La Vita E’ Bella

You start to realize you’re no longer in America when:

– The day’s top news story covers the arrest of a dad who made his son a marijuana pizza.
– The Godfather casually pulls 1,000 euro in cash out of his pocket to reimburse moving expenses.
– Your pregnant belly is viewed as public property.
– You buy peaches, grapes, cantaloupe, lemons, tomatoes, carrots, celery, zucchini, potatoes, and a 30-lb. watermelon at the market for a grand total of 9 euro.
– All the other moms at the park have 0% body fat and glitter on their shirts (and pants, and shoes, and sunglasses…).
– The cheapest espresso money can buy tastes like a rich, velvety version of paradise.
– Every person in town takes a vacation on August 15th because — hey, August 15th is a great day to take a vacation!
– Swimsuits are optional.

I like Europe (and I’ll let you guess which reasons why… ::grin::).


Shrek the Not

Last week, I was an ogre of a mom, and not the endearing, crusty-with-a-heart-of-gold, Shrek type. I was the hormonal, worried, perpetually frustrated type of monster who showed fangs whenever her two-year-old daughter acted two years old. My snarky mood came squealing to a halt, though, just after I spilled a bottle of orange juice all over Natalie. She looked up at the thunder cloud hanging over my head and sweetly said, “I’m sorry, Mommy!” Mommy, of course, quickly melted into a pathetic puddle of guilt.

The most exasperating thing about situations like this is that only minutes later, redemption is skipping around the room with a contagious smile. I’d prefer to wallow in the guilt for at least a few days, to pay mental penance for unleashing my inner monster on my daughter’s precious heart. But all Natalie requires is one look from me that shows I really, truly like her (a big bear hug doesn’t hurt either), and all of my actions to the contrary are forgotten.

Grace is hard to accept — agonizingly hard — but it’s what inspires me to keep doing my best at mommyhood. Really, it’s what inspires me to keep doing my best at personhood. If God and my little girl still think I’m great at the end of a hard week, it’s keep acting monstrous toward anyone, even myself.


2 A.M. Delirium

Welcome to One Of Those Nights, the dark, sticky kind that prevents me from finding the magical hollow in my pillow that will quiet the clamoring from an entire unwritten week. Thus, my cure for insomnia: coaxing thoughts out of my tired brain and through my fingertips to freedom.

Of course, now that I’m out of bed and geared with laptop, I have no idea where to start. Every day is woven with countless emotions, a plethora of new vocabulary words, and a minute-hand steadily ticking off educational experiences. I couldn’t begin to accurately describe what my mind goes through on a daily basis, but I would hate to forget this time period… its unique mixture of confusion and satisfaction and — unbelievably — relaxation… the struggle of uprooting and the contentment of resettling.

Dan says I function much better as an Italian woman than I did as an American woman, and I think he’s right. All the repetitive daily activities that used to depress me seem to have a purpose here, even if that purpose is just practicing the language or getting some exercise. People’s genuine friendliness makes me want to leave the house and be part of society rather than hole up with my computer. Plus, I pretty much adore the built-in naptime that comes with life here. Every morning, I wake up a little less in the realm of the unfamiliar, and every night, I fall asleep feeling a little more at home.

I can feel this post teetering on the verge of incoherent rambling, so I’ll put my thoughts back to bed for the night. Stay tuned for next time, when I will try to write something that sounds a little less like 2 a.m. delirium…


Mastercard Not Accepted

Milk frother for making perfect cappuccinos: 6 euro
Cheery sunflower rug perfect for building legos on: 10 euro
Tiny rose bush bursting with perfect orange blossoms: 4 euro
The thrill of finding perfect Saturday morning treasures at the open market for husband, daughter, and self, respectively: Priceless


Eating Dangerously

Italians are amazing. They sit down to mountainous plates of spaghetti and immediately start talking to each other. When they stop talking long enough to take a breath three-and-a-half minutes later, all traces of spaghetti have magically vanished. This is where I start panicking. See, three-and-a-half minutes are exactly long enough for me to eat two bites of pasta, provided I don’t take breaks to talk, drink, or breathe. And anyone unlucky enough to lag behind during an Italian meal might as well stay overnight, because that’s how long it will take to catch up on the meat course, the drinks, the vegetable platter, the drinks, the bread basket, the drinks, the obligatory seconds of everything, the drinks, the dessert, the drinks, the fruit tray, the drinks, the espresso, the liquor shots, and — because your bladder is far too empty — the drinks.

Foreigners beware! Anyone accepting an Italian’s invitation to dinner should have the ability to:
– Politely shovel vast amounts of food into his/her mouth, while
– Politely interrupting everyone at the table, since that is the only feasible way to join in the conversation, while also
– Politely keeping both elbows on the table (much harder than it sounds!), all the while
– Politely declining the hostess’s urgings to eat seconds, thirds, and fourths of everything,
– Keeping in mind that “No thank you, my stomach is already bursting” translates to “I am on the verge of starvation; keep the food coming!” in the minds of Italian hostesses.
In fact, someone should offer courses on Italian dining, at the end of which certification cards would be issued stating that the bearer has sufficient stomach capacity and chewing velocity to accept dinner invitations. “Can you come to dinner tonight?” “Sorry, I haven’t passed Dessert Endurance 101 yet, but call me in a month!”

I just realized I am making Italian meals sound like something to be avoided, which could not be farther from the truth. The food is incredible, the conversation is lively, and the hospitality is legendary. For Italians, eating is much more than a survival tactic; it is an experience. It is pleasure and relaxation and companionship and satisfaction and life being thoroughly lived. I just need to expand various internal organs before the next time I’m invited to live this thoroughly!


The Cowardly Lion Learns Success

I’ve known for months that once I moved to a new country and had the daily shopping responsibilities all to myself, I would quickly need to become a Brave Woman. Now that I’m here, I feel instantly disqualified for two reasons:
1. Brave Women do not lie in bed in the morning wondering if they can push the snooze button just 599 more times.
2. Brave Women are not afraid of the grocery store.

I feel like I ordered a side order of change, but when I wasn’t looking, someone added a combo meal with extra fries and super-sized the whole shebang. Now, I’m enveloped by a newness that I expected only in a fuzzy, theoretical kind of way.

It’s harder than anything to be patient with myself, a life-long perfectionist thrust into surroundings where trial-and-error is the only option. However, I’m slowly learning the vital lesson of how to appreciate each day by its small successes:
Drying three loads of laundry on a clothesline…
Ordering lunch meat at the deli next door…
Lighting a gas stove without horrendously burning myself, passing out from the fumes, or destroying more than two matches…
Chatting for five minutes with another mom at the park…
Recognizing our bus stop…
Learning how to say “Don’t throw the gravel!” like a good Italian mamma…

I wish I could write more about the whole experience, but time seems to be slipping away in erratic bursts. These first days have managed to be ridiculously short and impossibly long at the same time, leaving me with twenty-four misshapen hours to navigate each time. Plus, the combination of jet lag and internet withdrawal has me in a very woozy state of being.

Now, to get Natalie out of bed (where she put herself, by the way… What mother has to forbid her two-year-old from napping before lunch?) and to sweep up the inch of high-quality Italian dust that magically appears on our floor every hour, on the hour. Another [completely, utterly, and exhaustively] new day is underway!


The TSA Should Be Banned

Navigating airport security with a toddler:

1) Grit teeth.
2) Take shoes off two-year-old.
3) Explain to distraught two-year-old that she will get her shoes back, provided that they don’t turn out to be flowery size-6T bombs.
4) Go through security gate to wait for our unsecured valuables.
5) Watch helplessly as husband–shoeless, beltless, and holding toddler–is instructed to take stroller to the farthest outskirts of civilization for special processing.
6) Observe x-ray technician letting our carry-ons through without even glancing at the screen.
7) Suppress the urge to put the carry-ons back through security just so someone will notice my excellent Ziploc-bagging skills.
8) Attempt to re-pack liquids and/or gels, laptops, teddy bears, and boarding passes while putting on shoes, belt, and four backpacks before next person in line manages to clear security gate. (Keep in mind that husband and child are still trekking back from the nether regions of Stroller Security Land.) Hope that next person in line will require a strip search.
9) Feel guilty.
10) Reunite with husband, daughter, and–eventually–stroller, once it has been deemed innocent of international terrorism. What a relief.

(We have, in fact, arrived in Italia. More updates once I snap out of the hazy world of Jet Lag.)

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