Raising Multicultural Children: The USA Versus Italy

If you follow this blog you already know that my husband, Francesco, and I are talking about having children. For those of you that don’t come here often, it scares the holy shit out of me. Like every couple thinking about having children we have a lot to think about. Like any multicultural family, we have some additional things to consider as well. Here’s my list of things that I’ve been considering/worrying about. Not in the order of importance. Actually the opposite of that. I really just like to delay the not amusing things because I avoid my problems.

*Talking about raising kids in Italy really makes some expats crazy pissed because they think that Italy is flawless and maybe it is perfect to them. I get it, people  want to defend their decision to raise their kids in the US.  But just a warning, if anyone is a dick I’ll change their comments to say something about how they can’t stop eating cat turds or something equally as hilarious to me.

1. My vagina. Goddamnit I like her. But, I did call around to all of my married male friends with children to ask about their wives vaginas and they all said, “Dude, it’s totally the same.” And I was like, “Okay but define the same.” And one friend screamed, “You are fucking crazy! The same means the same! As in it’s the same size and looks the same as before. You need therapy. Er, more therapy. Stop worrying about your vagina!” So that’s the blessing and the curse of having mostly male friends. They can fill you in about their wives vaginas but then they get an attitude when you ask them if they took measurements. This is the problem with testosterone. They hate measuring things.

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Surviving Christmas With Italian In-Laws

I want to start out by wishing all of you a happy holiday! Thank you so much for all the support, for keeping me sane, and for contributing to my life by sharing your stories with me. I wish you all the best this month, and for all the months! You’re all such epic badasses! Please excuse my posts this week. I’ve had to write them on my phone.

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Awe, Christmas! That warm, happy, stressful time of year where you desperately want to feel warm and tingly but instead just on the brink of a heart attack. Buying gifts, coordinating family, dealing with in-laws!

And this brings us back to my three weeks of in-law mania. Today was more mild than the other days because it’s Christmas. People usually try to be a little bit nicer on Christmas. This isn’t to say that my in-laws are demons, they are just difficult, and often don’t realize that a whole world exists outside of themselves. This, obviously, is frustrating as hell. This holiday season we’re staying at my dad’s house (hail Persia!). My cousins from England flew in, I have three siblings living at home, plus my in-laws, Francesco, Oliver, my parent’s dog and myself. It’s a full house.

We woke up this morning to a foot of snow. The Christmas scenery was perfect. We drank coffee, then all 14 of us sat around the tree to open gifts. My dad gifted me a beautiful Persian recipe book with an inscription in Farsi. He couldn’t remember what he wrote, “something like, I hope you enjoy this season I love you.” My father isn’t much for gift-giving or sentiment, opting to leave these things to my step-mum so my sister and I were both very touched (he sent one to her as well). I did not get a capybara. Dwayne is obviously upset.

After gifts, my step-mum made breakfast, while my MIL observed, “pastries for breakfast are more healthy than eggs, I think.”

Around ten my MIL took over the kitchen to prepare dough for dinner. She wanted to make lasagna and tagliatelle for dinner. She makes everything from scratch, completely handmade, simple, and delicious. My MIL is hands down one of the best cooks I know. The ragu takes hours to simmer so we started that first.

“Misty, translate for me, please,” she waved me into the kitchen.

“What do you need?” My step-mom asked me to ask my MIL.

My MIL turned to me, “well, I need onions, carrots, tomatoes….and hlkutj.”

I asked her to repeat the last part because I couldn’t quit make it out.

She exhaled, gestured to my step-mum, “My God, even she speaks Italian better than you!” She doesn’t speak any Italian. That was my last draw with obnoxious comments on how much I suck at talking so I told her that if I sucked so bad she could fair just fine without me (with a big fat smile pasted to my exhausted face). I left to shower. Rule of thumb: Don’t be a jerk to your translator.

Last night while cooking dinner my step-mum tried to pay me a compliment, “We’re so proud of you! You speak Italian so well! Doesn’t she speak Italian well?” She asked my MIL. I, of course, had to translate this knowing full well that what was going to come. My MIL  glared at me, stirred the dough frying in the Olive oil in front of her, “No. She doesn’t speak well. She understand fine, I guess, but she should speak a lot better than she does.” She went back to her fried pizza.

My step-mum shot me a look that was a mix between confusion and disappointment, “oh…” she said.

I headed for the office with my glass of wine, wondering if I can really go fifty years like this. Marrying my husband always seems like the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, until we spend any significant time around his parents. It’s only then that I start wondering if just maybe we jumped into things. I feel like that’s how a lot of people feel during the holidays though.

While rolling out the pasta dough, the machine thingy broke. It was a gift from me and F to my parents last year. It breaking was a sign that we were epic failures and total assholes. My MIL totally lost her shit at F in the kitchen, while throwing a very visible fit, because “How dare you have bought a pasta roller thingy that broke?” We pretty much ruined Christmas with our bad purchasing choices. The fit was entertaining to all who are not used to it.

I went sledding with my brother, sister, father, and cousins. We flew down the hill near my baby sister’s school, three to a sled, giggling all the way. We crashed at the bottom. It was awesome. We came home covered in snow, freezing our asses off.

When I entered the kitchen my FIL gestured to the pasta dough drying in front of him, “Instead of going around doing things, why don’t you get in here and learn how to cook.” I shrugged, “I have no interest in learning how to make that.” Which is partially true but only because they think I “must” learn how to do it. I’m an obsessive learner; I love learning. I want to know everything that there is to know. I believe that knowledge is everything, it’s all we have, it’s all we can give to others that matters. However, there is something in my biology that rejects anything that is stuffed down my throat. My gag reflex is strong. Maybe it’s normal, maybe it’s not, but if someone tells me I “must learn Italian because you’re not allowed to speak English around me,” I’ll never fucking speak Italian around you ever again. Tell me I need to cook, and fuck you, it’s Spaghetti O’s from now on bitches and I won’t even microwave that shit first. It’s immature, I know. I’ve tried not to be that way with internal dialogues about how it doesn’t fix anything or solve any problems or prove anything. Doesn’t work. My brain is against me on this one.

My FIL keeps referring to everything as “goooood shits,” because my step-dad taught him that. He likes to use it to refer to people, too. “Bob is goooood shits!”

We ate dinner around 8:00. The salad, pasta, upside-down-pineapple cake, were amazing, as always. We applauded my MIL who spent all day on Christmas to prepare this meal. Six hours. I asked her if she was tired, “Have you seen the amount of work I do at home in Italy?” She had a point. I’ve never witnessed so much exhausting work in my life. I have no doubt that it slightly contributes to the crazy. “Can I clean the oven?” she asked, after. “What the hell? NO! Get out of the damn kitchen!” I said. She laughed, hugged me, then walked off. I drank twenty glasses of Prosecco. My family teased my FIL about how he needed to move to the US to learn how to assist in cleaning since in Italy he doesn’t help around the house at all. We laughed.

I’m in my little sister’s room right now. Listening to my massive family laugh downstairs. People are screaming in Persian, Italian, and two different dialects of English.

 

If This Was In Naples It Would Be Full Of Shit

“I have to put this on Facebook! The Grand Canyon is amazing!” My FIL is obsessed with FB. He’s been carefully planning every post to “make my friends jealous.” Naturally. He tries the posts out on us, asking our opinion on the impact of his words. “Good morning friends! Good morning from Utah!”

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon with F and Oli

He is really enjoying the US. He’s impressed that people don’t litter. And efficiency! Man! “Things here are fast!” Standing in front of a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon with his 2005 digital camera stretched in front of him, “If this was in Naples it would be covered in shit. Our people are practically monkeys.”

My MIL rapidly came to Italy’s aid, “that’s not true! Italy is the best country on earth!” My FIL scoffed, “Really? Then why so much corruption? Why the economy? Why is the money gone?” He waved his hand dramatically,” Why is our country covered in garbage? We are monkeys! WE ARE MONKEYS! ”

This argument continued for twenty, thirty minutes. It ended with her pouting, and him brooding. They settled, sort of, on the idea that Italy is beautiful and the food is good. But that’s where the “positives ” end, according to my FIL on that particular day. He changed his mind at least 72 times throughout the week.

I have a deep appreciation for culture. I’m proud that I hail from an ancient blood, a line of warriors, scholars, longtime rulers of an old world. Pride is great. But nationalism and self-proclaimed superiority is terrible. I struggle with it when it’s Iran, or Italy or the US. I hate the line, “God bless America,” which brings an image to mind of an overweight Jesus on a cloud wearing a trucker hat with “USA,”burned into the outsourced cotton and he’s giving the finger to the rest of the world, especially the middle east, because seriously, fuck them, as far as American Jesus is concerned.

My FIL mentioned that he loves how people dress casually most of the time in AZ and Utah. “It’s so much more comfortable! You can feel good!” He gestures to his outfit, explaining that the constant need to impress or be judged is hard on people in Italy. “I’ve never liked that much.” I watch him talk in my rear-view mirror and, honestly, I’m not even sure I know who this man is. In Italy, he’s obsessed with appearances. He’s always yelling at me because Francesco’s shoes are dirty (it’s somehow my problem?), and because my outfits are not colorful enough (because my job is to dress like a peacock and then strut through Cassino earning his family stars for my steller outfit?). Looking good is more important to him than enjoying life, often citing, “what would people think?” as a reason for having the least amount of fun possible. Making an impression is everything to him. I had no idea that deep down the pressure to be accepted by the community weighed so heavily. The thought that he’s molded his life around impressing other people makes me sad. It’s sad.

Fitting in and doing exactly as everyone else does comes from tiny community mentality. The idea that you only had your community and without them you could potentially die. Back in the day it was the same way in the US. If you were outcasted, who would you trade with for food in the event of a crisis? Who would help you deliver your babies? Who would give you water in time of drought. Fitting in could literally be your lifeline in a small town. Also, fitting in was a huge part of fascism in Italy and the older generation still has the fascist culture that presses for people to conform above all else.

My FIL is an old school, southern man. As much as I love learning about traditions and watching them, I’m not always all about living them. I’d like to think of myself as progressive, and  racism, sexism, bullying, or fear tactics give me icky feelings. My MIL once said of her husband, “my husband must control everything, and he believes that he is the center of the world that revolves around him. My mother didn’t believe that men should be the boss. That is why my mom hated him and he hated her.” According to my FIL, men rule, and they should rule with authority and fear. Men don’t do things like the dishes. Real men sit at the table wearing a bib, getting crumbs all over the floor, banging silverware on the table while waiting for their food. “Real men” sound a lot like toddlers.

I was the most nervous for him to be in the US. Him and his rigid, Bella figura or death mentality are so exhausting in Italy and the source of so many arguments. “In Italy, you will learn to be Italian. You can’t be like you are in my house.” BUT he fucking LOVES the US like nobodies business. He’s having a blast! He loves that things are “clean, orderly,” that people are, “polite,” and that they “do what they should do.” He likes that there is rosemary randomly grown in places that he keeps foraging. He’s come home with bushels of it in AZ, and even Las Vegas.

 

My MIL in-law likes a few things but overall she hates the US which isn’t that surprising. In Italy my MIL has a bad case of classic superiority complex. “It’s just not possible for a her to be a good mother or wife…she isn’t Italian,” she once said about me. While in the US she’s spent most of her days noting how Italy is decidedly best. “Italian food, is best. Italian style is best. Italian children are better. Italian parents are better. Italian manners are better,” were among some of her larger statements.

Don’t get me wrong, Italy is awesome, but as a friend said, “it’s okay to be proud of your heritage, but feeling superior because you’re good at making spaghetti? Seems like a bit of a stretch…”

On a list of things she’s actually liked: She likes eyebrow threading. “That  dark brown woman! Where did she come from? That brown woman is good at this! With one thread! Nobody back home will believe it!” She made me search for threading on YouTube where she watched the videos over and over again, writing the URL down in a notepad to show her friends back in her village.

She really loved the Swiffer, and our little Bissell vacuum which she bought and crammed into her suitcase to take back to Italy, “The technology is amazing here.”

One morning I caught her with her entire head in the clothes dryer. “It just dries your clothes! Right in your house!” She’s obsessed with affordable controlled air, noting that in Italy her cold apartment is giving her neck problems.

In Sephora the worker put makeup on her and took the time to show her around the store. My MIL was so excited about this that she hugged the woman afterwards. “I think that my granddaughter should come here at eighteen to become a beautician.” I took her to one of those nail salons, the ones with an exclusive vietnamese staff and the suspicious nail pimp who trolls the technicians. The nail technician looked at my MIL’s nails, “who did her nails? This is the worst nail job I’ve ever seen in my life. Tell her not to go there anymore,” she filed her fingernail violently.I agree with this. Nobody are as good as these places called, “Starz Nails,” or “Diamond Nails.”

“The Chinese are so good at this!” She exclaimed as we left with her new shiny red toes. “Vietnamese,” I corrected her. She stared at me for a long time trying to figure out what the difference was.

 

Apparently America Is All Bumper Cars And Skype

Since importing my husband to America temporarily for business (me turning surviving in Italy, and Dirty Filthy Things into books), things have been crazy. First, we had to spend two months in my mother’s basement. It wouldn’t have been that bad if my mom’s cat wasn’t the size of an african lion and didn’t HATE OLIVER WITH A BURNING PASSION and if my mom didn’t smoke so much that one could easily confuse her house for an oil refinery (sorry mom). Those two things combined were difficult. Then brother drama ensued when I disapproved of him fathering yet ANOTHER baby (he seems to think he’s responsible for the entire next generation) despite the instability in his life. I told him that I felt he was irresponsible, it broke into a fight and my mom decided after a few beers that the best solution was to lock us into a basement together because we’re five. We haven’t spoke since (and if you’re reading this, STOP BEING SO GODDAMN STUBBORN!). Oliver had his testicles removed in what seemed like the most BOTCHED SURGERY EVER. Seriously, you guys, he couldn’t move for like a week and his entire underside was purple. It was shit-tastic and I felt like a horrible human being. The good news is he has yet to sexually molest any humans, dogs, or stuffed animals since. I haven’t slipped in doggy splooge in over a month! It’s the small things, people. Then my mom adopted Flower, who passed away a few days ago from Lymphoma and kidney failure, I wrote about it here and I cried a lot. Then F found a killer job in AZ so we moved to Phoenix and are currently renting a house. Since my job is writing, I can do it anywhere, but coming back to the US I didn’t imagine that anywhere would be in the dessert in fucking scorpion-land. The second night in this house we found a Bark scorpion (the most poisonous ones in AZ) and we ninja attacked it so hard to death! Oliver stared at us like we were terrifying creatures who were freaking out for no reason and now he won’t go out the patio door. I guess to him it would seem strange for your family to suddenly start kicking the shit out of a wall.

I have some crazy reverse culture shock happening where I have no idea how to interact with people. Also, my space issues are screwed up. I was asking a guy about dog food the other day (nothing sourced OR manufactured in China) and he kept giving me a weird look. I finally realized that I was standing so close to him I could have stuck out my tongue and licked his cheek. My vagina was practically resting on his leg. I was scaring him. So, thanks a lot Italy for making me way creepier than I was before. Francesco seems to be adjusting more or less except that he CANNOT DRIVE HERE and he’s somehow managed to wreck not one, not two, BUT THREE FUCKING CARS. It can happen, right? I’ve been in a number of accidents myself and that’s why I don’t drive. In Italy, Francesco was a fantastic driver but here it seems that he can’t quite NOT HIT OTHER CARS. The first time he backed my mom’s Geo Prizm into her husband’s truck. That time it “was-a deh cars-a fault!” and it cost us a few hundred in repair work. The second time he backed a rental car into one of the cars in my father’s driveway (no damage was done), and the third time was last night at my sister’s house. We were leaving and he just decided to go ahead and back our car into a brand new truck parked across the street while the owner watched in horror. I heard CRUUUUNNNCCCHHH and F jumped out and apologized profusely to the owner and his five friends who materialized out of the soil. Luckily, there was no damage done. I texted my sister, “Oh shit! We just hit your neighbors car!” and she came running out yelling, “These damn foreign drivers!” because it’s my sister and she’s hilarious. When we left the scene of the minor collision F seemed somber. “Babe,” he said, “I have to remember that there are actually consequences here. In Italy if you hit someone you just give them an apology and 100 euro but here they call insurance and stuff. Here is so stupid.” Seriously, guys, fuck laws.

Aside from the driving F has only about 345,323 complaints starting with, “everyone here dresses like dog shit, I’ve never seen more workout clothes in public in my life,” to, “the food here is like deh a plastic,” and, “it’s a too a much a space, eh,” and, “I hate restaurants here! Deh just want you to eat and leave-a! It’s-a stupid!”  He also looks terrified that everyone smiles and waves at him, “What deh fuck are deh waving at? What do deh want from me?” We also got into a fight today that sounded like this:

Me: Please do the dishes.

F: I can’t I’m-a skyping with my dad and organizing their trip to Germany to see me.

Me: You’re going on a BUSINESS TRIP to Germany. Why are you spending two hours on skype every day with your parents to bring them to Germany while you’re ON A BUSINESS TRIP.

F: You wouldn’t understand because you don’t have a family!

Me: Wow. I think what you mean is that I don’t have a family that is still BREASTFEEDING ME.

F: You’re yelling at me for talking to my parents!

Me: No, I’m yelling at you for having shitty priorities. Your job is your priority, not your mom and dad coming to Germany. Also, I’m pissed that you have 3 weeks of vacation and decided that we’re spending all 3 weeks with them.

F: Well, we go to Italy for 2 weeks and they come here for 1 week!

Me: That’s what I said. 3 weeks vacation, 3 weeks with them. That is not a vacation! Being told every five minutes that I need to gain, lose, weight, change hair, clothes, face, personality, etc., is NOT A VACATION FOR ME! Two weeks okay, the other week is pushing it.

F: They are-a my-a parents! I moved away! I need to see-a them!

Me: I’m totally aware. I’m not denying you your family. I’m saying that you’re being totally weird and creepy and your priorities are off, dude. Like, you’re bringing them to Germany while you’re there with your boss at a work fair. It’s WEIRD. And ALL of our vacation? It’s weird. Can’t we just spend one week without them doing the sex in Hawaii or something!?

F: YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!

Then he stormed out to go clothing shopping with our brother-in-law, which is adorable.

And I get it. I love that he’s so family-obsessed and such a dedicated son. It’s one of the reasons I married him because I knew he’d be a great father and husband. But still, a little balance would be nice. 

This is where I’m at in life: You can take the boy out of Italy but you can’t teach him to drive or get him off of skype long enough to vaccum. 

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