Ischia might be an exotic – often unknown – island off the coast of Naples in Italy. Yes, it’s super romantic and a bit expensive, which makes it seem like a hot spot for young, sophisticated lovers rather than families. Its catchphrase has always been “Ischia dove si mangia, si beve, e si fischia,” which literally means “Ischia where you eat, you drink, and you whistle” but figuratively means eating, drinking and making love.
Still, I’ve been visiting since I was 2 years old because this is the home of my ancestors. And now I married a native and I have spent months and months at a time on the island with my now nearly 3-year-old son. We have found plenty of wonderful activities to pass the time. Recently, I wrote “6 Ways Kids Can Enjoy Ischia, Italy” with specific suggestions on what to do on the island if you ever find yourself vacationing there. Ischia is full of natural wonders, exceptional beauty, and rich history. Really, who wouldn’t want to share all this with their kids?
Despite my objections to southern Italy’s siesta – when stores close down and people, even adults, take naps for three hours in the middle of the afternoon – my son has gotten in on the act. And he always seems to fall asleep in the strangest positions because he tries his hardest to stay awake. He has even tried holding his eyes open with his fingers. It is as though his American self, who is used to working through the day, is fighting his snoozing Italian self. You’ve probably already realized that the Italian in him is winning. And I didn’t even include the video of him falling asleep while eating dinner at the table. Well, all I can say about this is, “Sweet dreams, my love, sweet dreams.”
Some American relatives invaded the island of Ischia last week, which meant we were eating more than our usual one ton of gelato per week. Usually, Baby Boy has a few licks of mine and is done for the night. But last week he had his own cup and devoured the whole thing, save some that he used for a facial. See photo above. Yes, he opted to eat the stuff with his hands, which attracted a crowd in Ischia Porto. A few folks (besides my relatives and me) actually snapped photos and took video of the little guy. A few of the old school Italian women were griping that I wasn’t cleaning him up fast enough and that there would be pesky stains on those shirts. You know about them and the laundry. Oy. But how could I deny him the joy of that gelato? The mess was part of the fun. And isn’t that what the sweet life is all about?
Now, let me give it to you straight. I’m an Italian American (heavy on the Italian) and I have only been to the Olive Garden twice in my life. Once I was in high school, and the highlight was Howard Stern dining at the table next to ours. The other was with a colleague, who wanted to go there. Both were many years ago now. The only part of the meal that I recognized as being good and Italian enough was the salad and bread. I have made a copycat version of the bread at home, in fact. But I’m a mom and I know how expensive it is to eat out and how much fun my son has when we do something – like eating out – that breaks us out of our traditional routine. So, I have to applaud Olive Garden’s efforts to support families and the development of our children. The restaurant will be offering one free children’s menu item (children under 12) with every purchase of an adult entree purchased that day in honor of Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day April 24. You’ll have to print out a coupon from the OliveGarden.com site. (The coupon should be available later this week.)
I’m trying to raise my son to be a man, who takes responsibility, has ambition, and strives to make the world a better place through his work whatever that turns out to be. Since I work at home and he’s not yet in school, everyday at my house is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Lots of other people have just one day a year to expose their children to the secret world that they enter when they leave their houses every day of the work week. And it’s an important day. It’s not just about getting kids to think about the future. It’s also about showing them just how hard you have to work to put food on the table and give them that stuff they are always asking for, not to mention the stuff they need, such as medical insurance, retainers and braces, shelter, and the like. You and I know this isn’t magic. Making money is about work, hard work. It’s about time we teach our kids to have a work ethic and to realize that money has value because of the sweat you put into earning it. And if Olive Garden wants to show its support for us as we take on this challenge by giving our kids a free meal and the chance to show off their etiquette skills in a public restaurant, then I’m all for it. Just make sure to enjoy that bread and think of me.
NOTE: I have no affiliation with the Olive Garden, nor am I receiving any kind of reward, financial or otherwise, for sharing this post.
“Blame the mother,” is what most of us usually hear when discussing our own wacky behavior. Well, children of Italians might be among the most loved in the world by their parents. But they probably turn out the craziest. I can attest to this. First, I’m the child of wild but wonderful Italians and now I’m a crazy Italian mamma myself. As such, you can bet that Baby Boy didn’t get to sit in those clothes he is sporting (in the photo) and that he wet in the snow for more than 10 seconds. He didn’t stay outside for more than a few minutes. After all, the wet clothes and the colpa d’aria might have damaged him forever. It could have killed him, don’t you know? You got it; my son doesn’t have a chance. His father is a native Italian to boot, so he may as well define himself as the weird kid who brings salami sandwiches to school now. In other words, he will one day relate – and relate well – to my latest Our Paesani column, “10 Reasons Children of Italians Need a Support Group.” You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll realize your parents are not alone in their lunacy (and neither are you). Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel) and the Newlyweds Expert for About.com.
Some Italians have a Christmas tree, but all Italians have a presepio or nativity scene. Here on the island of Ischia, which is a province of Naples, the nativity scene is elevated to art. Naples’ sculptors create pieces for the presepio that truly are magnificent and unique. And people don’t just put the traditional scene of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in their presepio. Their presepio features intricate towns, fantasy lands, their favorite soccer players, historical figures, lights, music, live plants, anything you can imagine. My own father creates one every year that features fountains, live plants, grass, hundreds of figurines and ceramic houses, lights, and music and takes up an entire room in his house. (You can check out his 2009 version in a YouTube video.) Each presepio is different and features the signature of the artist who created it.
Well, my presepio this year says that I care about the environment and want to be playful. I also really wanted to create something that was appropriate for my kid (read: not breakable). Those hand-carved Neapolitan statues are gorgeous, but my son would throw them around like they were G.I. Joe figures. So, I settled on using toilet paper tubes, construction paper, the remnants of a bomboniere (a party favor that consisted of a cloth pouch tied with silk ribbons and filled with Jordan almonds), and a gold tray from the local pastry shop (leftover from one of my husband’s macaron runs). Here is the final product:
If I was home in the States, I would have included hay or grass. Here, I had to settle for a green, plastic tablecloth featuring leaves. But I did pick up some gorgeous pine cones in Ischia’s pine tree forests.
All the figures are made of toilet paper tubes that I covered in paper. Jesus is an exception. He’s covered in pieces of one of my son’s old onesies (and his body is half a toilet paper tube, in case you were wondering). His manger is made of part of that pastry shop tray and is sitting atop a plastic ring that once held Scotch tape. That ribbon around Jesus’ blanket is from a gift we received. And Joseph’s head covering is part of that bomboniere, while Mary’s is another piece of onesie.
These three really steal the spotlight because of their bright colors and details. Their sashes are part of that bomboniere again, and their crowns are the rest of the pastry shop tray.
The shepherd’s sash is another ribbon from a gift. The lamb is covered in cotton stuffing that also came in that bomboniere. And I had pipe cleaners leftover from those Halloween spiders I made, which came in handy for that thing the shepherd holds and the legs.
My mom had sent my son craft kits to make foam tree ornaments in the shape of Santa and a reindeer. She also sent that snowflake star, which is supposed to have a picture in it. I opted for some yellow paper because we didn’t have any stars (which many Italian presepio feature) or lights. I put these foam crafts together – with Baby Boy, of course – and attached them either to toilet paper tubes (in the case of Santa and the reindeer) or directly to the kitchen towels covering the top of the presepio (in the case of the snowflake star). That angel, by the way, is made of paper scraps, more ribbon from a box of chocolate we received as a gift, and an old doll’s braided hair. I’m pretty proud of myself, and I’ve been enjoying taking in my work every morning as I get my clothes out of that dresser. Baby Boy is constantly trying to rearrange the pieces. No worries, the worst that can happen is he’ll get a paper cut.
My son must have understood from day one that he would be living in two countries in dramatically different time zones. I think he was born with jet lag. He screamed and yelled at us for hours on the very first night of his arrival to the world. The nurses had him in the nursery for only a few minutes doing those required tests and when they returned him they mentioned how his wailing was getting on the nerves of the other babies. I was in love, so I didn’t care until a couple days later when I was drunk with sleep and unable to go on. It was the beginning of the end for sleep in my life.
I’ve been told by veteran moms that when your children are little you don’t sleep with the feedings and the nightmares and restlessness, then when they’re older it’s the worry about what they’re doing, who they’re with, and their future that keeps you up. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that sleep is now a luxury that I might not get to have again for about 50 or 60 years. Remember when losing a night’s sleep was the result of a party or talking to your beloved until the wee hours? What happened to those days?
Still, I could do the “sleep while baby is sleeping” plan alpha moms are always talking about. But Baby Boy’s never really caught onto the idea of a routine. Really, he has never caught onto the concept of sleeping in general. For the last few weeks, he has refused to take an afternoon nap, which is fine, except that he then falls asleep sometime between 5 and 8 p.m. I try to help him fight the sleep. Shouting, getting him undressed, jumping around like a frog on speed. I try not to give him milk at this bewitching hour because that milk coma does nothing but destroy all the work I’ve put into keeping him awake. When he’s dozing off, he looks like a drunk going into a blackout. He is a milkaholic, I’ll admit it. His eyes flutter, he slides off the pillow where he appeared to just be resting his head, and he clutches Mickey Mouse. A couple hours later he wakes up as if it’s daytime all over again. I work until midnight (because I keep American hours), so it’s fine until then. At midnight, when my husband and I want to go to sleep, Baby Boy is throwing his toy cars around and yanking our arms to join him. He’s laughing so hard that he starts to cry. He’s running from one room to another. He has defeated us. We know not what to do – anything except sleep.
My only hope is that Baby Boy’s simply keeping American hours himself. After all, when he stays up until 3 a.m. in Italy, it’s actually 9 p.m. in the States, which is around when he used to go to bed (notice I didn’t write sleep but rather bed). How ever will I rationalize his night-owl behavior when we’re back in America? Ahhh, I still have a few months to come up with something. Hey, at least I’ll have something to ponder in the middle of the night when my son is sticking his finger in my ear to wake me up and play.
I’ve been promising to share some photos and information about hosting a pizza-themed birthday party for my son’s second birthday, which we celebrated in Ischia, an island that is a province of Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza. Today, I revealed the whole story of how I pulled this off – from making that chef’s hat I’m wearing in the photo above to the fruit pizzas for dessert – in an entry for ItaliansRus. And I also posted the pics of the affair (including images of all the details) on this here site. See the “Pizza-Themed Birthday Party” photo album. All I can say is that I’m sad the party is over because it was so much fun for me to plan and execute. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top this event. My apologies to the Italian-American family members, who weren’t able to enjoy it with us. I promise to try and come up with something to celebrate when we return to the States. With Italians, it’s never hard to find an excuse for a party. Am I right or am I right?
While wandering around Ischia Porto this morning (yet again), we saw an adult with children on a motorino, which is a motor scooter. The adult was wearing a helmet and the children were not. My husband and I discussed it. He said he wouldn’t take kids on a motorino without helmets. I said I would NOT let my kids ride on a motorino. Period. We don’t agree and sometime in the future we’ll be confronted with this by our son. I’m certain of it. He’ll be traveling back and forth between Italy and the United States for the rest of his life because he will be close to both families. As a result, he might one day want to drive a motorino around the island himself. I say we should prohibit it. We should prohibit it big time. I’ve seen one too many brutal accidents here on the island both with natives and tourists, who enjoy renting one of these bad boys. And I just find them completely unsafe, especially when novices jump on one.
Yet, I let my husband convince me to ride behind him – with a helmet, of course – during the years when we were dating and first married. I was hesitant, but even my mother-in-law prodded me to give it a chance because we don’t have a car here, and we had no other way to get around except for the rather inconvenient buses on Ischia. So, I agreed. We scooted all over the island – to other beaches, our friend’s homes on the other side of Ischia, fancy dinners (a nightmare on your hair-do), and thermal spas. I haven’t been on the back of his motorino since I got pregnant. Of course, it’s dangerous for a pregnant woman to be on the motorino, and I wasn’t even here at all during the pregnancy. Now that I’m a mom, I’m even more hesitant than before to get on the back of his scooter, even though hubby is a great driver and is always safe. But I digress.
Despite the fact that I rode on the motorino (against the will of my own parents, whose opinion didn’t count much because of my status as a full-fledged adult), I don’t want my son to ride on one. Ever. It’s just one of a slew of things that fall into the category of “Do As I Say, Not As I Do.” And it will be one of a slew of things about which my husband and I will disagree and will have to compromise. I got exhausted before the day even started just thinking about these future negotiations between husband/father, wife/mother, and son. Probably, I have about 15 years to prepare my case. I better get started now.
Now that school is out in Ischia, Italy, kids are at the pinete (pine tree forests) if they’re not at the beach. The towering pine trees are surrounded by all sorts of plants, including wild sage and flowering bushes. There are pathways for those who want to walk and take in the scenery. Of course, some of the paths lead you up mountains that can be difficult to navigate with a stroller or a bum leg. Don’t expect any sort of warning about this. You should know by now that when in Ischia, you are walking at your own risk (writes the girl who has come back from three knee surgeries, a result of an injury she picked up on the island in 2004). No warning signs about the difficulty level of the paths means there are also no signs for the entrance and exit. My friends and I recently got lost in the pineta while searching for a way out.
It turned out to be a fun adventure because Baby Boy was napping in his stroller and their daughter was sitting nicely in hers. We carried the strollers up these stairs made of dirt and grass with wooden frames, and we saw a giant dog (looked more like a horse) try to eat a giant rock. We also caught a couple making out by the children’s swings. They were not at all fazed by our presence, and the guy had no problem rounding second as we were walking by with mouths agape. This is what happens when everyone lives at home with their parents well into their 30s and even 40s. Even the playground seems like an okay place to get some action.
I guess you could argue that Ischia is doing visitors a favor; if there were indicators about where to go, you would miss out on exploration. A trip to the pineta does not have to be so exhausting, however. There are also sitting areas with benches or chairs. As mentioned above, some of the pine tree forests have playgrounds, replete with a slide for the little ones. One near our home has a man-made pond full of croaking frogs, who even let you touch them.
Since the forest is an enchanting place for kids, you will also hear the sounds of childhood – giggles, shouts of joy, and the pitter-patter of little feet. On any given afternoon, you are likely to find a group of children gathered to play a pick-up game of soccer or just chase each other around the trees. Sometimes, the natives hold childrens’ dance and music recitals on a makeshift stage in one of the pinete. Even if you are just sitting by yourself amid the lushness, you will be delighted. One look at these pine tree forests and a visitor understands just how Ischia came to be known as L’Isola Verde or the Green Island.