Wednesday, 17 September 2014

All quiet on the home front

There has been a slight hiatus in my (virtual) ranting of late because I have been on holiday. On a magical, fabulous vacanza no less, me and the boy and other boy along with two parents, one brother, two friends and assorted Italian in-laws. We were staying on the shore of a lesser known Great Lake (Orta, but don't tell anyone, we'd prefer to keep it lesser known!) and enjoying some wonderful sunshine, food and even, at moments, relaxation.

The smaller boy has been revelling in all the attention and bonhomie, roving around the campsite grinning at people of all nationalities, poking around the shoreline and up nearby rivers, and  putting stones into various places (into the lake, into the river, and especially into his mouth).

One highlight of the week was without doubt the evening when I went out with two very good friends and got steamingly, staggeringly, singing and dancingly drunk. Some of you may judge me for this but consider: this little episode of common and garden english lairiness was my first time in 25 months. Yes that's right, seven hundred and sixty days, people! And my god how I'd missed it.

I love my life and I am incredibly lucky and I wouldn't change a thing about it *but* there are times when a girl just gotta go out and get silly. Be irresponsible. Lie on the sofa all day watching repeats of the fresh prince and eating peach slices out of a can. I think its actually the day after the night before that serves the real psychological function. I am just never as relaxed as when a hangover has rendered me incapable of rational thought. The booze fairy is the only thing that gives me permission to take the day off. I genuinely think  it acts as a healthy kind of safety-valve, done in moderation.

What the local Italians whose wedding we'd crashed and who watched on while we cavorted like extras from Robin Hardy's 'Wicker Man' thought about our behaviour I will never learn. To be fair I've already got a bit of a rep' in the village after I had my own wedding there three years ago, even if it wasn't me who slept on the floor of a local hotel reception. But in general I've become accustomed to Italians holding an amused but forgiving attitude towards my various english-osyncrasies. From baking two dozen mince meat pies in muffin cases one christmas to the way I become inexplicably animated at the sight of a tea bag resting next to a lukewarm pot of water, my foreign curiosities are many.

Now that I am a mother, a whole new realm of possible incommensurability has opened up to me. I love that Wikipedia writes of cultural conflict that it is a "conflict between guests of different culture and nationality, as occurs when people's expectations of a certain behavior coming from their cultural backgrounds are not met, as others have different cultural backgrounds and different expectations, as seen in British 1970 sitcom, Fawlty Towers."

I will admit that the first time I came here as an EnglishMummy in Milan I didn't find it easy. Instead of finding the country's family-centricism helpful I struggled with the strength of the expectations I perceived about what I ought to be feeding the baby, how many clothes he ought to wear, how much I ought to be fussing. I felt neglectful, dirty, judged.  Italian babies all appear to be very clean, very quiet, very strapped down.When in Rome, to hell with what they think, I thought, I'm not strapping the little bear down.

In hindsight I'd put much of this down to the overtired paranoia of the early days.While I still get told very freely what time the bear ought to go to bed (later) and how much he should be wearing (more) I've also noticed how warm and enthusiastic Italians are about children. And I mean all Italians - old ladies, other mothers, young boys, teenagers, bus drivers, restaurant chefs, boat captains.....all sorts of people who I would expect to coolly ignore a toddler back home instead produced a free ice cream, wiggled a toy, gave a wave, tooted their horn. It just seems to be in the blood to think of young children as a nice thing here, to smile at them, rather than to coldly consider them a potential threat to the quiet of a meal, as a possible nuisance, as an item for which somebody else needs to assume proper responsibility for controlling.

And while there seem to be fewer facilities explicitly catering for young children here - such as soft play centres and child-oriented museums -I think that this is because children's entertainment is usually more of a family affair here, and that kids and babies are supposed to fit in with adult activities rather than be explicitly pandered to. There are certainly no babyccinos on the menus, and that can only be a good thing.

I've stopped obsessing over whether mine is the sole small person playing peek-a-boo behind the pot plants with chocolate gelato smeared all over the back of his head and started enjoying the fact that nobody looks twice if he stays up till nine o'clock while mummy finishes her aperitivo. I'll always choose cheddar before parmesan and tea before coffee, but Italy hasn't half been kind to me and my bambino and it was very sad to say ciao. I'm so glad the larger boy gives us a good excuse to keep coming back.

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