4May

Do-Over

The tips of my ears burst into flame as I hustled the girls across the sun-baked parking lot and into the car. I felt sure that everyone in the store was staring at me, the foreign young mom who had just tried to do a good deed and spontaneously combusted. I couldn’t bring myself to look back, I couldn’t, and a new wave of heat billowed up my cheeks. What had I just taught my girls? Patronization? Irresponsibility? Penance, maybe? Were they learning cowardice from me in that very moment? I hoped they wouldn’t tell Dan. Really, my only coping strategy was to pray that we’d escape notice, and I wished with all the fervor of the shame-flushed that the woman we’d left on the curb would forget my face the moment we drove away.

That morning had unfolded with the sticky sweetness of late summer. The girls and I had breakfasted, hung the laundry, and headed to the grocery store to pick up some essentials. I was working out just how many ripe watermelons I could justify as essential (considering the one already taking up half our fridge, my husband would have said none; I would have said five, so I figured a compromise was somewhere in the two to three range) when I saw her. She wasn’t selling anything that day, only standing in the parking lot like an uprooted willow swaying in the heat. That she was there at all, trading in her time for the kindness or indifference of strangers, showed a heartbreaking kind of hope. It pierced me to remember how I had judged the spectacle of that hope in the past, how I had brushed away her courage and vulnerability as an annoyance. I knew this was the do-over I had prayed for.

She’s thirsty. A heart-nudge, one of those whispers of intuition that I’ve come to recognize as divine grace notes, steered my cart to a shelf of water bottles, and I tucked one among the watermelons. I felt instantly self-conscious—tampon aisle self-conscious—as if the item I’d just slipped into my cart would end up on the evening news and provoke international shock… but why? Even if I were to announce over the store’s loudspeaker that the bottle of water was meant for the woman in the parking lot, no one would care. Why was I so thoroughly discomfited?

I dawdled over checking out and putting groceries in the car, but finally it was just me with a water bottle in my hand and two little girls following me uncertainly toward the woman. She sat on a curb now, deflated, and I felt ridiculous in my sunglasses clutching the key to my air-conditioned car. Our disparity nauseated me with guilt. I felt a wild need to apologize for being born into a different life than she was, for buying watermelons while she begged, and for walking up to her now offering what she had not asked of me. Instead, I stammered out, “Here’s a bottle of water for you. I thought… with the heat…” I couldn’t meet her eyes, not even when she said a timid thank you and began to drink, and the only other word I could remember in that moment was “goodbye.”

My do-over was done, and as I hurried back to the car with flaming face, I couldn’t figure out at which aspect of it I had failed the most. According to insistent voices from my memory, I was damaging the economy by giving hard-won resources to a freeloader. All the You don’t work, you don’t eat philosophies I’ve ever heard converged to berate me for encouraging this woman’s lifestyle, and somewhere in there, the old adage about teaching a man to fish groped around for a point. From the other side of the spectrum, hyper-compassionate ideologies blasted me for not having done enough. Only a measly bottle of water to a woman who in need? My actions had made a mockery of her situation. The ostrich part of my personality mumbled from deep in the sand that I had presumed far too much, involved myself in something that wasn’t my business. My polite Southern roots chided me for my horrible attempt at conversation. I shouldn’t have done anything, I should have done more, I should have bought an umbrella back in December and cleared myself of any further obligation, I should have at least asked her name. My ears burned.

~~~

The water bottle incident happened last summer, and I still haven’t figured out where to assign my feelings about helping the down-and-out we encounter on a weekly basis. I know that poverty can be a politically charged minefield, and even though I prefer to stay out of those debates—like, continents away—I still tend to see a lot of issues in the epic scope of The Common Good. And it makes me crazy. (See above.) Of course I’m going to over-think a bottle of water until it becomes an economic and moral crisis; that’s how I’m made. It’s not how I want to be, though, subjecting the needs of my fellow humans to a gauntlet of opinions as I combust with guilt. I just want simplicity, the freedom to follow my heart-nudges with a whole mind.

That’s where people like Erika come in. Erika is the kind of soul-sister who would have snuck me out to go dancing had we known each other in our teens (maybe we’ll sneak out of the same nursing home together one day?), and she posted a story yesterday about a homeless man and a trip to Froyo World that undid about a million years of politically-correct anxiety in my chest. Loving with intention—that’s it. No expectations or grand schemes to change the world. No pressure to manage others’ lives. No political formulas or lines in the sand, and certainly no cost-benefit analysis. Just love plus intention.

Since that bungled parking lot encounter last summer, I’ve been waiting for answers, rows of watertight logic to categorize my debate so that I can make a clearly informed decision next time I see a beggar. What I wasn’t expecting was to realize that the debate no longer matters to me. It really doesn’t though. When I read that Erika and her family are buying an extra coffee each time they go to Starbucks so they can share it with someone who needs a lift, my heart jumps in recognition. This is it, the versatile beauty of love packed into cup, and maybe it’s not meant to feel comfortable, but I can finally let go of needing it to feel reasonable. Love has never followed the rules of reason anyway.

I’m not saying that it’s suddenly going to be easy for me to walk up to strangers and offer bottles of water. I still have the self-consciousness thing working against me, remember, and I’m guessing the should/shouldn’t debate will try to make itself heard again. But goodness, if any kind of intentional living is worth practicing on a regular basis, love is it. All I need now is another do-over.

2May

Recovery Mode

May 1st is Labor Day here in Italy, and in order to fully celebrate its freedom to work, the nation exercised its freedom to take off from work starting last Thursday evening. Folks, we’re talking five full days of weekend. Five! Traditionally, one of my favorite things about any given weekend is the opportunity it affords me to catch up on unfinished projects, but this time, my body took a calculating look at the swath of free time ahead, mumbled “It’s about time,” and punched out. I don’t know how many hours I slept over the last few days, but they never seemed like quite enough. While the rest of the country picnicked, I passed out. They shopped, I snoozed. They went camping, I went comatose. You get the idea. At any rate, this morning, its gray light and calendar flip equally disorienting, is probably as good a time as any to accept that I’m in recovery mode.

To fully understand the issue that’s had me reeling lately, you’d have to peek among the pages of my childhood journals. The back story is all there, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time. You see, one of the most basic tenets of my family’s fundamentalist lifestyle was that children were inferior. Outwardly, our movement held up Bible verses labeling children as a gift, but more quietly and much more pervasively, it taught that children were little sin-bred decepticons with no intrinsic worth until they were broken in. A child’s mind was a thing to be shaped, not acknowledged. Growing up as a child of that movement, I had little right to my own opinions, and if my perspective ever differed from an adult’s, I was wrong, automatically and without question.

There was a personal element to it as well. Because I was the oldest child in our family and the one whose independent streak clashed most visibly against our movement’s ideals, I needed to be put down more decisively than most. Whereas other children in our lifestyle had at least the hierarchy of age in their favor, my words could be invalidated by those of younger siblings. I can vividly remember being forbidden to tell my side of a story because it wouldn’t count anyway. I was guilty until proven innocent, and my proof was often disqualified unheard.

It’s lingered with me long, that poisoned whisper from my past: Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway. Safely ensconced in adulthood, I see the lie for what it is, and I win another victory against it every day that I post an entry here or submit an article or talk honestly with a friend. However, some hurts are too powerful to simply keel over and die; instead, they lie dormant until a specific trigger jolts them back to life.

That trigger came a couple of weeks ago.

I had been asked for my help in a situation that quickly turned more complicated than anyone had expected. As weeks went by, the situation became increasingly unmanageable, and I finally went to the party that had initially asked for my help to ask them for help. Their response came hurtling out of left field. Where I’d anticipated a brainstorming session, I was met by a flurry of emotional outbursts and unfounded accusations that continued for an hour unabated. The only reason I stayed, tears welling with each insult, was that I hoped the situation could be salvaged once the other party calmed down enough to listen to me. Then the trigger—They refused to hear my side of the story. They let me know they wouldn’t believe me, that my words were automatically invalid to them. The conversation was closed.

Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway.

My panic attack was already gaining momentum by the time we said goodbye. An old current of pain jolted alive and coursed through my body like fire and ice, unbearably strong. The fresh pain of the other party’s words and the stress of the already-unmanageable situation crushed down on my head and lungs, and all oxygen vanished from the room at once. I don’t know how long it lasted before my sweet husband was able to calm my heart rate and restore feeling to my limbs; minutes turn into eternities when you can’t breathe, and I know we came close to an ER trip. I could no sooner control the panic than I could fly, but even in the worst of it, I understood how absurd it was to be having such an intense physical reaction to the evening’s conversation. As an adult, with both logic and a clear conscience on my side, I could have fought for myself or, even more easily, stepped away. No one had forced me to stay on the line, much less take the hurtful concepts to heart. Beyond that, I knew better than to believe the insidious lies used to control me as a child, so how could I be falling apart over them? How could I have let a few misguided words yank my stability out from under me?

I guess the truth of it is that I’m not fearless, nor am I immune. Some small part of my heart is willing to believe that the voices from my past are the right ones in a world of attractive deception and that no matter what sort of façade I build for myself, others will still be able to sense my worthlessness. This small part of my heart had found confirmation in the unkind things said to me in that trigger-quick conversation, and so even once my breath returned, I kept my mouth shut and my feelings on ice for the better part of a week. I felt like my voice had been stolen and only a ghost of a woman remained.

The feeling of bereavement didn’t last, of course, and as my confidence began to trickle back, I started drafting a letter that I hoped would bring some resolution. However, each version I wrote struck me as too confrontational, so I kept gentling it down until I had written a full letter of apology. From me. To the people who had hurt me. For the sole purpose of convincing them to have a better opinion of me in the future. I think I was hoping the apology would count toward me as turn-the-other-cheek karma, a sort of magic spell for reconciliation and happiness and divine brownie points all around, but reading back over those unctuous paragraphs in my own handwriting was like catching myself with tongue out, inches from a dirty boot. Sure, someone else may have triggered my emotional beast, but here I was keeping it alive, perpetuating the lies. Me.

Dear Lord. Was I still so willing to believe myself a cosmic mistake? Was I really so eager to discredit all the love and encouragement shown to me throughout the years in favor of the soul-killing ideologies I thought I’d escaped?

I didn’t send the letter. As much as I wanted to make peace with the situation, I recognized that I wasn’t doing anyone a favor by patronizing a lie, and I made myself promise that I would respond to my accusers face to face once the time was right, once my feet were planted firmly enough in grace to lavish it on all of us. And so I wait in recovery mode. This is such a passive process that the insistent, sleep-for-five-days bout of exhaustion caught me off guard, but I guess it’s not the easiest thing in the world to let go of an identity-lie.

This process has a lot in common with running, actually. I’ve started up again, and for as slowly as I move and as embarrassingly little endurance as I have, I’m proud of my breathing. It’s been my one athletic success so far, learning to fill my lungs to capacity and then release it all, step after step. My natural inclination is to hold myself in and conserve breath under an airtight diaphragm, but as I run taut against the wind and feel increasingly convinced I’m dying, panic clamps down on my lungs like a desperate hoarder and I finish the workout doubled over. Attractive, let me tell you.

I’m learning about letting go, though, about trusting that each new breath will be waiting within reach and that I’ll have the energy for each new step as it comes. Relaxing into the process doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m doing the clumsy beginner routine right now both in running and in living—inhale and exhale, acknowledge and release, listen and move on, grace and more grace. The rhythm doesn’t come easily yet, but time is kind, and at least I can rest assured that if my tongue sticks out these days, it’s only in concentration.

27Apr

Dear Nearlywed

Dedicated to sister-friends M and B. I love you both.

~~~

To you, dear one, with the new ring catching light and the Pinterest folder of DIY centerpieces and the momentum of happily-ever-after already spinning you off your feet:

This July, I will have been married for nine years, and my mind is already clicking over, imagining our tenth anniversary with the same bewildered wonderment I always attribute to our future together. Marriage holds its own kind of time warp for me, I guess; our years together have flown by, but I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t each other’s flesh and blood. Even before I met my husband, all the way back to those starving junior high nights, I was fingering the edges of the soul connection that would one day be ours. His and mine, ‘til death do us part.

Only, engagement was the thing that almost did us part. We loved each other, no doubt. Shortly before getting engaged, we had to be in different parts of the country for three weeks, and I discovered just how unwilling I was to live without him. He had my “yes” long before he asked. But then doubt kicked in as if set to activate at the pinnacle of my happiness, and this is why I wanted to write to you today.

Nobody told me how to handle doubts about getting married. Premarital counseling seemed designed to scrutinize us for incompatibilities and then issue us a pass or a fail stamp for our upcoming nuptials, but compatibility wasn’t the problem in our case. My idea of marriage was. I’d always been taught that marriage was a permanent, divinely-sanctioned contract, and in my mind, the divine sanction aspect implied that God had tailor-made one person specifically for me. This idea had been reinforced by everything from church programs to fairy tales, and I didn’t realize until the diamond ring slid onto my finger just how terrified I was of accidentally marrying the wrong man.

It made me dizzy with unknowing. What if I hadn’t been home the day he came looking for my roommate? What if my roommate had been there? What if I had chosen to attend a different university altogether? What if I had gone with my impulse to travel for a few years first? Was the real Mr. Right waiting for me on one of the parallel paths I hadn’t taken? And what if it went back further? What if my father’s first real romance hadn’t ended in tragedy and I’d had a different mother? What if his father hadn’t gone through the same? How many threads of my divine narrative had already been tangled, snapped, or grafted onto divergent storylines? Or… was God really orchestrating every heart-wrenching moment just so I could land safely in the arms of my own personal Prince Charming? I had no idea.

Under the wind-whipped froth of doubts lurked my real fear: If I marry the wrong man, I will be doomed to the wrong storyline for the rest of my life.

I wanted desperately for someone to sit me down with a bullet point list and say “This is how to be sure you’re making the right decision.” Alternately, I would have taken a voice from heaven or a soundtrack every time we kissed or a glimpse of Cupid’s backside flitting away, some kind of unmistakable confirmation of our love. I had no justifiable reason for breaking off our engagement, but I came to the brink several times, my voice shaking as much with the fear of losing him and with the fear of a mistaken marriage. The happiness of planning our life together was offset by the heavy clamor in my mind. What if? What if? What if?

Our wedding day came as a relief in more ways than one. Once I’d pledged my vows and been pronounced wife, my burden of indecision lifted; I was committed now, for better or for worse. That sounds theatrical and bleak, I know, but the sense of finality I experienced was nothing like the heavy cloak of doom I’d expected. It was actually incredibly freeing to stand beside the man I loved and know that I had the universe’s permission to love him and to continue loving him over the course of our lives. I had never been so happy.

However, my doubts didn’t evaporate along with my indecision. Though I was happy, I wasn’t sure if I should be, and every newlywed misunderstanding brought my questions into sharp focus. If he were The One, we wouldn’t be struggling to communicate, right? If he were The One, I wouldn’t dream about old boyfriends or swoon over chick flicks… right? I didn’t feel like I could share my concerns with anyone; I didn’t want to hurt my new husband, disillusion our friends, or invite criticism over my failings as a wife. I didn’t really know what I wanted beyond peace of mind.

Dear one, I’m writing this letter today because I wish someone had written it to me nine years ago. Your story is uniquely yours, and I don’t presume to know what you are going through just because we’ve both been a fiancée. However, I don’t think I was nearly as alone in my doubts as I felt at the time. I don’t think I’m the only woman to have experienced a centrifuge of turmoil beneath her bridal glow or the only one to have woken up beside her new husband wondering if he was the man meant to share her bed, and I want to offer you this assurance:

You are not alone. You are not defective. Your marriage is not doomed.

Here is what I’ve come to believe about marriage since that shaky “I do”:

Prince Charming is a fairy tale. Not to detract from the delicious moment when Cinderella is swept off her feet by her one true love, but Mr. Right is a fictional character born of wishful thinking and our perception of happy relationships. The key word there is fictional. As a girl who inhaled love stories by the dozens, I wanted Mr. Right to be true with all of my heart, but in retrospect, this damaged my own romance more than anything else. Over the years, I’ve started to realize just how unfulfilling it would be if my husband were custom made for me. I want him to have a life purpose outside of our marriage and a personality all his own (even when it clashes with mine… though please don’t tell him I said that). Beyond this, the element of choice is enormously important in keeping love alive and healthy over the long haul. When you remove destiny from the equation, everything hinges on choice; you choose each other, and you continue choosing each other, and nothing in those fairy tales comes close to the romantic depth of being chosen again and again by the person who knows you best.

Conflict is not spelled D-O-O-M. I’ve watched a heartbreaking number of friends go through divorce within their first decade of marriage, but I’ve also seen the alternative—couples who have stuck together through betrayals, affairs, and seemingly irreconcilable differences and forged an intense love for each other that they would never have dreamed of in the beginning. I know you’ve already heard plenty about marriage taking work; before our wedding, it seemed like people were falling over each other to dampen our happiness with warnings of the hard, hard effort to come. Now, though, I see the idea of marriage taking work as brim-full of hope. It means that conflict is something to navigated through, not something to be feared. It takes the power away from circumstance and puts it into our own hands. You can’t live with the same person for years in close quarters without running into relational problems—it simply isn’t possible—but it helps to see those problems as a bridge to cross with your spouse rather than a roadblock to your marriage.

There is no manual for choosing the right partner, but… well, as they say, bullet points are an indecisive girl’s best friend:

  • Do you like each other? I’m not talking about fluttery feelings here (I assume you already have plenty of those). What I mean is, are you friends? Do you genuinely enjoy spending time together?
  • Do you share a direction in life? Do your own, individual, heart-felt goals get along with each other? Plans will change plenty of times over the course of your lives, but it helps tremendously if you start off facing in the same direction.
  • Are the loved ones in your life behind your relationship? I don’t believe that anyone but you should have the final say on whether or not you get married, but the support of your community can make a huge difference… and it helps to have outside confirmation of your relationship when you’re feeling uncertain.
  • Okay, this is probably a no-brainer, but I’ll ask it anyway: Are you attracted to each other? Yes, in that way? (Don’t worry, I’ll stop there.)

If you get along well and can talk excitedly about your dreams together and have the support of your friends and can’t wait to jump each other’s bones and have made your decision with careful thought (and prayer?), then you, dear one, can be unequivocally happy. You’ve chosen well, and the inevitable rough patches of marriage will be all the easier to work through because you’ll have not only a lover but a friend by your side.

Now comes the part where I tell you how wonderful marriage is and you roll your eyes because I’ve just spent 1,600 words talking about disillusion and difficulty and telling you that your beloved is not, in fact, Mr. Right… but my point is that he doesn’t have to be. The two of you will experience priceless companionship, passion, and loyalty together. In working through hard times, you will knit forgiveness and redemption into your story. You will be given the honor of choice as long as you are together, and you will feel the soul-swelling gift of being chosen by your spouse even after you’ve seen the worst of each other. Marriage is absolutely worth it.

So my last advice to you, dear one, with the Operation Wedding diet plan and the girlhood mementos sorted into boxes and the whispers of uncertainty coming at you from every side of this great new unknown, is this:

Don’t be afraid.

24Apr

Weathered

Joining up with Seth and Amber for this week’s Marriage Letters: Enduring Loss Together. I always feel self-conscious writing about my marriage in such a public space, but reading others’ heartfelt efforts to prioritize their marriages reminds me that we were never meant to live out our most important relationships in seclusion. Honesty leading to encouragement—this is community, yes? Here’s my contribution to it:

~~~

Dear husband,

Today is a wild, wooly kind of day—rain flung sideways by the handful and winds to rival those which flattened our tent in the Highlands two summers ago. I remember the girls chasing sheep on Glenbrittle Beach that same evening and the absurdity of lumpy farm animals dashing along the waves like William Wallace’s ghost was after them. Of course, come to think of it, he might have been. The storm which roared up that night seemed to have intention in its fury, and we only lasted until first light—dim and rain-lashed as it may have been—before abandoning our plans for the week and fleeing toward the nearest source of hot breakfast.

We’ve had to be flexible in our life together, you and I. Every version of normality we’ve tried constructing for ourselves over the years has ended up as an unfinished roadside attraction, and rained-out camping trips are the least of the sudden losses we’ve had to navigate. We’ve lost jobs, friendships, relatives, and pay-outs. We’ve watched the sure path of our future disappear in an afternoon. Even this morning, unforeseen circumstances came down swift and heavy, and we’re left with a blueprint of rubble, rehearsing again how to let our plans go and move past them together.

I hold that last phrase dear though because of all that’s implied in doing this again, together. We have our own history of upheaval and, though it all, each other’s hand held tightly. Simply knowing that we’re on the same team when the sky falls down turns my anxiety outward, away from me, away from us, and eventually just away. Having you as my teammate, especially when everything else seems to be slipping through my grasp, is one of the greatest gifts of my life. And when the ghosts are placated and the storms settled and the uncompleted plans put to rest, I love you all the more for what we have weathered together.

Bethany

So glad to see the sun again

~~~

Previous letters here, here, and here. And if you’re the married sort, would you consider filling out Seth Haines’s marriage survey? I’m anticipating some good insights to come from it.

23Apr

Rebel Rebel

Some weeks, ideas pile up against each other like enthusiastic puppies in their haste to get out. Other weeks, their ebb seems devastatingly final. I may never really come to terms with this cyclic nature of creativity, this manic-depressive supply of words. The puppy weeks are amazing, of course. I am able! My life has meaning! I will never run out of things worth saying! But then the next week swoops in like a Dementor and I am incapable and my life is meaningless and I never had anything worth saying in the first place and I should probably just go eat some worms. Extra slimy ones.

I sometimes blame the dry spell on my muse’s jetting off to the tropics and shrug it off, but more often, I accept the sense of inadequacy my mind presses on me as being the truest truth. I learned this resignation a long time ago from a culture that believed in beating out children’s wills, and as far as I’ve removed myself from that context, its repercussions still catch me off guard. I have big ideas but very little confidence, plenty of frustration without any fight, and a perspective that rides on the weather. I’d classify this brain of mine up there with stink badgers in terms of affability.

So you should know that this, just showing up to the page with reluctant fingers and worms on my breath, is counted unto me as the rebellion I never had the courage to stage. Even though I feel certain right now that my artistic life is meaningless, over, etc., etc., I am ditching the appropriate misery in favor of a totally punk determination to blog (Anti-establishmentarianism FTW!) and finding out that insubordination is just the kind of thing that can change the weather.

(Lapis lazuli nails help too.)

20Apr

Beauty in the Rough

Easter 2012 Part 4 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

It’s been one of our rougher weeks here at the Casa di Bassett, and as I’m sure most bloggers can attest to, writing anything can feel impossible when you’re not at liberty to share the circumstances weighing on you. Thus the silence around here, heavy with words unwritten and whisperings of failure. As always, though, beauty heals. I’ve spent a lot of time this week watching clouds shift and meld over church spires, strawberry blossoms bob in the wind, and my daughters’ eyes sparkle with imagination. Noticing the duet of art and grace in the world around me has a unique way of lifting the weight from my lungs, and this, beyond anything else, is the reason we returned to the Amalfi Coast this Easter.

This was our third April to camp under the lemon trees, and though lugging our summer home up a mountainside is the stuff that expletives are made of, the view from our tent… well, you can see for yourself:

Minori from the parking area

The way those four elements—sky, land, village, and sea—interact together along the coast, beautiful in equal and dizzying measure, fills my capacity for happiness to the brim. We all seem to find better versions of ourselves in between the blue of the sky and the blue of the water… even when both turn to gunmetal gray and thunderstorms burst open above our heads. “Can we go swing?” the girls begged once the thunder had rumbled away drawing a thick curtain of rain in its wake. Me At Home wouldn’t have even considered it. Me At The Amalfi Coast zipped up their waterproof jackets and called “Have fun!”

The girls taking a break from hiking

That’s the Me I’m conjuring up today when life seems to have a big fat F stamped on it. Not that it’s as easy as pulling up a few photos and exhaling stress into the pixilated sky, but the beauty still soothes what’s raw, lightens what’s dim. It helps. And so if you’re having one of your own rougher weeks (or days, or decades), then this is for you and me both:

13Apr

Rain Check

Easter 2012 Part 3 (Part 1 here, Part 2 here)

You should know up-front that I did not anticipate liking Naples. From all the stories I’d heard, I was imagining a giant trash heap teeming with mob bosses, and while I know better than to take stereotypes at their word, I was really only looking forward to the second half of our trip on the Amalfi Coast. Turquoise sea and lemon groves, they fill my soul… but now I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, Naples absolutely refused to let me leave uncharmed.

Mom and Sophie in Naples

Sophie’s holding up a plucked dandelion for a drink. Yes, we went in the drizzle. Yes, she is every kind of precious.

We spent the whole of last Thursday in the city with only one agenda: take the girls on the funicular. Perhaps you’ve heard the famous Neapolitan song Funiculì, Funiculà? It’s in the girls’ personal Top 5 of all time ever, so we couldn’t miss taking them on the cable car which inspired the masterpiece. Okay, so the famous line going up Mount Vesuvius was destroyed in the 1944 eruption, but we pretended that the modern carriage swaying us up the city’s underbelly was worthy of Pavarotti, and the girls treated us to their own rendition of the song for the rest of eternity. 

Singing Funiculi Funicula

Their lyrics are as follows: “Yummy, yummy, yummy yummy yummmmmm! Yummy, yummy, yummy yummy yummmmmm! Funiculì, funiculà, funiculì, funiculààààààààààà! Yummy yummy yum funiculì, funiculà!”

Naples is its own brand of gorgeous chaos—tenement buildings piled against each other like favorite cousins, mozzarella vendors on Vespas weaving around double-parked cars while shouting hello, laundry and gelato in every color of the rainbow and then some. It was so free of inhibitions, so different from our own city where making a good impression is the highest social calling, that I had more fun than I usually do while sightseeing. I didn’t feel the need to shush the girls (“YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY YUMMMMM!”). I didn’t grimace self-consciously at my walking shoes. (Women in our city wear high heels on hikes. Forget the language barrier; we have irreconcilable footwear differences.) I didn’t fret over looking like a tourist; instead, I unabashedly snapped photos like this so you could hear the symphony of car horns and smell the pizza margherita and feel the vibrant camaraderie that is Naples. (Do you?)

The Spanish Quarter of Naples

We stayed until dusk rolled over the bay, thick and brooding with rain. Even then, we had trouble tearing ourselves away from the seaside castle where the girls were climbing antique cannons and I was memorizing the cut of sailboat masts against water, volcano, sky. Local couples perched on the walls making out as if it were a competitive sport, and I harbored a fleeting wish that Dan and I could just sneak out after the girls were in bed. Then the clouds cracked open above our heads, and proper goodbyes were abandoned for umbrellas and take out. It’s okay. Naples had already made her point, and I would have just asked for a rain check anyway.

Naples harbor

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