Family Life,  Life in Italy,  toddlers

Define Necessity

My dishwasher broke 3 weeks ago. I might be able to conjure more indignation than I’m presently feeling, but I suppose my capacity for outrage/frustration/annoyance was maxed out somewhere along the last 5 months. So this is more of a factual statement than a complaint.

Our vacuum cleaner is a drag-along Hoover circa 1987 and, is in perfectly good working condition provided you change the bag frequently and (our landlord’s words) ‘re-scotch the machine’ between bag changes. So yes, there are approximately 50 meters of scotch tape wrapped painstakingly around the body of the machine, holding its guts together. The hose also pops off periodically during use, sending a plume of dirt, hair, coffee grounds, and general filth into the air. But that doesn’t bother me, because I don’t actually use it.

My housekeeping standards, while never high altitude, were nonetheless borderline hygeinic before our immigration here. Now, well, it hardly matters that the kids are 6 months behind on their vaccinations, because natural immunity! Healthy germs!

I’ve already gone on and on anon about the laundry situation up in here, but won’t you indulge a housewife in a little photo-documentation  anyhow?

The good life.

Does the washer keep clothes their original colors now? Aw, hell nah. Did we get a dryer? Hahahahahaha….

But look! A galvanized steel tub to corral detergents! I’ve stood in the bath/laundry room for minutes upon minutes since the weekend, admiring my craft-tastic handiwork. Somebody pin this shit before it gets away.

I used to be really into housekeeping. And by that I mean I used to spend a lot of time spraypainting crap I found at the Goodwill and trolling Target clearance end caps for that one, magical piece that would tie my entire house together and bring decorative harmony and just plain fabulous to our little abode.

I never found that redecoration unicorn, and I suspect he isn’t really out there, after all.

Because no matter how many times I found ‘that perfect piece’ and DIY’d the shit out of it with a can of teal spraypaint in the backyard, I still felt a hollow ‘something-is-still-missing-ness’ when I surveyed our little home.

Here, I’ve had more of an opportunity to explore what that ‘something’ might be, apart from the latest chevron print throw or upcycled bookcase.

We’re ugly and we know it…just lookit that wicker, just lookit that wicker…

Everything in my house is ugly. Almost none of it was purchased by me. And just looking at our  dishes sometimes reduces me to a state of near despondency. A furnished apartment in a city as expensive as Rome is a huge blessing. But hot damn, these people don’t know how to decorate.

The ugliest cupboard in all the land. Pinterest is crying right now.

I have not done so, willingly, but rather, kicking and screaming. Last week I believe, after one particularly arduous hand-washing dish session (the suffering, the suffering…) I think I actually tilted my head heavenward and began pleading aloud ‘How long, Oh Lord?’

Luckily, Dave was home to hear me, so when something actually difficult eventually comes my way, maybe he will be able to remind me how perfectly I have been equipped to handle hardship like a responsible, spiritually mature Christian.

On a tangentially related note, I have spent the past 2 months without buying a single item of clothing for either myself or the boys, unless you count a 3 pack of the cheekiest man-briefs ever assembled, currently gracing our Euro-toddler’s buns. Well, 3/4 of his buns, anyway. But I digress. 2 months is the longest period EVER I can remember not buying something clothing related. And it has been hard.

But the truth is, the Gap is like an hour’s walk from here and so. flipping. expensive. That and our rent here is roughly the equivalent of a hearty mortgage payment in the promised land.

So we dress in rags. Or at least, in the same clothes I stuffed into suitcases 5 months ago. And it works. It’s not fun or even especially pretty, but it works. We’re all running out of jeans and underwear, (well, except Joey Klein) but we’ll make it till June 19th. In the meantime, a friend FB’s me this morning and asked, did I want to troll through her donation pile of (size withheld) women’s clothing and 2T boy’s duds (my faux-twins can both rock 2 to the T) and I’m like, dang, God always provides.

He always does.

I used to hardly ever let Him. I mean, I still prayed prayers of petition and still allowed Him the occasional wiggle room to pull off something minor, but for the most part, my life was very much within my control. If I wanted something, I bought it. Or made it. Or concocted a plan of freelance jobs and budgetary adjustments that would put us on track to attain it.

If I wanted something non-material, well, I’d work like hell to make it happen. And usually, due to an insufferable combination of the force of my will and the maniacal persistence normally seen only in political lobbyists and viral illnesses, it would happen.

Not here. Not now.

I can’t force my way through life here in Italy. It’s partly the language barrier, partly the insurmountable cultural differences, and partly the simple reality of ‘we don’t have that’/’you can’t do that’/’we don’t make those.’ But it’s humbling.

Another domestic illustration, if I may? Our shower door fell off a few weeks back. Not a huge deal, but one we’d like to remedy sometime in the coming months as my ever-changing shape shifts once again into mama grande. It’s hard to feel clean when 1/4 of your body is always hanging out of the telephone booth shower.

We’ve tried to find the replacement part at 4 different hardware stores now. Nobody has it. We had a handyman out 3 weeks ago to look at the dishwasher (Antonio, if you’re reading this, please come back…) and he said it would be ‘so easy to find, he couldn’t bear to charge me were he to perform the job himself.’

Please, perform away.

In the meantime though, well, Dave rigged some hooks up and mounted the door like a picture frame. And it works. It’s not pretty or even particularly functional, but it suffices.

That is so much of our life here now that I’m forgetting what pulled together and polished even looks like. But I play with my kids more. And when they wipe Nutella everywhere and soak their mattresses with urine and lose surprisingly hard-to-locate sippy cups I’m all, Yolo. (Except about the Nutella. That stuff costs the earth. But I can’t quit it.)

At least this dishwasher isn’t broken.

But I don’t know, they seem happy here. And I’d probably be just as exhausted and frustrated with 3 under 3 (Can I count the one who’s cooking? Because gestating is exhausting) back home in the US, except I’d be more like ‘Whyyyyyy was the line at Starbucks so looooong, now I’m late for my prenatal appointment and I have to bring both kiiiiiiids.’

Where here it’s more like ‘Uuuuuuugh, there isn’t enough hot water to do the dishes and shower and I’m going on day 4 and I’ll never feel clean again.’

So the problems are admittedly more basic, more along the lines of ‘quality of life/standard of living’ issues…but they’re still so incredibly minor, that it’s hard for me to admit to myself that a few months ago yes, I would absolutely have counted a hot shower, a functioning set of basic household appliances, and a car that runs as basic necessities. And I was probably never, ever grateful enough for them.

Now I must try to content myself with our functioning internet, our AC units, (should summer actually ever commence here) and a roof physically over our heads. All still ridiculous luxuries by most of the world’s standards. And yet not enough to satisfy me.

God, make me more grateful. And please, do so without smiting the modem.


  • Laura Pearl

    This post does make me realize how ridiculously spoiled I am. So it’s very thought-provoking–but hilarious (as always).

    I must be weird, because I don’t think your wicker chairs are ugly. Your dish cupboard, on the other hand…

  • letlovebesincere

    Pretty much once a week, usually after watching ‘house hunters international’, I call my husband at work and tell him I would like him to figure something out to get us to Europe for at least a couple of years. Then, he says I am being idealistic 🙂 anyway, the thing is, next time I feel like I with my young family…I shall read this! 🙂

  • October Rose

    Thank you for this post. The idea of reaching a point in life where you HAVE to rely on God and let Him do things for you because you can’t is kind of terrifying for me right now because I sense it fast approaching in the shape of gestating twins. 😛

  • Lisa

    haha, I thought the wicker chairs were cute too. And, wow, this is really good. Our AC is still out and we just had to spring for a new mower, and I’m sure by this point if we ran out of tissues or something I would find that to be the last straw. But, like you said, I’m sure I’d be much happier if I just rolled w/ it and was grateful for what God has provided!

  • Andrea

    This post was so honest that it made me smile quite a few times 🙂 Loved it! Puts life in perspective and the fact that you doing it all with 3 under 3 makes it so amazing!

  • Kate

    I’m loving your posts (like always), but I love your recent insights on how Americans try to escape motherhood. You’re a rock star, Jenny!

  • Kris

    A few months ago our dishwasher broke and it was 4 WEEKS before they could deliver and install the new one. I feel you, sister!! I’m reading your post and my only thought (after I’m done laughing!) is H–L to the NO am I EVER moving out of the U.S. I’m too set in my American-spoiled ways, and too old to adjust. And I’m owning it completely. And I totally do no get Pinterest…..!

  • [email protected]

    I am so loving your perspective out there. It is amazing how much I take for granted over here. I was just wallowing in self pity because it took me until noon to get us all bathed, dressed, diapered, diapered again, seriously??? diapered again, and then out the door – except we never made it out the door because then it was nap time.

  • Pam Cakes

    Too true. Forget about central heat here in Portugal. I doubt they know what that is. If you have 5ºC outside (more or less 10ºF) you’ll have 5ºC inside your house. If you complain about being too cold inside the answer will be “sweetie, it’s winter, it’s supposed to be cold” (that is an actual answer I got from my mother in law one year). I once made some mocha cookies with white chocolate chips (chopped white chocolate because they don’t sell the chips here) people would ask me “what is mocha?”. If I do a red velvet cake they would say “funny! I didn’t know they had red chocolate here, is it imported from Peru?”. And one time I brought some banana & nuts muffins to a friend’s house and one of the guests commented “Ha, I’ve never thought about putting banana on a cake!” to what my husband’s reply was “it’s like the ones they sell at Starbucks, you know?” and the guest answered “Star-what?”. Oh yeah, I totally know what you’re talking about. What can I say? Enjoy the ride and take notes, one day you’ll laugh real hard about all these things.

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