Italy Roundtable: The Kids Are All Right

On 9 October 2012 by Jessica

Remember last month when I said my fellow Italy Blogging Roundtable cohorts and I had some interesting discussions about what topic we were going to write about? Well, this is the one that started the discussion – KIDS. Two of the four of us are parents, the other two are (adamantly) not, so you can imagine how the suggestion became something more than just a casual one. In the end, we decided to give it another few weeks’ worth of thought, knowing that with such diverse child-related experiences we’d probably come up with an interesting array of blog posts. So, how did we do? There’s only one way to find out – keep reading.

I have said, repeatedly and since about the age of 12, that I did not want to have children. I’ve never been shy of saying this, partly because I knew my family wouldn’t disown me over such a decision and my friends were never surprised by it. I’ve always been happy for friends and family who were happily expecting a baby, but I never want to hold them at the hospital. (No, really. Even my own nephews. I’m quite content to wait until they’re less smelly and breakable, thanks.) I’m perfectly aware that in some parts of the US and other countries around the world, saying the words “I don’t want to have children” in mixed company will draw gasps, stares, and scolding (and in fact I got some of that when I blogged about being childless by choice a couple of years ago).

Yet I wasn’t averse to writing about the intersection of “kids” and “Italy” for this month’s Italy Roundtable, because whenever I’ve traveled through Italy I’ve been struck by how much I notice the children there. This probably sounds like I’m constantly being annoyed by little people in restaurants or museums, and so can’t help but notice – and be irritated by – Italian kids. On the contrary, my take-home memory when I think of “children in Italy” is one that makes me smile.

I’ve eaten in many a restaurant in Italy where children sit at the table with the adults, eating in a more-or-less civilized way, and then when dinner runs on a bit long (as Italian dinners are wont to do) they may get up and scurry around the restaurant while the grown-ups are allowed to continue talking. Rather than annoy other diners – or the restaurant staff – this has always seemed perfectly acceptable. I’ve seen waiters play-chasing kids between tables, or offering kitchen implements to play with. The children aren’t overly loud, they aren’t bothering other diners, and they aren’t being told to behave themselves. They’re acting like the little kids they are – and at the same time, they’re kind of being trained to expect dinner to last awhile, to entertain themselves when they’re done eating, and to let Mom and Dad have a more leisurely meal.

I’ve walked through Italian towns in the early afternoons when the crowds on the sidewalks aren’t the adults heading to or from the cafe or the office, but grandparents walking grandchildren home from school – often with a stop at the neighborhood playground. This may be an image that’s common in what we like to call “small town America,” but even when I was growing up in a small city we walked ourselves home from school. And of course having the time to personally pick up a child after school can be seen as a luxury or a sign of economic distress – if it’s not a retired grandparent performing pick-up duties, it may be an out-of-work parent. I’ve tried not to romanticize the picture every time I’ve seen it, but I admit that’s not easy.

I’ve heard from many traveling parents over the years who said they always loved bringing their kids to Italy. Not only was the promise of gelato enough to lure most children through a museum, having a child in tow often means more interactions with locals (and positive ones, at that). Trying to force onself into the fabric of a place can be difficult on a short trip, and then it can feel forced. Watching your toddler “speak” in smiling pantomime with a local woman outside a cafe, on the other hand, is the sort of thing you’ll remember for ages.

I remain thankful that I was born in a time and place when it’s (mostly) culturally acceptable for me to say that I don’t want children. I think of my maternal grandparents, who likely wouldn’t have had children except it was the 1940s and that’s just what you did back then. (They were lousy parents as a result.) But what many trips to Italy has made me realize is that while I don’t want to have children of my own, I also don’t want to live in a place that is inhospitable to children. I love the way Italians allow their kids to be kids while still demonstrating how they’ll need to act later as civilized adults. Italian parents don’t seem to subscribe to the “seen and not heard” philosophy of child-rearing, and while that has every possibility of being supremely annoying, I have yet to find it so.

A Few Minor Disclaimers

First of all, I reserve the right to be completely off-base about the way Italians raise their kids, since I’m an outsider on multiple fronts when it comes to this issue, so I’d love to hear from you if your experience is different.

Also, please note that I’m leaving out the whole “exodus of young people from Italy because the Italian culture doesn’t support innovation in business” topic, because – wow – that’s a book right there.

Finally, I’d like to state for the record that while I adore seeing little kids sidle up to pizzeria tables and dig into their very own pies that are the same size as the ones served to adults, I will never be able to find it in my heart to accept or forgive the abomination that is the “hot dog and french fry” pizza. Seriously, Italy?!? And you give us grief about pineapple?!?

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

So, what do my fellow Italy Roundtable bloggers have to say on the topic of KIDS? I can’t wait to find out! Click through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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photos by olgite, Geomangio

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4 Responses to “Italy Roundtable: The Kids Are All Right”

  • Adorable take. I’m not a huge fan of kiddos and often want to slap their non-attentive parents. But I like your take on the kids keeping themselves occupied during dinner.

    Also, I may risk our friendship, but french fries on pizza kind of sounds like heaven.

  • I have to say that I find it refreshing that Italians seem to be so welcoming and accepting of children. In Brazil it is similar–at restaurants, the staff smiles at them, people accept that there are children there, and everyone seems to move on, not annoyed or worrying about what everyone else will think like here in the U.S. (and trust me, sometimes I am the one annoyed). I never was a huge fan of children until I had two and, in contrast to what Alexandra said above, I think that having children made my life so much better and made me a better human being–more sensitive, empathetic, and loving. I hope to take my children to Italy in the not-too-distant future and see what it’s like there for myself.

  • Alex, we call it a “camerina” (a camerino is the place where you try your German bra on LOL), but anyway…
    As a new mother, and one who a) thought she would never want children for the longest time, b) sometimes is still thinking “what was I thinking?!”, c) doesn’t like children at all and can put up with hers just because nature works in mysterious ways, I have to say that I have nothing against people who choose not to have kids and are not shy to say so. I am very aware of how annoying they can be and I am trying to raise my child to be as little trouble as possible, but as Jessica says so well, boy it is hard most of the time. They show you how much of a person of their own they are from day one and you can only cope and hope you are not messing them up too badly with your parenting skills (or lack thereof!). I love my son more than anything in the world (well, as much as my iPad and Nutella anyway), but it is hard work and your life is changed forever in many ways. Not necessarily ruined to tell the truth, but you have to start from scratch. I understand very well if a woman doesn’t feel like doing it. And if people start to think you and your kin are not much of a fun company anymore… All in all though, truth be told, I am a convert though. I think if this hadn’t happened, I would have missed out on much. I am kind of growing really fond of this family thing. It is a funny feeling (it could well be resignation LOL), and it comes with a whole lot of fears and doubts and moments in which I really have no idea of what I am doing. But it is cool to look at Liam and see a mix of myself and Marcel and hopefully my future too. This said, you two ladies have my kudos for knowing so well what you want. Ad Jessica… Where did you see French fries on a pizza?! Disgusting and absolutely not normal.

  • Jessica, it’s good to read your reflections. I decided to continue to keep my child-hating tendencies to myself because if i started on what i really think of the topic “children in italy” i would not stop ranting, and make too many enemies. You’re courageous to blog about being child-free by choice.
    I am glad you have positive memories of kids here. I think it’s cuz you don’t live here. I find myself repeatedly annoyed by the major proliferation of small devils around. Last week when we were in Berlin we realized at a certain point that we hadn’t seen many kids, nor been annoyed by any for a full 3 days. Not sure where the rich german babies were, but in Italy, for a country that statistically is not reproducing itself, i can tell you that this place is just crawling… literally… with babies. When i take the bus in the morning, there are 2 moms with strollers occupying the stroller part of the bus – where they have to push their way through, and nobody gives them a seat.
    This is the part where I deleted the other 400 words or so in which I rant about the whole “kids will ruin your life thing” and “here are 7 examples”, for I realize that if I wasn’t going to do it on my blog, I’d best not do it on yours, either! But boy, we’d have a fun time talking about this, you and I! I invite you to sleep in my child-free guest room in Florence, which people call a “camerino” for the kids but I call “office”, and we can talk about it in person.

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