Help! I’m Stuck In Survival Mode!

My Arch Nemesis...The Laundry Hamper

My Arch Nemesis…The Laundry Hamper

The other day a very wise person told me that I am in “survival mode.” I found her statement incredibly enlightening because it is true; I am in survival mode. Survival mode in and of itself is not a terrible place to be.  I mean it’ s not as if I’m in Holy Shit! My Life is Crumbling to Pieces Right in Front of My Eyes mode.  I’ve been there before, so I would recognize that awful place.  Nope.  Thankfully I am not there. When you’re in that place, you feel like you’re a peasant from  the Dark Ages, living in a cruck house, suffering from scurvy and lice and just waiting for the Dear Lord, a neighboring warlord or the bubonic plague to take you out of your misery.   I am also not in Wow! Life is Really Freaking Great mode either.  No.  Not there, unfortunately. Survival mode should more accurately be called Just Barely Keeping My Head Above Water, But, Somehow I’m Managing mode, but that is far too long to either say or type over and over again, so survival mode it is. 

When you are in survival mode, you are still able to experience happiness.  You are still able to hold onto your hopes and dreams.  The problem is that when you are in survival mode, you are only able, in fact, you are often barely able, to make it through your day.  You have your hopes and dreams and plans, but you are unable to see any of them through because you are too busy, well, surviving.  I am too busy muddling through my daily life. Sometimes I don’t even do a very good job with those things that other mothers and homemakers seem to do with ease.

My children create messes faster than I can clean them, and, yes, they are responsible with cleaning up after themselves, but they can’t even keep up with the disasters they create.  I feel like I spend my days caught in the aftermath of a hurricane (this hurricane being a perfect scenario where two storms-Storm Jack and Storm Allegra- converge to create optimal devastation).  Meanwhile, I’m being chased by two tornadoes, whipping around and tossing shit all over the place.  It doesn’t help that Jack, due to some visual perception issues, tends to dump things out in order to find anything.  He doesn’t calmly sift through a drawer of clothes or a bin of toys to find a desired item.  No. In order to locate an item, he dumps everything out and spreads it all over the floor until desired item is found.  I have to say, there’s nothing like the sweet sound of an entire bin of Playmobile figures being dumped all over the floor. 

Never mind the kids, I can’t keep up with a laundry pile that has morphed into something like the blob from the 1958 horror sci/fi movie. Before, I can make a dent in the damned thing it grows and expands, dirty clothes oozing out of the hamper and onto to the floor, spreading faster than any human can possibly manage to keep up with.  Oh, and the dishes.  I can wash dishes for hours, only turn around and find that more dirty dishes have magically appeared in the sink .Add to the dumped bins and spills and laundry and dishes the fact that I am homeschooling my son and attempting to teach two college courses.  Now it’s only the beginning of the semester. Just wait until my students start submitting term papers and research projects.  Also add that I seldom say “no” when the kids ask me to play and never say “no” when they ask me to read to them.  Another point that I have to add is that my husband is a chef and pretty much always at work. 

So what does this all add up to?  One frazzled, wreck of a woman who’s stuck in survival mode. Like I said, I still dream of doing really fabulous things with my family and for myself.  I plan to uuber organize my home Montessori style.  I plan to decorate our home in a lovely fashion.  I plan to read the thousands of books I have piled next to my bed. I plan to take my children to beautiful and exotic places. I just don’t know when or how I’ll do all these things.  When will I stop just surviving?  When will I stop throwing myself down on my bed at the end of the day and saying, “Holy Shit!  What the hell just happened?”

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. You don’t have to be a parent to be in this place.  You can be stuck in survival mode at work, in your relationships, in your own unique life.  Again, it’s not that bad.  We are alive.  We are so lucky compared to those who are in true survival mode, as in those struggling to literally survive without clean water, food, money or their health.  Again, what we are doing is really just barely keeping our heads above water, yet we’re managing.  And we should be grateful to be managing.  That said, as humans, we have the capacity for so much more.  If we didn’t, why would we dream?  We want our lives to be extraordinary.  We want the lives of our children and those we love to be extraordinary.  And they can be.  The question is “how?”  What changes can we make?  What improvements can we make in our own lives in order to enable ourselves to fully enjoy all the extraordinary things that are waiting for us.  I am an eternal optimist.  I will figure this out.  How about you?  Any ideas?

Killing the Arts with their Nonsense

Painted by my grandmother, Margureite Dunne

Painted by my grandmother, Margureite Dunne

As an unhappy teenager, I immersed myself in dance and theater.  The arts enabled me to paradoxically exist and disappear, which worked out well for a kid who felt invisible and, despite the desire to exist and be acknowledged, felt too insecure and uncomfortable to be noticed.  The arts also allowed me the freedom to live in a universe that ran parallel to a reality that, to my young self, was dark and sad. They gave me a voice when I was too shy and self-conscious to speak. They allowed me to holler without a sound and magically create beauty out of ugliness.

Thankfully, I was granted a modest degree of  talent and was able to pursue modern dance as a profession.  As I grew into adulthood, dancing became my drug, better than martinis or sex or cigarettes; although, I must admit, I derived great and perverse pleasure when I emerged damp and tired from the rehearsal studio, ventured out  into the cold New York City night and lit up.  There was just nothing that compared to the sensation of inhaling smoke and cold air into lungs freshly opened from intense physical activity. Ahhhhh..anyways..I am also happy to report that with age came greater happiness, and, when dancing, I achieved moments of pure joy.

Despite the wonderous moments, an artist’s life can be a difficult, dirty and weird one as well.  There were years when I lived like a subterranean rodent and shared my residents with rats and other vermin.  I lived in dangerous neighborhoods in Inwood and the lower east side.  I risked my life getting off the subway in the wee hours of he morning to schlep through the bowels of the city on my way home from working some shitty job to support my dancer’s existence. Thank God dancers don’t eat  because I would have been in trouble if I had to buy food, and I was certainly unwilling to abandon my beloved cigarettes. I love to smoke, and, although it’s been twelve years since my last puff (with the exception of the occasional cigar), I still miss it.

Eventually, I had to give up my artist’s life.  I simply would never make a living as a dancer and with the stress of not having money, health insurance or a safe place to live, I decided it was time to move on.  The thing is, I have never given up my love of the arts.  The other night I sat with Allegra and introduced her to the New York City Ballet.  We watched excerpts from Balanchine’s Jewels and the dancing was exquisite. We watched another YouTube video which included an interview with Peter Martins, New York City Ballet’s Artistic Director.  He spoke of the importance of the orchestra and the musicality of NYCB  dancers and explained how Balanchine’s choreography was about the music. I know the dancer’s love of music.  I understand how the low sad strains of a cello can flood you with tears and how the glorious notes of the violin as it makes its way up the scale can cause your heart to burn.  I guess that is why I always found over intellectualized modern dance numbers executed in silence to be obnoxious.

Even more bizarre to me than some of the avant garde modern dance pieces I have seen are some of the dance numbers I witnessed at the talent show of my son’s former parochial school. I guess I should preface this by stating that I simply don’t get what so many of the local dance studios are teaching the kids.  I do know that the parents are constantly buying bedazzled costumes for dance competitions.  How is it possible that dance competitions for six years olds even exist?  I mean, how can these studios possibly be instilling a love of the art form when the focus is competition?  I am confused. Are we talking about cheerleading or dancing?  What about the abstract expression of emotion?  What about developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the music?  Well…  at the aforementioned talent show many young students from the local competition dance academies performed, and I was appalled.  There was no artistry, no musicality, no technique.  There were, however, ridiculous movements set to songs with inappropriate lyrics.  What they are teaching children in these studios is not art, it is bedazzled suburban bullshit, or burbshit if you will. Dance studios are businesses, and they thrive in the burbs where parents are all too willing to enroll their children in whatever they think everyone else’s kids are doing.   In the burbs parents pay boatloads of money on lessons and clubs and teams, not necessarily because their children express an interest in these things but because they feel they should be doing these things.   I cannot help but question what these parents will say in ten or twelve years if their children express an interest in pursuing dance on a professional level.  Will they support their children entering the artist community or will they frown upon it and encourage their kids to enter more stable (ha!)  fields like finance, business and law? If they do encourage their children to pursue their dreams, then why not start them off in a reputable institution that respects the art form.  AND if they would never stand for their children becoming artists,  why expose them to it at all, especially on such a base level?  I guess the answer to that is that it’s just what suburban kids do and also perhaps a broad range of extracurriculars looks good on the college application.  Great.  Way to suck the soul out of the art form.

Speaking of sucking the soul out of the art, I also had a deeply disturbing experience at a local music studio.  Last year I enrolled Jack, then seven, in drum lessons.  I love drumming (listening, not playing) and Jack loves music, so we were both very excited to start.  As I have mentioned before, my Jack has some special needs, and, at the time, Jack was enrolled in school. For him, each day was more painful than the next, everyday bringing with it a new failure and additional blow to his already fragile self-esteem.  We enrolled him in music class to bring a bit of joy into his difficult week.  It was supposed to be fun and stress free.  And the first class was great.  His teacher had him tap along on his drum pad while he played Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” When class was over, Jack was pumped and eager to return the following week.  It was during the second class that things took a turn for the worse.  I observed from the window, so I know exactly when everything went south, which was when the instructor attempted to teach Jack how to read the notes.  Now Jack has attention issues, so what do you think he did after already having a long, hard day at school?  He zoned out. He quietly zoned out.  After class I was politely informed by his instructor that there was nothing more he could do with Jack and that I should buy him a play drum set.  Come again?! Dude, you’re a drumming teacher.  Your student is seven years old.  Why don’t you just ask him what kind of music he likes and let him follow along as you play?  Why don’t you just talk about music?  Why don’t you just let him play on the drum and you help him learn through discovery?  Why don’t you care?  Why don’t you give a fuck?  He’s a quirky kid, probably going to be some kind of artist.  He’s a bright kid.  He’s an interesting and passionate kid.  Why can’t you just show the slightest bit of interest?  Oh that’s right.  You work at the suburban music factory where all the “normal” kids of the world are sent to follow your curriculum and where the parents check to make sure that their current seven year olds and future masters of the universe learn to read as well as robotically play music.  Again-burbshit. What the hell would these people do with a true maniac artist?  Where would  Gelsey Kirkland or Van Gogh or Miles Davis or Foster Wallace or…stand in their esteem?

So, my advice to parents who want to instill a true love of the arts in their children is to first teach them yourself.  Listen to classical masterpieces, watch theater and dance productions, read great literature and talk about it, the nuances, the meaning, the underlying emotions.  Seek art in life, in it’s joy and grief.  Look at frozen ponds and enjoy the splendor of the ice sparkling like crystal in the sun.  Sit at the beach on a dark, gray day and seek the inspiration that Turner and Winslow Homer found.  Stand in your backyard on a cold winter morning and enjoy the silence and peace that only a winter morning can bring.  Find art in life, then find true lovers of art to teach your children.  Ignore bells and whistles and promises of sparkly polyester costumes and dance competition glory.  Look for passion,experience and sincerity, and, when you find that, you will find worthy mentors for your children.  And in supporting true artists, we save art.

The Domestically Challenged Homemaker’s Christmas Recap

photo.JPG Christmas

Merry Christmas! How was your holiday?  Oh, I am so happy that you had a great time.  How was my holiday you ask?  Well…ummm… Do you want the “correct” answer or the honest one? If you want to know the truth, my Christmas was 45% life is a bowl of peppermint sticks and elves shit mocha and 55% holy crap, can this get any worse? 

As a domestically challenged homemaker, Christmas presents many hurdles.  I never feel that I have it all together and during Christmas, whatever I did manage to get together falls apart.  What makes Christmas extra difficult is the barrage of pictures of perfect families enjoying traditional Christmas pastimes that we all receive.  They serve as a constant reminder of my own inadequacies. You know what I’m talking about, those Christmas cards and Facebook shots of angelic children baking cookies, decorating Christmas trees, sitting on Santa’s lap and their moms and dads posting things like “a perfect Christmas moment” and “Cards are out. Tree is decorated. Just one more batch to add to my already 108 perfect batches of Christmas cookies and we’re ready for Santa.” I have to admit that I have plenty of beautiful pictures of my kids doing adorably Christmassy things. But for each smiling shot I have about three other shots of a crying child. I don’t know about you, but all those Facebook posts and Christmas cards just serve to magnify my already glaring shortcomings. My messy home and crying child stand in stark contrast to the images of smiling faces  and perfect houses I see everywhere. And you know what really sucks? I try really, really hard to have everything in order and happy for Christmas. I guess this homemaking thing is just not my bag.

That said, each year the Nanni’s host Christmas Eve, and we always manage to pull it off in the nick of time, despite the fact that Giorgio works that afternoon and usually doesn’t arrive home until around 5:00 or 6:00.  This year, however, was exceptionally chaotic.  Let me just say that at 4:30 pm Christmas Eve I raced into the neighborhood liquor store to pick up the ingredients we needed to create the snowball martinis that were going to dazzle our guests with that evening. As I stepped into the store and said hello to my buddy behind the counter, I began to giggle. Not a happy giggle. The other kind. The nervous one that I can’t control. And as I was giggling I asked “Do you think I can get home, clean my house, have the kids gifts wrapped and be ready for guests to arrive by 6:30?” The problem is that as I was giggling, my eyes began to well up. Shit. I could feel the tears coming, and I knew. I knew that any second I would begin the simultaneous laugh and cry. Now that is a very poor indication of my mental well being and it only happens during the most high stress situations. Somehow, someway, I swallowed the tears, but continued to giggle. My friend assured me that I would in fact make it and what I needed was a cocktail…or ten. Ironically, given my aversion to Christmas Facebook posts (I really have a love hate relationship with FB) and my limited time, as soon as I pulled into my driveway and before I entered the house, I was compelled to post the following on FB:

I’m in the weeds!!! Okay, can’t have a heart attack on Christmas eve.  That would really suck for the kids.  I’ll make it.  Right??? Wait, Christmas shouldn’t be like this.  LOL (perhaps though I should be crying).

Why ever did I post that?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it was cathartic.  Perhaps I wanted support.  Perhaps I wanted someone else to say, “yep, I’m in shit too.”  I don’t know. I do know that a few kindhearted people actually responded with assurances that all would be well, and those comments helped. The big question, however, is how does one find herself in such a state on Christmas eve?

There are three factors the contributed to my Christmas chaos.  One, I teach college English, which means that during December I am swamped with portfolios to grade and final grades to be submitted, Two, my husband is a chef and December is the busiest time of year, so he practically lives at work during the Christmas season.  Three, my son has sensory issues.  If you are familiar with SPD, you know how Christmas can be very trying for anyone who struggles with it.  This year these three factors converged to create the perfect holiday storm.  Oh yeah, I forgot to add the fourth and most obvious factor which you already know…I am clinically diagnosed as being domestically challenged. 

So this is how Christmas played out.  Giorgio was supposed to arrive home at 5:00 Christmas Eve but didn’t walk into the door until 6:45.  Thank God I had the wherewithal to call the guests and ask them to come at 7 instead of 6:30.  We pulled it together.  The evening was fun.  We laughed, ate, drank.  Good times.  The guests departed at 11:30 and Giorgio and I cleaned until 12:00. I managed to get my little one to sleep, but my son has sleep issues and didn’t fall asleep until around 2:00 am at which time my husband and I proceeded to wrap gifts for three hours.  At 5:00 we made our way to bed.  Unfortunately, we managed to wake our son up on our way, and he never went back to sleep.  Needless to say, Giorgio and I didn’t sleep at all.  With everyone, aside from Allegra, suffering from extreme sleep deprivation, Christmas day, without boring you with the details, was challenging.  Before I passed out that night I surfed the internet for blogs on special needs children and the challenges Christmas presents.  I just didn’t want to feel alone.  I wanted some confirmation that it wasn’t just my lack of domestic homemaking prowessphoto.JPG Christmas that led to our less than blissful holiday. And you know what?  I did find some comforting stories shared by parents who are far more generous with sharing information than I am.  For that I was very grateful.  And, on a truly positive note, Allegra had a great time for herself.  She enjoyed all the preparations leading up to the big day (cookie baking, gingerbread house making, Nutcracker Suite watching, tree decorating and Santa visiting)  and Christmas day itself. 

So will this domestically challenged wretch of a woman do anything different next year?  Maybe some things, but not all . I am an eternal optimist.  I have hope that next year will go more smoothly.  I hope that our lives will be more peaceful, less chaotic.  All I know is that despite all the insanity of the holiday, we are okay. Christmas night Giorgio and I tucked our children into bed and kissed them and told them we loved them and really, that’s all that matters.  They are here.  We are here together.  The four of us.  I know I often end my posts this way, but it is how I feel. I complain about my shit, but I am a lucky woman ( a wreck yes, but a lucky person none the less).  Wishing all of you a peaceful, healthy and happy new year!

The Lesson My Children Taught Me

CYMERA_20131116_210439

I love the Beatles’ song “Let It Be.”

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be *

This song is a part of the soundtrack of my life. When I listen to the news and learn of great inexplicable tragedy, I find myself playing it over and over again in my head. It is remarkably comforting. Despite the fact that Paul McCartney wrote this song about his own mother, and, given my extreme ambivalence towards matters of religion, it strikes me as somewhat odd that I still like to think that the song is about the Blessed Mother, and, now that I no longer give a shit if it sounds uncool, I am okay with admitting this. Although I have been engaged in my own personal battle with my religion for years, I find great comfort in the divine Mother Mary. She is a mother’s ideal: a gentle, patient, ever comforting presence. I have no delusions of grandeur, but as a parent, I do strive to be gentle, patient and comforting, and I hope when I am gone, many, many years from now, my children will remember me in this way. But what of this idea of letting it be? As parents we strive to help, to fix, to make everything better for our children. What of letting it be? Letting them be? This week both my children taught me lessons in how to do this. What I learned is that letting it be can painful, liberating, inevitable and right.

The first part my lesson was delivered by Allegra, my four year old daughter. I volunteered to help out for muffin baking at preschool. This year Allegra has blossomed socially and has even made a best friend. Last year, if I had volunteered in her class she would cling to my leg and not only not let go but also not allow any other child to come within five feet of me. Soooo, with last year still fresh in my mind, I was a bit apprehensive about showing up at school, just when she is beginning to make true friendships. That said, this is her last year before “big kid” school, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be in her class for the morning. I thought it through and had a plan in place-if, in any way, my presence was disruptive for her, I would leave (great plan right?).

Well I am happy (and sad) to say that my dear soul sister Allegra did not give a damn if I was there or not. Actually, I just lied; she didn’t want me there at all. As a matter of fact, she actually pushed me away when I attempted to sit next to her at cicle time (talk about feeling like an ass). To feel relief and loss at the same time-what a strange experience! But those were my feelings, relief and loss. On one hand, I felt a sense of pride and victory and relief. I was so proud of my littlest one. I had sent her out into the world, and she found happiness. She found friendship. She is a glorious creature. On the other hand, well, it hurt…it hurt a lot. You see, Allegra and I, from the day I brought her home from the hospital, have been attached at the hip. Literally, we have been attached at the hip. For the first two years of her life, she loved to be held, so I held her. I held her on my hip. I held her on my hip as much as I could. I cooked and cleaned and did pretty much everything other than drive with her on my hip. As she got a bit older and too big to constantly be held, she remained as close as possible to my side. And she has remained by my side until a few weeks ago. Recently, I have noticed that she has needed me less and less. She wants to be a “big girl” and as such, wants to do most things on her own…like a “big girl.” And I want to scoop her up. I so want to pick her up and yell “Stop! Please stop! Don’t grow so fast. What’s the rush little one? Just stay with me a bit longer.” But that is wrong. She is happy. This is as it should be. This is life. This is my job, to let her grow, to let her go, to let it be. Let life take it’s course Heather. Let it be. Let her be. Don’t be selfish. Don’t hold her back. Let her be. Let it be.

And now onto my Jack. Jack gave me my second lesson in learning how to let it be. Jack doesn’t run with the pack. He is a lone wolf, a wonderfully brilliant, kind, unique and creative lone wolf. Unless he is with those family members who are closest to him, with whom he has deep and meaningful relationships, Jack prefers to be on his own. Of course, I worry. In the society in which we live it’s all about being a member of a team; there are sports teams, work teams, cooperative teams at school and teams on the playground. And if it’s not teams, it’s partners. Work on your math with a partner, play catch with a partner, complete this project with a partner. Jack doesn’t like working with teams and partners. I have pushed him to engage in group activities. I have encouraged him to try to enjoy playdates. How stupid is that? How can you possibly encourage someone to enjoy what they do not like? Why would you ever try to encourage (force) someone to learn to “like” something they do not like? Jack is not anti-social. He loves deeply and has meaningful relationships with those dear to him. Period. That is how he is now. He may change in the future. Who knows? But for now, he just doesn’t enjoy teams, groups and artifically “manufactured” by your parents relationships.

That said, the other day I asked our babysitter to come by so that I could run some errands. When I told Jack that the sitter was coming, he asked if he could run errands with me. Jack has never asked to run errands with me. I was thrilled. So I tweaked my plans to include lunch at IHOP. When our sitter arrived, I gave Allegra a kiss (Allegra loves her babysitter. Rightfully so; she is a wonderful woman) and off I went with Jack. At lunch we talked about life, about where we want to travel, about Christmas. He played the game on the IHOP placememat and identified the flags of various countries. The Australian flag got us talking about penal colonies and Britain and Australia and the United States and Jamestown. Then, somehow, we moved on to animals and log cabins and having a farm and Christmas and how great it would be to live in a log cabin on a farm and decorate it for Christmas. It was awesome. Then, rather than run errands, we ran around the mall looking at Christmas decorations (I know. I know. It’s early, but Jack LOVES Christmas). I can sincerely say that I had soooooo much fun, and I know Jack did too. That night I thought about my Jack. I thought, let him be. Let him be. He is lovely. He is brilliant. He is kind and gentle. He loves Christmas and log cabins and animals and his family. He loves his dog and blue skys at 4:00 pm on winter days (something we all learned to appreciate from his Uncle Sean). He loves the book Owl Moon. Let him be Heather. Stop pushing. He is perfectly imperfect. He is Jack, wonderful, beautiful Jack.

These are not times of trouble and darkness in our house. Our children are healthy. All is well. Every night I am blessed to kiss them on their soft cheeks and know that they are okay. All is well. Let them be Heather. Let them be.

* McCartney, Paul. Beatles. “Let It Be.” EMI, Apple Records, Lyrics. 1970.

Mrs. Nanni Makes a Home…With the Help of Her Blog

How about a picture? Curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

How about curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

I have read a few articles by writers who state that blogging has made them better people, and I get it. It really makes complete sense. At the end of the day I don’t want to read my blog and realize that I am nothing more than the member of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, recounting sad tales of my days and providing myself with the insights I could have used in real time rather than in hindsight. Worse yet, I don’t want to read my blog and realize I have been the protagonist in my own life, jacking things up for myself and everyone around me. While it’s one thing to employ self-effacement for humor and levity, it’s another thing to just be an ass. Soooo…what’s my point?

I think I should begin with this. It is a fact that I am domestically challenged. In my adult life, I have yet to make a house a home in the physical sense. For me, experience transcends the material. Following this logic, as long as there is deep love and joy and excitement, some sense of joie de vivre, then the actual setting where life takes place has been relatively unimportant. My thought has been if you take away the happiness of experience then you hold to the setting, the material, for some sort satisfaction. My reasoning, however is deeply flawed.

While I keep a clean home, it is stark. I have simply been too busy living life with my family to give it much attention. When we first moved into our house I had grand decorating plans. I had the children’s rooms freshly painted. I bought beautiful comfortors with matching curtains. I even hung the curtains, until I took them down to have our windows replaced. Now they sit in a closet, almost forgotten because I have been too busy living life.

The question is, have I been living my life or have I been consumed by my life? It’s not as though I’m always happy. I worry…A LOT. I am stressed…A LOT. I work all the time. I am tired. It really would be so nice to have a warm and inviting place to rest at the end of the day. But I didn’t give this much thought until last week.

Giorgio and I were sitting in the kitchen when our Jack came in with a catalog from some home furnishing company. It was their winter issue and in it were pictures of homes beautifully decorated for Christmas. Jack loves Christmas and winter and snow. He loves to look at Norman Rockwell’s painting of main street Stockbridge at Christmastime. He loves images of Sundblom’s Santa sitting by a roaring fire and paintings of villages during winter with their white steepled churches and homes with illuminated windows that leave the viewer to imagine the cheer and warmth and fragrance that is within. While Jack was sitting in the kitchen showing us his catalog, his eyes filled up. When asked “why” he responded, “It’s just so beautiful.” This is the moment that I realized that setting really does matter.

Of course setting matters. Yes you can perform a play in a black box theater, but the brilliance of that is that each audience member gets to set it as they like, as his imagination deem best. I feel that my Jack and Allegra lack for nothing other than a setting. Jack craves warmth and coziness, and I am sure Allegra does as well. Yes, they have all they could possibly need and more, toys and books and clothes and joyful experiences and the great love of parents who have placed them at the center of their universe. But they don’t have a beautiful setting for which to settle their memories. As time marches forward and memories become more and more distant from the actual experiences those feelings they had as children will need to be paired with images just as powerful in order to survive their battle against time and old age. More importantly, they need the experience of a warm and inviting home now because they deserve it. We all do. Home is not just an abstraction. It is physical; it is material, and as such, it should be beautiful. I know. I know. Most everyone else figured this our ages ago.

So this brings me back to my initial point. How will I use this blog to make me a better person? Each month I will post pictures of the progress I make as I attempt to transform the Nanni house into a home…in the physical sense. I don’ want to just make a joke out of my lack of domestic prowess; although, it does provide some pretty decent comedic material. I don’t want to look back and regret that I never paid attention to the setting of our life together as a family. Here goes. Wish me luck.

I Don’t Need to Bring the Dog In the House. Bigfoot is a Vegan.

I love Bigfoot. The mere mention of his name transports me back to the late seventies. My brother and I are hanging with some kids from the neighborhood in some finished basement. It doesn’t matter whose finished basement; they were all pretty much the same, with the exception of the Ralph’s. You see, for the first ten years of my life, I lived in a neighborhood that embodied all things glorious about being middle class in the seventies. It was a seventies oasis in a desert of well-built 1950’s homes. All the houses were either ranches or raised ranches, cheaply built with what appeared to be a cardboard like material which eventually began to fall apart with the years. During the winter we all used kerosene heaters, since the “modern” electric heat wasn’t efficient enough to heat drafty matchbox houses. And the piece de resistance of so many of these homes (my brother and I were two of the unfortunates that were deprived)…the basement rec room. The design aesthetic was the same in all. Each was finished with faux wood paneling, cheap indoor/outdoor carpeting, an old plaid couch with some sort of velvet like leopard, zebra or dolphin throw blanket to cover the holes in its arms. And yes, in case you were wondering, people did decorate their walls with velvet Elvis. And if painting on velvet a la Bob Ross wasn’t your thing, you would hang up some poorly rendered painting of Hawaii or Puerto Rico or Bora Bora. Now, the Ralph’s basement was another story entirely. Theirs was equipped with a pool table, aquarium which ran the length of an entire wall AND their parent’s bedroom which included a waterbed with a mirrored frame. Anyway, I digress, but I just felt so compelled to convey the setting.

So back to Bigfoot. It was in these basements where many a serious Bigfoot conversation took place. Was he real? Could we catch him? Was there any possibility that he lived in one of our backyards? The beauty of bigfoot was that he wasn’t really THAT scary. I mean, he could be and he was depending on the day or the weather or our mood. He also had the potential of being the motherlode of pets or friends. No one knew. Was he a man-eater? Was he shy? Was he mischievous? Who cared? We’d take Bigfoot anyway we could get him. We just liked him. He was exciting and mysterious and cool. The thing about Bigfoot was that he wasn’t super creepy or diabolical. He wasn’t Rosemary’s baby, but he could, like some of the neighborhood kids, be the giant lovechild of two potsmoking, LSD tripping hippies (although I was too young to even imagine that at the time).

Bigfoot mania was not just a U.S. phenomenon. Apparently, we used to export the worst possible shows television had to offer, and Italy was happy to accept. One such show was Bigfoot and Wildboy. Neither myself nor my brother can recall this show, but my husband, who grew up in Rome, remembers it well. Here’s the plot. A young boy is lost in the dense forest of the American Northwest. Bigfoot finds the young boy, raises him and when the boy grows up, they become the dynamic crime fighting team of Bigfoot and Wildboy. The best part you ask? Well they filmed it in the wooded Hollywood hills and you can actually see the Hollywood sign in the background. Better than that, no one can track down Bigfoot and Wildboy…although they roam the Hollywood Hills. Pure Awesomeness!

Now that my husband and I have grown into monumentally immature adults, you can imagine how thrilled we are with the whole “search for Bigfoot” industry. Once in a while we’ll watch “Hunt for Bigfoot” and be delighted and stupefied by the fact that they ALWAYS search for bigfoot at night. Also the hunters always seem utterly oblivious to the fact that they are in the forest, and that is why they hear noises, that perhaps the sound they keep hearing is acorns falling from trees and not Bigfoot throwing rocks at them. It’s just good stuff, and the people on the show just seem like good eggs. Nothing malicious, nothing scary, just like bigfoot himself.

What’s even cooler than Bigfoot shows? Well, the fact that now my son is into Bigfoot. And over the past couple of days, there’s been some great Bigfoot material. Twice in one week we received BIG Bigfoot news. First, the Sasquatch Genome Project (yes, you read that correctly) claims that they have DNA evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot, which is mind-blowing, considering that after all these years there has been not a single shred of physical Bigfoot evidence, not a bone, not a hair, nothing. Then, a Pennsylvania hiker claims to have spotted two Bigfoots AND he has the pictures to prove it! Eureka!

So all this Bigfoot talk got Jack, Giorgio and I talking. Of course, having a chef in the family, we had to talk about what Bigfoot eats. Now that completely depends upon what exactly Bigfoot is (too bad we don’t have the Sasquatch Genome DNA evidence handy). I always pictured him to be more of a man-bear, which, of course, would make him a carnivore. My husband, however, made the compelling argument that he is more of a man-monkey, and, after pondering the evidence, I have to agree. That said, it is not only plausible but likely, that Bigfoot, given that he is more monkey than man, is not only a vegetarian but a vegan. So that means if Bigfoot found his way into our backyard, assuming that he does not play too rough, our kids and dog could be relatively safe. But that is neither here nor there.

Anyway, once we sent Giorgio off to work, Jack and I continued with our Bigfoot inquiries. In fact, I was able to get my son to do some internet research, which is a miracle in and of itself, given his distaste for anything “academic.” We read Bigfoot articles, looked at Bigfoot pictures, videos…basically we OD’d on Bigfoot. And it was so much fun.

My childhood was not perfect, but it was pretty great. I grew up in an age when the word playdate didn’t exist. We freely roamed our neighborhood, finding ourselves in our neighbor’s subterranean dens, and our parents didn’t worry. They should have, but they didn’t. It was just a different time when the only thing children feared was that there was the slightest possibility that a giant man/monkey/bear could be lurking in their backyard. Our children can no longer roam their neighborhoods freely. They know the horrible reality that things much more sinister than human like animals roam close to home. We tell them. We teach them. We must. But let’s enjoy those silly moments when we can lose ourselves in stories about innocuous creatures like Bigfoot. And let’s hope they don’t really exist. But until we know for sure, let’s bring our dogs in at night, especially if we live in Pennsylvania, the American Northwest or, of course, if we live anywhere near the Hollywood Hills.

Oh Competition. How I Loathe Thee.

I abhor competition. I am afraid of competition. I avoid competition at all costs. So, how am I supposed to raise my children in a highly competitive world?

I should pause for a moment and explain. I am not talking about
obvious competition, as in competitive sports. I’m talking about the other kind. The kind that drives people to behave in unflattering ways. The kind that stems from envy and insecurity and leads to nothing good. I’m talking about the kind of competition that pits not rivals but colleagues, friends, parents, family members, and those other groups who in theory should dwell harmoniously on this earth against each other and drives them to engage in silent battles with those they should support.

I guess I have somewhat designed my life so I can avoid competition whenever possible, and this has worked in my favor. During meetings and other engagements with colleagues I always look to hang with the older part-timers, those folks who have retired from previous careers and now work for the sheer pleasure of it. These are some low-key cats with nothing to prove. We can chat about work, or not. One thing is for sure–we will not be nervously talking over one another, trying to prove who is more talented, better read, intellectually superior. No. In fact, retirees just don’t give a shit and really, neither do I. I mean, like myself,they care about the quality of their work and are passionate about what they do, but they are not competing for anything. If the older set isn’t present at a work function, I know I’m going to leave with a headache and an impending panic attack.

Speaking of work, just the other day a colleague approached me in the hallway. She wanted to know if I would be applying for the full-time position that will be opening within the next few months. I assured her that I would not, that, at present time, I simply could not, but I wished her luck (it would be completely superfluous to inquire whether she was planning on applying). I thought the issue was settled, so I was surprised when, upon our next meeting, she needed to know the details of my resume. When forced to share, I let her in on what I perceived was unsettling news. My resume is pretty good, if I do say so myself; although, I think my penchant for platform stilettos and sparkle eye shadow leads some of my academic friends to underestimate my credentials. Anyway, the topic has not been broached again. Thank God. You guys enjoy yourselves. Thankfully, I am not in the race.

If competition in the workplace freaks me the hell out, you can only imagine how I feel about hanging with parent competitors, far more formidable foes than you will ever find on a football field or in a lion’s den for that matter. My first experience with Mommy competition was in the physical therapist’s office. Jack was about nine months old and diagnosed with mild torticollis. He and I were in the waiting room when I recognized a woman with a daughter about my son’s age who I had met at childbirth class. Well we got to talking about the kids, how they had the same condition and their initial evaluation by the therapist. Apparently, according to this mother, her daughter scored “off the charts” on one of the therapist’s evaluations. Huh? It’s not like the therapist administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Babies and the little baby genius earned a score of infinity. Wow!!! As far as I could recall, the test took ten minutes and involved a Fischer Price toy piano and a ball, and my son’s score was in fact “on the charts.”

And so it has gone. Surreal encounters with lunatic parents desperate to prove their children superior in one way or another. Unfortunately, as my kids get older, I am now witnessing their weird encounters with what must be the offspring of these competitive parents. At the beach this summer, a little boy about Jack’s just wouldn’t relent with the “I’m better” comments. “I can hold my breath longer.” “I can race faster.” “I can do the butterfly and you can’t.” Blah, blah, blah. It went on and on. Thankfully Jack just doesn’t give a damn. At some point my guy just swam away. Right on little man. Doing it mommy style.

This brings us to the park encounter which inspired this post. Allegra found a new friend. The two girls played quite nicely until they discovered that both take ballet classes. Suddenly, play stopped and competition began with new little friend asking to see Allegra’s first position, pirouettes and leaps and then correcting her, showing her the “right” way and informing my daughter that her dancing was not very good. Allegra looked at me, hurt and confused. At that point I broke it up and whisked my little sprite away. A line had been crossed. As a former dancer myself, I have a deep love of ballet. Although I haven’t danced professionally in years, dance is a part of life in the Nanni house. We always dance. Practically every theme song to every children’s show has a special dance choreographed by the kids and I. We dance to be silly and cool and happy. We dance to rock and pop and electronica and classical music. Dance for us is primal and joyful. To see my four-year daughter told that her dancing wasn’t good enough; to see the look of hurt in her eyes disturbed me.

I hate silly, unnecessary competition. I hate dance competitions. I hate when dance is reduced to a sport and robbed of its beauty and artistry. And so too with life. Life is not a sport; it is art, sometimes beautiful, sometimes joyful, sometimes tragic, but art none the less. There is no place for diminishing anyone to advance oneself. That is ugliness, not artistry.

And so, what do I teach my children? How are they to survive in a competitive world? I guess they just need to learn how to dance on through. They need to learn how to be the kindest and the best they can possibly be. They must learn to maximize their God-given talents…and not give a shit about what everyone else is doing. Carry on little ones. You are great and fabulous and perfectly imperfect. Be good; do your best. My love for you is constant. You will be okay. You are wonderous. You are art.

Wait a Minute. Did I Just Babysit Your Kid???

Just the other day I brought the kids to the library. For the first fifteen minutes we had a great time. Jack busied himself in the nonfiction section, pouring over stacks of books about Vikings and Roman soldiers, Navy Seals and the Vietnam war which makes complete sense because, hey, when you’re not battling your arch-nemesis and baby sister Allegra, you may as well research strategy. Meanwhile, Allegra and I played with the puzzles; you know, the library puzzles touched by a million other germy little hands. Funny thing, for a self diagnosed germaphobe such as myself, I didn’t mind. We were just having a nice, low-key time.

Despite our brief period of peace and relaxation, I knew we were in trouble when an adorable, gravely voiced little moppet came bounding over to us declaring that her “hair was a mess!!!!” She proceeded to plop herself down on the floor in between Allegra and I, retell the saga of her hair and ask if she could play with us. Of course, Allegra was impervious to this little one’s charm. You see, now that Allegra is in preschool three days a week and I am teaching a bit, we do not have quite as much time to spend together as we did during the summer. Consequently, Allegra is rather possessive of her time with Mommy. One can imagine that my child was none too happy with the introduction of a new little friend to our quint scenario.

I have learned that Allegra is painfully shy and none too comfortable when strangers get all up in her business. She needs time. I have observed her ritual when I drop her off at preschool. She enters the building, stands in the middle of the classroom, folds her hands in front of her body, rocks from left leg to right and observes. Eventually she joins the group, I depart and three hours later pick up a happy child. A former introvert myself, I respect my daughter’s process. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t cringe when a newcomer comes storming into her comfortable world.

So, how do you think my child responded when this cute, sweet little girl asked if she could join us? Well she growled…of course. Mortified, I apologized profusely to moppet’s mother, who joined our little group at some point during this encounter. Mother gave me a very patient smile, not the longed for “Oh don’t worry about it sister. Been there. Let me tell you what my daughter did when….” Just a patronizing, patient, placid smile. She sat down, joined us girls in our awkward little circle on the floor and played with her daughter for all of three seconds. Then she got up and left, leaving me with her daughter and my unhappy child.

Needless to say, as moppet’s mother serenely browsed the book isles making her selection to bring home, I entertained her daughter, who, unbeknownst to our new little friend, chased my own little girl away. You may ask why didn’t I just walk away. Well that was an impossibility given that my little friend decided to follow me wherever I went. After about thirty minutes, placid mom collected her child and departed. In that moment I was struck; “Wait a minute. Did I just babysit your kid? I mean, I still have not yet been able to choose my books, and I don’t think you, relaxed mother, would have been able to either if your daughter was with you. You, relaxed mother, pulled the very sneaky dump and run, a maneuver that some parents have mastered.” You know, it’s when a parent silently tip toes away to do whatever is on their agenda and leaves their child with you. I have to say, I was pretty ticked. I mean I reprimanded my child when her behavior was inappropriate, but she’s four and just learning how to make her way in this world. What, relaxed mother, is your excuse? Clearly my child was uncomfortable; clearly we were having a mother-daughter moment. What is your excuse for your lack of concern for my daughter’s feelings and also my situation-trying to attend to two little children, one mine and one yours, both demanding undivided attention. I have to call you out other mother. You are guilty of the dump and run, and it’s selfish.

Upon further reflection, I realize that this was not the first time my family has been the victim of the dump and run. Recently, on a rare afternoon that my husband wasn’t working, we took the kids to the park. Giorgio and Jack were throwing the football around, an activity which thrilled both Giorgio and myself because Jack usually prefers more sedentary activities, when two little boys, brothers in fact, joined in on the fun. At first this was fine, but then the brothers began to demand more and more attention of Giorgio, and Jack began to withdraw. As I watched this play out, I observed that the boys’ mother was sitting on a bench, drinking her Starbucks, chatting away with a mommy friend seemingly oblivious to her boys’ intrusion upon Jack and Giorgio’s game. Finally, my husband, frustrated with the situation, decided that it was time to leave. As we passed by the “oblivious” mother, she looked up at us, smiled and thanked my husband for playing with her boys. She then matter-of-factly noted that she and her husband recently spit up so her boys liked to “latch onto” father figures. What??? So you did know see what was happening? And you approved?? And you chose to use it as some downtime for yourself??? Come on parents!!!

Let me say, I in no way fault the children in these situations. They are doing what children are supposed to do, seeking out fun and happiness and a good time. This is what makes children so wonderful. They are innocent and unaware of social nuances. It is our job as parents to teach them. Of course, I love when children ask my kids to play. Nothing makes me happier than to see Jack and Allegra having fun with their peers. BUT, there is a difference between playing with other children and inserting yourself into a family’s special time together. Again, kids do this. Mine try to do it. As a matter of fact, just this summer we ran into Tom, a family friend, at the beach. He was playing with his children in the water and having a grand time. Of course, Jack wanted to join in but we explained that they were having family time. Jack understood, played with us and then, once Tom got out of the water, we told Jack that it was okay to ask Tom’s kids if they wanted to play.

So,here we are. I will take the kids to the park this afternoon and hope they play with other children. But as much as I may want and feel that I deserve to sit on a bench, sip an iced coffee and play with my ipone while my kids play with someone else’s parents, don’t worry; I won’t. I’ll watch mine and hope that everyone else does the same.