Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Attila the Honey

You know you ought to start worrying when you discover that your daughter's nursery school teachers have nicknamed her la peste (the pest/plague), la tempesta (the storm) and Attila (umm, that one's just plain embarrassing).
'Do you think she was just born that way?' I hesitantly asked them one day, 'or have I done something to make her slightly, um, livelier than the others?'. I don't know if they were just trying to make me feel better (and God knows they should with the amount I pay them each month), but they assured me that Isabel was just born 'spirited' and that I wasn't responsible. At least not entirely. Damn - there was I hoping they'd just tell me to just switch off the wi-fi at home or something and she'd calm right down. No chance.
'You just have to be firm with her' they advised, 'oh, and make sure all your cupboards are shut with scotch americano.' Scotch americano? Italians call sellotape 'scotch' so it must be a super-strength American sticky tape. Unless scotch americano is some kind of magic child-repellent substance, in which case I want to order a truck load for the toilet, the bins and my mobile. Of course, quite often what I really need in order to deal with Attila is just plain scotch. Ditto a truck load.

In all honesty, she's sweetness and light most the time. She might be the nursery bully/tough nut/chief dummy thief, but she's also by far the smiliest child there and, at 15 months, she can understand everything you say to her in both Italian and English (except 'no' - which, oddly enough, is the same word in both languages). She'll happily take on a kid twice her age and size. Also, I think she may have Womble blood as she's obsessed with picking up litter and then making sure I put it all in the bin. Oh, I get in trouble if I just pretend to put something in the bin. It takes 3 minutes to walk to her nursery to pick her up and then 40 mins for us to walk home as she has to pick up every last scrap of paper and cigarette butt, climb on every little ledge, sit on every step, go into every open doorway, wave hello to every passer by, examine every drain, chase every poor pidgeon... you get the picture. Basically, if you own a dog then please spare a thought for the parents of curious toddlers and use a poopascoop.

There is only one way to calm her down and distract her from drawing all over the radiators. Only one way for me to make dinner without her clinging to my ankles like a sobbing clam. It is unmentionable in the 'right' parenting circles. It is the devil itself for many middle-class yummy mummies. Dare I admit to using it? TV. Two very little yet highly loaded letters. The saviour of many a parent. My saviour. I love it. I'm not a yummy-mummy, I'm a telly-tubby. I'm getting quite into kids programmes now. I could write a thesis entitled 'Why it's never night In The Night Garden' and can talk at length about how Raa Raa the Noisy Lion is the most egotistical little prat in the jingly jangly jungle. Isabel thinks Baby Jake is her brother and even I slip into a trance when Baby Einstein is on. God bless TV.

So Isabel/Attila and I rub along quite nicely in the end. A little telly now and then and some scotch americano on the loo and we'll be just fine.

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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How do I know if I exist? Go to desk no. 5

I've officially been living in Italy for 11 years, hurray. I celebrated by diving head first into the bureaucratic jungle that is the Italian health authority offices. Of course, my first attempt to re-register with my GP was rebuffed, but I defied the odds, went back home on the tube, got the seven hundred zillion documents allegedly required plus a few extra for good luck, back on the tube, back to the same woman behind the same bullet-proof glass, slammed everything on the counter, which groaned under the weight, and watched her face fall from sneer to panic as she realised that she was actually going to have to turn on her computer and do some work. Result.

This, however, is nothing compared to my next challenge which is to apply for Italian citizenship. This has to be the mothership of all bureaucratic nightmares. Nonetheless, I remain positive that it can be done and I'm confident in the knowledge that I've already done the impossible by changing my surname and National Insurance number- two things that leave my Italian friends quivering in awe and disbelief. The real question is: once I'm Italian (in a couple of years: the ancient wheels of the vetting process are on the rusty and creaking side, especially for someone who has changed their name and NI number) can I still moan about Italy? Can I still blog about crap loos and people never moving out of the way on the pavement? Why am I the only coglione in Italy who actually moves to one side when I see someone coming towards me? In my mind, in a normal day, at least one person should make space for a pregnant woman with a pushchair. Apparently not. Maybe once I become Italian, I won't move out of the way either - problem solved.

G and I recently went to get our daughter's first Italian ID card. Again, at the first attempt we were sent home with our parental tail firmly between our legs because, guess what? we had forgotten to bring our daughter with us. Opps. School boy error that one. Rather embarrassing. While we were in the cavernous government offices though, I couldn't help but notice through the gloom the queue for certificates proving that you are alive. They're called certificati di esistenza in vita. Either there are a lot of Italians out there pretending to be dead people, or that is the most pointless example of spaghetti bureaucracy I've ever heard of. Neither option is particularly comforting.

In the name of balance and fairness, I should also confess to my recent head-on collision with a British public office. Namely, the Passport Office. Did you know that you have to pay to get information about UK passport applications over the phone? And I don't mean just the network charge, I mean an astronomical fee per minute charged by the private company who take the calls. All I can say in their favour is that they replied extremely promptly and politely to my prompt and polite complaint. Terribly British, what what. You'd never get a reply from a letter of complaint over here. I remember teaching Italian students how to write a typical letter of complaint for a part of their English exam and they had never even heard of such a thing. They thought it was a hilarious and pointless thing to do. For them it was up there with wall-to-wall carpets and instant custard. They were quite right of course, I wrote my letter of complaint but I still had to pay.

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Thursday, 17 November 2011

A loo too far

I promised I'd never lower myself to blogging about the state of Italian toilets but I'm afraid I've lowered myself over one too many holes in the ground to hold back any longer. And that's part of the problem: being pregnant means that (a) I always need to pee and (b) I CAN'T hold back. Take note: a hole in the ground with two handily marked foot prints is absolutely not more hygenic and, as evidence strongly suggests, is not easier to clean either. Basta. Nobody wants their nose that close to the ground while they're having a wee. If you're a man and you're not bothered, then well done - but watch out, you're bound to be caught out needing a number 2 sooner or later.

When there is an actual toilet, there is inevitably no sign of the toilet seat. Even here we are forced to hovering. If you have the thighs of Usain Bolt then again, well done. If not, then you get that quivering leg quake which leads to you either leaping up and not finishing your business, or crashing down on a toilet bowl liberally sprayed with urine. What's wrong with toilet seats? I salute the humble toilet seat. Italian rubbish dumps must be full of mournful stacks of brand new, never-sat-on toilet seats. Btw, for a nation that would rather give up the Pope than relinquish their blessed bidets, Italians have some fairly filthy bathroom habits. Of course nobody admits to being the one who peed all over the toilet and the floor and who scattered loo roll here and there like confetti (and I'm talking about the Ladies here). But then, nobody admits to voting for Berlusconi either.

My ever-wise (and English) mother-in-law put the situation in perspective the other day. I was bemoaning the fact that the only public toilets in Italy with baby changing tables are in out-of-town Ikea. What do Italian mothers do? My conclusion is they don't leave the house until their child is potty trained (around 8 years old here, about the same time they move out of their parents' bed) (sorry, I'm getting catty now..). Mother-in-law nodded patiently and told me that when she moved to Milan 40-odd years ago, you were hard pushed to find ANY public toilets and when you found one it was always a hole in the ground. Crikey.

I'm not saying other countries are better because they have public toilets with locks on the doors, reams of loo roll, hot running water to wash your hands and baby changing facilities (God bless John Lewis in Southampton, they even have a room for feeding infants and baby bottle warmers). I also know that there are much uglier problems in the world, but pretty soon my tummy will be so big that once I've lowered myself over a hole in the ground, I won't be able to get back up again. It happened towards the end of my last pregnancy in a bar in Florence. Took me ages to get out of that bathroom and I'd only popped out to go to the supermarket.

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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Trouble in paradise

It must be so easy being a man. Why should I be a little nervous of taking my quote unquote 'spirited' toddler on a 2 hour train ride to Florence on my own while 4 months pregnant? Nothing easier. Anyone who's travelled on public transport with a small child knows exactly what an enormous pleasure it is. I simply dream of spending time with Isabel in confined spaces. Of course, I won't actually be alone: as well as a train full of people watching me, I'll also have the pushchair and a nice full rucksack for company. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr. Can you tell that G and I have had a row? Steam is literally coming out of my ears right now. It's going to take at least 15 cups of tea before I can even think about calming down and the very worst thing is that the bloody washing machine is on so I can't boil the kettle because the f!$#ing electrics in this f%*!ing country can't take more than one appliance at a time. Double, triple and quadruple grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

My actual telephone conversation with G this morning went something like this:
G: 'So, what, you're never going to travel ever again? You're just going to stay in the house now forever? What about when the second one is born? That's it?'
Me: 'No, I just don't feel up to it RIGHT NOW - I'm finding some things more difficult now than I used to, it's just because I'm pregnant and because Isabel is getting really lively.'
G: 'Come on, a couple of hours on the train, it's no more difficult than taking her to the supermarket!'
Excuse me?
Me: 'Well, actually, you've never travelled alone with her so what do you know? I've taken her on trains and planes and it's ALWAYS really tough!'
G: 'I'd love to travel with her more but someone has to WORK you know.'
EXCUSE ME? Talk about below the belt.

So anyway, apparently everything is just easier if you're a man. Except of course managing to pee inside the toilet, pressing the 'on' button on the dishwasher and having a basic understanding of your wife.

In the end, and against my better judgement, I am indeed going to Florence tomorrow with Isabel on the train - God help me (and the other passengers). I believe that the journey will be less torturous than spending the weekend in Milan with a super-grumpy G moaning about all the things we could be doing if only I'd come down to join him in Florence. Wish me luck.

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Three's company

I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog from Daily Mel to Annual Mel. Apparently, being a mum gets easier at some point (when child leaves home?) at which point I might have time for activities like making tea, washing my face and, somewhere down the line after cutting my finger nails and thinking about dinner, blogging. Right now, it's a case of daily survival- which definitely wouldn't be possible if G hadn't sorted out English telly. I couldn't do motherhood without Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing. No question. If the BBC figure out how to make it illegal to hook up to iPlayer from abroad then I'm finished. They'll find me sat rocking in the corner drooling and chewing on a leg of the high chair.

Having said all this, I've obviously had a bit of time on my hands because, huge gulp, I'M PREGNANT AGAIN. It's the most wonderful, thrilling and yet bone-chillingly terrifying feeling in the world. Morning sickness has been just as fun this time round, perhaps even more so with a very confused one-year-old to watch me puke. At one point she kept trying to give me her teddy whilst I was dry-heaving into the toilet. Bless.

Anyway, despite not blogging for ages, feeling sick and spending most the day toddler-chasing (must contact the organisers of London 2012 and suggest it as an Olympic sport) I still, as always, have much to say about the dolce vita and raising a perfectly per bene bambina milanese. Watch this space!

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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Casa dolce casa

Ah, England. The fields of carpet and rivers of tea. And coffee which has apparently become a luxury foodstuff. I had this conversation in a cafè last week:
'One latte, please'
'That'll be £2.60.' Thump. (Sound of me fainting)
Actually, I didn't faint, I said:
'That better be one hell of a latte'. Spotty cafè boy = not amused. Isabel rather predictably woke up as soon as I sat down and put my head between my legs to recover from the shock, so I couldn't even take my time over my scalding hot, bitter coffee. That's cafè culture for you.

When I come home to England I love nothing more than going round the supermarket to marvel at the mind-boggling variety of stuff on offer. It makes me dizzy. I want to buy everything. I feel sick. When I spotted cans of Baxter's Italian Wedding Soup, however, I nearly crashed the pushchair into the fifty different types of baked beans on the other side of the aisle.
'Italians don't even have soup at weddings', I scoffed to my mum. Nothing more irritating than a food snob, I know. I just can't help it.
'Err, actually,' she replied, 'you had soup at your wedding. Which was in Italy. And very Italian.'
That'll teach me for being a smug expat. I do dimly recall a kind of chickpea soup at our wedding, which brings me to the next thing I've noticed about English food. I bought some chickpeas two days ago and prepared a delicious chickpea and vegetable salad with so-called 'crunchy' carrots (Mr Sainsbury, are there any other kind?), celery and chopped 'vine' tomatoes (ditto)(perhaps the other tomatoes on sale are grown in test tubes). Guess what? The whole thing tasted of NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. I ended up adding so much salt that an otherwise healthy lunch became a heart attack on a plate.

But, if the glow-in-the-dark carrots let me down then the insane optimism towards the weather always picks me right back up again. The forecasters don't mention the rain, just the sunny spells. As soon as the sun comes out everyone puts on shorts and t-shirts and never mind that it's only 8 or 9 degrees. It's sunny!! Gale force winds? Pah. I'm wearing my new Marks & Sparks vest top if it kills me (it probably will when you all develop pneumonia). But the Brits are tough, whereas I've been living in Italy for 10 years so I now actually suffer from 'colpo di freddo' - which is when you get cronic bronchitis from sitting in a cold draught even if it's 35 degrees. A food snob and a wimp. How annoying.

But most of all you can't beat the sense of humour. There was a toasted and buttered tea cake in the kitchen the other day and I asked my dad,
'Is that yours?' To which he replied, quick as lightening,
'No, it's just my current bun.' Love it.

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Thursday, 19 May 2011

If only

If I had the energy I'd kick myself. Imagine what a beautifully chiseled stomach I'd have if I'd just done 20 sit-ups everyday for the last month. This falls into the same category as 'if only I'd saved £1 every week since I was 16' etc etc. Doh. Everyday I think, ok, I'll start today. Clean slate. Be positive. You can do it. You moved to Italy on your own with just a few quid in your pocket. You gave birth in a foreign language in a country where they think gas and air are for hot air balloons. You can manage a couple of sit-ups. However, I challenge anyone who's been up since 5.30am with a teething baby to start leaping around doing gymnastics as soon as said infant collapses asleep mid-morning. You think going to work every day is hard? I can barely drag my saggy tummy to the kettle to make a cup of tea these days.

So what's the solution? Well, I've found it. Come to England for a couple of weeks. English people have all become so fat and gross (ahem, friends and family excluded) that I feel as svelt as a Swedish super model on a diet of Tic Tacs and toothpaste. Of course, as soon as I get back to Milan I'll probably commit Harakiri on the pushchair handles when I realise that just one of my can't-blame-it-on-the-baby-anymore thighs has roughly the same circumference as four Miu Miu Mums roped together with a Louis Vuitton luggage strap. For the moment though I'm smugness personified and reward myself at least once a day with a chocolate brownie or Snickers bar. Yum.

Problem no. 2 these days is how to deal with said teething baby. Nobody warned me about the mucus. She's so congested that the other day she sneezed and snot came out of her eye. Truth. Luckily, I found a kind of solution this morning at the local café: while I was smugly enjoying my slice of cake, I noticed a couple in the corner with a tiny, fresh-from-the-box baby. The parents had the kind of harrowed look of people who are only just beginning to realise that they've intentionally sabotaged their lives FOREVER and may never sleep, eat, read, have sex (what's that?) again. Thank God, I thought, that I survived those early days and what a relief that little Isabel now sleeps at night, plays happily, loves ripping books to shreds etc. Maybe teething isn't so bad after all. And although some days she's more of a Grizzabel, or Decibel (as my dad has baptised her), or Alarm bell (as I like to call her), on the whole she's just plain Isabel.

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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

It takes guts

I'm drowning in a day-time TV soup of makeover shows and cookery programmes. The makeover shows make me feel fat and the cookery programmes are just making me fat. I've been so busy trying to claw my way out from underneath a mountain of poo-encrusted laundry, that I failed to notice when aliens came in the night and swapped my normal body for something much squidgier. I'm only 4 kilos over my other-lifetime weight, they just happen to be extremely wobbly kilos. And all evenly distributed around the area that I believe I used to refer to as a 'waist'. Sitting on the sofa learning how to make meringue isn't helping.

The real problem is that I have English TV, which is full of cookery programmes with promising titles like Baking Made Easy and Simple Suppers, as well as makeover shows like Hotter Than My Daughter. Mash and trash. I'm addicted. I have a vague idea that some pretty serious stuff is happening around the world right now, but I've fallen down the rabbit hole all the way to babyland, where the only things that matter are the number of oozing nappies I have to dispose of each day and which lip gloss is going to make me look skinny again. Weaning is in and the real world is out. Actually, this is the real world now - what a bizarre thought.

Of course, sometimes I venture out into the real real world (AKA outside), although I usually run into too many Corso Vercelli mums and end up getting all cross. They are the mums who haunt the streets near my house, mainly Corso Vercelli itself, and who have what I have baptised as Bulgari Babies. When you're pregnant you go through this whole my-bump's-bigger-than-your-bump business, ie: if you're the size of a combine harvester then your neighbour's daughter was the size of the hay barn. Then the baby's born and if you had 20 stitches then the woman in the bakery's sister gave birth to a herd of elephants and had to have her bottom sewn onto her head etc... Then, finally, you get pushchair envy. I swear there are women parading up and down Corso Vercelli with Ferarri pushchairs. There's a shop with a €135 Gucci babygrow in the window. It's plain white cotton. These women must all have teams of personal trainers, nannies, toe nail clippers and fake tan sprayers and are so irritatingly impecable that it makes me want to throw my baggy self under the number 16 tram.

Instead, I just hold my head high and push my second-hand mud-caked pushchair, wearing the only trousers that fit me since the alien body-swap. Like all mothers, especially new ones, I am safe in the knowledge that my baby is the most beautiful of all. Then I go home, wait for Isabel's nap time and watch Snog Marry Avoid with a plate of homemade muffins.

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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A good week

I haven't been posting this week because nothing's really been happening. That is, unless you count that yesterday I had a row in the street with an Eismann rep, I think I may have arthritis, I've bought a Kindle and for the last five days Isabel has been producing more poo than a cow pat factory.

The Eismann rep approached me while I was running late to the doctor's in the pouring rain, umbrella in one hand, shoving the pram with the other and the baby screaming like a child possessed. Not really the best moment to try to sell someone some frozen carrots. My feet and trousers were soaking wet because, by the way, the nearest pavement not full of pot holes is in Switzerland. Due to these extenuating circumstances, I may have sounded a teensy bit aggressive when I suggested to the rep that this might not be the best moment for her sales pitch. She came back with a very tart sounding Italian equivalent of 'ooooooooo, well excuuuuuuuse me, madam!'. Grrrrr. Those Eismann reps are out to get me. They were camped out on the street corner by my house for a couple of weeks until recently, but I managed to avoid them. The only people who are more annoying are those ones who ask you what the last book you read was.

On the subject of books, I'm a bit embarrassed about the Kindle. I did used to work in a book shop after all. And I love books more than Marmite and tea and toast put together. E-books aren't even that much cheaper. I may have lost my head a bit there. I've certainly lost a significant chunk from my bank account. Hmmm. I've since been ploughing through Amazon to find all the free downloadable books, which of course, aren't in a section labelled 'free books'. They're hidden among the other rather pricey books, cheeky devils.

Arthritis: I'm keeping a stiff upper lip about that. And stiff ankles, knees, wrists and fingers. Just kidding. I don't know if it's actually arthritis, I just know that it takes me longer to get up off the floor than it would Isabel's great-grandmother (hi Gran!) and that first thing in the morning I'm about as flexible as the Tin Man. That's why I was on my way to the doc's in the pouring rain yesterday.

There's nothing else been happening, except Isabel's remarkable poo producing capabilities which have shot right off the top of the merd-o-meter. Big G keeps telling me, however, that not everyone wants to hear about poo all the time so I won't go into details such as colour, consistency and smell. I'm dying to, but I think I'll just end it there.

By the smug look on her face, she's just done one right now. Trying to beat her own merd-o-meter record, the little minx.

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Monday, 31 January 2011

It begins ...

It's beginning to dawn on me that being a mother actually means (a) being in a constant state of anxiety and (b) not being able to go to the loo without waving my arms around while singing The Grand Old Duke Of York. The anxiety part comes from suddenly seeing danger everywhere (get that massive baby-munching hound away from my pushchair, punk) and God help me if I think any further into her future than the day after tomorrow. To make matters worse, each night just as I'm drifting peacefully off to sleep, my other half usually starts snoring like a chainsaw ripping through cast iron and it's at that point that my mind starts throwing up images of Isabel toddling in front of cars and accepting sweets from strangers. Talk about cold sweat. Not being able to have a shower without playing peekaboo from behind the shower curtain pales in comparison.

Being a mother in Italy also means taking on the full force of Italian bureaucracy as, (quite unwittingly) I have created a little Italian person who needs several hundred documents and certificates in order to officially exist. She already has a tax code, which, let's be honest, is just what all five-month-olds want for Christmas. Last week, disaster struck when I discovered that she wasn't registered as a 'resident' of Florence, where I'm registered, or indeed Milan, where we live. The woman in the town hall in Florence was horrified at my lack of concern: as far as she was concerned, walking round with no official place of residency is the bureaucratic equivalent of wearing socks with sandals. Two mornings spent in the town hall later and Isabel is now resident in Florence, like me, despite actually living in Milan. It's complicated. Now I have to transfer her residency to Milan. And mine. By the time that's all sorted, we'll probably be living somewhere else ('O, Signora, you foreigners do move around a lot!' Read between the lines: you have no sense of home or family you poor, sad weirdo, I bet you even put ketchup on your pasta).

So I'm learning what it means to be a mother and Isabel and I are both learning to stay calm and not start crying in town halls, police stations and all the other places you have to go to get documents stamped, signed in blood and generally sweated over. And this is just the beginning. I can't believe I have a lifetime of bureacracy and worrying ahead of me...

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Monday, 24 January 2011

It must be true, I read it in this book..

The Baby Whisperer has changed my life. I'm a The Baby Whisperer convert. Thanks to The Baby Whisperer, I knew to put Isabel down for a nap 10 minutes ago. Unfortunately, Isabel hasn't read The Baby Whisperer and so she doesn't realise that she's tired. If she had read it, she'd know that yawning, eye rubbing and a short concentration span are all clear signs of fatigue. How do babies have the energy to scream so loudly when they're exhausted? Make that 15 minutes now.

Shockingly, I recently realised that since becoming a mum I'm still exactly the same person as before. I was expecting to automatically gain heaps of maternal wisdom but instead I've gained nothing but several very badly distributed kilos. Hence The Baby Whisperer. And What To Expect The First Year and Fate La Nanna. Some people scoff at the leaning tower of baby books in my living room and tell me to just follow my maternal instinct. Unfortunately, my maternal instinct tells me not to throw my baby under a bus, but doesn't stretch to what to do if she hasn't pooed for five days. For that, I consult Dr Spock.

Luckily, it turns out I have (according to The Baby Whisperer) an Angel/Textbook baby. When other mums compete with each other over whose baby wakes most times at night, I shuffle my feet and look at the ceiling. Having a baby who sleeps 12 hours a night is absolutely the best way to make instant enemies with other mums. It's hard enough to make friends in a new city, let alone when your nearest possible allies want to scratch your eyes out because they haven't slept for more than two hours consecutively for almost six months. I have to invent all kinds of nasty stuff to be 'in' with the girls at my mother & baby group. We met this morning and fortunately Isabel has a kind of crusty face from the cold so I could fake being all worried about that in order to gain acceptance in the group. Being a mum is harder than I thought.

Although I knew it would be, I read it in a book.

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