Tag Archives: Italian mother

To My Classic Italian Mom on Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

Where to begin? I know you’re not one for doling out the sentimental stuff. I also know that you secretly love it when other people do. That’s the dichotomy of you, and that, at the heart, is what makes you a classic Italian mom. You’re not a one-note dish. That’s also what makes you the most phenomenal mother.

How to explain? How do I describe a person who’s been my everything for 35 years? Who has simultaneously frustrated me and been my lifeline through every difficult and joyful experience? How do I thank the person who’s at the core of every good—and maybe sometimes bad—decision I’ve ever made?

Ma

To start: You, more than anyone in my life, have challenged me. You have pushed me to my highest potential and you’ve never accepted less—from me or anyone else for that matter. When I might settle and get comfortable, you rattle my cage. Every call that I’ve made outside of my comfort zone has ultimately paid off. And each time I made that call, I was able to do it because you gave me the courage.

But here’s where you take that wonderful quality and double-down. Because for every time that you’ve challenged me, you’ve also given me unconditional support. Even when you disagreed with every bone in your body. Even when I came to you with a degree from an expensive college and said, “I want to be a professional dancer.” Even when I called you and declared, “I’m going to move across the country for a man I met in Las Vegas.” You questioned. You made sure I thought it through. And then, when you realized I wasn’t budging, you let go. Why?

Because you lift people up, Mom. That’s what you do.

MeandMa

The most beautiful thing about you is that every single thing you do is with love. The way you care for those around you. The way you cook your (most, most delicious) meals. The way you nudge and poke and prod us to death. You drive us crazy. You do it because you love us. And although Alex might call you T1000 and Dad might say you can be cold, all of us know that your heart is pure, molten gold.

Our relationship is complex, yes. But that’s what makes it so fulfilling. And when I take a step back and think about the kind of mother I want to be, the classic Italian mother, I realize I’m setting the bar for success by what you’ve already achieved. You made me a better person. You let go so that I could grow. And you made me feel so very loved.

I love you, Mom.

Truth Telling, Italian Mama Styles

Pickin’s out there are slim for home buyers. True story. If, by the time we sell our house, we’re able to find a halfway decent abode that isn’t falling apart and that we can afford in the school district we want, I will consider it a goddamned miracle.

In the month since we put our house on the market, we’ve seen exactly two houses that are in our price range in the neighborhood we want. And it’s not because we’re being picky. It’s because they are literally (actual definition of the word literally, not figuratively literally) the only two homes that have come on the market in our price range in the neighborhood we want.

So when we saw a beautiful house pop up as “Active” on mlslistings (and was firmly affordable), we were absolutely overjoyed. In fact, I believe I heard some bells ringing and angels singing.

The first thing I did was email my mom a link and then immediately call her to gush about it.

Me (ecstatic): Mom! Did you see the house I just sent you? Isn’t it nice?

Mom (judgmental tone): It’s only 1,400 square feet—that’s way too small. Plus it’s only three bedrooms. Where are Dad and I going to stay? And those bedrooms look tiny, Wendy. I don’t know.

debbiedowner1

Me (staying positive): Well…as long as it’s laid out efficiently, I bet it could work! Plus I see places where we could expand one day. And it’s right down the street from Monica! [my dear sister-in-law]

Mom (even more judgmental tone): One day? That’s going to take a lot of money and a long time. Where do you expect Dad and I to sleep?

debbie downer2

Me (losing faith): ….well, I don’t know. In Lucas’ room for now? And later on down the line, maybe we can build out over the cathedral ceiling and make you guys a nice big room of your own?

Mom (not budging): No. No. I don’t like it.

debbiedowner3

Me (despondent): Well, I was just…I was just hoping you’d like it. I think maybe it might have potential or something. But whatever…

Mom (catching on that she’s punctured my joy bubble): Oh, but it is pretty, Wendy! I bet it’s really nice. It can’t hurt to go look at it.

All it takes is for your Italian mama to lay a little truth on you to realize how desperate the situation is. After all, you’re never going to please her. Now try telling her she’s going to come spend two months of the year in California with you, your husband, and your 4-year-old in a 1,397 square foot house.

That’s my mom, in a nutshell. She can’t help but be honest, and when she realizes she’s being the kind of honest that hurts feelings (the brutal kind), she backtracks and attempts to point out the positive. She does the ole bait and switch.

Over the course of four days leading up to the open house, my mom called me a total of 43,275 times, each time pointing out something else that could be wrong with the house. Where is the laundry…in the garage?! It may look spacious, but pictures can be deceiving. That kitchen table looks really small. There’s no built-in microwave. The appliances look old, and they’re all white. You’ll have to buy new appliances. But she’d always end the conversation with, “Well, I guess you won’t know for sure until you go see it.”

Mom’s brutal truth was so annoyingly grating, I was ready to put an offer on the house just to piss her off. But guess what?

She was right.

living room
Infinite cosmic powers…itty bitty living space.

The house was clean and bright, but as soon as I walked in the first thing I noticed was the tiny couch that was all the furniture that could fit in the living room and the tiny table that was all that could fit in the dining room. There was no built-in microwave. The laundry was in the garage. The bedrooms (and closets) were pretty small. The downstairs bathroom was microscopic. And when I walked outside, I could hear a good deal of traffic from the main road that ran behind the house.

Dammit.

The thing is, I will never accept my mom’s hole-punching at face value. I will always find holes to punch in her holes. I will always dig my heels in and fight back. Because you know what? I’m an Italian mama too. And I know deep down, she can’t really help it. She does it because she cares, and she doesn’t want me to be disappointed when things don’t go my way.

How do I know this? Because I find myself doing the exact same thing with my own kid. Just know, Lucas, it comes from a good place. We’ll always speak our minds, and we’ll always want to protect our babies—even when they’re all grown up.

My Mom Told Me I’m a Good Mother, So the Apacolypse Is Nigh

Italian mothers have two jobs: feeding you, and making you feel bad about yourself. They don’t do the latter out of spite. Their intentions are good, and in the end, they motivate you to become a better person (while also hating yourself just a tiny bit).

My own mother has always been tough on me. When I brought home an A- from school, she wondered why it wasn’t an A. When I didn’t put away a TV tray after she had asked me to (admittedly several times), she grounded me for a month. She taught me to sit up straight, make myself presentable, part my hair on the side (so it didn’t accentuate my large nose), and when in doubt, always do what “they say” (the elusive “they”).

mother and daughter

But Mom had never been more scrutinizing than when I became a mother. She had the experience, of course, and I didn’t know what in God’s name I was doing. I’m sure it must be just about impossible for an Italian mother to hold her tongue and let her daughter make her own decisions/mistakes about her child. Because if there’s anything an Italian woman loves more than her kids, it’s her grandkids. Trust me, I had a Nonna.

Mom had something to say about everything: putting Lucas on his back to sleep (I put you on your stomach and you survived), pumping at work and in the middle of the night so I could breastfeed for nine months (You’re crazy), not putting up a DVD player in the backseat of the car so Lucas could watch Elmo for our 45-minute commute (He’s bored!). A lot of her advice was sound, common sense mothering. Some of it was inspired! But many things have changed in parenting in the 30-something years since I was a child.

For every recommendation of my mother’s that I’d follow, I would shoot down three others in the name of research and modern family practices. We bumped heads a lot on the best way to raise my son, but ultimately, I made the calls I felt were best for him (while also quietly absorbing her wisdom like a sponge, and refusing to admit that I was, in fact, listening to her commentary).

I would often explain to my mom that certain tactics of hers wouldn’t work because of my child’s particular temperament. He’s as stubborn as a bull that mated with a donkey and gave birth to a mutant terrier-mule hybrid. This quality will serve him well for some things, but when it comes to parenting, some of the techniques that worked on lil’ miss eager-to-please (me) just don’t apply to him. Still, I think Mom saw this as either 1. me being a lazy parent or 2. me being stubborn myself and unwilling to try something she suggests.

Recently, my parents visited for a week, mostly spending time with their grandson while Alex and I went to work. Watching my parents with Lucas, I cackled to myself as they initially told me the sun shone out of his ass, only to eventually become weary of his obstinate and extremely energetic three-year-old ways. My dad remarked on how very bull-headed Lucas is, and I tried, I really tried not to say, “You see?! I TOLD YOU.” But I said it anyway. It was too tempting.

Smugness aside, something unfathomable happened to me a few days after my parents returned home. My mom called me up and told me something that I never in a million years ever expected to come out of her mouth.

Mom: You know, I really think you’re doing a great job with Lucas.

Me: I’m sorry, what?

Mom: You’re doing a great job. You really explain things to him, and you’re patient and gentle.

Me: ……

Mom: You’re a good mother.

Me: ………….

Mom: Did you hear me?

Me: Are you dying?

In all seriousness, I can’t tell you what it means to have your own mother, your mother whom you’ve always known to be tough as nails, stronger than any person you’ve met, and the very best mother in the whole world, tell you that you are a great mom.

But let me take a stab at it anyway. What it means is that after three-and-a-half years of questioning whether I was ruining my child’s life, of worrying whether I was too tough or too soft, of fretting if I was giving my son the right amount of attention, discipline, and support that he needs—if my mom thinks I’m doing a good job, then I must be doing something right.