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!"