Tag: Expatriating

17Feb

Shelled

One thing I have learned a lot about over the past year is that Italians do community they way they do pasta: effortlessly, enthusiastically, and often. It’s both one of the most daunting and one of the most delightful aspects of life here.

The above picture I snapped at yesterday’s neighborhood Carnevale parade isn’t likely to win any photography awards.  In fact, I don’t even recognize anyone in it (that may or may not have anything to do with the camera angle), but I love it regardless. The people in it made up a small portion of the neighbors who paraded the streets yesterday disturbing the peace with high-volume joy. Little girls skipped through snow slush in their princess dresses, and little boys dressed as pirates tried to make it more than two yards before staging another sword fight, and grandparents held hands, and we mamas chatted over the clatter of homemade maracas while keeping an eye out for each other’s offspring. We were superbly loud.

Do you see the police car at the front of the line? Several officers came out to block traffic for us, and it made my heart swell every time one of their firm faces cracked into a grin at all the exuberance. Even the car drivers, whose big important plans were having to wait for short legs, waved and cheered from the sidelines. And do you see the man across the street toward the left of the photo wearing a bright blue scarf? His name is Michele, which I now know because the crowd made up a cheer for him as we walked past. I mean, why not?

After looping the neighborhood, we all squeezed into the elementary school gym for an epic dance party complete with disco lights and paper ribbon explosions, and it struck me that what I was doing at that moment—boogying with my girls and admiring their friends’ costumes and making plans for a moms-only date night and laughing with my neighbors—was exactly what we’d hoped for in moving to Italy. Doing community. Sure, neighborhood-wide disco parties can daunt an introvert like me into hiding, but it turns out that the delight of inclusion, of intentional, joyful togetherness, is just the thing to sweep an introvert like me right out of her shell.

 Carnevale Sophie(Not an introvert.)

26Jan

Prayer and Pixie Dust

This might sound crazy, but I prayed for Disney World.

By the tail end of our month in the States, our Christmas trip was beginning to resemble a parade of unavoidable expenses—tolls, Urgent Care x 2, gasoline x a million, and ever-mounting bureaucratic fees for the paperwork we had traveled to get—and despite the gorgeous generosity of friends and family who welcomed us in, we just couldn’t swing a day with Mickey Mouse.

That realization hurt like a choke chain yanking us straight back to our credit card bill. There we were in Orlando for the last time in our foreseeable future with a few days to spare and two little girls who spent a solid 45 minutes in the Disney Store pretending to be princesses.  The girls weren’t expecting anything more, and maybe that was part of why I ached so much to take them… especially Natalie who softly read every Disney World billboard we passed on the way to get her broken arm set. So I prayed.

You should know I’m no good at praying. The church traditions of my past have left a script in my mind from which I rarely find words to deviate. I don’t know how to be honest with my head bowed and eyes closed. Instead, I’ve learned how to feel, careful not to muddy my heart’s surface with thoughts, and I imagine that I’m directing that feeling toward someone who cares. This time, logic scolded me for asking God for something so frivolous when people all over the world struggle with very real needs. My brain followed this up with a cynical laugh because really, I expected someone to just up and offer $400 worth of tickets to a strange little family from Italy? My heart wouldn’t stop hoping though, so I blocked out cynicism and logic and felt as earnestly as I could, following up with “please.”

And wouldn’t you know, someone just up and offered $400 worth of tickets to our strange little family two days before we returned to Italy.

Words can’t express.

The girls leading the way - 2

We’re back in Italy now, adjusting to the time difference and unpacking far more than we remember packing, and if jet lag weren’t already doing the job, my gratefulness at being home would keep me in a waking stupor. A string of miracles is the only thing that got us there and back again, which anyone who’s ever approached Italian government offices with a deadline can confirm. We’re starting 2012 with little certainty but with enough hope and possibility to make up for it fifty times over, and each time the choke chain has started to tighten this week, I’ve relaxed back into the glow of this—answered prayer, extra pixie dust included.

Disney World collage

19Dec

Perugian Cheese Bread: An Adopted Holiday Tradition

Raising children in a foreign culture presents some unique challenges. Since moving to Italy four years ago, we’ve had to learn through trial and lots of error how to do things as simple as filling out permission slips and as complex as getting internationally recognized birth certificates. As much as I’d like to glide through the expat process gracefully, I’m building a nice collection of embarrassing stories along the way. This life we’ve chosen isn’t easy, but it is rewarding, and I’m thrilled that my girls are growing up with a unique blend of American and Italian traditions.

[Continue reading over at Some the Wiser!]

23Aug

Unknown v. 2.0

August 3rd slipped by this year without a hint of fanfare (unless you count a dirty house as a celebratory tradition); it was a normal Wednesday in a normal workweek in a normal summer, and it completely slipped my mind that this normal was once the sheer unknown gaping underneath.

Four years ago, we packed our lives into a motley assortment of boxes and tracked a thing with feathers across the Atlantic. Through miracle and determination, Dan had found a job here that fit his abilities perfectly, and the opportunity to finally, finally take on our dream was marvel and terror at once. Some nights, we danced in a buzz of ideas, lit from the inside out with the champagne-glow of adventure. Other nights, we lay creased in thought, my hand resting on the precious variable in my womb as the whens and hows circled like vultures overhead.

There was no gingerly edging off the beaten path, no feeling out each new step from the safety of solid ground, no road signs assuring prosperity in 4,500 miles. All we had was the blank expanse of possibility and the faith to leap, spurred on by knowing our options boiled down to courage or regret. We took the leap, and on August 3rd, 2007, we landed on Italian soil to begin forging our new normal. In the four years since, we’ve settled into the comfort of friendships and routine, language becoming ever less of a barrier and the Italian culture sinking ever deeper into our bones. It’s more than we could have hoped for when we boarded the jet back in Philadelphia…

…which makes this new drop-off all the more dizzying.

Dan has turned in his job resignation. It was necessary for a variety of reasons, and it was time, but oh. We’re here again with the buzzing ideas and circling questions, minus one occupied womb and plus one meticulously written business plan, and while there are possibilities that make our heads spin with goodness, they’re still only possibilities. Our now-normal has a windblown pang to it. I keep taking mental inventory against my better judgment and trying to work out which facets of our life—home? church? friends? money?—will still be in place come Christmas. My heart balks as the calendar pulls us forward.

Never mind that we wouldn’t be here in the first place without that leap off the edge of reason; I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want that momentary weightlessness above the dark pit of my imaginings. I don’t want to have to rely so completely on a divine intention I still have difficulty trusting (and sometimes believing at all). I just want someone who can peek into the future and put a stamp of guarantee on our steps before we plunge into them. I would like the risk eliminated altogether, thankyouverymuch.

But if I’m honest with myself, it’s only the narrowest bit of my mind that’s clinging to the notion of safety. The broader scope of who I am recognizes that ours, like any good story in the making, runs on the cogs of adventure. These tenuous days swinging between doubt and hope are paragraph spaces in an unfolding work of art that teaches us to live as protagonists rather than as background filler, and the process is nothing short of exhilarating.

It seems clear that August 3rd has served its time as a memorial to our story and is now ready to pass on the honor to a new date, a new landing—whenever and however it may be.

13Aug

Law-Abiding Weekenders

Just because it’s Saturday

and because our week fancied itself a trampolinist

and because sunlight is dripping jewel-toned off every leaf

and because scrambled eggs are best eaten outdoors

and because Monday is Ferragosto

so we are pretty much bound by law to do so,

we’re gallivanting off for the weekend to do this:

 Daddy and Natalie brave the pond first

Catch ya on the flip side.

31Mar

Catnip

I’ve written before about how my childhood springtimes in Texas failed to coax any drop of sentimentality out of me. In fact, I couldn’t understand why so many people went into raptures around the end of March. Our primary spring imports were mud and allergies, and the weather’s slow slide from warm to really warm hardly seemed worth rhapsodizing. (It’s entirely possible, of course, that I could have put more effort into noticing the seasonal beauty, but I was always loyal to autumn with its crackling leaf piles and nutty breezes.)

Here in Italy, however, this time of year is like personalized catnip. Only a flimsy fondness for decorum keeps me from rolling around in every patch of wild daisies I see, paws flying and propriety punch-drunk on sunshine. Not only have I stopped minding when others wax poetic about spring, I’ve started my own list of celebratory ballad topics:

  • The sight of freshly washed socks tiptoeing on the line rather than slung over radiators to steam dry. (If any of you knows Journey’s song-writing team, you’re welcome to direct them here.)
  • The scent of my favorite lemon perfume laced with memories of Sorrento and excitement over this Easter’s camping trip.
  • The texture of damp earth, the elemental weight of seeds between finger and thumb, and the whisper-touch of newborn plants.
  • The sound of the girls’ laughter spirited away by the open air, waltzing in windows and back out to whirl under their footsteps.
  • The flavor of 2011’s first strawberries, sorbet for dessert, and cherry blossoms dished up on periwinkle breeze.

Plum blossoms in the backyard

What about you? Does anything about this time of year stir you into a feline frenzy and/or inspire you to poeticize socks?

15Feb

American Pi–Cookies

The girls’ school has asked me to come in tomorrow morning and talk about where I’m from. Any details beyond this were vague, and I suspect it’s just a ploy by the teachers to get some homemade chocolate chip cookies. Fortunately for them, it’s working. Unfortunately for me, I have no idea what I’m going to say.

The United States really aren’t all that different from Italy. Americans drive on the same side of the road, eat with the same utensils, and wear the same clothing styles as Italians (with the possible exception of the tubithongotard which needs to die a swift death anyway). We speak a different language, but mandatory English classes start in preschool here, and the girls’ classmates sang a forty-two chorus version of “We Are the World” for their Christmas play; neither the English language nor Michael Jackson is new territory for them.

I’m oversimplifying, of course. There are plenty of cultural nuances to take into account—the ways people relate to each other, to food, to sports—the ways politics are run or rigged—the ways humor is understood—but I doubt a roomful of three-to-five-year-olds would appreciate a lecture on sarcasm vs. slapstick.

My leading idea at the moment is to walk in wearing a cowboy hat, say “Poop!”, wait for the riotous laughter to subside, and lead everyone in forty-three choruses of “We Are the World” while passing out cookies. I’d be an instant hit with the kids, but I’m not sure the teachers would be amused (different understanding of humor and all). Anyone have a suggestion not involving fashion lamentations, scatological humor, or bribery by cookies? Because I’ve totally got those covered.

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