Saturday, August 31, 2013

Welcomed Home

We've been on the ground in Denver for over two weeks now, and honestly, it feels like we never maybe Rome was some kind of gauzy, fading dream (nightmare? Perhaps at times) that fades a little more upon waking each morning.

We just left a baptism + party with about 50 of our closest friends, and it was such a perfect representation of everything we'd  missed about our old life: tons of friends, a plethora of pregnant bellies, fantastic microbrews, Cool Ranch Doritos, and a few priests and religious brothers wandering around in the mix, just for good measure. In short, it was a snapshot of our life and our community here, and now that we're back in the midst of it, I cannot seriously imagine every uprooting our family to leave again.
I'm never leaving the suburbs.
It feels odd saying so, but after almost 31 years, I think those mythical 'roots' referenced in an earlier post this week are finally starting to stretch and grow. I can't explain to any sane person why living in the suburbs and driving a mini van is somehow more exciting and more fulfilling than international travel...but it is. Or why Target is more stimulating than an ethnic farmer's market bustling with local produce and the resultant vermin drawn in by the promise of the absence of a public health code.

What can I say? I guess I've become domesticated in my old age.

I've also become very, very dependent upon daily doses of Chipotle to satisfy my cumin-starved palate, but my ever growing baby bump and our bank account are red flagging me that this might not be the best road to travel for the next 4 months. Also, I need to start working out again pronto, but I cannot bring myself to sign up for a gym membership when it's this gorgeous outside. Plus, it's now approximately a million dollars a month to rock a 24 membership with two kid club add ons. Thanks, but for $120 monthly, I'm choosing the weekly pedicure/magazine purchase option.

Any thoughts on the wisdom or stupidity of getting back into running at 6 months pregnant? It has been a good 8 months since I've run any substantial amount (read: more than .5 miles) and yes, I've put on a good 15 lbs of gravity-shifting midriff weight in that time...but still. My shoes are still in decent shape, and there are nice, flat, paved trails right outside our house. Would I be stupid to try? Will I have to wear Depends? Will I re-read this entry in November and cackle hysterically while lying prone on the couch in a post-turkey coma, watching the needle on the scale creep ever upward and knowing I can do nothing to change it?

Any pregnant runners out there? I ran for the first four months of Joey's pregnancy, but my back was shot by JP's, so I dwelt in the water and on the elliptical machine.

Hoping your holiday weekend is filled with processed meats, cold beers, and present husbands.

God bless America.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Motherhood in the Virtual Village

(Originally posted at Catholic Exchange, but fell off my radar during the great relocation event of the summer.)

When I was growing up, I didn’t envision myself as a stay-at-home mom. Sure, I had some vague notion that I would have children one day in the distant, hazy future. And that those children would need some kind of nurturing and supervision, but I must confess, I didn’t spend many afternoons playing house or tucking my dolls into bed, dreaming of raising my own sweet smelling babies one day.
Actually, I sort of dreaded the thought. I have an amazing mother. And she raised 7 kids, spending a lot of time flying solo while my dad commuted to a job nearly 50 miles away. They wanted us to be in a better school district, they could get more house for their money, et cetera et cetera. So they made sacrifices. My dad’s sacrifice was a two solid hours of commute time each day. And my mom’s? Solitude. And not the refreshing, contemplative kind.
When I think back on my younger years, when siblings were coming fast and furious and there seemed to be a constant flurry of activity and noise, I see my mom, doing everything. And not always loving it.
My grandmother died when my mom was 12, and she spent a good chunk of her teen years shepherding her own siblings through the minefield of motherlessness. But I think she probably missed her mom most when she became one herself, and, looking around for someone to turn to, found only a void.
I can relate to that. I’m a stay-at-home, work-from-home, call-it-what-you-will mom myself now. And it is lonely. Where I live, I’m the only mother on my entire city block who stays home with her young children. Granted, I’m one of the few mothers of young children in my part of town. And while it’s charming to see the smiles of my elderly neighbors when I wheel past them on the sidewalk or in the grocery store, there’s hardly a sense of camaraderie as they sit, sipping their cappuccinos while I wrestle two toddlers into the double stroller for yet another episode of ‘who’s going to urinate in public today?’
But I have a secret weapon that my mom never had: the internet.
And not just talking about my medical degree from Google, MD or the ability to summon a fresh episode of ‘Curious George’ when I desperately need 11 minutes to shower. Alone.
Those are perks, but they’re not the best part of the world wide web.
The thing I’m most grateful for is more intangible than that, and much more unexpected: it’s the relationships that dwell there.
My generation is a migratory one. My best friends and I are separated by thousands of miles and several time zones. Even when I make friends in my own little corner of the world, an increasingly global job market ensures that most of us don’t stay in one place for more than a handful of years. Maybe as we approach our mid-thirties, that trend will begin to slow and we’ll start growing those mythical ‘roots’ our  parents talk about from time to time. Or maybe we won’t.
But I have something my mother longed for, and couldn’t seem to find in our affluent commuter town filled with dual income households with few children: community.
It’s a lonely thing to spend one’s days changing diapers and wiping counters and filling little hearts and minds with knowledge. Eternally worthwhile and occasionally fulfilling, but lonely. And for many of us, it’s peerless. I don’t have any comrades in arms living in my apartment building or across the street, ready to swap battle stories or offer encouragement for when your three-year-old keeps biting strangers, or when it’s been another all-nighter with the teething baby and you just want someone to share a bleary-eyed cup of coffee with.
Sure, it might be over Skype. But it’s better than nothing.
It’s a lot better than nothing, actually. I’d venture so far to say it’s revolutionary, really. Because in spite of the physical isolation felt by too many modern moms, I know that at almost any time of day, I can log in and talk to my best friend in Virginia, my funniest fellow-blogger in St. Louis, or my sweet college roommate in Las Vegas. I can Skype to Naples or New Zealand and get advice from gals with boys the same age as mine, some of whom I’ve known for years, and some whom I’ve never ‘met’ except via the Web.
And that is amazing. Because with the click of a button, I can communicate with other women who share my worldview, who are striving for holiness with their families, who are unashamed of their choice to spend their time being ‘just’ a mom for now… and who long to connect with other women living this somewhat counter-cultural existence.
It’s not perfect, and it’s no substitute for honest-to-goodness face time with another human being. But it’s so much better than nothing. And some days, aside from prayer and God’s grace, what gets me through another day.
We were never meant to do this motherhood thing alone. It’s neither natural nor ideal, and I admire women who have formed physical communities of support and friendship with other moms. I aspire to have my own sort of ‘village’ one day too, God willing. But for now, while my children and my husband’s career are in their infancy, I still have to make it to the end of the day. And most days, that means going it alone.
Thankfully, there’s usually a blinking message in my inbox telling me I’m not, in fact, as alone as seems.

Friday, August 23, 2013

7 Quick Takes from the Burbs

1. Yes, they found our luggage, Fryes intact. The only real casualty was a $4 pottery barn votive holder that, being one of the 3 pieces of home decor that survived our transatlantic move on both ends, I was inappropriately attached to anyway. So, win/win.

2. I love the suburbs. I love living 10 minutes from 2 different Super Targets and 100 different varieties of ethnic and fast food. I know it smacks of American consumerism at its worst, blah blah blah...but you know what's worse than consumerism? Having zero choice in whether or not you will, in fact, be partaking in said consumption. Rachel Lucas, a fellow recent Italy-to-America ex-pat, put it far more eloquently than I ever could. And with more f-bombs. Fair warning. But America, you are good. Some people can't handle the good, take the good to excess, are consumed by the good...but that's not your fault. People are responsible for their own choices, and damn it feels good to have choices again.
3. A quick prayer for my handsome husband who is coming up on 34 big ones this weekend, and who is having a sort of scary but hopefully quickly resolved issue with his vision. We're seeing a specialist this afternoon which, again, makes me want to drop to my knees and kiss the sovereign soil we stand on because a specialized!self-motivated and employed!same day appointment! doctor. Amen, alleluia, let freedom ring.

4. Both boys are having verbal explosions this week, which I credit to the fine Rocky Mountain air, a regular sleep schedule, and a diet consisting of considerably more variety than yogurt and gluten free pasta. John Paul proudly and unexpectedly announced 'Happy Birthday, Daddy' from the back seat this morning, which is technically his first sentence. And yesterday Joey approached me with the offer of "A good coffee accommodation for you, Mommy." I'm going to go ahead and take full credit for raising that kid right.

5. I have gone Mackelmore on every single thrift store in the Denver metro area this past week, and I am now the undisputed queen of all things secondhand. I have scored a mint condition tan-with-espresso-accent-legs microfiber couch ($40), an IKEA kid's wooden table and chair ($8), a Pottery Barn wooden toy kitchen ($4.99), a Fisher Price balance bike with training wheels ($9), a Pottery Barn kid's rocking microfiber recliner ($9), a Target Threshold Collection 24'x48' gilded mirror (with tags on, $24), and an espresso colored leaning ladder bookcase from Pier 1 ($15). I'm literally on fire, I tell you. And our house looks amazing.

6. Daily Mass. I went once! And there were no stairs (or stares, really). And air conditioning! And aside from Joey repeatedly yelling 'Where's the tv?' and dropping every damn kneeler in our row with a resounding BANG during the Eucharistic prayer, it was amazing. Don't ask me why I couldn't make it to Daily Mass in Rome's too pathetic a tale. Let's just say I needed a mini-van, a sprawling suburban mega-church, and the promise of an easy exit down a handicapped ramp to lead me to the Lamb's Supper.

7. Date night! Tonight. Because I have a sister who lives 10 minutes away and weeeeeeeeeee! We haven't been on a date in 4 months. Any suggestions for a 6 month preggo high on American life and a potentially vision-impaired husband with hugely dilated pupils?

Linked to the finest in weekly roundups, Mrs. Fulwiler the Great.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Starbucks and Target and Walmart, Oh My...

Alive and oh-so-well in the Mile High City.
Unrelated image of a baby with a miniature pint glass. Can't decide which is cuter.
We don't have internet at the house (House! A house! With a yard! And a dryer!) yet, but I do have a very conveniently-located (and disappointingly caffeinated. Edge: Italy) Starbucks round the corner, and this is the first chance I've had to slip away and shout out to blog land.

The trip was largely uneventful, save for a leeeetle situation on the tail end where the airline lost our luggage. Like, all our luggage. Which, as it happens, was roughly all of our worldly possessions, if you will recall. So. I was a tad emotional at 1 am last Friday morning while trying to explain to the poor service rep at baggage claim that if I lost my Frye boots I would, in fact, be very destitute indeed, and could he vow to me that they would not be stolen and gleefully pranced about in by a nefarious TSA employee at Boston Logan? No? You can't promise me that? Well then I will cry. Pathetic, heaving sobs bred of hormones and the sheer exhaustion of a 26 hour journey with toddlers.

Also, if anyone is in the business of flying economy class with Aer Lingus, might I recommend you do your homework a bit regarding their 'bassinet' accommodations for the wee passengers? Our reserved 'baby crib' was a cardboard box which was ceremoniously crammed into the space between pulldown trays in our bulkhead row. And it was a dead ringer for the container you might bring Fido home from the vet in. Anyway, JP loved it. And didn't even soil the newspapers they'd lined it with.

Anyway, we're home. It's more glorious than I could ever, EVER have imagined, Dave loves his new job, and I have only been asked by a handful of strangers if I am aware of how busy I'm going to be and whether or not I'll be laboring in their presence shortly. Americans sure do have a way with the pregnant ladies...

In a fortuitous stroke of coincidence, Dean Martin is serenading me with 'That's Amore' from the Starbucks sound system at this very I'll take that as my cue to beat a hasty retreat back to my bambini.

Ciao for now!

p.s. This is 100% representative of the way I feel right now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

5 Favorites, With a Brogue

Coming at you live from one very comfortable hotel room in Dublin City center, where we opted for a 2 day layover to break up the transatlantic madness and soak in a little heritage, to boot. Linking up with Hallie because hey, there's free wifi.

1. Irish butter. Mmmm, mmmm good. Like so, so good and not gonna try to pretty this up...Joey ate 4 pats straight up at dinner last night. And we were like, hey, we're not judging you between bites of french onion soup drenched in Guinness something-or-other and one million ounces of sweet yellow gold. Olive oil was well and good, but holy mother of dairy products, Irish butter takes (and slathers and moistens) the cake.
2. The Guinness Factory tour. Did it. Poured a pint. Drank a pint. Watched surprisingly entertaining interactive videos of coopers making barrels, played in the mother of all sandboxes (a 20x20 box filled with barley) and convinced both boys the amazing glass elevators and waterfalls meant we were at a theme park. Only the theme was 'Mommy and Daddy are actually having a better time than you are.'
We came,
We poured,
We conquered.
World's most awesome sandbox. Minus the sand, plus barley.
Homeschooling. Nailed it.
3. Fish and Chips. Beef and Guinness Pie with Chips. Caesar salad...with Chips. What? I've been in a pasta desert. A wasteland of breads and grain-based carbohydrates. ALL THE POTATOES GET IN MY MOUTH.

4. Irish people: we're awesome! Seriously though, every 10 minutes we'll be walking down the street and Dave leans in to whisper "that girl looked just like your sister Tia" or "Now I see where you get your taste in architecture" and even "everyone here looks like they're related to you." I'm somewhere between 50-60% Irish, but my mom tends to overestimate the amount of shamrock in our shake. After being here less than 24 hours, I can honestly say there are few places I've ever felt more 'at home' in my life. The people do all look like my family members, and everyone does have fabulous pale skin and freckles and is a normal shape and size, etc. And the weather! Glorious cool and comfortable non-Mediteranean climate. Truly, this Isle and I were made for one another.
"Irish ponies are superior to Italian stallions."
5. An Anglo (and I mean this in the 'conquered and populated by Anglo Saxons' kind of way, not a weird racist way) approach to life is seriously refreshing after a season or three spent in a country designed and run by hyper sanguine, espresso-chugging drama kings and queens. As our Italian landlord put it oh-so-perfectly during our farewell meeting: "Never forget, Italy is a country with Scandinavian ambitions operating within a central-African infrastructure." Indeed.

And aside from that, a few man on the street observations about Northern vs. Southern Europeans, from my very professional and detailed study of two cultures, involving 9 months and 9 hours, respectively: Guess how many strangers have touched me today? Zero! Not even my big, tempting belly has had a single unsolicited grope. And the number of heated exchanges and/or physical altercations involving personal space issues/differing opinions on the safe distance to stop a moving vehicle in front of a loaded stroller? Also zero.

What the what? Seriously, my blood pressure is so low, I probably should have had a second Guinness to level things out.

Ireland, thanks for being my gateway drug back into the land of the free and the home of the brave. We'll be back, but next time, we're bringing a babysitter.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Finish Line

Today is my last day as a stay at home mom in Rome.

What that means on a practical level is that my beloved will be hanging up his press credentials for the last time come 6 pm tonight, packing it in after 6 good years of blood, sweat, and tears.

If I could take just a moment to showcase his hard work, I hope he'll forgive the public display of sentiment. But seriously, this guy? Solid gold. You wish he was on your staff, trust me.
Watching the newest Swiss Guards swear in. Definite perk of being a journalist's wife/son.
He helped to grow CNA from a 2-man operation working out of rented space in a diocesan building to a major contender in the global news game. They now boast a staff closer to 20 and have branches all over the world. So honey, if you're reading this: good on ya. You've helped to build something you can be proud of.

What this means on a less tangible but no-less-important (to me, anyway) level is this: when we move home next week, I won't be alone anymore.

If that sounds dramatic, well, apparently drama is my thing this week, so ... move along, nothing to see here.

But honestly. Only another mom with a frequently traveling or odd-working-hours hubby (I won't touch military wives, because you ladies are a different species of admirable and can do truly inhuman things for love of your hero) can relate here: being alone with toddlers all day can wear on a person. It can make you do crazy things, actually, like suddenly announcing at 2 pm on a blazing summer's day 'Let's go on an adventure, guys!' which may or may not result in a scene involving human excrement, the public transportation system, and a whole lot of regret.

I've been growing, stretching, trying, failing, and generally learning a whole lot about mothering during these past 8 months. For those of you who've been reading along and tolerating the tone and content here: thanks. For those of you who have been reading along and are scratching their heads and wondering who gave me children or why I can't just put a bird on it or count my lucky stars and shut up already...may I politely direct you to the other side of the blogging tracks. No need to slum it over here in my world if it's getting you down.

Sure, we've had some glamorous moments. This one, for example, which will be forever engraved on my heart (and on display in a particularly large and obnoxious photo exhibit in our front entryway):

Bottom right is mad jelly he's not getting Papa smooched right now.

Sorry you can't see Gorgeous Georg's face. Truly.
But then there are moments like these, where it's 2 pm and naptime has ended all too soon and guess what? There are no backup plans. You're the backup plan. There are no friends, no neighbors, no in-laws, and no grandmas around to save your sorry ass from a long, cold afternoon of failing hard.
I don't know, I guess he looks pretty content.
Those are probably the days where I've learned the most. Without my trusted circle of girlfriends, my handy drop-off child care center at the gym, without being able to even call my mom because she is 8 hours behind our time zone and oh yeah, our internet still hasn't been hooked up so I don't actually have a phone...those have been the hard days. And those have been most of the days here, I have to say.
Shhhhh, he thinks it's just one big 'adventure.'
What's the takeaway from this? I guess just that when pressed, we can all do really hard things. And I'm not saying this is the hardest thing in the world that anyone has ever faced, by no means am I saying that. I know how grateful I must be for my precious, healthy children, for Dave and my own health, for our happy marriage, for this unique opportunity to travel and to grow and to introduce our children to the very heart of the Church.

But I'd be a lying fiery-pants if I didn't admit this was the hardest thing I've ever done, or if I pretended that life has been pretty lately. It has been beautiful, yes. But not pretty. Lonely is rarely pretty. Frustrated and fed up is unseemly. Pregnant is definitely not least not on this body.

But it's real. And I'm sorry if it's too real sometimes. God knows I'm sorry it's actually happening at the time, though it's usually funny just a few hours later. And so I write about it. Because that's what I know how to do: write.

I think my biggest take-away from our time here will be an awareness of increased competence. I may not being doing it especially well, but I am doing it, nonetheless. And when the day is 2 hours old and there are still 11 more to go before relief in the form of D-a-d-d-y is due back...well, it won't kill me. Test me, yes. Cause me to question my vocational choice, occasionally. Make me really, really grateful that we have family to go home to, always.

I'll also live all my life long with a profound and abiding love for espresso. And travertine marble.

So Rome, thanks for the memories, the life lessons, the moments of blinding beauty, and the experiences of searing pain. I'll keep it all in my heart. And vomit it all over this blog. And if you occasionally want to click away to read something more edifying then maybe try here. Or if you're looking for conflict-free warm fuzzies, may I recommend here. Or perhaps it's just home decorating tips and ideas? I've gotten many a good idea here.

Arrividerci, amici. It's been real.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Urge to Purge

First, a quick aside on yesterday's semi-ranty 5 favorites: if you had a natural childbirth, I don't hate you. I actually think you're amazing, and I'm a little bit in awe of you. I just don't want to read stories about how 'all women were made to do this' and 'this is my one shot as a woman to unite my sufferings to the Cross of Christ.' It just isn't any good for me. And that's all I was saying.

My two bff's have pushed out half a dozen natural wonders between the two of them with nary a drip of narcotics to speak of...and I stand in awe. But having ridden in a couple of bucking backlabor rodeos myself, I can now confidently say that, unless a future child o' mine decides to debut in a moving vehicle, there is nothing that can stand between this woman and her spinal block. Nothing. And I've run 5 half marathons and had a cavity drilled without novocaine. So I guess there are just different kinds of pain that different bodies can handle.

Mmmkay, moving forward. We're packing. And last night while lying in bed awake awake awake until the heat finally broke close to midnight, Dave and I were discussing the logistics of next week's immigration flight and it occurred to us that schepping a double stroller, 8 suitcases, a hiking backpack, 3 carryon items and a computer bag through 4 airports is going to be really, really painful. And expensive.

My goal, then, is to pare our nomadic inventory down even further, and I'm happy to report that after a few hours generously gifted to me by Timmy the Sheep and Pimpa the stupid looking dog (Italian cartoons are the worst. The worst.) we're 2 entire suitcases of junk lighter.

I've successfully culled the boys' wardrobe down to about 20 pieces per child, which, honestly, still seems like a lot of clothes for two little people. That includes summer and winter wardrobe options, and one heavy jacket per kid. And like 3 pairs of shoes apiece. Yes, it will mean more frequent laundry, but such nice tidy little loads. I think I could conceivably launder their entire wardrobe in 2 washes now, which feels amazing.

I accidentally added 10 lbs of crucifixes, rosaries, and various religious kitsch to our chattel with my frantic shopping spree yesterday morning, so now I'm trying to justify having 4 separate icons of the Holy Family, and still hoping to score an authentic Fontanini nativity creche sometime this weekend. Because who lives in Italy and doesn't own a nativity set? It's practically a crime, I tell you.

Also on the chopping block after this morning's re-evaluation: picture frames, every single toy my children own except for 2 stuffed animals apiece, too-small shoes (sorry, little brother, if that's you in there) and various adult clothing items that made me pause longer than 3 seconds in considering their value.

I basically have 3 criteria for determining whether something stays or goes:

1. Do I love it/does it make me happy? A little subjective, yes, but what's more subjective than choosing an outfit in the morning? I find this works especially well with clothes, both for me and the kids. I might have tossed away a few pairs of perfectly good cords this morning from their stash...but I never dressed them in those pairs. And so even though they were a great brand/in decent shape/perfectly serviceable...they were just taking up space. Use it or lose it.

2. Can I easily replace this? This is especially helpful to me when I'm wavering between stay or go for some piece of something or other purchased from Target, etc. If it was cheap and easy to find in the first place, then why not let it go and pick another one up later, if it is truly missed? When packing for a move, I find it helpful to consider whether I'd buy the item in question a second time, which is essentially what you are doing when you're paying to ship or transport something you own. So IKEA picture frames, Target canvas storage bins, thrifted little boy's winter pants? Gone, gone, and gone.

3. Am I holding on to this for emotional reasons? I think this is more applicable for women who, unlike me, aren't heartless robots bent on world domination (thanks Jen for the alternate MB site recommendation), but I will still find myself hanging on to something simply for the memories it evokes, as I'm sure even Vladimir Putin does from time to time.

But in this semi-nomadic life we're leading right now, memories travel light and free, while filthy-yet-adorable Peter Rabbit pull toys do not. So, (sob) Peter, I'm afraid you'll find the Eternal City to be your appropriate final resting place.
Ours is just identical. Except for being encrusted with filth and disease and without a hint of plush left in his fur coat.
So there you have it. Packing for dummies who fear airport transfers and extra baggage fees.

Happiest of Thursdays mamas, be you natural birthing hippies, housekeeping queens, licensed interior decorators, or run of the mill slobs with the sheen of a week's worth of crappily-prepared meals glistening on the trays of your IKEA high chairs.

The internet is big enough for all of us, and I salute you.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

5 Favs

Is it only Wednesday?

This week is draaaaaging. Thankful for Hallie's hump-busting list making link up to break up the monotony of another full day at Camp AC.

1. This Meyers Briggs assessment, dug up by the Modern Mrs. Darcy. I'm an INTJ (what the what? I'm not sure I completely concur...), what are you?

2. Mary was right, Comandini is the bomb. You're one lucky new mom or blushing bride-to-be if you are a friend of mine, because I am loaded down with religious goodies galore. For like, the next decade.

Bought these on our most recent trip home, per Dwija's recommendation, and while they aren't the most attractive or stylish flips in the world, they aren't completely hideous. And I am happy to report that they are downright pleasant to pound pavement in.

Anyway, I figured now that I'm reverting back to full-on American troll it doesn't really matter what I wear in pubic anymore, so long as mah feet don't hurt. I draw the line at running shoes unless I'm running into the gym though. And it's a thick black line.

4. This piece by NCR's John Allen is fascinating. And I think, fairly accurate. I'm always so surprised when I read his stuff because it's so good and so balanced, and yet...he works at the National Catholic Distorter. Go figure.

5. Simcha's piece yesterday was kind of slap-yourself-obvious, but in a helpful way, because why on earth haven't I put some of those brilliant observations and self insights into practice?

I definitely have a handful of mom blogs I click over to occasionally but cannot subscribe to because, just as she described, they make me want to punch somebody after reading. I'm glad your house looks that way, truly I am. And I love your DIY chevron pillows and that hand-crafted size 0 maxi skirt you're sporting in your third trimester. Now excuse me while I go berate myself in front of my empty, disorganized closet before wallowing in a bag of salted peanuts.

Furthermore, I had another 'aha' moment while reading about wanting to punch people while reading things: this is how I feel about reading natural birth stories. My husband is probably going to be immensely relieved to discover that I have at last hit upon the answer to 'why can't I have a baby that way like everyone else on Youtube/Facebook/this article/this friend?' 

Because you're not them, honey.

That answer, while true, has never ever been sufficient. But yesterday I realized that what makes me feel so awful about it is the fact that I continue to read things that make me feel awful about it.

Oh, okay.

Well then. If I could just turn my attention from all the very helpful and (I'm sure) uplifting to somebody "I labored in my own bedroom using nothing but lavender essential oil on my pulse points and breathed the baby down into my husband's loving hands in the wading pool in our dimly-lit living room to the soothing tones of Enya with nary a tear to tell about it" tales, I'll be a much easier preggo to live with.

Because I need drugs to push my huge babies out, they're always sunnyside up until we're well into stage 2, and while I am very much aware of the redemptive power of suffering and the beauty of the Cross, begging my doctor to kill me in the delivery room doesn't seem like the height of Christian perfection.

Anyway, got favorites of your own? And do tell on the personality evals, I love to know other people's temperaments and MB types. Battle scar of a psychology major, I guess.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Raising Little Caesars

Okay it doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but it'll do.

I am admittedly no expert, having put in a paltry 8 months in market research, but I believe that application time could be stretched to 16 months, considering I've been going at it with two kids at once? No?

At any rate, I'm here to tell you about parenting, Italiano style. Or rather, Roman style, as my capers across the rest of the boot have been mainly limited to long weekends and painful hotel stays.

I've been to all of Rome's most famous piazzas, eaten in a whole bunch of her mediocre restaurants (and a few truly remarkable gems) and I've hauled bambini into many a chiesa across this gorgeous city. And I've observed a few things about myself and my compatriots in arms. Some of which are worth sharing, either because they're fascinating, or because they are so obviously superior to the standard American practice in childrearing that I am humbled into submission. And then there are some which are so ridiculous that I feel I must document their existence, even at the risk of unbelief.

So here you have it: How to be a stereotypical Italian Mamma:

1. There is no kid's menu

Walk into any given ristorante or trattoria and try to ask if junior can see a special list of piati de giorno, but don't expect to be greeted with anything other than mild confusion. 

A special menu of junk food options for the baby to choose from? No, no signora, nothing like that...but we can make a plate of proscuitto e melone or some penne con pomodoro and have it out in 2 or 20 minutes, depending on your luck.
Happy meals.
I actually don't mind this. I have one kid who is gluten sensitive and one who would probably take a bite out of a living animal if he could get his paws on a slow-moving side of bacon, so we have a wider variety of food on our table on any given day than the average toddler set does, I'd wager. Joey has actually never had a chicken strip, and his single foray into hot-dog land ended in salty tears of rejection and a sad Costco footlong masticated and discarded on the warehouse floor. John Paul will eat anything, and so we regularly take him up on that.

Italian kids put a whole new spin on the idea of baby gourmonds though, let me assure you. Pizza with Gorgonzola and walnuts and a sprinkling of arugula, pasta with sheep's cheese and anchovies, cured meats with smoked mozzarella and olives...and the list goes on.

The point is, the little people eat smaller portions of the same food that the big people do. Because they are, after all, little people, and not some kind of odd human hybrid made to run on PB&J. It's a helpful practice that cannot, of course, cure picky eating completely, but that goes a long way in cultivating a broader palate on your little person. And yes, we still order french fries all the time. Because we're not sadists.

2. There's no such thing as bedtime

An early dinner is 7 pm. Dignified people eat at 8. Carefree and fabulous people dine at 8:30, and not a moment sooner.

Venture out for your evening passagiata and you'll see there are children of all ages cruising the strip, Roman style in their Maclarens. Kids don't go to bed at 7 pm here, especially not in the blinding heat of summer. Because honestly, it's not even cool enough to hit up the park until almost 8 o'clock most nights.

It's a regular thing to see Italian babies of all ages out in their strollers (or the few, the lucky, the hard-to-find highchairs) in restaurants all over town. Not only do they eat what mom and dad eat, but they also eat when mom and dad eat. And for most families, this is closer to 8 pm than 5 pm.

On a practical level I kind of love this. I mean yes, your kids will melt down when they're up late sometimes and yes, circadian rhythms and sleep cycles and brain cells...but the overarching theme I detect here is: your life doesn't stop when you have kids. Moms, you need not be banished to a string of consecutive evenings on the couch in yoga pants shoveling down some cold dinner at 6:36 pm because little peanut is sleep training and you had to get that bad boy slammed by 5:45 pm. And live to note it in his sleep chart.

I'm all for scheduling little people, don't get me wrong. But do you have any idea how freeing it is to be able to accept a dinner invitation for 8 pm on a Thursday and know that 1. it won't be the end of the world if the babies don't go down till 11 and 2. you can still go out, even without a sitter? It's magical, I tell you. And I'm a full-on believer. Well, 2 out of 7 nights a week, anyway. (Because I'm pregnant, and sometimes yoga pants + sofa sitting = pure bliss.)

3. There's no segregated space for shorties

I am so happy you are taking me to another piazza!
Okay this one actually sucks sometimes, but it's true, there are very few designated 'kid spaces' in Rome. Sure there are playgrounds, but most of them are dirty, in ill-repair, and filled with trash, pigeons, and old ladies smoking butts and shooting the breeze. In other words, they're just like the rest of Rome!

The upshot is that kids make do. No park? No problem! I'll just clamber over this ancient ruin and summit this marble column. You get the idea.

Our playgrounds here are piazzas filled with gelato-slurping tourists, smoking locals, and scavenging pigeons ... and the not-so-occasional guy hawking polyester scarves. Sick of running around? There's a fountain to cool off in (not technically in, mind you, but we've had a few near-immersion experiences).
Damn I'd like to get in that fountain. If only she'd look away for  a moment...
Feeling parched? There's a guy selling water and beer right over there. Here's a liter of mineral water, don't choke. (No sippy cups either, unless you feel like shelling out $10 USD for a cheaply made model from the local Farmacia. No problem, just one fewer step between boob/bottle and self sufficiency, right?)

There are also (are you listening, Kendra?) no crying rooms. Because when your churches are this beautiful, it'd be a shame to muck up the aesthetic with a bunch of plexi-glass.

Look, no gathering space either. Who designed these places?
It's really nice, actually. And sometimes, like last Sunday, it's God awful. You really haven't lived until you've taken your 2-year-old in and out of Mass four times, ping-ponging between rows of glaringangryglaring American! (we're the worst at stink-eyeing parents of littles, it's true) tourists on the inside and a verrrrry persistent gypsy woman begging alms on the outside. And it's one million degrees and your stylish Liz Lange maternity sack is pitting out like a football jersey. But I digress.

Most of the time, it's great when there's no cry room because 1. no option for escape when that familiar faint-hearted feeling creeps in and 2. Well, what do you expect me to do with him? Leave? Would you like to take a turn holding him whilst he flails and pummels your torso? Just say the word...

The truth is, Italian kids go everywhere because honestly, where else can they go? There's no space, there are no 'activity centers' or fun drop off daycare options. There's just the real world. And so adults (and kids) learn to deal with each other. And, dare I say, enjoy one another at times. My boys regularly interact with teenagers, the elderly, kids their own age, and everybody in between. And to me that seems really healthy and really realistic. 
Joey and his bff+e+e Tonio, our fav barista
I have a few other less rosy observations, but this list is already on and on anon, so I'll save that for another post. Plus, it's strictly enforced and rarely-broken-from naptime right now. And I've got 2 hours of babyless freedom stretching out in front of me.

Cleaning House

So what do you think? Graphic design and layout are the opposite of 'my thing,' and I'll never be able to justify paying somebody else to spruce up the imaginary world that hosts my tales of bodily fluids, selfies and political rants, but I rolled up my tech sleeves and dusted off the 'ol template last night. And updated 'About Me' to be slightly less endless. And annoying.

I think I like it. Though I do miss seeing that tacky big ass cup 'o coffee. Sort of. (Missed it too much, had to bring it back.)

I have to say that yesterday, on my first full day sans FB, I was a productive little housewife the likes of which has hardly ever been seen. At least 'round these parts. Books read, forts built, ice creams consumed, leisurely walks taken, dinner planned and cooked...and a full-on self mani/pedi. In the closest shade I could find to this:

at the local 'Profumeria,' because they were offering the good stuff for the very reasonable price of $14 US dollars and, call me martyr, but I couldn't justify pulling that trigger. So I went with an Italian knock off and it's a bit closer to Orbitz wintermint than I'd normally care for, but...thrifty!

One week from today, we'll be winging our way to Denver via Dublin via Boston (don't ask), so you best believe I'm spending this last hot week 'packing' (Aka throwing everything away. I think our cleaning lady accepted, among other items including-but-not-limited-to our entire medicine cabinet, my proffered  quarter pack of Camel Blues from my very attractive 'pre-pregnancy numero 3/holy shit we moved to a foreign country without clothes dryers' days.

Give away all the things! Throw away all the toys! The boys can share two pairs of cargo shorts between them!

I tend to get a lil bit carried away when it comes to decluttering. You might say it's my gift. Or, if you're my husband, you might just get really nervous about your supply of black dress socks (do you really need 4 pairs? Four?) about once a quarter.

So aside from the frantic purging, what would you guys do with a week in the Eternal City during 'the iron of August?' Just to set the stage for your little imaginations: it's 99 degrees every day by 10:35 am, the buses are running sloooooow and are full of the most unimaginable aroma of the crush of humanity, and I'm 5 months pregnant and the proud owner of a wonderful and heavy double stroller.

Any ideas?

Meanwhile, I've got my eye on an entire toy box of c-r-a-p whose destiny is calling for a trip to the big, brown dumpster in the street. If only I can successfully sneak it downstairs...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I broke up with Facebook

And lived to tell about it.

So far, anyway.

I've been meaning to do it for quite some time, and something always held me back.

It's not Lent. I live in a foreign country. My friend/sister/cousin doesn't have Verizon and texting isn't free. I need it for work. I need to be active in building a culture of life on the internet. 

Et cetera et cetera.

But really, the truth is, I love Facebook. I love it way, way too much. I'll check it upwards of 30 times a day, if nobody is watching. And sadly, even if somebody (or two little somebodies) are watching. And let's be honest: they're always watching.

This piece convicted me when I first read it, maybe 6 weeks ago, but I was biding my time and rationalized that I still 'needed FB' until I moved back to the US where I could more easily connect with far-flung friends and family.

Well, that time has come. I feel at once free and a little sad to let go of something that I've been using daily for the past decade...and then I stop and think, my God, have mercy, what could I have been doing with all those wasted hours over the last 10 years?

Learning a real skill, like baking or sewing. Tutoring someone in English or theology. Reading to my kids. Running another mile. Cooking dinner for a friend who needs a night off. Cooking dinner for my own family. Calling my grandma. Coloring with my 2-year-old. Writing an article. Writing a book. Calling my dad just to ask him how his day is going. Going for a walk with my neighbor. Spending 20 minutes in Adoration. Praying a rosary. Building a lego tower. Doing 50 crunches. Drinking a glass of wine with my husband. Calling my college roommate. Buying my former co-worker a baby gift online. Finishing a freelance editing project. Watching my boys play together. Going for a hike. Visiting a tourist attraction. Praying for our country. Volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity. Watching an episode of House Hunters. Praying in front of a Planned Parenthood.

And the list goes on.

So I'm done. And I've no regrets over the lost connections or opportunities. The internet is a big place. And there are far better ways I can spend my virtual time than by scrolling down the endless newsfeed of distraction for 'just five more minutes.'

Here's to being more present, more productive, and more intentional with the hours we've been given.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some Downton Abbey to attend to.

Friday, August 2, 2013

7 Quick Takes

Firstly, please join me in prayers for Jen, who is pro taking-6-kids-to-IKEA and anti-pedicure. That kind of crazy is bound to catch up with a girl some day...

And now some random:

1. I ate nachos, a cheeseburger, and a Corona for dinner tonight. Followed by a gelato milkshake (did you even know there was such a thing?) from the estimable Old Bridge. How do I feel? Like I'm about to go into cardiac arrest at any moment.
Pretty much how it went down.
Like a starving sailor docking after several long, lean months at sea, I'm going to need to pace myself when it comes to gastric re-patriation. Ugh.

2. These guys. This piazza. The sounds of Rome winding down on a summer night, punctuated by the bells of St. Peter's. I will miss this part of Italy.

3. We found a house to rent in Denver, we think. 3 bedrooms, a living room and a family room (whaaaaat?) a creepy 'semi-finished basement' aka Joey and JP's toddler man cave, and a fenced backyard with a big ass deck. American perfection.

4. We're stoping over in Dublin for 3 days on our way back to 'Merica, because it was cheaper than a direct flight and because I'm an awesome wife, and Dave wanted to go to the Guinness Factory for his birthday. I'm sure the Emerald Isle has more going for it than that, but after Amalfi, I'm under-promising in the 'fabulous things we'll do on vacation' department.

You really can find anything on the internet...
5. If you haven't read this yet, you really should.

6. We're re-watching Downton Abbey in it's glorious three-season entirety right now, thanks to one generous sister-in-law and the lenient copyrighting practices of the nation of Cambodia. And it is so much better than I remember, and that's coming from a serious superfan. I mean come on, you can cut the sexual tension between Lady Mary and Matthew with a knife, and Maggie Smith pretty much kills it with every line that crosses her tightly pursed and disapproving lips. Hands down, best show ever. EVER.

7. I'm coming around to the wonders of the Blanqi. Yes, it's hotter than hell to wear another layer under all this sweat, but it actually keeps the sweat semi-contained, and my baby bump looks adorably round and contained when I strap it on. Plus, love handle smoother. Win/win. If you're in the market, go for the full priced original, don't settle for the half price Target post-partum model. Take it from a squishy veteran.
Blurry pic, smooth bump.
Happy weekend y'all. We'll be jetting off to Castel Gandolfo in the morning, because even though the Pope's not there this summer, there's a big lake and a castle. And we can't get enough of these Euro train rides. Who needs AC when you've got all these strangers breathing cool air down your neck?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Euro Pregnancy: 20 Weeks In

Sitting here on the brink of halfway done, and I thought it was time to come clean with some photo evidence of this baby's existence.

First, let the record show, taking pictures of yourself while pregnant is a bad idea. Unless it's your first child, and you've hired someone to follow you and your husband into a field whilst the two of you clasp hands over your burgeoning belly and gaze into the future. I did that. I get that. But damn if it isn't all kinds of embarrassing now. Joey, self-absorbed firstborn that he is, loves those images of 'baby Joey in Mommy's tummy right there' so...I guess it was worth preserving for posterity? And we never took engagement photos, so you might say we were overdue for a little shame of the self-absorbed variety. Ba dum ching.

Anywho, fast forward three years and three closely-spaced pregnancies to now, and my body definitely bears evidence of having been stretched and snapped and streeeeetched and not-quite-snapped back. Multiple times. So I apologize if these images are scarring. They are to me.

toddler tilt with a Blanqi sneak peak

Buttoned-up mug shot
So I bit the big, fat, nearly $70 bullet this time around and sprang for a Blanqi, because I've read great reviews and because one of the creator's sisters (thanks, Annie) went to my alma mater and because, well, I was pregnant in a foreign country and figured I had money to burn, being as there was no guarantee I'd be able to shell out for an epidural or a hospital gown. So. No regrets. Not really.

This is the first week I've really worn it and my thoughts so far are ... mixed. Most of the perceived 'flaws' are probably my fault: I ordered a size large 'extra long' in black. So...I can't imagine why it isn't supremely comfortable in this balmy 89 degree 110% humid Roman summer. 

But, I rationalized to my newly-pregnant internet-shopping-happy self I'll be pregnant in the wintertime and we don't have a car, so black will be warmer. And more slimming. And I'd read multiple reviews warning to 'size up' for when your belly gets big. As for insisting I needed extra length for my 5'5" miniature torso? I don't know, maybe I was drinking. But one thing I hate hate hate about maternity wear is the dreaded belly creep. Whether the fabric starts migrating up or down, I can't stand the end result. So I panicked and thus, made sure that my entire frame would be covered from shoulder to well-below-booty. Anyway, it is rather slimming. And it does feel great to work out in. At least I surmise that it will. Technically I haven't worked out in 3 months...but that's about to change. Today.

I'm declaring a moratorium on 'vacation eating' and basically breakfast carbs in general. The Italian lifestyle is no longer working in my favor, probably because I've cut down my daily walking to roughly 3 square blocks orbiting our apartment building, and instead of pushing my 100 lbs of toddler across cobblestoned streets for hours every day, they run around clad in diapers (or less) only and frolic under one of our two AC units for hours...and hours on end. And I lie on the couch and re-watch Downton Abbey teach a homeschool unit on pre-and-post WWI Britain.

Would you believe me if I told you my cappuccino habit were catching up with me? Or perhaps it's the recent obsession with salami milanese. Yes, probably that. Whichever the culprit, the weight gain is a-creepin, and it's high time to reconcile with Jillian. Or this site. Or maybe just the possibility of limiting my diet to things that don't list 'salt' or 'Nutella' as a primary ingredient.

All and all, I'm feeling pretty good. I can still sleep however I want, which feels oddly liberating. Maybe I am carrying much differently? Or maybe I am sufficiently 'padded' to not feel acutely as if I am crushing baby while not-quite-but-almost lying on my stomach at night. Whatev.

I think I've gained around 9 lbs - maybe 10, I don't do kilos well - at this point. But it's all in my love handles and upper arms. Maybe a tiny bit in the appropriate abdominal region. (Thanks, Viking genes. Or whatever heritage dooms me to crushing canons for guns and the ability to lift twice my weight in offspring and groceries.)

I am just starting to feel baby move every now and then, which is a huge relief and it will be really nice to move on to googling other potential problems now. I'm sure I'll think of some.

I'm craving saaaaaalt, salt, and more salt. Pre-popped pop corn, salami and some-fancy-central-Italian-hard-cheese-on-pizza-bianca sandwiches, regular Coke (hangs head in shame) and, oddly, cucumbers. Probably to sop all the water retention out of my poor, salt-addled body.

I'm desperate to get home the the dry, arid climate of Denver, where sweat is always purposely induced via exercise or exertion of some sort, and not the result of climbing one set of stairs. Or getting out of bed in the morning. 

And, let's be honest, I'm a teeny bit excited for Chipotle.

We leave August 13th, so technically, I think if I don't count today or departure day, we're looking at 11 big ones. But who's counting?