Being Italian sure has its perks. The family, rich history, and culture of our ancestors is the very essence of the dolce vita others are always trying to capture. Admit it, if you’re not Italian and reading this, you’re jealous. “Everybody wants a piece of Italy,” says my Zio Tonino. Let’s face it, Zio Tonino is right. He’s always right (as you’re well aware if you have your own Zio Tonino, and if you don’t have one, you want one but you can’t have mine).
Zio Tonino notwithstanding, there are some serious challenges if you’re an Italian mamma. The dolce vita ain’t free, people. You have to put up with some merde (oh yeah, you read it right) as an Italian woman raising the next generation. For starters, over the years, studies have shown that Italian women are the hardest working in the world. They are working outside and inside the home, and I can attest to this after having lived in Italy for nearly a year (and frequently visiting for months at a time). The Italian mamme are rough and tumble and get the job done – from chauffeuring kids to dance lessons and soccer to whipping up feasts (three- to four-course meals) every single day for lunch to doing laundry like a boss and being an actual boss in the workplace.
The pressure can be overwhelming. These women need a little voice in their head to help them get through the day. But that little train chugging along saying, “I think I can” isn’t going to cut it with these ladies. Here are some customized affirmations for Italian mamme:
10. I will ignore whatever my mother-in-law said about my fat ass, inability to properly dress my children for the weather, or how I fail to properly please her son. Her son loves my ass. My children are not dying of pneumonia. And she doesn’t hear how I make her son holla’ in bed, grazieverymuch.
9. My meatballs are the best. My meatballs are the best. My meatballs are the best.
8. Failing to iron my husband’s shirts does not make me a lesser person.
7. Failing to iron sheets and underwear makes me a better person.
6. I’m as strong as Nonna. I’m as smart as Mamma. And I’m as hot as Sofia Loren.
5. Just because I can whip dough into deliciousness at home, doesn’t mean I can’t whip the business into shape, too.
I’m only but a mere cog in this world. But I need to make my whisper louder because I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, and most importantly a mother. And as the 2016 presidential election plays out before our eyes, I am terrified and unsure how to move forward as a parent.
There has been lots of talk about how parents can’t even allow their kids to watch the news because of the vulgarity of the candidate’s language. Well, I’m actually more concerned about the vulgarity of what’s happening than the words themselves. People cheering as protesters get beaten and thrown out of a political rally is hardly G-rated television.
Like many parents, I worry about how I’m going to raise my 4-year-old son to be a respectable, loving, decent human being in a country in which little boys can get killed by the police while playing on the playground, a grandmother and mentally ill teenager can get killed by the police at their door, we turn away refugees who are victims of the same groups terrorizing us, we shun immigrants despite the fact that most of us were in their shoes not so long ago, and men seeking to be leaders of the free world are comparing penis size on stage at a public debate. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that one of those candidates has shown little respect for women or that many of them fail to recognize the reality of climate change, the greatest threat of our time.
This is not another lament on Donald Trump, nor is it a political column. This is a plea from a mother, who is simply seeking more understanding. I don’t know who will win the election, and I’m not publicly supporting anyone for now. But I’d like to believe that common decency, empathy, and humanity are themes that can cross political lines. My goal in writing this blog is to discuss living the sweet life, and it’s never been harder to attain.
My people came to the United States from Italy in pursuit of happiness. That’s right, I haven’t forgotten that if it weren’t for one illegal immigrant, my family never would have arrived here. They wanted a better life than the one they had on a small island in Italy, that American dream replete with white picket fence. For much of my life, I felt like we were living it. Now, I’m not so sure. It makes little sense. I’m a college graduate, whereas my family members were not. My father graduated high school in the United States and many of my aunts and uncles and my grandparents never went past the fifth grade in Italy. They worked hard at factories, started their own businesses, cleaned houses, rung up cash registers, and waited tables once they arrived in America. Then, they wisely invested their money in homes and savings accounts in banks, back when that meant something. And they paid for the next generation – including me – to go to college, so we could have it easier. Common sense tells us we should have it better than they did. But we don’t. Why?
Our generation is experiencing challenges I never imagined when I dreamed of my sweet life. We faced attack on our land. We went to war again and again. Some returned greatly damaged and largely forgotten. Some of us didn’t have the luxury of returning at all. We lived through the Great Recession, which many would argue hasn’t ended for most yet. To save money, we poisoned our own people, including babies and the elderly – and haven’t even stopped now that our sins are out in the open. This happened in the United States of America in 2016! Yet, many of my own people – journalists – seem shocked and astounded that Americans are mad as hell. (Don’t get me started on how journalism and journalists have let us down.) Of course, we are angry and loud and growing impatient. There’s only so much people can take before they break.
Now, we’re trying to raise our children in the midst of this anger and fear. If I take a moment to catch my breath, what I want doesn’t seem all that unreasonable or difficult. I want my son to be able to not only survive but prosper by affording him a decent education. I want him and other Americans to have their basic needs met and that includes clean water.
I want him to have a heart full of love and to be generous with that love. I want him to feel empathy for other people, who are facing hard times. I’d like to see him give those in need a hug and a hand, and I’d like others to do the same for him when the time comes. I want him to turn the other cheek when faced with the prospect of resolving differences with violence. I want him to choose his friends based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin or the religion they practice (or don’t practice) or their culture.
In fact, I want him to celebrate our differences, which truly are the threads that unite this beautiful country. When the time comes, I want him to vote, even when the choices aren’t as great as he’d like them to be. It’s not easy to choose who should lead you, but it’s your civic duty to make a careful, thoughtful, and studied decision. Our family fought to be here, to be Americans, and he must never take that for granted. Speranza is the Italian word for hope. What I want for my son most of all is to always have speranza for a better tomorrow.