Here in Italy, we are several weeks ahead of the U.S. although the word ‘ahead’ seems inappropriate. We are all just helpless humans at the mercy of a virus that we are just beginning to understand.
How we got here
In Tuscany during the first few days after schools closed, parents were still arranging playdates and still going to restaurants, bars, discotheques, strolling along the promenades at the beach-acting as if the measures were precautionary.
As hospital beds filled, and the death toll rose, it became evident that this was for real. Closing schools and restaurants, mandating small businesses to allow one person in at a time-seemed extreme. How dare they? How are people supposed to go to work if their kids are home all day? How will people survive if they are forced to stay home from work? The already fragile economy will crumble.
Now, here we are, a relatively short time later. As of today, the only reason anyone should leave their house is for work (the few businesses that are actually still operating); for essential food items (stores limit the number of shoppers that can enter at one time and the aisles that they can go down); or for essential medical visits (all non-emergency visits have been canceled). You’re lucky if you have a dog because you have a valid reason to take a walk- otherwise, even taking a stroll down the street is technically breaking the rules.
We must carry a written permit when we leave the house which states our purpose (one of the three above). Police officers will stop you whether you are walking or in your car and ask to see your permit and question its validity. If you say you are going to the grocery store then there is a good chance they will stop you on your way home and ask to see your receipt as proof. If you show them an old receipt or don’t have one, they will give you a ticket fining you up to several hundred euros.
The vast majority of people are following the rules. This warm, extremely social, Mediterranean culture is refraining from the double kiss on the cheek greeting, handshakes, hugs. Morning espresso is drunk at home rather than at their usual caffè, nonnas are learning to use Facetime to see their precious grandchildren, and neighbors are visiting balcony to balcony.
We are coming together in ways that no one could have imagined before the illness. There is a new sense (for me) or a renewed sense of national pride. Italian flags are waving in the air from balconies; video compilations of Italy’s astounding beauty are circulating with Bocelli’s unmistakable voice in the background. For those that had forgotten, it is a poignant reminder of what an incredible country this is.
At 6pm every day people are called to their windows, balconies, and terraces to join in the singing “flash mobs.” We have sung classics like “Volare”, we’ve turned off our lights in the house and pointed our flashlights to the sky from our balconies, we’ve applauded until our hands hurt for the doctors and nurses working so tirelessly.
This is earth-shattering at absolutely every level. Yes, we will recover. No doubt. We always do. But, there will be a new normal. What the new normal will be, no one knows.
Trying to educate a kid under these circumstances
I am here trying to educate my pre-teen son. And parents-I’m going to give it to you straight. I’ve seen all the colored charts with cute fonts blocking out your child’s day into organized, productive time slots and that generous hour of screentime. Woo-hoo! Lucky them.
We are almost four weeks into this and I can tell you that those plans are totally unrealistic. I have to say, I really love that about Italy. They are realists. None of those “helpful” charts ever circulated here. They would not have been well-received.
The truth is, having your kids at home all day is very hard. It’s not summer so it doesn’t feel right to let them relax. They have been abruptly taken out of school, many of you have been forced to stop working now as well, and frankly, the world is a very scary place right now.
Your home- yes, your four walls and a yard if you’re lucky- is your new sanctuary. It is your new school, church, playground, library, restaurant, and for many of you, your office as well. If you are like us, you’re all home TOGETHER for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. And again, this is not a vacation. So, how do you manage this and stay sane?
Don’t get hung up on the schedule
At first, I too was hung up on the scheduling and making sure we were all being productive. Let it go. Right here. Right now. It will make you feel so much better and your family too. This is an unprecedented time we are living in that no one has ever experienced. There is no rulebook so we just have to piece this together one day at a time.
My new mantra for things that are not life-altering is “whatever.” I don’t mean that apathetically. I mean it in the most pacifistic way to save my sanity and my family’s.
I realize that our average day here may not even be relatable because the Italian culture and the American culture are at two very opposite spectrums, but there are probably more common threads across cultures now than ever before as we are all basically on lockdown.
My son has been sleeping in. Some mornings he may wake up at 8:30 and others, he may wake up at 10. So what? He must be tired. Every day runs into the next right now. They all seem the same. There is no sense of weekdays and weekends. He has his breakfast while watching TV and then I do like him to go get dressed and make his bed. We have an insane puppy right now so he might play with her some or he might be in his room awhile or he might do a little homework.
When things were more “normal” just a few weeks ago and my husband was at work all day, my son and I would usually have a simple American-style lunch (yes, most kids are home from school by lunchtime here). But now that we’re all home together, we are devoting more time to meal prep and if I do say, these are restaurant-style meals. We enjoy this time.
My new mantra is, “whatever”
After lunch, we may spend some time outside in the backyard with the puppy or shoot some hoops in the sunshine or rest on the couch or he may play Fortnite with his friends. Whatever.
At some point during the day, he will do a total of about two hours of homework and he will spend some time reading on his own. At first, I was kind of adamant about the fact that he should at least devote the same number of hours to home study as he did at school, but he was quick to do the calculations for me that when you take out recesses, snack time, various interruptions, etc. it probably only worked out to about two solid hours (his school day is from 8 to 12:50). Smart kid, but having been a classroom teacher, I actually agreed with him. Sounded good to me. Whatever.
We are involving him in family projects that we really couldn’t have before due to time constraints. Silly example, but the other day we wanted to polish up these old copper pots we had gotten at an antique store and so we turned it into a science/English lesson. We looked up the process of oxidation, we talked about vocabulary words, we researched a DIY method to clean them up.
We have dinner around 7:30 and watch TV or a movie or he plays Fortnite with his buddies again. When he’s online with his friends, he looks so happy. He sounds so happy. He’s got his earbuds in and he’s cracking up out loud. He doesn’t get to be with them anymore at school or at basketball practice, so why shouldn’t he be allowed to spend time with them the only way he can right now? I say, thank the dear Lord for technology. This is a wonderful time to be alive!
Bedtime, also “whatever”
Bedtime you ask? Ah yes, I knew that was coming. It just depends. Every night is different. It might be at 10 or it might be 11:30 (gasp). Whatever.
Kids are having to grow up quickly right now. They are having to handle a lot of very mature topics that we certainly never had to. They are watching the news with us, they hear us talking to our friends and family on the phone- they are very much aware of the situation. I don’t think it’s even appropriate to hide it from them. My son knows exactly what’s happening. We are not watching the news together as a family like we were when this all started because it’s overload. We are doing everything we possibly can by staying inside and praying.
Yesterday, I was in an Elvis mood so I gelled his hair and we played Elvis while we exercised in the living room. I let him film me in “slow-mo” or whatever the heck it’s called. He was shaking his head at me and rolling his eyes like pre-teens do but he loved it.
When “Blue Suede Shoes” comes on I hope that the memory of us dancing around in the living room during quarantine flashes through his mind and that he smiles fondly and laughs out loud. Today was “Prince day”. I taught him about what it meant to sing in falsetto.
This is a time you can devote to making special meals, to teaching them your grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, to showing them how to unclog a sink drain, to painting a mural on their bedroom wall- whatever it may be- just be with them. Make them feel safe and comforted.This is just the beginning. School will not resume this year. We already know that. We as parents have the opportunity right now to teach our kids how to make lemonade out of lemons so let’s do it. We are all in this together. May we all overcome.
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Now is the Time We Tilt Toward the SunMarie Contino was born and raised in California. She became fascinated with Italy in college and met her husband while studying in Florence. They lived in California for 14 years during which time they had their son. She survived ovarian cancer twice and after she went into remission, she and her husband finally got to live out their dream of moving back to Italy. Now, she is copywriter for a tourism magazine as well as writing for her personal blog. But mostly Marina is a mom, a wife, a daughter, and a friend who is making the most of the second chance at life she has been given.