Today is #NationalCookieDay. As I honor this day, I sit beside trays and trays of holiday cookies that my family made for our annual get together, which happened yesterday. We wore ugly Christmas sweaters, told bad jokes, and laughed so hard we cried. We also indulged in the homemade cookies we made. We took many photos, and ate until our pants snapped.
Nine times out of 10 (and more recently 10 times out of 10), I’m the organizer of these kinds of events. Over the weekend, I was feeling exhausted. I stayed up until 2 a.m. baking and decorating and cleaning. I thought, “Why am I doing this?” My back ached, and my feet were swollen.
La Dolce Vita
Then, with the head of one of those gingerbread in my mouth, I saw my cousin hugging my brother and my father jeering the Giants with his nephew. The work was worth it. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But in this moment we all had each other. We all had a hand to hold, a security blanket, pure joy. Frankly, that’s priceless.
So, I say get out and celebrate #NationalCookie Day. Shout, “I love you,” to family and friends. Deck the halls. Or at least smile and choose happiness for the day. Meet a friend for a cup of tea and a pignoli cookie. What’s most important is using this day as an excuse to slow down and smell the poinsettia. Keep the hustle and bustle of the holidays from distracting you from its real purpose: expressing your love, experiencing joy, and appreciating what you have.
Yesterday my 5-year-old son told Nonna he was asking Jesus to send us a second baby. “He’ll be my friend,” he said. My eyes welled up with tears. At the moment, we’re in Italy. Here, he has much older cousins and is constantly surrounded by teenagers and adults. He’s lonely. It breaks my heart. I can not relate.
When I was his age, I had my brother, who is a year younger than I am. Our baby sister had just arrived. My father is the youngest of nine; my mother is the oldest of six. We were close to all our first cousins – and there are many of them. They were in our house all. the. time. I consider them, in fact, to be just like my siblings. We all lived within a 5-mile radius growing up. To be honest, most of us still live pretty close to one another. That’s probably why my husband and I had nearly 30 people in our American bridal party when my husband and I got married.
Guilt and Sadness Enough to Choke You
In previous posts, I’ve expressed how guilty I feel about failing to produce a sibling for my son. Despite his Italian passport and frequent visits to Italy, he is missing out on being Italian. Our big, intrusive but loving family makes us the most Italian. When he sits in our apartment in Italy or home in the United States all alone in a room, I feel it. I sense the doom. He will never have a constant playmate for make believe or even with whom to argue for attention.
True, in America he has two first cousins who are close in age to him. They are together virtually everyday when we’re in the country. My mother and often I take care of them while their parents work. But with every passing year, their time with us gets shorter. They live in a different town and have more and more responsibilities associated with school. My brother and sister-in-law carve out time to be with them, of course. When their parents are home, they don’t need us, rightfully so. A time will come when they are old enough to stay on their own and won’t need grown ups tending to them all the time. I dread the day.
Where Has the Family Gone?
What gets me to cry is when I think far into the future. What will happen if my son wants to have kids of his own? They will have no first cousins – at least not on his side of the family. Our cousins were our whole world. The biggest sense of belonging my son has had is with his two cousins. I feel responsible for failing to give my future grandchildren cousins of their own.
The broken family – not divorce mind you – is what’s killing us all now. The fact that we’re all disconnected from a community of people is our poison. We’ve lost the chosen family that used to be friends and neighbors. And we’re losing our extended family. We’re far away from those we still have. And we’re not creating more relatives. Yes, there is overpopulation. So, it’s better for the environment. But the heart is still lost.
It’s Economics, Stupid!
These losses stem mainly from economics. Pressures to find jobs, keep jobs, and earn money is one factor. It moves us all over the place, so we’re no longer physically near loved ones. The demands of our jobs force us to spend less and less time with our family anyway. By not being near loved ones, who might be able to tend to children, we have to invest in costly child care. Sometimes, even if we are near family, we have no choice if everyone is working. Now, with all the digital devices keeping us linked to work all day, it’s a wonder we are still having children at all. That is not even to mention the extraordinary costs of health care and higher education in the United States. Who can afford one child, let alone two or more?
So, thinking about having a second child makes me think I’m being greedy. We can’t financially afford another child. Actually, I suppose we could, but it would be hard. It’s hard enough already with one. I feel selfish for wanting to ask a baby, not to mention our first child, to make the necessary sacrifices. For one, they would be foregoing time with us. We’d have to work more to support us all. And they’d be giving up some luxuries for sure. Certainly, some of that would be character building. And a baby to enrich our family would be better than any treats, such as a nice vacation or eating out. But just paying for the necessities could be tough. You never know what could happen down the road. That hardly seems fair to little ones.
How Many Miracles Can One Person Get?
Never did I face the infertility struggles of some of the women of my generation. I was never injecting myself with anything, nor did I have one doctor’s appointment after another. I didn’t even take any medications to get pregnant. But we suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage that turned our world dark for a long while. And I do not ovulate, thanks to polycystic ovaries. So, it’s not easy to get pregnant. It happened twice. The second time, we were blessed with our son.
We had prayed and prayed to Jesus for a child. We lit candles asking St. Gerard to help us. Honestly, we’re not the most religious people in the world. But prayer and a little faith gave us hope. Indeed, our son arrived. Our baby has brought us so much love and joy. We are grateful. Every child is a miracle to his or her parents. It’s overwhelming. To ask for a second baby seems wrong. It seems like we’re asking for too much, more than anyone deserves.
Climate change recently took center stage. President Donald Trump announced the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The U.S. joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not backing the accord. Trump was politically motivated to make this announcement. Staying in the agreement, in fact, would not have changed anything. After all, the agreement is non-binding; therefore, he could have stayed in but changed the commitments to which his predecessor had agreed without actually pulling out.
Nevertheless, the decision to leave has many wondering about what the U.S.’ role will be when it comes to saving our planet. Some people are wondering if any of this matters anyway. Believe me, I understand being more concerned about your own pocketbook. I have a kid. I’m in the same boat. I am up at nights wondering how I’m ever going to afford college and how the price of milk and bread can just keep creeping up, not to mention everything else for which I have to pay. But I also want Mother Earth to survive for my son and my descendants. Discover why parents should care about climate change:
Innovation and the Economy
Problems are solutions waiting to happen. And solutions are opportunities. Already, sustainable businesses, including clean energy, such as solar, wind, and nuclear power, are proving to be the future of business. In addition, the public has been increasingly demanding greener options. This might be why corporate giants, including Walt Disney World, General Electric, and even Exxon Mobil, were in favor of the accord. Parents should be encouraging their children to seek out innovative careers that have a promising future. While new technologies and habits are scary, they can also transform us. Follow the money. Who can argue with that?
The Rest of the World
I know what you’re going to say. America first, right? If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you? All kidding aside, jumping ship on the France accord means leaving behind our allies, and even a few of our enemies. For my entire life, the United States has served as the moral authority and leader of the free world. It has been that beacon on the hill. My relatives in Italy spoke of America as if it was everyone’s dream. Moving away from the rest of the world will have repercussions. Some of them we can’t anticipate now. All I know is that I’d much prefer my son live in the nation leading the world rather than the one hiding from it. This is not to mention the fact that if our competitors in other nations are pursuing innovation in the green space that we risk getting left behind of the future economy.
Clean air and water are necessary to our health. Failing to reduce our carbon footprint could have serious ramifications. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) bills climate change as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Indeed, a WHO slide show describes the traumatic consequences of ignoring global warming.
“Without effective responses, climate change will compromise:
Water quality and quantity: Contributing to a doubling of people living in water-stressed basins by 2050.
Food security: In some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture may halve by 2020.
Control of infectious disease: Increasing population at risk of malaria in Africa by 170 million by 2030, and at risk of dengue by 2 billion by 2080s.
Protection from disasters: Increasing exposure to coastal flooding by a factor of 10, and land area in extreme drought by a factor of 10-30.”-WHO, “Climate Change and Human Health”
The report goes on to explain that extreme weather itself can cause injuries and deaths. But it also describes how it could influence food sources, availability of natural resources and food, and the spread of malnutrition and diseases.
You think terrorism is bad now. Just wait until people don’t have enough to eat or drink, no clean water, and only damaged property. Survival of the fittest is a natural human reaction to such dire challenges. You can bet people will begin to fight for their survival and the survival of their children. It could quickly get ugly. Indeed, Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change “a national security threat.” You can learn more about the Defense Department’s position in a recent NPR interview with Brigadier General Gerald Galloway from the Center for Climate and Security. Do you want your children heading off to war? Or, worse, do you want desperation to drive people to attack them on their home soil?
National Geographic provides a great overview of the history of global warming and what it actually means. It lays out just what kind of damage we have done. It also includes information on the reparations we’ve made. That’s right, there are a few. But we can do more. The most important reason parents should care about climate change is because your kids or grandkids or great grandkids could lose Earth all together. If not the entirety of Earth, they could still lose their little piece of it. Caring about climate change is caring about the future of your family. Period.
Gomorrah is riveting. It’s not because of the thrilling storyline. That certainly helps. But it’s because of the profound characterizations of each personality in the show. Every viewer naturally gets to be an armchair psychologist. At this – the midway point of season 2 – you start to wonder if all the main characters are really the same person, just at different stages of life. Then, you start to think that the war they’re all having with each other is really just symbolic of the internal struggle we all face as we grow older. Sorry, but I had to wax philosophical. It’s the only way to live with what I’m seeing on screen. Believe me, you have to live with what you see. It’s like a scar on your memory that you can’t scrub away.
Still, watching is holding up a mirror to your face. It’s looking closely at every line and flaw and stray hair. It’s admitting there was a reason so many of our families ran from southern Italy, made lives elsewhere, and never looked back. Every once in a while, that’s important. Episodes 5 and 6 immediately addressed food and family, the driving forces of everything that happens in Italy.
La Fame Is the Plight That Leads to Destruction
“Fame” means “hunger” in Italian. My husband says “la fame” is what hooks even seemingly innocent people into the disgusting life of the Camorra, the mafia in Naples. In the last episode of Gomorrah, which focused on Italy’s obsession with religion, you saw drug dealers smashing statues of the Madonna to get to their stashes. In this one, you see the dealers opening pineapples to get to the drugs. And the old man, Don Aniello, is eating an apple as he oversees them. He talks about how much he likes fruit.
The fruit is highly symbolic and sets the tone for the rest of the episode. The warring families now run by Ciro and Gennaro (and perhaps to some extent his father Pietro Savastano) have to find peace, so money begins to flow into their neighborhood in Naples again. Until then, the people are forced to live with la fame.
In various scenes, throughout both episodes, you see the ups and downs of the drug business symbolized by full dishes of pasta on the table. Don Pietro throws his dish of pasta across the room in an uproar over his son taking over their mafia family. You see Ciro and Rosario (the Dwarf) eating spaghetti with tomato sauce contemplating the future of the “dogs,” old friends of Gennaro’s who are still wet behind the ears and trying to play both sides. These junior mafiosi – Trak, Little Bird, and Bomber – are hungry for money. They live in a shack of an apartment that looks like a jail cell only grimier. They speak of the people starving in light of current events with the mob families.
Let Them Eat Spaghetti
The trio act out by viciously robbing people at different points in the show. They clear out an entire apartment building to claim it as their own place to deal drugs. The bookie is making tomato sauce when Trak comes to shoot him in the head. In the end, the trio betrays their old friend Gennaro, who comes unarmed to woo them back to his side. They shoot and kill Angelino and injure Malamore, confidants of Gennaro’s father. But they refrain from killing Gennaro as per the agreement the two sides made with Don Aniello. At the end of the sixth episode, “the dogs” are still holed up in that prison of an apartment. But with their guns by their side for fear of retribution, they are finally eating. They too have dishes of spaghetti with tomato sauce in front of them.
That dish – spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce – is poignant. After all, that is the most basic of meals for an Italian. It is representative of the bare necessities. Being able to have that is why so many people in Naples and the rest of hungry southern Italy are willing to put up with the atrocities of the Camorra. It feeds them.
Father and Son, Papa’ e Figlio
In the Sopranos, you always had the feeling that Tony wanted a different life for A.J. You got the sense, in fact, that he wished his father had wanted better for him, too. In Gomorrah, on the other hand, you get the feeling that Pietro wants Gennaro to be more like him and that he doesn’t want this criminal life enough. Pietro meets with his son at a store that sells bombonieri, favors for Italian events, such as weddings and baptisms. He explains to Gennaro that he bought 500 statues of the Madonna (of Mount Carmel) as the bombonieri for his son’s baptism. It was what his late wife wanted to thank the Madonna for the miracle she gave to them – a baby boy. Pietro tells Gennaro that his mother wasn’t supposed to be able to have children. And his Nonno wanted Pietro to find another woman because the Savastano crime family needed a male heir. Pietro was in love and insisted on marrying Genny’s mother. That’s why they were rewarded with him.
Of course, then he described how he has let him down. He feels as though Ciro and Co. are attempting to humiliate him, and his son is going along with it. After all, Ciro asked to have a meeting with him about peace, not Don Pietro. By now, Gennaro has abandoned his father to Naples (as his father wished). He is living a new life with his girlfriend, whose father works with Don Aniello in Rome. He has impressed the Romans with the cocaine supply he has coming from Honduras. His reign seems to be apparent.
Raising Children in this Sinister World
At the same time, viewers are seeing Ciro’s 10-year-old daughter for the first time since he killed her mother. She is watching her father pack to leave for this meeting with Gennaro. She tells him that the new house doesn’t feel like home because the old house made it seem as though her mother was still with her. His face looks pained. He hugs her and tells her it will take time to get used to the old place. Once he arrives at the hotel, he speaks with his daughter on the phone and they express how much they miss one another. It’s one of the few times you see a loving side to this cold, calculated murderer.
Not long after that Gennaro sneaks up on Ciro in his hotel room. He seems like he might finally kill him, which is what his father told him to do when he sent a gun made with a 3-D printer. (Oh yeah, technology is revolutionizing crime syndicates, too.) Ciro tells him to shoot already because he’s sick of this life and of himself. He explains that he used his own two hands to kill “Debora mia,” his wife. Gennaro asks how he explained the death of his wife to his daughter. Ciro says that’s his business and to just shoot him. Instead, Gennaro throws the gun at him and says, “Remember this as the day I could have killed you but I didn’t.”
Letting Go of Your Babies
The next day, they sign off on the peace treaty, which includes Ciro’s team buying drugs from Gennaro’s people, in front of Don Aniello. Ciro returns home and spoons his sleeping daughter in one of the few images of love apparent in this series. The agreement also has Don Pietro and his few henchmen imprisoned in one little part of town. This sends Don Pietro into a rage. Gennaro had previously told his father that their real problem was he never trusted him. Now, Gennaro was getting the family business in order – not to mention having saved his father’s life in Germany.
Patrizia, Don Pietro’s messenger, says, “My father always said, ‘Young children need you to give them milk. Grown up children need you to give them trust.'” Don Pietro agrees that he will give Gennaro trust. He tells his men to follow the rules. This works out until Gennaro’s meeting with Trak, Little Bird, and Bomber ends with two of Pietro’s henchmen shot. Then, he says his son’s words don’t mean anything anymore. We’re left to wonder what their divisions will mean for the extended mob family.
Southern Italy has this way of bringing visitors to a different time and place. That is never truer than on Carnevale, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. When Americans with Italian roots go home to the Boot, they experience a transportation of sorts. It’s like they step into their parent’s or grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s shoes but for a moment. The tower in the piazza that has stood in place for thousands of years, the way everyone knows everyone else’s name and business, old school traditions, and making everything from scratch are out of place in what we Americans see as modernity.
Carnevale Is a Kaleidoscope of Wonders
To go back to Italy for Carnevale is to both go back in time and shake things up. Up is down, down is up, and you can’t remember how you ever got to this place. I don’t mean to say you will get drunk. You might, but I never have. But even those who don’t imbibe, get tipsy on the joy of the day. People dress up in costume and indulge in decadent foods. When I was there a few years back, I felt as though I was thrown into a kaleidoscope that someone just kept turning to change the image. It was magical and a stark difference from the cold sense of suffering everyone experiences a day later on Ash Wednesday, when Lent officially begins.
Even though the dressing up is mostly for kids at school, who parade much like American ones do on Halloween, adults get in on the act. When my husband worked as a bartender, he would sport a costume. Sometimes, he was a pirate. Sometimes, he was Mickey Mouse (bought the hands in Orlando’s Disney World, in fact). I think he went as a mummy or something another year. The point is that in small towns and villages where everyone knows everyone, it’s exciting to think you might be mistaken about the person behind the mask. As you walk through the piazza and see the regulars dressed like someone or something else, the air of mystery sets the tone for what lies ahead.
Of course, a celebration in Italy would be incomplete without a special menu. This holiday has its staples. Discover what you might find on the table today:
Spread of Antipasto – The works. Think prosciutto di Parma, an assortment of cheeses, other deli meats, marinated goodies such as artichokes or eggplants, and prepared appetizers, such as stuffed mushrooms or something more exotic and of the imagination of the chef in charge
Lasagna – This is a must in my house, and it must be traditional and stuffed with ooey gooey ricotta and mozzarella cheese and smothered in Nonno’s Sunday Funday sauce
Meatballs – Nonno’s meatballs are also must haves for Carnevale. In many ways, this feast is just Sunday on steroids. Some nonnas make the meatballs full of surprises, including pignoli (pine nuts) and raisins, but my family has simpler tastes, so we don’t go that route
Desserts – My father favors migliaccio (a citrus ricotta pie), but many families (especially for the kids) go with cioffe (pronounced chohffee), fried dough strips
Like any Italian holiday, the true beauty of it lies in the time spent with family and friends. Still, what makes this one unique is the fact that you’re certain to see a different side of those you know best. You simply don’t know who will show up. That’s part of the fun. Well, that and the meatballs. Happy Carnevale!
A celebration of love is in order, perhaps never more than today. And there are lovely ways to show love to your friends and family. The sign above is one of my favorite Valentine’s Day gifts ever. My son and I made it for my husband. It couldn’t be simpler and you can make one for someone you love in no time at all:
Discover how to make a sign of love with baby’s hand and feet prints:
Frame (Make sure it’s big enough to fit baby’s one handprint and feet prints)
Cardstock (one larger piece that is the size of the frame in a color of your choosing to serve as the background and one smaller piece of white paper for the actual artwork)
Paint (I used watercolors for the letters, but you could use other types of paint to make the letters less faint. It’s entirely up to you.)
More washable paint or washable jumbo stamp pad (for making baby’s handprint and feet print)
Glue or double sided tape
Fine point pen or marker
Make your marks.
Take your piece of white paper. Use one lighter shade (or simply a different color) paint to make the “L.”
Take baby’s hand and either use a brush to paint the darker or different color paint onto baby’s hand before turning it down onto the paper after the “L” to stand in for “O.” I would test the paint or ink pad first to make sure it is truly washable. I used an ink pad that said it was washable but my son’s hand and feet were blue like a Smurf’s for a few days. Hey, it happens!
Do the same with the bottom of both baby’s feet as you did with the one hand. Make sure to place them down on the paper to form the shape of a “V.”
Write the “E” with the paint of your choice. (In my case it was the same color as the “L.”) Don’t feel limited by my choices. Use your own imagination and preferences. By the way, I used blue because I have a boy but also because it is my husband’s favorite color. It also matches much of our house. You can pick whatever colors meet your needs. Some choose to do this in a rainbow, so every letter is a different color. You might also want to add glitz in the form of gem stickers, glitter, or sequins, which is particularly nice for mom if she is the one receiving the gift. You could paint a heart around the word love.
My mom confession (for today anyway) is that I sometimes go to my son’s closet to pull out his baby blankies. I put the soft fleece up to my face, so I can feel it brush against mine. I take a whiff and clutch it to my heart when no one else is around. Once in a while, I have a good cry over it, replete with real tears.
I love my son – the now 5-year-old boy, who still plays with my hair when he’s tired, doesn’t like to walk into a room alone, and is part web-slinging Spider-Man and nunchuck swinging mutant turtle at any given moment. I love when he sings the Popcorn song to me and dances with his toy robot and proudly displays his ability to write his name and draw a minion. But I’m sick with grief about not having a tiny hand to hold. I long for a baby’s breath on my shoulder. I wish for the gurgles and coos of yesteryear. I always thought I’d have more than one kid. I don’t feel done. And I never say never, so maybe things will change. God has plans for me, I’m certain. I just don’t know what they are exactly.
Still, when I quit daydreaming and start living in reality, I understand that we are three – and it probably will stay that way. I’m almost 38 years old, and I have polycystic ovaries. It’s not easy to get pregnant, and the miscarriage I had before my son enveloped me in a darkness that still lives within. I don’t know if I’m capable of allowing that pain to boil to the surface. When I take a good look in the mirror and get honest with myself, I just don’t know if I’m strong enough to do what it takes to even try to get pregnant again. That’s just a bit of what the decision to go for No. 2 would entail. There are finances, work-life balance issues, child care, and my husband’s feelings first and foremost. You know how it is.
Regardless, no matter what happens down the road, for now, my son is an only child. Coming from big Italian families, my husband and I are committed to giving him the feeling of family and belonging even if he does not have a brother or sister. One of the saving graces of Italian families is the tradition of treating cousins as siblings and nieces and nephews as your own children. It is everything to me. I’m living with an indescribable guilt for not being able to provide him with a sibling. My brother and sister probably don’t know this, but I consider them among my best friends. I know I can count on them when my world crumbles. In the dark of night, I lie sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling imagining a day when my husband and I are not here and my son stands alone. All alone. The scene is enough to make me quiver.
To say I’m grateful for my 4-year-old nephew and 6-year-old niece, who my son refers to as his brother and sister, is an understatement. They are with us almost everyday. We do homework together. We ride bikes together. We play games together. We laugh together. We cry together. My son gets into mischief with them, and they all end up in time out. I catch them wrestling each other. I catch my niece bossing around the boys like I did as a child. I catch her reading to them. I catch the boys acting out scenes from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies and fighting over who gets to be Leonardo. Yes, I hide in the bathroom from all three of them sometimes. Grateful but still human.
But are these two built-in best friends for life enough? I wonder. I don’t know. So, on his birthday for the last two years, I have made a family reunion for my son. When we were in Italy, we gathered his aunts and their husbands and children and his Nonna in the kitchen for a big themed dinner – once a pizza party, replete with mustache straws and chef hats, and once a Mickey Mouse party, replete with ears for everyone. Now that we’re back in the United States, we have packed up to 70 people into our driveway and backyard for a homemade buffet – once a Toy Story-themed bash with target game like the one at Disney World and the other a robot-themed bash with a giant Enzo-Bot that my son and I made out of everyday items, such as paper boxes, duct tape, and packing material. Themes don’t matter much. I do that to get him excited and make the area festive. I don’t even always get him a gift. When I do, it’s something small. This year it was Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots to play with everyone at the party. And we make all the food ourselves and serve it buffet style on plastic dishes. Fancy is not the point.
I want him to know all the cousins I knew as my brothers and sisters when I was growing up and their children. I want him to know his great aunts and uncles and great grandma. I even want him to know the angels who watch over us, so we visit the cemetery and kiss their photos on the mausoleum walls. I want him to have what I had. The days of passing every Sunday together over a bowl of pasta and running from Nonna with her “bastone” after we got in her way as she cleaned the garden are behind us. Nonna and Nonno are our angels now. Grandpa is my angel now. Some people have moved away from us. But for the most part we still rely on each other.
We still remember all those little moments from childhood that bound us to one another for life – the games we played, the mischief we made (mud pies, mud pools, climbing on the big landscaping trucks), the stories we told, the secrets we still keep for one another, having each other’s back (with bullies on the playground, cheating mates, backstabbing co-workers), supporting each other in the worst of times (relatives with cancer, losses of the people we love, broken hearts, tattered dreams). And I want him to have people who share in life’s joys (milestones, good food, dancing). I want my son to know that even though he doesn’t have siblings, he has lots and lots of love. I want him to have people to whom he can turn in his hours of need. I don’t want him to be standing alone. Not ever.
For as long as I can for holidays and birthdays, I want to give him the gift of family. I want to gather our brood in our nest. I want to eat great food together and talk about what our lives once were and what they could be. I want him to joke and laugh and love. I want him to recognize what makes us all unique and what makes us all the same. I want him to realize that even if he never gets another plastic toy or another cent to put in the bank, he will forever be rich in family.
I live in utter disaster. On most days, my house looks like a bomb exploded, and it was full of little boys’ stinky laundry, more Lego pieces than you could find in one of the stores, bread crumbs, and pieces of paper from kids’ practicing their scissor skills. The dishes are piled in the sink. The stovetop is thick with grease and grime that desperately needs removing (and might require a sandblaster). Garbage always seems to need to go out. And can we talk about the bathroom? I don’t even want to go in there for fear of having to face life’s most difficult question of late; is that Nutella or poop on the wall? Seriously, which is it? No matter how hard I scrub, the place always smells of sweaty gym socks and tomato sauce. (We’re Italian, so at least we’ve got that.)
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, before my son and niece and nephew were born, I had nice things. Really. There was a place for everything, and everything in its place. Back then, I lusted after hotel-quality sheets in crisp white and fine china serving platters. I got giddy over my sparkling chandelier in the dining room and silk drapes in the living room. Every week, I would meticulously dust and vacuum the couches. I had a Waterford crystal bowl sitting on an end table, out in the open for all the world to admire. Not once was it at risk of falling. Today, it stands behind closed closet doors on a shelf too high even for me to reach.
When I look around, I can hardly believe I ever had that straight-out-of-Better-Homes-and-Gardens look or that Good Housekeeping demeanor. As I first began to lose control of the place, I felt uneasy. There was a queasiness at the sight of those toys scattered and piled and lined up all.over.the.floor. They were – err, are – everywhere. I even missed all that dusting and vacuuming I once did. But I am living in a new normal, the world of motherhood with young children. There’s nothing I can do about it. This life is messy, often akin to a post-party frat house minus the beer. Still, I’ve learned to embrace the look of a war zone. Here’s why:
My house is our hangout. I have relatives and friends with bigger and better houses than I’ll ever have, than I will ever let myself dream about actually. They are tidy and lovely. Their picturesque views, professional kitchens, swimming pools, and game rooms are the stuff of designer legend. Sometimes, I’m jealous. But then I curl up on my couch and think about all these walls have seen. We make the sweetest memories here because we open the doors to all, and create excuses to unite. There was the time my cousin from Australia stayed with us to surprise my grandfather, who was already showing signs of age and illness. There was the time we celebrated my son’s birthday with 80 relatives packed into the driveway and backyard. There have been Thanksgivings and Christmas Eves for the ages. Wine has been spilled. Glasses have been broken. Hearts have been touched. Friends have become family. Family has become friends. Fun has been had by all.
My house is our comfort zone. In the days after my miscarriage, my only friend was this house. I closed myself in. I hugged the walls and worshipped the couch. From my window, I watched the leaves dance in the wind and searched for answers. I cried, and my home – this humble and loving house – dried my tears. When my grandfather passed away, we gathered around my dining room and remembered why we were hurting so much, what he meant to us, and what a glorious pain in the ass he was from beginning to end. We’ve embraced one another in our worst moments. We’ve confessed to one another and forgiven one another in this very house. Life happens here. Frankly, life was never one to be neat and simple. It’s complicated, untidy, and sometimes downright ugly.
We are growing up here. My son and his cousins are here together just about everyday. They are 6, nearly 5, and just turned 4. I wink and they are a year older.Those toys on the floor and the bread crumbs they are dropping are all signs of this precious time in their life and ours. These are the symbols of innocence that are all too fleeting. Their job is to play, and the disaster means they are looking to get promoted to that next phase. In the not-too-distant future, I will find myself looking around my pristine living room with everything in its place once again, and I will burst into tears for what I have lost. I will miss those chubby little fingers pulling at my heart, the butterfly kisses just because, the zany outbursts, the silly laughter, the most beautiful song of their gentle, rhythmic breathing as they sleep, and the sweet pain of a 40-pound child lying still on my chest.
And, so, for now I embrace my mess. I cherish it for all it symbolizes. I love this mess because I want my place to be the place to celebrate, gather family and friends, and grow up. I want it to be a retreat for all who enter. I want it to be our rock when life is a storm. It doesn’t have to be pretty. I’d rather we actually get to live here.