ITALIAN MEMES – POSTCARDS FROM ITALY
DIARIO DI MAMMA
What makes me a mother? Certainly, the obvious – my 4-year-old son who is literally jumping off the walls as I write this – gave me the title when he was born. Some would argue the child I lost due to miscarriage at 8 weeks of pregnancy before I had my son had already made me a mother. But I’m well aware that biology isn’t qualification enough. In fact, DNA isn’t even a necessity.
Most of the time, I still feel like I’m interviewing for the job, the most important of my life. What’s crazier is that the great decider needs me to wipe his bottom. Often, I think my son might just be taking other applications when I’m not looking. It definitely does not help matters that he says, “I wanna new mamma,” whenever he is overtired and I prevent him from doing things like jumping on the bed, jumping on his cousins Wrestlemania style, or going to school wearing nothing but underwear, Spider-Man sneakers, and a smile.
In fairness, he does have cute dimples on both sides of his body. Oops, that last line might get me fired 10 years from now should I ever actually win the job. Better cut it out.
Getting pregnant after a miscarriage is like what I imagine it to be like walking on a high wire. Once you’re up there, you get this amazing rush, a thrill like no other. But you want that feeling to go away because you know what it’s like to fall and fall hard. You can’t bear the thought of experiencing that kind of crash again because your heart just can’t take it. You have no choice but to walk ever so gingerly until you make it across to the other side. Until you are there, you hide your belly. You publicly avoid all baby talk. You wait as long as humanly possible to tell people and say out loud to them that you’re expecting. In secret, you tell the growing seed inside you that you cannot wait for his or her arrival and that you already are in love. But you won’t allow yourself to think of yourself as a mother. Not yet.
That kind of thinking spills into the days and years after your baby – the one you managed to carry to the end – arrives. Somehow, you’re still on the tight rope, unsure if you’re ever getting off. In the darkest of night, while I’m alone with my thoughts and my son is rhythmically breathing like a song as he dreams nearby, I wonder if God was right the first time. Did He take my first baby away because He thought my job application to be mother would be rejected and that this second baby was mistakenly sent to me, someone destined to fail? After all, I needed help from his teacher to get him potty trained, I let him play with a plastic spatula when he was 10 months old and he broke it and cut his hand, which meant he needed stitches that he ate through within 24 hours, and I still haven’t convinced him to eat kale or really anything that is green. Of course, I don’t abuse him and manage to bathe him, feed him, nurse him when he’s ill, and all the basics.
And I’ve tried to get him the help he needs at every turn. But still I don’t feel like I’m doing so great on this now lifelong job interview to which I’ve consented. He had delayed speech, and we don’t know why. He doesn’t have a disorder or previous trauma that could explain it. In the pitch black of my bedroom on one of those nights, I can easily convince myself that his difficulty communicating is all. my. fault. Finally, I’m a frigging freelance writer. I frigging majored in journalism and minored in women’s studies. Who does that? Someone who doesn’t give a sh.. about ever earning a living. I was going to be an activist writer forging forward to change the world. Oh that makes for a terrible mom! If only I had known.
Yes, my husband has a job and contributes, but what kind of financial support am I providing? I find myself telling all the soon-to-be college kids in the family to abandon their dreams and seek out degrees in surefire money makers. Sell your soul and go to Wall Street. Ok, maybe that’s taking it too far. But at least avoid a dying industry, such as publishing. After all, you’re going to want kids, who are going to have to eat, sleep in a house with a roof (preferably one that doesn’t leak), and maybe even go to college. Dare they need braces or an SAT tutor! No activist writer can afford all that. I only wish I had abandoned my dreams and sold out sooner. Maybe I’d be doing better with the checklist that I imagine my son holds in his 4-year-old brain while assessing my qualifications for the job.
Then again, maybe I’m not giving him enough credit. One night after suggesting he would prefer a robot mommy to me, he called me over to him. He asked for a cup of milk, which I brought to him. “I like you, Mommy,” he said. “I wanna play your hair.” And he gently stroked my hair as he slowly drank. We were both silent. For a moment, I thought, maybe he’s giving me the job once and for all. Maybe I’m more qualified than I think. Maybe he just needs my attention.
When he put down the cup of milk and curled up into my arms and I carried all 40 pounds of him upstairs as if he was a newborn, he asked me to read him a book, one of his favorites from the Pete the Cat series. We got cozy in his big boy bed, and we laughed about the size of Pete’s ginormous sandwich, and I reminded Enzo how important it is to share toys, food, ourselves with others. “Okay, Mommy,” he said. Then, he asked for “Spooky C’mon,” which means he wants to shut off all the lights and drift to sleep while tugging at my shirt. Asleep like an angel, I looked at him and realized I have the one qualification that guarantees I earn the title of mom: Love.
I love him from the deepest depths of my soul. It is like no other love I have ever known. My love is so strong and so overwhelming that I can almost feel it spilling out of me, especially whenever he decides – unprompted – to hug me or say, “I love you, Mommy.” Every single decision I have made since the day I knew I was expecting him has been to help his life, to do better for him.
In reality, I am the boss in this relationship. After all, if he truly ruled, we’d be living on chicken nuggets and Nutella, clothes would become optional (unless Buzz Lightyear appeared anywhere on the fabric in which case you’d be legally obligated to wear them), and I’d never get paid anything other than kisses. The point is, however, that I know I am still earning the title of mother. I’m sure that I’m going to screw up once in a while. In fact, the greatest challenges lie ahead. I plan on putting off the teenage years as long as possible. But this overflow of adoration will help me ride the waves and do right by my boy, for it is love that is making me a mother. It is love that wins.
DIARIO DI MAMMA
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.
5. Just because I can whip dough into deliciousness at home, doesn’t mean I can’t whip the business into shape, too.
4. My child will not be svatticato (lazy) or cattivo (bad). And my child will love mamma per sempre (forever).
3. My hands, which smell like bleach, lemon, and garlic, indeed define me as a hard worker, mother, wife, and matriarch.
2. No matter my age, my breasts are like melons from Tuscany.
1. I am Italiana, hear me rooooar.
DIARIO DI MAMMA
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.
Gloria Steinem – not to mention cold hard facts – tell me that women get more radicalized as they get older. Well, duh! That’s because when we’re young, we are certain the world is going to fall at our feet. But it almost never does. Worse, we find ourselves falling more than we ever imagined and far more than is fair. Lord, pick me up already. I’ve been waiting some time now.
When I was 4, I asked to play bank with my father. I told him, “You be the teller because I’m the president.” I was supposed to get even louder than the the middle schooler who rallied her classmates to start recycling, the high schooler who was MVP of the debate team, and the college student, who served as news editor at the university’s independent student newspaper and was undeniably determined and fearless. I was supposed to be a millionaire journalist by now. (When the laughter dies down, I will admit that, yes, my older self realizes this is an obvious oxymoron. Ok, ok, get your giggles out.)
Still, the downward trajectory of my bank account is the least disturbing part about my present as it compares to my past and what I believed my future would be. I have been silenced. Some of it is my own intimidation. After graduating college, my voice was drowned out by the authority all around me. I wouldn’t share my opinions as freely for fear of upsetting superiors, who signed my paychecks and controlled the future of my career in many ways. That was my bad. I should have yelled louder than that noise. But I didn’t. I found myself getting quieter and quieter until one day I found myself mouthing the words with nothing coming out. When that happens, the ink runs dry, the keyboard quits.
I kept telling myself as long as I was able to write for a living that nothing else mattered. But the words mattered, my lost voice mattered. Instead of settling for whatever money I could amass, I sometimes should have been fighting to write about stuff for which I cared, stuff that mattered more. While I tried to help other young women interested in writing and editing, I should have been a better role model by having the bravery to share my opinion more.
This is not to say that money doesn’t matter. Let’s face it, you need the green stuff to survive now more than ever. You can’t pay your bills with the words on the page unless someone else is willing to pay you for that. We all know how little people want to pay for words nowadays. Yes, I should have been louder and stronger, but I don’t feel badly about having gotten paid for honest work either. In other words, don’t get me wrong, I’m not apologizing for worrying about being able to afford life, including health insurance and caring for my son.
There it is. My son changed the game on me. For one, the money has had to become more important. Kids cost money and anyone who tells you different never tried to raise a child to become a well-educated, well-rounded adult. You don’t have a chance at living the sweet life without enough money to pay your bills and come out from under the fog of debt. I’m looking at you, publishers, who won’t pay professional writers their due. And $.01 per word doesn’t count, by the way.
But my son made me a mother, which is the quickest way to getting ignored. Amazingly, as someone emerges from your body – one of the great miracles humans will ever witness – you become completely invisible. I was afraid to tell my editors I was pregnant, and I had the luxury of waiting until nearly the eighth month to tell them because I work from my home office. I could feel my importance deflating, and it’s not really because your attention has to turn to this little creature who relies on you for everything. It was, in large part, because of the reaction people have to mothers in the workplace, even if you’re working remotely.
As long as you keep up your 24-hour work schedule and never mention the baby and they never hear him crying in the background, you’re safe. But it’s hard to keep up that lie. What results is invisibility, and it ain’t no superpower. In the United States, unless you get caught breastfeeding without a cover in public, no one will even look at you, let alone listen to what you have to say. Far too often, you watch your career crumble, especially when you compare the cost of child care to what most mothers actually earn.
At the very same time, my son was growing up and he himself was silent. He had a speech delay and did not start talking until he was almost 4 years old. Once I recognized the problem, I had no choice but to find my voice again. I’m still working on it. But he needs me to be his courageous advocate. A friend of mine recently told me something I already knew but needed to be repeated; she said, “You have to stand up for your child because no one else will.” I need to speak up about his education, his care, his future. I have to talk and my words must be clear and loud, so he will be able to talk. The luxury of silence is no longer. Maybe you can relate.
I kicked off the new year a few weeks ago with my parents and grandparents, and to celebrate we played bowling, ping pong, and sword dueling on the Wii. (To join the rockin’ party, visit the “New Year’s Eve 2011” photo album.) We have to turn my rug around to make an alley for my father to get a running start. He has to bowl as though he actually has the ball in his hands, as opposed to the Wii remote, and he took a major spill on my hard wood floors the first time he played on Christmas. The traction from the rug helps, but he jumps so hard at the end of each run that the house shakes. Still, he usually wins. But on New Year’s Eve, Grandma was the big winner of the night. She was pretty great at bowling strikes and popping the ping pong ball to win points. I, however, earned the title of sword dueling champion. I credit all my pent-up anger for those wins. I just pretend the avatar I’m facing is one of the many enemies I collected like bottle tops in 2010. (Shut up, you all know who you are!) All those enemies sunk into the virtual ocean, baby, and it felt oh so good. Although we were all sore the next day, we had so much fun that I’ve been continuing to Wii with my husband Antonio. I can be a sore loser, however, so I sometimes get a time out. Still, a good time is generally had by all, and my time is better when I win.
Many of you know that I’ve been on a health kick lately, which has me stretching my body for the Wii gods in ways I didn’t think possible and drinking gallons of water and green tea and eating wheat, fruits, and vegetables by the ton. But I can’t give up delicious food (c’mon, you know the wheat tastes like cardboard), and I’ve been experimenting with recipes for special occasions, which is when I’m allowed to cheat a little. When I saw the recipe for this layer cake in the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens, I knew it would be the perfect birthday cake for Mamma Regina. And I think it won points with the ‘rents.
I have to admit that I didn’t follow the recipe to a T. I was a little bit pressed for time (not to mention, lazy). I used Presto cake flour, which includes the baking powder and salt already. I also made four layers instead of five because five would require baking yet one more cake, and it was already almost 11 p.m. (Way past my bedtime!) In the end, I failed to get whole and evaporated milk, both of which were necessary for the icing. So, I used fudge icing from a can that I purchased. I know that was pretty bad. Sorry. I’ll try and do better next time. Still, I think the cakes were moist and tasty with a hint of vanilla. (You can see the cake and Mamma Regina by visiting the “Mamma’s Birthday 2010” photo album.) Of course, the cake could never be as sweet as my Mamma.
We are three days into the new year, and I already like 2010 better than 2009. On the eve of 2009, my cousins Anna, Nino, Damiano, and my Zia Concettina and Zio Raffaele and my parents came to my place to usher in the new year, and I vomited twice within the first hour of our dinner. I drove everyone away real fast with that move. Everyone left and I spent the rest of the night hugging the toilet. I had a terrible stomach flu that lasted two days. I wanted a do over this year, and the family gave it to me. Everyone returned to my house this year — and we made it to midnight this time. Cousin Raffaele joined us, too, which made it extra special. (For pictures, visit “New Year’s Eve 2010” photo album.)
The weekend after 2010 began, I was quite productive. You can check out the blog I wrote for the About.com Newlywed’s site, which includes my most popular stories for the year that had gone by. Now, I’m looking forward to a 2010 full of success and blogs and dialogue with all you readers — and my wonderful family.