My mom and I have butt heads many times over the last thirty-grumble-grumble years. Many, many times. A good many of them were emo-teenage arguments, like “You don’t understand me!” or “My life is so hard!” or “Why won’t you let me close the door to my bedroom?” Many more were about my wedding. (“I really don’t want to invite your sister’s cousin’s daughter who knows your hairdresser, who you also invited.”) But the thing we’ve argued about the most is how to parent my son.
I’m just going to rewind that back. How to parent MY son.
Yes, my mom has the wisdom of many more years of motherhood than I do, which is why I often listen to her advice. I know she’s a fantastic mother and a wonderful grandmother—that cannot be argued. What can be argued is how I choose to feed, bath, dress, educate, and entertain my child. And mom has something to say about all of them. She wouldn’t be an Italian Mother if she didn’t.
This particular argument started when I (mistakenly) called my mom to vent about what a pain in the ass Lucas had been that day. It was then that my mom offered her patented “he needs more stimulation” formula, which usually involves me spending lots of money of crap he never uses.
Let’s take a moment to unpack that word: STIMULATION. The word stimulate means to make more active, to cause something to develop, or to make a person excited about something. Here are things that should be stimulated: hair growth, a passion for learning, the economy, nipples. Here’s what my son, the most energetic, non-stop-party person in the universe doesn’t need: stimulation. Love, affection, attention, fun, support, guidance, yes. Stimulation, no. If I stimulated that child any more than he is already naturally stimulated, then he’d make a double espresso with a sprinkle of crack look like warm milk.
So when I called my mom to say “Lucas was driving us bonkers today,” and she said, “He needs more stimulation,” you can bet that it pinched a mommy nerve. Here’s how it went down.
Mom: He’s just bored. He needs more stimulation.
Me: We took him for a walk around the neighborhood, then to the park, the he rode his bike up and down the street, then he played basketball, and we ended the night by watching two movies!
Mom: Well, he’s probably sick of doing those things. He needs more stimulation.
Me: Wha? Like what?
Mom: Like some new toys. I’m sure he’s sick of his old ones.
Me: We just had Christmas!
Mom: But he needs a train set. Every little boy needs a train set. I’m going to buy it for him for his birthday.
Me: I…no he doesn’t NEED a train set! We have no place to put it!
Mom: Well, I’m just saying. He’s bored.
I’m not lying when I say we discussed this “needs more toys” and “train set” issue for 30 minutes, starting off at regular Italian volume (loud) and ending with the two of us yelling at the top of our lungs at each other while my dad tried to mediate and my husband was in the background shouting, “And tell her we already bought him a train and he doesn’t play with it!” It was a total melee. Over a fucking train set.
I’m sure a good part of it was me being frazzled at my son’s behavior and being couped up in the house for the last week and a half while my office was closed. I was exhausted and cranky and craving my old routine. On top of which, I had made every effort to make my child’s Christmas magical, but somehow, Italian Mother Guilt penetrated all of that. My mom saying “Lucas needs a train set” became “You’re not a good mother.”
Would my mom ever say those words to me? No. In fact, she has even told me I’m doing a good job. (GASP!) But the curse of Italian Mother Guilt is that it doesn’t matter what you did or what your mom said before. Every argument is seasoned with “You’re not a good mother” in the same way we season our salad dressing with oregano. I bet her mother did it to her, and her mother did it to her mother before her. Every Italian mother of the past was doing it right, and every Italian mother of the present is totally fucking it up.
I’m sure I’ll guilt my son about other things, like “When are ya gonna get a job and move out of here?” But the guilt passed from Italian mother to daughter is as thick as lasagna.
In a way I’m sad to miss out on this important tradition of proving my superiority in all things motherly. But mostly I just want it to be known that Lucas doesn’t really need a train set. He’s already getting the best gift my parents could give him: they’ll be here to celebrate his birthday.