring to DC and what just goes to Italy. So when we eventually made it to Italy, they were unloading boxes I hadn’t seen for six and a half months that I thought I needed to bring here. And I’m like, “Why did I haul this across the world? What was I thinking?”

And so yes, we’ve gotten rid of quite a lot of things since being here. We didn’t have a lot of big furniture and stuff like that. It’s just stuff. It’s just the things in boxes, and bins, and closets. And when you don’t have closets to store anything in you realize, well this was just going to sit in the back of the closet. So do I even need it?

And my girls are sharing a bedroom, and so I don’t need to have a lot of things. All their things together, you know? Just things that living in a smaller home with virtually no storage makes you really second guess everything that you own and why you own it, and why did that go across the world with you?

Denaye:            Yeah, I have to say when we moved from Texas to New York, I was like, “I got this. I’m a minimalist. I have barely any stuff. Our closets are pretty much empty. This move is going to be a piece of cake.” I thought I had it all under control. And when that moving truck pulled up to our new house, I was like, “Holy bleep, what is in there?”

Jane:                It’s crazy. When you see all your things into these big wooden shipping crates, how do I own this much stuff? And in the thing is you get a set amount of weight for a military move based on if it’s a single airman or if it’s an airman that has a family. And we’ve always been well below the limit. So I always thought, “We’re fine.” We know people that can’t move certain things because they’re above their weight limit if they do. And we’ve never had that problem. We joked that we can put my husband’s Mazda in the shipment and we’d still be underweight. That was one of our jokes when we left Japan.

But honestly, it’s still too much stuff. And then I realized too I don’t want the panic for myself, but then I don’t want the daily panic, the daily clutter of finding a way, a place to put all this stuff. Because as you know moving into your house, it takes a while to learn how your new house works. How it functions best for your family, and just even things like how you’re going to set up your kitchen. And when you’re struggling to even find a place to put something in, you can’t think in terms of how functional is this. You’re just trying to shove a door over, or shove another Crock-Pot behind that cabinet door. I don’t need three Crock-Pots. I don’t.

Denaye:            Yeah. And I feel like it’s easy on a daily basis to disconnect the emotional impact that your stuff has on you. But during a move, it becomes so evident.

Jane:                Yes. And I remember my landlord is the cutest Italian old woman that you could have. When I had this dream that I’m going to move to Italy and I want this Nona, Nona means grandma in Italian. To teach me how to do things and take me under her wing. It was totally just a dream. And when we found this house, I got that Nona. She is part of our family now. I love her to death. Her name is [Silvana 00:33:28], and she volunteered when my stuff arrived to help me unpack my house. And now this is a 70 year old woman who doesn’t speak a word of English.

Denaye:            Did you speak any Italian?

Jane:                I spoke very beginner Italian. I had been studying for a few months, but now I’m fine. But when we moved here, it was a struggle. And she kept looking around and she kept just saying [Italian 00:33:56] which means, “All this stuff. All this stuff. There’s so much stuff.” And I was so embarrassed.

Because if you grew up in a home like this from the beginning with no storage, I’ve learned in Italy how wasteful we can be. Even with things like doing your trash and your recycling, which was a big part of my original Mental Unload in your very first Mental Unload group. I didn’t realize how stressed out I was about putting my trash out every day. But it’s because I was used to hauling this trash out on every Monday or whatever it was in the states in this giant rolly container, and then I just had to remember to do it the next Monday. And everything would go in this huge container.

And here it’s like Mondays is my food trash, and Tuesdays is recycling, and Wednesdays is paper, and Thursdays is trash. But you only get a little bag. You don’t get unlimited trash. I don’t know. Every day is a different type of waste, and you realize how much waste you create when you see it all every morning in its own category lined up, and you see your neighbors and how little they have compared to you.

Denaye:            Do you feel like some of this is because there just isn’t quite as much stuff readily available for purchase there? They don’t have Target, right?

Jane:                They don’t have Target. Oh Target. I know, for better or for worse. I mean yes and no. We live outside Pisa, which is a good sized city. There is a, I call it Italian Walmart because it’s blue I guess versus Italian target. Because Walmart is blue and Target is red. It has everything you would need in this one shop. But in general, in other smaller towns especially, they don’t have anything like that. And then if you have a little car or no car at all, if you use public transportation, you’re not buying more than you need. And their food is also less, I don’t want to say less process because they sell plenty of processed food. But in general, you go to the store multiple times a week to get your fresh food. And you don’t have one giant Costco trip and you bring it all into your house at once. Because I think there isn’t the space to put it all. So they go shopping every couple of days and things.

It’s opened my eyes to, there’s other ways to do this than the way that I have been doing before. Which really wasn’t working because I wouldn’t have been as completely stressed out about my move, and my things, and my stuff if it was working. But now I know that when we get the next orders and we find out where we’re moving beyond here, I’m going to be ready. I’m going to be welcoming those moving trucks to come in because I’m going to be ready. I will know that the things in my house are the things I want in my house.

Denaye:            Yes. Now where did you start when it came to this stuff? Did you start with your clothes, with the toys, or what did you do first?

Jane:                I started, I don’t even know. I did a lot of starting with the toys because when we moved from Washington DC, I left a lot of stuff there and donated a lot of stuff because my daughter was at that point, almost 18 months old, my youngest. And she was out of those baby toys. We left her crib there. I was just like I can’t bring and set this crib up another time. We’ve set this crib up three times. I can’t do it again. I got rid of a lot of toys when we moved here. And then once we got here is when I started doing a lot of my clothes because I didn’t have a big closet. I have a three foot wide wardrobe, and that’s where all my clothes need to hang up.

So I got rid of a lot of clothes, and I have access to some pretty nice shopping here in Italy as far as clothes go. So I really went for quality over quantity. I really try now to be much more thoughtful about what goes into my wardrobe. It’s really opened up a lot of just freedom in that because I wash laundry every day. And so I don’t need to have a ton of clothes because the longest my clothes goes is maybe two days without being available to be clean. So I have most of my wardrobe available to me at all times, so it doesn’t need to be that big.

And the temperature here is fairly mild. Most of the year it gets really hot, but it never gets extremely cold. And so it’s easier to have less. I don’t have to worry as much about a giant span of temperatures, so that’s nice.

But yeah, I started with clothes and toys. Then it slowly has moved into other areas of the home. The kitchen, I did that more recently, which was a big help. And it’s slowly trickled into some of my husband’s things. I’ve not forced him to do his things, but I do have this master list of before we move again. And one of them is to go through his two bins of, they’re just in the garage and they just say, Derrick’s stuff on them. “We’re not leaving this country without you opening those bins, and touching everything in them and saying if you really want it.” He’s like, “No, no, we’ll do it. We’ll do it.” He’s on board.

But it’s nice because I see now with the children, they’re not overwhelmed by their things. And everything has a spot for their toys, and it makes cleaning up easier. It makes them finding the things they need without my help easier. It’s ingrained in them I guess now that my daughter said, because her birthday is coming up and she said, “Mom, maybe before my birthday I should go through the toys and pick out the ones I don’t play with much anymore to make room for some new toys I might get for my birthday.” And I loved that because though we don’t try to just shower her with a million gifts, she does know that on her birthday she gets some new toys. But she didn’t just automatically think I get all these new toys. She goes, “I’ll give away the ones I don’t play with so much anymore.” And she just says it on her own now because I’ve had that be a part of her life the last two years that she thinks that way now. Which is great.

Denaye:            Now are your kids mostly friends with other Italian kids or other American kids?

Jane:                Both. They go to an Italian school, so every day they’re with their Italian classmates. And we do have some American friends that are nearby that we’re friends with as well. so they get a mix of both, which is pretty cool.

Denaye:            I kind of wonder, hearing about your life now and how it sounds so much lighter and simpler than when you were living in the US. Do you feel like the way that your house, the lightness of your house and of the lifestyle that you’re living is almost similar to what most Italians are doing on most days? Or is it different?

Jane:                That’s hard to answer because I feel like just like Americans, there’s a lot of Italians that live different lifestyles from one another. In general, sometimes I feel like our life is actually a little bit slower in some areas. My daughters attend the same preschool. It’s a very small country school up in the countryside here. There’s about 20 kids in the whole school, ages three, four, and five. So they’re together in the same little school.

And it seems like many of their classmates are in a lot of activities, be it swimming lessons, or they go to a music class, or they have a sport that they do. And my kids aren’t involved in any extracurriculars right now. But I also feel like a lot of the Italian families near me have a lot of family support. I see grandparents picking kids up from school, and they’re the ones that are going to go take them to swim class, not mom and dad. They stick closer to home than we do. We travel a lot, and so we simplify our daily life at home so we can have that flexibility to travel without worrying about missing a dance recital or something like that.

Though I have asked my children if they want to do things and they tell me no, they don’t want to. So that helps that I don’t feel like I’m taking anything away from them at these young ages by not having them in an extracurricular activity. But I don’t know, in some ways I feel like I’m a little slower than their lives. But Italian parents have definitely taught me how to slow down and relax when it comes to being with my kids.

So it’s a back and forth. I can’t say it’s a blanket thing that all Italians have a slower lifestyle. But sometimes I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot from the Italian culture and living here.

Denaye:            Okay. And that makes sense. I guess that’s what I was thinking because when I think about Italy and some other parts of Europe as well, I think about just having this slower culture where you can sit down and enjoy your cup of cappuccino or whatever it is that you’re drinking. And really be present. I’m sure that that’s not, to some degree that’s true, but not necessarily across the board.

Jane:                I think Italian moms can get caught up in race to do everything, too. A lot of the women here have jobs, and are trying to do at all as well. And I think just like any other parents, they want to give their children opportunities. And the things that the American mothers struggle with as well. But I do think that the way that they can sit down at a meal with their family and friends at our restaurant for hours and just let the kids play and be there and be a part of it, is something that I had to learn to do. That was really hard for me when we first moved here to just relax and let that time spent with others just happen. I always thought we have to be doing something or the kids need structure, and what are they going to do at a restaurant for two hours? And I figured it out, and it’s not that hard anymore. Yeah. So in that sense, you do have that slower pacing. So in some ways, you do get that slower life.

Denaye:            So now that you’re in Italy and you can’t work, how do you feel like that’s impacted your emotional wellbeing? And have you found anything to give you that stimulation?

Jane:                So I was actually really worried about that because I felt that I had found a pretty good balance between working and being a mom. Literally right before in the months leading up to our last move, because we weren’t expecting to move. It was a surprise thing. So I was really worried about that.

So I knew I needed to do something to keep myself feeling challenged. So I really dove into language study, and we invested money as well as time into saying this is worth it for me to learn Italian, because we want our children to go to Italian school, which means I need to be able to talk to their teachers and the other parents to form a community. My husband’s going to be using Italian everyday at work, and I want to be able to be a part of his community, and meet his friends, and not be on the side and stuff. So that was a big priority was getting me Italian lessons and the time to study. So that has helped a lot.

And then since we’ve moved here, we’ve been traveling a lot. Obviously with Italy at our fingertips for just three short years we have to see as much as we can. So I’ve really learned … we’ve always loved to travel, but this was the first time we really were traveling with our little kids. And I’ve really learned to enjoy planning the trips and being on the trips of course. And then I’ve started a travel blog to share some of that. I had a lot of friends say, “Jane, you need to write some of this stuff down because people are going to want to know how to go to the places you’ve gone to with little kids. People think you can’t take little kids on a wine tour,” and things like this.

So I started a travel blog, which I’ve never been a writer. I’m a math and numbers person, and so this was a big, scary, new adventure I suppose. But it’s been really fun and given me another outlet that I’ve enjoyed doing. And this is honestly the first time since becoming a mom that I feel like I don’t need anything more. I’m very content, and it feels good, and it feels good to not be identified by what I do or what I don’t do.

And that’s a thing actually I love about the Italian culture. Is it might take you months to find out the job of the people that you talk to every day at your kid’s school or the job of the spouse. I know what my husband’s coworkers do for a job because they work together, but I don’t even know what some of their wives do because you don’t talk about work. You talk about everything else. work is just a thing you do. It’s not who you are.

So that has been so wonderful that people don’t ask me. Every once in a while they say, “Did you work in the states?” And then I’ll go into my background a little bit. But oftentimes they don’t. They just ask if I’m loving it here in Italy. There’s so much you can talk about that’s not your job. And so that was really nice to say finally, I’m not defined by what I do or what I don’t do. I’m defined by who I am, and that’s enough. I’m in a really good spot with that.

Denaye:            Oh, I love that. So what is the name of your travel blog? I want to put that in the show notes.

Jane:                Sure. So my website is littletripstravel.com. And I also have an Instagram, which is @littletripstravelblog. So yeah, littletripstravel.com for the website, and add the blog to the name for my Instagram account. And I’m also on Facebook at @littletrips.

Denaye:            Great. I’m definitely going to put those links in the show notes. Because I know that I’m always looking, whenever we’re planning a trip, I always go looking for blog posts for people who’ve been there with kids, and the things that they’ve loved to do with kids. And I am definitely on board with you in the sense that you can take kids anywhere. But sometimes, having a little bit of guidance in some of the better things and better areas to lean towards with kids can be really helpful. And there’s not enough out there.

Jane:                No, for sure. And I definitely try to focus. We went to Greece on a vacation. I’m not an expert on Greece. I can tell you what I did and what worked for us, but I’m not going to write on my blog that I know how to go see Athens with children. But what I do know how to do with kids is see Pisa because I live here. I can really bring in, if you’re wanting to come to Tuscany and to Italy, I can bring in the half tourist, half local approach because I’m a little bit of both when I’m here. And I just enjoy saying hey, this is what I did in Greece, or in Paris, or wherever I’ve gone. And it might not have worked great, but this is what I did. So you can learn from it or not do what I do as well.

So it’s just been fun. It’s just a hobby blog, but for me it gives me that creative outlet and it gives me a sense of me sharing something I’ve learned with other people, because I usually like being the student. And so now I feel like if I’m putting in all this work to travel from my family, I can maybe help other families enjoy traveling with their kids more too.

Denaye:            Good. I love that. Well, thank you so much Jane. This has been a lot of fun talking to you.

Jane:                Thank you Denaye, I’ve enjoyed talking with you as well.

Denaye:            Thanks so much for tuning in. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and my chat with Jane.

Mark your calendars for The Mental Unload. Enrollment opens next week, July 17th. Go to simplefamilies.com/unload for more details. Thank you for tuning in and for being a part of Simple Families.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.