04 February 2011

the Italian me on Wednesdays

As I was standing in the locker room after the shower this week, wishing she would hurry while watching Young One chat comfortably with two of the boys, all three of them completely nude, it occured to me: Wednesday's have been good for me this year, good for Young One, too.


I join the same cast of characters each Wednesday as we usher our little people through the locker room and then take our seats at the bar above the pool until the end of the lesson. I wish I could tell you that we are glued to the window, observing in awe every spectacular splash and stroke, but that wouldn’t be true at all. When we do gather together behind the row of those parents fixed in seats at the window, we usually share a laugh at the awkwardness of one or the other of our children as they attempt to move their little bodies in the water as instructed.
Should one child exhibit a bit of prowess, we duly congratulate each other with exaggerated commendations: “Wow.  Che brava, Cristina! She gets it all from you.” I like that there is no feeling of competition in this crowd of friends at the pool; we are all in this together. Our same-aged children have varied abilities, and it just doesn’t matter: all for one, one for all.
I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with this Wednesday date at the pool. All things associated with preparing for the lesson and those that come after the lesson – packing the bag, rushing to the pool after school in enough time to sneak in unnoticed (to avoid harassment about potential cramps) so that I can give Young One a quick snack @ the bar before swimming (gasp!), the locker room business – especially the post-swim antics in the steamy locker room full of naked bodies wrangling for a spot in line for the showers– all of this, I loathe.  
I do love the time with my friends in the bar, both as a participant with and observer of them. This is where I had the exchange about the furs in Asiago. This is where I gather info about summer camps and clarify homework assignments. It’s where I learn of hip, usually useless apps for my iPhone and discuss appropriate pay outs by the Tooth Fairy. It's the place for tips on summer seaside destinations and the place for gossip. This is where I hold a welcomed spot at the same table week after week. Living in a forgein culture can be lonesome, even with a load of ex-pat friends. Having a place at the table with locals means something.
It’s also where I’ve learned that for all of our differences, we are fundamentally the same, with the same hopes, fears, insecurities and dreams. Most importantly, it’s where I feel most comfortable with my Italian and where I feel comfortable not saying a word at all. It’s not the me I am in the English-speaking world, but it’s the me they know, accept and include – the Italian me.
It’s not easy to break into a group of Italians, socially speaking, in this part of Italy. My closest Italian friend who is also a colleague circles herself closely with friends that she first met in high school; they are all beyond 40. No one has yet to penetrate that circle; I would never expect to do so. I wish I could explain how this is so different from the dear relationships with neighbors in the paese, but I'm afraid I can't without being misunderstood. It's just . . . different.
The first few years I had contact with this group, I barely conjured a “Ciao” from some of them. Even the more formal “Salve” didn’t flow freely.  Over time, they discovered that despite my lack of fashion sense and my general silence in most social situations, that I was an okay kinda gal. The fact that I managed to form friendships without talking much is an admirable feat. Our children frequented the same child care facility, which had many of us in prolonged daily contact. Finally, I gained approval, especially after the dreaded overnight field trip. I don’t know that I was searching so much for it after the first year, but I was happy to embrace it once offered. Everyone seeks acceptance on some level.

Now we are cool with each other. Cool. I like it like that. I can count on them, they can count on me. One of the children is in Young One's Prima B class, but the others have dispersed to other schools throughout the city. We gather together occassionally outside of our Wednesday pool dates, and when they organize something solely for the children, someone calls or texts me, Young One is included. 

When Angelica organized what has turned into my year-long recurring Wednesday date, she insisted that Young One participate. She even went so far to sign her up, pay her fees -- we could pay her back later. She called while I was at work and she was already in the line to register, speaking in rapid, frantic Italian on the other end of my phone: there was no time to spare, the three other kids were signing up, only 3 spots remained,  it would be a beautiful thing for them . . .  she refused to accept “no” as an answer. I was essentially left without a choice.

Lucky me.
Yep, Wednesday's have proven to be good for me this year. Remind of that in September when it's time to enroll in swimming again and all I can think of is the steamy locker room.


  1. What a lovely post. Italy has such a huge expat community that it's easy to find your place in that group, but it's so good to hear that you've found "Italian you."

  2. As an outsider here, I also found friends among the parents of my children's friends'. I hope you become more and more" you" as time goes by.

  3. I am so glad that you have made many wonderful friends and that Italy is becomming more and more your home. Here is to Wednesdays!

  4. I remember becoming the "Italian me". In my case, it was freeing because the Italian me was somehow stronger, less afraid to express an opinion, capable of saying no...fantastic! Over time this version of me has become "me" in English, too. I like this new me! :-)

  5. Thanks.
    I doubt that the 2 me's will ever be the same . . . but it's actually a good thing for me.