Ok, ok, I know I am a total wimp. After 20 years of living in Rome, I have lost my Yankee backbone. My tough New England spirit and American true-grit have morphed into something far squishier, the mushy mozzarella method.
The other day my cell phone rang on my desk as I was busily editing a report on migrants arriving in Italy. I rushed over expecting it to be my son Nico who was supposed to stop by my office before leaving with a group of friends on a camping trip in Croatia. I picked up and heard his voice amid a general cacophony of young people laughing and talking:
“Hey Mom, I took the 50 euros that you left on the kitchen counter to buy a tent because we didn’t have any camping gear.” SIGH
“Nico, that money was for the plumber!!” I burst out before he continued, “And we’re on the bus now headed for Ciampino (the airport), sorry I didn’t have time to stop by your office to say goodbye.” AAARRRGGH.
My son aggravates the heck out of me. But being a Mozzarella Mamma, I couldn’t think of any effective response. I sent him a text message saying “Bad Son” with all the nasty emoticons I could find: angry yellow faces, red devil faces, thumbs down. He sent me back a winking smiley face. How Italian Male can you get.
My son started university this year and my plans for him to have a brilliant, challenging summer internship that would launch him into a future career quickly shrank to demanding that he get a summer job. There I came up against the European mentality that kids need to relax and enjoy the family holiday in the summer. My husband did not see any reason his son should be waiting tables or being a camp counselor, and my son thought it was only right that he should spend his summer with his girlfriend and his high school buddies. I must have told him one hundred times that when I was his age I spent several summers interning at WBZ TV in Boston during the day and working at “The Magic Pan Restaurant” at Faneuil Hall in Boston at night to make money. “Yeah, you would Mom,” was the impressed teenage reply.
As usual, me being the Mozzarella, Nico won this one. No waiting tables, or washing dishes or teaching bratty campers how to clean latrines for my more-Italian-than-American Son. He’s already been to Athens with his girlfriend and now is in Croatia camping with his buddies.
Before he left for Athens he asked me if I would accompany him to get a birthday present for his girlfriend Serena (that’s a fake name, I wouldn’t write about her with her real name because she is a lovely girl and I like her a lot and would not want to offend her.) So Nico and I headed off to a store Serena’s sister had recommended. Nico said that Serena’s sister suggested buying a Bikini and he wanted my help choosing one. I told him that I have never worn, bikinis. I don’t tan (too pale) and I prefer to swim, jump, dive, and play in the water without pieces falling off. We stepped out of the steaming Roman heat into a very chic store chock-a-block with bikinis (no one wears anything else in Italy), funky jewellery and cool sandals. I saw a young clerk and passed Nico off to her saying, “My son needs to buy a bikini for his girlfriend, I am sure you can help him better than I can.” I slipped over to the sandal section and was examining some pairs of pretty bejewelled sandals when Nico and the clerk reappeared with two bikinis.
The clerk held up one and said, “how about this?” I did not want to be involved but since Nico was looking perplexed I said, “I don’t think a THONG bottom is really going to work.” Nico started sinking into the floor. The clerk, in a rather huffy voice responded, “Signora, this is not a THONG bottom, it is a ‘BRAZILIAN’.” Nico had a frozen look on his face as I answered, “Well I am not sure what a BRAZILIAN is, but I don’t see any place for an Italian derriere in that thing, and on top of that the bra part is so small, I don’t think her boobs would fit into it. Serena’s got bigger boobs than I do, she wouldn’t fit into such a tiny thing would she?” And I turned towards Nico who was steadily backing up into a rack of bikinis about to impale himself on a hanger. “I don’t know MOM,” he managed to mutter, and the two of them turned and went back to look for others. Eventually, they found something else and didn’t bother asking for my opinion.
I always say the thing about being a mother is that you never learn to get it right. I have worked for years and years at being a journalist and a tv producer and I have gotten more experienced and better at what I do. I am a better interviewer, a better editor, and a better researcher than I was when I started out in my career. Being a parent, though, you can’t get better because with each year the game changes, the challenges are different. Dealing with the terrible twos is totally different from dealing with the terrible teens. Although it is all about bottoms, changing your two-year-old’s dirty diaper is totally different from choosing a bikini bottom for your son’s girlfriend.
That’s just my son, I also have two teenage daughters I am dealing with. Caterina managed to harangue me one Saturday until I finally agreed to take her to Rome’s water park Hydromania on that Sunday. I would not recommend Hydromania to any middle-aged Mamma. Actually, scratch that, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s a cheap water park on the outskirts of Rome with no rides but lots of water slides. We got there at 9:25 sharp so we could be there precisely at the 9:30 opening, my goal being to be out of there as soon as possible. The place was packed with a massive crowd pushing and shoving in front of the several ticket windows. Cate and I took our place in line amidst a group of “coatti” — I sound so terribly stuck up and snobby using such a term in Italian that I hesitate to translate it but basically it means sleaze balls (My on-line dictionary says it means a “lout, a cad, or a low-life”). Most of them were teenagers with several tattoos and an incredible amount of body piercing. Their language was atrocious with the word “cazzo” popping out about every 30 seconds.
Their conversation went more or less like in this:
Coatto 1: Ma quanto cazzo ci mette questa cazzo di fila?
Coatto 2: Ma che cazzo ne so io?
Coatto 3: Cazzo ho scordato l’asciugamano.
Coatto 4: Cazzo!
Here is a rough translation for those of you who don’t know Italian. Let’s just say the word “cazzo” is similar to the F word in English.
So translating the conversation it went like this:
Sleaze ball 1: How the F Long is this F-ing line going to take?
Sleaze ball 2: How the F do I know?
Sleaze ball 3: F! I forgot my towel.
Sleaze ball 4: F!
At this point the cashiers opened the windows and the crowd shoved forward. Two of the “coatti” sleazeballs figured that it was a good time to start making out passionately in line. My 16-year-old Caterina stood staring at them in shock. I was rather shocked myself. Then one turned to the other and said, “Ma che cazzo sta guardando lei?” (“What the F is she looking at?” ) At that point I sent off my sweet, innocent, still un-tattoo-ed or pierced Caterina to wait at the side while I continued the ticket torture line.
I won’t even go into the description of Mozzarella Mamma in her one piece bathing suit on all the water-slides (at least it wasn’t falling off) with all the coatti. Let’s just leave it to say, I nearly lost my lunch in a long, completely dark tube that turned and flipped Caterina and me around in a rubber raft before spitting us out into a swimming pool far below, and when I flew into the swimming pool and all the water went straight up my nose, I was almost tempted to say that C word myself. (Cazzo!) But I didn’t.
So Mozzarella Mamma is doing her best to keep her daughters tattoo and piercing-free and hoping they never use the big C word. I got some helpful advise on surviving the teenage girl summer from my sister across the Atlantic (who still has her Yankee backbone). Ten pm is “check-in time” for all electronic devices; all cell phones, iphones, samsungs, ipads etc, get handed over to Mom at that time. My sister diplomatically uses the word check-in instead of “confiscate” or “sequester” and if she gets a complaint she suggests “try reading a book or chatting with someone in the same room with you.” Brava!! I am going to try to enforce that one.
I have two beautiful daughters and several gorgeous nieces and I made a mozzarella mamma attempt to tell them today before a mid-morning trip to Cambridge that they are all so pretty and there is really no need for mascara or other makeup, they just do not need it. Chiara let out a pained, “Mommmmm, stop it. Mommmm, it is none of your business. Can you just CHILLLL,” from the backseat of the car. Chill. Short for Chill Out. I hate that expression, and Chiara says it to me all the time these days. I tried to abolish it but failed, so I am concentrating on making sure the other C word remains out of her vocabulary.
Chiara is now with me on vacation near Boston. This morning we were contemplating a swim at Walden Pond. Chiara said, “I can’t go swimming Mom because my new orange bikini is not cool for Walden Pond and I hate my one piece. I asked her if I could take a look at the orange bikini that I had given her the money to buy in Rome before she left. SHOCK AND HORROR!! It was an itsy, bitsy, teeny-weeny BRAZILIAN!! HELP!, “The Life Guards’ eyeballs will be popping out of their heads and the American Moms at Walden Pond will have me arrested!” I thought to myself, “Brazilian bikinis are not a New England thing.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely NOT wearing that to Walden Pond,” I said.
“CHILL MOM,” she replied and went back to her cell phone.
So that is where things stand so far in my Italian-American-Brazilian Teenage summer, and it is only July. I think I will go make myself an ice tea (American style, filled with ICE) and CHILL. Or maybe I should make that a Gin and Tonic.
(Postscript: I took the photo off the internet, it does not belong to anyone I know, not my daughters or my son’s girlfriend!!)
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.