The latest episode of Gomorrah focused on family life. But it’s not what you’re thinking. Again, the writers had viewers pondering the personal lives of mobsters. Despite their callousness, they sometimes show glimmers of humanity. We’ve caught glimpses of that in the last few episodes. Also, some important pivotal happenings took place. All this is setting us up for a riveting season finale (to air June 21 on Sundance TV at 11 p.m. ET). Here’s what you need to know:
Gennaro and Ciro Have Another Meeting
These two are like magnets. Or the writers keep creating scenes with both of them because they know that’s what the audience wants. But they just give you a taste. The reunion is never more than a couple minutes. This time they meet in the streets, on the steps of some building. Gennaro wants Ciro to wish him well as he sets off to get married and anticipates the arrival of his baby. Gennaro adds that his father Don Pietro’s antics are only hurting Ciro. He says that he doesn’t care about what happens in Naples and that he is capable of selling his “stuff,” which refers to drugs, without the Alliance or his father.
Ciro tells him that this situation is eating him up inside and that Gennaro is the one with the most to lose. He explains that if Don Pietro ends up losing, everyone will say it’s Gennaro’s fault for screwing everything up while dad was in jail. If Don Pietro loses, Gennaro will be left with nothing. Ciro has a point. The last thing Ciro says to Gennaro, however, is what stings the most. “You’re just like me, Gennaro. You’re just like me.”
Gennaro Gets Married
A mob wedding always lives up to the hype. The bride is gorgeous in a stunning dress that perfectly shows off her baby bump. The groom is going full Napoletano with his suit. Anyone who has been to a Neapolitan wedding (or had one like me) knows what I mean. But the wedding was more for Gennaro’s father-in-law. In fact, the couple joked that they didn’t know anyone coming to their nuptials. So, they took off after the ceremony to have dinner just the two of them. While they were away from the reception, the police showed up. They arrested the father of the bride.
Uh oh! It seems Ciro had a point that things might not work out as Gennaro expected. The father had been linked to a murder, a slip up that Gennaro had offered to clean up earlier in the episode. The father-in-law didn’t think it was necessary. After talking to the lawyer, Gennaro walks into the room with all the wedding gifts. He’s alone. He opens a painting of him, his late mother, and his father, Don Pietro. He punches his own portrait in the face. You get the sense the self loathing is real. And Ciro is right that this situation is eating him inside out.
The Alliance Goes Down
The episode began with Mulatto, one of the members of his alliance getting killed by his own security guards. Scianel was sent to prison the episode before. And we learn there’s virtually no one left in Ciro’s Alliance. Don Pietro is systematically ridding of them. He’s using the Alley kids to help him. Ciro’s closest allies want him to leave his home and go into hiding. At first, he says no. The Gypsy changes sides. Don Pietro says he’ll accept him only if he brings Ciro to him. He fails because Ciro figures out what he’s up to. Don Pietro has Malamore kill the Gypsy. By episode’s end, the tables have turned. Ciro is in hiding, and Don Pietro is back in his old house.
Crazy Love Or Something Like That
I made a grave mistake in writing about last episode. I suggested that Don Pietro thought of Patrizia as a daughter. Not exactly. In this episode, she is helping him reorganize the house that has been closed up for some time now. He makes a remark that it feels as though nothing has changed. Indeed, she replies that she should probably stop working with him because he doesn’t need information from her anymore. Her siblings want her at home more. And they are angry with her for getting involved with these dangerous criminals. But Don Pietro responds that he’s wrong. Everything has changed, he says. He tells her he wants her to move in with him. When she does (as if she had a choice), he comes into her room and puts his hands on our shoulders in a way that says she’s replacing his late dutiful wife. Well, well.
Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my ancestors and husband inspires beautiful daydreams. Anyone who goes there for vacation will see it as paradise. The reality for those who live there is different. But daydreaming is not about facing real life; it’s about escaping it. So, as a gift to you (not to mention me) I thought I’d share some pretty pictures. Go ahead pretend you’re in the image. And forget about all that other stuff.
The centerpiece of the island is Castello Aragonese. This castle has been a dungeon, fortress, and even love shack. It’s best known for housing Vittoria Colonna. Guests can visit the castle’s interior, which is a museum. They can even stay on the grounds, which includes a hotel. Previously a monastery, the rooms are not the most comfortable. There is no television. And the beds are literally hard like rocks. But the view of the bridge connecting the castle to the island and the town of Ischia Ponte make up for it. Seriously, quella bella vista is the vision of romance.
Ischia’s biggest draw, of course, is its many beaches. This is one of the most crowded in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital and bustling hub. But it’s a nice place for its central location. Maronti in the town of Barano is the biggest and most popular beach. San Francesco in the town of Forio offers lovely views while you’re lounging. It’s also a bit quieter than the beaches in Ischia Porto and Barano. Some, however, prefer the sand or rocks surrounding Castello Aragonese. They jump in as though they are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law in the Talented Mr. Ripley, who had lived on the island while filming there. The Bay of San Montano, which is in the middle of the Negombo thermal spa is a great spot for families because of the calm waters. Of course, there is also the beach in Sant’ Angelo, the poshest spot in Ischia.
The photo above shows Bagnitello, a thermal pool park and beach area in the town of Casamicciola. Ischia sits atop a volcano. As a result, the soil is fertile, which might be why the fruits and vegetables are so plentiful and delicious. These volcanic beginnings also explain the thermal waters and mud, which are believed to have healing powers. Indeed, athletes often come to Ischia to sooth sore muscles, joints, and bones. The waters at Nitrodi natural springs in Buonopane help those with skin afflictions, such as acne, rashes, and fungi. You can stand under the showers there and then pull up a lounge chair overlooking Maronti. The most famous thermal spas, however, are Negombo, Poseidon, and Castiglione. Negombo is my personal favorite. They created the pools to look like they naturally evolved from the rocks in the hillside. The hammocks that are hidden away and overlook the Bay of San Montano will quickly become your happy place. Poseidon is the most well known of the three and offers lovely gardens alongside the thermal pools. Castiglione is the most quaint. It offers many pools, a warm atmosphere, and less chaos.
Best thing about daydreaming? I’m already there in my mind. Hope the same is true for you.
In Season 2 of Gomorrah, viewers meet Patrizia. She’s Malamore’s niece. Malamore is Don Pietro’s right-hand man, one of the few survivors of the season 1 gang war. Based on true events, this story unfolds with the Alliance replacing Don Pietro’s crime family while he was holed up in jail. When Don Pietro breaks out, he holes himself up in an old couple’s apartment. And Malamore convinces Patrizia to become Don Pietro’s confidante. She reports whatever gossip is coming out of the streets. Patrizia gives him his medicine and makes phone calls. Slowly, she becomes special to him. It appears she is like a daughter. In this episode, we see a new turn in their relationship. She also affirms her place in this world of criminality.
Many Americans will recognize the actress Cristiana Dell’Anna, who plays Patrizia, from Un Posto Al Sole. We know that Patrizia was angry with her uncle Malamore. He abandoned her and her siblings when their parents died. Patrizia is the mother hen to her younger siblings. Her brother Alessio, who is a young teen, is especially close to her. She helps her siblings study. Like a mom, she cooks and cleans for them. Patrizia works as a cashier at a clothing store. We first saw her, in fact, selling clothes to Scianel and talking to her friend Marinela. Indeed, Patrizia played a big part in Marinela’s role in last week’s episode.
The point is Patrizia is a desperate girl. She’s trying to make ends meet. A young woman herself, she lacks adult guidance. In taking on responsibilities beyond her years, she feels stuck. So, when Malamore explains that she can give her siblings a better life, she gives in. That’s what led her to Don Pietro. Because she is wise beyond her years and loyal, she gains the trust of Don Pietro. In fact, Patrizia is the one to convince Don Pietro to give his son Gennaro another chance. She explains that his son and him are the same thing. They should not be at war with one another.
Scianel has had enough. She blames Ciro for the fact that her daughter-in-law went to the police. The reason? Ciro allowed the Alley Kids (Trak’s friends who want revenge) to turn on her son Lelluccio. In her opinion, that caused all the problems. Really, it had a lot to do with her maltreatment of Marinela. In any event, Scianel revolts and sides with Don Pietro. But Don Pietro is just using her like he does everyone else. He also convinces the Alley kids to return to his side. Toward the end of the episode he tells Gennaro that he got rid of Scianel because she couldn’t be trusted. He tries to get the Alley kids to kill her. She gets away in a car. But the car is stopped by the police. She ends up in jail.
Ciro has Lelluccio meet with the Alliance to demonstrate how Don Pietro is a grave threat, who cares only about himself. He reminds them that he was willing to throw his own son Gennaro under the bus. In the meantime, Gennaro is still trying to win Papa’s approval. When Patrizia calls him to meet with his dad, he obliges. Or at least he tries to.
While Patrizia is heading to pick up Gennaro, she notices the car is being followed. She has the driver take some twists and turns but they can’t lose the guy. The guy is Ciro and his henchmen. Patrizia heads to a restaurant. There, she dumps her cell phone in the toilet. The restaurant owner lets her use the office phone. Gennaro learns that she is being followed and dumps his cell phone, too. He goes to warn his father and move him from the shack where he’s holed up. Ciro and his henchmen head to the restaurant. They threaten the restaurant owner with a gun, but they don’t kill him. He explains Patrizia just used his office phone.
Ciro catches up with Patrizia and her driver. He drives recklessly and keeps swerving dangerously close to them. Both cars end up going the wrong way on the highway. Eventually, Patrizia and the driver are forced to get into Ciro’s car with guns to their heads. Gennaro finds his father and Malamore. They race out of the hiding spot. But Don Pietro is concerned about Patrizia. Gennaro takes offense and says he doesn’t know where she is. And he adds that he is the one coming to rescue his father.
A Glimpse at the Good Guy
But Don Pietro realizes that Patrizia is really saving him. Perhaps, she is even giving up her life, so he can get away. Ciro still has Patrizia and takes her to a warehouse. There, she sees her brother Alessio in chains and dangling from a pool of dirty water. Ciro threatens to drown him unless she talks. Once her brother is under water, she agrees to talk. Ciro has the others lift her brother out of the water. Don Pietro was right about Patrizia. By the time the henchmen get to the shack, Don Pietro is gone.
Alessio says, “Now they are going to kill us.” Patrizia steps in front of him and asks to be murdered in his place. After all, she was the confidante. Her brother was innocent in this. Ciro agrees. When the two of them are alone in the room, you see his face. It’s as though he’s seeing the face of his wife, who he killed in cold blood. Or maybe it was his best friend Rosario, who was killed. Or maybe it was his daughter, who is alive but in danger.
Whatever the reason, Ciro doesn’t kill Patrizia. He tells her, “The dead are piling up. I left many of them behind me. They haunt me at night. I’m tired of killing people.” They tie up Patrizia and her brother and Ciro and the henchmen take off. Malamore comes to find them. Don Pietro goes back to his original home. Gennaro is with him there. Basically, he tells Gennaro they both screwed each other and now they’re even. But Don Pietro is the boss. Gennaro seems hurt.
Since Ciro killed his wife, he has not killed anyone else. He refused to kill his best friend Rosario when he stepped out of line. Then, he stopped Scianel from murdering a messenger. He freed the messenger who helped Don Pietro to kill the prince. Now, he let Patrizia go. His speech about Don Pietro needing to be the boss of all makes him sound almost like Robin Hood. You see this resentment at the thought that people like him are forced into this life. Desperation led them here. No one is doing anything to help the city. In the end, they are forced to live like animals. Truly, some of them have no choice but to lead a criminal life.
When Patrizia and Don Pietro are reunited at the episode’s end, she asks if he’s tired, too. He says, “Yes, but I can’t stop now.” That’s basically recognition of how the cycle of violence breeds more violence. The people all around are exhausted. But they feel helpless to make change. That’s the story of Naples.
Climate change recently took center stage. President Donald Trump announced the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The U.S. joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not backing the accord. Trump was politically motivated to make this announcement. Staying in the agreement, in fact, would not have changed anything. After all, the agreement is non-binding; therefore, he could have stayed in but changed the commitments to which his predecessor had agreed without actually pulling out.
Nevertheless, the decision to leave has many wondering about what the U.S.’ role will be when it comes to saving our planet. Some people are wondering if any of this matters anyway. Believe me, I understand being more concerned about your own pocketbook. I have a kid. I’m in the same boat. I am up at nights wondering how I’m ever going to afford college and how the price of milk and bread can just keep creeping up, not to mention everything else for which I have to pay. But I also want Mother Earth to survive for my son and my descendants. Discover why parents should care about climate change:
Innovation and the Economy
Problems are solutions waiting to happen. And solutions are opportunities. Already, sustainable businesses, including clean energy, such as solar, wind, and nuclear power, are proving to be the future of business. In addition, the public has been increasingly demanding greener options. This might be why corporate giants, including Walt Disney World, General Electric, and even Exxon Mobil, were in favor of the accord. Parents should be encouraging their children to seek out innovative careers that have a promising future. While new technologies and habits are scary, they can also transform us. Follow the money. Who can argue with that?
The Rest of the World
I know what you’re going to say. America first, right? If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you? All kidding aside, jumping ship on the France accord means leaving behind our allies, and even a few of our enemies. For my entire life, the United States has served as the moral authority and leader of the free world. It has been that beacon on the hill. My relatives in Italy spoke of America as if it was everyone’s dream. Moving away from the rest of the world will have repercussions. Some of them we can’t anticipate now. All I know is that I’d much prefer my son live in the nation leading the world rather than the one hiding from it. This is not to mention the fact that if our competitors in other nations are pursuing innovation in the green space that we risk getting left behind of the future economy.
Clean air and water are necessary to our health. Failing to reduce our carbon footprint could have serious ramifications. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) bills climate change as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Indeed, a WHO slide show describes the traumatic consequences of ignoring global warming.
“Without effective responses, climate change will compromise:
Water quality and quantity: Contributing to a doubling of people living in water-stressed basins by 2050.
Food security: In some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture may halve by 2020.
Control of infectious disease: Increasing population at risk of malaria in Africa by 170 million by 2030, and at risk of dengue by 2 billion by 2080s.
Protection from disasters: Increasing exposure to coastal flooding by a factor of 10, and land area in extreme drought by a factor of 10-30.”-WHO, “Climate Change and Human Health”
The report goes on to explain that extreme weather itself can cause injuries and deaths. But it also describes how it could influence food sources, availability of natural resources and food, and the spread of malnutrition and diseases.
You think terrorism is bad now. Just wait until people don’t have enough to eat or drink, no clean water, and only damaged property. Survival of the fittest is a natural human reaction to such dire challenges. You can bet people will begin to fight for their survival and the survival of their children. It could quickly get ugly. Indeed, Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change “a national security threat.” You can learn more about the Defense Department’s position in a recent NPR interview with Brigadier General Gerald Galloway from the Center for Climate and Security. Do you want your children heading off to war? Or, worse, do you want desperation to drive people to attack them on their home soil?
National Geographic provides a great overview of the history of global warming and what it actually means. It lays out just what kind of damage we have done. It also includes information on the reparations we’ve made. That’s right, there are a few. But we can do more. The most important reason parents should care about climate change is because your kids or grandkids or great grandkids could lose Earth all together. If not the entirety of Earth, they could still lose their little piece of it. Caring about climate change is caring about the future of your family. Period.
Mob marriage has been a subject of analysis for years now. At first, viewers might not have noticed love as a subplot in Gomorrah. But episode 9 throws it in your face. Anyone who thought this was going to be about the other deadly sin, lust, should think again. Once you see the storyline in episode 9, you realize that this conversation about love and marriage has been going on all along.
A Look Back, A Look Forward
What has been fascinating to me is that the Sopranos showed how most of the mobsters had a wife and a girlfriend. People are always assuming Europeans and particularly Italians have affairs. But none of the mob bosses in Gomorrah are cheating on spouses or longtime girlfriends. I’m not sure if that’s the reality in the real-life Camorra. But that’s the depiction.
Our first encounter with mob marriage is Don Pietro and his wife Imma. They are clearly in love. She wholeheartedly supports her husband’s criminal lifestyle. She takes over when he goes to jail. She does everything to turn their son Gennaro into a hardened criminal. Then, she makes the ultimate sacrifice. She gives her life to the cause. She knows full well Ciro is going to have her killed. She lets it happen to protect her son and support her husband. When Don Pietro breaks out of jail, we see him visit her gravesite. He is moved. And he wants their son to have Ciro eliminated as revenge. There’s a rift between them when Gennaro refuses.
Gennaro and His Baby Mamma
Gennaro and his girlfriend, with whom he lives, seem to be mirroring Imma and Don Pietro. She too is a child of a mob boss, but they are in Rome. Her father approves of Gennaro; he considers him the future of the family business, in fact. Now, Gennaro and this woman are expecting a baby. Gennaro seems committed to her and the baby.
She is from a different culture, though. This was brought up in an episode in which she throws him a birthday party in Rome. His friends from Naples come and rob someone there. It doesn’t go over well. But it depicted the distinct division between those from the south and those from further north, beginning with Rome.
The most profound moment was when Gennaro needed to go home to Naples. His girlfriend did not want him to go. He held her close and said:
You are my life. But never come between my family and me.
Ciro Kills Love
One of the most profoundly disturbing parts of season 2 was when Ciro killed his wife Debora. We learn in later episodes that they were childhood sweethearts. He cries as he is strangling her on the beach, what should have been a romantic setting. He is emotional when he cares for their mourning daughter. And he tells Gennaro to kill him because he murdered the mother of his child.
The point of this was to show that no one is immune in this sick world. Death is all around these people. And ambition in this business could literally kill you or your loved ones. It drove Ciro to murder his only love, after all.
Marinela Sets the Record Straight on Love
Early in season 2 we get to know Marinela. She is female mob boss Scianel’s daughter-in-law. Her husband, Scianel’s son Lelluccio, is in jail. While he’s away Marinela is her mother-in-law’s slave. The relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in southern Italy has long been an issue. Men live at home for far longer than they do in the United States. Their mothers can be overbearing. They never think young women are good enough for their sons. They also always believe the women have ulterior motives. Some of this goes on in every culture. But it’s exaggerated because many extended families live together in southern Italy.
Often, MILs mistreat their daughter-in-law. They might slight them. They criticize their housework and cooking. They might suggest they are unattractive or don’t dress well. Well, Scianel takes this abuse to a whole new level. She literally keeps her daughter-in-law under lock and key. She also “teaches” her how to cook. She tells her to be more like Patrizia, Marinela’s friend who no one knows is Don Pietro’s informant. Those are little snubs. She is also threatening and makes Marinela serve her constantly. She rarely leaves her alone.
A Passionate Affair
Marinela only really gets to see one other person on a regular basis. Mario, Scianel’s driver, is also with them often. A few episodes ago, viewers saw Mario and Marinela making love in the backseat of the car. Scianel was off on one of her nefarious errands. They express their love for one another. End scene. Scianel doesn’t appear to suspect.
In episode 9, however, she catches on. She overhears Marinela on the phone with Mario and realizes her daughter-in-law is cheating. She starts to notice the way the two look at each other. Scianel purposely gets another driver to take her to see Ciro and tells Mario to take Marinela home. Then, she follows them and sees them making love in the car. Marinela tells Mario that it’s over because Lelluccio is getting out of jail. But it’s too late.
The Stench of Death Lingers
Scianel has Mario killed. She has the killer shoot him in the privates while Scianel looks on. She makes sure Marinela finds out. Lelluccio returns and is furious to learn about his cheating wife. He puts his hands on Marinela’s throat and threatens her. Meanwhile, Scianel and the others celebrate his return. Marinela tells him what seems to be true for everyone in this show:
You want to kill me? Kill me. Go ahead. I’m already dead.
In fact, she also tells him that making love to Mario was the only beautiful thing she did in her life. Lelluccio has sex with a stranger, whose legs viewers see as she gets dressed. He calls Marinela and tells her that sex with someone else wasn’t good. He wants to see her. Scianel wants to kill her. But Lelluccio tells her to mind her business.
Now that the prince is dead, everyone wants to take over the building where he was selling drugs. Scianel goes to Ciro and bids for her son. Ciro agrees Lelluccio will get the building. Trak and the “Alley kids” are angry. They beat up Lelluccio on the night he gets out of jail. The police stop them and take in Lelluccio for the night, which saves his life. It also enrages Scianel. She brutally murders Trak by having someone repeatedly dunk his head in a pool of his own blood and dirty water.
Marinela is trapped. Her mother-in-law wants her dead. Her husband wants her sex. She is in a cycle of abuse and sees no way of getting out. Patrizia is still working at the clothing store, where Scianel shops. She and Marinela remain friends. Patrizia sees an opportunity to get Marinela out of this life and help Don Pietro. He is still trying to make those in Ciro’s alliance turn against one another. So far, it’s working.
So, Patrizia tells Marinela to call this phone number to gain her freedom. Marinela eats dinner with Scianel. Scianel tells her,
Women can’t have freedom unless they never marry…Once I got used to the beating, I gave in. I became a good wife and a good mother.
Then, Lelluccio calls his mother. He tells her he is coming over. He wants to see Marinela. That’s when Marinela calls the number Patrizia slipped her. The men tell Marinela to bring Lelluccio downstairs. Just as she is taking him out for a walk, she says she forgot her purse and to meet her downstairs. She takes two steps and they hear gunshots. She runs down and sees someone else is dead. She flees for her own life. Scianel tells her son they have to lay low until they figure out what this “disgusting whore” is up to. Marinela walks into the police station.
The End Is the Beginning
The end of episode 9 brings viewers back to the start of the series. Back then, Ciro and Gennaro were not at war. Ciro was Gennaro’s mentor. They seemed to genuinely care for one another. Or at least as much as anyone in the mob could care for anyone else. Ciro shows up at the airport where Gennaro is arriving to see his family – the girlfriend and her father. Ciro tells Gennaro that he knows about his deal with the prince, who is now dead. He also reminds him that they were once friends. He says, “Together, we could have turned this world upside down.” He points out that if they get Gennaro’s father out of their way, they still can. He asks Gennaro to think about it. I think we’ll all be thinking about it until the next episode.
This is the first in a series of stories about traveling to the island of Ischia in Italy.
Mine are the peasant people of Ischia in Italy. This island is considered a province of Naples in Italy. Ischia neighbors the more famous Capri. Another neighboring island, Procida, had its 15 minutes of fame when the charming film Il Postino was released. When my people left in the 1950s and 1960s, the island was suffering. World War II had decimated the economy of the entire country. And the spirit of the people was shaken. Italians are not ones for war. Truly, they are lovers and not fighters. Fighting Americans (many of whom were related) and changing sides took its toll.
Challenges Change the Islanders
Food and family are the top priorities in Italy. Back then, getting food on the table was difficult. My father disagrees. He doesn’t remember scrambling for a meal. But his older siblings have different memories. They were working the land to make ends meet. It was a tough life. In 1960, when my 13-year-old father left, everything changed. Tourism began to replace agriculture as the island’s prime business.
So, where is Ischia?
Well, it is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples. It is 17 miles southwest of Naples on the western edge of the gulf, according to the World Atlas. Foreigners travel by plane. Often, they have to take a flight to a European capital. Then, they take a shorter flight to Naples. During some times of the year, you can get direct flights from New York’s JFK.
You can easily access the island from Naples or Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sofia Loren). You simply have to take a boat or hydrofoil from either of those places. You go with the boat if you need to put a car or motor scooter on board with you. You go with the hydrofoil if you’re traveling without additional transportation. The hydrofoil, of course, is faster and takes about an hour. The boat will take about 1.5 to two hours. It all depends on whether you make a stop in Procida first.
What Makes the Geography Special
The island is actually a volcano. It last erupted 700 or so years ago. But in 2010 some experts warned it might blow again. No joke. Before you run away from Ischia, consider their final thoughts on the matter. The experts also said an eruption was not at all imminent. Still, they are monitoring it along with nearby Vesuvius.
These volcanic origins are not all bad. They provide rich soil for vegetation. You might credit it with the sweetest fruits and most delicious veggies you’ve ever eaten. Your body might also appreciate thermal waters and mud. Many athletes and ailing people come to Ischia for their healing powers.
For those who trace their roots to Ischia, it lives within the heart. It is where we find family and friends. It is where we find a slice of piece and Nonna’s parmigiana. Can’t beat that.
Innocence is defined as “lack of guile or corruption; purity,” according to Google. As I prepare to send my 5-year-old son off to kindergarten next September, this is the word that is smacking my mind like a hammer. He is sweet and good and kind. He wants to be friends with everyone in his class. He has no airs about him. He doesn’t recognize differences in race or religion or politics. He reminds us that stupid is a bad word. Whenever I say I’m getting old, he says, “No, mamma, you’re beautiful.” And when one of his friends cries, he is willing to hold out his hand or offer a hug. He has not yet realized the world is pummeling him. For this, I’m grateful. And I want it to last.
The First Sign of Trouble
As many readers know, my son had delayed speech. He did not really start talking until a year and half ago. I’m proud to report that he recently tested out of speech. In fact, now, we usually can’t get him to shut up. We get to have full-fledged conversations, not to mention arguments, with him. That’s just fine with us. During testing, the school’s child study team wanted to have him tested for ADD and ADHD, so we headed to a local hospital. It turns out he doesn’t have any attention disorders either. But the doctor did talk to us about getting him kindergarten ready. What she said stunned me.
Now, I must preface this by writing that this doctor was helpful and kind hearted. She worked well with my son. She impressed my husband, mother, and me. She told us that our son seemed kindergarten ready. When I asked what we could do to help him prepare. She said he was immature and that the other kids would probably have more “street smarts.” They’re going to be rougher and might not be as sweet, she explained. He needed to toughen up and get more worldly. At 5. At 5. At 5?
“Hell no,” is what entered my mind. But I just said, “Thanks.”
Confirmation the Doc Was onto Something
My son has only gone to school with other children with speech delays and other challenges. The class is tight like a family. The kids all help each other. They are sympathetic and understanding. They don’t make fun of anyone for the obstacles they have had to overcome. Their teachers are special people, who serve as strong role models. They foster the culture of kindness in the classroom.
My son and 4-year-old nephew are playing on an in-town soccer league with some kids already in kindergarten and first grade. They are not nearly as skilled as their teammates. They are just learning the game. They are smaller. They have to develop their skills and better understand the rules. But they get out there and play. One of the other kids called my son a loser and asked why he couldn’t score a goal. I saw the smiles drain out of my son. He was pale and reluctant to keep participating. Where were the other kids’ parents?
We convinced him to get back on the field. It was not even a game. It was practice, and this was a chance to improve, we explained. I also told him to never listen to anyone who called him names. I was proud he didn’t stoop to the boy’s level. But I know he also would never stand up for himself, which wasn’t good either. Suddenly, it hit me like a soccer ball to the head; the doctor was right.
Meanies All Around
Those mean girls are not just in high school. They are not even just girls. I started looking around. My niece’s class was full of kids calling each other names. She often has stomach aches that disappear when she gets away from her “friends.” Another mom told me about first graders shunning another boy during a play date. We’ve all heard the stories of online bullies and maltreatment on the playground. Some of it is a tale as old as time. Some of it is a new kind of evil, more sinister and grown up.
My first instinct is to teach my son how to pull a good left hook and never let anyone mess with him. But just the thought breaks my heart. Instead, I’ve decided to hang onto that innocence. I want him to have a pure heart, to give everyone a chance. I want him to be kind. I want him to be the kid who goes over to that shunned boy and extend a hand. I have been talking to him about bringing others who are left out into a group.
Indeed, he played with another student who doesn’t yet speak the other day. They didn’t really interact, but they kept each other company in the play area. His teacher tells me he helps another little girl who doesn’t speak at all yet. He will take her by the hand and show her the classroom and what she has to do. “She doesn’t talk yet, but she’s trying,” my son said of this girl. “I can tell she has a lot to tell me.” That’s something. That’s a win for innocence. That means I’m not giving up on this. And I’m not trying to change him. Those “street smarts” and “maturity” will have to wait.
What I Tell My Son
Every day before he goes to school, I tell him to do the following:
Listen to your teachers
If your friends are misbehaving, you should not follow them
Lead your friends into good behavior
If any of your friends are in trouble (crying, upset, not feeling well, etc.), you must help them
Be nice (bears repeating)
No hitting, no kicking, no biting, no pushing or shoving (he’s never done this but I want him to know it’s wrong)
Traveling to New Jersey might not necessarily be on your family’s bucket list. But it should be. Getting to the Garden State is half the fun, sometimes more. Before you can get here, you have to figure out the best means of transportation for your family and you. You have three basic options, and they each have pros and cons. Check out the best ways to get to N.J. for your family vacation:
Road Trip to New Jersey
Details: Mine is a big state. To drive from one end to the other, you will spend three hours or more in the car or bus. There are plenty of both rest stops and sites to see along the way if you’re interested. In fact, the road trip itself makes for a great vacation regardless of the final destination. AAA offers maps, tips, and discounts to members planning road trips.
Questions to Ask Yourself: Is the point of this trip to see New Jersey and nearby states or is it to arrive at a destination? Are you traveling with kids or elderly people, who might not be able to endure many hours in the car? What is your budget and can you afford the time it takes to travel and the amount of gas you’ll need? What are your travel preferences? From where are you coming?
Best Fit: Road trips like this are best for those who are up for an adventure. You never know what can happen, especially if you’re driving from a far-away location. If you have little kids and elderly people with you, the car might not be the best option, especially if you’re coming a long distance.
For your safety (not to mention pleasure), you should consider taking it easy and making frequent stops. There are plenty of rest stops and sites to see along the way. Families may want to stop to see the Statue of Liberty, the Land of Make Believe, or Great Adventure. There’s also Liberty Science Center and a slew of historical sites, including all those places George Washington supposedly visited. Nearby states, including New York and Pennsylvania, offer other fun stops. Most importantly, you have to be willing to put up with the inconveniences of the car, the potential for traffic, and the possibility of accidents, such as blown out tires and the like.
Visiting by Train
Details: Amtrak offers trains through the Northeast corridor. More than 20 years ago, I often took these trains from Washington, D.C., where I attended university to either Penn Station in New York City or Newark, N.J. They offer a chance for quiet reflection and some scenic views. It took about as long as a car drive would have.
Questions to Ask: Is this trip more about the destination or the journey? How long are you willing to travel? The train can be cost effective, depending on the type of ticket and the distance, but it can be costly; what is your budget? Do you want to stop along the way or see other cities? Do you have any train enthusiasts traveling with you?
Best Fit: Of course, you have to be in an area from which trains to Jersey or a nearby city depart. You can even travel from Los Angeles to Newark, but it requires multiple train changes and layovers and more than a few days. It can cost as much as a plane, too. The point is you need to be looking for a more relaxed journey to your final destination. And you have to be able to take more time to get where you’re going. Also, the train stations are historic sites. But they can be dirty, and you don’t always find the best people hanging out there. Still, I never experienced any problems. I traveled during the day or early evening and passed through the stations just fine. Kids who are into trains might get a kick out of this to boot.
Flying In by Plane
Details: Visitors to New Jersey can fly into Newark, Philadelphia, or New York City (JFK or LaGuardia) and still have decent access to the state. Obviously, Philadelphia is best if you’re planning to visit more southern parts of the state. New York, on the other hand, is best if you’re going to be in the northern part of the state.
Questions to Ask: This is the costliest option in most cases, so is this in your budget? Do you need to arrive in the state quickly? How are your kids on flights?
Best Fit: This is a great option for families. You will arrive at the destination the fastest. You will need to rent a car or take a cab or bus to your final destination from the airport, especially if you flew into New York or Philadelphia. Of course, you have to budget for those additional costs. The plane is comfortable and safe. And you get the most time at the actual destination because you get there quickly. To be honest, whenever I can afford to travel by plane, I do it.