Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Raising Little Caesars

Okay it doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but it'll do.

I am admittedly no expert, having put in a paltry 8 months in market research, but I believe that application time could be stretched to 16 months, considering I've been going at it with two kids at once? No?

At any rate, I'm here to tell you about parenting, Italiano style. Or rather, Roman style, as my capers across the rest of the boot have been mainly limited to long weekends and painful hotel stays.

I've been to all of Rome's most famous piazzas, eaten in a whole bunch of her mediocre restaurants (and a few truly remarkable gems) and I've hauled bambini into many a chiesa across this gorgeous city. And I've observed a few things about myself and my compatriots in arms. Some of which are worth sharing, either because they're fascinating, or because they are so obviously superior to the standard American practice in childrearing that I am humbled into submission. And then there are some which are so ridiculous that I feel I must document their existence, even at the risk of unbelief.

So here you have it: How to be a stereotypical Italian Mamma:

1. There is no kid's menu

Walk into any given ristorante or trattoria and try to ask if junior can see a special list of piati de giorno, but don't expect to be greeted with anything other than mild confusion. 

A special menu of junk food options for the baby to choose from? No, no signora, nothing like that...but we can make a plate of proscuitto e melone or some penne con pomodoro and have it out in 2 or 20 minutes, depending on your luck.
Happy meals.
I actually don't mind this. I have one kid who is gluten sensitive and one who would probably take a bite out of a living animal if he could get his paws on a slow-moving side of bacon, so we have a wider variety of food on our table on any given day than the average toddler set does, I'd wager. Joey has actually never had a chicken strip, and his single foray into hot-dog land ended in salty tears of rejection and a sad Costco footlong masticated and discarded on the warehouse floor. John Paul will eat anything, and so we regularly take him up on that.

Italian kids put a whole new spin on the idea of baby gourmonds though, let me assure you. Pizza with Gorgonzola and walnuts and a sprinkling of arugula, pasta with sheep's cheese and anchovies, cured meats with smoked mozzarella and olives...and the list goes on.

The point is, the little people eat smaller portions of the same food that the big people do. Because they are, after all, little people, and not some kind of odd human hybrid made to run on PB&J. It's a helpful practice that cannot, of course, cure picky eating completely, but that goes a long way in cultivating a broader palate on your little person. And yes, we still order french fries all the time. Because we're not sadists.

2. There's no such thing as bedtime

An early dinner is 7 pm. Dignified people eat at 8. Carefree and fabulous people dine at 8:30, and not a moment sooner.

Venture out for your evening passagiata and you'll see there are children of all ages cruising the strip, Roman style in their Maclarens. Kids don't go to bed at 7 pm here, especially not in the blinding heat of summer. Because honestly, it's not even cool enough to hit up the park until almost 8 o'clock most nights.

It's a regular thing to see Italian babies of all ages out in their strollers (or the few, the lucky, the hard-to-find highchairs) in restaurants all over town. Not only do they eat what mom and dad eat, but they also eat when mom and dad eat. And for most families, this is closer to 8 pm than 5 pm.

On a practical level I kind of love this. I mean yes, your kids will melt down when they're up late sometimes and yes, circadian rhythms and sleep cycles and brain cells...but the overarching theme I detect here is: your life doesn't stop when you have kids. Moms, you need not be banished to a string of consecutive evenings on the couch in yoga pants shoveling down some cold dinner at 6:36 pm because little peanut is sleep training and you had to get that bad boy slammed by 5:45 pm. And live to note it in his sleep chart.

I'm all for scheduling little people, don't get me wrong. But do you have any idea how freeing it is to be able to accept a dinner invitation for 8 pm on a Thursday and know that 1. it won't be the end of the world if the babies don't go down till 11 and 2. you can still go out, even without a sitter? It's magical, I tell you. And I'm a full-on believer. Well, 2 out of 7 nights a week, anyway. (Because I'm pregnant, and sometimes yoga pants + sofa sitting = pure bliss.)

3. There's no segregated space for shorties

I am so happy you are taking me to another piazza!
Okay this one actually sucks sometimes, but it's true, there are very few designated 'kid spaces' in Rome. Sure there are playgrounds, but most of them are dirty, in ill-repair, and filled with trash, pigeons, and old ladies smoking butts and shooting the breeze. In other words, they're just like the rest of Rome!

The upshot is that kids make do. No park? No problem! I'll just clamber over this ancient ruin and summit this marble column. You get the idea.

Our playgrounds here are piazzas filled with gelato-slurping tourists, smoking locals, and scavenging pigeons ... and the not-so-occasional guy hawking polyester scarves. Sick of running around? There's a fountain to cool off in (not technically in, mind you, but we've had a few near-immersion experiences).
Damn I'd like to get in that fountain. If only she'd look away for  a moment...
Feeling parched? There's a guy selling water and beer right over there. Here's a liter of mineral water, don't choke. (No sippy cups either, unless you feel like shelling out $10 USD for a cheaply made model from the local Farmacia. No problem, just one fewer step between boob/bottle and self sufficiency, right?)

There are also (are you listening, Kendra?) no crying rooms. Because when your churches are this beautiful, it'd be a shame to muck up the aesthetic with a bunch of plexi-glass.

Look, no gathering space either. Who designed these places?
It's really nice, actually. And sometimes, like last Sunday, it's God awful. You really haven't lived until you've taken your 2-year-old in and out of Mass four times, ping-ponging between rows of glaringangryglaring American! (we're the worst at stink-eyeing parents of littles, it's true) tourists on the inside and a verrrrry persistent gypsy woman begging alms on the outside. And it's one million degrees and your stylish Liz Lange maternity sack is pitting out like a football jersey. But I digress.

Most of the time, it's great when there's no cry room because 1. no option for escape when that familiar faint-hearted feeling creeps in and 2. Well, what do you expect me to do with him? Leave? Would you like to take a turn holding him whilst he flails and pummels your torso? Just say the word...

The truth is, Italian kids go everywhere because honestly, where else can they go? There's no space, there are no 'activity centers' or fun drop off daycare options. There's just the real world. And so adults (and kids) learn to deal with each other. And, dare I say, enjoy one another at times. My boys regularly interact with teenagers, the elderly, kids their own age, and everybody in between. And to me that seems really healthy and really realistic. 
Joey and his bff+e+e Tonio, our fav barista
I have a few other less rosy observations, but this list is already on and on anon, so I'll save that for another post. Plus, it's strictly enforced and rarely-broken-from naptime right now. And I've got 2 hours of babyless freedom stretching out in front of me.


  1. I LOVE this post...and apparently we tend to parent Roman style (well, I am 1/2 Italian) because my kids/baby eat whatever we eat and we don't use sippy cups (straight from breast to regular cup is so much easier) and we take our kids out late at night, if needed and don't worry about it. Unfortunatly though, my kids have never climbed over ruins.

  2. Ha- love the title, and the post!

  3. I don't know if I could handle no bedtime... I cling desperately to the 7:30 bedtime here because then we have hours of child-free time to eat all the cookies while they're asleep! But the food sounds awesome - we almost never order from any kid's menu because the food looks nasty and the kids will eat anything!

  4. I LOVE that picture of you and Joey and Tonio. When I'm there in September, I think I'll go see Tonio.


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