It was the first day of school today for my daughter who was starting Junior High School and this American Mom got it all wrong. On the school website it said that the kids were supposed to be there between 9 and 9:40. At 9:10 I was driving to school and the cell phone rang somewhere deep in my bag. Chiara started digging for the phone and finally answered for me. It was my colleague Gianfranco– over the weekend a vandal had attacked the Moor Fountain—the one with the four Tritons at one end of Rome’s famous Piazza Navona– with a cobblestone (San Pietrino) knocking off two chunks. Police had caught the vandal. Gianfranco was running to film the damage and interview restorers who were already on the scene.
“I can’t deal right now,” I answered, frenetically swerving through a traffic light and around a corner. “It’s Chiara’s first day of school.” I hung up and Chiara looked at me, “Mamma, why are you sweating so much?” Damn. It is hot and sticky in Rome today and like all good Mozzarella Mammas I get dressed nicely for the first day of school. All the Mammas show up tanned, relaxed and looking their best. It is just part of the whole “bella figura” thing. But not me. “I am hot and stressed sweetie,” I responded. “Yeah, but that is a lot of sweat for this early in the morning,” she answered innocently, making me sweat even more.
We got to school and found the area where the kids for the first-year of junior high were supposed to be. But there were no kids there, just parents. It was 9:20. I saw a Mamma I know, a perfect Mozzarella Mamma, a Mamma that gets on my nerves. She has three kids and she always seems to be class representative for all three of her kids’ classes. She is always best buddy with all the teachers and is one of those never-miss-a-meeting Mammas. I looked at her and said, “where are all the kids?” She glanced at me as only a perfect Mozzarella Mamma can look at a frazzled, working, sweaty American Mamma and said, “they had roll call at 9, they are all in class.”
“Mammmmaaaaa!” Chiara declared. “Why are we always the late ones!!!”
I started sweating even more. Eventually we got her to her class and everything was ok.
Just a little aside here on that perfect Mozzarella Mamma. When my daughter was in third grade – and that perfect Mamma was the usual class rep, they had a class show where all the girls had to dress up as mermaids. The teacher came up with the handy idea that the Mammas had to make the mermaid outfits. One day outside the school I bumped into the perfect Mamma. She said to me, “I have the solution for you. In some sewing stores they have a special kind of stapler and you can buy the material for the mermaid outfit and just staple it together. That way it will be easier for YOU, you can do it quickly and won’t have any problems.” I smiled sweetly and we said goodbye.
But inside, my stomach was roiling. She had insulted my pride. There is one thing that I think all journalists, and especially Television Producers have in common. We are extremely competitive. There was no way another mamma was going to tell me that I was not capable of sewing a mermaid outfit. I went to the sewing store and instead of buying a stapler, I bought turquoise, green and teal colored silk cloth and thread, then I bought green and blue glass beads. I spent weeks working on that damn mermaid outfit.
No one in my family could believe that I could sew. But way back when I was in 3rd grade, I read “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and decided that I wanted to make a quilt just like Laura. My grandmother taught me how to cut out pieces of cloth and sew together the patches and eventually I made a quilt. It wasn’t perfect, but I did it.
It was more or less the same with the mermaid outfit. It wasn’t perfect, but I did it, and Chiara looked gorgeous in her mermaid outfit, with beads running down the sides and tiny seashells sewed on here and there. I arrived – late as usual – for the class show. There I saw the daughter of the perfect Mozzarella Mamma wearing a strange bikini top with two gigantic seashells covering her non-existent breasts. Ha. She looked silly. The perfect Mamma came up to me and said, “Did you really make Chiara’s outfit?”
To be honest, it wasn’t much of a victory. I did not get any great satisfaction in the better outfit and it didn’t make me feel like a better Mamma.
But I did have fun making the outfit. Chiara loved sitting beside me at our dining room table and picking out the beads and finding tiny seashells with holes in them for me to sew on.