Being the Outsider

Posted in Ancona, culture at 4:00 am

A couple nights ago the class representative for our oldest’s class organized an end-of-the-year dinner. It was your typical Italian feast with all of the courses (appetizer, two pastas, grilled meats, salad, dessert, and coffee). As we were all sitting down, someone had the idea to separate the guys and the girls. We took up the entire outside area of the restaurant. The kids were on one side. Dads in the middle. Moms on the other side.

As we’re sitting there chatting I just sort of sat there for a bit and listened to the other dads talk. The mayor of Ancona recently resigned (in scandal, of course) and they were talking about the nine candidates who were running. And of those nine, many were people they had all gone to school with. They started telling stories about so-and-so who used to ride on the hood of cars going down country roads. Or the other guy who they all said was destined to be in politics (not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult).

All of the sudden it hit me. Most of these guys have known each other since they were kids. They went to elementary school together. They’ve watched each other grow up and get married and have kids. And here I am, the American protestant pastor trying to insert myself into a community that has been around for forty years! There are a couple of dads in particular who try and pull me into the circle, but for the most part I’m an outsider.

I don’t say this to start a pity party. But it does bring a little prespective. How many class dinners do I go to before I can tell stories about so-and-so? Am I going to stick around long enough to get drawn in?


Life Out in the Open

Posted in culture at 7:51 am

The temperature has suddenly spiked here in Ancona. For the first time in many months, the house is getting a little stuffy at night. We open the windows to get a little fresh air.

Life in an apartment is full of little noises that remind you that you’re not alone. Noises like the woman upstairs whose high heels click on each stair just after lunch on her way back to work. The sound of a toilet flushing. The garage door opening or closing, or the slam of the front door when someone comes home.

But now that the windows are open, the noises are much louder. We can hear TVs at night and the clink of dishes after dinner. Neighbors walk out to say hello when they hear you on the balcony hanging laundry. Loud motorcycles going down the street make it hard to hear the TV. At first we feel like we have to keep the kids quiet all the time so that no one hears us. But then you realize no one else is making an effort to hide. It’s just how life is.

It’s a little unnerving at first. But after a while you stop noticing the noises and everything blends back into the background. It’s only when the windows first get opened that you realize you’re not alone.


A Blessing or a Curse?

Posted in family, kids, parenting at 2:27 am

I know this blog is normally about ministry things, but I wanted to change focus a bit and ask for some parenting advice.

A couple of weeks ago my kids were playing at a park just down the street from our house. We let them go there all the time by themselves. It’s nice to have someplace for the kids to get out their wiggles. Our oldest daughter comes running back and tells us that she found €89 ($114) in some long grass by a tree at the park. I couldn’t believe it.

At first I was hesitant to let the kids spend it. I thought briefly about contacting some of our neighbors to see if anyone lost money, but there are easily 100 apartments surrounding the park. We were headed to the city fair that night, so I just shrugged my shoulders and said to my daughter that she could keep it.

That’s when the trouble started. Apparently she had told her brothers that she wanted to split the money with them. She found it, but they were all there playing. But when it came time to actually giving the money away, she choked and told the boys never mind. I sat her down in the middle of the fair and told her that it absolutely was her money. Finders keepers. But she told the boys something that they were counting on and were already excited about. And I told her she needed to decide right then and there what she was going to do and then stand by her decision. She really struggled and finally split the money with the boys. I was proud. Our youngest bought a little toy helicopter which he loves and I pulled my daughter aside and said, “You made it possible for him to be so happy.” I patted myself on the back for my smooth parenting skills.

The next day, the kids go to the park. And this time they find €100 ($135)! It was in a slightly different place, but somewhere that they said they looked the day before. For some reason alarm bells start going off. I don’t think kidnappers try and bait children with cash, but my mind cannot figure out how someone could lose so much money. This time I tell the kids we’re going to hold on to the money for one week. We’re going to keep an eye out to see if anyone posts a sign saying they lost some money. If nothing happens, the kids can keep the money.

And of course, nothing happens. One week goes by and the kids start asking when they can have the money. So we sit down at lunch and we start talking about how to handle such a big blessing. I talked about how their mom and I like to give some of our paychecks to the church. And how we try and save a little for emergencies. But what bothers me is that I start to see greed building up in their little minds. Our daughter tries again to tell the boys that she found the money and it’s all hers. The boys complain because she said she would share. In my mind I’m thinking that this money is just too much for them. They’re used to their €2 a week allowance, and they just aren’t mature enough for such a windfall. They start talking about the junky toys they want to buy (kind of a pet peeve of mine – I hate cheap plastic toys that break in a week). Our daughter takes the money off my desk because she knows we have to go to a toy store to buy a birthday present for a friend. She didn’t steal the money, but she just assumed (incorrectly) that we were done talking about it and the money was theirs.

So what’s a parent to do? Should I let the kids blow the money? Is it OK to just treat this as a little blessing from God? Do I make them save some and give some and them use the rest as they want? How can I snuff out the greed that this “blessing” has caused? What lessons can I help them learn? I’d love the hear what you think…