Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More on Equality - Parliamo di nuovo di Parita'

In the last two weeks or so, I have spent a significant amount of time on the phone, talking with doctors, nurses and social workers about removing my IUD. If I had been in a job, I would have had to take long breaks, in the morning, to have these long phone conversations about my uterus. If I had been in a job, by now, I would have no vacation left after this and the four days of cramps that followed the first unsuccessful attempt to remove the foreign object.  But men and woman are equal. Or could it be that some women are more equal than others?

Apparently, in less than two weeks, in order to remove my IUD, I need to have a procedure with general anesthesia (yes, they'll put me to sleep). And, I was forced to agree that I will take full responsibility for any damage that may result to my uterus and intestine from the procedure.

Everyone read "Why women still can't have it all", an article which talks about a woman who decides to give up a high-powered position to return home and take care of her children, because if she doesn't do it, who does it? There are other women (including women I know), who are forced to stay at home because, unlike others, they cannot afford expensive childcare, because they don't want their children to stop eating lunch or simply because they don't want to ask a stranger to wave at their children at the gate when they come out of school. They don't want to take shortcuts as parents.

We also hear stories about mothers with brilliant careers. "If these women have done it, we can do it too" My question is how? And please tell me, how does this affect the life of both the mother and the children? Yet, I constantly meet women who are waiting for their second child, while their first one is raised by others at daycare, or who are about to apologize for not wanting more.

The truth is that few parents have the time and energy to discipline (I DON'T MEAN SPOIL) their children. Disciplining a child is one of the hardest jobs for a parent. Probably the hardest. With an irrational toddler, it involves manual labor and it drains one's energies. Imagine, how hard it could possibly be when the person who does it has other priorities (and more than one child). I know mothers who, for this reason, are unable to teach their children to properly sit at the table, eat a meal, put their shoes on or leave a public place when it is time to go. When they get home from work, they have no desire to cook, nor to raise their voice with their children. Some of these children are malnourished and are forced to take vitamins or other supplements. Unfortunately, as research showed, these supplements cannot replace the nutrients that are contained in fresh food. 

Again, who should do this job? The babysitter? Certainly not. The daycare center? Not really. The pre-schools? They are more concerned about how to introduce algebra in their curriculum than what they should do to discipline and feed your children. The grandparents? This only works in countries like Italy, where the stay-at-home mom (la casalinga) still exists and has done this job her whole life. I am afraid to have to tell you that disciplining and feeding your child is not the job of the childcare providers. Sorry. It is a parent's job - and it is a full-time job. But again, who does it if both the woman and the man in the family dislike manual labor and want, instead, employment that can challenge them intellectually? My mother's answer: they shouldn't have had children in the first place.

Do you still think a better answer to this would be to get a highly paid job? Sorry to disappoint you but a new study has just shown that stressful jobs have cardiovascular health effects on women. Surprising? And these effects are probably going to be even higher for women with job strain and children. Also, although women as a group have made substantial gains in wages, educational attainment, and prestige over the past three decades, the economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson have shown that women are less happy today than their predecessors were forty years ago, both in absolute terms and relative to men.

So, remember. No matter how hard you'll fight to ask for equal rights and for equal respect as a woman, you will continue to deal with birth control issues and parenting priorities in addition to your work priorities, and this will not be beneficial to the people involved.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Princesses and Monsters - Principesse e Mostri

I know this will sound like a posting from 1955 but unfortunately, since then, not much has changed. I was thinking about toys, after reading a mom's comment on Facebook and after visiting a few toy stores to find a gift for Tronk's birthday. I was thinking about the long shelves filled with toys, all rigorously grouped by genre: boys here, girls there. Cars, monsters and robots for boys; dolls, dolls' houses, strollers, mini washing machines, and dolls related things for girls. Almost as if they were saying: "You, girls, the ones with the maternal instinct, take care of the children and do the house chores! You, boys, go have fun and play with the cars, machines and gadgets!". All right, all right, this sounds a bit extreme, but you know what I am trying to say. All toys are grouped by genre and are color coded to draw the attention of both parents and children to a genre specific section. I haven't really thought about this until now.

Not for Boys. Sorry.
Not for Girls. Sorry.

Yet, I ask myself how many of these genre specific choices are not also a bit natural. I mean, my three year old boy has played with dolls three or four times in his life; once he put a baby in a high chair and prepared dinner for him, he pushed a baby in a shopping cart a couple of times, and once I saw him intrigued by the look of a naked Barbie that came out of a pirate ship. I would have not stopped him to play with other dolls if he had chosen to do so. But he didn't. Like most boys I know and regularly meet at the playground, he naturally developed an interest for cars and trucks. Not so much for tractors and bulldozers. He has now moved onto legos (which I like much better than cars). His girlfriends? According to their mothers, they are all moving onto dolls and princesses but, as far as I know, nobody imposed this choice to them. So, tell me, what are the boundaries between what has been imposed by society and the natural disposition of both boys and girls towards genre specific toys?

An answer to this has come from the AIJU, a Spanish private, non-profit organization that promotes research on children and play. They studied 1507 children (757 boys and 750 girls). They found that princesses, fashion and personal appearance interest more than 95% of girls while boys are more attracted to sports related things and to the superheroes they watch on TV. They also found that technologies (computers, cell phones, video games and any new technology) interest both boys and girls equally. I am confident the toy companies know this. Yet, they regularly assign genre specific colors and characters to the high tech toys as well.

So, if you have a girl, unless you are willing to spend four times more for the posh version with flowers and butterflies, you are stuck with Cinderella and Snow White for long long time. If you have a boy, you should hope that Cars and Winnie The Pooh are still around, otherwise your house will be taken over by monsters.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Microburst In Our Neighborhood - Microesplosione Nel Nostro Quartiere

In Italy, America is known for having extreme weather. I have just experienced a taste of it with a microburst that ripped through our side of town! This is the second microburst that East Arlington has received since we moved here two years ago, when we discovered that our house is situated in a high flood risk zone. Crazy.

I wanted to take William on his scooter around the neighborhood on that day, but I decided to wait. The sky was filled with dark clouds. It was intimidating. After lunch, we started hearing the sinister thunder. Half an hour later, it stopped and there were no more signs of the coming storm.  
I decided to wait. Later, Tronk and I looked outside the window, hoping to see a better sky, the one that says "you can go out now". We saw instead, a leaden sky with a large dark portion which was getting darker the more we were looking at it. 

I decided to wait and bear with Tronk's repetitive question: "Dov'e' il temporale?" (Where is the storm?)  and my constant same answer:"Non so dov'e' andato!" (I don't know where it's gone!)

We were fed up with being at home. We needed some fresh air. The thunder was back but the storm was not coming. The afternoon continued with us wondering when we could finally make our way out of the door.

Finally, John came home and we all left for the mall a little before 6 pm. As soon as we left in the car, the storm started and by the time we hit the highway, I felt we were in a submarine! When we arrived at the mall, it was all nice and dry and I regretted not leaving the house with Tronk early in the afternoon.

A couple of hours later we came back to the house and found a surreal scene: trees down across roads, power lines down and tree branches everywhere. 

Below are the images I captured the day after, after much of the cleanup was already complete. I had to help Tronk push his scooter across tree branches and leaves scattered all over roads and sidewalks. If this had happened in Italy, there would  have been loads of old ladies in the street complaining, sharing their personal stories and asking questions. Here, a bunch of locals eager to take photos.

Thankfully, our house had no damage. And our inflatable swimming pool was still in the yard, lying against one side of our house, exactly the way we left it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A candle with the number three (and a black-and-blue toe) - Una candela con il numero tre (ed un dito livido)

It is that time of the year again. Time to look at how much Tronk has grown up and what has changed in one year. One year feels like a decade in the life of a toddler. Remember that kid that was scooting on top of the slide before he was able to slide down? That boy now jumps up and down in the street, pushes his little stool around the house to reach for things and wants to claim everything. One year ago, he wanted "grande tutu'" (big car), didn't want anything to do with legos, and his favorite line was "tanti tutu'!". Now, he wants cake with strawberries and candles to blow out, mussels in white wine and prosciutto crudo senza grasso (parma ham with the fat removed). He no longer relies on the soothing properties of the pacifier, he has learned to build forts with legos (and with whatever he finds in our bedroom) and "aspetta!" (wait!) is his favorite line. Nope, we haven't given up the diapers yet (so I still have an excuse to call him a baby). 

He no longer says "Tutui', Tutui'!" to tell me that he wants the penguin story. He now goes to pick a book himself, points at it, resolute, and says "questo!.." (this one!).  If the book happens to be a dictionary, nothing will change the decision. I will have to read that story. I used to skip a word or two, sometimes a page or two, in a book. Now, he spots every word, every comment I make, which is not written in the book, adds missing words and, at times, replaces existing ones with others he finds more appropriate. Tonight, he corrected the title of the book we were about to read. He said: "non il piccolo bruco, il grande bruco!" (not the little caterpillar, the big caterpillar!) He was quite right.

There are things that have not changed though. Tronk still smiles and flirts with strangers - he now does it with a two-minute long speech in his made up English language. And I still see people starring at him. Despite a few tantrums, here and there, he is still himself, my happy, laid back, sweet boy, with his good sense of humor. 

So, I was thinking, another year has flown away and time has come for throwing another party. What are we going to do?

I first imagined a Pimpa party. Pimpa is the white dog with the red spots in the picture below. For long time, it has been Tronk's favorite cartoon character.  

I imagined a table filled with red polka dots. Red polka dots on banners, decorations, dinnerware, cupcakes, balloons and even on our party favors. Simple: I'll put dots on everything! It turned out that the only available set of paper plates with red dots on white could only be shipped from Australia!

Resigned to the idea that Tronk's third birthday party would have been filled with either Francescos (from Cars), Elmos, or Sponge Bob, I gave up the idea of picking a theme. Not that I have anything against these breezy characters, but after seeing them at the children's store, on blankets, on Tronk's snot sucker, on his comb, on toothbrushes and, now even on his dirty diapers, I have started to feel a bit overwhelmed.

Then, blame it on John, who showed him the cartoon, but this is what Tronk has been saying over and over again, in the last week or so: "Miele, miele! Miele, miele!"  (Honey, honey! Honey, honey!) Three days ago, when I told Tronk that I was was about to put Pimpa on, for the first time, he complained, he asked me to remove it and made it clear that he wanted to watch Winnie The Pooh instead. He did the same yesterday.

So, whether I like it or not, Winnie the Pooh will lean on Tronk's third candle, be on Tronk's diaper and there will be other Winnie the Pooh characters hidden in the yard for Tronk and for his friends to find.

Why a black-and-blue toe? Oh, basically, I have just re-injured my foot. I didn't want to make another posting all about my foot but a metal spoon dropped on the toe I damaged before Christmas - remember? - it is hard to believe and to forget. So today, while I was keeping my foot up with ice on top, I was feeling down.

Later, Tronk came to me and said: "Mamma, non ti preoccupare, ci sono qua io. Andra' tutto bene" (Mommy, do not worry, I am here with you. It will all be all right) Just the words I needed to hear to feel better.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Italian School (Pre-K-12) in Boston/Cambridge - Scuola Italiana (Asilo-Liceo) a Boston/Cambridge.

"It is never too late".

I wish William could learn to speak Italian. I really hope that one day he will be able to understand his Italian roots, unlike the many Italian-Americans I meet regularly, who cannot speak Italian and who know Italy only through the cinema and the internet. As a result, I will do everything I can possibly do to help William and his friends, the members of my group, the Boston Bambino Club, to learn Italian and to learn about Italian culture.

Tufts Professor Calvin Gidney said that bilingual children, outperform the non bilingual ones in the following skills:
  • Improved Working Memory
  • Quicker Response Time in Solving Complex Tasks
  • Enhanced Executive Functioning
  • Decreased Susceptibility to Age-Associated Deterioration.

However, he stressed a few times that the children who truly become bilingual, are the ones who have had the opportunity to learn the second language in a variety of contexts (e.g., social, schoolwork, sports, current events). As a result, they tend to be either (1) children who went to a school with an immersion program in the second language, or (2) those who had the opportunity to live, for extended periods in the country of the second language. This is not possible for many of us.

If you (or any of your friends) would like to enroll your children in an Italian immersion school (e.g http://www.lascuoladitalia.org) in the Boston/Cambridge area, please speak up and sign the petition at the link below:

Thank you for your support.