In almost every photograph of me as a little girl, I am alone. I was an only child, a lonely only child. I had few friends my age in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood, where I lived in a big, quiet house with my parents and a revolving door of nannies who never lasted more than a couple of months. My mother and father were on their second and third marriages, respectively. They were in their 40s when I was born, and out of step with younger families, who carted their gaggle of assorted kids to shared beach houses in the summer and on ski vacations out West in the winter.
Already a bit worn down by life, they were thrilled they had produced me, and I don’t think it occurred to them that I might feel isolated.
I swore to myself that when I grew up, it would be different. I would have a boatload of kids. Or at least a few. I would live with my flock in a busy, noisy, preferably urban neighborhood, in a house where the door was always open, something delicious was always bubbling away on the stove, and the cacophony of kid sounds—thundering feet, shrieks of laughter—filled every moment of the day.
Well, that’s not how it turned out.
I married in my mid-30s (just as my parents had) and produced only one child (just as my parents had). I tried mightily, but wasn’t able to have another. My husband and I moved from a busy, urban neighborhood (I know, I know…just as my parents had) to rural Litchfield County, Connecticut, where we live in a big, quiet house on 10 acres in the middle of nowhere. There are no friends my son’s age—he’s now 11—within miles. I remember, when Jacob was three, looking out my home-office window at him kicking a ball with his nanny in our front meadow. Tears sprang to my eyes at the sight: my small, lonely boy playing with his babysitter.
A couple of years after that teary moment, my husband and I were asked to start a writers conference in Positano, Italy. We had met the owners of a family-run hotel at a dinner party in Connecticut, and they invited us to bring some writers (a group that has now grown to 30) to their seaside village for a week each March. This was exciting to us for many reasons—Positano! and not only Positano, but Le Sirenuse, one of the world’s most beautiful hotels!—but we had no way of knowing that this conference and its participants would become our extended family, and an important part of our son’s life. Instead of the beach communities and ski vacations I’d longed for as a child, we (quite accidentally) became part of a special, hard-to-get-to spot half a world away where Jacob has grown up feeling completely at home. I couldn’t give Jacob a big family, but in Positano I could give him a big life. A rich, full childhood surrounded by friends and laughter.