Italian Christmas cookies are a favorite of mine. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of Italian pastries and desserts. I can give or take a “lobster” tail. Italian American cannoli are simply not for me. And the cakes soaked in alcohol taste like someone wet them with a water pistol. I understand wanting moist cake, but wet cake is yucky. Maybe it’s just me. The entire country of Italy seems to disagree with me.
But I can always get behind a cookie. Italian pastry shops offer loads of them this time of year. Rather than rely on the pastry shop (and pay such a high bill), I decided to try my hand at making these babies. In fact, I’m gifting boxes of my sweet delights on Christmas Eve. Learn how to do the same:
Italian Sandwich Cookies
This was my first attempt at Italian sandwich cookies. I learned how to use my cookie press/decorating kit for this one. You use the star tip to form the cookies for the sandwich. It tries your patience. After the dough oozes out the top and the bottom falls off for the millionth time, you start to lose your cool. Just as you’re about to throw the whole thing against the wall, a miracle happens. It starts to work, and you find your rhythm.
Suddenly, you’re popping out cookie form after cookie form. I was a little trigger happy. That’s why my cookies are huge (err, yyyyuuugggeee). I’ll do better next time. I promise to make them slimmer. Use the Food Network’s recipe for Italian sandwich sandwiches. Instead of raspberry jam, I used strawberry preserves in between cookie layers. (My husband hates raspberry.) And I also nixed the oil. I just melted milk chocolate chips in the microwave for dipping the sandwich.
I’ve become famous for these pignoli cookies. When my grandfather Rocco visited me for the last Christmas before he passed away, he ate two of these cookies. He wasn’t eating much of anything in those days and he rarely ate sweets anyway, so it was a big deal. My grandmother and cousins love ’em, so I make them every year. When I whipped up a bath for my sister’s birthday a few years back, her American friends in Florida were blown away.
The good news is this recipe is the easiest to make, especially if you have a food processor. I use the Food Network recipe for this one, too. I actually follow it word for word. But I have swapped a mandarin or clementine for an orange whenever that’s what I have on hand. I only make these once or twice a year because the price of pine nuts keeps going up. It’s super expensive. But it would not be Christmas without them now.
In the past, I may have made these one or two other times. But this Christmas I felt a pull. I had to have them. It might have been because my husband and I both bought giant tubs of ricotta, which have been mocking us in the fridge. In any event, when the Betty Crocker recipe for them landed in my emailbox, I could not resist.
What I love about this cookie is how easy it is to make. This is perfect for gift giving because you can make many without breaking much of a sweat. They also happen to be delicious. Indeed, I will be needing my fat pants far sooner than anticipated unless I give these away soon. Use the Betty Crocker Italian Christmas Cookies recipe for best results.
Italian Rainbow Cookies
Readers of this site know of my family’s love for Italian rainbow cookies, also known as tri-color cookies. Already I have detailed how to make this cake. You can get access to the recipe right here on this site, and see how we presented it as a robot for my son’s birthday. For Christmas, I added a “string of lights.” But I was also thinking of piping on a snowflake or just some festive holiday-colored sprinkles. The beauty of this cake is that you can use the top as a canvas, so it fits into any theme.
Now, I recommend cutting the cake into squares, brownie-style. You can also cut it up ahead of time and divide the cookies among the trays or boxes. People go crazy for these cookies, so be prepared to get asked to make them over and over again.
Making a Christmas cookie tree like the one in the photo above is not as hard as it seems. I always begin by making my favorite from-scratch cookie dough. But you could buy already made cookie dough and go to town with the decorating.I also make the icing with powdered sugar, water, and a touch of lemon extract or lemon juice, but you can purchase that as well. My point is that this project is only as hard as you want it to be.
How to Construct the Christmas Cookie Tree
Cookie dough from the fridge, ready to roll out
Graduating cookie cutters (in a star or snowflake form)
Optional decorations (sprinkles, sugar, candies)
Dish or cardboard baking circle
Instructions for Baking:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Grab your dough from the fridge. Place it on a floured surface and sprinkle some more flour on top of the dough. Roll the dough to an inch or quarter half-inch thick, depending on how tall you want each cookie to be.
Then, take your cookie cutters to cut out the necessary shapes. Make sure that you cut out three to four of each size star or snowflake. The more you make of each size, the taller your tree will be. This year I opted to make mini trees. But I’ve done giant ones in the past.
Place a piece of parchment paper on each baking sheet. Next, place the cookie shapes on the parchment paper. Bake in the oven. The cookies are different sizes, so they are bound to require different cooking times. I check mine every 5 minutes at first and then every 2 minutes as time wears on. I remove the smaller ones as they finish baking. Obviously, the largest ones end up staying in the sheet the longest. I make sure the edges are brown. You don’t want soft-center cookies because you want the tree to remain intact after construction.
Instructions for Construction of the Tree:
Let the cookies cool. I place mine on a wire rack 3 to 5 minutes after removing them from the oven. Once cool, the fun begins.
Create an assembly line of cookies in size order with the largest ones at the front and the smallest ones at the back. You might want to try stacking the cookies before icing them to make sure you will achieve the look you want. Then, put icing on the bottom of the largest cookie to adhere it to the dish. Next ice the top of the cookie and place another large cookie on top, so that the star or snowflake edges form the look of leaves. I added green sugar crystals on the tips of the stars to make it look like an evergreen. I did this as I iced each cookie to ensure they would stick to the icing.
Make sure that the cookies get smaller as you move toward the top of your tree with the smallest ones at the very top. You can add a cinnamon candy, M&M, sugar star or sugar holly to the top of the tree. I dressed the bottom of the dish with mini candy-canes and the sprinkles that naturally fell as I decorated the tree.
You can place these on ceramic holiday dishes you plan to give as a gift and then wrap the entire thing in cellophane. Or you can not put the tree on a dish and place it in a cellophane bag. You could also put a little tree on each family member’s place setting for Christmas dinner. It could also be a centerpiece. Now, I have mine under a transparent cover on a serving dish at the center of my dining table.
As we gear up for the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, I can’t help but think of the seafood I ate at ‘A Figlia d’o Marenaro in Naples, Italy. The shellfish could not have been more perfect. And my son’s pizza Margherita was one of the best I’ve had in Naples. While the food was sublime, the flashing cameras and line down the block was the most memorable part of the evening.
‘A Figlia d’o Marenaro Uses Social Media to Its Advantage
With 154,000 followers on Facebook, ‘A Figlia d’o Marenaro restaurant knows how to maximize its social media presence. In fact, its use of video is more than admirable. The restaurant’s name means “daughter of the fisherman.” Indeed, the face of the restaurant is a blond woman who presumably is a daughter of a fisherman. Whether that’s real or not, she plays the role perfectly. Her quintessentially Neapolitan dialect and accent only enhance the branding of the place.
Her presence in the videos that you can find on the site has made her somewhat of a celebrity. In one, she and others go fishing before dawn to get the ingredients that will appear on the dinner menu that same night. By the end of the introduction, they broke into Neapolitan song.
When we walked outside after our dinner at Marenaro, the “figlia” was taking photos with guests as they were coming in. She stood for a photo with us, too. My native Italian friends fawn over her and the photo quickly became a treasured souvenir.
Old-Fashioned Home Cooking
Still, the best part of the meal had to be the food. As promised on the website, the dishes are influenced by the home cooking of yesteryear. But they include modern twists. Even the simplest menu items were beautifully presented and a delight for the taste buds. For example, I ordered grilled calamari salad. The calamari was grilled to perfection. It melted in your mouth. A light dressing of olive oil and lemon left a refreshing taste in your mouth.
Mountain of Shellfish
This type of “shellfish soup” is typical of what you’ll find in and around Naples, Italy. What made this remarkable were the fresh ingredients, savory sauce, and crunchy taralle. Usually, restaurants serve this with grilled Italian bread. The idea is to have a toasted bread to soak in the sauce. Using taralle, a typical Neapolitan snack, was novel and welcome.
A Sweet Ending
This giant profiterole was the dessert for the table. The four of us dug into it with verve. And we were not disappointed. Now, I’m not a huge chocolate dessert fan. But I will make an exception for this one. It was a yummy ending to both our delightful meal in Naples but also my annual trip to Italy. Certainly, this meal perfectly fit into my dolce vita.
Today is #NationalCookieDay. As I honor this day, I sit beside trays and trays of holiday cookies that my family made for our annual get together, which happened yesterday. We wore ugly Christmas sweaters, told bad jokes, and laughed so hard we cried. We also indulged in the homemade cookies we made. We took many photos, and ate until our pants snapped.
Nine times out of 10 (and more recently 10 times out of 10), I’m the organizer of these kinds of events. Over the weekend, I was feeling exhausted. I stayed up until 2 a.m. baking and decorating and cleaning. I thought, “Why am I doing this?” My back ached, and my feet were swollen.
La Dolce Vita
Then, with the head of one of those gingerbread in my mouth, I saw my cousin hugging my brother and my father jeering the Giants with his nephew. The work was worth it. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But in this moment we all had each other. We all had a hand to hold, a security blanket, pure joy. Frankly, that’s priceless.
So, I say get out and celebrate #NationalCookie Day. Shout, “I love you,” to family and friends. Deck the halls. Or at least smile and choose happiness for the day. Meet a friend for a cup of tea and a pignoli cookie. What’s most important is using this day as an excuse to slow down and smell the poinsettia. Keep the hustle and bustle of the holidays from distracting you from its real purpose: expressing your love, experiencing joy, and appreciating what you have.
My Italian family did not set a Thanksgiving table until 1960, when they first discovered America. My father, who was an immigrant in an American elementary school, came home and said all the other kids were talking about eating turkey on Thursday. So, his parents picked up one at the supermarket. When my zia put it in the oven to cook, she did not realize the gizzards were in a plastic bag in the cavity of the turkey. It wasn’t exactly the kind of stuffing you would want to eat. Needless to say, they ditched that first turkey for lasagna. Nowadays, we put both on the Thanksgiving table.
I’m thankful we’ve gotten much better at the celebration since then. Truly, Thanksgiving is the kind of holiday all Italians can get behind. Everyone gathers around the table to break bread, drink wine, laugh, and enjoy. That’s our thing. To distinguish the day from Nonna’s house on any given Sunday, I always set a special table. Discover some of my favorite ideas:
Always have a printed menu.
Mine have included the one above featuring a vintage postcard image I found online. I’ve also written the menu on a large chalkboard that served as background for the buffet table. You could also frame one 8×10 menu and put it near the food or on the table.
Create a beautiful centerpiece.
Usually, I create floral arrangements inside cornucopias, which I have from our wedding day in 2008. (We had a vow renewal in the United States Thanksgiving weekend, one month after our wedding in Italy.) In addition, I’ve made floral arrangements in a basket shaped like a turkey and a bowl in the form of a pumpkin. I try to get the kids involved in making centerpieces now. One year I had them paint acorns in bright glitter paint colors; then, I put electric votive candles inside a clear vase and surrounded the “candle” with the acorns. They are painting pinecones that we’re going to turn into woodland creatures for this year’s table. My hope is to make a little diorama-type scene atop a crystal cake stand.
Let the food be the showstopper.
There are few things in life Italians appreciate as much as food. Because Thanksgiving is all about the food, you should let the dishes shine. Cook up your best recipes. Of course, serve them in beautiful dishes and on your best plates. I recently began using my grandmother’s china, which my grandfather carried all the way back from Italy. I also have a few serving pieces – a copper-colored dish shaped like a maple leaf and individual gravy boats in the shape of a turkey – that often make an appearance.
In addition, you can use the food as decoration or centerpiece. Add artichokes, apples, or pears to a cornucopia, bowl, or floral arrangement. Use breadsticks standing in a glass goblet or antipasto platters featuring salumi to catch the eye at the center of your table.
Put out handmade place cards.
This is good practice whenever you are celebrating with extended family. Place cards can be an exquisite touch. But they also keep Mario from sitting next to his arch enemy cousin Guido. In the photo above, you’ll notice that I made edible place cards. That one is a gingerbread cookie in the shape of a turkey. I featured names on the belly by using cookie stamps. I have the complete alphabet of stamps. You can also attach name tags to a pear, apple, or gourd using a decorate push pin. Using food markers on those items works, too. Or you can be a traditionalist and make place cards out of paper. Personalizing each menu is another option.
Use fabric napkins.
Paper is can be beautiful, too. Don’t get me wrong. But fabric napkins indicate this is a special day. Also, you can more easily fold fabric napkins elaborately or wrap them with a napkin ring. The ambitious among us may try to fold each napkin into a turkey. Now, that’s a Pinterest goal.
Making this Italian onesie was a sort of sweet torture. I had envisioned this onesie from the moment I heard an Italian friend of mine was pregnant. With my Cricut machine on hand, I simply couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. And I wish I had the ability to make it back when my baby was itsy-bitsy. Now, of course, the stars have aligned and I have a swell of work, which was cresting around the weekend of the baby shower. But I could not be stopped. Nothing would get in my way. Waking up at 6 a.m. on the day of the party proved fruitful.
The good news is this project is super easy. I could have slept longer. I kind of wish I had realized this sooner. Also, you don’t have to have a Cricut machine to make it (although that made it much easier). Italians are not the only ones who can make such a onesie. I have also made one for a Greek friend that featured the Greek flag in blue glitter iron-on, which read, “It’s Greek to Me.” I put that flag and saying on the lower backside of the onesie, so it would appear on the baby’s bottom. The point is to use your imagination, and don’t feel limited to this example. Baby will make the onesie adorable.
How to Make the Italian Onesie
What You Need:
A white cotton onesie (I used on in size 0 to 3 months)
Iron on paper in red glitter, green glitter, and black (I used the kind for the Cricut machine but you can also use printable iron-on paper for your computer printer if you don’t have a Cricut)
Cricut machine or scissors (if you are using a printable iron-on paper)
Iron and ironing board
Light cloth or handkerchief
What to Do:
Design the image you want to appear on the onesie. I used Cricut’s Design Space. But you could also use Word and print it on a printable iron-on sheet. Before printing, make sure you are creating a mirror image because it will turn out correctly when you iron it on. If you are working with a Cricut or a printer, you will need to cut out the image with scissors. Be careful to leave significant edges.
Begin to pull away the excess iron-on paper, so you’re left with the image you wish to feature on the onesie and a sticky, transparent backing. Remove the excess iron-on paper, such as the triangle or circle at the center of a block letter. Make sure when you put the image sticky side down on the onesie that you see what you envisioned. Follow the directions that typically come with the the iron-on paper.
I place a light handkerchief over the iron-on transfer and begin to iron. Make sure the iron is not emitting steam and that the steam option is shut off. I usually hold the iron in place over the image and handkerchief for the first 30 seconds or so. Then, I gently move the iron back and forth. Don’t do it in quick motions because you could stretch the image.
Take Your Time
Once you feel the image is completely stuck to the shirt, you should put it aside to cool down for a few moments. Refrain from trying to tear away at the transparent film immediately. If you start pulling too quickly, you risk pulling up the iron-on image, too. And you’ll have to start over. Once it’s cooled down, you can gently pull away the film from the corner and on the diagonal. Be careful not to tear at the image at all.
Halloween is a favorite holiday around here. My family has always celebrated this day with verve, even though it did not exist in Italy. In fact, Italians in Italy have only recently discovered Halloween. But we embraced all American traditions upon arrival. As landscapers (at least many of the original family members in the United States call that their profession) decorating with pumpkins and cabbages and mums became par for the course. In addition, we look for any excuse to gather round a table, eat, drink, and be merry.
Once my cousins began having kids, I began hosting Halloween blowouts. We had disco balls, costumes, and mummy games. We wrecked the house with toilet paper and battled it out with apple pie contests. Somebody’s pie ended up on the floor and there were accusations of cheating. Needless to say, we never did that again. But we always made up and dug into Nonno’s pasta.
When my son and niece and nephew were born, the festivities took on new meaning for me. Now, this was tradition. We had to make them apart of the celebration. Today, we all take pictures in front of our house in the elaborate Halloween display my landscaper father creates each year. There are giant pumpkins, hay chairs for the photo subjects, and scarecrows, ghosts, and goblins hanging around. The neighborhood kids also jump into the scene while trick or treating. Parents proudly snap photos.
These moments are fleeting. Our children are young for but a minute. Then, it’s over. I’m choosing to savor every second. I miss it already.
Halloween party ideas are my responsibility in this family. Ever since I returned home from four years at college in Washington, D.C., I have been hosting a Halloween party for the kids in the family. First, it was for my cousin’s babies. Now, we all gather for my son, niece, and nephew.
What’s beautiful about this tradition is the older kids still participate. In fact, one of them is studying abroad, and he waxed nostalgic in text messages after viewing images from the 2017 shindig he had to miss. Sometimes, I come up with an entire theme. Once it was a Halloween disco, replete with bright lights. Another time it was “Happy Owl-O-Ween.” We’ve painted pumpkins in our worst clothes. And we’ve dressed up in our Halloween finest (all sorts of costumes). Every year is a little different.
Once in a while, I’m at a loss for time. Still, I do my best to make things special and memorable. To be honest, 2017 was one of those busy years. But I still think I pulled off a pretty great fete. You still have time to do the same. So, discover my easy ideas for celebrating Halloween in a pinch:
Spider Web Cake
This party was also a chance for the family to celebrate my son’s birthday. He had already had a Spider-Man themed party with his friends. I used many of the decorations and ideas twice. I made this rainbow cookie cake from scratch, but you could buy a plain chocolate frosted cake from the grocery store or bakery. Then, you get a pre-packaged pastry bag of icing in white. Draw a tiny circle at the center. Then, draw a larger circle around it. Keep drawing circles until you reach close to the edge of the cake. Finally, take a skewer or one tine of a fork and drag it from the edge of the most inner circle to the edge of the most outer. Repeat that step six to eight times to achieve the look of a web. You can add plastic spiders and sprinkles like I did if you so desire.
Normally, I would suggest making a cake from scratch. It’s generally healthier and tastes better. But when time is of the essence, I find no shame in turning to boxed cake mixes. For these cupcakes, I actually divided the batter in half. I added yellow food coloring to one half, and yellow and red food coloring to the other half (to make orange). Then I layered the two batters for a candy corn effect. After the cupcakes baked and cooled, I topped them with homemade white vanilla icing. Finally I stuck into the top plastic skeletons from the dollar store, which I had washed with soap and water and dried beforehand.
Ice Cream Station
One of the reasons all my cousins keep coming to my Halloween party is the homemade ice cream. I make pumpkin ice cream only for this party, and the folks love it. I usually make one other flavor. In 2017, I opted for Halloween Oreos cookies and cream. Both were delicious if I do say so myself. But before I even get to serving the ice cream, I make a station for the relevant goodies. I picked up sugar cones and used my Cricut Explore Air to cut out sleeves for them in black-and-white printed paper. I also include Halloween sprinkles from craft supply stores, such as Michael’s. Sometimes, you can even find them at the grocery store. Little cups, ice cream spoons, and other assorted toppings all make for a nice touch. Don’t forget the ice cream scoops.
Spider Punch Bowl
My punch bowl is constantly getting dressed up. It has been a turkey for Thanksgiving, a Toy Story alien replete with green punch, and a jack-o-lantern. Because my son loves all things Spider-Man, I went for a spider this time around. I took black pipe cleaners, bent them into shape, and taped them to the side of the bowl with a clear packaging tape. Then, I used that same tape to adhere the big google eyes that I always use in these circumstances. Finally, I cut out (free hand) a smiley face from the same black-and-white paper I used for the ice cream cones. When the party is over, I carefully pull the items off and discard the tape. I reuse everything except the paper mouths and beaks. For the drink to give it that dark color, I used strongly brewed iced tea. Really, anything goes.
In the past, I’ve used orange balloons and used a black marker to make jack-o-lantern faces. In 2017, I used white balloons to make ghosts. You can’t see them in the photo, but some were traditional with three dark ovals for two eyes and a “boo” mouth. My son wanted me to get creative, so some of these have lady eyelashes and other details. As always, you are limited only by your imagination. I had balloon holders and sticks (purchased at Oriental Trading’s site). So, I made a bouquet, put it in a clear vase filled with candy corn, and added a scarecrow pick and some spider-web bows.
On this site, I’ve often discussed the Mummy Game, where you split up in teams and use toilet paper to wrap one person like a mummy. Then, the team that completes the task the fastest wins. In our family, no one really ever wins. But we do get lots of awesome photos. At the end, one cousin always starts toilet papering the house and people start jumping in toilet paper as if we’re in our own ticket-tape parade. Another cousin, of course, gripes that we’re wasting perfectly good toilet paper. He has a point that is why I buy the cheap stuff for this game.
In the past, we’ve also broken into teams for a different kind of costume contest. My mom would put together a bag for each team filled with everyday items, such as a mop head or a garbage bag and a wand or headpiece. Then, the team has 20 minutes to dress up one person using only those items and whatever they have on. This game also never really had winners, but made for fantastic photos and greater memories.
For the first time in 2017, I decided to get web-slinging into the game lineup. It served two purposes – my son’s devotion to Spider-Man and the spider web theme of the Halloween party. So, I bought cans of silly string at the dollar store and let the kids web-sling on each other in our backyard. The teenagers were just as involved in this game as the little ones. My son stayed dressed as Spider-Man the entire time.
The G7 interior ministers are gathering in Ischia, Italy, the Neapolitan island that is home of my ancestors and husband, Oct. 18 to 20, 2017. Reports indicate that these world leaders will be discussing counter-terrorism efforts. Specifically, they will talk about cybersecurity and combatting online recruitment on the part of terrorists.
On a Lighter Note at the G7
But what’s more interesting to someone like me, with ties to the island, is what a high-profile gig this is for the natives. Hotels, restaurants, and local politicians are rolling out the red carpet, practically literally. Ischia Porto’s mayor established a defined path to welcome G7 guests upon arrival at the port. Security is in full force. News reports indicate that schools will be closed during the height of the meetings. Journalists are beginning to arrive and take stock.
Good for a Laugh
One of the funnier reports I read comes from La Reppublica Napoli. It published a photo of a fruit stand in Ischia. Attached to the tomatoes is a sign that reads, “Nun facite guaie cu stu G7.” This more or less translates to “Don’t make a mess at this G7.” While this gives me a giggle, I think the message has two audiences actually.
For one, the fruit seller is warning natives to be gracious and responsible hosts. Having this assignment is a chance for Ischia to get some publicity. The place is beautiful, but few people outside of Italy and some other select areas (parts of Germany and Europe, Russia, Ukraine) know about it. Americans, in fact, are much more familiar with neighboring Capri.
Second, the sign is a message to protesters, who are expected to descend on the island, too. In speaking to natives, I know that’s a concern.
Italy holds the G7 presidency at the moment. In fact, it welcomed the G7’s prime ministers and presidents, including U.S. President Donald Trump, in Taormina, Sicily earlier in the year. As an outsider looking in, I can’t help but imagine that Italy is trying to flaunt the beauty of the south. The mezzogiorno as it is sometimes called is notorious for its economic challenges, crime syndicates, and political corruption.
Lately, there has been more of a trend toward undoing some of that ugliness. Some leaders want to put a spotlight on the positive aspects. Instead of calling for secession, some Italians want to show the promise of the south. Just to look at the splendid sea, lush vegetation, and rich history is to see what could be. For at least the next few days, it is Ischia’s turn to shine on the world stage. That can only be a good thing. After all, to know Ischia is to love it. Perhaps no one recognizes this as much as I do.
How ironic that today, Oct. 11, is the International Day of the Girl. This annual event is meant to bring attention to women’s issues and help women find their voices to lead the charge. In the days leading up to this day, Americans have once again had to face up to powerful men mistreating women. Actually, “mistreatment” is an overwhelming understatement.
This time the story was about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is caught on tape admitting to sexual assault. In addition, he has had numerous famous Hollywood actresses, staff, and others accuse him of sexual harassment and even rape. His disgusting behavior was a joke in Hollywood for years, and no one stood up for these women. Even the Manhattan district attorney and New York Police Department appear to have given him a pass.
Same Old Story
In the last year, we’ve seen this same story play out with numerous other wildly successful men, including Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes. People get on TV and express outrage. They defend women with their words. Commentators applaud them and insist this is a turning point in history. Women are finally getting the respect they deserve.
But are we? For starters, where were these people when the abuse was actually happening? None of them knew? It’s suspect. Did any of them speak up to defend these women then? These same people continue to elect men – to the presidency no less – who allegedly abuse women. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have done this by voting for Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Apparently, we can be bipartisan.
Women still earn less than men. We are not well represented in the halls of government. None of us have been elected president. The government just took away our easier access to birth control. It’s trying to take away other forms of women’s health care. We say we appreciate and respect mothers, but we don’t pay attention to anything they need. Child care costs are astronomical, and maternity leave might exist on paper but not necessarily in reality. I could go on. The bottom line is we all have blood on our hands.
See the Women All Around You
As I age, I’ve noticed that the real problem is no one hears or even sees the women all around them. Open your eyes to the invisible woman. She might be sitting right beside you. Somewhere along the way, the world decided it didn’t care what she had to say. No one gave credence to what she wanted to be. Everyone ignored her opinions, desires, and even needs. Worst of all, some of the vile among us took advantage of her vulnerability. They abused her or at least showed apathy in the face of her plight. Now, she speaks but no words come out. She is me. She is you. She is every woman.
We tell our daughters to be strong. We emblazon “Girl Boss” across their chest. We host days such as this to empower our girls. But we fail to tell them the basics about what that really means and how challenging the struggle will actually be. The era of Mad Men never ended. The men just hid their behaviors and forced the women into secret shame.
Where It All Begins
Last weekend I was with my cousins’ children. Three of them are young women in their senior year of high school. We are sending them off to college in less than a year. It has me thinking about the turning points in a woman’s life, beginning with high school graduation.
I attended the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. more than 20 years ago now. Early on in my time there I recognized that the road for women was still steep and blocked at many turns. One of the first assignments I had for the college newspaper was to cover the annual Take Back the Night rally. This is when young women – and a few progressive men – march through the streets to draw attention to women’s issues. Specifically, they want to call out the domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, and rape that is still too pervasive in our culture. Those marches usually take place around this time of year.
When I Started to Disappear
On that fateful night in 1996, I listened to the stories of young women who experienced violence and rape. And I learned of the infamous shoe trees that lined a street of fraternity houses. The women said the shoes represented every time two fraternity brothers had sex with the same woman. The accusation lit a fire on campus that lasted pretty much the entire four years I studied there.
Men insisted the women were hysterical, even if some of them admitted the true meaning of the shoes. In continuing to report on the fraternities on campus, I experienced the intimidation of some of the fraternities firsthand. Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity met me at their door for an interview. They were certain to position themselves on the top of the steps and left me beneath them on a lower step. They were always in a group of two or three whenever they talked to me. They kept their arms folded and stood up to block my view and keep me beneath them.
You Can’t Knock Us Down
Already much larger than I was, the men seemed like giants. And then they would respond to my questions by accusing me of being the problem. They told me to stop writing about this. After all, the media is to blame for the fact that they reportedly had rigged their bedroom doors, so women who walked in could not get out.
At the time, regardless of the numerous violations against the fraternity and the fact that the university no longer recognized it as a formal group, the national office of SAE continued to support the young men. These are adults, who oversee the individual chapters. And they would not listen to young women or other adults running the George Washington University.
Back then, Bill Clinton was in the White House just a few blocks from our campus. He was taking advantage of his position of power to have sex with a young intern, not much older than I was. Soon, my friends and I with brown hair would be photographed on the off chance that one of us was Monica Lewinsky whenever we went to the Watergate to get groceries. For my internship, I had to stand in a line at a bookstore for hours to pick up the The Starr Report filled with sensational details of the President’s sexual affair. I began to lose faith.
How I Vanished
For years, I believed in the power of the pen. I thought uncovering these ugly truths would bring about change. That was more than 20 years ago. Nothing has changed. In fact, it might have gotten worse. In college, I started to morph into a ghost. You could still see me, but I was starting to disappear. As my heart grew, my voice became smaller. Fewer people paid attention to my words. I wasn’t used to it.
Then, I wed an Italian, who I love deeply. We have a relationship based on mutual respect. He loves me, too. We support each other’s pursuits, including career. But you have to compromise in a relationship. Unfortunately, the Italian-American culture is still imperfect. It’s a battle of the sexes in some instances. Once I put on a wedding ring, even fewer people cared what I had to say. What was left of my apparition was becoming fainter.
Motherhood As Silencer
Once I gave birth to a child – a miracle and perhaps the greatest physical feat anyone can accomplish – I completely disappeared once and for all. What’s crazier is that’s about the time your words come into focus. It’s the sweet spot when you understand the struggle of your mother and her mother and her mother. It’s the moment when your purpose becomes so significant that you almost can’t bear the weight on your shoulders. Becoming a mother is when you feel compelled to lift up your voice and shove it out into the world. After all, nothing you’ve said or done up to this point has mattered so much.
It’s About to Get Noisy Up in Here
So, I spoke. I yelled. But all anyone heard was the muffled mutterings of a mother. Who cares what she thinks anyway? Yet, we are listening to disgusting men who put their hands on women without permission and hide behind their money and so-called achievements. We allow them to walk free after they perpetrated despicable crimes. They took away the sense of security and perhaps even the confidence of young women. Still, we put them in charge of our lives. We allow them to lead our children, our country.
We listened as President Donald Trump suggested he could grab a woman’s privates simply because he was rich and famous. It was the height of arrogance and inequality. Yet, we made him our President. Clearly, we still don’t even consider what mom thinks. She remains invisible. Oops, it looks like I’m speaking up again. I’M SCREAMING, IN FACT. Are you finally willing to listen?