New End of the Year Traditions

Since we arrived so late in the school year, there were a few events that we missed out on last year, but of course got to make up for this year along with crossing a few milestones.

In June, we celebrated Rob’s 40th birthday.   It’s funny because when you aren’t exposed to different people of different cultures, you don’t realize what is unique to yours.  Making fun of a 40 year old birthday boy is one of those things.  The Americans immediately assume there will be some “over the hill” decorations, maybe a tombstone on the cake, but a woman from Germany thought the black balloons were just the funniest thing she had ever witnessed.  The woman from Turkey could not believe that there was a picture of a graveyard on Rob’s cake AND that we were lighting all 40 candles!  The man from Spain thought the inflatable walker and the Senior citizen’s survival belt was just hilarious.  The party felt like an international event.  We had representations from the countries of Turkey, Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, US and of course Italy!  The gifts were even that much more exciting, Rob even got some of his favorite jamon serrano.

We attended a NATO Ball.  For those of you who didn’t know, Rob has worked for NATO since he went to Afghanistan and has continued working under NATO here in Italy.  NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance based on an agreement to defend each other in response to an attack by any external party.  You can see where this would keep Rob quite busy, what with recent global events.  Anyway, a military ball is an opportunity to bring these communities together, break bread, and enjoy.  This NATO ball was special in that it was the last at the existing NATO headquarters, as they will be moving their facilities right across the street from where we live.  HOORAY!  Rob can’t wait to simply walk to work.  Speaking of bringing cultures together, it is this ball that brought out the extreme differences in at least two cultures.  With our host country of Italy, you quickly learn that the dining customs are quite different.  Dinners are meant to be an all night affair.  In the United States, restaurants are accustomed to making reservations per couple of hours, but in Italy a reservation indicates that your party, and only your party, will be dining at that table for the evening.  There is no “turning over a table”.  While surely there are advantages that can be easily seen in that manner of dining and the relaxing ambiance, it is a stark contrast from what both Americans and Germans are accostomed.

The NATO Ball was coordinated by a German officer but catered by an Italian chef and his crew.  Our schedule of events included an appetizer that was to be served at 6:30 followed by an entree served by 7PM.  Needless to say when our appetizer was presented at 7:30, we knew that this would be a typical dining experience based on “Italian time.”  As the evening progress, the sliding scale of time seemed to slip further and further behind with the keynote speaker taking the podium 2 hours later than what was scheduled.  With dessert being served at 10 PM, I thought our German officer’s head was going to explode.

Meanwhile, Ben was staying with the child care that was provded by the event but was scheduled to end at 10 PM just in time for the fireworks display (or maybe not).  We had originally dropped him off, handing off on our only child to a young man we had never met amidst a room full of screaming children, and who wore a piece of masking tape that was serving as a makeshift nametag that read Marco.  We had our concerns, but for the time being, he was with other military kids and they were right next door to the dinner, so we rolled with it.  At 10:30 we arrived to pick up our son, who excitedly greeted us with, “I had so much fun!  First I was wrestling with this German kid, but then we started playing with this Greek kid.  I pinned him, but then Marco said we had to eat.  It was fun!”  And I ask you, where can your 9 year old son have experiences like that?!  Priceless.  As we walked up to our car at 11 PM, the fireworks that were scheduled for 10 PM began, Rob and I looked at each other and just laughed. Somewhere back at the dinner, a German man is rocking himself in the fetal position under the table.

As June sailed by, it brought us to yet another end to the school year and all of its pomp and circumstance of honor roll assemblies, class outings and last day of school traditions.  So for the last couple weeks, Ben had been chatting it up about some girl in his class, that he “definitely likes more than a friend.”   He was sitting at the table doing his homework and out of the blue he said, “I just did it. I told her, ‘Listen I kind of, sort of, have a crush on you…and well, I just wanted to tell you.”

“So what did she say?” I asked.

“She said, ‘I’ve kind known for a while and actually I kind of have a crush on you.”

“So what does that mean?”

“I dunno, it means I finally told her. And now she knows I like her.”

In addition to being verklempt at the fact that my 9 year old little boy has his first crush, I’m less than surprised that the girl knew the score way before he did.  I ask, “What’s her name again?”

“Jodi.”  And with that he went back to the homework thing as if he had just asked, “What’s for dinner?”

It was about a week later that I was picking up Ben from school.  This little girl, well I guess I shouldn’t say little since she is as tall as I am but, she came up to me and said, “Hi!  I’m Jodi and as you may know Ben and I have become quite close.  Are you going to the class movie with us next week?  My mom is and I was thinking that if you went, you could meet my mom and I’m sure you would be great friends and then Ben and I could sit next to each other.  Wouldn’t that be great?”

Oh my God, my child has met his match!  I tried to stifle the giggle, “I will have to look at my schedule, but yes, that sounds like a pretty good plan.”

Ben walked up after the exchange, “That was Jodi, Mom.”

“Yes, I gathered.  She introduced herself.”

“Yeah, she’s good like that.”

So there you have it, Ben has his first girlfriend in June 2012.  That wasn’t the only excitement Ben had for the end of the year.  He made Honor Roll for the 4th quarter in a row and we were super proud, but it was at this award ceremony that they announced that Ben had won an art contest he entered earlier on in the year.  It was the PTA’s Annual Reflections contest.  This years theme was “Diversity Means…”  Ben’s caption that finished the sentence was “…even though we are all different colors we can make beautiful things together.” A drawing of a person’s hand sketching the world on a pad of paper and using all different colored Crayola crayons, with the box of crayons off to the side.  He won first place at Naples Elementary at the local level and first place at the European level in Germany too!  The awards were quite official, glass award with his name engraved, you would have thought he won a Grammy.  We were quite proud of our little munchkin!

Which brings us to the last day of school.  I don’t know if there are other schools that do this but it was a pretty cool thing to see, as the busses prepared to leave the school for the last time for the academic year, the teachers lined the streets that the busses left on, waving goodbye and wishing the kids a fun summer.  I thought that was a neat touch and I’ve never seen it done before.

It may be more than 20 years after we graduated , but Rob and I got to go to prom!  That’s right, a blast back to the 80’s and it’s like we never left the days of Journey, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.  It is quite scary how easy it was to find something to wear for this event here in Naples.  You see, much of Italy, and for that matter Europe seems to be stuck in what we know to be the classic 80’s.  Men dressed in the pastel polo shirts with turned up collars, women wearing leggings, and classic 80’s music fills the air waves, one might think we never left.  It’s a bit of a time warp sometimes.  Dancing the night away to the likes of Prince and Lionel Ritchie and we had a blast!

And now comes the packing!  We will enjoy three weeks in the states followed by leaving the munchkin behind for another three weeks for him to enjoy Cousin Camp!


One comment

  1. Please tell me that you are keeping all these blogs (with photos!) in a book-like form. This is always awesome reading for me and rather than saving it electronically, it would be so cool for you to actually create a book with the 3 years of blogs in it and be able to have it be part of your living room reading for guests. How awesome would that be!!!

    I know we now live in a world that saves photos on a disk or flash drive and viewed on a computer and that people no longer write letters but communicate electronically, and all that futuristic stuff. But……I’m still wanting to have evidence of good-old fashion viewing on something I can hold and peruse slowly.

    Every time I read your blogs, I feel as if I’m there. That being said, you have such a talent (always have!) of recording your life adventures with your amazing ability to write and express with words. I love it!!

    Thank you for my Sunday morning reading…….love you all.

    Aunt Gloria


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