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.”
If I didn’t laugh at my situation as an American living in Italy, I would cry. Often. So, I choose to laugh. My sense of humor is often directed toward those strangers in the strada who like to give me parenting “advice.” Basically, they’re telling me that my Americanness makes me the worst parent in the world. Maybe they’re right. What do I know? In any event, I’ve boiled down Italian parenting to a few distinct rules, and I’ve shared those in the most recent Our Paesani, “The Italian Guide to Parenting,” column for ItaliansRus.
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.
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.
Don’t ask me about the food at T-Rex in WDW’s Downtown Disney in Orlando, Fla. I haven’t eaten there but that didn’t stop my husband, son, and me from staying there for about an hour on a recent vacation. The exterior with its dinosaur bones captured Baby Boy’s 2-year-old attention immediately. He wasn’t going to let us pass it by without walking inside. There, he found a baby dinosaur and its mamma moving their heads and arms and roaring and a ceiling full of fun underwater dinosaurs and friends. There was a gift shop loaded with dinosaur goodies that he begged to have. We did not succumb. He left without any new toys, gadgets, or thingamajigs. Amazing, right? Not really. See, just outside the gift shop is a large sandbox, replete with brushes and hidden dinosaur bones for kids to dig up. It’s free to anyone who wants to hang out there. Baby Boy would have stayed there forever if we let him, and it didn’t cost a cent so I thought about it. In fact, the hardest parts of the latest trip to Disney was hanging onto his flailing, gelatinous body as we tried to get him out of sandboxes and other attractions he loved. Getting him to keep his shoes on in the sand – a rule at WDW – was a close second. Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel) and the Newlyweds Expert for About.com.
My brother had the brilliant idea of taking his 3-year-old daughter and my 2-year-old son ice skating over the weekend. We decided to embrace the winter and the cold and the fact that there’s little else to do when mountains of snow cover your neighborhood. A bit of research – on the part of my brother – revealed that Fritz Dietl Ice Rink in Westwood had double-bladed skates perfect for toddlers interested in hanging out on the ice. He thought the kids would also enjoy it more because it was smaller than the other nearby rinks. We were wrong.
The place was swarming with people, including lots of much bigger kids, for the chance at rink time. There was a big sign on the door that said the place has no insurance, and you’ll be skating at your own risk. The cashier also insisted we pay cash, no credit cards. It cost $52 for my brother, his daughter, my son, and me to rent skates and take to the ice for about 30 minutes. And, despite what my brother read on the Web site, there were no double blades.
Needless to say, getting my 2-year-old stable on ice skates on very slippery ice was nearly impossible, especially when I had not skated in nearly 20 years and have had three knee surgeries since then. Basically, it was like trying to get a fish to swim on blacktop. Baby Boy and I walked through the door onto the ice, I held onto the wall, and he rolled around on his bottom a bit before I decided this wasn’t going to work. Instead, he pretended to play the pinball machine (we didn’t put money in it) and looked at the trophies and skates being doled out by staff while we waited for my niece and brother to finish up. They had a slightly better experience but only because my brother was willing to lift and carry her for three rounds on the ice. After about 15 minutes, we were all turning in our skates and moving on. I asked my niece if she had fun and she said, “Not so much.” How’s that for honesty?
We all decided the idea was a good one. Next time, we’ll consider a bigger rink with more resources, such as Ice House NJ in Hackensack or the Palisades Center Ice Rink in West Nyack, N.Y. Don’t worry about our plans being ruined by the “not so fun” time on the ice on Sunday. Baby Boy and his cousin made up for it by steering the fire engine shopping wagon at our Shop Rite run afterward. See photo below. Figures, Italian kids prefer grocery shopping to ice skating.
Baby Boy wants to wish everyone a merry holiday. Actually, he just likes to paint his feet and hands, which is just what we did to make this art project. You’ve probably seen similar versions of this on the Internet already, so I’ll spare you the details on how to do it. Baby’s foot print is the sled, hand prints are the reindeer, and thumb prints (albeit somewhat spread out) are the Santa. Now that my son has learned how to do this I’m constantly having to wash his feet and hands, not to mention the floor, bed, tables, cabinets, etc. where he puts them after he paints his body in the name of his art. I guess I should feel lucky that Santa sent me some good towels for cleaning this year. Merry, merry!
We’re on the small Italian island of Ischia and for nearly nine months we’ve been living with my in-laws. And in our little apartment within the house, we have three dollar-store stockings I managed to sneak into our luggage back in April and a couple of Christmas signs and a tablecloth that my mom sent from the United States. Otherwise, we’ve got nothing. My in-laws have their own traditions and their own Christmas tree in a common area of the house. But it’s not the same thing for me. I like to put out my decorations every year, and sit in the house with the Christmas lights on while I sip on hot chocolate and listen to holiday tunes or watch a holiday movie. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t satisfied.
So, I got to work. My first request was that everyone in the family turn over tubes of toilet paper after they were finished. The joke was that I wanted everyone to get a case of the runs. With 13 people in one house we found no problem getting enough tubes for both my presepio (nativity scene) and my tree (above). I know other moms who collect toilet paper tubes for projects year round, so you might already have enough. This is a great Christmas Eve project if you’re at a loss as to what to do with the kids.
Once you have the tubes, you cover them with green construction paper. I used tape to attach the paper. Then, I attached one tube to another with staples to make the rows. I used staples to attach rows as they stacked them on top of each other to build the tree. I wrapped ribbon around the tree and made a knot at the top. Then, I tied another small piece of ribbon to the knot to make the tree topper of four ribbon strands.
Originally, I wanted to put little, red glass balls in each tube for decorations. I expected to have a couple of different styles or designs in the same color. Instead, I had to settle for white styrofoam balls at the hardware/craft/everything store in Ischia. I thought I’d paint the balls but Baby Boy’s water-based paint was never going to stick. So, I just put glue on the balls, wrapped them in red tissue paper, and let them dry. Then, I placed them inside each tube with a bit of tape on the bottom to get them to stay in place. I made the base of the tree with three toilet paper tubes and then wrapped them in the same ribbon as the topper. This is our Christmas tree this year. It works perfectly because my son can’t do much damage to this one. I guess it was a blessing there were no glass balls available on the island.
These red flowers recently greeted my son and me when we took a walk around Ischia Porto. I’m not sure what kind of flowers they are, but they are fuzzy, soft to the touch, and bright. And the color just brings a smile to your face. They also swayed in the wind, which mesmerized Baby Boy. Shortly thereafter, he fell asleep, which is something he rarely does during the day lately. I just might have to invest in some and put them next to his bed. Anybody know what kind of flower this is?