My mother believed in hands-off parenting, the concept that children should “be seen but not heard” and sink or swim. “Life isn’t easy, people can’t always take care of you.” She told me when I was three years old, after I’d had a nightmare that my door chopped a little girl into pieces. Yes, my door. It’s an attitude she’d inherited from my grandmother, along with a trucker mouth, chain smoking, country western dancing, skin-tight pants, and evening toddies.
I never thought that I was smart or stupid. I just knew that I didn’t have any friends and I couldn’t make them. I rarely thought like a child, though I was immature. I never really believed that I was a child, with child limitations, though that could be a dillusional “idea of grandeur” thing as well.
My mother told me that the first time I tried to run away I was nine months old. How can a baby run away at nine months old you might ask? Apparently I was like one of those babies in horror movies. The creepy ones that walk and talk and then attack someones face. Nine months old would have made me tiny, but according to my mother I could walk, “well enough to open the front door and make it down two flights of stairs before I caught you.” Clearly, I’d realized then that I was doomed and I should just get the fuck out of there. At the same age my aunt told me that she talked with my uncle about adopting me, she told me this story at my grandfathers funeral. But that’s another story and I’ll save that for another post. Apparently, she decided she should adopt me one day while visiting my mother and my grandmother. I was there apparently, in another room being unseen and unheard as was the norm. My mother screamed for me to get dressed and put on my shoes. My aunt told her that she was insane, I didn’t have dexterity at that age, there was no way I could possibly dress myself. My mother waived a hand and told her that I could take care of myself because I was “almost a year old”. Which made me very old according to her. My aunt, in disbelief, peeked into the room to watch me struggle with my pants, socks, and shirt before taking another ten minutes to force my hands to cooperate with my foot to put my shoes on. At that moment she said she felt two things: That my mom might accidentally kill me and that I was “going to struggle in that environment.” I don’t think my mom had bad intentions, rather she believed she gave birth to a more self sufficient creature, like a horse.
According to family I was potty trained by a little over a year old. Knowing my mom she probably told me she’d stop changing my diaper if I didn’t grow up. So, to avoid being the smelly kid I started using the big kid potty. Icould read full books alone by four, these books were terrifying and all related to kidnapping, see Dingo, and by five I was already able to care for my one year old brother. My mother taught me to hold him and if I ever lost balance to hold onto him tight and fall backwards. “It’s better you crack open your head than kill your baby brother.” I would help bathe him, feed him, and fill his lungs with medicated steam when he had an asthma attack. I knew to sit him on the table screaming for my mom, his face turning blue, while I strapped the mask over his face, cracked open the glass viles to drop into the water chamber, flip the switch waiting for his face to turn pink again.
At nine I started a non-profit environmental group after reading a few books on the destruction of natural habitats, the hold in the ozone layer among other things. I obviously wanted to be as irritating as possible. I put a brick in the back of the toilet to use less water, left post-its by the toilet indicating how many squares were allowed for use, and pestered my step-father into taking me to city council meetings so I could argue about an increase in fines for environmental obstruction. I also habitually called the humane society on most of our neibors for abuse. Abuse in my mind ranged from a lot of things from tail docking to once I heard their dog bark outside and so clearly it’s being attacked. I also secretly put an ad in the newspaper to run a daycare in my house. When the young parents came to interview me they were shocked that I was a child. My mother, instead of telling me I was too young, told the people that she would be home and that I had been taking care of children since I was five. “She can handle it.” Every night at three p.m. until nine p.m. I would watch the toddler and infant. I did that for a year. Now, this brings me to two things. One, what kind of fucking idiot would leave their infant with a nine year old? And two) Nobody ever believes me when I tell this story but you can ask my mom.
I also had a new brother at this time. My new brother didn’t like my mother. She says it’s because she was going through a divorce, “he could sense the stress.” I think she might have been right. I don’t remember her being much of a sanctuary for peace during that period. Many nights he’d cry because he was wet or hungry and I would wake up, go to his crib, change him, rock him, feed him, because my mother couldn’t. She was exhausted and on top of that he really hated her. He would just cry harder if she went near him. Or, maybe, like me he was pissed because she gave our dog away to the pound, though she lied and told me she’d given it to a lonely old lady. Who does that?
People tell me stories now about how incredibly advanced I was but all I remember is that everyone thought I was retarded. I’d been tested multiple times for a learning disability at most of the eleven schools I’d been to. Then they’d test me and stare at the results confused and then re-test me. I was a straight “F” student most of my life. How the hell did this dipshit that failed every assignment for six months get a perfect score on this test? The answer was that I honestly think I had severe ADD caused by going to too many different elementary schools and being constantly lost. I loved and still love to read but in a classroom it’s like watching a ferret in a glitter shop. I cannot for the life of me listen to a fucking thing anyone is saying. I’d get frustrated and say I had to pee so I could go to the library and read books. I had very little respect for authority, challenging my teachers constantly and occasionally throwing sharp objects at them, but we’ll get to that another day. In my mind, adults were simply large children who seldom knew best and could rarely be trusted.
This is where I start to use sweeping generalizations. If you’re offended by stereotyping and generalizing (yes, you’re better than me, I know), skip the rest of the story.
Which brings me to the frustration of being an adult in Italy. Given my background it’s torture to live in a country where every citizen still has their umbilical cord attached to their mums va-jay-jay (Flashback to In Living Color, seriously). Nobody breathes without their parents blessing. I haven’t been told what to do, well, ever, and now at 31 my husbands mother tells me how to do everything from wash my ass to drink coffee. And she does this from four hours away.
I’m weird in America but I am a fucking FREAK in Italy. A country where children are metaphorically bubble wrapped for protection until their late thirties. My husbands sister, who is two years older than me lectures us often on an array of things believing she has some odd kind of seniority. I’m often told how we should cook, things we should buy, when we should buy real estate, and have children. I do appreciate good advice and I’m often open to it in small doses, but I am not inexperienced in life. In fact, I’m much more experienced than her (so take that!). I’ve been living on my own for eight years longer than her-she lived at home until she was 27 and only moved out to marry and move in with her husband- and though she has two young children, I’ve been taking care of babies and young kids for nearly twenty-five years. She has been married for longer than me but her relationship is a typical Italian relationship where she’s basically a mouthy slave. She complains, but in the end she cooks, cleans, takes care of the children, and works full time as a physical therapist with absolutely no help from her husband. That’s not the kind of marriage I want so I’m not open to taking her advice in that area either.
The general idea here is that anyone under the age of sixty is an idiot. Now, I don’t claim to know everything. I certainly don’t and I am kind of an idiot. But I come from a background where if you don’t know something, Google it, ask friends, ask professionals, watch YouTube. In Italy, the only people you ask for information are your parents. Francesco is only recently breaking this habit after watching me figure things out on my own. Before, he would call his mom for everything from how long to bake a cake (though it takes less time to check the internet on our always on and open MAC), to what I should do about my bladder infection. It doesn’t make sense to him to look it up or ask a Pharmacist or doctor. The same applies to buying things. If I ever want to buy something for the house, for myself, his first reaction is to tell me no, and then call and ask his mother to find “a good one” or “the right one” for me. We couldn’t possibly make a decision on our own regarding a mixing bowl, a cheese grater or a jacket for my wedding dress. So many things could go wrong! You can’t just pick out a cheese grater! And so, 99% of everything in our apartment was brought here or bought by her. Not because we can’t afford it but because both Francesco and her don’t think I could pick out a table cloth on my own.
As with most of Italy, in his families mind the internet is a thing of science fiction. How could one possibly know things and where would one find information without family? And I’m only thirty one, if I’m being held to an Italian standard that makes me mentally around 14, just barely learning to wash my own underwear. In all fairness I understand. Francesco’s mother STILL buys his underwear, something that will always freak me the fuck out (he doesn’t like it either, but she won’t stop). There is nothing less sexy than taking off your husbands pants to see bright pink boxer shorts his mommy just bought him. I’m fairly open-minded when it comes to other cultures but that is just a mind-fuck.
And, this is why Jersey Shore makes me laugh my ass off. I’m Italian, I’m so fiesty, raaar. No. Because in actual Italy, Italian just means that you probably like wine and lasagna and your mom washes your ass into your fifties.
So, I’m struggling to keep cool. It’s not easy being independent and coming from a family that basically raised me to raise myself, to suddenly being forced into some form of dependency, almost forced into reverting to being a child when I’ve never been treated like one in the past. Though, as irritating as it can be there are moments, very small moments, where the idea of just existing without decisions sounds kind of nice. Handing over the reigns and just relaxing, letting someone else take care of everything. Then that moment fades when the thought of trusting someone enough to make the right decisions for me pops into my head. No, no thanks. I can take care of myself.