Right about now, you are either disappointed or relieved because the headline had you thinking this was a whole other kind of blog post. C’mon people, you know who I am. This is about an actual babe, my almost two-year-old boy, of course. I mentioned to you that I love taking photos of the beach. Now that we’re living literally steps from the beach, I am constantly snapping pics.
What I love nearly as much as pictures of the beach are pictures of my son on the beach. But getting a normal toddler to stay still is impossible, let alone Baby Boy, who has outpaced the Energizer Bunny on occasion. At first, I was blue because I had no pictures – or at least no good pictures of Baby Boy on the beach. Then, I had a stroke of genius. Ok, maybe it was just a stroke of common sense.
Instead of trying to pose him or waiting for the moment he stood still (read: fell asleep) to photograph him, I started to just follow Baby Boy’s every move with the camera. The more pictures I snapped, the more likely I’d get something worth framing (or at least worth using to decorate my Desktop or cell phone screen). When my American friends, their nearly two-year-old daughter, my son, and I headed to the beach on Memorial Day, we were armed with a camera – and we all snapped, snapped, snapped as many photos as we could of the kids.
When the two babes toddled over to the spogliatoi (locker rooms), we were swelling with joy. The graphic element of the locker rooms contrasted by their sweet faces, while they were exploring this new terrain, was pure perfection. Once you turn the photos black and white, they look like something out of 1950s’ Italy, which is special for me since that was the era my father was still living in Ischia. It also happens to be the moment in history when Ischia stopped being reliant on an agricultural economy and started focusing on tourism. Regardless of what history the black and white images spark for me, they are worthy of a frame and look good in color to boot (see below). In fact, this second picture would be great blown up as a poster for our home in Ischia. Not surprisingly, you can expect more beach photos on this blog throughout the rest of the year.
With its cobblestone roads, quaint shops, fresh seafood restaurants, and pastel-colored houses – not to mention its crowning jewel, Castello Aragonese (Aragonese Castle) and the bridge that connects it to the island, the town of Ischia Ponte in Ischia, Italy offers peace, quiet, and a bit of that Old World so many people talk about when reminiscing about Italian travel experiences. That is all true, unless you visit Ischia Ponte while Baby Boy is there.
Dozing off in his stroller, he somehow caught a second wind, screamed, and woke up my friends’ daughter about 10 minutes before we were scheduled to have lunch at one of those lovely restaurants I was talking about above. First, he ran on the bridge screaming and crying as though I was kidnapping him. In fact, in the photo above I had just caught him and turned him toward the boats and scenery in the hopes that the tears would stop. There was absolutely no explanation for this sudden fit of rage. I’ve learned that this is perfectly normal behavior when you’re two years old and have parents who each speak a different language and you can’t communicate anything in either one.
Whether it was the language or something else that took over my son’s body in Ischia Ponte, I’ll never know. But once we arrived at lunch, he had completely lost his mind. I mean it seemed to me that his head was literally spinning all the way around and that he would never ever be able to make a peep that wasn’t at the Metallica level of volume. Every tourist in the joint was staring at us – or at least that is how it seemed to me, the American mamma – even though we were in a secluded room all to ourselves. Banish the people with babies is the philosophy around here (at least during the tourist season and when tourists are around because many Italians do adore children, while other people just don’t). And my son proved why it must be so on that very day.
I picked him up and brought him outside, once again heading toward the bridge, in the hopes that he would either calm down or take that much-needed nap, so I could return to the treats at the table, which included muscles and bruschetta and olives and sardines. When Baby Boy’s making like a lunatic and screaming in public, I like to tell people that he’s training his lungs and someday he will be a serious singer or swimmer. But really he’s just being a pia (it’s pronounced p-ee-ah and it’s my cousin’s word for pain in the a–, which he jokingly uses to talk about his teenage daughter when she’s picking out which outfit to wear anywhere). On this occasion, Baby Boy was being a pia and I was trying to get him to sleep, so I was swaying him on my hip and singing lullabies, such as “God Bless America” and “Proud to be an American.” You can see where my head is at. Still, this usually works like a charm. Not today.
So, I returned to the restaurant to see what course my friends were up to. There was a beautiful swordfish, grilled and fried calamari, and my bruschetta and muscles still on the table. I tried to feed Baby Boy the bruschetta. Tomatoes and bread always cheer me up, especially around here. He spit it in my face. I decided to eat it myself post spit and all. All you other parents out there, don’t you dare say, “Ewwww,” because I know you’ve done the same or you would if the tomatoes and bread were as good as they are in Ischia. I gulped down a few of those delicious muscles and a couple of fried calamari as I picked up baby and split again. Again, we headed toward the bridge. I was certain the other people in town watching me with my son were commenting on how the American mom can’t do anything right. They might have a point. Their kids weren’t carrying on and on and on like Baby Boy. And in that moment, like all mothers the world over, I felt guilt and shame rise inside me like a flame in a fire.
Then, when I was holding Baby Boy’s flailing body against my chest, and he was still crying and screaming as though the world was about to literally come to an end, I thought, “Well, at least we’re in a Catholic country. There must be someone around who could perform an exorcism on the spot.” Just as this flashed into my head, Baby Boy let me put him back in the stroller and within minutes he fell asleep. Finally. It was, of course, the very moment that we were leaving Ischia Ponte for my friends had finished the meal. Of course.
Before my husband and I brought Baby Boy to Ischia for nine months, I gave a lot of thought to how he would adjust. What I did not think about was my own adjustment. Parenting in a different country – especially when surrounded by natives with different cultural ideas about how to raise a child – can be a challenge. I wasn’t anticipating that. Not at all. Trying to be a perfect mom is even more impossible in the Boot than it is in the United States. Recently, I wrote all about my struggles in “A Day in the Life of an Italian Mamma,” an installment of Our Paesani on ItaliansRus.com. Read it. Some problems are universal.
Pinch me because I still feel like I’m dreaming after an amazing time in Ischia (yes, for those of you who know my true feelings for the island, you read that correctly) with my friends and their daughter, who is just about three months older than Baby Boy. They left on Friday, and I have had that twinge of emptiness in the pit of my stomach, the one I always get when I say good-bye to the ones I love, ever since. Still, I have the memories of their vacation. And Memorial Day weekend allowed me to make like a tourist myself for a bit. One of the best experiences we shared was a tour by Franco of Ischia Taxi.
Even though I’ve been visiting Ischia since I was 2, I always seem to learn something new when I head out into the island. This time was no different. Thanks to Franco, I learned the overlook, whose view is in the photo above, is a hot spot for guys to bring the ladies with whom they’d like to share a kiss (and something more, but they must feign being gentlemen). This was educational to me because my husband brought me here the first time I visited Ischia after we started dating. You can bet with that beautiful setting, he snagged a kiss – nothing more than a kiss, though, so no worries mamma and papa.
Franco also taught me that there’s a museum in Ischia featuring fish fossils, which were found on top of Mount Epomeo, Ischia’s highest point. You might be wondering, as were we, “How on earth could a fish end up on top of a mountain?” Well, Ischia was a volcano. When it erupted, Epomeo was elevated above the ocean. Those fish that were swimming on what would become Epomeo could not survive without the ocean water, they died, and presumably time and the lava, preserved their remains, thus the fossils. It’s not quite the scientific explanation, but it makes perfect sense, no? Indeed, you do learn something new everyday.
What was so lovely about this two-hour giro dell’isola (island tour) were the visits to various landmarks. While the babies slept – cozy in their car seats in the van taxi – my friends were able to stop and see another overlook that had them view Naples and Mount Vesuvius from Ischia, Forio’s Soccorso church made famous in the movie Avanti and by Pope John Paul II’s visit about a decade ago, the famous Lacco Ameno fungo, a giant rock that naturally formed and juts more than six feet out of the ocean and looks like a mushroom, views of thermal spas, Giardini Poseidon and Negombo, and Sant’ Angelo, an old fishing village turned tourist must-see.
Of course, they also stopped at make-out point, where Franco insisted they share a smooch. When our camera broke and we lost almost all the pictures from the tour, Franco, who drove us to visit La Mortella Gardens the next day, brought them back to make out all over again. This time he had them pose Titanic-style to boot. It was all very Italian. Is that service or what?
Once a landfill, Overpeck Park in Bergen County, New Jersey is now one of my happy places. And before we left fair New Jersey for Italy in April, we took Baby Boy for a stroll there. The charming wooden bridge for walking and autos is now a lovely symbol of the land. Englewood, Leonia, Palisades Park, Ridgefield Park, and Teaneck donated hundreds of acres of land surrounding Overpeck Creek about 50 years ago to create this park. It features walking paths, a dog park, tennis courts, baseball fields, and even an equestrian area with horses for riding. There are tracks, a canoe/kayak launch, and a fishing area, not to mention a playground for kids.
An oasis in the middle of a county that often seems more city than suburb, Overpeck has even recently attracted a pair of American eagles. (I, along with the rest of New Jersey, am hoping the eagles make it.) Bergen County announced May 10 that more improvements are coming to the park. The County is receiving a $500,000 grant to complete a missing link of pedestrian paths traversing the park and will connect all the venues within it, according to the announcement.
There’s so much you can do at Overpeck. But I have to admit my favorite pastime at the park is simple walking. I especially enjoy a visit in the spring, when it is still not too hot and all the flowers and plants are in bloom. I take photos by the pretty trees dressed in pink or white flowers, people watch, encounter the many dogs and babies, and take a deep breath. Bet those who knew the land as a landfill never imagined it could be a place of such peace and beauty.
Baby Boy’s little cousin calls him Dragon because he’s usually a spitfire without words. She builds tall towers with blocks for herself because she’s a princess, and Baby Boy comes running to knock them down. She yells, “Dragon, Dragon!” Then, the two of them giggle and fall to the ground together before arguing over one toy or another. It’s love and hate – but mostly love – with those two. On the day we left New Jersey for a nine-month stay in Italy, they had one last battle in which he tore out a chunk of her beautiful blond locks and she bit his back – and left a mark to remember her by. In the end, they hugged each other tightly. Baby Boy screamed when we tried to put him in the car headed for the airport. It was as if he understood he’d be leaving behind his best friend and worst, but favorite, enemy.
On the plane, the kind stewardess, who is a mom to a three-year old, tried to give him the kind of milk that comes from powder, so it lasts longer. He spit it in all our faces. Then, he cried – yelled actually – for about an hour while everyone else was trying to sleep. I could get him to calm down for a moment or two in the restroom, but we couldn’t stay in there forever. Finally, he cried himself to sleep. It wasn’t so bad after that. He drank water, not milk to which he has a serious addiction.
When we arrived at my in-laws’ home in Ischia, he was greeted by his three aunts, their husbands, his four cousins, and Nonna, all of whom live in the same house with us. Even though he met everyone and spent three months in Ischia last year, he wouldn’t greet them. He stayed in my arms, hesitantly smiled when one of them tried to kiss or hug him. He was, however, keen to grab the ball and start kicking it to everyone in the garden out back. And he really appreciated the colored pencils that his relatives had put in the playroom they set up for him, replete with kid-sized table and chairs, a toddler bicycle, and other various toys. Still, this 19-month-old wasn’t quite the Dragon yet. He wasn’t knocking anything down, and there was no fight in him.
We figured he was desperate for a fix of milk. When we handed him his cup full of fresh milk that my mother-in-law had purchased just for him, he took a sip, spit it out, and threw the cup at us. He did, however, eat up the yummy Nutella filled cake with a Toy Story design on it that his aunt made just for his arrival. But it wasn’t enough of an effort for him to go to her, even though she had bathed him a hundred times the year before. In fact, she was the one, who helped him – not to mention me – get through a month-long plight of diarrhea that he faced on our last trip. He didn’t seem to remember or he remembered and wanted to forget.
Maybe he was tired. It was a long, long trip, after all. So, we went to sleep. And Baby Boy slept an unbelievable and unprecedented 16 hours. This is the Dragon. He has never slept 16 consecutive minutes, never mind 16 consecutive hours. By the next week, he still wasn’t coming around. Whenever his relatives tried to make a move toward him, he would hold onto my husband and I as if his life were in danger. He would sometimes smack their shoulders or faces to get them to move away, and he would always say, “No, no, no, no, no…”
I was getting embarrassed and hurt for the in-laws. I could tell they were disappointed, too. They kept saying that he should be used to the Old World again already. I knew different. He was in a different country, where everyone spoke a different language (even if it is one he has grown up around), and he left behind all his stuff in his house where only three of us lived, and I was certain he missed his American relatives, too. It would take more than a few days to get used to so much change.
At the end of the first week, Baby Boy and I curled up in bed for a Sunday afternoon nap, and he began burning up. It was day one of a week of fever. The Dragon was on fire himself. As it turns out he had an ear infection. His eyes seemed to be infected, too, and he had puss on his throat. He began taking antibiotics, which would give him – you guessed it – more diarrhea. His bottom turned as red as the tomatoes that rise like Jack’s beanstalk around here. Now, he wouldn’t even get in the bath tub because it burned to the touch and especially when washing with soap. The only person he wanted, of course, was me, his mommy.
Despite having to work nights (keeping American hours for my editors), I was happy to hold him in my arms and dote on him. He seemed to need some coddling and cuddling. And I was sad, too. I missed our home for just the three of us back in N.J. I missed working days. I missed my own mommy and papa’, not to mention the princess and the rest of the gang in our American fairy tale. But I didn’t want him to suffer, and I was worried this would turn into another month – or even longer – of sickness in Italy. We were both heart sick enough. We didn’t need an actual ailment, too.
There was some good news. Baby Boy started to take to the Italian milk and we were putting probiotic in it to help his stomach deal with the change in country and antibiotics. Soon, he was drinking milk with pleasure, relishing every sip as he had the American version. A week later when the Giro d’Italia came to town, we took him outside for the first time since he fell ill. He had gone a whole day without fever. I put him in his Dragon shirt (see above) and we first headed to church to say a prayer for him and for us.
In the photo above, he was still a sad, little boy. Every once in a while, he would have a tantrum, and he would throw himself onto the cold tile floor with tears streaming down his face and scream. Then, he’d jump up, run into a dark room, lay his head on the bed, and cry some more. Often, nothing seemed to lead up to one of these episodes. We’d have no idea what set him off. Sometimes, he’d look as pensive as an adult trying to decide his future. Once he asked for Nonna and ran to the computer, signaling he wanted to talk to his American nonna on Skype. When she wasn’t available, he got angry. When she finally arrived, he wouldn’t talk to her and yelled, “No, no, no” to her, too. When his cousins, the princess and her baby brother, came to visit him on the computer, he would cry and run away or just ignore them.
Yesterday, we had a break through. He still won’t take a bath, so we’ve had to fan water from the bidet onto his fanny. While the odor he is now giving off is starting to get to us, he doesn’t seem to mind. But he offered a piece of bread to his zio and giggled when he tickled him. He played with his older cousins and aunts for hours and even let them feed him. And he let all his relatives kiss him good morning today. He ran through the house and laughed and babbled. Now, he sleeps peacefully in his stroller after a long walk in Ischia. The Dragon seems to have made a comeback. If only we could get the princess over here to build a tower!
God blessed me with a boy, which means that I don’t get to put him in fluffy dresses or pretty little tutus. Well, I could. But I’d feel guilty about it – and he doesn’t seem like he’d appreciate those sorts of clothes. Still, I have always loved playing dress up – so every so often I force him into an outfit that he hates. The one bit of good news is that my little man has a shoe obsession, and he would wear his dress shoes every day if he could, so he doesn’t mind them.
Last Sunday, before he came down with a fever and ear infection (yes, I think he’s allergic to Ischia, Italy, where we just arrived, too), I dressed him up in his finest, replete with bow tie. Most of the outfit came from Crazy 8, which is one of my new favorite kid’s clothing shops. His Italian relatives got a big kick out of it. Of course, the clothes didn’t stop Baby Boy from running, jumping, or digging in the dirt with his hands. (See below.) Boy, does Mamma have a lot of work to do to remove stains. I’m having a hard time learning my way around Italian stain removers, so I’ll be sure to share whatever secrets I come across once I figure out the ways of Italian laundry.
In the meantime, I recommend you dress up your boy in bow ties and vests, suits and overalls. Put on newsboy caps and fedoras. And take lots and lots of pictures. They won’t look so cute in these clothes in a couple of years, and you will no longer be their stylist either.
When Lydia, an African American attending The Learning Experience, an educational child care facility in Wayne, N.J., told her classmates that she wanted to be a princess, they crushed her dreams. They told her she couldn’t possibly be a princess because of the color of her skin and the length of her hair. The staff at daycare overheard what was happening and turned the experience into a teaching moment for everyone. Their explanation about what it means to be a true princess showed the kids that skin color and hair are not a factor in someone’s character or abilities.
Lydia’s mom, Rita Hutchings, thought the lesson was a good one, so she turned it into a children’s storybook. With adorable illustrations by Julie Bryant and colorful backgrounds on each page, the story will capture the attention of most kids. I have an energetic 18-month-old son, so it was hard to get him to sit still to hear a story from a pink book about princesses, but I read it to him anyway. He ran around the room and played T-ball as I read ever louder, but he might have been listening because he did point at the last page.
I will read it to him again and again, and as he gets older, I’m sure he’ll get the message. I want him to know that anyone he meets can be a princess, a ball player, an artist, a scientist, or the future president of the United States. I don’t want him to tell anyone any different. He will not be a dream crusher. After all, if kids believe in themselves (much like us adults), they can do anything to which they set their mind.
Parents, you might consider picking up this book, which is available on Amazon, to teach your children this important lesson. It’s a quick read and great to bring along on a plane or train when traveling. I just might be packing it for our long haul to Italy.
You might also use this opportunity to check out The Learning Experience, which offers care for children as young as six weeks old and has the goal of helping each child reach his or her mental potential. It has 60 locations in New Jersey, and it seems to be seeking out new franchises. I have never been to one of the facilities, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness or quality. But I do like what I read on the Web site, and I might do some more research on it in the future. I’ll keep you posted. And please do the same for me.
We recently attended a birthday party for a four-year-old boy at Outragehisss…Pets in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., which is close to the New Jersey border. Outragehisss…Pets offers birthday parties, live animal shows, and educational programs. What’s great about this birthday is that the kids actually learned something and got to have a close encounter with all sorts of interesting animals, all in the name of celebrating. Before you enter the room for the show, you can visit with the animals who are behind glass cages. The arctic foxes were curled up and sleeping, and Baby Boy enjoyed yelling to get the attention of the armadillos.
During the show, which lasts about an hour, my son got so excited to see some of the animals that I had to take him out of the room. At 18 months old, he does not really know about his inside voice. But the older kids behaved beautifully, and they pretty much got to pet each animal that the presenter put on display. Baby Boy, with the help of mamma guiding his hand, was able to pet a couple of the animals, too. The finale featured all the kids in the room holding up an enormous snake. Baby Boy was roaming the halls at that point, but I hear it was an amazing photo op for the guests, and the birthday boy was grinning from ear to ear.
After the show, guests were escorted to another room for refreshments and birthday cake. The birthday boy’s mom put out adorable signs around the food stations that said, “Don’t feed the animals.” She also dressed up the sandwiches (see below) to look like snakes. I offer kudos to the parents for providing cake and cookies but also lots of healthy options, such as fruit. With animals as your theme, there are lots of ways to get creative with the food. You can serve fruit in a watermelon carved to look like a shark or put eyes and tails on oranges, for example. I love the look of all these dessert and candy tables I’ve been seeing at kids’ parties lately, but if my son or niece eat anymore icing, they might turn into sugar. Once it’s in front of them, it’s hard to get it away from them. So, if you have healthy options that match your theme, all the better.
The kids played a couple of games, picked up their party favors, which included a wooden snake that has become one of Baby Boy’s favorite toys, and animal crackers, and we headed home. At two hours, it was the perfect amount of time for a kid’s party. It ended just before they all started to lose their minds. Baby Boy napped on the way there and on the way home, which was a gift for mamma and papa’. In conclusion, when the food is good and the party is educational and fun, then it’s a happy birthday for everyone.
We’ve been around many, many malls, and we’ve decided that each offers something special in the way of Easter fun. The bunny at Paramus Park was a bit lame in her purple apron, but the fountain with glittery eggs offers a great photo op (for which you don’t have to pay, by the way). See above. Garden State Plaza probably has a great bunny, but you have to swim through big crowds – first with your car in the parking lot – and then on foot once inside. It’s too much of a bother, especially with Baby Boy, who has enough energy to light the state. Jersey Gardens offers bargain shopping and a lovely little corner with the bunny, who is super duper friendly. Baby Boy, who cried with Santa, jumped into this bunny’s arms all by himself. And he didn’t want to say good-bye. Of course, it cost me $22 just to get three photos of the two of them. And the crowds are pretty nasty there, too, on the weekends. We walked miles to get from the car, which was parked by the movie theater, to the actual mall. Ugh! Still, Easter is almost here, and Baby Boy has gotten to experience the joy of the season in his home state. He’s growing into quite the little mall rat (minus the laziness and bad hair), and I love it.
Anyone know of any good places or events for kids celebrating Passover in New Jersey? I’d love to hear about them and share them with readers, so let me know.