When my father wakes up in the morning, he creaks like an old house. He has literally worn out his shoulders from carrying the weight of his world, a leaf blower or fully grown tree, on his back year after year. His legs are shot from walking from one lawn to another and mowing or bending down to plant flowers. His head is weary with the reflection, nostalgia, and angst of old age. Perhaps, it is his hands that tell the entire story. His hands are like leather replete with cracks and creases. The nail beds are forever gray no matter how much soap and scrubbing. Yet, he works still. At 70, in fact, he says he needs to work, not for the money but for the glory.
Americans are expecting thousands of immigrants – documented and undocumented – to go on strike today to show leaders, not to mention the rest of the world, what the country would be like without them. The hashtag popping up on social media is #ADayWithoutImmigrants. Our dirty little secret, according to the protesters, is that we need them to survive economically and culturally. Some of them think we couldn’t go on without them, in fact. Some even say our country would be a wasteland without them. Well, guess what? They’re right.
My own day without immigrants would be a bleak one indeed for I would cease to exist. My family would vanish. I am the daughter of immigrants, the granddaughter of immigrants, the wife of an immigrant, and the mother of a dual citizen. I am literally nothing and no one without immigrants. My Nonno Giovanni (in the photo above) sacrificed the only life he ever knew and moved his entire family to the United States beginning in 1960. He never did learn English, nor did he ever have the kinds of friends he had back in Italy, who played cards with him and delivered his children, and got tipsy with him. In America, he worked and so did his children.
Those dirty hands of my father paid for me to go to college without debt. They continue to help countless customers maintain their property, enjoy the luxuries of ponds and fancy walls in their yards, and do their part for the environment (with tree plantings, vegetable gardens, and manicured lawns that keep rodents and insects at bay naturally). Along with my mother, a native born American who is the child of immigrants herself, he raised three children to contribute to society. Those dirty hands held mine and those of my brother and sister. They lifted us up when times were hard and put us down when we tried to climb on our pedestals.
Without those hands, we’d be worse off. Without those hands, you’d be worse off. Today, I salute immigrants and the immigrant experience. It’s not just my father, who has brought this light to my life. I am a better person because of my Indian friends who showed me the joy of Diwali, my Jewish friends who still pray with me, my Greek and Mexican friends who have become family, my Korean friends who grew up with me, my Muslim friends who taught me about the real beliefs of their people and not the caricature on TV, my Japanese friends who taught me the wonders of Girl’s Day, my African friends whose devotion to raising the village is like my own, and the list goes on and on.
Today, as immigrants take to the streets to prove their worth to us, a worth that should be obvious to all, I can’t help but think of the words of the mighty Mario Cuomo:
Some Americans believed that we should think of these newcomers to our land as being dropped into a ‘melting pot’ that could boil away their distinguishing cultures, homogenizing them into a new multiethnic America. I have always believed that the better analogy for America would be the mosaic, like those in many church windows, each a different size, shape, and color, harmoniously arranged to form beautiful patterns. It would be tragic if our country were to sacrifice the immigrants’ gifts in favor of some kind of bland uniformity.
The year was 1997. I was a freshman at The George Washington University, and Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as president for his second term. I never considered going to the Inauguration. I didn’t even realize the public could just walk out there and view the entire thing. Didn’t you need tickets? My friend from elementary school who had met up with me again in college, Alex Laster, informed me that you didn’t and that I must go. He said it was my obligation and asked, “Wasn’t this the entire reason to go to school in D.C.?” In fact, it was.
Alex had spent first semester of our freshman year working for Clinton’s opponent Bob Dole, but he was still going to see the Inauguration in all its splendor. This was about celebrating democracy, being a patriot, loving America and that special peaceful transfer of power that separates us from all the rest. Sadly, Alex passed away about nine years ago, and I am grateful to my childhood friend and always remember him fondly, not least of all for forcing me to go to the 1997 Presidential Inauguration.
So, a group of us – bundled in fleece, down feathers, and long johns and with hot chocolate in hand – headed to the Capitol at 5 in the morning. Some of us hadn’t slept at all. There were gates barring us from getting too close. Those seats were reserved for those with tickets. So, we sat right down on the sidewalk to stake out our spot. I don’t remember much about what we said or did in the hours before the swearing in. But I do remember trembling, shaking, and wondering if this was going to be worth the frost bite.
Then, I remember getting the chills – and not just from the cold – when the President and his family filed into place on the steps and he recited, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Then, Clinton spoke, and I recognized the weight of what I was watching, the way this was so much more than pomp and circumstance, how this moment was about to shape our future in ways good and bad and in ways that would outlast his four more years in the White House. Here’s just some of what he said in the last inaugural speech of the 20th century, which still resonates today:
…The future is up to us. Our Founders taught us that the preservation of our liberty and our Union depends upon responsible citizenship. And we need a new sense of responsibility for a new century. There is work to do, work that Government alone cannot do: teaching children to read, hiring people off welfare rolls, coming out from behind locked doors and shuttered windows to help reclaim our streets from drugs and gangs and crime, taking time out of our own lives to serve others.
Each and every one of us, in our own way, must assume personal responsibility not only for ourselves and our families but for our neighbors and our Nation. Our greatest responsibility is to embrace a new spirit of community for a new century. For any one of us to succeed, we must succeed as one America. The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future: Will we be one Nation, one people, with one common destiny, or not? Will we all come together, or come apart?
I became a patriot that day. An interest in politics had driven me to go to school in the nation’s capital. My friend was right in that we had to go to witness history after having chosen GW for this very reason. Now, I was feeling it in the core of my being. Despite the frigid air, a warmth washed over me. Upon reflection, I was certain it was a sweet sentiment more than an intellectual thought.
My heart was full of love of country, yes. But the emotion was bringing me to a greater conclusion about just how lucky I am that my family moved from Italy, and I am a bona-fide American. What other country in the world so deftly and passionately elevates the idea of democracy and not just in name? Here, we witnessed the result of free elections, the result of practicing our civic duty. I was sitting with Dole voters, who still wanted to see the historic significance of the day and celebrate the system, even if they weren’t necessarily happy with the winner.
The Inauguration gives all Americans a chance to contemplate how they want to shape their own future. On that day back in 1997, my eye was often trained on Hillary Clinton, who was wearing hot pink. I’ll never forget it. She commanded attention – at least from me – in a way she hadn’t before. Still, never did I imagine she would go on to be Senator of New York or Secretary of State, never mind the first woman ever to be nominated by a major political party.
Of course, I could not anticipate the plague of scandal that would dominate Clinton’s second term. In fact, for about a year, every time my friends and I went grocery shopping at the nearby Watergate, we would get photographed by paparazzi, who would snap pics of any woman with brown hair in hopes she was the mistress Monica Lewinsky. At my CNBC internship, I was often welcoming Ann Coulter, who made it her job to rip the Clintons apart regularly on the political shows that would evolve into MSNBC. And for a radio internship, I stood in line at the congressional bookstore (along with everyone else in town) for hours just to purchase the Starr Report. Remember that?
All that was coming didn’t matter on Inauguration Day. Politics didn’t even matter. America mattered on Inauguration Day. Democracy mattered on Inauguration Day. History mattered on Inauguration Day. My awakening to freedom – and all the responsibility that comes with it – mattered on Inauguration Day. So, today, I wish you a happy and healthy Inauguration. No matter what happens, the future is up to us.
It’s not what you think. This is not a political story, nor is this the story of a child of the DREAM Act frightened about today’s United States. Actually, this story should inspire anyone of any group – both Democrats and Republicans – who reads it. It is a reminder for me of whence I came. This is my favorite story of the American dream, the one about my peasant people and how they got here and how I came to be an American, born and raised. It’s how I’m choosing to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Once upon a time in a land shaped like a boot, far, far away from my beloved New Jersey, there lived my ancestors on both sides of the family. We come from the island of Ischia, a province of Naples in Italy. While the two families were friends back in the old neighborhood, they couldn’t have imagined that two of their children would meet and marry years later and make them all family. But before any of that could happen, there would be great suffering, the kind that changes the course of history and the lives of individuals. Fascism rose in Europe and around the world. World War II happened. And my people were hungry, literally hungry, for a better life that included steady work and food on the table. They scattered. Some people went to Argentina, others to Canada. Some went to France, others to Algeria. Some went as far as Australia, others went to the United States of America.
My maternal grandfather Rocco Di Costanzo went to France first. But America e’ sempre America, America is always America. And he wanted a slice of that good life he had been hearing so much about. His mother wrote a note to Giovanni Luciano, my maternal grandmother’s father, asking if would be willing to marry off one of his daughters to her youngest son, so he could get a green card and work in the U.S. Luciano had moved to the United States from Ischia years earlier and indeed his wife was a U.S. citizen and his children were all American born. One of his daughters was already pretty much taken, and the other – my grandmother Concetta – was deep into a crush but still very much single. So, my great-grandfather packed up my grandmother, who was 19 at the time, and headed home to Ischia. My grandmother will tell you with tears in her eyes – tears for all she lost and all she gained on that trip – how she sat at a table with my grandfather’s entire family. My grandfather’s mother turned to her and said, “Well, are you going to marry my son or not?” At 19, she looked around and saw no allies, not even her own father. She didn’t want this. But she says she was too embarrassed to say no, so she said yes.
Within a week, she was walking through the streets of Ischia with all her long-lost relatives and their neighbors throwing confetti at her feet and a string of children – some as young as 3 – sitting on the altar. We’re pretty sure my father – who would eventually marry their daughter – was among the kids as his in-laws, who barely knew each other, wed. While marrying an American is still a legal gateway into the nation, there are conditions. To begin, as it was then and now, couples must prove their union is for real, to create a life together and not just to get a visa. The system tries to root out sham marriages.
This was a sham if ever there was one. My grandmother felt forced into the union, and my grandfather, just barely 20, continued to write to his beloved in Italy and even promised he’d eventually go back to her. My grandparents didn’t even honeymoon together. My grandmother, her father, and another woman who married someone from Ischia went to Venice together. And my grandfather had to go spend some significant time in Canada before he could enter the United States with papers. Proving your marriage is real is something with which I’m familiar because I went through it with my husband. It took two years, and we needed to show shared bills, joint tax returns, family photos of our extended families together, our son’s birth certificate, and get grilled in interviews with immigration agents. Twice my husband was put in immigration jail at the airport (it’s a real thing), and ours was a union built on love. We had two friggin’ weddings for goodness sake. Who would pay that kind of money for a fake marriage? Things weren’t as strict back in my grandparent’s day, pre 9-11, but you still weren’t supposed to marry for citizenship. But I digress.
Of course, my grandparents never did part ways. They were married for nearly 60 years and had six kids before my grandfather passed away in 2015. Love certainly grew. My grandfather lost touch with his beloved in Italy long, long ago. In the technical sense, they might have been considered illegals. If that’s not illegal enough to satisfy you based on what I promised in the headline, then look at my father’s side of the family. They fit the bill. We were WOPs, without papers. My Zio Michele, my father’s oldest brother and classmate to my maternal grandfather, was 18 years older than my father and grew disgusted with work in Ischia.
The family had been selling wine to distributors when, in the night, someone stole the barrel and dumped half of it on the ground. It takes a year to make a barrel of wine. That meant that a year’s worth of work was now worthless. My grandfather cursed those who did it, and indeed they ended up dying ugly deaths. (I’m not supporting this, but man that evil eye seems to work, so be warned.) And Zio Michele had had enough. My grandfather gave him his blessing and found him a spot as a stowaway on a ship headed to the United States. Ironically, he was with a cousin of my mother’s and they hid in a closet. An ally keeping their secret would bring them food.
Toward the end of the trip, someone found silverware that fell through a vent near where they had been hiding. They were swiftly put into a jail. Shady police officers (sorry, but it’s true) ushered them out of the jail, hid them under blankets on the floor of a car as they left the parking lot, and delivered them to relatives already in the United States. My maternal great grandfather wouldn’t help his cousin. He feared for his own American citizenship, so he sent him back to Ischia. Zio Michele, however, had uncles in New York, who hid him on a farm. For a year, he tended to the farm and mostly stayed in a loft bedroom. He kept a ladder that could be thrown out the window near his bed, so he could run from the authorities if anyone came looking to deport him.
After a year, friends from Ischia, who were living in New Jersey, dressed him like an American soldier, brought him to church, and told him to pick a wife among the parishioners. He chose my aunt, an Italian American, whose family came from Calabria but who was born in the United States. At first, she turned him down. She assumed he had another family in Italy and this was all a ploy. But my uncle was persistent, and she changed her mind. Indeed, marriage would also make him legal. They were married more than 50 years and had four children together. Again, whether it started as a sham or not, it was real in the end. In 1960, 10 years after becoming legal, Zio Michele brought my paternal grandparents, two of my aunts, and my father, who was 13 at the time, to the United States.
The rest of us – we owe our lives, our Americanness – to my grandparents and uncle. Without their willingness to sacrifice everything and take on the fear of the unknown, we would not even exist, let alone have the chance to thrive. It’s humbles me every time I think about it.
My father, his sisters, and grandparents had tickets to American and even made friends on board the ship that brought them over. They watched movies and speculated about what their new life would be like. They had more hope than those who came before them. In many ways, my father would become the most American of the bunch. He was the only one to go to school in the United States, and he graduated from a New Jersey high school. He is the only one who married an American – my mom, whose family comes from Ischia but who had been born, raised, and educated in the United States. Yet, in many ways, he was also the one who stayed the most Italian. He travels back to Italy often, maintains all the traditions (winemaking, building a large presepio or nativity scene every Christmas, speaking the dialect of his hometown), and still keeps in touch with friends and family in the Old Country. And I, his daughter, married a native of Ischia, which keeps us all the more connected. Perhaps, it was because as the baby of the family, he was protected from the hard times, the suffering, the famine. He was born after World War II. Perhaps, it was because in Italy he had a sacred childhood filled with playing soccer in the piazza and getting comforted by his mother. He often says he has only love for Italy.
Still, America is always America. My father credits the country with educating him and allowing him to build a business and have a family with some financial security, something he realizes was not quite possible – or at least not in the same way – in Ischia. Now, the United States, of course, is home. That’s something for which to be more than thankful. God bless America!
They are mad for the turtles, so we made it the theme of the week leading up to our visit. We did all sorts of projects, including making turtles with paper bowls and creating paper TMNT costumes for ourselves, in anticipation. My son wanted to sleep in the paper mask and shell. You can only imagine how much fun he and his cousins had at LSC. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in taking your kids to the exhibit:
How much does it cost? The cost depends on where you’re seeing it. Check with the museum in your area for prices. At LSC, it was included in the price of standard admission. It costs $21.75 for adults (anyone 13 and over), $17.75 for children (ages 2-12), and $18.75 for seniors (anyone 62 and over). There are other exhibits you have to pay extra for at LSC, but I found the standard fee provided more than enough age appropriate activities for the little ones. Some of the add-ons would have been over their heads.
What are the highlights? For my son, the mere thought of visiting the home of the turtles was enough to justify this trip. While some of it will be lame to mom and dad (dioramas of my kid’s toys with a spotlight on them are hardly anything special), the kids are going to go gaga. And there are a couple of aspects to the exhibit that are truly impressive.
Being able to launch pizzas at the likes of Shredder had my nephew doing flips, literally. Seriously, he caught the kid working the machine off guard.There is also a little play area with a staircase and some tubes the kids can shoot through for photo ops, which was a lot of fun for the littlest ones. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of trying to get through the maze of string ninja style. Even the adults and teens were trying to get under and over string without touching it.
There were a couple of opportunities to stretch the brain, too. One brain teaser had the kids trying to shoot tiny frisbees through a movable maze and into a plastic pocket. Another had them building pipes for the sewage system that is home to the turtles. One computer game had guests working together on four separate computers with each serving as Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. You each had duties to fulfill on the screen, so that the whole team could complete the mission. It was tough, especially for the 4 year olds. Another computer game was more their speed. I helped them answer multiple choice questions to determine which turtle they were. My son was proud to be Donatello, even though blue is his favorite color, so he was dressed like Leonardo. The other game, with an eye catching display, had pizza toppings lighting up. Like the electronic Simon Says, children would try to follow the lights by pressing the corresponding button.
Other activities were far more old school. There were puzzle pieces on the floor for kids to build a bridge. A cheese-shaped telephone allowed kids the chance to hear a message from Master Splinter. And a mirror and trunk full of ninja gear gave kids the chance to be just like their heroes. And two skateboards attached to a spring on the floor gave guests the chance to try and balance like the turtles might. Of course, the most enthralling part were the four larger-than-life statues of the Ninja Turtles that greeted visitors at the entrance of the exhibit.
Was it worth it? Really, the answer to this question depends on your child and where you go for the exhibit. My son is wild for the turtles and is still talking about our trip days later. Plus, entrance cost the price of admission and LSC offers lots of other educational and amusing exhibits and activities, including a Dino Dig and live animals, such as fish, lizards, and actual turtles.
Our Sunday meals have always been epic. The food will never let you down and there’s enough of it to feed Zio Luigi and any other Mario brothers (real or imagined) who stop by. The family is always on fire, sometimes literally, depending on who is manning the kitchen. And you will almost always get one of those really great stories out of the day. While things have simmered since my father’s parents passed away, we still have our fair share of memorable pasta dishes, antics among the cousins, and battles for zia supremacy in everything from Italian cards to washing dishes to making lasagna. Let’s face it, those ladies are always gonna win. Just get over it already. As a tribute to all those really great days and a way to give outsiders a peek into our Italian world, I recently wrote all about Sunday Funday for ItaliansRus’ Our Paesani column. Check it out and have your own Sunday Funday next week. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
“America e’ sempre America. America is always America.” -my father Pasquale Di Meglio and everyone else in my family
Whenever I’m in the United States, I’m Italian. Whenever I’m in Italy, I’m l’Americana. The truth is that I’m somewhere in between. Any child of an immigrant will tell you the same. You live this life with one foot in one country and one foot in the other. Italy will never leave us. It’s in our blood. It’s like the Sunday sauce runs thickly through our veins. Our food, our fighting, our faces can be traced to Ischia, that little island off the coast of Naples in Italy. It’s inescapable. And for that reason, we’ll always be somewhat foreign to our American neighbors. The rabbit on our Sunday dinner table and the fact that nonna and zia are the only acceptable babysitters and we know women who iron sheets and underwear (and don’t put them in an institution) on a regular basis separate us from everyone else in the States. There’s nothing that we can do to change that.
But the more time I spend in Italy, the more I understand what my father (and really all my immigrant relatives) mean when they say “America is always America.” We chose to pack up our things and move to America. We saw this country as a chance to live out dreams, rather than just get by. We saw it as the place to go to get rewarded, rather than pigeonholed, for our hard work. My paternal grandparents were already in their 50s and had raised grown children with families of their own when they decided to move from Ischia to the United States. Just imagine leaving behind everything you know, all your friends and family, your culture and your language when you’re already more than halfway through your life. They gave all that up and moved here for me. I think about that almost everyday. Would I be willing to make such a sacrifice for the future of my family, for those who haven’t even been born yet?
Of course, I wasn’t even a twinkling in my parent’s eyes in 1960 when my grandparents gathered up three of their nine children – the only ones who were still minors – and made the move. My father was only 13, the baby of the family, when he joined them on their journey from the Old World to the New. But my grandfather knew that my father would not have to live as hard a life working the limited land and fighting for every last piece of property available. He knew America would give my father untold riches and freedom like none he would have experienced back in Ischia.
Indeed, my father graduated from Fort Lee High School in New Jersey. He is the only one in the family with a high school diploma. He married an American (whose family also comes from Ischia, but who herself was born in the States and graduated from a junior college to boot). Although he works the land as a landscaper, he does so on his terms and as the boss of his own company. He would never have experienced such glory in Ischia. I, his daughter, married an Ischitano. I’ve seen what his future would have been on that small island. The life there is mostly about making ends meet. Sure, there are hotel and restaurant owners whose families can travel and do more than your average islander. But there’s not much in the way of dreaming. There’s not much in the way of ambition. So, I thank God everyday that my grandparents had the guts to come here to give me my American passport.
Sure, times have changed. The United States has weakened in many ways. Our government is more divided than ever. Immigrants have an even tougher time (if that’s possible) than they did before. Terrorism and hatred plague us. There is almost no more middle class – just the 1 percent and everyone else. Some people have stopped believing in the American dream. In my darker moments, I sometimes have my own doubts. But then I travel back to Ischia. It has its charms, but it also reminds me of why I’m American at my core.
That siesta in the middle of the day has a way of getting under my skin. We’re built for work, and we should do it while we can. Naps are for babies, the ill, and the elderly. They have a place in the world but not in the middle of the day when you’re a healthy, young or middle-aged adult. All those vacation days and soccer games and water cooler banter is fine and well. But it all gets in the way of making more of yourself, letting your creative juices flow, and realizing your true potential. Now, I’m not against talking to your co-workers or taking a break from work or leisurely enjoying a delicious meal. I think it’s good for the soul. But I am against the idea that work gets in the way of the good stuff. Work can be the good stuff. In America, you still have the possibility to dream your dreams and live them out. You still have the possibility of making money as your own boss. You still have the chance to move up in the world if you set your mind to it and that’s what you want to do. Determination can get you somewhere. Believe me, other places don’t allow that.
On that small little island that birthed our family, the people are resigned to inheriting property when loved ones die and taking on jobs in tourism. Even the college graduates are waiting tables and opening hotel doors – and these jobs are only available for six months out of the year when tourists are flocking to the place. I, an American, could major in journalism and attempt to work in that very industry. I’ve done just that. Sure, I’m making less money than I would had I went to business school or medical school or just about anything else except teaching school. But it was my choice. It was my dream. And I am able to live it here in my America. Amen.
You have to hand it to the Italians. They really know how to live. Often, they top off one of those three-course, homemade lunches or light dinners with the “passeggiata” or stroll down the street to the piazza or town square. It is where everyone goes to see and be seen. On your way – and once you arrive – you are likely to see old, historic buildings and clock towers, churches with their worshipers, and bars buzzing with people. There is probably a line of Vespas and pretty girls, who look like they have stepped out of a fashion magazine. Of course, somewhere nearby you’ll find gelato if it’s summer. And there will be older ladies and gents dressed to the nines despite their canes and walkers mulling around and talking about the good ol’ days.
When a Jersey girl like me gets an itch to take an Italian stroll, she heads to the mini mall, the American equivalent of a piazza. Recently, I have been appreciating such walks for the opportunity they give you to reflect on the wonders of nature. Few things are more beautiful than colorful autumn. Jewel-toned leaves paint the sky and lift the spirit.
Recently, while the leaves were raining down on us and the crisp breeze caressed our cheeks, I couldn’t help but think that life really is beautiful. Even though Italy has its historic charm, New Jersey is home. Of course, in the Jersey “piazza,” you might still find a pizza joint, an old-school nonna, and pretty Italian boys. Truly, the big difference is the purpose of the piazza. Americans go there in a rush to catch up with errands, whereas the Italians go there to slow down.
Yes, Italy is stunningly beautiful with a rich history and the best food you’ll ever eat. But it’s not my home. It never will be. I’ve done my best to make myself comfortable here, and I’ve had some good times. I love my husband, father, ancestors, all native Italians. And my love-hate relationship with Ischia will never go away.
My heart, however, belongs to New Jersey. Often, when I’m in the Boot as I am now, I grow nostalgic for home. When I do, I look at pictures of the George Washington Bridge. I am a Bridgewoman by birth, and it is my security blanket. It earned its post for life on 9-11. After spending the night of 9-11 on the floor of my friend’s NYC apartment wondering how the world could ever be the same, I found my way onto the ferry. On one side of the boat, I saw the inferno of downtown New York and smelled the stench of our apocalypse. On the other side was the George Washington Bridge – brave, strong, intact, and beckoning me home. Indeed, it has become ever more the center of my world. Whenever I return from Italy, it’s always right there. In front of me. Beckoning me home once again.
So, I was inspired by its beauty and this photo my husband snapped while in the car one evening back home. It’s always most beautiful when it’s all lit up or adorned with an American flag, isn’t it? In an attempt to stretch my writing chops (and feel like I’m back in middle school), I chose haiku to express my sweet, sweet nostalgia for home. Here goes:
Less than a week ago, I was running around Van Saun Park in short sleeves and begging for water because of the summer-like temperatures. Yesterday, Mother Nature covered my beautifully blooming tulips – the ultimate sign of spring – in a blanket of snow and ice. The poor folks who traveled to the area to take in New York in springtime must be pretty disappointed. As I bundled up Baby Boy in his winter coat this morning, I wondered oh where has the spring gone? Will it return in time for Easter on Sunday? Or are we in for a cold, wet, depressing year? Sunshine, don’t abandon us now. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve never needed you more.
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.