Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Wyoming: William started walking for real! - Natale in Wyoming: William si e' messo a camminare per davvero!

The Kruse Family
So this how we celebrated Christmas this year: we took William to Wyoming for the first time and spent Christmas with the Kruse family. This has been our first American Christmas and William has decided to take his first steps without help. It has happened on the 23th of December at the Logan airport in Boston, while we were waiting to get on our plane going to Denver (Colorado). There, all of a sudden, my little 17 months old boy was no longer trying to grab my hand to support himself. He was instead walking away from me, ready to explore the world!

He first started walking with his arms up (hands up style), in order to keep his balance. Then, each time after that, he tried to lower his arms a bit more until at the end of our trip to Wyoming he decided to keep them at the level of his waist and confidence took over. Yes, it has happened! You can watch this video if you don't believe me.

So it is official: William now walks and goes everywhere! And without my help. Not only. This is what happened this Christmas in Wyoming, if only William could talk (not that my story would be any different. This was also my first Christmas in Wyoming!):

"I walked walked and walked everywhere and had a lot of fun in grandma and grandpa's house. I also played with some old toys they were all fascinated by (apparently, daddy, uncle Sean and aunt Susan used to play with them when they were kids!). The best thing ever was the family of bears in the Christmas outfit and Santa's hat in the entry way of the house. For some reason mama and dada did not want me to play with them. Grandma instead was grabbing the Santa hat from the bear's head to put it on my head.

William with Grandma
During the Christmas eve dinner I walked a lot in aunt Susan's house. There, there was a babau (dog) who kept jumping on me to lick my face. At first I thought he was funny but the babau kept doing it and my face was getting all sticky and smelly. At the end I thought I'd better learn to stand up and walk away from the damned thing.

William escaping from the babau's affection
Mamma and Dada, just before they sat down to have dinner with grandma, grandpa and the rest of the family, they had the bad idea of putting me to bed in a dark room on the floor with daddy's jacket as a blanket. I was not happy with that. After a good deal of crying I finally got to join the Christmas dinner in front of a colorful and shiny tree. Tasty prime American rib and a lady sat next to me who was pulling faces to make me laugh.

William with grandma
On Christmas day, grandma and grandpa gave me a brown bag with my name on it. Inside the bag, there were Santa's gifts for me. Mamma and Dada also had a brown bag with their names on it. They told me that the brown bag is a tradition for the Kruse family that grandma Bonnie started because she could not easily fit her gifts in the traditional American stocking. When mamma was not looking, I grabbed an animal cracker. Under a nicely decorated tree I could not play with (damned!) there were loads of colorful packets. Grandma Bonnie said that we had to open one packet at a time. Inside the packets there were loads of nice things: colorful stuffed animals, a red puppet talking and moving - I wonder where they found that one! -, a cell phone and a few books, one even playing songs!

How many colorful things to look at here!
Grandma and grandpa spent a lot of time playing with me. Grandpa was soo patient always making sure that I was ok and he was playing with me while he was feeding me. Grandma was wearing silly hats and silly t-shirts and was doing weird things to make me laugh. They were all treating me like a prince there!
William with grandpa
The following day they took me to another house. A nice big house for me to explore. There, I did a lot of walking but I also managed to play with a brand new kitchen and with a Christmas tree. And I got to pee like a man! Yes, sort of by myself. Mamma now understands that when I saw "pipi'", I want to pee in the toilet. Isn't that neat? Sorry, there isn't a picture to show you that. A lot of good stuff but nothing compared to the stairs of grandma and grandpa's house. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed going up and down those stairs while mamma and dada were at the movies. Uncle Sean gave up a party with his friends to stay with me that afternoon. I was so thrilled I kept repeating his yeah, yeah! One thing is clear: grandma, grandpa and the rest of the Kruse family in Wyoming adore me! Now tell me, how can Christmas get any better?"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! - Vi auguriamo Buon Natale e Buon Anno!

Today, in Harvard Square, I saw a box of English mince pies in the front window of a shop that sells food imported from Europe. I was so excited I went inside and bought one. While there, I couldn't help talking to an English person who was also buying mince pies. That red box brought me back to Christmas in London.

We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year!

This song was always accompanied by mulled wine, hot chocolate, Christmas puddings and mince pies. The Oxford Street lights, the West End skating Santas and the Gospel singers in Trafalgar Square. Christmas carols in Covent Garden, ice skating around historical palaces and loads of drinks. This was my Christmas in London. I wanted to tell a story about it. You'll find it at the bottom of this posting, in case you are keen to read it. I hope William will read it one day.

This year in the US I have been so bad at keeping in touch, or sending cards and gifts to my friends for Christmas. Below is the card I should have sent everyone this year. It is John's Christmas card for me this year. I found it on John's computer by pure chance because my mother called me from Italy to ask me to send her a couple of photos of William in digital format. So I searched for pictures on John's machines and John's secret Christmas card for me immediately caught my eyes.

What did I do for Christmas this year? I managed to put very simple lights on the patio (yes because here in the US decorating your house is the number one top priority at Christmas and in the street where we live it's like being at Dysneyland!). I also managed to find the Christmas gifts for William (that are age 3+ but are not potential chocking hazards, that don't look like stacking cups and that don't fall apart in millions of pieces I have to go find under the coach - not easy). I got him presents. I completely forgot everyone else.

Only a couple of days ago John and I started discussing what we wanted for Christmas. It might be because we haven't had the Boston snow yet. That usually tells me that Christmas is coming here. Also, when William is with his tata (babysitter) I can hardly find the time to go shopping for myself. By shopping I mean buying stuff like a couple of white socks for William, prosciutto cotto, make up removal lotion and the conditioner that doesn't burn my hair. Honestly, I can't be bothered to go shopping for fancier Christmas stuff here. I don't know if this is because I have become a boring stay at home mom or if it is because here in the US there is no need nor visible appreciation for fancier stuff. When did I last go dressed up to a party? Opps, I forgot, I am actually going to a party today. It is a baby party. One of those parties where the babies dress up and the moms come in something slightly better than their PJs. I am wearing a red sweater, the only pair of clean jeans I have and I am bringing the minced pies. I hope they will not ask me if there is meat inside.

What else? This year I have been busy taking photos and videos of my two happy men. This is priceless but very simple compared to my London life. I wanted to take William to one of those Christmas Villages they have here in the US with colorful candles, lights and candies but our weekends have been pretty full. We have been busy buying a house, moving in and making the new house feel like a home. Not a small thing. Now what I really want this Christmas is to have fun with my two happy men and with the rest of the Kruse family. It will be William's first Christmas in Wyoming. Most probably the first of many others. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! (but only after we have landed in Denver! :))

My Christmas in London

Three days before Christmas. I am on the train on my way to work. A commuter is setting next to (and cheerfully chatting with) a homeless guy who is complaining about something. "It is Christmas mate! I can offer you a pie, if you want!" "I don't need a fucking pie!" Everyone laughs.

I am getting off the train at Victoria station in Central London. For breakie (i.e., breakfast) I receive a couple of Christmas treats as part of a promotional offer. Sweet I don't have to buy breakfast. I am 10 minutes late, but then I get a call from my boss saying that it is ok to be late to work today. He doesn't sound sober. Last night we all went home pretty late from the company Christmas party. Last Christmas he got so drunk at the company party that he took his clothes off and then suddenly disappeared in his underwear. The next time I saw him the following Monday morning, he was in his office briefing a few of us on a new project.

I slowly make my way to the tube through the secret entry way at the back of the bus station bypassing the massive crowd stuck outside the main entry. Going down the long escalator to get on the Victoria line, the one that makes you feel like your are descending Everest, there is the saxophonist who is playing Winter Wonderland. Every year, the same guy in that same location.

At work everyone is eating Christmas pudding and mince pies. My hung over work mates are wandering around the office like zombies, trying to find people to chat with, hoping that it will soon be lunchtime and that we can all go to the local pub for more drinks. After lunch, some of us make our back way to the office, trying to be professional. Others are off for the day. 4 pm is the unofficial time for the people still in the office (me included!) to start drinking again. They start wandering around each other desks with glasses of sparkling wine in their hands. You ask them what wine they are drinking. They don't know. "It's Christmas mate! Have a drink!", this way they persuade the ones still working to stop. Many empty bottles appear on various desks but I am probably the only one paying attention to that. I can't stand more drinks so I am off for the day. On my way home, I receive a call from a friend. Fancy a drink at my place? Why not? At her house, we start dipping our pringles in humous and continue to drink and chat. Our favorite topic: men! I am pleasantly drunk (or just chilled, like the Brits would say). It's too late. I have missed the last tube train. My friend waits for the bus with me. About ten minutes in the frosty cold. Here it is,    kisses and hugs. "Have a nice Christmas" "You too! Have fun in Italy".  "I'll call you to see if you got home ok, all right?" "All right then", I say. I manage to grab a seat on the second floor of an overly rowded double decker bus and, like a child, I fall asleep and for some magic phenomena I cannot possibly explain, I then wake up the morning after. My head feels heavy and I manage to reach work half asleep. That's all right. I have had a jolly good time, like the Brits would say.

It's Friday, late afternoon. I am waiting outside a Gothic church in Kensington in my long black coat. It is all frosty outside and many people of all ages are waiting outside the Church to go to see the traditional candlelight concert inside. They are all British except for few foreigners like me who have heard about the concert from the locals. Inside the Church, a beautiful chorus starts singing the traditional carols. There are candles lit all around the packed Church. There are people standing everywhere, downstairs and upstairs, some in uncomfortable positions. Nobody is moving, neither during the songs, nor during the silence of the pauses. They all look like statues. I am filled with emotions and wonder whether it is appropriate or not to look at the people around me. They are all still nailed down in the same positions they took when the concert started. I try hard to imitate them, but I move and drop few tears here and there. Still, I don't make any noise.

Then the magic begins. I am no longer thinking about the movements of my body. I am feeling lighter than ever and I am staring at the soloist while trying to capture the subtleties of the pauses. My heart is filled with joy and I don't need to smile to share the magic of that moment with the strangers around me. I am hooked. Jingle Bells is the last carol and the concert is over. We leave the Church one by one, in silence. Some are smiling, others are trying to hide their emotions but you can see that they are trying. I belong to this second category.

I go to the nearby Cafe' in the Crypt through the entrance that is not obvious. I pick the one table still free at the back against the stone wall and start writing by a weakly flickering candle. I am taking a few bites of a friable scone with clotted cream while sipping white tea from a hot terracotta cup. Next to me, there is someone reading a Jane Austin novel. One table over, there's a woman writing Christmas cards. Then there is a bloke who looks like a professor, probably correcting the work of a student. Beyond him, a homeless guy having a soup. We are all sitting there, occasionally glancing at each other with some Medieval Christmas tunes playing in the background.

The next day, it is late Saturday morning. I still am a bit hungover. Christmas is in two days. Is that possible? I need to find gifts for my parents! Where? I have a couple of places in mind, one in Notting Hill and one in Carnaby Street, but on a Saturday afternoon the tube will be crowded and if I catch the bus I will not get to either shop in time before they shut. I jump on the first bus coming to my door step and get off at Trafalgar Square in Central London. Hari, hari, hari, hari... I am waiting for the Hari Krishna people to go by.

I make my way to Hamley's, a toy store where I often go in to warm up and daydream on cold rainy days. The Christian fanatic is still screaming outside - I bet he is there right now - "Hey you, yes I am talking to you, have you heard of Jesus? Do you know who Jesus is? Yes, I am talking to you young woman!". "Ok, ok, I've heard you but I have to buy a gift for my dad!", I quickly say and enter the store.

Voila', here it is. This is the perfect gift for my father: a playmobile toy with a little magician inside. It says age 4+. Perfect, my dad will love it! (he is an eccentric architect with many hobbies, including magic tricks). "Going to Italy for Christmas? Oh, that is lovely! Have a nice Christmas and see you in the new year!", says the magician at the till with his Santa hat. He doesn't know me, but I recognize him as I worked there my second Christmas in London doing the classic cups and balls trick.

For my mom's Christmas gift, I am heading to Fortnum & Mason across the street from Hamley's. There, the luxurious aromatic teas, the Christmas puddings and colorful cakes you only see in adverts catch my attention. "It is Christmas, you MUST treat yourself!", I hear my friends say in the back of my head. "Ok, ok, all right then." At the end instead of looking for my mom's gift I end up sipping hot chocolate and eating pudding.

One day to Christmas. Still haven't found my mom's gift. Londoners often say that everything that exists on earth can be found in London. The problem is to know what you are looking for. I am on the phone with my friend Kristin. She says "Why don't you go to John Lewis (it is THE PLACE to go to for buying gifts in London)". "Thanks Kristin!" Hold on a minute, it was in that store that I ended up fighting with a woman last year over a pair of gloves. Ok, I am not going there. Instead, I take the bus to Trafalgar Square, then the short-cut to Leicester Square. There at the funfair with the old fashioned carousel, there are a couple of drunken fat slags wearing short skirts with no tights, singing a mixture of Christmas carols and cheerful tunes like "Don't worry, be happy. Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu... Don't you worry, be happy! It's Christmas, come on, smile!". I smile and continue walking past the guy who is playing Jingle Bells with the road traffic cone at the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue in Piccadilly Circus. From there I spot one of the sex shops in the red light district that carries all kinds of wacky things. There! I head straight in without a second thought. I knew I should have come here. I'll get this naked baby pissing. Can't get more original than this. My mom will love it!

The best gifts I could possibly give my parents.

Friday, December 10, 2010

William saved by the fire marshal - William salvato dal maresciallo dei pompieri

Yesterday (Thursday 9th December) William and I were ready to go shopping when something unforgettable happened. I accidentally locked William in the house with me freezing my ass outside (temperature below zero C). I had no keys, no cell phone, and both the front and back doors were shut.

In the previous houses where we lived in the Boston area, we used to have a combination lock, which made our life easier. Then we moved into this old charming New England house. "Honey don't worry, this old door forces you to use the keys to close it so you won't risk locking yourself out", said my husband with a smile. Ultime parole famose (famous last words). Yesterday I was indeed locked out of the house with William crying inside and me crying (believe me, crying) outside the house. And my husband? He was in Seattle teaching a 5 days long class.

An hour before I was chatting with my mother in law about me not being used to living in a house all by myself - in London I always shared an apartment with flatmates. The only time when I didn't a burglar came to visit me and stole all of my belongings, dirty clothes included - no kidding. In each of the houses where I lived in London I did lock myself out a few times. Usually, all I had to do to solve the problem was to go to meet a friend for a drink (which in England means a few, many), and by the time we were done with drinks, one of my flatmate was at home, ready to open the door for me. Sweet. Although a couple of times I had to break into the house. It is pretty common for a Brit to do that.

Now imagine me being stuck outside the house in the American suburb, where all you can see is rows of houses and not even a hint of a pay phone. I was screwed. Even if one of my neighbors had been at home, what would I say, "Excuse me, oh, ehem, I am sorry... I am the idiot next door who locked herself out with a baby stuck in the house. Can you please help me smash the door?"

Nope. Instead, I tried to smash the door myself, as I used to do in London in the same circumstances, but apparently American doors are built better. I kicked as hard as I could at both front and back doors, but nothing. From past experience, I was expecting the doorknob to fall off, or maybe a shower of broken wood. Nope. I was not getting a single hint of progress. The door was not getting damaged. My foot was. So I started crying. My baby inside the house was crying louder than ever before and I was freezing my ass off.

It turned out that the first stranger passing by started running towards me to my rescue. No kidding. Like in the American movies. And this is the cool bit. Instead of helping me smash the door, which is what I expected, he smiles and calmly makes a phone call to the fire brigade. "Fire brigade? There is no fire in my house. I am just locked out". When I was 9 I had caused my father to call the Fire brigade with a false alarm, and that led to me being without chocolate for 6 months. How could I let this happen again?

Too late. If you call a fire truck in the US, it comes inside of 3 minutes (I checked my watch). And seconds later I saw the fire marshal coming out of the front door of my house with William giggling in his arms. Just like in Virgola's story (an abandoned dog locked in an apartment who is saved by a fire marshal). No smashed door, no broken window, not even a broken lock to show my husband at the end. That day I had accidentally left the front patio door open after placing the Christmas lights on the balcony. Solito culo! (usual ass, meaning usual luck)

Just when I was hoping that everyone would leave and forget the idiot who locked herself in, a couple of neighbors magically appeared - they were looking at the big red fire truck from their decks. Then the marshal asked a colleague to take my name and various details. At that point I was worried that he would offer sending social services to my house to help me overcome the trauma of the incident (They often suggest things like that here in the US!). Great: they are making it official, I am the idiot of the neighborhood! Instead, he handed me William with a heroic smile, he said that he was safe and that it was a fairly easy job. He then left with that heroic smile still on his face. Like in the American movies. They must like these calls where they don't have to risk their lives and they get to be heros. Now, I just wish I had taken a photo of that moment. I hope William forgives me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

William's walking journey - Il cammino di William

If I hadn't had a child I would have never known that walking is a journey and that in between you moving the arms to pick up a toy hanging on top of your head and you going from the couch to the table in the dining room there is a long physically and emotionally exhausting journey. Being short in words but overwhelmed with joy, I've asked William to walk you through his journey (see video below). Merry Christmas everyone!

We say in Italy, "don't say it too fast" because then the opposite will happen. Well, I guess William has decided to scoot and to hold onto things a little bit more. He will walk when he decides to do so. No more pushes, I promise.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

William's little girlfr... oops, I mean friend - la fidanz... no, amichetta, ehem, amica, compagna (di giochi) di William

"I swear that if I have children I will NOT be like my mother! I will not tell them what to do. I will not tell them who they should go out with, I will not read their diary and I will have nothing to do with their sentimental matters, I will not call the first good boy (or good girl) that comes to our house "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" without their permission and, above all, I will not arrange marriages for them! " I used to loudly say to my mother after being introduced by yet another one of my marriage candidates. Usually a bold Italian guy wearing a large pair of Harry Potter like glasses (when nobody knew who Harry Potter was and how cool were his glasses) and which would have suited my grandma better. "But he is a doctor and his father has an established business!" my mom would say in excitement. "Ma mamma, questo obiettivamente fa cagare!", I would reply to her in disgust. Few days later, another atrocious looking guy (perhaps a lawyer or a big brother of the Fiat people living up the hills of Turin) would appear at our doorstep, ready to be humiliated by my evil actions (e.g addition of vinegar to ossobuco). Still, my mother WOULD NOT get it.

On the day I got married, my mother said to me on the phone five minutes before the beginning of the ceremony: "Are you sure you want to get married? You can still back out if you want!". She couldn't trust my decision (and probably thought she could make a better suggestion herself at that point) until she met and got to know the man I married, and gave me her approval, which luckily didn't take long.

Now look at me as a mother. As soon as I make an Italian friend with a smart and cute baby girl close to William in age... that's it. I immediately find myself making jokes on our two kids dating, often with the thought at the back of my mind that William will have a nice and smart Italian girlfriend, that one day he will marry a nice and smart Italian woman and that he will have nice and smart Italian children (hopefully with the same woman). OH MY GOD!

When I catch myself thinking like this (like my mother) even out of jokes, I almost immediately feel the need of making clear to William, the little girl and to everybody else involved that I am not the one who decides such things and that William's friends are all welcome in our house until William decides that one is more welcome than the others. Very good intentions but it only takes one phone call to bring the "little girlfriend" back into my words. Do you want an example? "Ciao Gaia, come sta l'amichetta di William?" Unfortunately, in the Italian language, as soon as you talk about the "amichetta" (the little friend) - I know, you don't do that with the ugly looking girl you bump into at the playground -, as soon as you refer to her as the "amichetta" everyone's thoughts go straight to "girlfriend" and it doesn't take much before you start calling her "fidanzatina" (little fiance'). If you call her "compagna" instead to avoid this, you have the associations of the couples living together without marriage. So you go back to calling her "amica", hoping that the term is not too close to "girlfriend".

Then if you allow kisses and romantic dinners (which by the way William had a week ago), you have lost all of your good intentions. If the girl is not Italian, you will think: "Hey, this girl is not Italian. Your roots William, don't forget your roots!" At least, this sounds better than "Wives and bulls from your own country!", which is what my parents' used to say to me with little success - in fact I took both the man and the bulls not from Italy but from Wyoming. If the girl is Italian, you will then be thinking that perhaps she is not attractive enough or that she is too short or too demanding or too good looking or too old for him, the list being endless. And you will soon turn into that type of mother you were desperately trying NOT to be: jealous, noisy, deus ex machina and with the highest possible standards, hoping that your child will stay with you for the longest possible.

But look at the pictures below and tell me if these two are not cute together. What? Ok, ok, I'll shut up.

William having fun with his friend Naima at the Italian Christmas party

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What happens when you stop producing milk? - Cosa succede quando smetti di produrre il latte?

First two months: Ouch, do I have to continue?

In my life I thought I would do anything but certainly never thought I would produce and offer milk. I remember being completely puzzled when an English friend of mine, who was the mom of a 10 months old at the time, told me to start wearing nipple shields, cups, pumps and breast lotions. After talking to her, I tried to figure out ways to explain to the world that I did not wish to become a cow and that formula would have been just as fine for my baby.

Then, just before William was born, I attended an hypno-birthing class. The class was full of tips and scenarios to visualize in preparation for a happy natural birth. Natural means "drug free". I was attending the class with my husband, with one strange couple who was not comfortable hearing words like "vagina", and the other even more strange: 4 people in a group marriage. During the class, I was often asked to close my eyes, to relax and to "picture a big giant thermometer containing a rainbow of colors which, color after color, would get me deeper and deeper into relaxation". How can you not laugh when someone says this to you? The purpose of this exercise was to help us achieve maximum relaxation which would help our mind control the pain of the contractions during labor. For someone like me who used to shake or faint before getting a flu shot, imagining a colorful rainbow coming out of someone's ass (as my husband would have put it) would have been as helpful as constructing those weird scenarios.

What helped, was the idea I got from the hypno-birthing class that I was doing 'the right thing' for the baby. This thought became my most powerful weapon for challenging pain. During and after labor. Same with breastfeeding. Did I say breastfeeding? What happened to make me change mind on that?

William was born and I started telling myself this over and over again: "as long as the baby benefits from it, I will do it!". All of a sudden, there was a new me out there, wearing nipple shields, cups, breast pumps, experimenting with nipple lotions to reduce the breasts pain and, listen to this, old me, using needles to unclog the milk ducts! Painful but, as long as the baby was gaining weight (that was the right thing to worry about) and as long as I was still able to carry those two bowling balls around, everything was good. I had basically become one of those Italian mother-martyrs trying to make the "sacrifici" for my child. Bless me!

Have you heard of the moms' baby blues? Shortly after William was born I was having days with ups and downs (more downs than ups) and breastfeeding was a major cause. There were days when I was looking outside the window of my living room at 4 pm still in my PJs and I was thinking: yet another day is about to finish with me breastfeeding all day with just poop and burping in between. Nice. The hardest part: my tits had to be on display on a self service basis all day long and in the middle of the night, both in the heat in summer and in the freezing cold in winter. No clothes on me as it would have been more painful. No excuses, they had to be available. In bad and in good state, in sickness and in health.

Having been told the benefits of breastfeeding from literally every person I talked to, it would have been too irresponsible of me to not give it a try. I thought I would give it a go in the hospital, where the help was at hand. So my baby would have got the precious colostrum with the nutrients. I would have then be able to seamlessly move to formula. Great, easy, not quite.

If I had rubbed my nipples with sand paper, I would have probably felt better than when I was trying to latch my little vampire on. They kept telling me that 2 weeks of breastfeeding would have made it better. At the back of my mind, there were all those comments: "Don't give up. It is good for him. He will not get sick. Stick to it. I promise. It gets better" So I made the promise of continuing until William was one month old. Two weeks later, I was crying at the Baby Cafe', a crisis center for breastfeeding moms. There I was, sitting next to a confident breastfeeding pro of 6 months. I felt she was looking at me with an air of superiority while I was helplessly trying to latch my baby on. There, the guru of breastfeeding told me that cutting the frenulum would release William's tongue and all my problems would be solved. Hallelujah!, I thought. I will soon become a pro like that mom. Nope. A week after the surgery, I still had cracked nipples and a couple of milk ducts plugged making me scream in the bathroom.

Stubborn like a donkey, like we say in Italy, I decided to move the target to two months. At the end of the second month, despite seeing 5 lactation consultants, my breastfeeding journey was not getting better. In addition to the plugged ducts, I was experiencing blood circulation problems, issues that were later solved by the 6th lactation consultant I saw. She had the brilliant idea of making me try lecithin for eliminating the clogged milk ducts and vitamin B6 for addressing the blood circulation problems. Bingo! Most of my trouble started going away.

I was then able to move my target to three months. This was the first serious achievement in breastfeeding. I was getting close to being a good mom. But why give up after achieving so much? - I decided to try one more month. I started feeling like a runner who starts a 10k but wants to keep going at the finish line. My husband asked me how long my breastfeeding marathon would last. Answer: all I know is that I want to continue.

Every other mom I talked to had forgotten when their torture ended - my pain continued for almost exactly three months. Then what happened? My breastfeeding experience completely changed. I used to close my eyes and grind my teeth while waiting for William to stop biting me and draining the energy from me. Now, I was free from all the pain and was happy to spend the whole time starring at him, without a single worry in my mind. Not even the fact that I had forgotten to take my lecithin pills for 4 days in a row (which in the old days would have caused me to panic!) In those golden days of breastfeeding, I just wanted to lock eyes with my baby, to look at his playful activities and his occasional smile while he nursed, and finally to see him falling asleep with a full belly and his head on my chest. Breastfeeding was a wonderful thing and I was happy. Despite seeing many friends with similar age babies giving it up, I didn't want to stop.

Recently, he had been pulling my shirt to ask for more milk every morning even though his nursing sessions were getting progressively shorter. Finally, three days ago, I was about to feed him when something unexpected happened. William was about to nurse, but suddenly turned away, rolled on the bed, and started playing. My milk supply was gone. Goodbye breastfeeding. He was not upset. I was the one who needed consoling! He was happy to play.

Welcome back...
martini rosso, campari and punt e mez,
Dolcetto, nebiolo and barolo
moretti and extra cold guiness
limoncello, amaretto and bacardi and coke,
margarita, mojitos (White Russian and Sex on the beach included)
and as many double espressos as I want!! Uoouuoooo!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ettore and William finally meet - Ettore e William finalmente si incontrano

Video of Ettore and William meeting in the bar behind my house in Turin. Interesting details below.

Ettore, the son of my best friend Laura from high-school, the girl I spent a night with reading Seneca, and reciting entire passages of Dante's Hell, while sipping all the coffee made by her caffettiera, the Petrarca's Laura (we both believed she was!), the girl who shared with me her sinister insights into the foul-mouthed strophes of Petronio (in latin) and Aristofane (in ancient greek), the girl I spent a night with in my dad's office exchanging intellectual thoughts, what else? Well, she was the girl I smoked the first cigarette with (and sigarillo with THC, oh yeah, opps is William going to read this? I mean... only once or twice, before my mom caught us. She then got the thing analyzed and short after that she started calling us drug addicts. Short after that, we started calling her Krof!. How could we? You need to know that my mom is not very accurate on such things. She was the kind of person who would say to the guy smoking marijuana next to her, with an innocent look on her face: "mmm, there is a nice smell of grass here. Where is it coming from?"). Back to Laura, unlike all my other classmates, she was not smug. On the contrary she is down to earth and funny, but not just funny, funny to the point of making me cry. This is precisely why I had a hell of a good time with her! She was the one I would attend non Catholic ceremonies with (more discussions than ceremonies, thanks God), the one who lost a shoe on New Year's eve, while we were trying to escape from a party we were not supposed to go to, the girl I kept a secret diary with, the one thing that convinced my mom that I was a bad girl. Laura's drawings were to blame, oops. She was the person I spent the first holiday with on the Italian coast (without my mom telling us what to do), the girl I went interailing with (i.e traveling and sleeping on trains in between a trip to a city in Europe and another), the girl I went to a prison farm in England with to escape from my mom, who would never stop treating me like a three year old. She still does. The prison farm was advertised on paper like a beautiful country resort with swimming pool. It turned out that Laura and I had to beg the farmers to put us in the list of the onions pickers just to be able to make enough money to pay the rent of a hut which was falling apart. The swimming pool actually existed. It just looked like a dried puddle. We escaped from the prison farm to go to London, both broke and without a place where to sleep. She is the girl I also shared with an uncomfortable bench made out of royal chairs and slept in the Edinburgh castle. This happened after she talked to a drunken soldier in a nightclub!... She is the girl who got me to leave the Edinburgh castle before 6 am in front of another soldier pointing a gun at us, just in time for us not to get into trouble. The girl I ended up singing drunken songs with in Leicester Square and shared the excitement of the free fish and chips with - this thing by itself deserves a whole posting, the girl I went to rebuild a Roman wall with in a isolated area of France where all you could see were infinite rows of vineyards and drunken builders, the girl I used to swap my clothes with, the girl who first told me how "the day after pill" works, the girl who told me (in her own language) and did more with me that I could possibly say here in public in one sentence. Ettore, her four years old son finally met my 15 months old son William. Surreal, like many other things that happen when I go back to the city where I grew up, but in such a good way! :-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In our house the wheels on the bus go round and round! - A casa nostra le ruote delle macchine girano, girano!

Three months after I fell pregnant, when I finally knew that, with or without my PhD, I was going to become a mother, I knew my life was going to change. I could no longer be the girl who was drinking mojitos until it was time to get on a cab home or crash at someone's house, nor the girl who was spending two hours per day at home (without doing any cleaning), nor the girl who was eating salt and vinegar crisps for dinner in the Bioengineering lab instead of a nicely cooked meal.

In the last three months of my pregnancy, when the baby was moving in my big tummy like a two-week load of clothes spins in the washing machine I finally knew that I was no longer worried about how to explain the posterior probability in my complex computer program for the PhD thesis. I was no longer worried about getting a job in the US either. No, my worries were different.

I was worried about how I would be able to remember to change diapers, about how I would learn to feed the baby, to use creams for dealing with baby rashes and how I could possibly give up a cocktail party or late night drinks at a private Club in the city to go home to put the baby in bed. In these explosions of worry, there was one that stood out: how would my days change as a mom?

I was trying to imagine what it would be like to have a girl as opposed to having a boy. Having had a screwed up relationship with my mom from my childhood up until now, I was thinking that there was no way that I could build a good relationship with a girl that would be competing with me for the love of the only man in our family. I could more easily imagine myself falling in love with a boy in an Oedipal kind of relationship. Then the thoughts of a future filled with trucks, monsters, dirt and with all the gradations of pink banned - depressing. I was asking myself: "Gee, is this what I am buying into if I opt for having a boy? (as if the preference of having a boy as opposed to a girl could suddenly turn into a life choice!)" Even if I don't get the "maschiaccio" type - the one who destroys your house, the one who bites you to ask for a cookie, the one who gets into trouble 5 times a day - the average boy plays with a monster who looks like a turnip and beats the shit out of your furniture like a wrecking ball. Is this what I am going for? After all, the average boy uses furniture as a playground, jumps on everything, and you end up with your living room wall looking like a bad imitation of a Pollock. I kept thinking, the average boy does not ask you to put the baby doll to sleep, a topic for which I was prepared. Instead, he asks you to play with cars and dinosaurs. Help! What do I know about cars and dinosaurs?"

I remember that once a boy asked me to play "Skatapu'm" with him. "What does this mean?" I asked. "You fall down and then I jump on you so that I can step on you and you die". "Great" He then kicked me so hard in the leg it took me a week to recover. Perhaps I never recovered from that. The boy games are called "Joe the killer" or "Dead Vampires". Then you walk in a house guarded by Playstation soldiers shooting bullets into the walls of your house. Nice.

I was thinking, honestly, isn't it more appealing to play with a Barbie getting ready for a date with Ken? If I have a boy, how would I teach and pass my knowledge to him without turning him into a girl? How could I put his hair into plates? How could I sing the song "The beautiful laundress" or "This is the qua qua dance" without causing my poor guy to display a super embarrassed face in front of his friends? How could I teach him to draw princesses' tiaras? Not that I am against boys playing with princesses if they choose to do so themselves but I would prefer not to push that kind of girlie stuff on him.

Then my beautiful boy arrived and the package of toys that came with him: play mats, animals, blocks, puzzles, puppets, musical instruments, grocery in all colors, sizes, shapes and materials, kitchen tools, cleaning products, DIY tools and a baskets full of books. But also all the doors and the cabinets in our house, our cell phones, empty bags, empty boxes, the pages of magazines left on the couch, even screws and nails left in the floor during the construction of our kitchen, all became irresistible in William's eyes.

William started experimenting with different types of "brum brum" sounds early on to the surprise of the moms of his baby girl friends. However, he didn't have toy preferences until his first birthday, when the puppy truck made its appearance. That truck soon turned into an obsession, William's first obsession. From the day he discovered it, more and more trucks, commercial vans (so American!) and vacation cars (so Italian!), small cars, big cars, gigantic cars (for William to drive), talking cars, cars made of blocks, etc, etc, filled our rooms. And this is what you would very likely see these days in our house: William scooting on the floor from room to room with a little hand squeezing a red car and with the other one making the wheels of another car spin round and round. And me singing the song "the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all day long." And I love it.

William with his two favourite cars

William hunting for cars

I love to see him play, I love to imitate the brum brum sounds he makes, I love to buy him a new car (sometimes I wonder whether I am buying it for myself or whether I am really buying it for him), I love to see his reaction when he sees a new car, I love to sing car songs to him (and to translate them into Italian). I love to insert car sounds in the stories I read to him and see him smile. I love to play as a boy with him. I can no longer imagine myself raising a girl. I have realized that it is probably more fun to raise a boy than it would be to try to recreate my life as a girl.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Italian vs American kids comparison - Bimbi italiani e bimbi americani a confronto

American kid eating cheeriosItalian kid eating pasta con il sugo

After spending a couple of weeks at playgrounds in Italy, I am back to Boston wondering what group of kids William will belong to when he gets older. See Italian versus American kid comparison below:

American kid: as a baby/toddler, you are swaddled, put to sleep in thin sleeping bags in fleece material and put to sleep on your back without blankets, to reduce the slightest chance of suffocation
Italian kid: from the day you leave the hospital you are put to bed on your stomach in your warm 100% cotton pigiamino (PJs) with a cotton sheet and a 100% virgin wool blanket keeping you warm. And mom will make sure that your blanket is tucked in!

American kid: they bounce you on all sorts of balls, swings, rocking chairs and put you in specific positions to help you fall asleep
Italian kid: they give you chamomile (grandma's secret tip) to help you fall asleep.

American kid: as a baby you spend most of your time with the other kids at the nursery and doing planned activities with your parents
Italian kid: as a baby you spend most of your time with your grandparents, wondering when your mother will come to pick you up!

American kid: you nap in the morning at 8 am, in the afternoon at 12 pm and you go to bed at 7 pm.
Italian kid: you nap in the morning until you wake up exhausted from the previous late night, doze off a little during the day, then stay up until you fall asleep, completed exhausted, at 11 pm-midnight!

American kid
: you proudly feed yourself cheerios and exotic (better if organic) snacks all day long
Italian kid: you get started on food with hand made creams of mashed up veggies sprinkled with parmesan cheese followed by fresh grated fruits you mom spoon feeds you every day, at lunch and at dinner
American kid: you are gently asked with sign language if you want more or if you are done
Italian kid: firstly, you are told that you must eat the last boccone of pappa, otherwise you won't be given the fruit that comes after. Then, you are told that if you don't eat it, you'll jump out of the window!

American kid: you don't get to see a single person smoking next to you
Italian kid: you happily smoke alongside your caregivers

American kid
: as a toddler, you continue to eat cheerios all day long. Later on, you will get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on soft mushy white bread for lunch alternated with the usual turkey sandwich. In special occasions (at restaurant), you will be able to choose between mac and cheese, fried chicken, hotdogs and hamburgers, all rigorously served with fried chips. The only fish you'll ever taste will be in the fried fish sticks (who knows what fish is in it, says my friend David). And the American pediatrician, instead of pointing out that some fish out there has too much mercury will tell you "don't give fish to your kids. It has too much mercury!"
Italian kid
: as a toddler, you rarely eat sandwiches but if you do, you get speck, bresaola and provolone cheese on crusty Italian bread and complain that your mom has not made porcini risotto for you on that specific day! Here is your weekly menu (I thank my Italian friend Elena for passing it to me): fish 2-3 times per week (common sense will make you choose small orate and sogliole instead of swordfish), minestrone twice a week, veggies at every meal (one cooked, one raw) and pasta for lunch! Meat (unfortunately), every other time.

American kid
: you drink colorful juices in colorful huge (half a liter) high-tech BPA free thermo insulated and ecological bottles
Italian kid: you drink water from a small glass

American kid: you are told that Cappuccetto Rosso (Little Red Riding Hood) was not eaten by the wolf and that everything is safe and cool
Italian kid: you are told that if you don't behave, the babau (the bogeyman) will come to eat you and that nothing is safe outside your parents' house!American kid: you move out when you are 18 with the full support of your parents.

Italian kid: you move out when you are 3 to stay with grandma, then back with your mom (and dad, if there is one) when you can go to full-time pre-school. You move out temporarily to stay with friends then back with your mom and dad. You move out for good when you are 38, having saved enough money for a house, and are two weeks away from getting married....unless there's room in the basement for the newlyweds.

American kid: when your mom visits you, she brings a cake, and you sip coffee and chat.
Italian kid: when your mom visits you, she brings 3 days worth of food, begins to tidy up, dust, do the laundry, and rearrange the furniture! Nota bene: this only applies to my mother's generation of moms

American kid: your dad always calls before he comes over to visit you, and it's usually on special occasions.
Italian kid: your dad can show up at any time, unannounced, on a Saturday morning at 8:00 and it's usually to do some cool last-minute activity with you, totally unexpected.

American kid: when you need to get something done, you either look for help on the internet and pay someone or, in most cases, you do it yourself
Italian kid: when you need to get something done, you call your dad and uncle, and ask for another dad's or uncle's phone number to get it done for free. Hey, know what I mean? ;)

American kid: you will come over for cake, and you will get A LOT of cake. But nothing else.
Italian kid: you will come over for cake, and will get antipasto with a choice of two cured meats, a pasta dish, a secondo con contorno, a choice of three types of cheese, salad, bread, a tiny bit of wine, a piece of crostata, fruit, espresso, and a few after dinner special treats.

American kid: you have not heard your parents cry
Italian kid: you cry along with your parents while trying to be even louder than them

American kid: you borrow stuff from your parents for a few days and then return it
Italian kid: you keep anything that you borrow from your parents. If you try to give anything back, they will insist that you keep it for a little longer!

American kid: you eat at the dinner table and leave
Italian kid: you will spend hours there, talking, laughing, and just being there, getting bored but showing excitement to be with the grown ups

American kid: you will stay in the queue to get on the bus
Italian kid: you will push and push and push, as much as you can, to get the best seats on the bus!

American kid: you are a kid for a while
Italian kid: you are a kid for life

American kid: you like to wear cool trainers
Italian kid: for you, even builders' uniforms are to be worshiped, as long as they carry an original (or pseudo-original - e.g Lumberjack) American brand!

American kid: you think that being Italian is cool
Italian kid: you are not cool if you don't speak English and know a few things about what is not Italian

American kid: you don't care about differences, you have been trained to not even see them to avoid being labeled racist. So you don't question them, nor write about them
Italian kid: you worry, hear and talk a lot about differences and try to be open to them, often concerned about coming across as a citizen of the worldNot all kids of course will go to these extremes. I was thinking about these stereotypical differences in Le Cinque Terre, while I was looking at some kids diving from high rocks and then swimming into high waves. Then again, in the Turinese playgrounds, while I was looking at a bunch of 3 year old daredevils jumping up and down on a seesaw, occasionally diving onto the ground to scare the babies on the seats. Were those the unsafe kids of irresponsible Italian parents or just simply kids with their need for fun and freedom, as a modern Italian parent might put it? Here is my current dilemma: (1) would William turn into a different kid if he was raised in Italy? (2) would I have to turn into a different mother if I was raising William in Italy? Given my hyper conservative upbringing (sono una mamma all'antica), I can only think that the super safe American parenting style fits me perfectly, with one condition though. That I can change the rules, whenever the Italian kid inside me says so. As my husband often says "take the best out of both worlds and have a lot of fun as a parent!"

Monday, August 30, 2010

The birth of the Kruse family house - La nascita della casa dei Kruse

You might wonder why there is a blank space below. Well, this is because our life has been and it still is pretty much on hold. Being involved in packing, unpacking, living in construction zones, being a full-time mom and reshaping a brand new house (from deciding where to put the bathroom towels to finding a solution for storing all pasta and rice containers in one place, the list does not end). This means that you have no time for anything else. Having said that, please go past the blank space below (which, to be honest, I have not been able to delete despite my 5 years experience in web development!) and enjoy the historical pictures below, featuring the birth of the Kruse family house.
There will soon be more pictures here showing the birth of our new house. We first need to make this happen. Enrica, John and William

The kitchen:

da cosi'-
from this
a cosi' -
to this
a cosi'! -
to this!
(I will post the latest picture of the kitchen when available)
The master bedroom:
da cosi' -
from this
a cosi' -
to this
(I will post the latest picture of our master bedroom when available)
We saw a similar transformation in the second bedroom and in the living room. Latest pictures will be posted soon.

William's bedroom:
da cosi'-
from this

a cosi'-
to this
William was having fun in the yard with his water table
he was also going to the beach with his Italian friends
he was having fun opening
and closing the wooden doors of his new house
he was starring at dad working, at mamma taking photos
and at the new features of the house (in this case, he was looking at the secret passage leading to the attic)
he was happy!
On August 13th John and I celebrated with a bottle of Passito wine that my father bottled on the day I was born with my name printed on the label!

August 2010: Moving to Arlington - Agosto 2010: Il traslocco per il trasferimento ad Arlington

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goodbye Medford and Somerville - Addio Medford e Somerville

Today is "una giornata di fuoco", "a hot fire day" like my mom would say. John is still working in the new house (he still has to get the kitchen cabinets handles in place, he has to sort out the sink and the pumbing, he has to check that all appliances are working, he has to finish the French doors and put them into place, he has to clear the rooms from all the construction tools (yesterday I felt as if I was in a "cantiere" when I set foot in the living room of our new house!) so that the cleaner can come to get the apartment ready for us to move in, OMG, the list does not end!). I am in the old house, still struggling with my never ending packing. Last night I was feeling like a zombie, moving from one box to another in the endless search for empty space and to leave the first year of our life as a family behind us.

While packing, I had a year of beautiful pictures surfing through my mind, the latter ones below.

William at his favorite park with his friend Abi

William enjoying the pool with his friend Lydia

We really had a great time living in Medford and Somerville. Yes, you read correctly: Medford and Somerville. Yes because when we were watching TV, we were in Medford. When we were cooking, we were in Somerville! Our address was officially Medford but some of the bills were sent to our address in Somerville. Beside this address thing, I feel as we sort of lived in between two worlds for real: in between the colorful, ethnic, unpredictable and sometimes rough Medford and the trendy, urban, spoiled, studenty and sometimes snob Somerville.

Here is where the slide show starts: me arriving at the house with a fat belly and slowly going up the stairs of the front porch, while trying to learn how to distinguish between the dangerous and the innocent ice. Then my explorations of the stores in the Davis Square area. All urban and in good taste. Then the image of me on one of the local buses, seating next to a weirdo (i.e the one who would not stop saying that the blue color of the information boards in the street were about to change into green, meaning that we were no longer in Boston but in Somerville). Next to him, a nicely dressed professional working on his Mac, and me chatting in Italian with a friendly babysitter who was answering back in Spanish. The topic: how to survive through the winter with a small baby.

Then the bike path surprise John came up with while I was in London. The pleasant evening bike path walks from the Davis Square T stop to our house, while looking at the stars in the dark blue sky and while listening to the crickets.

Then getting the apartment into shape for our first guests coming to see us from London: Kirsty and Ian, so happy to find not only a couch for sitting but also books on our bookshelves and a kettle for making tea in our kitchen!

Then the slow but insightful discovery of Somerville, Medford and Boston, all easily assessable from our privileged rented apartment. This started feeling more like a luxury to me that it could ever feel before after living for a year in the middle of the American suburb, asking myself the same question over and over again: where do Americans walk to/meet? Yes because in America living at a walking distance from public transports and from a downtown center with little stores is an unknown concept. Finally, in our rented apartment I was able to enjoy walking to everything. Here comes a bunch of nice memories. The fun of trying new restaurants, new food - Ethiopian ended up to be my favorite discovery. My delicious lunches at the Danish pastry house, with a simple caprese sandwich. The filthy Italian deli stores with smelly cheeses I am sure I will miss, my favourite Italian non alcoholic Sampellegrino sodas and the breadcrumb that tastes of bread and not of garlic! The Middle East venue I heard of before coming to Boston reminded me so much of the venues I was spending my Friday and Saturday nights at in London. I was able to go to see the 4th of July fireworks and to even come home by subway with my pregnant belly without problems. Then what? The glasses of wine and cheerful chats with Anna at Il Pescatore restaurant to take breaks from the relentless job of looking after a baby. The therapeutic walks in the Tufts park to also show baby William how beautiful nature can be when surrounded by a dramatic urban landscape. Walks in the University campus to remember the good old days of when I was a student. Well, that image would always quickly change into a grown up William confidently walking towards the library building of the campus in his American college sweatshirt and the keys of his car in his hands. The fun of going to all these places, without having to travel for hours to get home!

What else? True Grounds? Did I forget him? My faithful coffee shop was in Somerville off-course, the only one foot steps from our house which, no matter how early in the morning or late in the evening, no matter how hot or cold outside, I could always reach in 2 minutes from our house. To quickly forget a day of screams with a creamy cappuccino or with the occasional ice latte. There, I could read a novel, write a posting of my blog or simply star at the mixed crowd of students, professional writers and artists, spending their whole day working and I could easily forget the view of dirty diapers. Then my Italian baby class at the nearby middle east food restaurant, thanks to my knowledge of middle east cuisine, which got the owner impressed. They now serve the yogurt drink I mentioned to them!

And finally the best picture of the whole slide show: the walk to Davis Square for the spicy Tibetan meal which would help my boy break the waters. I remember the colorful details of the houses I was looking at, the cars stopping in front of my fat belly, the colors and shapes of the strollers I was bumping into (mostly Bobs and Phil and Teds). The brief trip to the launderette to take a one second piss, wondering if I already got my waters broken, while I was still enjoying the after taste of my Dalai Lama. My waters did break after all, short after that, in the Medford part of our house, just when I was preparing to go to bed.

Then the return home with baby William from Mass General hospital and William's first year, including when he started eating his first "piatto di pasta al sugo" in our Somerville kitchen and when, few days ago, he started crawling in the Medford side of the house, off-course. Finally, our sweet kitty Cokie - I unfortunately stopped giving her the attention she deserved * - and my dear American friends visiting me at home to help me get through the difficult days. I cannot think of any of them in a different house.

So now there should be enough images here for you to imagine how sad I feel about leaving the old house. The other images of the slideshow are in the previous postings. So I will stop here to say this:

Goodbye Medford and Somerville! - Addio Medford e Somerville! You have played a really important part in my life! - Hai avuto un ruolo molto importante nella mia vita! Sigh

* Perhaps that is why Cokie has left us on the day of the move :-(

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The lizard - La lucertola. Yes he is! William is officially crawling! - Finalmente! William gattona per davvero!

William is officially crawling. Yes he is! Absolutely! It is called "combat crawling" or, according to my husband, the expert in commando techniques, it is also called "low crawling or commando crawling". There he is: my boy, in the entry way of our apartment, creeping towards our master bedroom! Is he William? Today, all of a sudden, I see a brand new William: yes, William, the boy who used to play for a long time in the same seated position with a couple of blocks and cups next to him and who would suddenly freak out after failing to reach the more attractive block further away from him, is now a mini soldier who is trying to sneak into (and perhaps demolish with joy) all of my stuff! Great.

Can you imagine living a life without being able to move and then suddenly be able to go everywhere and explore everything? It must be like an epiphany after months of boring seating, dependency on mom for a change of scene, and painful exercises with the same boring view of the floor, for a baby to suddenly realize that it is possible to go to see (and get) everything that is around!

Today for the first time William put himself onto his hands and knees and pushed his bottom up three or four times. I cannot describe my excitement when I saw that. The neighbors who live in the unit above ours probably can. He then used his core muscles to push forward and move around the room. I was starring at my little lizard, completely shocked and proud. Because of that, I was not able to film his first crawling attempt but only later explorations of the house. I will never forget the way he looked at me and giggled all excited, just after pushing himself forward, while he was removing the baby books from the book shelves, the ones that I was offering to a friend in that precise instant. Few seconds ago he was pushing himself into the laundry basket and "plop"! (Italian sound) Now the floor mats and all the towels that were in the basket are on his head! Luckily, he is ok.

What an exciting day. But this also means that the days of William playing by himself, while I am doing the cooking, the laundry and a bit of blogging, are now over. How about the move to the new house in less than a week? That's right, just as we've started to pack for the move to the new house in less than a week, William has started to move as well. Isn't this a bit ironic?

Before I go to bed to start picturing in my mind how life is soon going to change for us, below is a video of one of the happiest moments of William's first year of life (or at least that's how I see it):

Next step are hands and knees crawling. Yay William!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Virtue stands in the middle - Est modus in rebus

Baby super swaddledWilliam under cosy blanket

Virtue stands in the middle. I must have tried to explain this simple concept to at least 10 surprised people in the last 2 weeks! Is this such a difficult concept for Americans to grasp? Or perhaps it is my reaction to the moms I bump into in Massachusetts (the so called Massachusetts parenting groups) but I end up talking about this with almost everyone I meet these days: friends, neighbor, tourists visiting, even the pediatrician!! It has become my favourite topic of conversation: In medio stats virtus, said Aristotele. Or, as the Latins counterparts (and my father) used to say, est modus in rebus. But how can I explain this to a Massachusetts mom?

Being a mom in Massachusetts: ever feel alone in how you perceive this role? I swear I feel like I’m surrounded by women who are still trying to be smart and interesting but who have helplessly become zombies who can only talk about what special yogurt coated kids food their baby will take and what wooden toy or baby class will get their child to Harvard!

I am a stay at home mom with dreams for a career I temporarily abandoned when I decided to have a child, don’t feel I am super smart or more interesting than others, just a mom with Italian background, trying to be a no-frills mom in the States. I don’t talk about organic snacks in pomegranate flavor (I wouldn't even eat that myself!) - my baby boy happily eats the food that I eat (e.g pasta al sugo), but just feel too tired to hear joy joy no fun educated moms acting as scientists, while, at the same time, basing their decisions on extremes, always looking for the perfect choice.

The first example that comes to my mind is sleep, the parents' sleep discussion. Some sort of philosophical symposium on how to get a baby to sleep. Every mom who lives in the Boston area, sooner or later will have to hear and contribute to this. It was especially bad in the beginning, when I would constantly hear a mom saying, "Oh, so-and-so sleeps for twelve hours and naps for three," and I’d think, "Oh, shit, I screwed up the sleep training!".

To give you an idea of what I mean, here is the conversation between two moms: the American one and the Italian one. They meet at a coffee shop. Here is how it goes.

First, they talk about sleep.

American mom:
"She was crying a lot. We swaddled her, super swaddled her, but she would still fight sleep. So we came up with a sleep plan, a modified version of the Ferber one. You should try. I have been doing this for 3 months and it does work. At 7 pm, I put her to bed, with the exact same routine (i.e rubbing of feet, gentle massage, PJs and story time). I use the same book and tell her the same story, every evening. I started by letting her cry for 5 minutes, then for 15 minutes instead of 20, then for 30 minutes instead of 45, then for 45. For the first three days, I stayed in the same room with her to make sure she felt safe and that she felt it was ok to fall asleep. Now she will occasionally wake up but that's ok"

Italian mom:
"Is there anyone out there still swaddling babies? That is what the Romans used to do! My daughter did have trouble falling asleep early on but not for long. Grandma, grandpa, my brother and I were all cuddling her, singing and rocking her. She now goes to sleep at around 11 pm and she sleeps through the night until 7. Occasionally she wakes up during the night - but I give her chamomile and she goes back to sleep. Otherwise, she sleeps so well on her tummy!"

Then the conversation goes on food.

American mom:
She is feeding her baby cheerios and slices of onions from her sandwich. She hears another baby crying and she goes "what's wrong with him? Does he need a snack??" (hard judgmental look)

Italian mom:
"No thanks, I don't give kiddie snacks to my baby. They are not very healthy and would ruin the lunch that I prepared for him this morning" (annoyed look)

American mom:
"Naaa, these days, it seems if we parents feed our children anything but whole grain bread, brown rice and veggies from our backyard gardens we're in danger of hearing from child welfare authorities! Now they are even banning the mac donald toys. What are they gonna ban next?? "

Italian mom:
"Well, I am Italian. I wasn't brought up here. I am someone who eats everything, I have no problems of digestion, not even with spicy food, but" - God, will I offend her if I say this? No, go on, say it! - "if I go to mac donald, the flavor of the hamburger comes back to me for one or two days. It is pretty disgusting. But what can you expect when the food is fried in the same oil, used and reused many times on the same day?" - Oh good, she won't be offended after saying this - "and don't you find mac donald expensive? I calculated that if I buy the ingredients, all fresh, and do it myself, it costs me half the amount!"

The conversation goes then onto computers and high-tech baby stuff

American mom:
"Well, if it was up to me, I would ban all the TVs, computers and webcams from our house! I have heard that the toys with batteries are dangerous. Children can swallow the batteries and die! Have you heard of that child who died? We only have a couple of toys with batteries at home, right Nora? These are the talking dog Whurf and the drum Bang Bang. I wonder if I should take them away from her..." (terrorized expression in her face)

Italian mom:
She is giving her daughter a little laptop to play with. Then she goes "Only because something happened to a child in an accident whose circumstances are not clear, that doesn't mean that it will happen to my child. I wonder how that child could have swallowed the battery. Where was the mother? To be honest, in our house we probably have more toys with batteries than any others. We live in a world which is more and more high-tech and computer driven every day. Our children need to get used to this stuff. I put that laptop in Serena's crib every day and her grandmother from Italy wakes her up in the morning. She is so happy when she sees her!"

So, what do you think? Am I the Italian mom above? Not really but I am not the other moms either. I see many exaggerations in the way most moms I come across deal with their children: for example, they give their babies a snack on every freaking toy they are using; they take the babies to up to 6 organized play activities per week; they proudly advertise the fact that they own 20 different types of wooden puzzles coming from Europe; the list continues. I freely admit that I am not neutral when it comes to resisting the attraction of doing the right thing for my child or purchasing the cutest baby hat with special UV protection and anti-bacterial properties. At the same time, once I take something like that home, I cannot help realizing that, once again, I have added one more thing to my collection of useless "Extra Cautious Super Safe Massachusetts Moms and Baby Vanity" accessories!

A less pressured and contradictory culture that values good rather than perfect kids, and that treat the kids like adults and not like a special race, would certainly make all of these moms (myself included) happier. I am thinking of my parents, who never read a single book on sleep training, yet they remember that after days of normal baby crying, at some point, I learned to sleep. I am also thinking of my husband's parents who told us to make sure that the child will base his life on our life and not the other way round. When I watch American moms dealing with their children (the other day I came across a mom who was giving chocolate milk to her boy because she said he doesn't take plain milk!), I feel that the exact opposite is happening to the moms around me. It sometimes look as if the children have become the bosses and their mothers the employees taking orders!

As a matter of fact, in the old days (my grandparents' generation), children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they helped you to maintain its upkeep. If you had a family business, the kids helped in the store and later on would take over the store. But all of this dramatically changed. The kids of wealthy people nowadays are more and more viewed as a protected, privileged race with aspirations, talents and wishes to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed and groomed (as sociologist Viviana Zelizer puts it: “economically worthless but emotionally priceless”).

Here in Massachusetts, I often see moms making a big effort to go to great details to explain books that the children in front of them are not even looking. I also notice the incredible efforts these moms make to talk to their children, answering questions with questions (e.g mom asking toddler in coffee shop which picture was the tallest and which one was the largest), and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution to the world. I sometimes find it fascinating how much effort they put into everything they do or say to their children. I know moms who spend all their time trying to arrange the most refined activities, playmates and meeting places for their babies (e.g. if I bring my boy to the Brookline library bookclub, there he will mix with the right kiddie crowd!). It seems as if these parents constantly feel that if they don't do this and that, they put their child at risk by not giving him every advantage.

There are better and worse ways to discipline a child. But I feel it is a mistake to compare yourself to others and to constantly conclude that you’re doing the wrong thing. Yet that’s precisely what all these extremist and conformist moms do!

I know it is much easier to exaggerate on one side or on the other than to make the more reasonable choice in the middle but, if there is one thing I would like my American boy to learn one day, this is it:

I can now take William to enjoy Sprouts, his only weekly organized activity. For now. ;-)