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 | 3 Comments

back to school, again

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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.

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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

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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.

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last days

blue river cafe2

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SF marathon


On the last day of my vacation, I ran the San Francisco marathon with my little brother.

I don’t even know where to begin. We decided to do it in December: his registration was my Christmas gift to him. But he trained all on his own, with very little support and a hugely challenging work schedule. His determination and good spirits throughout the training and his level-headed, light-hearted approach to the actual race were hugely inspiring to me. He was heroic.

There were so many memorable moments, but the best, the most poetic, where when, after the climb to the Golden Gate Bridge, we turned to see the city backlit in a yellow dawn. There were rays of golden light shooting down into the water from the fog over the bay.

Much later, after we’d come through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, when my brother’s legs were tired and he wasn’t smiling so much anymore, we were running down Haight Street and I swore I heard familiar music playing faintly behind us, but growing louder all the time. Could it be? No! Or could it? It was! A guy had strapped a boom box to the back of his bike and was blasting “Chariots of Fire” as he rode along the marathon course. Ahead of us, Haight dropped down towards the bay, and we could see the water beyond the city in the distance.

We knew our sister would be waiting for us in the Mission at Mile 20, and just before we reached her, our paths crossed with her husband, who was running the 2nd half marathon. Imagine seeing him like that, among all those people, but there he was, just when his course joined with ours. And a few minutes later, there she was too with her baby!

And on into the Dogpatch, where people lining the course urged us on, promising we were almost there, although really, we weren’t even half as close as they claimed we were. It was not until Mile 26, when my brother saw the marker and could finally see the Finish, that he smiled again. We looked at one another and he picked up speed, and we covered that .2 mile in no time at all. It was as if time, and the world, had stopped for us. And before I knew it, he had grabbed my hand and we raised our arms as we crossed the finish line. I don’t know that I have ever seen him happier.

post marathonWe spent the rest of the day celebrating.

And that was the perfect end to a perfect vacation among siblings.

Posted in running, something beautiful, Travel | 5 Comments

the vacation continued

dolores park Next came four glorious days in San Francisco, and oh how I love San Francisco! My sister has a ton of friends who live in the city and my brother has a ton of friends who live nearby, and so there were dinners and drinks and coffee and much lounging around, having a good time. It was magical, the way San Francisco is.

One day I rented a bike and rode around for a few hours on the cutest little single gear. It was green, and I must have looked somewhat like I belonged because someone asked me for directions. Later, I was coming out of Golden Gate Park and realized I needed to be back in the Mission pronto to meet up for dinner so I asked another cyclist if I was headed the right way. “Yes you are! Follow me,” he said. “I’ll take you to The Wiggle.”

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It was such a great day and I would rent a bike in SF again. Ever since I did that in Barcelona, it has been my favorite way to explore a city.

Posted in cycling, Travel | 3 Comments

second leg of the journey

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We left the lake on Sunday and drove back to my brother’s house in Marin County. He has a cute place with an outdoor lounge, where I gather he spends most of his time when he is home. You step out the back door and into it. The roof of the house continues, as if it were another room, and it is furnished as if it were a room inside the house: there is a carpet, a coffee table, a couch, an armchair and a rocking chair.

One of my brother’s roommates is a photographer and landscaper and has a gorgeous vegetable and flower garden growing in the backyard all around the lounge. The garden has the look of something let free to grow wild while being lovingly cared for at the same time. I caught my brother out there in the morning, with his coffee and his cigarette, looking at the flowers and tomatoes in the soft morning light. His life there made me want to live in the Bay Area too.

He lives near a state park overlooking the bay, and that is where we ran together. He cycles and runs on the trails that crisscross the golden hills particular to Northern California, through Eucalyptus groves and Redwoods, rising steeply and then opening up to offer you a view of the water and, if there is no fog, the bridges over the bay.

All spring he was training for the San Francisco marathon and he sent me the picture at the top of this page so I could know where he ran in the evenings after work. While I was there, he and I went for our runs early in the morning and although the view wasn’t quite as spectacular, those morning runs were magical: two sets of footsteps on the trail, the smell of pine needles and eucalyptus bark mixed with the dry California grass and so m any deer and turkeys; we sometimes had to stop and wait for them to pass.

My sister had been telling us about an article she read on siblings, and how your siblings are often the people who know you best: they are the only people who know you your entire life. On our second run, two mountain bikers passed us as we were about to start a climb and we let them go ahead, then one of them asked us if we wanted to pass and I thought, “Damn, now I’ll have to pass them.” At the same time, my brother thought, “Damn, now she’ll have to pass them.” And of course we did.

I spent the first part of the week back and forth between my brother’s place and my grandmother’s home in Walnut Creek, where my sister was staying with her baby. We had quiet days, taking Grandma out to lunch and to do her grocery shopping. She pushed the cart with her great-grandson in it and all the other grandparents in the store flocked over to see the world’s most adorable baby and tell her about their own. Then, my sister and I took the baby for a stroll around the neighborhood while Grandma rested or watched the ball game. We found a little grouping of lawn chairs in the shade of Redwoods not far from Grandma’s house and we sat there one day, feeding my nephew pieces of the morning bread we’d bought the day before at a coffee place in Fairfax.

We took turns going out: one night I took Bart into the city to meet a friend from high school for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years. Two nights later my sister drove over to Berkeley for dinner with a friend who’d been her college roommate.

And then it was time to pack up and move into the apartment my sister had rented in San Francisco, at the corner of Dolores Park.

Posted in running, Travel | 2 Comments