Last week, a friend asked me to come speak at an event she was hosting on our Navy base (Sigonella). Elizabeth called it a “Parenting Toolkit Workshop,” and there were speakers addressing nutrition, relaxation/downtime, and children’s emotions. She had been reading my blog and we’d been emailing since before she arrived, so she thought I might be able to add a “real life” aspect to the parenting talk.
As I thought about what to say, it really boiled down to two things:
- It takes a village to raise a child, so make sure you’re a part of one, and
- Sicily is a place to unplug and restart your parenting.
I thought I’d share a little bit from each of these points as an encouragement to other parents out there. If you’re here in Sicily or about to move here, hopefully this discussion will also be a resource and a guide for you. However, I hope you’ll feel a fire lit under you no matter where you are or what your stage of life you’re in.
So here we go with my first point: it takes a village!
One thing that many people comment on in Sicily/Sigonella is that they feel isolated. I don’t know if this is true of all military base housing, but here in Sigonella, it’s a common refrain. There are so many reasons for this, I’m sure:
- Base housing is a fishbowl. People appreciate privacy. It’s hard to balance privacy with vulnerability.
- They miss the community they left.
- They don’t want to be there. (Perhaps they didn’t want to move to Sicily. Perhaps they wanted to live out in town.)
- Closeness is uncomfortable sometimes!
But base housing isn’t really that different from living “out in town,” ie. in an Italian house or apartment in an Italian town near the base. Out in town, people feel isolated too.
- There are a language and cultural barriers, which means… no friends to go outside and see/talk to.
- There are very few outdoor, public community spaces to go hang out in (at least in my town).
- It’s easier to interact with a computer, or with food in your kitchen, or with your own kids in a safe space, than to go outside.
However, becoming comfortable with an isolated, insulated life is not how we were meant to live. You may disagree with me on that, and so perhaps that’s the fodder for another blog post. But I believe strongly that we should live in community, that we should go outside frequently, that we should know our neighbors, that we should welcome them into our homes (a lot! all the time! standing invitation!), that we should cook for them, that we should accept their food, that we should be open and nonjudgmental and communicative and truthful even if we don’t like them.
Even if we can’t speak their language.
The person I’m aspiring to emulate in all of this is, of course, Jesus, who hung out with everyone (saints and sinners) everywhere (temples and wells, open fields and street corners). He came to love and live with people, and I think we are hardwired as humans to need and love and crave human interaction, support, and community.
If you feel isolated, if you want to live in community, the only person who is going to change that is YOU.
Ok, that was the tough stuff. Here are some personal examples of things I am glad we did here in Sicily to build community.
And then there are some things I wish I’d done.
- Things I am glad we did
- We invited people into our home regularly for meals, Bible study, game nights, book club, play dates, birthday parties, holidays, and anything we could think of. As a general goal, we had someone in our home at least once a week for at least one of these reasons. People love to see inside other people’s homes. People don’t mind the scattered toys and dirty floors. If they do, they are probably learning — just like I am — to get over it and to enjoy the real, honest person who was brave enough to invite them in.
- We attended religious services (in our case, the base chapel) regularly, even though we didn’t always like it. If we were in town, we went to chapel, even with visitors. What we didn’t like — the music, the nursery — we tried to quietly contribute to and improve, at least for a season.
- I got very involved in the women’s Bible study… that became “my thing.” Maybe that’s because they offered free childcare? I’m not ashamed to admit it! Either way, those women became my best friends at Sigonella.
- For awhile, I met up at the market each week with a friend. We had a standing agreement to buy our vegetables together at 9am on Wednesdays. This kept us both accountable to go to the market in our town, a key part of Sicilian life.
- Because our family was so far away, we invited our friends for holiday meals. I’ve talked on this blog about how I love to fill every seat around our huge farmhouse table.
- I invited myself over. A LOT.
- Things I wish we’d done
- I wish I had gotten my kids involved in the local culture in some way (preschool, sports, even a regular Italian babysitter). That contact is more for me than for my children, because they will be too young to remember any Italian or maybe anything about Sicily. But those contacts with Italy would have helped me so much. I would have had more Italian acquaintances, and I might even have had some real Italian friends. I would also have learned more about holidays, family structure, and food.
- I wish I had taken Italian lessons. I got books but barely studied them. I knew I needed to just bite the bullet, spend the money, and get a tutor for a few months to launch my understanding. But I never did.
- Lastly and most importantly, I wish I had invited people over sooner, not just after I got to know them pretty well. The best place to get to know someone is usually over a meal, even if the meal is PB&Js with both of your kids in a messy kitchen.
Think about the place where you live right now. What will you regret not doing after you leave? What were your expectations when you arrived? How can you make them happen?
Maybe can answer that question with… what did you love in your last home? Was there a mom’s group that organized activities for you and your kids that you relied on each week? Were you a part of a book club? Did you gather your friends to relax over beers on your back porch every Friday night? Were you involved in a sport or social activity?
Parenting and marriage are hard work, especially so far from home. You need people.
You need them so that someone can watch your child or pets overnight when you go to the hospital to have another baby.
You need them so that someone can pack up your house for you and sell your cars when you get terrible news (illness, death) and have to move back to the States immediately.
You need them so that you can walk up to someone’s house and say, “I drove all the way here and forgot to bring lunch for my kids… can I borrow some food?!”
You need them because exploring a new place, taking your kids to the playground, or having a picnic are always more fun with friends!
If you don’t like something where you live, don’t isolate yourself. Don’t gossip about it. And don’t just grin and bear it either. DO something about it.
If you don’t like something where you live, change it. If you don’t have something, get it. If you don’t want to be there, make it a place where you want to be!
This is a little corny, but it says it best: be the change you wish to see in your community.