The Ups and Downs of an Italian Family

September 7, 2016

It is the week before Labor Day. I am at home in Minneapolis, donating my excess belongings, preparing to move to Italy, working and writing. It is a busy week for our family. My daughter Stephanie and granddaughter Magnolia arrive from the West Coast while my brother John and Sister-In-Law Kris arrive from the East Coast. Party time, Italian style is on its way.

Before the arrival, I spent a full day with my father Pasquale on Saturday. We began our time together with a visit to Papa’s favorite grocery store with his list.  Afterward, I prepared a bowl of tuna pasta salad just the way mom used to make it. A cold pasta dish for a warm day was just right for lunch with Papa.

After lunch we spent time checking out his latest puzzle and talking about his bird feeder. He gets such pleasure watching the birds eat his birdfeed, identifying which type of birds they are and stopping the squirrels attempting to get the feed. Simple pleasures for a man who is aging gracefully with a touch of dementia to mar the scene.

For a while, we listened to music. We even danced a two-step in his living room. Cousin Kathy joined us for a pizza and laughter at dinnertime. Dad had a good day. And so did I.

Sunday morning my girls arrived. I am a Nonna, grandmother. Seeing my granddaughter after several months without her hugs and giggles is such a gift! She is the light of my life. I wanted to spend every second with her and with my daughter. I wanted to keep them home with me. But we had other plans.

We organized a family gathering at my brother Joe’s house so everyone could see them. We were all together that Sunday. We all enjoyed each other’s company, especially Magnolia. She had missed her cousins. Papa also enjoyed being with most of his family. It was loud and filled with laughter. Again, it was a good day. Maybe a great day!

Part of the time with Stephanie and Magnolia was spent driving to and from Chicago. We had an 11am appointment at the Chicago Italian Consulate. We had already gotten our Dual Italian Citizenship but had yet to go back and get our passports. After a 3 hour wait, we were fortunate to have all our paperwork approved and our passports will be coming in the mail! It feels so very good to accomplish the work to bring us to this moment.  And Magnolia was an absolute angel for the entire process. We celebrated with Italian food and wine the first evening as well as after we left the consulate. It was another great day!

Thursday was a more challenging day. We Italians are emotional people and my family is very typical in that regard. My 5 siblings and I met to discuss our father’s future and his health. This is such a difficult topic. And the evening’s discussion proved to be very heated.

Three of us want Papa to stay in his little one-bedroom condo until he needs to go into memory care, if he ever does need that. The other three think it would be better to move him into senior housing now, where he can have more interaction and make new friends while he is still aware enough to make friends. I believe he will regress dramatically if we move him (I am in the first group of three) while the second group doesn’t believe that will happen. I want to attempt a bit of in home visitations to take some pressure off my brother, the main caretaker.  We all want what is best for dad. We just see it differently. It was the low point of the week for me.

When I think of Italians in Italy, I see them caring for their elders at home. I see them volunteering to take turns stopping by, making dinner and talking with their parents and grandparents. I see them caring for each other unless it is absolutely impossible.


Here in the USA, we are so busy that it is difficult to make the time to spend with Papa. We think our children are too busy and have their own priorities. This is part of the American culture. But it is not part of the Italian culture. When I am in Minneapolis I try to see my father several times per month. In fact, this summer I have spent even more time with him than usual. I am trying to get as much time as possible with my father. I have made it a priority for me.

It is not a burden. In fact, I am still learning from my Papa’. Yes, he may ask me 10 times the same question in the course of the afternoon. Yet, when he is watching his birds, or talking about the old neighborhood, I see him in such a serene light. He lives in the moment and enjoys it for what it is. And I find that beautiful. It reminds me to slow down and enjoy each breeze, the sunset and the sound of laughter. It helps me to treasure each moment I share with him and with everyone else.  It is always a good day when I am visiting my father.

Our final family gathering of the week was at my niece Samanatha’s home where we celebrated her sister Courtney’s high school graduation. Again, we had most of the family in attendance. It was a harder time for Papa’ this time as so many other people were at the party. Still, we were together, we had food, games and laughter. No heated conversations this night. And it was our last night together.

My girls left the next morning. Overall it was a good week for an Italian girl. There are always bumps in the road but, when those bumps are caused by family strife, I believe our love for one another gets us through it.

And now it is Labor Day. Again I think of my father, and his generation who have made Labor Day a holiday. They gave us the 40-hour work week, vacations and so much more through their strikes and their fights and their union work. Thanks again Papa’. Grazie Mille!

Ciao for now!

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