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Una Mamma Italiana
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5 Lessons from Your Italian Mammas
Who needs school when you have a matriarch full of knowledge that she's willing to share?
by Francesca Di Meglio
Italian kids get an education at home from their mammas long before they ever make it into a classroom. This is not the 2+2=4 variety of smarts. I'm talking about nitty-gritty stuff of life information.
If you're Italian, you know what I'm talking about. If you're not, you wish you knew what I was talking about. An Italian mother is the best cheerleader anyone could hope to have by his or her side. Granted, she sometimes takes things too far; these mammoni (adult men who still live with mommy and have Peter Pan Syndrome) are completely absurd and need to be stopped. And sometimes Italian Mamma's ideas are far-fetched and even laughable. Still, love is present in every embrace, every slice of lasagna, and every bit of advice. Here are 5 lessons your Italian Mamma wants you to have:
1. You're too skinny. You need to eat.
No matter what size you are, especially if you've been away for some time, your Italian mamma will say you look “sciupato” and that you're lacking sustenance. You will scoff at the implication that you are so thin that you look sick. But she will then present you with a six-course meal featuring all your favorites and some tiramisu for dessert. You'll stuff yourself silly and tell mamma your life hasn't been so delicious since you left her loving arms. What she's teaching you here is that you must eat to live (and enjoy life) but also that you'll never have it so good as you do when you're with mamma. The lesson: You need mamma.
2. Don't miss the boat.
Mamma will start telling you this (or a version of this) when you hit your 20s (maybe your 30s in this day and age) and have no marriage prospects. She wants grandbabies and doesn't want to be too old and frail to tell you what you're doing wrong as a parent, so you better get moving. But this tip could be applied to your career or other passions, too. For instance, don't miss the chance to make your mark in the writing world. Or don't miss the chance to win that meatball eating contest. The point is to seize opportunities and take advantage of the energy, excitement, and beauty that comes with youth. Oh it's also to make mamma a young nonna with energy, excitement, and beauty to boot, so she can “help” you with the kids. The lesson: You need mamma.
3. Ice water on a hot day will kill you.
This is one of those tips that the older generation of women has spread around my family that has no basis in fact. As the story goes, a man from the island of Ischia, home of my ancestors, worked the land under the hot, August sun, returned home, and gulped down a glass of ice water. He immediately had a heart attack and died on the spot. To this day people believe the ice water caused his passing. My twentysomething cousin once swatted a cup of cold water out of my hand after I returned from sitting on the porch under the summer sun. When I asked why, he said, “A man in Ischia once died…” I couldn't believe mammas and papas weren't the only ones buying this story.
Since then, I've decided to reinterpret this advice. Now, I take it to mean that extremes are never good. Icy water and very hot days are examples of extremes and when they collided someone died. (Ok, so I highly doubt ice water killed that guy.) But I do believe that moderation is the key to balance. So, cool water will suffice. Even if you didn't mean to teach this lesson, Italian Mamma, your wisdom is greater than even you know. The lesson: You need mamma.
4. Wear red to ward against the malocchio.
First, southern Italian mammas believe in the malocchio or evil eye. They will tell you that your jealous zia is dangerous and could be the reason you earned a D on that math test the other day. (After all, it couldn't possibly be because you didn't study enough or aren't smart enough to pass.) Whenever there's a wedding or dinner or chance of running into said zia, your Italian mamma will either have you wear red underwear or pin a red ribbon to your undergarments. If you have the most in-the-know mamma in the world, she will know the secret way to tell if you have the malocchio. She will recite some words in Italian, then throw a dollop of olive oil in water to see what kind of design it makes and let you know if someone has doomed you with a threatening glance that will throw you a curve ball of epic proportions. She will then recite more Italian gibberish and you will be free of the malocchio. Thank God for mamma or your life may have been ruined by a deadly look from zia. The lesson: You need mamma.
5. No one will ever love you like your mamma.
You will have a spouse or partner who loves you if you don't already. You might even have children with whom you form an unbreakable bond. But none of them will ever love you like your doting, precious, nurturing, perfect, saintly Italian mamma. She will remind you of this every chance she gets. She might even be right. If you don't know the lesson by now, you never will.
You can now follow this Italian mamma on Twitter @ItalianMamma10 for more zany advice. Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012) and you can follow her life and work at Two Worlds.
Article Published 8/19/13
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