Tag: Personality



Autumn has taken over the evening shift for the last week, slipping into the dusk while I teach and then gusting the scent of dry leaves across my headlights as I steer home. The girls go back to school in three days. For better or worse, this summer has packed its bags, and oh I haven’t finished editing our photos from June, and oh my inbox is breathing Darth Vader-style down my neck, and oh there are so many fall courses to schedule and prepare, and details are beginning to riot, and the waves of time I glimpsed shimmering into distant horizons have evaporated, and it’s suddenly September, and how can it be September, and will the seasons ever, ever line up gently with the timeposts in my head?

Basta, as we say in Italian. Enough. Because as behind as I may feel at… well, basically everything, I really just want to sit down and tell you about our epic summer camping trip and pen a few letters and read myself hoarse with the girls, and I am sick of letting responsibility dictate my every breath.

I’ve been listening to a book which talks about letting small, bad things happen so we can achieve big, good goals. This particular wording has penetrated a part of my mind that endless priority evaluations haven’t been able to dent, perhaps because it acknowledges that focusing on what I want to do will create problems and that they will suck. This rather baleful assurance is the realistic coating which helps me to swallow the truth: that I need to start operating very differently than I do now.

I am both hard-wired and programmed to take responsibilities life-and-death seriously, which explains why it can take me days to pack for an overnight trip. I’m a good little automaton, following whatever marching orders my mind conjures and then worrying endlessly when I can’t keep up with them all (see: most of this blog to date). It will come as a surprise to no one that this does not improve our quality of life. When I look around the carefully labeled mess of my days, I see small, good things necessitating big, bad ones on repeat x infinity. For example, I get up in the morning and immediately start tackling to-dos rather than charging my batteries with some much-needed soul attention. I start dinner on time instead of committing a sudden burst of inspiration to paper. I help the girls clean up rather than play with their toys. I say yes to every job that comes my way and subsequently miss weeks of family evenings. I keep house instead of finishing my book, organize files instead of connecting with friends, and pile so much pressure on myself that I can no longer unwind at the end of each day. This is my routine, my parasitic pace, and how the hell can I stay so loyal to it?

The smug satisfaction of dutiful living does not equal joy.

So enough. Enough trying to find balance; no such thing exists. Enough putting those concerns which suck my soul dry at the top of my priority list. Enough sacrificing my “one wild and precious life” to feed a compulsive busyness disorder. Enough expecting perfection from anyone, including myself. Enough worrying what people will think about the way I choose to live (much, much easier said than done but probably the most liberating decision I could make). Enough grasping at work-beaten paths. Enough wallowing in the future and missing all the beauty in my here and now. Enough worry. Enough envy. Enough minutia. Enough needless stress. Basta.

What “basta” will look like in practical terms, I’m not quite sure yet… only that leaving a dirty kitchen to its own devices in order to unravel this post is a pretty good first step.



This firstborn daughter of mine has kept me on my toes from that moment in a London hostel when the nausea and the swelling finally began to register as meaningful. Somewhere between the first anniversary in Venice and the train ride through the Chunnel, I had lost track of dates, and when I discovered I was already six weeks into motherhood, I had to lie down. She was already pulling me along into a new universe of stretch marks and neonatologists and caring so fiercely for another person that I left the hospital one day after my C-section just so I could stroke her cheek through a maze of NICU tubes.

This firstborn daughter of mine has been the most gracious of guinea pigs to a mama caught unawares. She has blossomed despite parenting mistakes and loved me through my hardest times, times I desperately wish I could uproot from her history and replace with flowers and strawberries and the dark pink everything that makes her world go ‘round. She has taught me more about grace than I could ever learn from books, and she’s the one who reminded my atrophied feet how to dance.

This firstborn daughter of mine continually impresses me with her patience, her focus, her enthusiasm, and her inside/outside/radiating-from-every-pore kind of beauty… which makes phases like this latest one particularly mystifying. Over the last week, when faced with gentle but logical consequences (of which I’m a firm believer) for occasional misbehavior, she’s dissolved into a roiling sea of self-deprecation on the spot. “I’m a bad Natalie!” she sobs. “I can’t do anything right! I’m only bad, never good! Nobody will ever love me!” My protests to the contrary are dashed against unyielding angst. I find myself for the zillionth time having absolutely no idea how to navigate the hurdles of motherhood and worrying that my head will go on strike due to poor working conditions.

This firstborn daughter of mine is so much like me that I want to look away. There is something so agonizingly familiar behind her eyes that I can’t stop remembering how I spent so much of my own girlhood drowning in self-contempt. I too wanted to be good but believed myself incapable; I too felt in my core that I was fundamentally unlovable. I am absolutely dumbfounded, though, as to how Natalie picked up the same thoughts despite completely different parenting methods, completely different cultures, and completely different lifestyles. To my knowledge, no one has ever told Natalie that she is bad or worthless or incapable at anything. We have always drawn attention to the traits we love about her. I am bewildered, but there’s no time to brainstorm in a tempest.

This firstborn daughter of mine, her mirror-soul storming in my arms, is pulling me through old territory in a new light. I can’t tell her the things I used to hurl at myself in the dark—you’re hideous, you’re evil, you’re worthless—missiles targeted at my own insecurities with something like satisfaction. The only thing I know to do is to remind her of the truth, so I draw tear-rimmed eyes close and whisper it into the turmoil… and it finally begins to sound like truth when I admit that this firstborn daughter of mine isn’t the only little girl I’m comforting.

You are lovely, inside and out.
You are capable.
You are irreplaceable.
You are loved.
You are loved
You are loved.

You are loved


Indecision LIVE!

And now, for your intellectual betterment, a peek into my complex and highly rational decision-making process:

3:44p – As I put the girls down for their nap, my thoughts skip ahead to this evening when I’m scheduled to teach a one-on-one English course. My thoughts abruptly stop skipping and slump to the ground in passive aggressive gloom. For one thing, my special vacation-edition sinus infection rose from the grave only hours ago, scaring all forms of energy and intelligence into hiding. For another thing, I’ve worked every single evening this week and am progressing from the Denial stage of mother-guilt to the Weepy. Plus, my intuition is gently insistent about me needing a break.

3:45p – On the other hand, my brain chides, my paycheck this month could use a little fattening. It hardly makes sense to pinch pennies at the grocery store if I’m going to go around canceling work hours, and what if my student is really counting on this lesson? I can’t just avoid my job on a whim; freelancing doesn’t work if you’re not responsible enough to actually, you know, work.

3:46p – I fall back on the old standby:

Pros and Cons

3:49p – Things get a little heated:

Pros and Cons fighting

3:52p – I fall on the other old standby: rocking in a corner with my thumb in my mouth until the need for responsible decision-making magically disappears.

3:53p – It doesn’t.

3:54p – I contemplate checking myself in to a mental institution to get help for my blossoming schizophrenia… but mostly to avoid deciding anything about this evening.

3:55p – Crickets chirp unhelpfully.

3:56p – My student calls and cancels our lesson.

3:57p – I dust off my hands with the satisfaction of a competent, professional adult and the reward of yet another decision well made.



eHarmony Would So Not Approve This

He has his version of Irish music; I have mine.

He piles spicy peppers on his breakfast eggs; I once licked a jalapeño, The End.

He likes his beer as red as his beard was when we met; I’ll always reach for the pale ale (unless there’s a mojito on the table, in which case all bets are off).

He once spent a semester tutoring me in math so I could in turn teach it to my SAT students without crying; I once spent a semester tutoring him in English so he could pass an exam marry me.

He runs marathons for fun; I have a vastly different understanding of the word “fun.” (Of course, I would consider getting buried alive in a library fun, so maybe we can just agree to politely mock each other’s definitions ‘til death do us part.)

His 6’2” ≠ my 5’6”.

He relaxes after work by getting together with friends; I relax by getting as antisocial as possible.

He keeps his t-shirt collection in circulation year-round; I burrow under duvets in August.

He grew up speaking Venetian; I grew up speaking Christianese.

He appreciates a lively discussion; I would rather run a marathon while doing tongue trigonometry with habaneros than debate politics.

He prefers to work out our disagreements face to face in the honesty of the moment; I prefer to work them out with the solitude of my journal and the perspective of elapsed time.

As the saying goes, opposites attract.

During those warm Texas nights when we’d sneak away from campus to talk for hours, uninterrupted, until night turned to morning around us and our reputations began to register as lost causes, we saw only the shared wavelength of our thoughts. I still count our minds’ chemistry among the most precious gifts of my life. But eight years (and twenty-seven days, if you want to get all precise up in here) of marriage have given our differences their fair share of stage time, and I’m a little amazed that I ever thought of us as birds of a feather.

Of course, we have a few things in common now that we didn’t have back then. When we tiptoe into our little girls’ bedroom every night to rescue covers from a tangle of sleep-flung limbs, the smile we share on the way out is uniquely ours. The way our bodies interlock as we hug, molded to each other over eight years and twenty-seven days of babies and marathons and travels and sharing a bed, transcends any others’ touch.  Our joint account holds the memories of our first five homes together (plus the two that weren’t really ours), the course changes we’ve seen each other through, and the dreams that have grown up alongside of us.

We still hear each other through the noise of life, and I pray never to take our soul-compatibility for granted. But truth be told, I don’t think I would be writing this today if not for a partner who consistently introduces me to new experiences, keeps me social despite myself, pulls me out of hiding time and time again, and manages to surprise me every time I’m sure I’ve got him all figured out. I’d even venture to say, poor math skills notwithstanding, that he + I = just right.

(Plus, it turns out we do agree on one or two definitions of fun…)




Present Perfect

My head is full up to here. Lesson plans, present perfect study guides, proper British spellings, and would they translate it as cinema or theatre in the UK? Dust clusters, cheese baked onto forks, a weekend filling up fast. Blank pages staying blank, clock face a blur, heart applying whiteout with a heavy hand. Lists like a rolling sea and the tide coming in.

We leave to camp our way across Europe in just over a week, but the days are still picking up speed, and I’m bracing myself for the almighty impact of vacation… or rather, the night before vacation when we’re playing Trunk Tetris with the car and my eyes are only half open and I still have half the kitchen to pack. Being a detail person generally works well for me, but I do have a habit of drowning in my own practicality—especially, say, when we’re T-9 days from an epic camping trip with pretty close to nothing planned. We haven’t even figured out which country we’re going to spend the last week of it in. That would be more than enough to overwhelm my head if there were any space whatsoever left in it right now.

But seeing as there’s not, I can’t manage to work up a good panic, and truth be told, involuntary oblivion is kind of nice. I guess all that really matters is that four of us leave home together and come home together, even if I forget to pack the kitchen sink and/or we accidentally detour through remote Slovenia. (Come to think of it, that could be fun…)

I’m grateful for these spastic little glimpses into the brain clutter reminding me that yep, it’s pretty full in there, no room to worry about the future, and hey what do you know, we’re all surviving. What’s more, we’re all happy to be here right now, and I suspect that two weeks from now when the unknown is our new right now, we’ll still be glad to be living it. However, if there were room in my head for the kitchen sink, I wouldn’t complain. Just saying.


Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

I’ve written before about my sad history with the workplace. I have a deep aversion to authority figures—an unfortunate side-effect of being micromanaged from birth—and I have a habit of taking jobs that require far more of me than they give back. Case in [multiple] point[s]: I once spent days putting together a portfolio of carefully researched reports only to find out that the job for which I was applying was unpaid. I also spent a few years editing for a company that turned out to be a scam. My last teaching job in the States lost us money. It’s not the most impressive track record, and my experience-fueled sense of logic tells me I should avoid job offers like the Black Death.

In fact, my return to the working world this week started almost by accident. At some point last year, a friend with whom I had collaborated on an editing project (also unpaid; why do I do this to myself?) recommended I call up her former employer and ask if they needed any new English teachers or translators. However, considering that

  1. my friend hadn’t worked for the company since the ‘80s, and
  2. polite, people-pleasing American gals don’t just call up businesses hoping to be hired, and
  3. I wasn’t sure my immigration status would allow me to work,
  4. the details of which I didn’t feel like looking it up because
  5. I was hoping to write a novel with my oodles of spare time, and anyway,
  6. jobs and I don’t have the best history together, so
  7. I was very unlikely to get hired, and, even if they were to offer me a job,
  8. I didn’t particularly want one,

I chose not to call.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. A new company in town was looking for English teachers, and I started updating my CV just for kicks. As long as I was applying for a job, I figured I might as well try my friend’s suggestion too.  The new company wanted to hire me. My friend’s former employer did not. Yet my gut told me that something was off about the job offer I did receive. Maybe my instincts have grown hypersensitive over the years of poor career choices, or maybe anyone with a smidgen of common sense would know not to accept a position that came with stipulations for age and gender. (That, I believe, is a tactic generally known as illegal.) At any rate, I turned down the job. Aside from the residual people-pleaser guilt, it felt good.

What felt even better, though, was hearing again from my friend’s company—the one that hadn’t had any openings for me. Would I like to come in for an interview? Would I like to attend an informal office orientation? Would I like to meet the other employees? Would I like to start Monday? Surprisingly… yes!

The job seems perfect for this stage of my life. I am now a part-time English tutor with hours that will allow me to be home with the girls after school and even give a little TLC to that erstwhile novel. The staff is friendly, the office is five minutes from home, and I can wear jeans. (My soul rejoices in distressed denim.) After my past work experiences, I never would have thought I’d feel so honored to return to employeedom… but I guess the right job was just an accident waiting to happen.


Sweep Me Away

Something about today whispered spring cleaning. Never mind that winter just finished unpacking its bags or that the air is the approximate temperature of a slushie; my instincts demanded I open all the windows and invite the sunshine in to dust with me. (I wanted to write “sweep with me,” but that’s a double entendre in Italian, and now I’m worried that learning a second language has guaranteed my mind a permanent spot in the gutter. Italian vocabulary tends to be very… passionate.)  My energy levels are regrettably dependent on the weather, and I tend to slog through January with all the motivation of a boiled cabbage. Thank goodness the sun came out today; otherwise, our house guest tonight would have ended up sleeping on a pile of unsorted Christmas decorations.

Despite cohabitating for a whole 11 ½ days, 2011 and I haven’t really gotten acquainted yet. I know it uses a different brand of shampoo than 2010 did and takes less sugar in its coffee, but I haven’t figured out what makes it tick, how its hobbies and personality traits intersect, whether or not it is likely to be a good housemate in the end. I’m waiting until after my trip to get back into running and to pick up where I left off on Ye Olde Novel, so I guess that’s when I’ll schedule my heart-to-heart with the new year. We’ll likely survive until then. It puts its own socks in the laundry, and I don’t pry when it stumbles in at 3 a.m.; good enough for now.

So. How are you? Have you made any great discoveries yet this year? Do you have any new projects or goals that spark your enthusiasm? Any survival tactics for less sunny days—you know, in case I don’t manage to finish spot-cleaning behind the oven today? Any double entendres worth sharing?

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