The Watered-Down Italian

italian heartOne can’t be Italian everywhere. I hadn’t realized this until it came out of my mouth as a disclaimer for my fire-y personality.

At an after-work gathering, I let my hair down and began to tell animated stories, sans censorship with plenty of wild gesticulations. I was rewarded with a circle of wide eyes, dropped jaws, and robust laughter. The collective response was one of surprise. ‘We had no idea about you,’ they remarked, and I hoped it was well-intentioned.

Being raised in a purebred family in a homogeneous environment, I was steeped in Italian culture. It was a generation during which travel or relocation outside of a 20-mile radius was unheard of. When I grew up and married a non-Italian, or ‘mutt,’ as he is affectionately referred to, it was a bit of shock to the system.

My first dinner with husband’s family in their dimly lit dining room with china place settings and soft music was a stark contrast to my own house with bright lights and multiple concurrent conversations. I distinctly recall the indigestion I suffered as a result of the undivided attention I received when speaking. Why did everyone stare at me? Attention felt like scrutiny, not respect. Thus we blended cultures, and to this day, struggle with our opposing communication styles.

Growing up Italian was a gift I took for granted. There is sense of security when one is enfolded in an expansive culture. Absent is the pressure to be anything other than oneself. Unlike some of my classmates who struggled to identify with a certain group during heritage week, I knew exactly who I was and where I came from. There was no ambiguity in my ancestry.

But as I aged and became self-conscious, the dilemma of trying to be acceptable in the world took over. I surrendered some of my passion in the name of political correctness. I tried not to scare people with opinions that had always flowed freely and without inhibition. I cut and pasted myself like a paper doll in order to ready myself for the world.

The arrival of children renewed my desire for cultural connection. I wanted to pass on the sense of security that comes from inclusion in a like-minded group. It hasn’t always been easy in a modern and blended family. My kids are watered-down Italians who, gasp, refuse to make homemade pasta with me. But they are proud of it none-the-less and eat it with enthusiasm.

We all look forward to our annual family reunion. It’s a time and place where Italians can be fully Italian and those that aren’t, (we call them wannabes), do their best to survive the level of intensity that radiates from a very passionate people.

I love my blended country in which cultural dividing lines are blurred enough to allow for inter-racial marriage. We combine the best and worst of many worlds and end up with a whole new set of people who are, hopefully, a little less exclusive and prejudiced. But I also love that I have a pedigree – even if it gets me into trouble once in a while.

Advice for the Graduate

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

Dear Graduate,

On this occasion we hear a lot, maybe too much, about perseverance and accomplishment.  We endure cliche speeches about blank slates and new horizons.  None of it is untrue.  This is the perfect time to turn regrets into opportunities as you start afresh.

I hope you will use this time to SEE your life, not judge it. Resist the urge to reflect on how you could have been or should have been different. You have always been perfectly you. There are no mistakes. You may want to do things differently in the future and that’s okay. But let the reason be because you love who you’ve become and what you’ve learned – not because you dislike who you used to be.

Be proud if you’ve succeeded in the classroom or on the field.  But be more proud if you’ve walked a path of integrity.  Have you been a good friend?  An honest worker?  A helper?  If you haven’t met with success in these ways, make this your new goal – to be a quality person in the world.  Of all the things you’ve learned over many years, this is the most important.  The world doesn’t care what you do – it has a job for everyone.  But it does need you to bring the best you’ve got.

Value what you’ve been taught but give yourself permission to unlearn.  Loosen your grip on core standards and cookie-cutter expectations.  Embrace the freedom of greeting each new experience with an open mind and a generous heart.

Graduation is magnanimous but it is not the last ending nor the last beginning.  You are an ever-evolving being in an every-changing world.  Stay present.  Let go.  Savor each moment lest you miss your life.

Graduate, you have finished a chapter of your life.  It was a big one.  Remember that it was only part of your story.  May your history inform your future only to the extent that it lends perspective on your choices.

I wish you success by your own measure; joy that cannot contain itself; and love that bursts forth from within you, reflecting in everything and everyone that surrounds you.

Mother’s Day-cation

I am alone at the lake on Mother’s Day weekend. It’s supposed to feel good to be away, rejuvenating. And it does – sort of. I’ve escaped the mayhem of a spring weekend full of sports events, social obligations and chores. Who could complain?

Peach felt personally wounded that her mother would want to be away from her on Mother’s Day. I assured her that I did want to be with her – for the part when I come home to a clean house and a cooked dinner. But that it was also important for me to remove myself from motherhood for a moment so I could get a good look at it.

So here I sit, at a house that once upon a time, bubbled with the activity of a young family. Little voices squealed at the break of dawn, begging to go swimming. Bigger voices chased them around, lit campfires, and made nature bracelets to pass the time. They would roast smores together and give sticky hugs and kisses. They would kayak and count stars, play cards and hike mountains.

Those days are gone. My babies are growing up and our time as a family is coming to an end. It sounds melodramatic but it’s true. Five in one room is a thing of the past. I’m trying to pretend I’m not sad; trying to avoid that cliche about it going so fast. But hot damn, it flew by and I’m gutted that it’s almost over.

I know I won’t stop being a mother when the kids leave the house. And yes, I’m grateful that they’re reaching their expected milestones. So I try my hardest to avoid silly tears. But when I stumble upon a forgotten baby monitor while Spring cleaning our lonely vacation house, I bust open. I couldn’t bring myself to move the toys that I found under the bed. I remember buying them for my 2 year old.

IMG_3972

When I was a stay-at-home mother, I made a promise to myself to maintain an identity. I feared the thought of becoming one of ‘those’ mothers whose lives were so entwined in their children’s lives that they fell apart when they were no longer needed. Unachieved goal, that one. No matter how much I’ve accomplished outside of mothering, nothing matters more to me than loving and caring for my little people.

Sometimes, I actually wish I didn’t love them so much. Because it hurts to let go. This is the dichotomy I’m stuck in.

Celebrating the milestones while mourning the foregone moments.
Dreading the work yet embracing the job.
Wanting my children close to me but craving peace and quiet.

It’s tearing me apart, this motherhood thing. And yet, it’s the very thing that makes me whole.
I can’t know if I’ve made the most of mothering. But mothering has definitely made the most of me.

The Cheating Scandal

confirmationI may be going to hell.

Before I divulge the reason, I wish to make a statement on my own behalf. The following is an account of an isolated incident which has no bearing on my core standards as a parent.

Beagle missed the appointed Religious Education class during which he was meant to take an exam in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. So he had a make-up exam on his own time, in a private room, in which I joined him due to lack of waiting space.

Prior to the test date, I tried in vain to get Beagle to study. In a show of teenage defiance he staunchly refused. So of course he didn’t know the material. Beagle is a good student, unaccustomed to, and uncomfortable with, failing. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his leg started tapping nervously.

In my hand was the study guide that had been provided. It asked for lists: 10 commandments, 5 precepts, 7 sacraments….on and on. As I looked over the questions, I realized that I, a lifelong Catholic with a parochial school education, would struggle with this test. On the spot I made a radical decision to slip the answers to Beagle.

Pause for gasps and harsh judgment.

Did she just admit to helping her son cheat on a religious exam?!

Indeed I did.

Husband and I decided long ago that we would raise well-informed, well-rounded little people. This included a plan to study and practice religion within the parameters of our faith. We also agreed that it is foolhardy to expect them to embrace it any more than they embrace quadratic equations. Both are full of unknown variables and require a level of understanding that taxes the brain.

Beagle has been struggling in his faith. He likes to provoke me by claiming atheism.

“How can you quit on God when you’ve barely met Him?” I ask.

Despite his resistance, Beagle decided to go through with Confirmation. He took the name of St. Thomas because Thomas was a doubter, too.

The bishop started his homily with words of encouragement to all the parents, grandparents and godparents in attendance. He said, “You will not be judged by your child’s adherence – (or lack thereof) – to his faith…..You have done what you could. Now it’s up to him.”

I could be wrong, but I think the bishop looked directly at me and bestowed an absolution for my collusion in the cheating scandal.

When all was said and done, I quizzed Beagle. I needed one last attempt to affirm that he had learned something about religion in the past 16 years. “Just tell me, in your own words, what the Church wants you to know about being a good person.”

Beagle replied, “Don’t diss your parents. Don’t smack talk your neighbor. Don’t cheat on your wife or your god if you have one. Don’t kill, steal or do other things you know are wrong. And go to church every once in a while.”

I think he got the gist of it.

The Trouble With Teens

dishesSome days I want to be done parenting. I want to clock out – not just for the night, but forever. Deep down, beyond the drudgery, I know I don’t mean this. But when the well is dry like it is tonight, I can’t fathom where I will scrape up the energy to do it again tomorrow.

Husband saw that my mothering light was extinguished sometime between a power struggle over chores and a monotonous round of shuttling thankless teens to their activities. He took over with a threat, “No ride to the gym unless those dishes are washed!” Beagle didn’t budge.

“Did you hear me?” Husband said with a more aggressive tone, trying to penetrate the Beats headphones.

With a much-too-casual attitude Beagle replied, “You weren’t serious.”

This lit Husband’s fire and he exploded on a teen who very brazenly called his bluff. I wisely left the scene in anticipation of escalating emotion – I didn’t need to be in the vicinity to hear the fallout. And I thought it best to avoid bearing witness to a potential crime.

After a dramatic round of shouting and banging of pots and pans, Husband emerged victorious with his chest puffed up a bit, patting himself on the back for showing teen son who’s boss.

A male friend commented that he was glad he never had a son because he knows that he would butt heads with a boy in a much more destructive way than with his daughter. It would be physical and loud and ugly, he postulated – just like between me and my dad. And I would win, just like my dad did.

Really? Did Dad win? Did you love your father?

No.

Did you respect him?

No. I feared him.

Did you resent him?

Absolutely. And it made me rebel even more.

Case in point. There is no winner in war. Even if both sides agree on a victor of the battle, the silent war wages on. Grudge matches ensue; both sides unwilling to declare ultimate defeat.

The trouble with teens is that they excel in the art of power struggle. One would think that a parent would too. After all, parents are just teens of yore with more experience. But we are worn out and the game is old. Teens, on the other hand, seem to have a bottomless supply of energy for sparring. It emanates from a gland that no longer serves the parent.

I hated to ruin Husband’s victory dance in the kitchen, but he needed to know the truth. Teen son had washed the dishes as commanded to do, yes. But instead of using a sponge, he had washed them with the scrub brush that is used to clean the floor.  Zing.

Sixteen

16If you weren’t a sixteen year old boy and embarrassed by me, your uncool mother, I would dance in the car like I used to and you’d join me.  We’d purposely embarrass ourselves and laugh at the reaction of others.

If you weren’t sixteen you wouldn’t hide in your bedroom.  You’d seek me out to share stories and jokes and music with me – like old times.

If you weren’t sixteen I’d compliment you and you’d believe me.  You’d hug me and not get antsy when I say ‘I love you.’

If you weren’t sixteen you’d admit that you get scared sometimes and would look to me for comfort.  You’d ask my opinion and not have to pretend that my words of wisdom mean nothing.

If you weren’t sixteen, you wouldn’t wear a perma-scowl to appear less sensitive than you are.  You’d allow yourself to feel.

But you are sixteen, like I once was.  I know what’s underneath that tough exterior of yours – the same generous heart, humorous spirit, and killer personality that I fell in love with so many years ago.  When you’re not sixteen anymore, these hidden gems will resurface.  People will marvel at the man you’ve become.  “Who knew?” they’ll remark.  A knowing smile will cross my lips, betraying my secret.  “I knew.” I will say.  A mother always knows.

 

City Girl in the Country – With A New Puppy

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have a dog.  My parents had a variety of practical reasons, but none, in my young opinion, was convincing enough to justify an outright denial of this most basic childhood desire.

They did try to appease my strong proclivity for pets with a menagerie of city-friendly rodents, birds, and fish, including some very cool homing pigeons and a brief stint with a live turkey that was walked on a leash.  But my dog-desire never waned.

Before the ink dried on the P&S of my first home, I contacted a breeder who would fulfill my long-awaited dream of owning a dog.  The rest is history, as they say.  I haven’t been dog-less since.

Enter my newest friend, Ivy.

Ivy

Regular readers will recall that convincing Husband to step back into dog ownership after the loss of a previous one takes work.  He is understandably nervous about the responsibility and commitment involved – especially for a puppy.  But with four relentless voices in the house and a coup by some fellow dog-loving friends, Husband caved to the cutest Christmas present ever!

We arrived at the shelter as the doors opened, hoping for first dibs.  We narrowly succeeded.  As we stooped to greet our would-be pup, another interested party arrived and scooped her up, claiming “This is the one.”  Principessa jumped up from her seat on the floor with a sound that can only be described as a primal growl.  Her posture was so aggressive, her demeanor so intimidating, that for a moment, even I was afraid of her.  After several agonizing seconds of this stare-down, the woman conceded and set the pup down at a safe distance from my 17-year old daughter-turned-werewolf.

It was love at first sight…and bite.  Ivy is a nippy little thing at 10 weeks old.  She’s receiving an obscene amount of love, attention and training at the hands of five adoring fans.

We are, perhaps, a bit too alarmist in light of the sudden and tragic loss of our previous dog.  When husband spotted a tick on Ivy’s fur and mistakenly said ‘flea,’ the scene erupted like a ‘code 2319’ in Monsters Inc. when George had to be decontaminated because he had a sock stuck to his back.

Then we had the ‘bloody toenail’ that turned out to be a piece of candy cane.  And the undue panic over a pile of dog vomit.  What can I say?  We love her and want to protect her.  Any mother will attest to the very real and imagined dangers that lurk in the shadows of her mind, waiting to pounce on her baby when she lets her guard down.

This is exactly what happened when two neighboring Labradors broke loose and crossed the street.  In a split second, Ivy was scooped into the mouth of the bigger one and tossed into the air.  It was a frantic scene of paws and leashes, arms and legs, trying to separate the dogs.  Despite the worrisome howling and shaking, Ivy recovered without any wounds.  It will take her humans a bit longer to heal.

For better or for worse, Ivy is ours, and we couldn’t be happier.   Already, in one short week, she has wiggled her way into our hearts and filled our home with joy.  As dogs do, she gives far more than she takes, proving once again that the journey of life is sweeter when traveled with a dog.

picstitch

I Want A Refund

Dear Warranty Department of the Universe,

I am contacting you to resolve the matter of a broken body.  My parents purchased this body for me as a gift many years ago.  I understand that there is a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship.  Well, this body doesn’t work right.  It has reactive airways and skin, a broken heating element, and faulty pain control.  When I use my body, it hurts.  These problems appear to be escalating.

I’ve invested a lot of time and money on upkeep and repairs for what I thought was supposed to be a quality product. I use premium fuel and I regularly bring it in for maintenance.  But it still doesn’t work as it should.  Had I known the troubles this body would generate, I would have contacted you sooner about your return policy.

I’m hoping that as a reputable manufacturer you will stand by your product and offer to fix this body once and for all as I have not gotten the use out of it that I thought I would.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely yours,

An unsatisfied human

……………………………………………………..

 

Dear unsatisfied human,

I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with your body.  I can assure you that we, the Universe, do stand by our products.  We take pride in our wide variety of designs and exceptional quality of workmanship.

While you are correct that we offer a lifetime warranty, this applies only to defects in design. I see that the model that was purchased for you was our Basic Female version in white.  This model did not include the pain-free, blemish-free, odor-free, illness-free package.  That package was,unfortunately, a limited edition, cost-prohibitive extra, and has since been discontinued as it repeatedly failed to meet approval of our Quality Control Department.

I wish that I could offer you an exchange for a similar product, but it is our policy and practice to never duplicate a sale.  Our fine print states that The Universe, LLC cannot assume obligation or liability for consequential damages sustained in connection with either proper or improper use of our products.

Perhaps you’d be interested in our extended warranty program. It covers hair color, chin waxing, corrective lenses, protective undergarments and walking aids.  And we are currently running a promotion:  Buy a subscription for massages, chiropractic care, supplements, and doctor’s appointments for the remainder of the lifetime of your body and you will receive at least one day of pain relief.

Rest assured, Ms. Unsatisfied Human, that we, the Universe do value you as a customer and hope that you enjoy your body.  We appreciate your feedback and look forward to working with you in the coming years.

Sincerely,

The Universe

Senior Year Stress – Not Just For Seniors

keep calm senior yearThere were multiple texts followed by a frantic phone call alerting me that the car keys were lost and Principessa needed to get to an appointment. I was expected to avert this crisis from work.

“Retrace your steps,” I advise.

“I DID!” Principessa screams.

I excuse myself from the drama and hang up the phone which allows me just enough thinking space to conjure the location of the keys from 20 miles away. Order and peace are restored.

This year promises to be rife with stress. Senior year of High School begets unprecedented tension.  College visits and applications consume us.  Marketing flyers from Universities threaten to take over our mailbox.  And senior ceremonies swallow our calendar, already.

One would think I’d be too busy to feel what’s happening. But sentimentalism strikes frequently and I am prone to waterworks of late.  Hence the trip to BJs for a bulk-pack of tissues.  There will be no shortage of mind-blowing moments this year.  I’m going to need the crying to empty me because I can’t possibly carry this level of emotion all year without releasing it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the porch lights have been left on all night by Principessa, AGAIN. The electricity policeman, AKA husband, is on a tear.  This scenario has become a ‘thing’ between them.   On occasion, I jump out of bed early to shut off the lights, hoping to stave off the inevitable scene.  This morning I miss my chance and husband airs his grievance to me.

“Stop,” I plead. I don’t want to hear it.  This cycle has a definite end.  Next year, when Principessa is at college, the light will not be on in the morning.  In fact, it won’t be left on when we go to bed because she won’t be coming home!

I will pause as I pass the front window, noticing without quite knowing what it is, that something is not right. A subtle feeling of emptiness and longing will creep in as I gaze at the darkness outside.  I will crawl into bed with a nagging pang in my heart and pray that wherever Prinicpessa is, she’ll get in safely.

I may notice that the place where Prinicpessa’s shoes would be dropped will be clear. And there will be no piled-up laundry to aggravate me.  I will miss the very things that presently annoy me.  Their absence will be a constant reminder that my nest is short one bird.  Cue the waterworks and the silent scream.

When I allow myself to travel down the no-good path of resistance to life, I struggle for air. It is difficult transitions like this that make the decision to be a parent seem downright reckless.  How could I have agreed to subject myself to the inherent risk of such immense love?  And to the pain of letting go?

It’s easy to forget that life is happening exactly as it should. Principessa is a gift that never belonged to me – one that I helped to ready for the world. Her time has come.  I cannot begrudge the beauty of that.

Halfway – Reflections From a Birthday Girl

twin peaks with flagI’ve reached an imagined halfway point – halfway between birth and death.  Research tells me that barring fatal accident or illness I could live to 90 years old, which sounds like a long time but it’s tricky to resist the ‘getting old’ mentality when wrinkles and joint aches pile up.

I’ve flirted with the idea of death and decline before, as have an increasing number of my middle-aged friends thanks to the ‘Big C’ and other cradle-robbing diagnoses.  What I’ve discovered is that if you marinate in fear of aging you’ll turn sour and ruin any chance of enjoying a delicious life.

I’m not the first philosopher to uncover the revelation that what matters is not how long one lives but rather how.  How have I lived? In themed decades, it seems.

In my teens I worried a lot. (About being popular and pretty and smart.)

In my twenties I dreamed a lot. (About success and family)

In my thirties I did a lot. (Bore children, cared for a house and a career.)

And in my forties, so far, I’ve learned a lot. About life.

Mainly I’ve learned that the older I get the less I know. In young adulthood I was so sure of everything.  The sky was blue, personal safety was my birthright and friends would be friends forever.  But maturity has a way of blending black and white certainty into a canvas of gray.  Losses and disappointments pile up alongside victories – twin peaks of the same mountain – and blur what once seemed so clear.  One day, maybe on a birthday, you stand atop the mountain and gaze across the horizon wondering, ‘what’s it all about and what happens now?’

In many ways I am at my peak.  I suspect I’ll spend some time here enjoying the view from the top. But I already feel the pull to begin my descent.  Life calls me to finish my journey in forward motion and not squander it with wishful thinking, refusing to budge from this sweet, sweet spot.

I know I won’t travel the same path down the mountain that I chose on the way up. I’ll bypass the gullies of naïveté and ambition and stop more frequently to cherish a loving gesture. I’ll be in less of a hurry to reach my destination and more willing to put aside my agenda in favor of lending a hand.  And I will love every step and misstep because it will remind me that I am still living.  Not just alive, but living.

In a sense I’ll be un-learning all the things that sustained me on the first half of my journey; gracefully (I hope) unraveling the knots of the rope that I climbed on the way up.  When all is said and done and I return to my starting point, I hope to look back with satisfaction knowing that no matter how many travel this way again, the mountain will never be climbed exactly as I climbed it.  No one can do or see or be exactly like me.  Each of us is unrepeatable.

 

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

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