Tag: Change

15May

Trial Period Has Expired

Adjusting to a new culture is never easy, and there are some quirks to Italy that may always prick under my American skin. The disorganization, for instance. When you show up to an appointment at an Italian hospital, you have to wander the halls and peek into doors until you find your doctor… or at least someone who can find him for you. Or when you need to contact the gas company about an error in your bill, you have to go to their headquarters and stand in a tangled huddle of a line to talk to someone who will inevitably tell you “Come back later.” And those basic permission documents you need to legally stay in the country? They’re held up in some Italian black hole for 1 ½ years (and counting).

The disorganization and bureaucratic laziness certainly top the list of Things That Rankle, but there are plenty of smaller irks:

          How bill-paying is done exclusively at the post office, where long lines make it frustrating for those who want to actually mail something

          How shopping cart wheels swivel at will and must be pushed with full-body strength to avoid collisions

          How the libraries do not have children’s sections

          How awkward run-ins with gypsies, beggars, and peddlers are unavoidable

          How fashion dictates that women navigate even the cobbliest of stone streets in strappy stilettos (I haven’t mastered that skill yet)

However, there is so much utter loveliness to Italian culture, and most of the “quirks” I noticed when first moving here have turned out to be little blessings. Many of them are relational, such as building a rapport with the local pharmacist since we don’t have the option of grabbing medicine off a shelf, or elderly women talking freely (and good-heartedly) about our personal business. I love the way Italy’s easygoing personality translates into holidays every few weeks, national two-hour lunch breaks, and limited store hours (it’s easier to do without a 24-hr Wal-Mart than you’d think!). I’ve even grown to appreciate the lack of air conditioning and clothes dryers; the absence of both gives spacious, breathable air a place of honor in our lives.

I enjoy living in a place where everyone has a bidet, an armoire, and a love of good wine. Where I can take for granted that I will be kissed on both cheeks in greeting and that a hospital stay will treat our wallet gently. Where an attendant will pump my gas and where late night TV guarantees to be insanely amusing. Where laws are flexible and ham is cured and windows are open and parking spaces are subject to imagination and lunch is the big meal and cleavage is always appropriate and roundabouts keep intersections spinning merrily. This is a country I want to know more deeply.

~*~*~

We found our house o’ dreams yesterday. I am afraid to write about it in the same way I was afraid to speak as Dan and I walked through the rooms, squeezing each other’s hand over and over to make sure we were seeing the same thing, terrified someone else was going to snatch it away before we had a chance to sign the contract (okay, so the irrational terror was entirely on my part). But nobody snatched it away. As of one hour ago, it’s ours.

Imagine cozy and airy waltzing together in a gabled hilltop condo. Shiny wood and windows everywhere and a Texas-sized patio with a breathtaking view of downtown. A lush green yard with rose bushes and a darling wooden swing. Three silky dogs for the girls to play with and downstairs (and next door) neighbors we already know. A marble bathtub. A fireplace. Oh, oh, oh. I did not realize one could fall so desperately in love with a house.

We’ll be moving in July (a whole two miles away from our current apartment), and the tedium of packing and changing addresses shines like joy on the horizon. This perfect little dream house is where we will put down roots. I can’t wait to finally be part of a neighborhood community, something a high-rise apartment can never provide. This feels like the end of our trial period—depression, temporary job contract, and cramped living space all traded in for something so much better—and the true beginning of our happy Italian life.

11Nov

Enamannoyearningcited

Enamored with:
Mark Twain’s description of German opera in A Tramp Abroad. “The racking and pitiless pain of it remains stored up in my memory alongside the memory of the time that I got my teeth fixed.” I love Mark Twain even more than I love Shakespeare, and that’s saying a lot. (Oscar Wilde trumps them both, but that’s beside the point.)

The cauldron of fog overturned on our region two days ago. I love the mystery of not being able to see what’s ahead; for instance, I may know it’s only the supermercato, but perhaps it’s taken on a different personality or grown a mustache in hiding. Plus, the fog is just spooky enough to keep ghost stories on the menu.

Our new… are you ready for this?… {{drumroll}}… dishwasher! It has replaced Sophie’s high chair in the corner of our kitchen and is giving me reason to writhe around our tile floor in a frenzy of joy. The time I spend on dishes has gone from 1 ½ hours a day to 3 minutes. 3 minutes! Excuse me while I go lick the plate rack again.

Tea, after a two-year tastebud hiatus. We don’t have as many options here, but I’ve managed to find a mandarin-spice-cookie flavor that makes my heart sing. And anyway, my beloved peppermint is universal. (Now that I have a tea infuser, I’m itching to make peppermint tea from our riotous little balcony plant. Note to self: Learn how to use a tea infuser.)

My makeshift vanilla-berry candle platter and the friendly glow of small, contained fires. Natalie and I are going to paint holiday scenes on empty baby food jars and then put tea lights in them tomorrow for Christmas, and I’m finally going to get our money’s worth out of those Pottery Barn pumpkin pillars we carted over from the States. This year, I am not taking candles for granted.


Annoyed by:
Adults doing the children’s voices in cartoons.

Waking up to a bathroom-related mess. As in, it should have happened in the bathroom.

Finding myself from time to time really not wanting to be a mom. (See above.)

Other drivers waiting impatiently for my parking spot while I bundle the girls into their carseats.

How very, very yummy those caramel krispy treats were, causing me to make and eat a second batch when I was already full.

How my last entry (posted elsewhere as well) stirred up a level of controversy I never expected… How so many people were adamantly opposed to the government helping out those in need… How my joy over Obama’s election was squished out of me, e-mail by e-mail, until I began to wonder if speaking up was worth it… How this week was down in the first round.


Learning how to:
Respect people who think differently from me, even when their beliefs seem misguided and hurtful, even when they don’t treat me with respect.

Stick around for conflict rather than darting behind the nearest hedge.

Just say no to caramel krispy treats. (Still working on that one.)


Excited about:
Christmas decorations, Christmas photo cards, Christmas art projects, Christmas gifts, Christmas outreach, and a special Christmas treat for all of you!

Getting a favorable response from the company I so longed to work for. We have some tangley logistics to work out, but I am delighted to find out the door is not shut.

A clean house (thank you, dishwasher!), a sweet family, and a whole day wide open to living.

5Nov

Proud

I sniff around cautiously for like minds, for whiffs of celebration rather than defeat. Opening my mouth is a scary prospect after an election this tense, and Facebook statuses give a pretty good indication of most people’s places on the political spectrum. (i.e. – Maybe I should tone down the excitement around “Nicholas says ‘OBAMA IS A LIAR!!!!!!!!!’” eh?) I did not advertise who I was going to vote for, because 1) I didn’t want my suggestion to keep others from making their own decisions, and 2) I’m a chicken. However, I can say today that I’m thrilled. Waking up this morning felt like opening a history book, and I need you all to know this:

I am proud of the people who braved long lines and bad weather to vote.
I am proud that America elected an African American to lead the country.
I am proud of Barack Obama’s courage, ideals, and commitment to hope.
I am proud that John McCain graciously conceded the campaign and urged crowds of booing Republicans to work toward unity.
I am proud that George Bush passed a law giving Obama access to important documents now so he can prepare for his first term.
I am proud of my friends who disagree with Obama but have decided to respect him anyway.
I am proud of my friends who are now celebrating a heartfelt wish come true.
I am even proud of Sarah Palin for taking all the criticism against her with a sense of humor.
But most of all, I am proud today to one of the millions of Americans—Democrat, Republican, or otherwise—who want only the best for their country.

That is something to be proud of, folks.

15Sep

Season’s Change

Autumn whooshed into town today, leaving skid marks across our last short-sleeved morning. Apparently it never got the memo that seasons don’t change for another week, and the sky is suddenly damp gray flannel, steadily leaking rain. Goodbye, summer. We hardly knew ye.

This morning was also Natalie’s first day of public school. I was a little worried dropping her off, not knowing how she would take it… by which I mean not knowing how I would take her taking it. I had cut out a tiny pink paper heart in case she needed some extra love to carry throughout the day, and I fingered it in my pocket as we got near the school. But lo and behold, her classroom was brightly lit, flitting with color and activity exactly as a classroom should. The teachers were all smiles and showed us the cubbyhole to put Natalie’s backpack; by the time we turned back around, she had already plopped down in a cluster of children around the train set. That was it. No fanfare, just my independent little girl setting out on her 19+ years of formal education without a look back.

I took a deep breath then headed out for a quick cappuccino and the most effortlessly productive morning I’ve had this century. I cleaned, read with Sophie, and spent an unbelievable two (2!) hours uninterrupted at my desk. And before I knew it, Natalie was home with her daddy for lunch.

“The teacher told me she cried at breakfast,” Dan informed me. “But just a little. For a first day, it went great.” Positive assessment aside, I couldn’t help imagining my sweet three-year-old sobbing into her juice. I felt an unmistakable twinge of that guilt parents get for subjecting their children to life, even in all its goodness. She must have felt so lonely; would she even want to go back?

I sat down at the table with Natalie and asked her to tell me about her day. She broke into a huge smile and announced, “I was such a big girl! I was a crying big girl! Can I cry at school again tomorrow?” Sure thing, kid.

So the pink paper heart is now on my desk where I can see it throughout the day and think of that brave, articulate, hilarious girl I love so much. And if I ever had a doubt on the subject, I’m now convinced that Natalie has the kind of heart to take on the whole world.

15Aug

Free-Range Eggs

Everything is quiet now. A brief thunderstorm earlier this evening scrubbed the air clean of all its sticky summer-night noises, and the whole world has gone to bed. Our vacation is almost over, and even though it has sucked every puff of energy out of my body, I’m still reluctant to give it up. I know that like all good things, this has to come to an end to make room for other good things, but I have a hard time with little transitions.

I can’t explain this vague dread I’m harboring of the upcoming year (years have always started in September for me, no matter how many balls drop in January). It sounds ridiculous to say this year contains too many unknowns, considering that this time last year, I was hugely pregnant and Visa-less. But then, I guess I knew which basket my eggs were in. Right now, life looks a little formless and void, and I can’t tell where the firmament separates from the wrinkles in my brain. There will be so much rampant growing in my precious family this year, and here comes the dread: It’s always a gamble whether that growth will bring us closer together or shoot us in opposite directions.

It seems that daredevil bike rides and stormy stroller races and fried octopus dinners have been only the prelude to the real adventure of stepping in own front door together again. And oh, it will be epic.

16Jul

Dichotomous Days

Tension:

  • Lead-blanket tiredness, every single morning and sometimes until bedtime. I hung onto today by a thread of willpower and finally gave up at noon, when I put my haggard self to bed. (Coffee helps, though I suddenly stopped liking the taste last month. Coffee in a chocolate-coconut frappuccino courtesy of my blender-wielding husband definitely helps. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition do not.)
  • Owning a house during a major housing slump and losing our renters. Taking care of our house when we lived in it was enough work, but figuring out the details from across the ocean? Without the extra income? Wondering how soon the place will fall into ruin without tenants and become just a pile of bricks swallowed by crabgrass? There’s a chance that worrying about this has impacted my sleep…
  • Huge possibility of having to move to another city next summer. I knew this home wouldn’t be permanent, but I’ve come to love our friendly little neighborhood and the old, old streets of downtown, not to mention the people who have welcomed us into their families. (Benefits of moving: Will be closer to Florence, Dan’s brother, and IKEA. Very much closer to outlet mall. The other city is still beautiful, AND we may finally get a large-enough house. Oh, and the transfer has the possibility of being long-term. Really, I need to just get over this and be excited already.)

Ease:

  • Summer-colored fruits and veggies, fresh or bread-crumbed or slathered in yo-cream or drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I love how easy it is to eat healthy in warm weather—salads and fruit drinks every day, and we’ve reduced our grocery budget by €40 a week. I feel all earthy and bright at the thought, like I’ve just discovered a secret.
  • August just around the corner. We spent our vacation budget (uh, for the next five years) on Sophie’s emergency room trip, so we’ll be coming up with fun and relaxing things to do around here. Which, really? Could not make me happier. I mean, we’re already in Italy; might as well enjoy it! I’m planning to serve meals on paper plates and read books somewhere breezy.
  • A certain member of the family finally being potty-trained. After what felt like seventeen years of Pull-Ups and puddles and uncontrollable weeping (on my part), we have autonomy. Also, another member of the family recently contracted mobility, and the crawling, cruising, and self-congratulatory giggles are almost too fun to stand! Almost.
  • Exciting new changes coming soon, like school for Natalie! And hopefully well-scheduled days for me during which I can write and write and write! Plus, a significant raise and talk of a winter ski vacation with the in-laws. Exclamation point!

C’est la vie, non?

17Apr

How to Be a Parent

When I was a teenager, I babysat several times a week. I loved every minute, and if I had written an essay called “How to Be a Parent” at age fifteen, it would have said this:

First, you play princess Barbies with your adorable four-year-old, then put her in her princess jammies to read princess stories before tucking her into her princess blankets for the night. Then you feed the baby his bottle while watching a romantic comedy and eating sugar by the spoonful dinner. Once the baby is asleep, you’re free to spend the next several hours taking sexy bubble baths, or whatever adults do with their copious spare time. The end.

In the 1,141 days that I have actually been a parent, I have taken exactly three bubble baths (none of them particularly sexy) and learned a few things. Like, the moms of the children I babysat were probably cleaning frantically for seven hours before I came over. Also, the parents had probably lost a cumulative year of sleep training that adorable four-year-old to stay in her princess bed all night. And normal adults, those with actual responsibilities during the day, don’t stay up until 2 a.m. drinking wine in their lingerie by candlelight. At least not often.

The relative who came to visit us when we brought Natalie home from the hospital was just trying to help, I know. But everything about her help got under my skin, crawled around, and gnawed at me like a swarm of chiggers. I scratched back pretty hard, I’m afraid.

I felt like all those years of babysitting had earned me a PhD in childcare, but I had no idea what to do with my own daughter. My mind boggled at the fact that this tiny person was completely dependent on me. What if I didn’t dress her warmly enough? How could I know if she was eating well? What was making her so miserable that she had to cry? I felt like I should be confident and relaxed, but I doubted myself at every turn, and my relative’s comments further prevented me from finding my own way of mothering. They made me feel 200% a failure.

The “I would nevers” started innocently enough: I would never leave my baby strapped into a swing all day. I would never use the television as a babysitter. I would never ignore my children. I wasn’t trying to be supercilious at all. I just knew I loved my little girl and wanted to learn from all the parenting mistakes I’d seen.

But then, the third trimester of my pregnancy with Sophie lumbered down and squished out my energy overnight. My energetic two-year-old was suddenly a pig-tailed tornado, and I kept falling asleep three words into story time. “Sesame Street” and “The Backyardigans” became very, very important to our survival. I started falling asleep at night under a palpable cloud of mother-guilt.

Natalie and I went out on a mommy-daughter date this week. We walked through a park, Natalie chatting incessantly about everything she saw (“Look, there’s a flower! And a bird! And another flower! Ooo, look, there’s grass! Did you see the grass, Mommy? The grass, over there? Did you see it?”), and then shared a cup of ice cream. It was perfect. I hadn’t paid attention lately to what an amazing little girl she is, bubbling over with sweetness and enthusiasm, and I was blown away.

I wish so much that I could do more for her. Maybe if Sophie cleaned the house for me, I could give Natalie the one-on-one time she deserves, but you know babies–too busy lying around, being cute. But despite my imperfections as a mother, my daughter has a vast, beautiful heart. She is happy and creative, and she knows I love her with everything I have. She knows, and that is enough for now.

We’re on the journey back into the sunlight, but this time, I’m not looking at other families for validation (At least our daughter eats her vegetables, yada yada yada). Instead, I’m deeply humbled by the other moms and dads who are struggling to be the right parents for their children. I’m encouraged to see other families who, through their aching, ache for one other. I’m so grateful to know I’m not alone in this shaky business of being human.

Things change. Children learn their way in life as parents temporarily lose theirs. “I would never” becomes “I’ll do my best,” and we fumble our way through apologies. We learn honesty and grace. Our rose-tinted glasses crack; we see our children for who they are. And through each struggle, each fight for the relationships most precious to us, we dive deeper into the mystery of unconditional love.

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