Today feels like the first true day of fall. It stormed last night and was still very dark when I woke up this morning, but the sky brightened to a brilliant blue and the air was crisp and cool for the first time this season. On our way to school Five noted, “Brr! It’s cold today!”

I was so enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we’d been having, and although it’s a shame that it will soon be cold, this feels good and right through and through; this is what a real October is.

Three years ago, another October, the boys and I moved into this apartment, and in the first days of November I was legally separated. Like most things and as impossible as it seems, that was a lifetime ago and also not much more than a mere second.

The apartment has slowly evolved; I am always moving the furniture around. A good friend recently gave me a desk, one of two, and she kept the other. I am sitting at it now, and it is just the right size and the wood has loveliest yellow hue to it, and whenever I am admiring it I think of her, possibly working from home herself at my desk’s sister, and it feels good and right; this is what a real desk is.

About a month ago, another good friend patiently listened to me complain about my living room again. “You need to get rid of those couches,” she said.

“I need to get rid of those couches,” I said. And I have been saying that to her for years. As much as I wanted to be rid of that big, bulky living room set, I could barely stand to let it go to anyone but him, and he would have none of it. They were the first big, grown-up furniture purchase we ever made.

My friend, though, she is an architect and designer, and she is studying Feng Shui. “Seriously. You need to get rid of the couches. They are holding you back. Find a way to do it. Whatever it takes.”

And so I did. I found someone – another good friend – who needed them and would pick them up and take them away, and it hurt a little bit to let them go. I almost came up with an excuse at the last minute, but I didn’t let it stop me.

The couches are gone. And yes, it is a shame, they were very nice couches, but too big and manly for my taste. Now they have a new home to which they’re better suited. And now, for the first time, I like my living room. I go in there. Even when I don’t have to. And I sit down. Last night I read in there and almost fell asleep on the couch, a small, comfy yellow loveseat, a hand-me-down from another good friend. It is just the thing. The space felt good and right. Yes, I thought. This is what a real living room is.

My ex and I have almost reached the end of our mandatory three years of legal separation. We’ll be eligible for a divorce in a week and a half. There will be paperwork and legal fees, but soon it will done. It’s a shame since he is a good person and we have the boys and all that, but not everything is the right fit. I like my life now. It feels good and right through and through; this is what my real life is.

Posted in Separation anxiety | 7 Comments


Yesterday morning, before I opened my eyes and it was still dark enough outside to not know what the sky was like, I assumed it would be another beautiful, sunny day, like most of the days before, but soon I saw that it was dull and rainy on the first day of October, and I thought of that poem by Robert Frost about nature slowing down before it climbs into its cozy winter bed, and the poem invites us to slow down too.

Today, though, it is sunny again with bright blue skies, the perfect backdrop for shimmering leaves about to turn.

We haven’t had an October like this since the year I was pregnant with Five, when my firstborn son and I spent every afternoon at the park. I didn’t know it at the time, but life was slower then. (You never know it at the time.)

All summer he had asked when his baby brother would be born and I had told him it would happen when the leaves had fallen from the trees. One day, we were sitting on a wooden bench outside the small nature reserve by our house. A leaf flitted down from above us, swirling and curling as it fell. He gasped and our eyes met. It was magic.

By Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

Posted in nostalgia, something beautiful, The boys | 4 Comments

my practical son

Five has an electric toothbrush and, since Monday, he had a loose tooth.

He was brushing his teeth tonight and decided he might as well use the toilet at the same time, little did he know that he would lose his first tooth just as he was standing over the bowl, and it would be lost forever.

(We couldn’t see it in there, even with the flashlight, and I was glad we couldn’t. Did I really want to fish it out for him? I don’t think so.)

He wasn’t very clear on how the Tooth Fairy operated, and when Nine briefly filled him in, he had a host of questions that Nine has still not asked.

“Does she come every night just to check? How does she know to come?”

“She’s a FAIRY,” Nine explained. “Duh!”

“Magic,” I offered.

“Or she looks on the computer,” Five said.

Nine suggested we write a note to her explaining what happened, so he’d still get his reward. “Just say that your tooth fell in the toilet.”

Five considered this, but only very briefly. He had a better solution: “Mommy, why don’t you just give me some money?”

Posted in The boys | 2 Comments

not everyone can keep up with the pack

My town had its first half marathon yesterday and I was thrilled to participate. It felt like, in our own small way, we were making history. A handful of women from my team placed very well in their age groups, and two of us finished in the top ten, winning cash prizes.

It was a tough race for me. After my enchanted summer in the Rocky Mountains I was used to long, slow mountain runs and cool temperatures. Sunday was unusually hot and humid and I wanted to place well, which meant pushing myself harder than I had since my last short road race in June. I had just about nothing left at the end and my pace was slowing noticeably with only about 500 meters left to go.

One of the guys from my team was running next to me and shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? NOOOOOO! WE ARE ALMOST THERE!!!”

I think I might have moaned a little in response.

He started shouting “Go Go GO!” not unlike the Japanese coach my brother and I witnessed shouting at his ward during the SF marathon in July. “GO! GO! GO!”

I was so mortified by the shouting that I couldn’t help but muster the strength for a strong finish – I just wanted him to stop. It was, actually, exactly what I needed. Just when I thought I had absolutely nothing left, we had fifteen, maybe twenty more strides to go, the finish was before us, and then he reached back, grabbed my hand, and yanked me across the line. Then I got a very sweaty hug.

I didn’t break my personal record, and I hope I never see the photos of my finish, but it was kind of awesome to be running in my town – we went down my street and past my building! – with so many runners I know and so many friends and acquaintances cheering us on, and especially to finish with so much help and support from a teammate, a male teammate especially.

There is an Olympian runner from my town, the face of my town’s largest and most historic running club and of course he ran the race and was invited to speak and give out the prizes. I’ve never met him and have only read a couple of interviews he has given in the local press. He began the women’s awards ceremony by remarking that many of the women had probably left already, as they’d have to get home right after the race to prepare an Italian family’s traditional Sunday lunch. I looked around to see if that was true, but half of the crowd, if not the majority, were women, some of whom were exchanging knowing glances and rolls of the eyes. In addition to the runners, I noticed the pretty young women milling around in short shorts not meant for running, bright yellow patent leather 4-inch heels and tight yellow T-shirts bearing the logo of another local running club with “[Club Name] Girls” emblazoned across the boobs.

I wasn’t going to let one comment like that deflate my happiness and satisfaction, but it does kind of give you a sinking feeling after running your hardest in a race alongside men and women alike and mistakenly thinking that we’re past judging a woman on her Sunday roast and what she looks like in crippling, back-breaking shoes.

One of the women from my club whom I very much admire, a respected doctor and researcher, marathon and ultra-marathoner, a smart, funny, energetic woman who had run with her husband and grown-up daughter and was at the awards ceremony not because she had placed but to support the other women on our team, said loud enough to be heard, “That’s disgusting! That is a terrible thing to say!” and only then did the other women in the crowd nod in agreement and mutter, step in a little closer to each other, and begin talking amongst themselves a little more loudly, without even the pretense of giving a damn at all about what the Olympian, two decades past his prime, was saying.

Well, I thought, at least we are past all that. It’s just a few others who haven’t quite caught up with us yet.

Posted in looking in, running | 1 Comment

by the time my boys are men my heart will no longer fit inside me

So maybe Italian school does get easier with time, because today is already the third day and so far so good.

Five did well on his first day. Before we left for our walk to school, he cried a little and said he didn’t want to go. We told him about Nine’s first day, and how the teacher had assigned him a seat between two girls, horror of all horrors, and it had been tragic. But first grade teachers are kind – it’s a job requirement – and she had moved him. Surely Five’s teacher would be as kind as that and make sure that nothing so terrible happened to him.

He decided he’d give it a try after all.

The incoming first graders gathered on the basketball court after the other classes had gone in and their teachers led them away. Five was his usual happy self by then, just another little boy in a single file line, but before he went inside, he turned and smiled at me, and I waved the same wave of encouragement and pride as every other mother standing on the court that morning, and I hope I always remember his beautiful little face the way it was at that very instant, which I have since then kept frozen in time. His nervous smile, his bright blue eyes, his brother’s hand-me-down uniform T-shirt, a little piece of my heart that walked off with him and into school, while an even bigger piece grew in its place.

Posted in Italian school, The boys | 6 Comments

back to school, again

back to school 002

My kids go back to school on Monday. Nine is almost finished with his summer homework. He didn’t have that much to do but it has been kind of painful. We left the English for the end, and of course it is ridiculously easy for my bilingual son, but we can’t figure out how to get to the exercises on the CD-Rom that came with the reading/listening comprehension book. The same thing happened last year too, and he went to school without completing any of the listening activities. We also lost the English grammar workbook last year; it is floating around somewhere in Colorado. This year we didn’t even buy it. I told the teacher he’d read chapter books and keep a journal. In reality, he read comic books and was too busy at day camp to keep a journal. He did, however, pick up an extensive repertoire of American jokes, and that should count for something, even if the teacher is British. Hey, they are not all about farting.

Five is starting first grade. There is no kindergarten here so it is a big deal and of course we are excited for him. They go straight from preschool to first grade and the way it works in Italy is the kids all learn the rules of a primary school classroom in September and by Christmas they can read.

You’d think by now I’d have it all figured out, this being my fourth year in Italian primary school, but no. I still have a hard time with the back-to-school materials. The teachers give out these lists of all the things our children will need to bring on the first day, and to me they seem impossibly complicated and convoluted. See that list on top of the pile in the photo below? That is just for Nine. The two sheets of paper under it are the lists for Five.

back to school 003

Once you find all the things on the list, smooth art paper of a certain weight and size, colored art paper of a different weight but same size, tracing paper, drafting paper, special “protocol” paper, a million notebooks, you have to cover all those notebooks in special colors. It’s not enough to buy a red notebook that has lines the right size for fourth/fifth grade and has margins, but you must provide a red plastic cover for it. And the blue-covered ruled notebook must have squares that measure 0.5 cm. With or without margins? “My teacher ALWAYS wants margins,” explains Nine. “Except when she doesn’t.”

Everything must be labelled. You are supposed to write their names very tiny on the pencils and the pens. I draw the line at the markers, which they trade off with all the other kids anyway.

Then they go to school and receive their workbooks, which also must be covered in clear sticky covers. Covering workbooks? Who ever heard of that? I refuse to do it.

One day I should show you a picture of their pencil cases, you wouldn’t believe everything they must keep on hand, and mothers are instructed to check the pencil cases EVERY SINGLE NIGHT to make sure all the contents are in order. I’ll do it in first grade but after that I tell my kids it’s their responsibility.

“Sorry,” I say. “But your mom is American, not Italian, and that means that it’s your job to tell me when you’re out of glue or have chewed your pencil to a tiny nub.”

I have no idea how these things work in America anymore to be honest, but I fear that if I don’t put my foot down somewhere they will be expecting me to get the books on their college syllabi. And cover them. Which will seem only natural, as they’ll still be living with me, I’ll still be cooking all their meals and making their beds (on days when the beds get made) and when they go to the bathroom, they’ll still be shouting out, “OK Mommy, I’m dooooooone!”

Posted in looking in, The boys | 6 Comments

vacation’s over

hunky dory high res2

run to Frisco

breck crest finish

I ran a lot this summer, a bunch of slow, easy runs mostly in the nearby trails – there are so many in Colorado and I discover new ones all the time. I had decided to take this summer off from training so I could enjoy them.

And I have enjoyed them. That said, not training specifically for races has slowed me down, a lot. I ran my last race of the summer today and the results were disappointing. I think I’m ready to start training seriously again. The rush of a race well run, there’s nothing like it. I want that back.

Posted in running | 1 Comment