Tag: Personality

3Nov

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

The amount of glitter covering our house right now is fearful and wonderful to behold. I’ve dusted purple sun-shards off the sofa cushions, rousted them from behind the television, and swept them into iridescent mountain ranges, but our house still channels a Disney diamond cave. I imagine we’ll still be catching jeweled glints from the floorboards six months from now, and the thought charms my whimsical side as much as it horrifies my inner June Cleaver.

If not for the glitter, you might not know that anything out of the ordinary happened at our house this week. Of course, that’s counting on your not noticing the tray of leftover caramel apples on the kitchen counter or the bags of crumpled giftwrap waiting to be recycled. You’d also have to mistake the heavy brocade of fatigue draped across my forehead for sleep deprival or sun damage instead of what it actually is: introversion, post-party.

We had twenty-six children in our living room on Wednesday—twenty-six(!) children(!) in witch capes and vampire teeth brandishing fistfuls of glitter and construction paper while their parents chatted in the wings. I hadn’t expected all twenty-six to accept Sophie’s 5th birthdoween invitation, and while my heart warmed at having so many of our neighbors and friends under one roof, my personality had to fight hard for stable footing.

This is the tricky thing about being a textbook introvert who strongly values relationships. I’m always searching for the balance between life-giving alone time and love-strengthening social time, but sometimes circumstances don’t measure out the magic proportions. Sometimes, say, I find myself standing behind a locked bedroom door with a freshly burnt finger, wet glue on my jeans, and the shouts of two dozen sugar-high kindergarteners bouncing off my eardrums while I try—as my friend Erika would say—not to lose my freaking shit.

And right there, in the chaotic dark, is where religion most often becomes real to me. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t mean the kind of religion that happens behind church doors or sanctioned by committees, but the kind that meets us on unexpected roads and whisper-nudges our hearts, the thrillingly unorthodox reality of God-with-us that I can only seem to glimpse through my peripheral vision.

That’s why I wanted to tell you about the party, about the moment I stood behind a locked door with drained batteries and flat-lining hospitality and whispered “Peace, peace, peace,” and about the following moment when I unlocked the door to a wave of noise and color and four-walled chaos and felt it. Reserve power tingled all the way to burned fingertips and overloaded eardrums, and a sense of calm spread like mood lighting through all the tapped-out corridors of my mind. Friends, I stepped out of that room directly into a pile of glitter, caught a toddler swinging from the bunk bed, smelled grilled cheese on the verge of charcoal, and was cornered by four miniature witches asking a total of thirty-two questions at once… and not an ounce of shit was lost.

~~~

I’ve never once in all my life understood clearly what we Jesus-followers mean by the word “grace.” In Sunday School as a child, I absorbed the idea of grace as undeserved divine kindness that I should forever be working to repay, a guilty obligation we owe to God. That understanding didn’t sit well with me, and I’ve gravitated toward more beautiful and hopeful definitions over the years. However, none of them quite explains the quality that I sense when I brush up against the divine—that electric pulse of all-made-right-ness which fills the depleted parts of my personality, underwrites my true self, and consistently bowls me over by how it sees worth and makes beauty and flips expectations on their heads for the sake of greater love. It’s not the kind of thing to be summed up neatly in Webster’s.

I want to understand this word better, to graze its contours with my palm and catch its molecular dance-beat, to track it into the wild and record strains of its native tongue. I know instinctively that grace—whatever and however it is—has everything to do with who I am today, so I’m going to be exploring this more here over the coming weeks. I have no agenda except to try and capture my own peripheral glimpses, whether they be of glitter in the floorboards or windswept lines of song, and I would love it if you joined me for this adventure. {You can get automatic updates by RSS or email, and I’m honored as always to hear your take in the comment section!}

  ~~~

What do you think? Does “grace” hold religious connotations for you, or do you have a different definition (or impression, or story, or empty question-space)?

18Sep

Schooled

Today marks one week back at school for the girls. Summer lasts long in Italy, and I can no longer contemplate freshly sharpened pencils in the same month when all our neighbors are headed to their beach homes, or apples for the teacher when we’re still in the syrupy peach haze of August. No, the backpacks come out of storage with the skinny jeans here, and this, my fifth back-to-school as an expat mother, is the first time I haven’t been afraid of it.

You have to understand that few personalities are less suited to the learningcoastercrazyspiral of expat life than mine. Two words: shy perfectionist. I’m easily intimidated by the challenge of opening my mouth in my own language, much less a foreign one, and I desperately want to do every last little particle of life right. Moving to a new culture where I am 100% guaranteed to make mistakes every time I a) step out my door, b) open my mouth, and c-z) try to pass myself off as a confident, capable adult who knows what the hell she’s doing in line at the post office has been an ongoing exercise in recovering from mortal embarrassment and pinning my worth on something other than social finesse. (Baked goods, perhaps?)

The girls’ back-to-school transition is particularly prone to trial and error because parents are expected to know through a combination of telepathy and strategic neighborhood networking who to register with, where to order books, how to stock up on supplies, which uniform is required, and what day and time of day school starts. I am inordinately grateful each year when we manage to show up before the bell and with a majority of the right supplies. This year, however, my gratefulness was due less to beating the telepathy game and more to having a great group of friends we can hit up for details. I didn’t have to worry that my child would end up the only second-grader without 5-millimeter graph paper or that my other child would be kicked out of kindergarten for lack of a sun hat. I really didn’t worry at all, which was a welcome departure from tradition.

This lack of anxiety was significant for another reason too, another kind of cultural divide overcome. See, I was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist Christian lifestyle based almost entirely on fear. First and foremost, we were afraid of God; he was demanding, judgmental, and vindictive, and he dangled the threat of hell above our heads like a sword hanging on the gossamer strand of his patience. We were so afraid of incurring his wrath that we accepted every passing religious do and don’t at face value and left critical thinking to those damned (literally) liberals.

We were almost equally afraid of “The World,” the term we used to describe any society or person who did not share our beliefs. The World was the government who collected taxes and redistributed them as welfare and failed to enforce our country’s founding values. The World was secular media, with its television programs and feature films and news bulletins all designed to glorify sin. Most of all, The World was public school, Satan’s greatest ploy for corrupting young hearts and minds. The only times I set foot in a public school as a child was when my parents went there to vote, and despite the empty classrooms and quiet halls, I was terrified that the godlessness of the place would seep into my pores like an airborne disease.

I’m a parent of school-aged daughters myself now, and I understand more than ever what my parents feared about sending me off to school. When I pass my girls into the waiting arms of their teachers, I relinquish a very large measure of control. I no longer act as filter and gatekeeper to my children’s minds, and yes, it is incredibly scary to imagine what ideas and mannerisms they could absorb away from home. My kneejerk reaction would be to protect, protect, protect, to turn our home into a bunker of parental-approved thinking and only let in whatever wafts of the outside world won’t disturb our family ecosystem.

I know from deeply personal experience, however, that mind control is a losing game for everyone involved. Discernment can’t grow in an environment where only one side of an issue is ever presented. Conflict resolution can’t be learned where conflict is never allowed. Grace can’t thrive in a relational or ideological vacuum, nor can compassion, courage, or humility. We were designed to live in a multifaceted world full of wonderfully unique people who hold diverse opinions, and I want my children to experience the horizon-expanding beauty of this design instead of hiding from it in fear.

Beyond the fact that I would be a terrible homeschool teacher (seriously, the worst), I don’t actually want to be the only adult my girls look up to or learn from. I don’t agree with everything that their teachers and Sunday School leaders and even relatives tell them, but those differences in opinion have a way of sparking great conversations with the girls, conversations we wouldn’t get to have if they were getting a single-minded stream of information from me. Besides, facts aren’t everything. The girls also get love from the “outsiders” in our lives, and part of the joy of their return to school this year was in their reunion with much-beloved teachers and classmates.

How could I be afraid of that, I ask?

First grade done

(I can’t.)

10May

How to Grocery Shop Like an ISTJ

When Dan and I met my junior year of university, we immediately decided against falling for each other. I had long ago determined that I could never marry an engineer, so the nerdalicious man leaving my apartment for an all-nighter in the biomechanics lab was automatically out. He had made a similar determination about psychologists, so the stack of behavior theory textbooks on my table did not exactly work in my favor. Did you know that? That I once majored in psychology? Not many people today would guess it, and I can understand why; the subjective science behind analyzing and treating minds suited me about as well as a Pancho Villa mustache (which, to be clear, suits no one). Here’s my motive for studying psychology in my own journal-scribbled words from 2002: “I want to travel the world and pen my thoughts and make as many relationships as this life allows.” And somehow I thought memorizing Jungian archetypes would be the way…? The week before Dan and I admitted we actually did rather like each other, I got my ass into the English program where it belonged.

Some of what I learned in the psychology program stuck with me though, and I remain especially fascinated by personality profiles. My own analytical mind revels in lists and organizational strategies, so cordoning the vast spectrum of humanity into categories helps me take our individual quirks in stride. For example, my Myers-Briggs personality type is ISTJ—introversion (I recharge by withdrawing), sensing (I’m detail-oriented), thinking (I tend to make logical rather than emotional decisions), and judgment (which sounds horrible and arrogant but basically means I just analyze the heck out of everything)—and while I get defensive over a few of its points (judgment!!), it really does explain a lot of how I tick. Even better, it means I’m not alone in the funny little mechanism of my brain… so this is for you other ISTJs out there, or for those with an ISTJ in your lives, or for those who would simply like to walk a mile in our over-thinking but psychologically validated shoes:

How to Grocery Shop Like an ISTJ

Step Pre-1: Plan a time to sit down and work on your grocery list. This shouldn’t be hard; just pick a time when you’ll be at 62-65% mental capacity with few people around and no other pressing responsibilities for the day. You may need to schedule an out-of-town trip to make this possible.

Step 1a: Jot down all the food you currently have in the house. Try to give exact amounts whenever applicable. (Don’t forget spices!)

Step 1b: Thumb through your grocery store’s current offers and write down any sale items that interest you. Calculate price per weight.

Step 1c: Open your budget spreadsheet and determine how much you will be spending on groceries this trip. It may help at this point to write down the names of everyone who will be attending each meal so that you can determine a price per capita.

Step 1d: Figure out your nutritional goals for the upcoming days. Do you need more protein? Has your diet been lacking the full color spectrum? Is it Vegan Week?

Step 2: With your lists, goals, and spreadsheets open in front of you, start researching recipes that make the best use of all the variables. Be prepared for this step to take a while, though it shouldn’t go much over 48 hours (unless, of course, you’re having company).

Step 3: Assign recipes to specific meals on specific days. Take probable expiration dates and refrigerator size into account. It wouldn’t hurt to check the weather report while you’re at it.

Step 4: You’re finally ready to write your grocery list! Don’t forget to note the desired quantity of each item and order the list according to your grocery store’s layout. Really have fun with this part!

Step 5: Schedule your grocery trip. You’ll want to make sure it’s soon after the store has restocked but not when it’s likely to be crowded. (If you’ve been diligently updating your chart of the delivery truck’s route, this will be a breeze.)

Step 6a: Estimate the number of reusable shopping bags to bring. This should only take some medium-level algebra.

Step 6b: Adjust wardrobe according to the climate and terrain of the store. Settle the sunglasses debate before you head out.

Step 6c: Shop! If you’ve done all previous steps correctly, it shouldn’t be too harrowing an experience, though you’ll want to maintain a certain amount of flexibility just in case, say, they’re out of your preferred brand of laxatives.

Step 7: You’ve just successfully bought groceries; give yourself permission to kick back and celebrate! (After putting everything away, obviously. Also allow time for pantry reorganization, power naps, and crossing the trip off of multiple to-do lists.) Just don’t party too long. After all, somebody’s got to start pre-making the dinner.

10Apr

Unplugged

We were supposed to have Wi-Fi. It was one of the two features I insisted on for last week’s vacation rental. Number one was a parking spot—every car deserves at least a fighting chance of surviving Naples intact—and number two was connection with the outside world. I know it’s healthy to unplug every once in a while, but I’ve learned a few things about myself and isolation over the years, and… well, let me just turn you over to the post I wrote last Monday. In light of the following seven Wi-Fi-less days, I’m titling it Irony.

~~~

Monday, April 02, 2012

Late-afternoon sunbeams sprawl through the open doorway and across my toes, painted a sugared lavender in honor of these first barefoot days. I’m starting to think, however, that I should have gone with orange. It’s everywhere in this Neapolitan villa—tangerine curtains, sunburst floors, goldfish prints swimming across mango walls—and I wish I were unabashed enough to do the same in our own home. This color, it’s the only invitation I need to waltz wholemindedly into Easter break.

Orange in Naples

In the absence of orange Neapolitan villas, I’m notoriously bad at vacation. This will come as no surprise to any of you, but it’s easier for me to leave my toothpaste than my productivity complex back at home. Even my usual blogging hiatus turns into a form of obligation, a must carpe every damn diem teethgrit no matter how far behind my self-awareness starts to lag. So this, lounging in tandem with the sunlight and letting my fingers stretch long on the keys, is my highest form of rebellion for the week.

Our vacation rental is nestled in a maze of farm roads on the slopes of Vesuvius, and from the living room sofa, I can see past the tips of lightly fuzzing peach trees and across the rooftops of Naples to where ships weave silver tracks in the bay. We’re high above clamor and hurry, time trilled away by birds flitting through a bower of wisteria blossoms just off the terrace. I never thought I could feel so completely relaxed in a city whose streets jolt the afterlife in and out of focus, but here I am. Purring.

 Room with a view

~~~

Oh yes, there is more to come. See you tomorrow, same time, same place?

P.S. – It’s crazy good to be back.

5Mar

Comeback

Over the weekend, a great galactic second hand shifted. The earth and sun paused to wink at each other just like they did one morning seven years ago,  and a not-so-little girl woke up to a sea of balloons.

I am tired, core tired. Between the grocery runs and party prep and Hello Kitty cake pops (making fondant is the culinary equivalent of a triathlon, I’ve discovered), keeping up with the old birthday traditions and latching onto new ones, ongoing dramas of who to invite and the tears of partied out guests and a parade of sugar-strewn days, this birthday business is a lot for one introvert mama to handle.

It’s such a good kind of tired though, this depletion from wholehearted love. I haven’t often had time for Natalie over the last year, so this weekend was a comeback of sorts—extravagant, unhurried hours poured entirely into celebrating her—and the gift of it was for us both.

7th birthday girl

Happy 7th, my girl.
Goodness, do I love you. 

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.)

16Feb

Introvert, Out

This is a Three Party Week.

To some of you, this will signify nothing beyond three individual chances to wear cute shoes and nosh on someone else’s potato chips while catching up with friends. If so, I am in awe of you. I probably wish I were you.

See, I fall into the category of people who started reaching for their security blankets at the words “Three Party Week.” I’m not exactly anti-social—one of my favorite things to do in the world is sit down for a heart-talk with close friends—but large group events have a way of swallowing my energy whole. The pleasantries, the social expectations, the whirl of activity, and the noise! noise! noise! noise! inevitably bring out the Grinchiest in me.

Take right now for example. I am sitting at my computer shooting reproachful glances at my own reflection because an entire morning of gold-plated writing time has resulted in… one Tweet. This is despite my getting up at 5:45 with motivation and a caramel cappuccino in my favor.  The reason I spent all morning staring at the wasteland formerly known as my brain is that I spent all afternoon and evening yesterday at an indoor play place with about 100,000,000,000 shrieking children and assorted moms and dads. The girls had more fun than their little hearts knew what to do with, and I was glad to be a part of the community there, but… oh. Oh oh. I explained to Dan afterward that I might be able to handle people using their vocal chords in front of me again come Sunday.

Objects may be louder

Warning: Children may be louder than they appear.

Unfortunately, silence isn’t an option as the girls and I are due at another party in… twenty-eight minutes. This party is being thrown for our entire neighborhood, and I know for a fact that the elementary school has been busy handcrafting noisemakers for the occasion. Based on previous track records, I’ll probably need to lie in bed with earplugs for the next month. That won’t  mess with my ability to socialize tomorrow’s party, will it?

Crap.

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