Life in Italy,  motherhood

When Showering is Hard

Alternately titled: Failing at everything.

No, I don’t mean that. I only feel like I mean that. I am fully aware that keeping the kids alive, relatively healthy, and in good spiritual shape is pretty much the summation of my motherly vocation. And I’ve ticked all those boxes (so far) today. But it’s just one of those draaaagging days where late afternoon is upon us and I have relatively little to show for it.

I don’t know exactly what I want to say here, it’s not a complaint rant, but it’s not a silvery-lined breakthrough either. Motherhood is just hard right now. Living here, in a foreign country, being a stay at home mom in a place that very much not home, is far more difficult than I envisioned it would be. And it’s not for the obvious reasons. Yes, I miss American food (however terrible the reputation we’ve garnered, I will go to my death defending our culinary diversity.), but more than that I miss the feeling of doing, of feeling (and of actually being) useful.

Am I useful to my immediate family? Of course. And most essentially so. But I have cooked no meals for newly delivered friends lately. I’ve swapped toddlers with no one. I’ve dropped off donations at zero thrift shops. I’ve not crafted a single attractive piece of decor for my home in 4 + months. And I’ve had zero ability to procure any type of paint, spray or otherwise, with which I might resurface the dirty peach colored walls throughout our home.

All these things I was so accustomed to doing in order to lift my spirits and give my mommy moral a boost are suddenly simply unavailable. Or unattainable. Without a car, without a mega store in range, without an American-sized budget (and import economy) which guarantees readily-available and quality ‘fresh and different’ on demand, I’m at a loss. I am unaccustomed to not being able to manipulate my exterior environment to soothe turmoil in my interior environment. I cannot ‘nest’ here. Or at least, it is challenging and unsatisfying and ultimately, not worth the effort. I cannot buy my way out of a bad day here…especially now that precious baby Bing #3 is on board and the vino train has slowed to a roll.

In short: I’m living very much in reality here. And reality is not entertaining. And it’s not uniformly attractive. I was telling my sister recently that I hate Pinterest now, not because it’s a huge time suck (Facebook is more my style of kryptonite) but because almost every single thing I see on there is impossible or unrealistic. And not for the normal reasons! Like budget or body type. But because oh my gosh, I can’t find coconut flour here, and JCrew doesn’t ship to Italy for a reasonable amount of money. And we live in a 900 sq foot apartment that I cannot craft a pirate alcove/wine cave into a corner of and camouflage it with decorative crown molding and latticework.

I don’t know if this is entirely a bad thing. I am sure, however, that it is deeply uncomfortable. I’ve found pregnancy to be especially disturbing to my equilibrium of vaguely pampered comfort: no gym day care, no bathtubs, no grandparents, no drive-through anythings, no ready made meals (besides the obvious and detestable pizza), and no movie theaters. What’s that? You say there are theaters, that show movies in English on the 4th Sunday of each month from 1 to 3 pm and are easily accessible by 3 connecting buses and one metro? You must be thinking of someone without toddlers and with a spirit of adventure that public transport has yet to strangle.

The very smallest things, materially speaking, have both frustrated me and piqued my gratitude lately. The store had 1 avocado left for only $4 (equivalent) US dollars? Amazing! Buy it, who cares if it’s half brown! All the cleaning sprays I’ve tried in this country smell like suffocating, biohazardous death? Misery! Nightmare! Cue extensive fantasy about Target’s Method brand tangerine-scented everything.

In short: I think I may have been parenting – and living – a bit on the surface, in my former life. And here below the surface, where I’m trying not to drown, life is not comfortable and it is not serene. And we were made for greatness, not for comfort, it’s true…but oh my gosh it’s painful to have that reality imposed on you. I have been wondering for months now what I’m doing here in Italy. I don’t wonder what we’re doing here, because obviously my kids are massively blessed and my husband loves his job and it was the right choice for us, et cetera et cetera…but what am I doing here?

Learning how to stop ‘doing’ and getting a crash course in ‘being,’ I suppose. And it is painful. And boring. And frustrating. And it’s so much harder than measuring a day by productivity and accomplishment. There is nothing to measure. It’s just a collection of moments, of choices, of little sacrifices or angry ‘non-serviums’ that sum up to a grand total of exhaustion by 10 pm. And I have no way of seeing the fruit of it now, because at the end of a day, of  every day here, it looks like I’ve done nothing.

I can only presume (and hope) that it’s because He is the one doing all the work.

p.s. so many amazing comments lately. And if I haven’t responded, I promise it’s only because your email isn’t linked to your name, and not because I didn’t read and love what you wrote. Links please!


  • Anonymous

    I am so sorry. I know exactly how you feel… sort of kind of. I moved from my home country of Colombia away from my parents to the strange far away land of Colorado, USA. At the beginning it was very hard for me, but as you said finding some use for yourself makes a huge difference. I wish I could tell you that you will stop missing home, but the truth is that you will find ways to cope and then appreciate the things your new home has to offer. Just trust that you will reach that point and in the mean time God will keep you going.

    P.S. 1. I live in Littleton and go to St. Mary. I think you used to go there too?
    P.S.2. baby, new?

    (kathyw83 at yahoo)

  • Becky

    I experienced a similar feeling about crafting in Ireland. During those long, dark winter nights I usually cook or craft my way to a more hopeful state of mind. I decided to go native and take up knitting. Yarn, etc, is readily available in Ireland and it doesn’t take up much in the way of space so I can bring it back with me when we return to the US (we’re only here a year). I don’t know what they do in Italy. Perhaps they knit as well? Or, I thought you might could try joining the Rosary Army. I would assume twine is readily available?

    For the cleaning products… Have you tried making vinegar based ones on your own? You can actually find some pretty good recipes via pinterest if you search for DIY cleaners. Here are 2 links that might be able to help get you started:
    I’ve also had good luck finding ecover products and they haven’t been much more expensive than other products in Ireland. They tend to be less chemically.
    Yes, I hear you on the international food front. Never had I have such yummy fish stew and never have I had such odd Mexican. I have trouble even getting black beans!
    For the groceries (especially diapers) do you have access to a Lidl? It’s the European Aldi’s and you can reportedly get good prices with them in Ireland. I haven’t gotten to shop there because I can’t get to it but I thought I would make the suggestion.

  • KJL

    I will pray that St. Therese of Lisieux will make fruitful all of these small things.

    And here I was thinking it would be rough to “downgrade” to our apartment when we move next month. I will offer up my own discomforts for you.

  • Andrea

    As long as you’re living your Faith and teaching it to your children and keeping them fed, housed and clothed you’ve completely fulfilled your duties as a mother 🙂 However, it sound like you need some activities to make you feel fulfilled as a person 🙂 And fulfilled as an adult person 🙂 If possible, invite people over to interact with. They won’t care if you can’t offer them a large cooked meal. (And if they do, they won’t end up as good friends anyways) Just serve them whatever your family was going to have. 🙂 Regular adult companionship can be very helpful 🙂

  • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    Oh my goodness, yes. Although I do have Target in town, replace “Italy” with “Florida” and I could have written this post. I know what WE are doing here, but what am I doing here? Thanks for giving me that question to ponder.

  • Sarah

    Ack so true, so convicting! Praying for you Jenny, this mpthering journey isn’t for the faint of heart! Plus first trimester makes everything icky 🙂

  • Kendra Tierney

    Hey, here’s a question that has almost nothing to do with what you wrote. I saw a similar sentiment to the one you expressed at the end there on two other blogs recently. But *I* always respond to comments by replying to the comment. Am I doing it wrong? Why do you and Grace and Rosie email people instead of replying in the comments? If someone emails me I email them back. But if someone asks a question in the comments I answer in the comments, or if they just say “That was funny, you’re the best.” or “That was atrocious, you’re a horrible person.” I just don’t respond at all. Are all the other bloggers laughing at me over at the cool kids’ table?

  • Christy from fountains of home

    Argh, Jenny this was so good! Other than its really no good for you…I’ve been there, probably not so deprived but close! I think this is the exact problem that so many of us run from all the time. We hate the boredom of our own interior existence. I think thats why so many women can’t hack it as stay at home moms-theres just no avoiding this at times and its awful and uncomfortable and boring all at the same time. But I hope it doesn’t last long for you-you should hit upon some big time grace and epiphanies soon!

  • fabricsandfun

    I felt that way this winter up here in the glorious northern Indiana where winter resembles Hell. Each day I would wake up hoping the day would be over soon and wondering why in the word we were here and why was I such a bad mom and why couldn’t I accomplish anything like everybody else, and so on.
    Obviously you are in a different situation, but the only thing that I kept telling myself was that this would pass. So I have no advice other than prayers for you.
    Oh and go visit Saint Rita since it is her feast day tomorrow- then you can fit right in with the Italians!

  • Holly

    Prayers for you, girlie! And you should def pray for direction as well. It is probably hard knowing that you’re headed for the states so soon and counting down the days- it may seem so far away. Plus, all the pope excitement is dying down. And, pinterest is often ridiculous.

  • Grace in my Heart

    I love your honesty. I can relate to what you mean here because I live on arts/crafts or home projects, etc. to boost my boredom/morale when it hits. I like how another commenter talked about St. Therese…she always found joy in the little, mundane things…how did she do that? I don’t know, but I will pray to her to send some extra blessings your way!

  • Diana

    Thanks for the honesty, Jenny! I am sorry that it is been difficult lately. I hope it all gets better little by little! 🙂 Congrats again on Bing #3!

  • Amelia

    While I don’t live in a foreign country, our current financial situation makes finding comfort in “little things” like buying things for home decor or fun foods, eating out, takeout, movies, babysitters, dates not possible or likely to occur. It is a hard place to be…where every day is the same, over and over again.

  • Bonnie

    Do you think that the motherhood you’re experiencing is what American moms lived in the – say 1950’s? There was a lot of things that made life easier than it had been for their grandmothers (and mothers) but it seems quaint, simple, and even hard to us. I try not to compare myself to the 1950’s woman because I don’t want her life. Maybe I don’t want yours either, despite the great adventure I’ve imagined you’re living. (Well, you are living… I hope you know what I mean.)

  • Julie

    I know this feeling so very well. (Two toddler boys here too!) Beyond the obvious daily child-rearing chores, though, you’re also doing something through your blog. I’ve been reading for a couple of months now and you’ve quickly raced up the charts to be one of my very favorites. Thank you for the time and thought you put into it.

  • assortedjoys

    I can’t say I feel your pain, but I can empathize because I feel like I need some creative outlet and while I love Italy, not having that outlet would be really, really hard. I spray paint craigslisted stuff and sew and all that stuff, which if taken away would make the days seem tough. Have you considered a hobby on a smaller scale? Maybe knitting (making cute baby stuff for Bing #3)? It doesn’t take up much space, it might not be too hard to find yarn and needles somewhere in Rome, and it would improve the look of the baby’s bed. It also offers the ability to make something with your hands and see a tangible result to your work? Not sure if this is helpful, but I hope so! (I think I just linked my email address properly, here’s hoping.)

  • Alishia

    As someone who is pregnant and relying heavily on America’s surface/material comforts to keep me from sobbing on my bed all day, I feel for you. I will pray for you. Serious. I’m having a hard enough time going through my first trimester in the AZ heat/glare/desert repugnance of June, I can’t imagine not bring able to zip over to McDonald’s for my first trimester daily dose.

  • Kris

    All I want to do is reach through the computer and give you a big hug. I can’t imagine. Having moved all over as a kid, that is one thing that is OFF the table in our marriage. Maybe when the kids are grown, I would consider, but I love staying put. I will offer up something for you, my friend. Hang in there!

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