Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Jinx - La Sfiga di Natale

This year Christmas was on its way but I just didn't want to get the message. We had an exceptionally warm fall and Christmas was not in my thoughts until the Immacolata Virgin day (8th December), the day when the Italians start putting out their Christmas decorations. The tour of the Enchanted Village was kind of an exception. On the 8th I finally realized that Christmas was coming whether I was prepared for it or not.

However, this year, the Christmas Jinx (la sfiga di Natale), the little monster who likes to come just before December 25th, came back to ruin it all. What could go wrong two weeks before Christmas? Anything could ruin it when I was a child: a bad mark at school, a broken piece of antique (probability of this happening in my parents' house: 90%!) or a snappy comment to my mother. Anything really could turn Christmas into a disaster in my childhood. Because of that, many Christmas arrived in Italy with my parents and I angry, resentful and with a heavy feeling of loss. "Another shitty Christmas!", I would think each time. There were years I just wished Christmas would go away.

Later in life, after I moved to England, the Christmas Jinx kept coming back in different forms: snow near the airport where I was supposed to fly, a new job three days before Christmas and my parents falling down. Every year, the same farse. Same blown up expectations, same telephone calls, same special arrangements with friends, same fantasies about people I was going to see and the things I was going to do. I was already imagining the taste of home (food), the Italian booze (good wine), the old Signora with the three layers of makeup on her face gift wrapping my present, the "Buon Natale" wishes after midnight mass, the smell of panettone, moscato and hot chocolate in the backroom of the San Lorenzo Church, the unwrapping of the presents under my parents' nativity, then, on Santo Stefano's day, the calm after the storm: the Christmas movie at the local cinema after a nice aperitivo. It'll be great! Can't wait.

"NO!" said the Christmas Jinx Monster this year. "This year you will not go to Italy for Christmas. Sorry!".

The bad luck started coming in early December. I was having a problem walking with one foot. The pain kept increasing and the week before Christmas my ability to walk went down to zero. Then three days before our big trip to Italy, the ugly truth came out from the podiatrist's mouth, "See that line on the x-ray? You have a broken bone in your foot". I was told I had to wear this boot and wait six weeks until it heals.

My lovely boot
Those words fell on me like the curse of a spirit. The next day, I was at home, frantically trying to pump air into my giant boot with the feeling as if my left leg was about to explode and fire my wounded toe as a missile. No kidding. I was struggling to carry out my daily duties without experiencing pain - and by duties I don't mean cooking, feeding or potty training Tronk. No, I mean, going to the kitchen to get some water or going to have a wee without toys stuck to the velcro of my boot! Later that afternoon I had something important to do - run a Children Christmas party with around 40 people. No, I could not postpone it (see video)

The day after the party my foot was in agony and there was still nothing packed for our upcoming trip to Italy (this year we had to purchase three tickets at a high cost as Tronk is older than two to have the luxury of spending Christmas in my own country).

"No! I cannot go on this trip!" I said to John after spending a night trying to find a pain-free position. So there I was, sitting on the couch, with ice pack on my toe, first investigating the number of restaurants open on Christmas day - zero! - then, the available take out food options on that day - chinese!

The only thing that seemed to help me feel better in the truly Italian way was to know that there were a few other people in bad shape: my mother suffering of shoulders' pain, friends in bed with flu and even an old school mate unable to walk (just like me). My Facebook status (later deleted): Mal comune, mezzo gaudio! (Misery loves Company) Christmas was about to greet me like the Damocles sword. And I kept thinking:

All I want this Christmas is booze!

It turned out that even with a broken foot I could still join the madness one day before Christmas and buy a few decorations. I was hopping like an old crippled woman all over Target and the Christmas Tree Store. At the end, I managed to take home a few New England cheers: a wreath, a pine garland, a pine ball and a brand new Christmas tree (one of those "profane trees" that my parents disapproved of in favor of the nativity).

Tronk on Christmas Eve
As soon as I put our presents under our new Christmas tree, it all suddenly started to fall into place. I suddenly realized that we were about to have our first Christmas together as a family, with our own customs and traditions. We opened the presents in PJs, without having to go through my parents' fuss. This happened to be the perfect choice for keeping Tronk busy while I was cooking.

Amazing what Santa can do compared to the TV to keep a child entertained! It all turned out great. No Chinese for lunch but delicious Italian ossobuco cooked in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes and green beans, loads of French wine and a yummy chocolate panettone for dessert. A nice Italian movie and Christmas mass later in the day with Tronk announcing to everyone in the church that there was Jesus, the wise men and angels all around us.

He just did it when he saw the person next to him kneeling
 What happened this year reminded me of what my mother often says, "Non tutto il male vien per nuocere". The closest English equivalent would be "Every cloud has a silver lining". I have got to keep a positive attitude.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! - Lascia, lascia che venga giu' la neve!

I am telling you, Christmas is on its way!
This year, for some reason, I was not able to get into the Christmas spirit. Me, the one who used to be so excited when the kiosk with minced pies and mulled wine would suddenly appear in Covent Garden in London. Me, the one who would always feel emotional when I would hear the first Christmas Carol of the Season in early November. "Time for wearing my red coat!" I would start telling myself, while thinking of all the things that the Christmas Season would soon bring to me. For me, and for almost every Londoner, living in a tiny apartment with a kitchen used as a living room, Christmas was the greatest time of the year. Time to celebrate and to treat myself, without having to worry about my bank account, time to buy gifts for my loved ones and, above all, time to socialize! And how could I possibly complain for having to accept one more drink down at the pub instead of having to work late at the office? It's Christmas lady! You've got to have one more drink!someone from the office would invariably say.

"I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" (see last year's Christmas posting). I only had to hear a few notes of this tune and for me Christmas was on its way, along with all the things that I was really looking forward to about the Christmas Season; not just food and drinks with family and friends but also time to think and to re-evaluate decisions, while looking for a more deeper meaning of Christmas. For me this would usually happen during the midnight service with the chorus at the San Lorenzo Church in Turin, a tradition we had for years in my family. Then on Santo Stefano's day (the day after Christmas), a moment of silence on my part would follow, in front of my father's nativity, which he has been putting together since he was a boy to create every year the spiritual meaning of Christmas in our family. 

Here in New England, since I had William in 2009, I have started dreaming of a really white Christmas, just like in this song:

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

Ironically, last year and most probably also this year, snow in New England, the State which gets buried under snow for 4 months per year, did not come I believe until after Christmas. Certainly, after we left Boston for the Christmas holidays, on December 23rd. So this year, once again, I have forgotten that Christmas is on its way. Well, until yesterday, when I said to John in panic: "OMG! Two weeks from now we are going to Italy. What?? Cards? Gifts? We'll better sort all this out today!"

I blame it on the snow that has not come yet and on my two year old, who cannot stand any shopping experience in a non familiar store for more than 20 seconds. If I add the requirements of having to travel by public transport with no stairs and of going to an area with large, clean and accessible restrooms plus a children playarea or a toy store nearby, where Tronk can jump, push and scream to his wish, the number of shopping options I have left are down to probably one or two. As a result, here in New England, I can only acknowledge that Christmas is coming until I see the snow outside the window. The houses topped with Christmas tree decorations and commercialized cartoon characters don't seem to do the trick for me here. I just look at them and smile but when I look at them I just cannot get into the Christmas mood. 

Can't you see that Christmas is coming??

I now do. Wondering how did it happen? Yesterday I finally saw the snow. Yes, snow was falling! And I found something better than CVS to truly get into the spirit of the Season. I discovered... the Enchanted Village.

Neve! Neve! Neve! (Snow! Snow! Snow!)
William at the Enchanted Village
Originally created in 1958 by a Bavarian toy maker, the display is a reconstruction of a little New England village with 28 fully decorated holiday scenes, 250 "automata" figures and real snow falling (and melting) on us.

One of the animated scenes at the Enchanted Village

Judging from the cute (or corny, as my husband would say) exhibit, life was hard back then in New England, yet so much simpler. No big chains, no mass production, only small independent stores selling products that were fresh, handmade and nicer to look at. And the children were playing with snow balls in the street, in their handmade toggle coats, elegant hats and matching scarves. Beautiful! "This is what I needed to see to get into the Christmas mood. We should come to this village every year!", I said to John.

There are two things I completely failed to acknowledge: (1) the Enchanted Village in 1950 was seen at the time probably as tacky as the giant Snoopy standing next to Joseph and Mary in a nativity scene in someone's yard today (2) the Enchanted Village exists because a big ass furniture chain has decided to bring the original display from 1950 back to life thanks to the large chunk of money the chain invests every year in entertainment. 

Thank you Jordan's Furniture for making me feel the magic of a white Christmas (un Natale con i fiocchi).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mom on the verge of a nervous breakdown - Mamma sull'orlo di una crisi di nervi

There are days when things just don't go your way. I have just had one of these days. The day started with William waking up early in the morning, when all I was longing for was thirty, maybe twenty, ten... even five  more minutes of sleep would have been so damned good. "I am still dreaming, let me sleep please!", I implored. But Tronk was there,  running around the house in his PJs, asking for me and for all the things that come to his widely-awake head in the morning:

"Pullat? (that's how he calls the "pullup diapers") "No, Tronk, you are not ready for those!"  and I am not willing to follow you to monitor how wet is your bottom! Aha! There are no diapers here. We have to go to the basement to pick some. "Here! You'll have your pullat!"

" "Mi dispiace, non c'e'"
(Orange juice? Sorry, there isn't any)

"Latte? Latte?" "Ok, eccolo".
(Milk? Milk? Ok, here it is)

"Biscottino?" "Eccolo. Uno solo."
 (A small cookie? Ok, here it is, but only one.)

"Cartone Pimpa?" "No, e' troppo presto."
(Can I watch a Pimpa cartoon? No, it's too early)

"Dov'e' macchina viola?" "E che ne so io???"
(Where is my purple car? How would I know???)

Stop! I suddenly realized that I needed the strongest dosage of caffeine that my manual espresso machine could possibly deliver. So I had one and I decided I would get the next one at the local coffee shop later in the day.

Then I was hit by one of those flattering and inquisitive emails that needs a carefully crafted reply. I started typing few letters in reply. Tick, tack, tack, tick, tick.  "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmma! Ahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" Tronk got hurt. His little hand was hanging on one side as if he was no longer able to feel it. Fortunately, the little actor was ok.

Me: "Vuoi andare al potty adesso?" (Do you want to go to the potty now?) Forget about the potty, there is poop here all over the floor. Who is having to clean the floor?

Some of the subsequent thoughts haunting me:
11:00 am. Hopefully, he will sleep.
11:30 am. I'll give him some yogurt. Maybe, that will make him sleep.
12:00 pm.  Forget it, he won't sleep. "Cartone Pimpa?" "Eccolo!." (Can I watch a Pimpa cartoon? Here, watch it!) Now, hopefully, I'll have my shower.
13:00 pm. What? My jewelry box, empty? Tronk? Where did you put my jewelry??? Where?

"Va via Mamma!" (Go away Mom!)
I was almost sure my day would end in tears. The chicken I cooked for him was not up to his standard and he would rather throw it on his nice sweater or on the floor than to try to make a genuine effort to eat it. At some point, he said "Vai vai! Vai in cucina mamma!" (Go! Go! Go to the kitchen mom!) It was becoming clear that our day would continue fighting: food, toys (he wanted to use my permanent markers to color the couch), he wanted to fight about everything.

For some unknown reason, perhaps the fact that you cannot argue against a two year old, I was able to keep it together. I was hoping that the storytime, my favorite moment of the day with Tronk, would have soon put an end to our fights and to our anger and that we would soon be able to make peace. I was imagining that after reading the first book together, we could then magically laugh, forget all the unpleasant things that we did to each other on that day and hug. That's all I was longing for to get over such a daunting day. But I had the sense of foreboding that  no peace would come between us on that day. So I asked John to come to sit next to us during storytime. In order to avoid having to change the book three or four times, I picked a new book, the one that had just arrived from Italy. The new book was keeping Tronk's eyes glued to the pages. Great choice!, I thought. After all, how could he not enjoy a story about a binky, his number one favorite toy? This is how Tronk's face changed throughout the story.

First page. Ecstatic smile
Second page. Still smiling
Fourth page. Worried
Oh shit, this book is about giving away the binky
Fifth page. Very worried
Hopefully, he will not take it badly
Last page - The girl decides to let the binky, attached to a balloon, fly away. He burst into tears. "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Il ciuccio e' andato via!" (Noooooooo! The binky is gone!) 

"She is grown up now! She no longer needs a binky!", I said to Tronk with a positive tone of voice.
 "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooo!" he uttered in complete despair.

"There is no way Tronk and I will make peace now. I have fcked everything up ", I said  to John, who was still trying to pay attention to the book I had just finished reading.

I was crushed. Tronk? He couldn't have cared less. While I was soaking, he had jumped off the bed and he was happily pushing his shopping cart around the house as if nothing had happened. He had already moved on.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pumpkins and Witches for Halloween - Zucche e Streghe per Halloween

Halloween + Italian children + friends + a sweet pumpkin + magic = let's party!

Who said pumpkins have to be scary?

Daddy tried to scare me with this
What is mom doing?

White pages magically turning into colored drawings
No time to look scary, I have to do my job here!
I am the assistant of the magician

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grown-Up Statements And Non-sense - Dichiarazioni Adulte e Frasi Senza Senso

"Prepara pappa mamma?" (Are you not supposed to prepare lunch now?)
In the last two months or so Tronk has taken his language skills to a higher level. He can now ask for things in a meaningful way with a few pronunciation mistakes.

Here are my favorite ones:

La Pizia (instead of la polizia, meaning: the police car)
Pantontole (instead of pantofole, meaning: slippers) 

I also heard him sing three songs, surprisingly almost complete: Fra Martino (Italian version of Frère Jacques), the jingle of the cartoon La Pimpa and recently also the Italian version of the ABC song. In the latter, he ends the song like this: din don bam! din don bam! Too cute to deserve a correction.

What I wanted to say though is that he has also started to produce a few grown-up statements, which often consist of snappy comments.

Here are my favourite ones:

Tronk:  "C'e' uomo taglia erba!" (Here is the man mowing the lawn!)
Mamma: "Dov'e'?" (Where is he?)
Tronk:  "E' andato via!" (He is gone!)

Tronk: "C'e' furgoncino rotto. Ho dato pezzo a daddy! Non aggiusta?" (The little truck is broken. I have given the pieces to daddy. He hasn't fixed it yet?)

Tronk:  "Anche occhiali bimbo daddy?" (Can daddy get  my sunglasses and bring them to me in the street?) [after I got husband to come out of the house and bring me the sunglasses I forgot in the house]

Tronk: "Ho trovato Anna!" (I have found Anna!)  [Anna is a fairly overweight little girl Tronk often meets at the playground]
"Questa e' Anna! E' Anna questa!" (This is Anny! It is Anna!) [with a glorious smile he shows me one of the three little pigs]

At naptime:
Tronk: "Deve fare la nanna William Kruse!" (Willliam Kruse has to nap!)

At the libary:
Tronk: "Tu libro! Bimbo libro! Va bene?" (Mom, you read that book! I read this other one. Let's make this clear)

Dad: "Perche' non mangi quando sei da solo?" (Why don't you eat when you are alone?)
Tronk: "Sono un santo!" (I am a saint!)

During storytime:
A little worm was alone and sad. See how alone and sad he is? Then he found a big apple and decided to live in there. Then came a female worm to knock on his door. She went to live with him.

Tronk: "The worm is not sad! He is not sad!"

Tronk: "Bavo Mina Kruse!" (Well done William Kruse!) [after he accomplishes something]

Zia Pina: "Cosa canta mamma?" (What does mom sing to you?)
Tronk: "Mamma canta Ninna Nanna! Io cresciuto!" (Mamma sings lullabyes! I am grown up!)

Tronk: "Dov'e' ambulanza?" (Where is the ambulance car?)
After few seconds:
Tronk: "L'ha presa mamma!" (Aha, Mom took it!)

Mamma found one of William's favorite cars under the couch. It was covered in dust.
Tronk: "Sporca macchina! Non mettere macchina qui mamma. Pulisci macchina?" (That car is dirty! Do not put that car here mom. Can you please clean the car?)

Zia Pina ate a candy and made it look as if she was eating one of Tronk's colored letters of the alphabet
Tronk: "Non mangia le lettere zia Pina!" (The letters of the alphabet should not be eaten, zia Pina!)

Mamma: "Mi dai un bacino?" (Can you give me a kiss?)
Tronk: "No. Devo lavorare!" (No. I have to work!) [He was building a tower with his lego blocks. Five minutes later, he came to give me a kiss]

He makes comments like these with such a serious expression, we call him "ometto" (little man) constantly and we cannot help laughing (and worrying at the same time). I mean, what is Tronk gonna say next? "Mamma, your period is due tomorrow"? Help!

Today I have started to realize that it might not just be a language thing (see video below).

Zia Pina bought him some cream for his rash on the chin. Today, he managed to grab the tube of cream, unscrew the cap and was applying the cream to his chin. He is a two year old for God's sake! I would expect him to at least put the cream on his favorite stuffed animal but no. He reminded me that he should not put Bambi on his chin after he put cream on it. "Non metti Bambi su mento con crema!" (You should not put Bambi on my chin after I put cream on it!) Frightening.

It then happens that we are sitting in the car and Tronk makes a speech, with his usual serious straight face.
Here is a small chunck of the ten minutes speech in the video below:
"Gioca bimbo paletta sabbia Porta la pappa Fa la cacca pa-stel-la la luna!...  tante macchine!" (Child plays scoop sand Brings food Poops Crayona the moon!... so many cars!) A complete non-sense ending in "so many cars".

At that point, I relax and stop worrying about the future.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Espresso for my two year old, thanks - Caffe' per il mio bimbo, grazie

I had just managed to get out of the house and to survive a crowded bus ride, when I finally saw Starbucks a few yards away. I could already imagine how nice the coffee tasted there and the lifting of my soul after my first sip. Right in that moment, I heard William scream, "Bambi! Bambi! Bambi!"

I need a fix! Give me Bambi!
"I said No!", I replied trying to keep a firm but not angry tone.

There is no way I would walk all the way home (or wait for another crowded bus) to go to pick up Bambi! Bambi is a little fawn stuffed animal Tronk has fallen in love with. He sleeps with it, eats with it, puts it in his toy shopping cart and carries everywhere in the house. The dirty bugger has swept our floor, cleaned our glass windows, mixed with the residues of our coffee after falling in the sink, was dropped by mistake in the toilet, has visited every corner of our house, rubbed his nose first against ragu' and broccoli then against Tronk's face. If I wasn't standing at the door with a firm "No!", I am sure Tronk would take the damned thing outside the house and who knows where else he would throw it.  Though I tried to wash it twice, I am sure it carries layers of dirt and deadly bacteria. We suspect his irritated red chin might have resulted from the constant rubbing of Bambi on his face.

Before leaving the house, I offered him a Ferrari and a Lamborghini car. No, he had to have Bambi!

Me: "Mi dispiace, non ho Bambi. Bambi e' a casa!" (Sorry, I don't have Bambi. Bambi is at home!)
Tronk: "Nooooo! Bambi! Bambi! Bambi!"
Me: "Mi dispiace ,Bambi e' a casa!"  (Sorry, Bambi is at home!), I repeated
Tronk: "Ciuccio! Ciuccio! Ciuccio!" (as soon as he heard that Bambi was not available he started asking for the binky)
Me: "Non ho un ciuccio, mi dispiace William" (I don't have a binky, sorry William) 
Tronk: "No, ciuccio! No Ciuccio! Noooooo! Bambi! Bambi!" [desperate tone] (as soon as he heard I didn't have a binky he switched back to asking for Bambi)

"Basta! You need a coffee! I am going to get you one!" I joked out of frustration while I was trying to tell the barista at Starbucks what type of coffee I wanted. I looked at my change. The amount was less than I expected. "I must have given them a five!" I was then hit by total surprise when my order arrived: instead of one cappuccino there were two cappuccinos with my name on it! "Excuse me, there must be a mistake", I  said puzzled.

Apparently, the barista thought I ordered a second cappuccino for Tronk! I just could not imagine that the joke of a stressed mother could be taken so seriously. It turned out that it wasn't the first time that a mom had ordered a coffee for a toddler. The barista admitted with a slightly embarrassed look on his face that another mom (a coffee addict like me) has recently turned her two year old into one of Starbucks's most faithful customers!

At the end, I had to drink two coffees while Tronk was only allowed to take a sniff.
The barley drink with coffee flavor given to children in Italy
What a shame Starbucks does not sell Orzo Bimbo, the healthy barley drink with coffee flavor I was drinking as a child. If they did, I am 99% sure an entire army of Massachusetts moms would order it. Mothers and toddlers would get their fix together and there would be peace for all.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Five minutes, then leave - Cinque minuti, poi esci

Only Five minutes. Promised? - Solo cinque minuti. Promesso?
Every evening, at around 7-7:30 pm, it is the same story. I am trying to cook the sauce for dinner while making a sincere but pointless effort to avoid using all available spoons in the kitchen. John is feeding Tronk. We hope to get him to finish his dinner before ours is ready so that we can put him to bed. Then we can finally eat a warm dinner together. A nice plan. Unfortunately, things rarely go according to plan.

It happens that I am still cooking and I am so looking forward to the moment when Tronk finally makes his way through his third course. Frutta! Yeah! (Fruit! Yeah!) While Tronk is chewing the last few bites of his juicy melon - great, I have spilled tomato sauce onto the floor! - John has noticed my awkward movements in the kitchen and the yawing in between. So he says with his slightly authoritative and peremptory tone: "Five minutes of storytime, then you switch off the light and leave. Ok?" "I promise", I dare to answer.

Every day I make this promise and this is what happens. Five minutes transform into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into thirty, thirty into fourty-five. "An hour?" I ask John towards the end of our book reading session, with a guilty look on my face. "Yes, you have been in that room for an hour!" I hear him say from the kitchen with a fairly irritated tone of voice.

Yet at the beginning it is so difficult for me to pick up a book and get into the storytelling mode. I still feel the weight of a day spent dealing with a two year old. On an average day,  I have probably heard from Tronk thirty questions or comments that didn't make sense. I have had to put back things scattered all around the floor that were originally in another room of the house two or three times. I have probably failed to get him to do number one (and two). I have probably had to let him watch Pimpa on video so that I could get started preparing lunch. And yes, I have probably taken him to the playground to get him to push the toys there instead of the chairs in our house. It is also likely that I have received an annoying email from someone I hardly know and I have had to play girotondo with Tronk while trying to reply to it. "Sorry, I have to go. My child is crying!".

At the end of an average day, it is hard, sometimes impossible, for me to get into the role of 
an inspired storyteller. Often all I wanna do instead is collapse in bed, with a glass of Prosecco (Italian light champagne) or vodka and lemonade (wonderful English version) but no.

It happens instead that I pick up a book and start reading. Tronk looks
 at me with one arm around Bambi and with eyes wide open. He carefully listens to what I am reading. Then, he suddenly shouts out "Pesce Toto', yeah!" (Fish Toto', yeah!)". As often, the characters and things he remembers have little or nothing to do with the stories I am reading but they have a funny name (or sound). "Pic!", the stinging sound from a famous Italian ad: Pic! indolor. The no pain syringe, makes him giggle insanely.  Then, he asks me to sit next to me on the bed. He wants me to read him a second book, Oscar the bear, then a third one, Il bruco mai sazio. See what I mean? The five minutes I was so sure would not stretch, suddenly become a special moment between me and him, a moment not heavy on me, not even when I am sick and sound like a two pack a day old maid. Tronk loves it so do I. All I have to do to please him is continue in the same style and remind myself that reading books to him is one of the greatest gifts I could possibly offer.  Amazing how this makes it all happen!

Plus, the more I read to Tronk, the more he learns Italian (and this by itself is not a small thing). But trust me, there are other reasons why I still have not learned to look at the watch when I read stories to him at bedtime. I have read it is
 an effective way for parents to get in touch with the daily emotions of their child.  And I personally feel it is true. It helps build the bond that many parents feel don't have these days with their children.

Then there are the scientists who say that telling and inventing stories with children is not only educational but also therapeutic. This might explain why the last time I searched for children's books in Italy I ended up with stories and rhymes on animal violence, death of beloved ones and even rape and incestuous sex!... Yes, I really should write a posting on this.

So, judge me old-fashioned, obsessive-compulsive or crazy, but to me the thought of shortening, recording or even just neglecting your children's storytelling moment at bedtime feels a bit like damping the mother's role, like in a song I used to listen to as a child:

C'era una volta un mondo un po' migliore
piu' cose vere, meno televisione
c'erano le fiabe, quelle che tu
da qualche tempo non mi racconti piu'...

Once upon a time there was a better world
more true things, less TV
there were the fairy tales, the ones that you,
in the last period or so, you don't tell me anymore...

I totally envy John. When he is taking care of Tronk, at 7 pm on the dot, he picks one book (the thinnest one he finds), he reads it without adding a single word that is not written in the book, he says goodnight, he switches off the light and he leaves the room, without the slightest feeling of guilt.

Storia Pimpa, mamma?
Me? Not quite the same. When Tronk says "Altra Pimpa libro?" (Another book of Pimpa?) after I've already read the first book (in great detail), the second one (a bit faster) and the third one (with all the details Tronk needs to know), I become that flaky helpless creature who first promised she would not leave the kitchen for more than five minutes and who then ends up reaching out for the second Pimpa book barely visible on the top shelves.

No wonder...

John: "Dinner is getting cold! I will not heat it again."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

De gustibus non est disputandum - One must not dispute about taste

A glimpse of Bostonian Fashion

I was brought up with a strong sense of aesthetics and design which - blame it on the Latins and or the Ancient Greeks - I used to perceive as a skill in which one needs to train. It is not by chance that I took my first degree at the Istituto Europeo Di Design. Yet, reaching an agreement with my mother on matters of taste and look has never been easy.
De gustibus! (Full Latin sentence: de gustibus non est disputandum. One must not dispute about taste) would come out from my mother's mouth each time I dared to wear something different, funky, a bit too casual or simply not classy enough to make people in my parents' entourage think of me as a good person. Believe it or not, there is still such a stereotypical idea (not only within the circle of the elderly Turinese) that if you don't dress classy (i.e, old-fashioned Turinese Lady style) and don't look chic, you can't be a "persona per bene" (a good person). I remember going to a party in my home town and hearing this: "Wow. You have an English look now!", simply because I was wearing a pair of casual shoes. It is a matter of taste. Some have it, others don't. Meaning, if you don't have taste, you are a peasant = rough = you are a bad person.

As a teenager, I would hear the comment De gustibus from my mother at least three or four times a day. Later in life, almost every time I was going to visit my parents in Italy I would invariably hear: "mamma mia come ti sei conciata!" (Good Lord, what have you done to yourself to look so terrible?) While I was living in the UK, my black leather jacket and 70's style jeans covering half of my pointed black boots became part of my identity but also a serious punch in the face to my mother, who was always hoping to see me come home in a nice tailleur (suite) or a classy silk dress, ready to sit with legs graciously crossed. No, Instead, there was me, wearing a dirty pair of jeans, masculine pointed boots and a tank top! What a disappointment I must have been to her. And there she was, giving me a dirty look and saying, "Sembri una puttana!" (You look like a whore!)" She seriously used to say that and I used to get really angry with her.

Still now, my mother asks my father to persuade me to change clothes before taking me to a friends' dinner party. "Enrica, you look like a clown, I am not going out with you like that! Where did you get that from? That top looks so cheap! You should feel ashamed of putting on such thing. I don't want to go out with a construction worker! We won't go anywhere if you don't change clothes!Going to see my parents is always likely to turn into a big argument on style with me surrendering in the end.

Funny how perspectives change. Now that I live in Boston, far from home, I cannot help complaining about how people look here, just like my mother does in Italy.

Let me tell you this first. You need to understand that, in the city where I grew up, people are over-dressed and wear make-up even when they are picking up tomatoes at the grocery store. There,  you see women of all ages constantly making a big effort to look good (with highlights, an evenly distributed tan, shoes with high heels that I was wearing when I was 22, jackets with matching scarves and golden earrings with matching bracelets) - Everything has to match! - You see women like these pushing the stroller. Their child, if she is a girl, she is wearing a nice hair band or ribbons matching her dress and her shoes. If he is a boy, frankly, the closest analogue for an American would be a baby version of a well dressed gay man. Whether they are drinking espresso at the bar, driving their car or throwing their trash in the big container outside, everyone there is constantly trying to make an impression on you.

Look at Me!

Back in Boston, I can't help noticing the differences. All I see at the playground, in the streets, at coffee shops - I understand children need to run and play in the dirt - is babies in blue and pink PJs with trucks or bears printed on them and toddlers in sweats in washed out colors. Colors: pink and fuscia for girls, blue, green and brown for boys.  No jackets, no cardigans, no pants!

As for adults, I keep coming across some very peculiar fashion ideas here in Boston: hoodie monsters, the women who don't realize that leggings should be worn with tops long enough to maintain a little modesty and that mini-shorts don't do a favor to most butts, the big bulky trekking shoes (I admit I wear them too but out of guilt) or the plain clogs worn with pants that are not long enough. In cold weather I also see North Face and Patagonia uniforms on every seat on the metro (hoodies, jackets, fleeces and whatever has a North Face logo). I don't understand. Wasn't Boston supposed to be the heart of prep style? Or perhaps I should accept the idea that things like the occasional sub-dued Polo, the T-shirt with the whale and the sweatshirt with the black dog from Martha's Vineyard, worn together with a $400 purse by Badgley Mischka (which doesn't match with the rest of the clothes), is all that it takes to stand out from the crowd? I wouldn't have the slightest concern on this if only the people making such choices didn't start acting as if they were Anna Wintour.

I don't know why but the Bostonians really seem to be obsessed with adding and mixing clothes that don't go with each other. Sandals!— with socks. Bulky Trainers - with  dresses. Baggy sweatshirts! - with ballerina shoes. Buttoned Shirts! tucked into PJ pants. And finally, my favourite... Knee Length Skirts! - with half leg leggings underneath. Perfect combo for a dinner party!

The Carnival of bad taste does not only happen in the suburbs. In Boston there are some weird seasonal trends going on as well. It only takes a short tour on the T to spot them:  shorts with winter shoes, flip flops with winter coats, and Uggs in summer (where does this come from?).

Not long ago I went to dinner at an expensive restaurant - I was still wearing my beach clothes! - After the initial embarrassment on my face when I entered the place, I soon realized that in comparison with the other people sitting there, I was overdressed for the occasion. So I immediately relaxed and had a wonderful dinner.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A few minutes in the head of a two year old - Alcuni minuti nella testa di un bimbo di due anni

Do you know what goes through the mind of a two year old? Chaos. My two year old is constantly jumping from thing to thing and from being over the moon to being crushed as though someone had set fire to his favorite stuffed animal Bambi. With his changes of mood he is able to cover a thousand of emotions in few hours. And there are times I feel there is a broken record next to me, saying the same thing over and over again.  Hey, I want to give you the feeling of what it's like to spend nine hours a day - nine! - with a two year old and why most people, no matter how much they love their child, go back to work, at least on a part-time basis.

Mamma? Can I have... the moon?
On a good day, Tronk goes through fifteen of these in a one hour period.

  1. Dammi Bambi? Dammi foca? Can you give me Bambi? The seal? Poi.. dammi ba-lena? Now... can you give me the whale? Dammi...Can you give me... Opps, I have got them all... Now, can you give me... ino? (non-sense) [while pointing at something nonexistent in the room]
  2. Pull-up? Poi Ciabatte? Can you give me a pull-up? Then... my slippers?
  3. Maglia macchine? Can I wear the Cars t-shirt I see in the laundry basket? Who cares it's dirty
  4. Pimpa? Pimpa? No Pimpa. Pimpa YoYo? Not Pimpa the book.  Can I watch Pimpa on the Italian kids channel?
  5. Scarpa mamma? I want to wear one of your flip flops and drag it to the other room under the bed [while you are coming out of the shower and need your flip flops]
  6. Now I wanna throw every single piece of the puzzle in the floor and make the most annoying noise I can possibly make [while you are on the phone having a serious conversation with someone]
  7. There are no more pieces to throw. Idea: I'll throw these shoes in the kitchen! [while you are in the kitchen cooking]
  8. Instead of reading that book on the table I'll climb on it. Yeah!
  9. The man outside is mowning the lawn. Great! I'll say this 20 times. Taglia l'erba! Taglia l'erba!...
  11. I'm tired. IM NOT TIRED!  
  12. Macchina grande, Yeah! (read the full story on macchina grande here) No matter what I'll see, I'll keep saying macchina grande for another half an hour. Macchina grande!
  13. HOLY SHIT I’M STARVING. C'e' mango? No mango? I want mango! Are you telling me that I cannot eat mango? [desperate tone]
  16. All right, all right, I am going to put it in my mouth. Then I'll throw it away
  17. Vai? Vai? Go? Go? I want out of the stroller [while I am waiting to pay in the queue at the till]
  18. Cacca? Cacca? I want to poop. Here it is, a fart. Ho vinto! (I have won!)
  20. Ten minutes later. Cacca? Cacca? Too late. I have already done it
  21. No lena, no lena! I don't want to go on the swing, I wanna spend all afternoon pushing this chair around the playground. Yes, and that stroller too! [until the owner comes to claim it]
  22. Canzone? Metti canzone? Can you play a song? [while pointing at my laptop] 
  23. Mamma, Cane? [while handing me the red marker] Ok. This time I decide to make more effort. I draw a dog that looks like Pimpa, his favorite cartoon character. For some reason he doesn't like the eye. "Occhio! No occhio! Occhio No!"[and he erases everything as fast as he can]
  24. DOV'E' MACCHINA ROSSA?  DOV'E' MACCHINA ROSSA? Where is the red car? Where is the red car? [and runs away in the opposite direction of where the car is while panting]
  25. Aha, macchina rossa. Yeah! Yeah! [still panting]
  26. Three minutes later. Ok, I'll throw it in the toilet now
  28. Acqua? Can I have water? You don't get it. I don't want to drink water. I want to make a  mess
  29. Dov'e' Daddy? Where is Daddy? Oh my God, Daddy left! [desperate tone]
  30. Daddy is leaving? So what? I am playing with cars now
  31. Wow, I’m starving.
  32. Ciuccio? Ciuccio? Dammi ciuccio! Binky? Binky? Give me the binky! [desperate tone]
  33. Aha, la luna! Aha, here is the moon! Dov'e la luna? Where is the moon? C'e' la luna la'! Aha, there is the moon there! [binky totally forgotten]
  34. Oh, soup! Yeah! See? I can eat all by myself
  35. Two minutes later. What? Do you expect me to continue eating by myself?  I need to play now!
  36. Pipi'! Ho vinto! I peed! Yeah!
  37. Dov'e' pipi'? Where is it? [after I flashed the toilet]
  38. I wanna use daddy's electric toothbrush now
  39. I wanna unscrew the mirror. Oh, one more time please!
  40. I don't wanna go to sleep. I wanna turn on and off the lights
  41. Mom, keep on reading, I wanna keep on jumping on the bed
  42. Acqua? Can you give me water? No, blu'. Acqua gialla! Not the blue one, the yellow bottle please. Can you give me the blue bottle again?  [at the end of a very long day, while I am about to say good night and close the door of his room]
As I hear him say "I want..." all day long, over and over again, I can't help thinking of a phrase that I heard from my parents at least one million times: "L'erba voglio esiste solo nel giardino del re". (English translation: The herb "I want" only exists in the garden of the king).  It's just that as a child (and later as a teenager) I somehow always assumed that that king had the privilege of asking for things without having to do anything at all in return and that I could just pretend to be him. Let me put it this way. I will make sure that Tronk does not make this assumption.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pay for the car Pina! - Paga la macchina Pina!

Today, zia Pina, who takes care of Tronk twice a week, brought him home with a new toy. "Where does that car come from?", I asked.

Apparently, she took Tronk to CVS where she needed to buy a couple of things. She was showing him the pumpkins that had just arrived in the store to get him started on the Halloween spirit. Tronk was not interested. As soon as he saw the diecast cars on display, he immediately ran towards them. Apparently, he picked the silver color car and continued to play with it while Pina tried to finish her shopping.

When she went to pay at the till, Tronk said: Pagare la macchina? Pagare la macchina? (Are you going to pay for the car? Are you going to pay for the car?)

So aunt Pina got suckered into paying for the car and Tronk left CVS with his new toy. She said she had never seen a child of Tronk's age worrying about paying for something - a capitalist?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Domenica Felice - Happy Sunday

Boston city center on a Sunday with hurricane
Sunday in Italy was always the same. With deserted streets and silence, as if the outside world was temporarily paralyzed. Beautiful but melancholic at the same time. Here in Boston, a big hurricane on its way (like Irene last weekend) can create a similar effect. Still, despite the weather warnings on the radio, on the web and on the roads, here on the east coast of America, a few courageous surfers were challenging the big waves of the ocean and a few people were throwing private parties on their boats. So, not quite the same as in Italy but all the shops closed, the public transports dead and being forced to stay at home drinking tea and eating biscuits brought me back to Sunday a few (ok many) years ago.

Turin city center on a Sunday morning
Sunday in Turin (Italy), always the same, with mass in the morning at the local Church with Grandma (later dad) falling asleep half through the service. Me trying not to star at anyone but what else could I do while asking God to forgive me for my bad deeds? Then 10-15 minutes before the end, me looking at the watch with the 12:00 pm stomach's cramps, hoping that the minutes would go faster and that I would soon be at home diving into my mother's risotto. Sunday lunch, always the same, lack of conversations, the TG's news and incredible boredom. My slow paced Sunday would continue with food (even if I was not hungry), a meat dish from heaven served with fresh vegetables cooked in simple but delicious sauces, followed by seasonal fruit, already washed and cut for me, served in a bowl. Double espresso, thank you.

Then, just like in the opening scenes of I am Legend, where Will Smith and his dog leave the house to find a eerie lifeless and silent world, I would start looking for signs of life, first in the house, then outside in the neighborhood. Nothing apparent. Two available options: (1) Join the Turinese people's catwalk in Via Roma in clothes you want to show off (2) sleep for an hour or so, until TV program Domenica In (variety show with half naked women dancing and top models interviewing politicians) wakes you up and then try reading a novel while Heather Parisi was singing "Disco Bambina"

Later in life, Sunday in Turin was the same, except for when friends were coming over to our house, same  meringhe with cream pastries and salatini (mini pizzas and other savory snacks), same conversations, same dozing off in the afternoon and incredible boredom until 6 pm, when the TV screen with Domenica In shut down, mom was in the kitchen pouring lemon tea in the cups next to my favorite butter biscuits and I was convinced I had gotten away with it but no. It was time to go to Church!

After Church, same routine, my mom hungry, my father not, me taking my mother's side. "Yes, I will eat the minestrone soup!" My bedroom still untidy, my homeworks still unfinished. Same, I have forgotten to review the previous chapters. My mom: it is midnight and you are not in bed. Same, I have forgotten the oral exam! Same, OMG, tomorrow is Monday! Oh no, if I get pulled into the examination, I will make a dumb show! Then accept the guilt, prepare the books for tomorrow. And ask God to pick someone else for the oral exam.

Then I grew up, moved to London and Sunday became a non existent day. A day for either recovering from heavy drinking the night before or for drinking more at someone's else house to feel better about the hang-over, as my British friends would put it. A day with most shops and the local Tesco grocery store open, just in case you need one more drink.

Then came the PhD Sunday at Imperial College. A large deserted building, long empty corridors and the vending machine dispensing cheese and onion (or salt and vinegar) crisps every few minutes or so. Once inside, from time to time a  new PhD face would appear, behind a computer screen but nobody would say anything to anyone. That would be it. Sunday was equal to dead silence.

When I moved to Boston, Sunday turned into a beautiful day. A day for cooking meals at home, for going on long car trips, for walking on trails, going sight seeing, camping in a park to watch a show next to people who have brought their mobile house with them, swimming in lakes, walking on the beach with a straw hat and picking up heart shaped shells. Sunday with him turned into time for love, for outdoor fun and, above all, for pleasure.

Today Sunday, whether we like it or not, has turned into Tronk's day. The time for his discoveries, for looking at his laughs for seeing him running around with daddy in the streets of whatever town, at the playground, at Costco. But last Sunday, that was not possible because of the hurricane so I had to come up with a few tricks to keep the boy entertained, while daddy managed to build a brand new cabinet for our small office room. Tronk and I played with a train station and a large car park we created outside his bedroom door.  And we spent the rest of the afternoon producing abstract art on a white board. That way we managed to stop looking outside our windows and by the time Tronk and I were done with the bottom of the sea (as Tronk called it), Irene was gone.

Tronk first creative attempt
I must say Irene was very kind to us and I feel we were incredibly lucky. Still alive, with no injuries, no house flooded and we were not one of the 4 million people left without power.

Perhaps, in more simple terms, Sunday is (and always will be) a space for what matters most at the time, whether that is indulging to leisure, making sins, praying or simply just surviving. A day to forget that the day after is Monday.  Or to remember that this Monday is a national holiday and that it is ok to let everything else go. Happy Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Favourite Toys and Other Fetish Objects - Giochi Preferiti e Altri Oggetti Feticcio

"The objects you choose to surround yourself with tell your story", this is the quote cut out from the newspaper La Stampa that my father pinned on the side wall in the entrance of his house. When a guest knocks on his door, my father opens the door and reads this quote. He then says "Welcome to my house".

I was raised  surrounded by beautiful things, old statues from Ancient Egypt as well as a large collection of paintings from great artists. I can close my eyes and picture many things with sentimental value: the faces in the painting who were looking down at me as I was falling asleep, the beautiful portraits of my great grandparents in the living room, the Brionvega stereo with the big pile of vintage 45 RPM records and many other things that trigger emotional memories.

Unfortunately, it often happens that the things that have made someone's life special  are forgotten, sold or given away. Perhaps with time they become worn out, or from an American point of view, if you keep everything, at some point there will be no room for yourself.

Yesterday I was thinking that it is not the objects that count. It is the relationship that you have with the objects and what you do with them that make the objects special. In many cases, especially for a child, these relationships are ephemeral.

Winnitu', a popular doll in Italy in the late 1970s
My mother reminded me that for a year or so I could not be parted from a little American-Indian doll that would sing a song when you pulled her string. I was allowed to take her to every trattoria we were going to. Her name was Winnitu'. And I remember now fantasizing about being a member of her tribe. Two years later, the doll ended up in a basket of the forgotten toys. Yet I can still remember the song she was singing with nostalgia. So why not try to capture the essence of the passing relationship with the objects while it is possible?

It is not by chance that the other day I picked up the Nikon and started shooting photos. I wanted to record the toys Tronk plays with, his favourite toys, the objects he leaves abandoned in specific places of our house, the things that have become part of his world. I wanted to capture the beauty and the special meanings that Tronk has given these objects as a two year old child, so that one day, he will be able to see them and, perhaps, remember these moments.

"Foto mamma?" (Pictures mom?)
"Si, sto cercando di fotografare le cose che ami" (yes, I am trying to photograph the things you love)

"Tante foto mamma?" (Many pictures mom?)


"Tante foto mamma?" (Many pictures mom?)


"Tante foto mamma!" (Many pictures mom!)

"Basta foto mamma?" (No more pictures mom?)

"Dammi Ciuccio? Dammi Ciuccio?" (Can you give me the binky? Can you give me the binky?)
"Foto ciuccio? Nooooooo! No foto ciuccio!" (Binky picture? Nooooooo! No binky picture!), Tronk repeated.