One of the things I love about being a mom is all the fun things you get to do. When was the last time you chased a butterfly? Pet a starfish? Mixed glue and borax to make goo? Underneath it all I am just a geek at heart, and nothing is more fun than spending a Friday morning at a science center showing your child all the wonders of the world and reminding yourself just how cool this crazy ride on this amazing planet is.
One day in Uganda I was picking up our daughter from a play date and wanted to take her picture with her friends. There were two little girls, one her age and the other a few years older, around 6. In the pictures, our girl and the friend her age are smiling and goofing and completely uninhibited, whereas the older girl stood ridged and uncomfortably self-aware. It was astounding to this new mother that yes, it all changes when self-consciousness sets in, when innocence is replaced by awareness. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a big moment and one I hoped would stay away as long as it could, so that our daughter could enjoy the bliss of ‘just being’ a little while longer.
I mentioned in an earlier post about moving to Rome and our wondering how a mixed family would be received and how it’s been nothing but welcoming. But it’s been so much more than that. You see, we came to a place where our daughter is a minority. In Uganda, she swam in a sea of sameness and it was mommy and daddy that were different. But here she would stand out, and I was so worried when we came that the self-consciousness moment would be forced upon her too soon. But wonderfully, the complete opposite happened. Because Italians love life, and they LOVE children, and since it’s a live-out-loud culture, they make that known everywhere you go.
So yes, she stands out, but for all the right reasons.
For our daughter has become the princess of Rome. We cannot walk down the street nor go into a shop without someone pinching her cheeks, kissing her head, rubbing her hair, and always, always telling her she is beautiful. At a time in her life when her difference could have made her shrink, the Italians have let her stay young and wild and free.
I think of anywhere else in the world we could have gone: back to NY, where inappropriate questions (which we sometimes got when there on holiday) and/or indifference might have shaped her, or an area not welcoming to diversity which could have molded her, where we would have had to shield her, armor her.
But we came to Rome, where there are no questions, no looks, no comments, just a family with a really cute kid and people who like to celebrate that. I can’t believe how lucky we got by winding up here and I will forever love Rome for this priceless gift that they have given our child.
Italians love their sweets. For breakfast it’s always, always dolce. You cannot find a plain croissant in Rome. Most are stuffed with jam or custard, and if you ask for a plain one it’s been glazed with sugar, because why would you eat it otherwise? And for treats throughout the day? Well, of course, more dolce. At my daughter’s school we’ve been battling this part of the culture. I sucked it up as long as I could, biting my lip and tongue as I watched them giving her cocoa puffs in chocolate milk and cookies dipped in Nutella every single day of the week. The flood gates opened, however, when I came to pick her up and watched her having her first soda. At 3! I explained to the teachers that while I want to respect how things are done here, motherhood (and values) must come before cultural integration and this mom would like her daughter to have a more nutritious snack. After much negotiation they allowed me to bring in rice cakes and fruit for her. But unfortunately, I was not clear enough, and the next time I came to school during snack time I frustratingly watched them dipping the banana in jelly. When I explained again that no, please, just give it to her plain, they looked at me completely blank, as if the cultural divide was just too great to even comprehend, and then they looked at my poor little one with such pity for her deprivation. For in Italy there are 3 food groups: pizza, pasta, and dolce; sugar, sugar, and sugar. Of course, I write all this with a stash of chocolate in my drawer and a glass of wine in my hand.