What If's and What Is: Traveling with Charlie
Taller, Deeper, Bigger

The Unexpected: Last Day in Athens

A copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (translated) I saw in a bookstore in Athens  On the afternoon of our last day in Greece, I went on a long walk by myself. Some of my students had gone, via tram, to the beach (yes, three of them jumped in), while others had a leisurely time of it, eating gyros and looking at shops. 

My plan was to visit Eleutheroudakes, a bookstore with seven floors near Constitution Square in Athens. I happily snatched up the one copy of the one book I'd been hoping to find (a translation of Homer's Iliad into modern Greek by Nikos Kazanzakis) and then made my way up to the children's section, where I found a calendar with punch-out cards of each of Olympian gods which I obviously had to have. At another bookstore, I saw Ti Na Perimeneis ton Proto Xrono and felt the sigh I always do when I see that book, What To Expect When You're Expecting, the book that every mom whose child is around Charlie's age read like the Bible when we were all expecting.

What To Expect When You're Expecting. I can't read that title without sensing a heavy dose of irony. I definitely read my copy front to back and back to front. I was determined not to be an unprepared mother. I wanted to be a good mother, to do the best I could for our then-soon-to-be-born baby.

I couldn't have been less prepared about what to expect in being Charlie's mother than I was. When Charlie was born I was still very much the over-educated, book-loving, under-exposed to many of the woes of the world person I'd been when I was in college.

I did know myself well enough then to know that I preferred to keep it safe. If there were to be adventures, these needed to be in a circumscribed space. Chaos had its appeal, but I'd only be willing to try it in familiar environs. 

This was why, while a serious (as in spend-spare-moments-reading-books-in-the-Classics-section-of-the-library and go-straight-to-grad-school kind of serious) Classics major, I never went, nor wanted to go, aboard to study; never went to Greece till last year, by which time my student days were so far in the past that I was (1) the professor leading a group of college students on a trip and (2) the mother of a moderately to severely autistic boy who's still learning how to read. Going on the trip last year was my first time in Greece and I practically ran up the steps of the Propylaeon---the mega-sized gateway to the Acropolis---and over to the Parthenon and the Erechtheon, taking photos left and right (good thing for digital cameras).

My students and I went to the Acropolis Saturday morning. A former student was our guide. It was a beautiful sun-bright morning and we encountered huge crowds and struggled to stay together as a group. After making our way around the site and gawking at the views it affords of Athens, we went to the New Acropolis Museum. Having seen many a museum in the past week, I could feel some "museum fatigue" settling in on some students; next trip (assuming, which I can't really ever do, that there is a next trip next year), we'll have to see this museum first. It's not just there are spectacular holdings in the museum, but the presentation of them (of the frieze of the Panathenaic procession that was once set up high around the Parthenon) was carefully thought out and gives a visitor a sense of the issues concerning excavation and preservation of archaeological sites.

We didn't get into those sorts of questions on our last afternoon in Greece. I'd planned for the last part of our class/trip to be a free day.

Worry beads for Charlie  

I mean, I had to make sure I brought home some new worry beads for Charlie. He'd (so to speak) confiscated the three strands I'd brought back last year for presents. He's been twirling, swirling, and fiddling with a green strand all year. One with brown beads went literally to pieces when Charlie asked Jim to cut the string; Charlie was not happy about that result and we all learned that worry beads are best kept strung. A blue strand of evil eye beads disappeared just the Saturday before I went to Greece.

Worry beads are readily findable in tourist shops around the Plaka in Athens and in souvenir stands in general. I'd looked at strand on strand as we drove around Greece but most were made of plastic and felt and looked cheap and I just didn't think they were for Charlie who's been often comforted by the soft smooth green beads of that one strand. So I found myself back at the shop where I'd bought the beads for Charlie last time and made myself such a good customer the owner threw in a necklace with the tail of an orca and promised me a half-off discount if I came back.

Charlie is very attuned to colors. He seems definitely to be drawn to blues and greens. Except for a plastic strand that was part blue, I didn't find any beads in those colors at first. When I went back to the shop in the evening, I turned and found several strands made from stone that I hadn't noticed. I walked out with a string of turquoise (at, yes, half-price, at least from what was on the price tag). I was particularly glad to be getting the beads not only as a self-calming tool for Charlie. As souvenirs go, worry beads are small and easy to stuff into those crevices in your suitcase. Charlie took such a fondness for the worry beads that, over the past year, I on and off joked that the only reason I was going back to Greece was to get him more.

Books from my friend Emma  

Priorities do change, as I was reminded again as I sat in the lobby a bit later with a copy of Gravity Pulls You In in my lap. I was waiting to meet Emma and Marilena, two mothers I met on my last trip whom I've very, very gladly stayed in touch with. Some students---many of the women in skirts and the guys in jackets---were trickling down the stairs and talking about a play they were going out to see. They were students from another college and I sensed which it might be from their accents. I had my speculations confirmed when I saw one student's sweatshirt as they filed down the stairs in front of me and then realized I knew one of the professors (though I guess he was not planning to go out, as he was wearing a t-shirt and shorts). Just as I was talking to him Emma and Marilena appeared and we three sat down and talked about our kids and life---a conversation I hadn't had in a long time and one that I savored every moment of. I gave Emma and Marilena the books I'd brought and received two books---one being Ta Tria Migra Lukaika (tria is "three" and lukaika is "wolves," if that gives you a hint)---and some chocolate in return.

It was a sweet and lovely ending to a trip in which the unexpected---a detour that brought us to the Aegean Sea, a lunch in a modest-looking restaurant that was one of the best meals we had---was often the very best part.

And those unplanned for experiences: They were the best.

Me on our last day in Athens



Ave, Magistra. Still following you regularly, posting rarely. Love the translation of the Iliad into modern Greek, but love even more the shot of What to Expect in Greek. I remember my wife combing through it religiously. Drink deep the experience you have in Greece, coming from a fellow Classics major. When I had the time to visit, I didn't have the money. When I got the money, I didn't have the time. The introduction of autism into the equation added an additional wrinkle (but an interesting one). Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Oh well. Kleos never dies. I'll experience it one day. Best to you and yours.


My mother was a Classics major back in the very early 1930's. She never finished her degree (raised 4 boys (one, my brother, Stephen, was severely autistic) and 1 girl - me!); and she never got to go to Greece or Rome. How she longed to! I got to travel to Rome in the summer of 1977, and she loved to hear my accounts of my trip through the Forum, etc. Your account of your trip to Greece, and your encounter with Ti Na Perimeneis ... moved me to tears. I just feel we are all part of something greater. I only regret that I know very little about the Classics.


Hope your students all came back intact and in good time on Friday night!

It was great to see you again, I love having the opportunity to share stories about our kids (you know, like other parents do without it being interpreted as something or other). To brag about my son and to tell those stories of both funny and annoying habits kids have.

Here's hoping you get more time for the New Acropolis Museum next trip:)


I think your beads are decorated with the tail of an oryx. Isn't an orca a killer whale?

Kristina Chew

....going to Greece was absolutely magnificent but I put some much energy into the trip and making sure the students were learning and enjoying their time, and into making sure things were ok 'on the homefront,' I'm very much still catching up!

@Jill, which beads do you mean? I kept the round ones (orange-y) on the left for myself to carry in my bag, a little bit of Greece with me at all times.

@Emma, talking to you and Marilena was the highlight of the trip for me! I hope to meet Dimitri next time---hoping for a next time, I also do need to spend a whole afternoon in that museum!

@Monica, I never thought I would make it to Greece. When I'd hear about 'faculty-led student trips,' I just said ha, ha, ha (to myself). Wish your mother could have gone---I think often of what you've written to me about music and iPods. Charlie is again _very_ into Phil Schaap!

@brstpathdoc, Hope you can make it to Greece some day. I really thought I never would; often like a bit of a fraud to be teaching about Greece and never having been there. I feel a real affinity for it, however melodramatic/mystical that sounds---one thing to read the Oresteia, another to find oneself in Mykines or standing on the side of Delphi where Orestes consulted the Oracle and seeing the Erechtheon up close and real for the first time after reading about it and the Parthenon for years and years----beyond incredible. I rather suspect I appreciate it all much more in my older, wearier state than when I was a bookish Classics major, who figured I'd 'always' have opportunities to go and see and do.

Now of course I relish just being able to sit for an hour on my couch in a quiet household at night, hastening to prep the Agamemnon for tomorrow's class...... Warmest wishes to you and yours.

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