Archive for ‘family’

December 5, 2012

anatomy of an argument – sweating the small stuff

27.03.2011 – Journal entry [btw, we’re fine]

Well yesterday started out ok then M. and I had a massive row at the supermarket, after we’d been running in the park, about something ridiculously trivial and I am still in a rage about it. It’s making me feel crazy. I have just tried to clear the air, but M. maintains he has nothing to say, he’s happy, he got up early this morning, he’s feeling a bit tired, but otherwise he’s fine. I am seething. I’m not sure why I am making such a big deal of this. He has nothing to say and I can’t bring myself to look at or speak to him.

I am convinced that M. was trying to pick a fight with me. He won’t admit it. He reckons I escalated it beyond the two-minute moan he was having about my having bought an unnecessary plastic bag at the supermarket, and beginning to expand on the theme about how wasteful I am and all the food I’ve ever bought which I haven’t eaten. Perhaps I did. But I could feel a cloud descending on me as he repeated variations on the theme over and over again.

It’s not as if he was paying. It’s not as if the plastic bag wouldn’t get used as a dustbin bag anyway. It’s not as if I’m never going to miscalculate the number of bags we need again, and will be penalized to the tune of 15c. And since I’m the one who does most of the shopping, and I prefer to have too many plastic bags than over-fill too few, plus I pay for the fucking stuff, I don’t see why I should have to listen to him droning on about it. So it feels like he was picking a fight.

So why did I take the bait? I was starting to feel resentful, thinking how happy I’d felt running around the park, how relaxed, how normally right now I’d be in a dreamy state of well-being and instead I’m being nagged, having my balls broken about something absolutely trivial. I kept thinking “don’t sweat the small stuff”, actually, I kept thinking “why does he have to sweat the small stuff”. Maybe if I’d been thinking the first thing, I’d have been better able to resist the temptation to explode, because that’s what I did in the end. I told him to shut up, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!!!! I think I might have missed the stage of politely asking him to change the subject. No, I didn’t. I could probably have been more polite or humourous about it, but I did ask him to change the subject.

Did I tell him he was right? He said something strange yesterday morning, that he was going to have to leave me because I always told him he was right. I often appease him, it’s the easiest way. He also said that it was because he was nearly always right, and I’d do better to just listen to him and do whatever he says. At the time this was a light-hearted conversation, but I wonder if there’s anything behind it.

Anyway, after I told him to SHUT UP, he didn’t, which ramped up my frustration, which was rapidly turning into rage, even further, and I doubled back on myself and took the parallel route home so I wouldn’t have to keep listening to him. Unfortunately I was the only one who had the keys, so he was waiting for me. We got home in silence, with me banging every door I could. He seemed calm and cheerful. It felt a bit sadistic.

This does remind me of rowing with mum. I think she believed this was what communication was about, this was how people were supposed to interact with each other, this was “being Italian”, being honest, being oneself, expressing one’s feelings. I would be the one having the amygdala hijack, and I’d feel completely drained and crazy afterwards.

It’s funny, M.’s always more likely to do this when people are coming over, especially if it’s D. He has been known to behave like a whiny pain in the arse with T. around as well, but less so.

What happened when we got back? It was quite late, so I started tidying up the house, clearing the table in the kitchen. M. started to go on about the plastic bags again, because, evidently, I hadn’t understood what he was trying to say. I started screaming at him to shut up, what was there not to understand that he’s pissed off because I bought a plastic bag we didn’t need, and how dare he break my balls about something so fucking trivial, about a 15c bag. How would he like it if I broke his balls in this way? I don’t break his balls so why the fuck does he think it’s alright to break mine. He denied he was breaking my balls, at which point I threw the folded-up table-cloth at him.

I went into the living room to try and cool off. I realized that wasn’t going to happen so I decided to have a shower. I’d just finished getting dressed when D. & A. arrived. There followed a fairly excruciating day of my pretending that everything was alright. M. was showing affection towards me, leaning against me at the table, but as soon as D. & A. went outside on the balcony for a smoke, he said, half jokingly, “I hate you, and I’m going to hate you until you apologise.” I couldn’t trust myself to speak. Before D & A came back, I hissed at him in the toilet that I was happy to apologise if he was. He announced that he had nothing to apologise for.

Is it too much to ask that he shows some basic consideration of my feelings, like if I’m clearly about to erupt with fury to stop doing whatever it is he’s doing which is presumably provoking it, reasonable or not? Apparently it’s too much to ask. I really feel like I’m dealing with Sheldon here, but am I being a bit Sheldon-like?

November 30, 2012

the best part of the week

defining moments 8

November 25, 2012

how to deal with figures before you can count


November 25, 2012

how to play

110402 – watching A. play basketball in Casalecchio

Yesterday we were out of milk, and I asked A., nearly 6, to come and buy some with me. He had just opened one of those little juice boxes, so I thought I’d wait until he’d finished drinking. I distracted myself for a couple of minutes, and when I looked back to see if he’d finished, he a) hadn’t, and b) was playing with the juice box rather than drinking. I took a deep breath and suppressed my natural urge to bark at him to hurry up, and, instead, observed him.

A. announced he didn’t like the drink – “organic blueberry” – but that he liked sucking the droplets from the straw when he took it out of the box. I resisted grinding my teeth, contented myself with a martyred sigh and kept watching. He started pulling the straw out and sucking the juice from it; then he wanted to see what would happen if he put the straw back in up-side down with the short part in the box (it still worked) ; then he noticed that he’d put some kinks in the bendy part of the straw and wanted to see if he could get them out by pressing with his teeth (more or less). After about five minutes of this, he finally handed me the almost undrunk drink, saying he didn’t want it any more. I couldn’t resist muttering something about “wasteful!” but otherwise kept my hair on. I was impressed by how absorbed he’d been in his ‘messing around.’

Later. A.’s skateboarding process:

  1. Get auntie to carry skateboard downstairs.
  2. Pause to consider skateboarding across the flower-bed. Decide against.
  3. Complain that the skateboard keeps stopping and won’t go in the direction I want it to; when auntie points out all the cracks and pot-holes in the pavement, get auntie to carry skateboard until the next bit of smooth pavement.
  4. Wonder what kneeling on skateboard and pushing yourself along with your hands is like. Ignore auntie telling you to stand on it, or you’ll never learn.
  5. Scrape thumb painfully on tarmac. Ignore auntie telling you not to put thumb in mouth. Decide to try sticks. First stick breaks immediately.
  6. At the park the tarmac path slopes down. Find a bigger stick. Discover that the stick won’t slow down the skateboard without endangering fingers. Rolling off the path and onto the grass will. Also the tips of my shoes dragging on the ground will. Get auntie to carry skateboard back up hill. Again and again. Have not given up on sticks.
  7. Notice path through the grass, decide to try and skateboard across it. There are a lot of stones in the earth along the path. I must dig them out or I can’t get across. Where’s my stick? Oops, it broke. Here’s another bigger one. Scrape, scrape, poke, poke, there goes the first stone. This one’s big. Scrape, scrape, scrape…
  8. Here are some more good sticks. I’m a caveman. Look, I’m rubbing two sticks together to make a fire.

Lessons learned:

Shoes are better than sticks for steering and stopping.

You can ride down the hill with a friend if you’re both kneeling.

[NB. Interesting post here about playing and Aspergers]

November 23, 2012

the house mum grew up in


November 12, 2012

unreliable memories much more interesting than facts

15.03.2011 – from my journal

When I was a teenager I distinctly remember mum telling me that at school she had a classmate whose weight would yo-yo up and down. Every so often, when this girl got too chubby, her parents would whisk her away to a clinic, where she would be ‘put to sleep’ for a week, sedated or anaesthetized and fed through a drip. She would come back to school with concave cheeks and a flat stomach and be the envy of her classmates. This was the same clinic my mother’s father would check into when his stomach ulcers got so bad he would be vomiting blood. The treatment was the same: he would be ‘put to sleep’ for a week, then come back good as new.

I never questioned my memory of these gothic-sounding practices, even after I did my degree in psychology. This was Italy, and different rules apply. Also, although it sounded physiologically dodgy, I found the idea of a clinic where you were put to sleep for a while to solve all your problems incredibly appealing, much more restful than dieting or therapy.

When I asked mum about this recently she denied ever telling me anything so mad-sounding, and said that her schoolmate probably had anorexia or bulimia, not conditions which were recognized at the time, and she was removed from school when she got too thin, not for being too fat. But the part about her father being put to sleep in this clinic was true, except that it was when he got depressed, not for his ulcers.

For the record, she tells me a lot of mad-sounding things, so my memory is probably correct even though her revisionist explanation is likely to be a more accurate description of the facts. And the mad-sounding version is so much more interesting than the facts.

November 11, 2012

and the connection between totalitarian regimes and The Accidental Tourist is…

03.03.2011 Thursday – from my journal

At the gallery I wasn’t particularly inspired by any of the art, except for the 4th Estate, and I was sad to learn that Volpedo committed suicide after his painting was deemed too controversial to be accepted by any museums during his lifetime. It’s a shame he didn’t hang around to see what an emblem of revolution his painting became.

I got particularly fed up with the modern art, all the stuff from the 50’s and 60’s, the slashed canvases and lumps of lead. It all looks like a joke that I don’t get, and no one will explain to me. Sometimes I completely understand those totalitarian regimes that want to do away with the intelligentsia and middle classes.

There was a TED talk I was watching the other day, a woman who was working with Cambodian women, the last nine in the country who had some memory of Cambodia’s dance heritage, and they were starting to teach the youngest generation. She talked about the importance of preserving what was beautiful from the past.

All my parents wanted to do was distance themselves from their pasts. Mum, specifically, adopted the belief that the past has to be “discharged”, eradicated somehow, before we can function properly. Is that why she behaves like such a Martian so much of the time? S., too, she’ll hear a word, a cultural reference that someone of her background and education should be perfectly familiar with and claim to never have heard it. It drives me crazy. She’ll say things like, “a ‘milkman’…  what’s that?” For God’s sake, she reads and watches TV. She must have picked up something.

There’s a bit in The Accidental Tourist I find hilarious and I’m not sure why: “When Macon was small, he used to worry that his mother was teaching him the wrong names for things.  ‘They call this corduroy,’ she’d said, buttoning his new coat, and he had thought, But do they really?” Is it because Macon has a mother with the same “I’m not from here” act I grew up with? NB. Mum disguised her extraterrestrialness behind a “being an uprooted Italian” act for a long time, until I realised she is just as much of an alien in Italy.

November 10, 2012

communication, Italian-style

Journal 11.02.12

Communication in M.’s family: everyone engages in a kind of stream-of-consciousness commentary on what they’re doing, what they’ve done,  what they’re going to do, and constantly judges and comments on each other – all of this simultaneously, so they are often talking over each other. I think this is what dad meant by “Italian” communication.

It used to drive dad crazy, when, at the dinner table in Italy, he’d just have finished telling a story, and my grandfather, who’d been talking to my uncle, would say, “Who? What did they do?” and expect dad to start all over again. Then when he’d finish telling it again, my uncle, who’d been talking to my mother would say, “Who? What did they do?” This would go on, until every member of the family was sure they’d heard the story.

Dad dismissed this as crazy and chaotic, with no-one ever listening to each other but when it works, a lot of information is exchanged very effectively. It can also become pathologically critical, competitive and “invasivo” – the Italian  for ‘invasive’, a term that’s used for behaviour as well as for surgery.

In my English-dominant-culture family, communication was very top-down, i.e. dad-down, one-on-one, and there wasn’t very much of it. English children should be seen and not heard. Italian children need to be emitting a high-piched racket all the time so their mothers can always tell where they are.

November 6, 2012

non-verbal communication breakdown

20.10.12 – journal in Morgex

Is my frustration with being talked at for hours another symptom of my misanthropy/ undiagnosed Asperger’s or is M.’s family really annoying? I assume that if I’m sitting there reading, or typing on my computer that this will be taken as a strong signal that I don’t want to be disturbed. This is obviously one of my remaining British pre-conceptions, as reading is considered vaguely anti-social over here, and of course you’d prefer real human interaction to that.  Still, I have not yet worked out how to extricate myself from my mother-in-law’s hour-long monologues about stuff she must remember she’s told me before. Sometimes I see it as a kind of payment for the hospitality and affection she has always extended towards me.

Two carpenters are staying here to do various jobs around the house. The two of them on Friday had been up since 4.00 am, and were only released from company at 10.30 p.m. Yesterday we had dinner downstairs, and G. & L. were holding forth until nearly 11.00. The older guy didn’t seem to mind, the younger guy, like me, seemed desperate for some peace and quiet. Finally, I put my jacket on and started giving very hard-to-miss leaving signals, and ended up waiting for 10 minutes outside for the others to come up and let me in. The younger guy, kept disappearing for a smoke and to make phonecalls. The older guy excused his rude behavior, saying he’s a bit “rozzo” – uncouth. God, what does that make me?

October 24, 2012

How to win an argument


In the lift on the way up, to pass the time M, as is his wont, smacks me on the arm, and then pretends nothing happened.

“Ow!” I say.

“What?” he says.

“You hit me on the arm!” I say.

“I didn’t!” he says.

“Denying it does not make it not so.” I say.

“What are you talking about?” he says.

“You hit me on the arm!” I say

“Prove it!” he says.

He hits me on the arm again. Repeat until we get to the 6th floor.

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October 18, 2012

world fails to spin off axis

Journal 21.02.11

It’s Monday, I have been looking after A  since last Thursday. Some of it has been fun. It was good to see Alessandra yesterday as well. Poor thing has just been systematically and publicly, on Facebook, cheated on by her latest man. I think the Earth would fall out of its orbit if Alessandra actually got together with a decent man. So all is right with the world: I am unemployed, Alessandra is single, S. is leaving dirty tea cups all over the house.

October 18, 2012

they’re nothing to do with me


One of my sister T.’s memories about going holiday with the family was when they missed the overnight train from Milan to Paris. I wasn’t there, although it feels like my memory. My mother and four children, including 3 small ones, were waiting on a train platform late at night to catch another night train to Paris. They wouldn’t have had couchettes to look forward to, or even booked places, they wouldn’t have had any food or water, or anything that would offer any comfort, since mum would have been in charge of packing. There would have been luggage all over the place, and no obvious way of transporting so much with so many small children. At least one of the small children would have been crying. They would all have looked scruffy. Not dirty exactly, but unkempt. T remembers a man looking askance at them all and remarking to his companion “I hope I’m not expected to travel with that bunch of gypsies.” T remembers stepping away from the family, not wishing to be associated. I wonder how old she would have been – 16?

October 18, 2012

dad’s writing voice


On the rare occasions I’ve been able to bring myself to read dad’s notebooks and scribblings to himself I’ve been horrified by his writing – and him an English teacher. His language sounds so affected, like he’s trying on some kind of persona that never fits. He never got to find his “voice”. I remember thinking when I was growing up, when are you going to do something? When are you going to write your novel, publish your volume of poetry? I asked him when I was about 21 what kind of writing he liked best, and he said “the aphorism”.

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October 17, 2012

the excitement of holidaying in a small mountain village

August 2011, Morgex. All hell broke loose in the village today. While setting up the barbecue for lunch, L, made the mistake of greeting his former friend, Ennio, as he was walking by, and Ennio told him he didn’t accept greetings from people who ‘played dirty’. Ennio stood there for about half an hour shouting accusations, while L. cooked the meat for lunch, brandishing a massive fork, and M. and his brother tried to “reason” with him, which mostly involved picking holes in his logic, not difficult.

G, was furious at the public display they were making, which she claimed (rightly) could be heard all over the valley. She started threatening to leave and not come back, and they’d be hearing from her lawyer (Ennio, AND her husband and sons). At one point she went out to try to intervene, at the same time as our neighbour, Santo, appeared on the scene. G, told him to mind his own business and to “go back where he came from.” Hmm.

God, this is better than a soap opera – especially for taking my mind off my business woes.

October 17, 2012

Rapunzel totally makes sense now

August 2011, Morgex.  M, L and N spent all afternoon measuring the dirt track that runs next to their property, and putting planks of wood the around the boundaries of their territory. They would never admit to this, but they were doing it in a really ostentatious way to deliberately piss off their neighbours. Later on, I witnessed our next door neighbour, Santo, deliberately knock one of the planks off the road while driving up to his parking spot.

Then, while L. was having a shower,  Massimo, Santo’s son-in-law, came out and asked G, if he could speak to L,, and ‘reminded’ her that the lawyer – whose? – had forbidden any more work on the road.

The boys have been having a testosterone-fuelled brag-fest this evening. L  is gloating to his sons how he’d seen his ex-friend, Ennio, driving his mother in his Vespa van up to their hut, his eyes “popping out with rage.” “I was pissing myself laughing,” L says.

They keep referring to the neighbours as “terroni”, a disparaging way of referring to Southern Italians. I have noticed that while Southerners sometimes refer to themselves as ‘terroni’, nobody ever calls Southerners ‘terroni’ to their faces. It’s not a word you ever hear on TV either – I think this word almost as taboo as ‘n****r’, but no Northerner will admit it.

All this arguing about, literally, a few square centimetres of land, has made me realize that the plot of Rapunzel, where the neighbour, who happens to be a witch, demands the couple’s first born child as a punishment for stealing lettuce from her garden,  is not so far-fetched after all.

October 17, 2012

dinner table politics

August 2011, with my in-laws. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just feed 2-year-olds with an injection,” I muse out loud. This doesn’t go down well. I am witnessing the usual dinnertime battle of wits between Mm and her parents to get her to eat. One of the rules of the game is that Mm shouldn’t cry – perhaps her parents think this is cheating.

Jamie Oliver is so wrong when he says the dinner table is the alter of family life.  Although, maybe it’s not such a bad metaphor, I mean, altars feature things like sacrifice and ritual slaughter, don’t they?

The way the food is served does a lot to affirm people’s status in the social order. In my mother-in-law’s family, of 6 children, the girls had to serve the boys, and the males were expected to be able to sit around and rest for an hour at lunchtime, while the females prepared the food, waited on them and cleared up. G says that she used to argue with her father that studying counted as work and she should be expected to rest as well.

This evening N served me a portion of ravioli that was exactly half what he served himself and his wife, and the same as what he served Mm. So that’s me put firmly in my place. Which is why I’m writing this at the dinner table.

What does it mean when L fills his glass with his cheap and nasty wine (that he amusingly calls his “scacciacugini” wine, literally, “wine brought out to get rid of visiting relatives”), just as M is opening the good bottle of wine we brought from Milan for his father’s birthday? Is this an inter-generational declaration of war, or just bad manners? L has also just turned his nose up at the “moccetta” (local speciality) we bought, saying the that the local supermarket brand is much better. He’s also refused to taste any of the cheese and biscuits I bought back from the UK. M. doesn’t seem to notice or mind any of this. I love that today.

October 17, 2012

cigarettes are sublime

Journal 09.02.12

Mum helped me give up smoking in 1995, while I was living in Poland, by sending me a couple of articles from The Guardian, which suggested that people who smoke are not complete idiots, that there may be good reasons for smoking. This was surprising, as I was used to being treated like a leper for my smoking. Then one day she said to me, “E, I understand that you wouldn’t have accomplished all the things you’ve done in your life if it hadn’t been for smoking.” She told me she was testing a new theory that smokers should be appreciated rather than criticized for how they’ve chosen to manage their stress and anxiety levels. I think I gave up smoking because I was more affronted by the idea that I wouldn’t have achieved what I had without cigarettes than by being constantly told I was a self-destructive, anti-social moron for choosing to smoke.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep the articles, and recently I tried to find them on the internet. I searched high and low, but it’s obviously become completely taboo to say anything positive about smoking, and I found nothing. However, Jonathan Franzen in his book How To Be Alone, which I’ve just finished, talks about a book, Cigarettes Are Sublime, which seems to be the book that started this brief trend.

How do I manage my stress and anxiety levels now? I rip off the skin around my fingernails with my teeth, often until I bleed. I also like to chew my lips raw. Much less antisocial.

October 17, 2012

notices, but chooses to ignore social cues

Journal  09.02.12

I asked M, after he told me off for not listening to him, if he’d noticed that I I’d been yawning my head off while he was talking at – not to – me, that at one point I’d rested my forehead on the table, that I’d been reading when he’d started talking, that I’d given plenty of non-verbal signals that I was feeling knackered after a day of listening to people and I didn’t feel like listening to him. I asked him if he understood non-verbal language. He said he notices and understands, but he doesn’t really care and chooses to ignore it.

October 17, 2012

a girl called Blessing

London, August 2011. I meet Blessing (real name), who’s about 8, in the playground that T.’s flat overlooks. She’s pretty, plump, has lots of beaded braids, wears pink with butterfly motifs. She’s chasing around the car-park after a large fluffywhite seed, like the ones from a dandelion clock, and when she catches it, she gives it to T., saying, “This is for you, it’s a wish, don’t lose it, keep it safe!” T. puts it in her pocket. Blessing catches one for me too, and it’s at the pocket of my moleskine notebook, should I ever need it.

October 17, 2012

asperger social skills

Summer 2011, on the phone with my sister, S. S. is talking about her initiative to set up a summer school, something she’s never done, with a school-teacher friend of hers. Things aren’t going to plan, although the plan seems to be that the school-teacher friend, who’s in the process of getting married, gets permission from the school and recruits all the parents and children. There’s no progress and S. is expressing feelings of betrayal towards her friend, referring to her as “a cow”, and possibly “a stupid bitch”. I point out that S.’s plan seems to be dependent on her friend making everything happen, and in the interests of maintaining a positive working relationship, perhaps she shouldn’t refer to her as “a cow” and “a bitch”. S. tells me that’s how she deals with things, because “she’s a fighter.”


October 17, 2012

the art of passive aggression

Summer 2011, dinnertime in Morgex. I’m noticing how you distinguish between pleasant and unpleasant exchanges between people, e.g. between M and I, or between my in-laws, G and L, or between M and his mother, G. I’m observing the art acting like a shit, while denying any such thing.

For when there are three or more of you: L’s voice is polite as he offers his wife some more meat, which she’s already said she doesn’t want, but at the same time he’s rolling his eyes at M. I refuse to make eye-contact with L now when he does this, although I was more complicit earlier on in our relationship.

For when there’s just two of you: the voice tone is perfectly polite, but there’s a silent beat afterwards, when the speaker is clearly adding the unarticulated thought, “…, you moron!” This sentiment can also be expressed by an almost imperceptible intake of breath after the most innocuous-sounding comments. The muffled sigh also works well.

October 16, 2012

when mum visits

Tuesday 3rd July 2012

Last week M. was telling Mirko, who’d come over to watch the Italy-UK match when we came back from the mountains, how he feels around mum when she visits: like a cat around a toddler, who is determined to play, yanking poor kitty out from under the bed by its tail.