Saturday, July 10, 2010

What does motherhood means to me - Che cosa significa essere mamma per me

I am not quite at the stage of the mom in the movie Motherhood (you can watch the trailer here) but I am sharing some of the experiences. My husband John picked this movie to watch with me because the plot reminded him of what he thinks I am going through. Am I really? I will try to explain my version of motherhood.

One year and a half ago I was a full-time researcher developing a vision-based lie detector in a top College for Engineering in London. I was working 13-14 hours per day, sometimes even in the middle of the night, and my meals were either at my desk with one hand typing and the other picking salt and vinegar crisps or in one of those Asian fast food restaurants (Hong Kong style), eating Singapore noodles in front of the same engineering paper I was trying to make sense of. I was soo convinced that if only I could have worked out the secret small steps used to build the system described in the impressive particle filter paper from Oxford geniuses Black and Isard, and if only I could have worked out the recipe for forcing people to answer questions under stress, my life could have sorted itself out.

All of a sudden I could say goodbye to my small apartment with filthy flatmates in Kensington, I could say goodbye to the unhealthy meals I was eating and to the bosses taking advantage of my patience. I could travel the world to share it with other researchers. I could start my own behavior analysis center at the University and could even write a book about the lies I was coming across in my subjects!

Two things I had not, maybe purposefully, calculated: (1) the time it would take me to study maths, engineering and physics during the course of a PhD, being a graphic designer major! (2) that there is not a large demand for a lie detection scientist in behavior analysis - how many behavior analysts do you know? (3) that there is more to life than spending 13 hours in front a computer screen! As my father once told me on the phone while I was still in the lab at 11:30 pm, "there are more important things in life, for instance seeing your own child run on the beach next to you".

At that time, when I was not in front of a computer, nor I was trying to figure out creative ways to force people to lie - I had the stage magic and cold reading phase - I was enjoying chatting about this and that (the weirdest, the better) with my British friends. This pretty much summarizes my life a couple of years ago.

Before that, I was either enjoying adult students' life in Oxford, which means I was getting pissed on a weekly basis with a bunch of Oxford technical and mathematical minded people or I was using London as a travel hub to go to experience life in other countries (for not longer than a week though, with the exception of India, where I lived for a month, so that I could always get back and land a safe computer job which could pay the rent in London).

Going further back in my life, there I was, at the Jemey's bar, offering champagne to Jennifer Aniston and to handsome French footballer David Ginola (seen naked in the Agency one hour before) to celebrate the latest "because I am worth it" ad. Then I was having a fight with the two-faced, junior account exec the Agency had trained for one year, who was supposed to assist me. She was like my opposite: I have dark brown hair, she was a bleach blonde, my eyes dark brown, hers crystal blue . She was 100% English. I was 100% Italian. This is how our first meeting went. We both were at Jemey's, drinking champagne with our bosses.

Junior Account Ex: "Hi, are you the new Account Manager on L'Oreal?"
Junior Account Manager (Me): "Hi, yes, it's me. Nice to meet you."
Junior Account Ex: "All [pause] riiight. Are you [pause] Italian?" [huge fake smile]
Junior Account Manager (Me): "Yes..." [surprised tone]
Junior Account Ex: "I seee! [evil eyes meaning "bitch!"] Well, I really hope it's going to work out for you. If I was you, I wouldn't even try. Good luck really! I really hope it will work out for you! [fake smile followed by evil eyes]
Account Manager (Me): "Good luck to you!" [ she had already left]

The day after, the war was officially declared between the two of us. Instead of being my assistant, she was throwing my work into the trash bin under the desk when I was not in the office! And she was replying to emails I was supposed to reply to. What is worse, my English at the time was still poor and I was struggling to understand what a bunch of advertising executives were asking me to do in Paris! Luckily, a secretary, who late became a dear friend of mine, helped me understand this and a lot more. She made me understand that my account exec was sleeping around to get favors and that my bosses did not like me because I wasn't seducing my clients in the Agency lift and because I wasn't making use of the company's cocaine supplied by the Head of Account Management. They were also disappointed because when they hired me they thought I was the kind of Italian slut wearing high heals and tons of makeup (the "velina" type - you can google this to get a full description of the type of woman they thought I was). Instead, they ended up with the Italian catholic conservative type they couldn't quite use as a show girl!

I could go further back in my life to tell you what was like to live in the scariest neighborhood in London to be able to produce and deliver giant bars of Kit Kat chocolate bars which I was sending with my CV printed at the back to the top advertising agencies in the city. But I will stop here: by now you should get the idea of my lifestyle before moving to the US. I was deeply concerned (1) about the possibility of being tagged "bloody foreigner" because of my strong Italian accent, (2) about finding a creative - meaning intellectually challenging - job that I could enjoy (3) about "having a good time after work" and spend not longer than an hour awake per day at home. What happened 2 years ago to radically change all this?

Well, a tall American, a man from Wyoming, who does not call himself a cowboy but who thinks and acts with the cowboy mentality, the man of my life, made his appearance. How could I possibly convince a man like this used to the open spaces, to the comfort of driving everywhere and to the pleasure of purchasing items which have been discounted 10 times (the norm in the US), how could I possibly convince this man to squeeze into a luxury 500 square feet tiny apartment in west London, close to Harvey Nichols with dinner on the couch and one bedroom only occupying a third of the average American bedroom?

For this and other reasons (mainly back related - this would deserve a post on its own) I moved to the US, got pregnant and, on a hot day in July, a beautiful baby boy with cute hazel almond shaped eyes came to greet me. All of a sudden, I was this happy but completely puzzled mom, survived from the pain of giving birth but still trying to recover. And, right at that time I was also the one who had to take care of a tiny and needy brand new human being.

At that point, all of a sudden, I had to establish myself in a new role: to look after, to nurture and to raise a child. A child? Since I was a teenager my mother had been telling me constantly that I could do anything in life except for being a mother. She would go on about my inability to deal with practical matters. She would then say this: "You?? I want to see you as a mother, with a child who needs a schedule! You, a mother? You'll be forgetting your child in the supermarket, or you'll leave the poor creature roast in the car under the hot sun! Poor child in your hands!" The conversation would end with me saying to her "what? children? che dici mamma? That will never happen to me!".

But William came, with his hunger, his thirst, his need to be changed, to be washed, to be loved. And I learned all this:

(1) that there are parents who are not sleeping at night and who live their life with big circles around their eyes

(2) that there are parents who are getting to the end of the day without having a shower

(3) that diapers and wipes are never enough, no matter if you get them in giant boxes at Costco (wholesale store for US families).

(4) that I should never leave the house with baby William without a pacifier

(5) that a baby gets excited when he sees things that are not meant to be given to him (i.e remote control, cell phone, wrapping paper, but also nails, screws, bits of electrical cable, bits of paint fallen on the floor after hanging pictures, etc). The alternative is to hide some of this toys and to present them back to him once he has forgotten all about them

(6) that adding meat to his lunch doesn't make you all scared of changing his diaper, although, I must admit, the poop smells a lot more. Because of that, having learned the pre-smell of poop, I have also learned to close my nose when I open the diaper.

(7) that losing my Elisabeth Arden sunglasses doesn't really matter as long as the baby is safe

(8) that I should eat, have a shower or go to the toilet whenever he is napping

(9) that I can accidentally pour baby milk on a winter coat worth $600 without feeling bothered

(1o) that I have to change my baby if the milk accidentally gets onto his clothes, otherwise I feel I am a horrible mother

(11) that my happiness depends (1) on having had a shower (2) on having nicely fed my little guy (3) on having gone out of the house at least once during the day

(12) I have learned that opening a diaper is always a surprise: the poop can be on its way!

(13) I have learned that when I give him a bath as soon as I start washing him in warm water, a rainbow of pee can color the side wall, if I am not careful.

(14) I have been able to ignore at least 4 of my basic needs in my frantic attempt to satisfy one of his needs

(15) I learned that breastfeeding is more an art than a science and that people's advice is child specific. Same for parenting.

(16) I realized that I have no problems using the baby wipes (which are sold for cleaning the baby's bottom), when nothing else is available, for cleaning the baby's mouth, for cleaning my mouth, for cleaning the stroller, my purse or whatever from the latest drink spilled

(17) I learned that one + one baby make 2 happy babies

(18) that I could teach Italian once a week (as my only intellectual stimulation as fulfilling as a PhD) simply to be able to dedicate the rest of my time to my baby. Even if that means hearing the word "gelato" and "cappuccino" in every freaking sentence the students make!

(19) that being a mother is a relentless job - no matter what happens, you cannot call sick or take a break from it. When the baby is with a caregiver for example, you worry that the he might not be drinking enough water or that he might not be happy to eat the food you prepared for him. You cannot stop being a mother!

(20) I learned that, despite years of efforts in learning and in sounding English to impress the audience of the Brits, what really matters to me is not only to preserve my mother tongue but, above all, to teach my mother tongue to my baby, along with my roots and what the Bel Paese is all about (i.e. not the country of the Guidos and of the red sauce!)

(21) Finally, I learned that the smile of a baby can transform even the most bitter thing in your heart into the sweetest one

His eyes that were looking at me, while I was painfully giving him breastmilk, always gave me the strength to continue, until the pain, at some point, went completely away. A miracle.

And I learned that the little heart of a baby, not that much bigger than a walnut, becomes one thing with yours, from the very first moment, from the first instant, and from that moment it never leaves you.

Oops, I heard you little man. You have just woken up! Not that I was able to write all this during the time-slot of a nap. This posting has probably taken 10 naps! But it's all right now, like my old English friends would say. You should go out and have a good time! "What? Diapers need changing and food needs preparing", says a little voice inside me.

Thanks William for having taught me all this.

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