Everywhere we have gone in Italy, without exception, our children, all children, are not just welcomed, they are enveloped! Store owners come out of shops to grab their cheeks and give them oranges and dolce.
The man who makes stationery with a 100-year-old letterpress grabs their hands and leads them into his workshop to pick out a special card or handmade journal. The servers squat down and listen to the kids attempt to place their order in Italian. Inevitably, the server cheers, “Brava” or “Bravo” with an encouraging, joyful air, when the kids are finished ordering.
We spend a lot of time in parks here or running errands, just as we did at home. We are both humbled by how the Italians, in general, talk to their children. It is not as though kids are indulged in a negative way. They are listened to and heard and enjoyed not just by their own family, but by their community.
When our children have been somewhere they are not supposed to be or doing something they are not supposed to do, they have been re-directed by complete strangers in loving ways that enhance their understanding of this culture and how to be successful here.
It is truly amazing that we have not encountered any punitive commands from anyone in this entire country after twelve weeks of traveling. Our time has been full of misunderstandings and cultural blunders. Instead of lectures, we have been assisted by people who truly want us to be successful. Hotel employees have offered to take the kids into the kitchen and show them how to make biscotti, while we have a quiet cup of coffee. When our kids have accidentally broken beautiful vases or bicycles, they have been met with people who want to help them. Strangers get their hands dirty helping them fix things, not because stuff is broken, but because our kids feel bad and they want them to feel better.
I am learning so much about how to be with my children differently. I am learning that it is not just acceptable for them to be children, it is expected, celebrated, and powerful. I have asked, for the last time in Italy, “Is this establishment family-friendly?” Every time I ask, people look at me like I am crazy and they reply, “Of course!” Then they look at the kids, grab their cheeks and say, “Ciao Ragazzi!”