Do you think it's weird that the 70 year old mechanic in my street asked me if I'm breastfeeding? Welcome to Italy. Your breasts are no longer your own once you have a baby here. People I've never met before (male and female) just stick their heads in the pram, wipe their hands all over Izzy's fingers and face and demand to know whether she gets bottle or boob. I can see their brains ticking over, she's foreign, they think, I'm sure she gives her child nasty formula milk. Call me an uptight English prude, but I don't like my boobs being bandied about in the Post Office, supermarket, local bakery or any other public place, thank you very much. And mind your own business.
Of course, according to the Granny Brigade I also have the most under-dressed baby in the country. I speed up if I see a couple of old ladies on a bench or waiting to cross the road because I just know what they're going to say.
'What a beautiful baby!' they coo. Come on nonna, cut to the chase, I think. 'And your mummy brings you out in this weather, so small to be outside!' Then they usually start adjusting Izzy's hat and jacket so she's basically suffocating. Suffocating but warm. I normally smile and say nothing but once I snapped and rounded on a woman, asking her if she thought it would be healthier to keep my baby in the house for the first six months of her life. She kind of stammered and scuttled away on her skinny granny legs. I won't even start on the comments I get for using my Baby Bjorn baby carrier. Suffice to say, you'd think I was carrying the baby around by her toe nails. Naked.
Then there's the dummy situation. Italy loves dummies. Not only do all the Italian mothers I know insist that their child uses a dummy until they're old enough to apply for their driving licence, but they also feel it's their duty to list to you the reasons why your own baby desperately needs one. Now, let's get one thing clear: there's a lot of literature on both dummies and thumb sucking and there are some convincing arguments on both sides. I happen to prefer Isabel sucking her thumb, mainly because that way she can learn to self-soothe and also because I think there might be a reason why dummies are called dummies. However, I would NEVER tell a friend, let alone a stranger, that they were somehow damaging their child by giving them a dummy. I must just look like an easy target. The other day I was walking with Izzy in the pram, sucking her thumb and just dozing off quite contentedly. I stopped to say hello to the mechanic, knowing what a close interest he takes in both my baby and my breasts and, incredibly, he leant into the pram with his great greasy paws and pulled Izzy's thumb from her mouth.
'You'll have to put a stop to that!' he chirped, oblivious to the fact that I was frozen in shock and utterly speechless. Next time I see him smoking I'm going to take the cigarette out of his mouth, put it out and give him a lecture about really bad habits.