Yesterday may have been Mother’s Day, but today is the good day. This mamma was able to kick things off with a shower and deodorant. I even caught a few episodes of my new favorite show, HBO’s Veep, on demand. Baby Boy is sleeping, well, like a baby, which almost never happens. When you work at home, the first thing you have to give up when your child can’t sleep is the shower. Lemme tell you something, there’s nothing like a hot shower to put you in a better mood. So, today is definitely my mother’s day. Anyone who will be around me today – which is mainly my mom, my 2-year-old son, 4-year-old niece, and nearly 2-year-old nephew – can thank me later for the deodorizing.Wait, other than my mom, the people who are usually around me are far smellier than I am. If I can get them to hang one of those perfume thingees from the car on their pants, then it will be a really great day.
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.
For those who are willing to venture outside New Jersey (and go to a New York mall, where you’ll pay tax on clothing), there is the ginormous Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y. Frankly, it’s so close to Jersey towns, such as Northvale, that it is hard to avoid it. With all sorts of sit-down restaurants, including an IHOP, food court, carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating rink, bounce house, movie theater, IMAX theater, and more stores than you can handle, there’s never a loss of things to do at this place. You could move in and still not get to all the events and activities. On Munchkin Mondays, select Mondays throughout the year, families are encouraged to bring the kids for special events and coupons just for them. (The last one was for St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.) At the moment, your kid can visit with the Easter Bunny and pose for a photo. Of course, the pictures are outrageously expensive (it cost 20 bucks for two stinkin’ prints). Still, you won’t be able to get over that smile, so you’ll be gouged and happy. Baby Boy is going to visit with the bunny again at the Bergen County Zoo on Saturday (should the weather hold up), and there are other malls getting in on the act, of course. These are the other places you can take a picture with the big bunny himself:
Garden State Plaza – You can even get a fastpass to get further ahead in the line.
Paramus Park – On certain days, you can even get a picture of your pet with the Easter Bunny.
Bergen Town Center – There is a VIP line for those who purchase their pictures online first.
As I’ve mentioned before mall hopping is the thing to do when you’re a mom of a toddler and the weather is still stinky here in New Jersey. So, until spring decides to grace us with its presence, we’re visiting the malls in northern New Jersey, arguably the mall capital of the world. Next on our list is The Outlets at Bergen Town Center. In the not so distant past, this was known as the Bergen Mall, or in my family as the dirt mall. It had been one of our favorites when I was a kid. There was this round, majestic fountain, where we’d throw in pennies and make a wish. Sometimes, we would have ice cream. Sometimes, we would have pizza. Always, we would seek out the sales at Stern’s. But by the time I was in high school, the place had become a relic of the past. To boot, there were all sorts of let’s-just-say “interesting characters” hanging out there. The only reason anyone would stop by was for the GAP Outlet and CVS. Times have changed. The place is sparkling and new. And it has some great benefits for parents of little ones:
- Outlet stores means outlet prices. You’ll find Carter’s, Gymboree, and Disney Store outlets, not to mention Target. Oh, and the GAP Outlet is still there – and it’s been renovated and moved, too. There’s also a Whole Foods if your child likes to drink a gallon of milk when out on the town. Maybe that’s just my little milkaholic.
- The fish tanks are a great distraction. When Baby Boy starts to lose his mind, which happens frequently when we’re in public, we need something to calm him down pronto. If the gallon of milk doesn’t work, a big tropical fish tank will. And it did when we were at this mall last Friday (see photo above).
- There are some good eats. Bobby Flay’s burgers, a pizza joint, and Subway have all worked out well for Baby Boy and me. I know burgers are not so healthy, but once in a while, you just gotta, especially when you live part of the year in Italy, where the beef has an aftertaste that I still can’t identify. You can get healthier fare at the pizza place and Subway for moms who are concerned.
- The seating areas are rather large and placed all over the center aisle of the mall. I’ve relaxed here when Baby Boy has fallen asleep in his stroller, a rarity that has me shouting, “Amen!” and hearing harps and chirping doves. Bring your Kindle along and you might really feel as though you’re in Heaven.
- If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a show. A group of teenagers in a tap dance troupe performed for Baby Boy and a crowd at the mall last Friday. Baby Boy was delightfully mesmerized, which means this Italian Mamma was just plain delighted.
I’m loving the superhero T-shirts with capes that are now available at Target stores and Target.com. I picked up this Superman one (see photo) for my son and nephew. They cost $12 and make for super adorable super heroes. In some stores, you can get Batman, too, but I’m not finding it online any longer. The shirts also make for fun additions at playtime. Who doesn’t want to pretend to have super powers? And a cape on anyone 7 and under is still cute and not yet creepy.
Parents are always asking me about what kinds of clothes to pack for family vacations; well, these would be perfect as you jet off on spring break. And this would also be a delightful treat in an Easter basket. There are never enough options for boys to play dress up. Of course, my son only obliged with the cape for a short while. Then, he pulled it off. It’s attached by velcro, so no worries about ripping. You can check out the cape in the photo below. Just make sure your kid knows he can’t really fly. We’re still working on that with my nephew and Baby Boy.
On most days, while I’m chained to my desk, my son is downstairs playing with his cousins, a male nine months younger than he is and a female who is almost 4. Although I’m distracted with work, I can hear them loud and clear, especially the boys. Don’t worry, my niece gets in on the yelling, too, from time to time. But the boys act in ways that are unexpected, inexplicable, and downright strange.
Indeed, these two little men are a mystery wrapped in a riddle that I’m trying to solve. I wasn’t expecting to have to be a detective when I was told that I was growing a boy inside me. After all, I have a brother (father to the nephew and niece) who is 15 months younger than I am, more male cousins than I can count, including one who grew up with my brother and me, and I was friends with boys, mostly boys, from elementary school to college. Heck, I’m married to a man. Still, I never realized just how little I understood about the opposite sex.
Here are my observations that are not based on science at all:
1. Boys bang their heads against the floor and walls with wild abandon no matter how much it hurts. My nephew will actually laugh and bang his head against the wall, the refrigerator, and the floor to make different sounds. I’m not writing about gentle taps. I mean ramming his head hard to make the noise as loud as possible. My son finds this hilarious and will sometimes partake but is more likely to bang his head against rigid surfaces when he’s mad about something. Still, the head banging continues.
2. There’s no such thing as using your inside voice. Instead, screaming replaces normal talk. And screaming at one another is not a sign of argument; it is a game. In the photo above, you can see one of the screaming matches that my nephew and Baby Boy find as fun as a day at the zoo. The louder, the better. If we adults can’t take it, even better still.
3. Wrestling is the other form of communication. Baby Boy has delayed speech, which we’re working on. My nephew is on target but is still far less verbal than his sister was at his age. When screaming doesn’t suffice, they wrestle one another. Who gets the toy car now? Who gets the first dish of chicken? Who gets to sit on Nonna’s lap?
Take it to the floor. They pull each other’s hair (not to mention ours), sit on each other, kick and roll around like wrestlers in the WWE. It sometimes takes two of us adults to pull them apart. When we do, they seem completely fine, not even angry at one another. In fact, it’s as if they think we’re crazy for not letting the mayhem continue. It’s just the way they settle things and communicate, no big deal. Huh? Occasionally, my nephew, who is still smaller for now, cries for his mom or Nonna. But most of the time it’s like nothing happened. Nothing at all, at least for them.
4. They are completely destructive. I gave my niece a baby doll and she cuddled it in her arms. My son sometimes does that. But often he holds it by the foot, swings it around, and throws it across the room. We do art projects. And my niece will gently hold a paintbrush and try to make her project look beautiful – and tell us that is what she’s doing. The boys, especially Baby Boy who is a little bit older, will enjoy the work all the same. But they will squeeze the paint tube until it dies or crumple the paper before gluing it to the other piece. Sometimes, within moments of getting a new toy, they break it. Sometimes, these toys look like they’ve been run over by a monster truck. How do little hands manage that kind of damage?
With those same little hands, these little boys have stolen our hearts. They fist pump, and caress their mamma’s face. They give the strongest hugs and their mysterious behavior, although confounding, make life all the more interesting and better than we could have ever imagined. And I’m honored God chose to bless me with this detective badge.
“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.
Halloween is another one of those cultural exchanges that I’ve been having with family and friends as I continue to pass my time living in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples in Italy. Italy knows not of Halloween. Its people think they know Halloween because nowadays one or two stores have a pumpkin in the window, they cook with pumpkin here, and a few shopkeepers hand out candy to the kids on the 31st. C’mon. That’s barely one-tenth of an American Halloween celebration. Rather than just miss one of my favorite holidays or stew in my jealousy over all my American Facebook friends and their pumpkin-picking, costume-wearing, party-throwing Halloween amazingness, I decided to force the holiday – the real holiday – on my Italian peeps.
Part 1 in this quest required I make all sorts of crafts with the help of 2-year-old Baby Boy. He’s gotten pretty good with the ol’ Elmer’s Glue if I do say so myself. This is a Halloween party for my toddler son, so the decorations are not scary. We had my mom ship us some Halloween paper plates and cups with a friendly ghost, black cat, bat, and spider on it, so we used that as the inspiration for our projects.
First up were the tissue paper spiders, like the one in the photo above. Everyone from Martha Stewart to your local PTA mom makes those tissue paper pom-poms or flowers for parties these days. I buy tissue in bulk from the dollar store and never leave the States without it. I’ve used them the traditional way hanging from a ceiling, as flowers in a vase, and last Halloween I turned them into Monsters by attaching giant googly eyes. Thinking back on that stroke of genius, I decided to turn them into spiders this year, by attaching pipe cleaner legs (by running them through the rubber band at the center of the “flower” and then securing them with the orange ribbon that also serves to hang them) in addition to the eyes.
I cut eyes out of a black and green spider from a set of foam shapes my mom had sent us from the States. I then attached a couple of googly eyes to each spider. Then, I tied an elastic string from one end to another and voila. I did the same for the black and orange cats in that same set. See below.
Second, I had to get Baby Boy even more involved than helping me drop a little glue where needed. So, I pulled out his paint set and some paper. I painted his hands black and had him make his prints on white paper so that his palms and thumbs overlapped and his fingers were printed in opposite directions. This created the look of a spider, which he thought needed a few fingerprints of orange, too. And we glued on more of those googly eyes. Mamma made a spider web and the words Boo using orange and black construction paper and there you have it. I won’t take credit for this project because similar versions of this one are all over the Internet, which is where I got the idea. My sister-in-law also has done the ghosts using her kids’ footprints in white. Very cute as well!
By the way, Baby Boy also made that pumpkin you spy underneath his hand-print spider, reports the proud Mamma. Of course, with 13 relatives expected to be on hand for the party I’m throwing on the 31st, two Halloween-inspired shades are not enough. I made the masks below using a template from a make-your-own mask kit that my mother had sent us. I just traced the mask from the kit onto foam sheets and cut them out and then added the witch’s hats, which were in that same set of foam shapes as the others.
And finally I used another one of the shapes in that set to make a pumpkin mask. All I did was cut out the eyes and nose and add eyebrows and candy corn fangs.
Coming up on Friday – Italy Meet Halloween Part 2, where you’ll see our party for yourself and discover if the Italians bought into the Halloween hype.
Around Christmas time, many of you find that little elf from the shelf in various parts of your home, including the kitchen sink, the sofa, and even the toilet. Well, Mickey Mouse has been playing similar tricks on us in the middle of August. The story goes back to January while we were vacationing in Florida. My then one-year-old son tried to steal this doll at the entrance of Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. I made him put Mickey back on the shelf. But his aunt caught wind of his wish to take Mickey home, so she bought him one. Ever since then, Mickey and Baby Boy have been inseparable. Now that we’re in Italy, he brings Mickey to bed with him, in the garden and down the slide with him, and he has even fed Mickey yogurt for breakfast. Mickey seems to be another member of the family. Much to mommy’s surprise, the mouse shows up just about everywhere. The other day, he was taking Baby Boy’s bike for a ride (see photo above). And Mickey even took a nap all by himself (see photo below). If only he could teach Baby Boy to do the same! What’s nice is that Mickey is a constant comfort to Baby Boy even as we travel. We keep uprooting the poor little guy (from New Jersey to Florida to Ischia), but Mickey Mouse can go wherever he goes. For now, he’s his best friend. Since Mickey has become our travel companion, I decided that every once in a while in this here blog, I will share photos of his journey. Where do you think Mickey will show up next?
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.