This post is an excerpt from my new book, Free At Last: Live, Love, and Work Abroad as a 21st century Global Citizen

When I was eight years old and in the third grade, a new girl arrived in our musty wooden classroom at the four-room Bark Street School (built in 1905) in Swansea, Massachusetts. She had just moved into a house on my very street apparently and her parents were immigrants from the Azorean Islands of Portugal.

My Little Swansea School House, The Bark Street School

My Little Swansea School House, The Bark Street School


Since we were now neighbors, I was asked by our teacher, Ms. Stewart, for the time the school bus normally came. Unfortunately her mother thought I was giving the time I would normally wake up for school. As I arrived the next day to pick up my new friend Natalie to walk to the bus stop, she quickly had to throw on clothes, skip breakfast, and run to the corner before the bus drove away.

By the time we arrived at school she was hungry, confused, and in tears. It’s never easy to be the child of immigrants who are just unable to stay in the loop and keep up with what everyone else is doing. Today, my own kids suffered Natalie’s fate and I blame myself and my inability to understand what is going on around me sometimes here in Italy.

My sons Lukas and Nico recently started school, Catholic School no less (not my normal first choice), here in our Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood of Rome. It was our “safety school,” recommended to us by good friends with slightly older children who are doing well there. It’s just a five minute walk away, not overly expensive, and it’s considered to be more rigorous than a typical Roman public school. I only ever went to public school as a child so the world of private education is still relatively new for me and I always have had mixed feelings about the idea that some kids get to go to “better” schools because their parents can afford it.

At the moment my husband and I are slightly bewildered to still be here in Rome as we had cheerfully resigned ourselves last winter that we will up and move and go live as a family at one of The World Food Programmes’s duty stations around the world. My husband works for WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian organization and I have taken a leave of absence from my University and am now concentrating on creative and online teaching projects. Three locations  came up so far that we could have moved to since April but since they were either directly in war-torn countries or in places where we would have had to live separately (non family duty stations), we have declined, mainly because of our young sons, ages three and five. We want what is best for them and want not just to survive but also thrive as a family.

So we are neither here nor there at the moment as we await our next location possibility with no idea of when or where we will move. Meanwhile we have to keep living and so my sons started at their new school last week. It’s a VERY nice school with cheerfully yellow-painted walls, smiling nuns with music blaring out of iPads while directing morning religious singing with the assembled children, and even solar panels on their roof to produce their own energy.

Did I really just find a photo of the nun singing with the kids in the morning AND the solar panels? Score!

Did I really just find a photo of one of the nuns singing with the kids in the morning AND the solar panels? Score!

My sons are very attached to me so though I was finally able to convince my older son to go off with his class with no tears, the same cannot be said for my three year-old who howls when it’s time for me to leave. His teacher, Sister Maria Fay, originally from The Philippines is as sweet as can be and even speaks some English. It doesn’t comfort my son though who remembers his old school and old friends from last year at Passi di Bimbo.

Last week after the first day of school, my older son’s teacher (not actually a nun herself, just an old-school Italian educator) came up to me smiling before her eyes darkened and narrowed. “He doesn’t hold a pencil right!” she fired at me in Italian accusingly.

My son is incredibly bright, bi-lingual (just like my Swansea friend Natalie), is good at math and numbers, and is extremely creative and inquisitive if not a bit restless like his mom. Is this woman going to only see he has trouble holding his pencil and ignore his potential? He is still only five and under normal conditions in the USA, I would have waited another year to put him in the first grade. Here in Italy though, by law since he turns six in October he needs to start now.

I had always thought that some sort of Montessori-esque, individualized curriculum plan might be best for him given his nature and quirks. Now he’s going to be expected to learn things he might not be ready for and his love of learning and confidence in his abilities could be damaged by old, 20th century teaching methods.

But fair enough, he needs to work on holding his pencil. We have been practicing each day since he started school and he knows how to do it, he just doesn’t always want to.

This morning his teacher came over to me and asked, “Did he go to school before? He can’t hold a pencil!”  I assured her that he did and even excelled in preschool and that we were practicing every day.

Later I found out that all the kids except mine had little green tickets so they could get lunch. I had not received any information about the tickets and it’s a system quite different from how lunches were organized at their old school last year. So, I bought them tickets and was assured by the nuns in the office this morning that my sons would have lunch today.

This afternoon my first-grader’s teacher, let’s call her “Ms. Pencil,” called. She growled something in rapid Italian about lunch and tickets. I stammered in halting foreigner’s Italian (the kind of Italian you speak when you know you are moving soon anyway) that I thought the tickets I bought this morning and the communication with the nuns in the office had ensured my boys would not go hungry today.

She barked something about my younger son Nico also not having a ticket and then HUNG UP on me.

I’m angry beyond belief at this school who can’t seem to give me any kind of reliable information. I’m angry with myself for not understanding Italian better despite having lived in this country over nine years. I’m angry that we haven’t moved on yet and I am even having these issues, for not better being able to get my sons the kind of education I want them to have, and also I’m angry for being angry because other people have worse problems than this.

Anyway,  I feel just a tiny bit better for venting. I’m all about leaving one’s comfort zone to grow and become a more extraordinary person. I’m all about this Italian adventure I’ve been on for almost a decade, but Mamma Mia, give me a break and throw me a bone once in a while, people. How I’d love to live a life more… ordinary sometimes. ( I say that, but in my heart I don’t really mean it.)

And now I’m off to pick up my boys. Let’s hope there’s an angel or two in this Catholic school that can help sort things out for us today.

Read more insights like this at:  Free At Last: Live, Love, and Work Abroad as a 21st century Global Citizen