I have a dirty little secret, and it’s called The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I love this show. I’ve watched it since its first season and have never missed an episode. People are always surprised when I tell them this, considering how my usual topics for discussion are finances, development, and growth. Admittedly this isn’t the only reality show I watch since I’ve already written about my appreciation for Fixer Upper, but the RHONJ is the only one I regularly DVR.
Partly I love watching this show to see the gorgeous homes and stylish accessories, but also because of all the shows in the Housewives franchise this one pays homage to an “old school” mentality. My mom was German and I very closely identify with that part of my heritage, but my dad grew up in an Irish Italian Catholic household. While my mom set the tone for our family traditions and holidays, my dad set a discipline that aligns closely with old world values. On top of gender expectations on how to be good girls and do our part, my sister and I were taught about standing our ground, not snitching and the hierarchy of loyalty. Because RHONJ is centered around the lives of Italian American families, many of these themes are shown. The women all say they align with them…even when they don’t, and that’s when the drama happens.
I seldom purchase housewives’ books and wares, but I was very curious about Teresa’s stay in prison and what she learned from it. I bought Turning the Tables: From Housewife to Inmate and Back Again. I didn’t have hopes for any big epiphanies (which is good, because there weren’t any), but I did expect to read about what got her in prison and how she felt about it. Well, that wasn’t there either. She wrote multiple times that she would pray to God asking how she ended up there. Since court documents are available, we know the legal side of the story, but I wanted to hear hers.
I knew from previous interviews that she and her husband, Joe, maintained an old school marriage where she kept the home while he worked. If he brought her forms to sign, she simply trusted him and signed without reading. Honestly, I think this is what happened, and since I held that opinion, I expected her to express disappointment in her husband and a sense of betrayal. I also expected her to lay blame on the judicial system or others who participated in the investigation against her. She did neither of those things.
She wrote a book, filled with stories about what she ate, who she made friends with, her exercise routine and how she occupied her days. There was no deep reflection, or display of personal growth. I did cry every time she described being apart from her children – something I wouldn’t wish on anybody – but aside from that, there was little emotion in this book. She didn’t show remorse, but she also didn’t complain about her circumstances. She put on a brave face and simply got through it.
At first I was disappointed, but then I realized I should have anticipated this from the book. She was sticking to her upbringing. She would never speak against her husband because Joe is number one in the hierarchy of loyalty. Furthermore, old school upbringings typically expect you to keep your emotions private. There is no getting overly excited or upset. There is absolutely no crying in public – it is unheard of to show others this degree of vulnerability.
So Teresa didn’t do any of these things. She does the opposite. Teresa regularly speaks of her strength and her faith. She holds her head up high and shows pride for herself and her loved ones. This is exactly how I was raised. While I’ve deviated from this by exploring my emotions and writing about them publicly, there is still a large part of my character that is shaped by these Italian American cultural norms.
I’d go so far as to say, that reading this book was a timely reminder for me. Stress has been getting to me lately, more than I care to admit. This is partly why I chose to fast. I see it as an opportunity to center myself and pray. I think now, that my attraction to Teresa at this time (someone I’ve never been especially enamored with) is a sign that I need to quit complaining about what I’m unhappy with, find contentment with the hand I’m currently dealt, and at the same time, hold my head up high as a show of faith and strength.