another injury

Well. I broke my arm a few weeks ago. I rarely use my car for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the underground garage where I park it is a pain to get in and out of, on foot and in the car. Most of the scratches and dents on my car are from the first few months we lived here, when I had yet to learn how to navigate around the maze of countless concrete columns in what appears to be either a seemingly random arrangement or some engineer’s cruel joke. And now the garage has left its mark on me! There is a terrifying metal ramp that leads to the garage with a gate and a lock at the end of it, and I have slipped a few times on the metal ramp, but this time it was raining/snowing and my feet slipped out from under me much faster than any time before. I took a pretty bad fall, and was surprised at how much my arm hurt when I tried to get up.

I managed to pull myself together, open the damn gate and park the car amid the columns, without a scratch and using only one hand to shift, maneuver, shift, maneuver, ad nauseum. I got up to my apartment and sat down on the couch, deciding to let myself catch my breath before attempting to remove my coat.

Before long I realized there was no way I was going to get my coat off on my own and something was very wrong with my arm. Dislocated shoulder maybe? I called a taxi and went to the emergency room.

Italy’s least gallant taxi driver drove me to the ER, hitting every bump in the road along the way and didn’t offer to open the car door for me. The line wasn’t too long and I took my place at the end of it. As long as I held my arm firmly against my body and didn’t move, and no one touched me, it was fine. Not even five minutes had gone by when a nurse stepped out of the door next to the front desk, took one look at me, and waved me over. “Come in here,” he said, and I followed him in. “Did you break your arm?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

And I started to cry, because holy shit, it did hurt and didn’t seem to be getting any better.

“Elbow or shoulder?” he asked.

“Just below my shoulder.”

“Let’s take your coat off.”

“Please, no. Just cut it off me.”

“Broken humerus!” he shouted then to someone behind me, and they came over to help get my coat and shirt off, and then they had me sit down and asked me some questions and off I was taken in a high-backed wheelchair for x-rays, then to Orthopedics, where a quirky doctor told me I’d probably need surgery, but first a CAT scan.

“When do you want to do the surgery?” I asked, because I need to pick my kids up from school.

“No, no,” he said, and laughed. “I don’t think you understand. We can’t let you leave. You are going to be admitted. You need surgery right away.”

Another nurse put a brace on me – oh sweet relief! – and wheeled me away for a CAT scan, then back to the doctor who confirmed that I’d be getting a titanium plate in my arm as soon as they could get me on the surgery list.

I called friends to pick my kids up from school, my ex to see if he could come and watch them for a few days, and my clients to tell them SORRY!

The doctors and nurses at the hospital were absolutely wonderful. My friends and my ex were so incredibly helpful. Although I am not one for imposed “rest” and this whole thing has been a big pain in many different ways, at the same time I feel so lucky to live in a country with universal healthcare and in a town where I have made so many wonderful, kind and generous friends. My ex was a huge help. He took a ton of time off from work to stay with the kids at my place and come see me at the hospital, and another good friend took care of the boys at her house for a few days when he had to go back to work. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

Today I get my staples out and find out what kind of rehabilitation I am going to need. Needless to say, swimming is out of the question for awhile, but I am hoping they will give me the go ahead to start running again, very carefully. After nearly three weeks of sitting around eating cookies, my only exercise consisting of long walks in the nearby hills with my arm in a brace, I am starting to disgust myself. It’s time to get back in shape! The Rome marathon is less than a month away!!

Posted in like anyone cares | 9 Comments

so many posts, so little time

There is a running list in my mind of stories and thoughts and plans I’d like to post about and never enough time to do it right. And if I am going to do something, I’d like it done right.

This month will be out the door before I catch my breath. That’s kind of how I like to roll anyway, so it’s probably for the best.

Today, I have time for this: a picture my ex sent to me that our son took at dinner last night. I might be able to take my boys out of Italy but no one will ever take Italy out of my boys.


Posted in picture taking, The boys | 2 Comments

happy new year

james civetta

We were up in the mountains skiing for the start of the new year, but first it was my turn to have Christmas with the boys, and Nine had asked for a quiet Christmas at home and could we invite his dad, so that’s what we did.

Christmas Eve is my chance to celebrate with my family’s American traditions, baking cookies for Santa Claus, preparing the easy, yet festive dinner of beef fondue while holiday music plays in the background and Christmas lights blink on the tree, all while relaxing thanks to Santa and the threat of no gifts keeping the kids from tearing the house apart. My ex brought a panettone from Milan so I didn’t even have to make dessert.

On Christmas Day we opened presents and did the mandatory four-hour long Italian lunch with relatives and in-laws of in-laws (of in-laws), then a movie. On Saint Stephen’s Day, the 26th, we went up to the mountain town where we used to live to see other Italian relatives and a bunch of old friends for the day.

It was a fairly quiet, satisfying Christmas, and if every Christmas could be just like that, I’d have no complaints.

The best part though was the 27th when we drove farther north to the Dolomites for a week of skiing, la settimana bianca, is what they call it here, and it is quickly becoming our New Year tradition. If we could spend every new year skiing, I’d have no complaints.

There has been very little snow so far this season, but we were lucky. It started snowing around lunchtime and didn’t stop until late into the night, then got cold for a few days. On top of that, the artificial snow wasn’t too bad for skiing, and now that the boys are much more confident on the slopes, we were able to ski a lot, every day, and everyone enjoyed it. There were no tears! Except maybe once! It helped that their dad was there and most days we had lunch with another family with two young boys and then skiied with them in the afternoon.

Thursday was my favorite day: we were out on the slopes around nine and skiied for an hour before the boys’ ski class began. It was a beautiful, sunny day, although a little too warm for the snow, and the new year crowds hadn’t completely taken over yet. Their dad and I skiied skiied skiied until it was time to pick up the boys, and then we had lunch with our friends outside a rifugio at the top of the mountain, overlooking the mountaintops all around.

Six was tired after a few more runs and asked to go in; I stayed out with Nine and we skiied until the lifts closed at four. I asked Nine if he wanted to ski all the way down into town on the challenging slope that had just opened that day, and he said he was up for it. The slope was steeper than I remembered and strewn with fallen bodies. I started to regret bringing him down it when, just before a particularly sharp, narrow turn, I stopped to wait for him and realized the woman near me was crying while her husband whispered words of encouragement. But there came Nine, cool as can be, practicing his turns around the bodies in the snow.

“Hi Mommy,” he said.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, and skiied off again in that methodical way of his.

When we got to the bottom I bought him a cream-filled donut fresh from the oven at the pastry shop on the way up to our little apartment in town.

Posted in something beautiful, The boys, Travel | 2 Comments

last marathon of the year

I managed to squeeze one last race in before the year was over. The Pisa marathon!

I drove down on Saturday with a small group of friends from my running club and oh, Tuscany is so lovely that it almost seems a shame to live in Italy and not live there.

I had signed up for the race in October, before the tendinitis flare-up caused me to miss nearly three weeks of training, so I went down not really knowing what to expect. But I felt good and confident that I could finish in under three and a half hours.

The first part of the race was in the center of Pisa, then we crossed the Arno and ran out into the fog, towards the sea. The first ten kilometers were over before I knew it; I’d forgotten how quickly the first 25 km of a marathon go by! Every time you look up, you’re about to put another distance marker behind you.

We came to the seaside town of Tirrenia and I’d nailed the first half of the marathon in perfect time for a 3 hour and twenty minute finish and my legs still felt fine. I was feeling tentatively confident. Keep this up and you’ve got it made! I sang inside my head. There was a nice flat stretch along the sea where young families and old Tuscan men watched us race by, and a handful called out to me, “Brava bimba, vai” in thick Tuscan accents. Good little girl, go. My confidence grew.

Before we turned back inland, I was well into my calculations: if I hit the 30 km marker at around 2 hours and 25 minutes, then 38 km at 3 hours, I’ll have this thing in the bag. Damn! If I can hit 38 km in 3 hours! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first let’s get to 30 km at this pace. Just keep this pace. At this pace I’ll hit 30 km at close to 2 hours and 20 minutes, maybe 22. And on and on and on.

But by the 27th km, I was starting to feel tired, and I still had 15 more to go!

By the 35th my legs were heavy and the internal dialogue had changed to I can do this. I can do this. Maybe I can do this. Why am I doing this? I wasn’t sure what my time would be because my thinking by then was too fuzzy to recalculate a projected time based on the new, much slower pace. But I was lucid enough to suspect that 3h20m was not going to happen, and now we were now running at a very slight incline with an unrelenting wind blowing in our faces, and would be all the way back to Pisa.

It was there, somewhere between the 35th and the 38th km, that I gave up. In Italian, you don’t say “give up”, you say, “let go”, and that is what I did. I let go of 3 hours and 20 minutes. Now I knew what my brother was talking about during the San Francisco marathon when he said his hamstrings hurt. And damn, I’d forgotten how heavy your legs feel near the end of a marathon. I groaned a little when I looked at my watch: I had slowed down to 5’10 per km. THE SHAME!

Then came the final blow: I promised myself I could walk as I drank the Poweraid at the 40th km aid station.

But you have to make it to the aid station running. AT THIS PACE!

The aid stations were well staffed by tons of wonderful volunteers who offered so much encouragement, more than any previous race I’ve run, and when I reached the last one at the 40th and sipped my Dixie cup of Poweraid, I was so out of it that I had to ask the volunteers which way to go, although I realized that it was clearly marked as soon as they said, “Oh, honey, just keep going straight, it’s right in front of you”.

Off I went, with only two more kilometers plus 195 meters to go. We reentered the center of Pisa and were running along the Arno again. I entertained fond memories of the Turin marathon and how strongly I’d finished and how excited I’d been to look at my watch and realize how well I was doing two kilometers from the finish. Ah, yes, that had been a good finish. Yesterday in Pisa, when I looked at my watch, I couldn’t even make sense of the numbers I saw.

There is a point when I am running and am very tired and I feel with complete certainty that it would take more effort to stop than it takes to continue running, and no matter how tired and how heavy they are, it is as if my legs are moving only in momentum, and to stop that momentum, it would require more force than just letting the momentum continue on its own. That is where I was by the end of the Pisa marathon. And because the crazy person had taken over, I was sure it had all gone to shit. If only I had completed all my training – if only I had done all the long runs! – my legs would be better at this right now.

It was a sad finish. I couldn’t even see it coming up; all I could see was the marker for the 42nd km, and the top of the Leaning Tower around the corner above some artfully decrepit buildings. A friend from my group who’d run the half marathon was standing on the corner waiting for me, and when I saw him I shouted “How much more?” because the crazy person in my head had me convinced that they were going to make us run a lap around the tower and cathedral and that damn baptistry, which is HUGE!, before they let us go through the finish.

But it wasn’t like that at all. I ran around the corner, and that was it, the finish was right there, and it was over, I was done.

That’s it? That’s all?

It was a beautiful day in Pisa. The fog had burned off over the city, and I hadn’t even noticed. The sky was a brilliant blue, and everyone was cheering. It took me a few minutes for my time to register. I’d forgotten to stop my watch and the finish had come up so quickly that I’d barely glanced at the official clock.

By the time my friend found me, I felt fine and the delusions were gone. I was already feeling the post-race high.

3 hours, 24 minutes, 48 seconds. Less than a minute from my fastest time.

When I texted my trainer, he wrote me right back: “Congratulations! And think if we’d been able to train properly!”

HA! As if the crazy person in my head hadn’t already been planning the next one, projecting her potential time.

A day later I still feel that high. There is nothing like a marathon, nothing like it at all.

Posted in running, Travel | 5 Comments

better than normal

Lately it seems like I write mostly about Six; he is a reliable source of blog fodder.

This morning we were out running errands, including buying him the umpteenth pencil sharpener to replace yet another he’d lost at school. We were walking along the street and I was probably annoying him with all my talk about responsibility and making more of an effort to keep track of his sweatshirts, which are part of the school uniform (the boys have lost one each so far this year), and the materials his teachers require him to have for school. I tried to keep it short, but clearly it was not short enough because his response was:

“I wish I had a normal mommy.”

“You don’t think I’m a normal mommy?”

“HA! No! And I like normal mommies better.”

“What are normal mommies like?”

“Like Francesco’s mommy. And Luca’s mommy. Those are normal mommies. Zeno’s mommy.”

“What makes me different? Is it because I’m not Italian?”

“NO! It’s because you’re NOT NORMAL! Hmph! UNDERSTAND?”


“Actually, no. I don’t understand. What is it about me that is not normal? What don’t you like?”


“No, I don’t understand at all.”

At which point Nine quietly intervened. “She’s normal,” he said.

And I think I would have found it more comforting if normal had been what I’ve been aiming for all this time. Just normal?

Rarely have I ever aimed for normal. Different, maybe. Authentic, definitely. Extraordinary, oh, if only.

Preferred by my children, yes please.

Posted in The boys | 4 Comments

my induction to the national sport

This weekend we took the boys to the soccer stadium to see their first professional soccer game. While Nine gets excited about participating in a day-long chess tournament (he placed second at his last one), Six lives for the two days a week he has soccer practice, in addition to the heated soccer games at recess between the first and second grades, and for the past two months he has been mentioning that he’d like to go to a soccer game.

So Monday evening we walked over to the stadium to watch our city’s team play. Our team is not in the European Champions League but is still pretty decent (we won!) and plays in Italy’s the next highest league. But while Six supports our local team because, as he will tell you himself, he was born here, he has already chosen his favorite premier league team.

This is kind of a big deal in Italy. Once an Italian picks his team, that’s it. He sticks with it for life. He can cheat on all the women he wants, but if has any integrity he will never stray from his team, not even after a long losing streak. Especially not then!

Six has chosen Juventus, a popular team based in Turin. I don’t know how or why, but it could very well have something to do with his sticker album.

The sticker album… Not a day goes by that Six does not ask me to take him to the newspaper stand where he can buy, for the bargain price of sixty cents, a packet of five stickers, each featuring the picture of a Champions League player in his jersey, along with basic team and player stats. The American equivalent would be the baseball card, except that the stickers go into a special album that he carries with him, studies first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and during most of his meals at home.

When he gets a new packet, we must rush home so he can rip it open, examine the stickers, line them up, and take each one, flip through to the appropriate team page, then peel the sticker off its backing and carefully place it in the right spot. He takes the duplicates to school to trade with his friends. Once completed, he will have the complete collection of all the players on every Champions League team, but only for this season.

Posted in looking in, The boys | Leave a comment

happy thanksgiving

I was going to pretend it wasn’t Thanksgiving today but as we rode our bikes to school, in a little line, Nine leading the way, followed by Five (almost Six), with me bringing up the rear, they were so freaking cute the gratitude came over me all on its own.

I have loved their every age, and now I love being a mom to big boys despite missing their little boy faces, their little boy grins. Five still has his, and I miss it already, knowing how soon it will be gone.

I try to practice gratitude every day of my life, and every day I am grateful for my boys and all the richness that the mingling of their lives with mine has given me. Some days the gratitude comes more easily than others (heh, heh) and it comes easiest when I look at old pictures of them (how soon our minds cloud over the harder bits of our past and highlight the best parts!).

This is what they were like four and a half years ago:



Ooh those faces! How I got so lucky I do not know.

Happy Thanksgiving! May the gratitude come just as easily to you and yours.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments