Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Just a short reflection today inspired by a question on a medical form.

Today I trekked Princess Imagination and the Gigglemonster across town to visit a pediatric eye specialist. The Princess had some indications at her last well-visit that she might be having some vision problems with one eye, so I conquered my fear of Italian-over-the-phone, made her an appointment with the recommended specialist, and made the 50-minute, two-subway-line trip with my massive double-stroller and two munchkins in tow. The good news from the visit is that, despite a slight astigmatism in her right eye, the doctor thinks we can wait and see if the eye corrects itself. It means repeating the whole process in 4 months for a re-check, but at least glasses and an eye patch are not a current necessity.

The part of the visit that inspired this entry, however, was the parental release that I had to sign before she could be seen. Of course, the form was in Italian, so I am not entirely sure what it said, other than asserting that I was her parent. The receptionist (nice as she was) didn’t seem terribly concerned that I understood what I was signing, as long as I completed all the relevant personal data. For the most part, this was within the capacity of my limited Italian: date of birth, place of residence, fiscal code (what functions as the Italian social security number), and country of citizenship – no problem. Then came this mysterious completion of my prescribed self-description “e essere coniugata con ____________”.

Huh?! After 19 months my conversational Italian has advanced to the point where I no longer carry my handy Italian phrase book around, although I doubt it would have helped me in this situation. I stared at the mystifying phrase for a minute or two, trying unsuccessfully to get a few moments of quiet from my little chatterboxes so that I could concentrate. Then I gave up and pulled out my iphone and appealed to google translate. After carefully typing the query, I got this helpful translation: “to be conjugated with.”

Huh?! It felt almost like a deliberate insult – “not only do you fail to correctly conjugate Italian verbs in the majority of your sentences, but you don’t even know that the word conjugate means”! Embarrassed but undaunted, I stuffed my pride into my purse with my not-so-smart-phone and asked the receptionist. “Yes. If you are married?” she explained. Ah!

Ok, so there is an English reference point. In my defense, the description “conjugal” is generally restricted to correctional institution references to marital relations. My first reaction to the revelation was to giggle and text my husband to let him know that we are “conjugated.” As I thought about this unfamiliar application of the word, however, it began to seem quite appropriate. I think about verbal conjugation very frequently in my current context. I am really making an effort, in my Italian conversations, to not simply speak in the present tense and ask my conversation partners to figure out what I mean. This means constant struggles to figure out how to talk about things that used to happen, or have happened, or I expect to happen, or I hope will happen. Conjugation is the way that all of these things are communicated. Conjugation expresses the way that people and events verbally travel through time.

What a lovely way to describe marriage! Tyler and I are travelling through time together. We have a rich history together, including both past memories and continuing patterns. We have a present that includes current realities as well as some “shoulds” and “woulds.” And we look forward to a future with concrete expectations as well as hopes and dreams.

So, despite my giggles, I love the idea of being conjugated with Tyler. This phrasing reinforces the understanding that our marriage joins us together in the passage through time. This time in Italy is a special period in that passage, one that offers us so many new opportunities to learn and experience together. And there is no one I would rather be joined with in the process!



Author: Serena Gideon Rice

In early 2011 my family moved our home, temporarily, from New Jersey to Milan, Italy. In the process I quit what had been my dream job conducting policy-directed social science research, to focus on my other dream job, raising our two young children. The three-year adventure was exciting, exhausting, disorienting, fulfilling, and countless other contradictions. It also birthed in me a desire to share my reflections on life's joys and challenges with anyone who cares to reflect with me. Now that we have returned to the US I'm finding that the new perspective I gained in Europe has come with me, and gives me a whole new way of interacting with my home. There's still so much to learn and share! I hope you'll share the journey, and add your own lessons to my daily education.

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