Saturday, February 19, 2011

Returning to Sicily with bambino

The most long-awaited bambino in Sicily came back with me just before Christmas. The whole street turned out to greet him. Well, not quite. But all the neighbours wound down the slats on their shutters to get a good look at the Irish-Italian joining the street of losers and loopers. And at me of course, to see if I had regained my pre-pregnancy size. The in-laws feted him at every Christmas dinner and were disgusted when I took him home just before midnight on New Years’ Eve – I had no idea, nor did I care about the time – mio bambino was 7 weeks old, poor thing, and both of us were exhausted. Babies shouldn’t be up at midnight for noisy parties with champagne bottles popping and 30 adults all shouting auguri at each other across the room. Plus they had all had plenty of time passing him round and gawking at him and analysing whom he looks like during the previous large family dinners over the festive period. My north-European idea of a routine for the baby, involving a three hour loop of Eat-Play-Sleep came in for a bit of eye-rolling and I decided to steer clear of a certain sharp-tongued aunt with her old opinions on everything from dummies (I am not a fan and use it a quarter of the time they would use it) to sleep to whose eyelashes he has. Every part of my little bambino has been attributed, from his hair (very contentious, as it appears to be dark at first glance, like my husband’s, but underneath and at the temples it is fairer, like mine) to his fingernails. The chin? His paternal grandfather’s. His eyes are blue like mine and also the shape is mine, says the nonna, since they are not big like their eyes. Any bigger and they would be falling out of his little face. His Irish grandfather just smiles every time he sees him on skype because we all know that the person he most looks like is him. Everyone has their opinion, of course. Some exclaim ‘he’s the image of his father’, while someone an hour later will say, ‘รจ tutta sua madre’.

His grandparents see him a couple of times a week, either looking after him for a couple of hours to let me get something done, or when we go to their house for lunch. Then there are the brief encounters if I drop in to their house or to the restaurant or bump into them while out for a walk. But this is still not enough apparently. I begin to sense my cognata (sister-in-law) whispering that I am over-protective and they never get to see him. Since the older sister-in-law brings her two children over every single day for the entire afternoon to get time to herself, I can’t really compete. This is Sicily, where everything is full on. There is, of course, the way I want things done, and the way they do things here. That’s not particular to Sicily, every new mother has her issues with her mother-in-law or indeed her mother on how she wants things done for her baby. But here I am under more scrutiny and the north-European criticism is no doubt flouted often (as soon as I leave the room). For example, our houses here, being built into the side of a steep incline, are all full of steps. Steps to get into the house, and once inside, steps into the hallway. Then steps up or down to the kitchen. Hard concrete terracotta steps. I hate going up or down them carrying mio bambino, let alone someone else carrying him! But at the in-laws’, they like to carry him in the buggy down the steps to the kitchen, which is not necessary, I protest. He can stay in the hall if he is sleeping. But for them the ever-present ‘corrente’ is a much bigger danger. The draught in the hallway might cause him to catch pneumonia. On the other hand, when they are all dosed with the cold, or l’influenza , (the ‘flu) as any remote nose-dripping or slight cough is called here, they have no hesitation in looking after him for me, since the antibodies from my milk will protect him. Hmmmmm ….

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