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Meet the Italian Family
Although there are good and bad families in every culture, the majority of Italian families I know are wacky and wonderful
Outsiders often misunderstand Italian families. For starters, some people think "Italian families" refer only to the mafia. That statement couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Italian families have nothing to do with the mafia and look nothing like a "crime family." In many ways, the Italian family is like any other. But there are few things that make Italian families unique and special - and that's what leads to the misunderstanding. Let me break down the Italian family for you. Here goes -
There's no denying that most Italian families are loud. Some of us are louder than others. My husband's family swears I speak 10 times louder than they do. But most of us are just plain loud, especially by non-Italian standards. If you come over to my house when my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins are together, you may think that you just stepped into a stadium when the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are in a brawl. We're not arguing. We're probably celebrating someone's birthday, Easter, or a great lasagna. Yes, I know that "loud Italians" is a stereotype that some people try to combat. But, in my case - and many of the Italian cases I know - it's true. We're loud. And that's okay.
We spend a lot of time together and still we think it's not enough.
One time, my Zia Concettina said, "Things are so different nowadays. We all used to be so close. Now, I might only talk to your father once a day." I don't know too many brothers and sisters, who are grown and live with their spouses and children, who speak with one another every day. My father's sisters, in fact, live within a five-block radius of our house. When my aunt told me that she felt as though we were all drifting a part because of her one phone call a day, I thought, "The only thing left for us to do together is go to the bathroom."
Sometimes we need space, but we almost never get it.
Like everyone else, an Italian needs time for him or herself. However, our families are pretty demanding. There are always events – christenings, confirmations, ballet recitals, soccer games, weddings, birthdays, Monday nights. The list goes on and on. We crave each other. But sometimes we need a break from one another. We're not always smart enough to realize that, but we do. Space is good for relationships. Still, I love those get togethers. I look forward to the next invitations.
The in-laws think we're crazy.
People who marry into Italian families love them at first, even if they're overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and amount of involvement everyone has in everyone else's life. Soon, however, they really start to think about the reality of their situation. One minute, they're in a normal family that has adult children living on their own and checking in with their family or origin once a week or once a month and visiting a few times per year. The next minute, they have their mother-in-law showing up at the door offering to babysit, do the laundry, and cook.
That sounds like Heaven, until they start sharing unsolicited advice. My mom remembers when my paternal grandmother took ripped socks out of our garbage and told her to sew them and how she also suggested that my parents refrain from sex on workdays, so my father would be well rested. As an Italian American herself, my mom was not at all surprised. And she actually had a great relationship with my grandmother. They loved each other. Truly. But not everyone who marries into an Italian family ever reaches such an understanding with the in-laws. It takes a lot of patience and effort on the part of everyone.
We love lots.
When my husband first started courting me, he met my entire family - all the cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. My cousin Fausto introduced us. After that meeting, the first time we hung out again was when he invited himself to dinner at Fausto's house, with Fausto's parents, his sister, and my grandparents. Everyone liked him - and they still do. But they're protective of me. And he was courting me while he was living in Italy, and I was in America. Could that really work? Some of my relatives are still wondering a year into our marriage. In those early days of our relationship, my cousin Big John pulled him aside the first time he met him and warned him that he better not break my heart.
I wake up every morning certain that I have a number of people - all of whom are related to me - who have my back. They will protect me. They will stand up for me. They will love me. They already have. Not every Italian family is like mine. But I have experienced many Italian families now, and I can say that many of them are just like mine. And that makes me smile.
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