Notes from an ex-Fencing Jock.

There are three sabers that hang over the mantle at our summer home here in Italy. They are my fathers and they are fencing swords. He was a fencer in college back when ink was used on the tip to determine a “touche”. He passed on the fencing bug to me and already a big fan of Tolkien and Dumas growing up I started taking lessons at Santelli’s in Manhattan. I loved fencing. I hated the fact that I had to do tons of tedious and repetitive exercises, but then again isn’t that true of all sports when you are a kid – you just want to play. I got pretty good and even earned a trip to the Junior Olympics to which my parents categorically said no. With no fencing team or club in college my Olympic hopes were dashed forever!

I do, though, get to live vicariously through today’s athletes and in particular one of the greatest fencers ever to fence in my opinion: Valentina Vezzali. Fencing is about speed, focus, cat-like reflexes, hand/eye coordination, footwork, balance and most of all timing. Even with modern technology it is hard to follow fencing with the naked eye and, at first glance, decide who landed a point or “touche” especially given the need to establish which fencer had the “right of way” when both are simultaneously on target. As so many individual sports, fencing gives you quite an adrenaline rush. Watching a “fuoriclasse” like Vezzali is a pleasure and an honor. Watching her dominate the sport for so long winning 6 gold medals in 5 Olympics (and medaling individually in all five), not to mention World (13 golds) and European (11 golds) Championships, is epic.

I was pleased, therefore, to get a call from the New Amsterdam Fencing Academy (NAFA) recently inviting me (with a very funny reference to The Princess Bride) and my older son to a Daddy and Me lesson. They offer special classes for 2-4yo and their parents to teach them the very basics. I am really looking forward to holding a foil again after so long and hopefully having a fun day with my son (as always hoping for his full collaboration…). You can find out more about NAFA on their website http://nyfencing.com and I hope to report back about a fun experience. Who knows maybe one day I’ll see my son fence his way to the Olympics! Families of athletes get free tickets to all the events, right?

Guest Post: Are Italian Dads finally shedding their “Mama’s Boy” label?

A silent revolution is taking place amongst new Italian fathers. Does this signal the end of the ”mammone” or as you would say in the US “ mama’s boy”? I wanted to give you an Italian dad blogger’s point of view and New York Dad was kind enough to share my post with all of you (editor’s note from NYD: BABBOnline wrote the post directly in English which is not his first language. I have only corrected a few things for flow, but I wanted to leave as much of this untouched as possible. I also wanted to make sure reader appreciated his effort).

Even though Italy is known as “Mom Country”, and the other countries see Italian men as “mama’s boys”, in the last few years there has been a silent revolution involving the role of dad in the parenting equation. There is greater awareness amongst new Italian fathers about the importance of being an important part of the growth process of their children. New dads involved in what are in many places considered standard dad tasks: diapers, cooking, bathing, cleaning etc. These new dads are 30-40 years old with a wife who works full-time. They share the responsibility of supporting the family and child care with their wives. They take a leave to stay at home with kids and they love spending the day with their babies. Fathers have discovered that they can be just as good as moms.

This is a novelty for Italian men. Many men are not so happy about this change because it entails effort. To be a full time dad is harder than being a “just one-hour-a-day” dad. Some fathers are used to minding the children only when they’re back from work late in evening. Many dads, though, have realized that it’s not as difficult as they thought it would be to actually stay at home with their kids. Moreover spending time with their children is the best way to create a relationship with them and establish a strong bond.

It’s clear that dads and moms are different, they have a different approach and style in interaction with children but they are complementary and indispensable for their baby’s growth. And this new approach to fatherhood is not innate, but can be simply learnt.

New dads are still a minority in Italy because there are many social barriers. For example, companies are not used to managing these new dads. It seems that a man should decide between career and fatherhood while I would argue he could get both. The children of this new dad generation will grow up with a new perspective and maybe this will spell the end of the “mammon” era.

Some months after the birth of my daughter, I decided to start up a blog on my fatherhood experience to share my thoughts and my everyday life in order to create a community for dads. I realized that on the Internet, Italian dad bloggers are like a drop in the ocean of mom bloggers. Unlike moms, it seems that dads are not as good at building a team among men. Maybe because the father role is not defined, everyone interprets this role in a different way. It’s unlikely to see dads chatting together when they are at the park with children. Moms do it all the time.

I was told that abroad the situation is completely different. I know there are even some magazines just for dads, in Italy that is inconceivable.

As a blogger of the Italian blog BABBOnline, which means “Dad Online”, I created a logo dedicated to dads: “Dad On Duty” identifying dads who take part in their childrens’ life.

The image I created is that of a father raising his baby to the sky. This is known as “il gesto di Ettore” or “Hector’s gesture” because in Iliad, before the battle, the hero Hector says good-bye to his son with this gesture. According to some research this is a typical male gesture. I would love to see stickers with my logo on bumpers, on the back window of cars or even on a backpack.

I look forward to meeting many more Italian and foreign “dads on duty”.

Sincerely,

BABBOnline (http://babbonline.blogspot.it/)

Rock & Roll Parenthood.

I watched my oldest son flick through the pages of the display iPad in the Nature’s Bioluminescence exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (aka the dinosaur bone museum) and watched his eyes twitch from icon to icon and his finger flit over this or that button before pressing it. And in that rare moment of silence, my mind drifted.

He turns four this week and I just cannot get over the fact that this little man is my kid. I could tell you that he is smart as a whip and a handsome devil to boot, but I know that already so I won’t bore you with the details. I just take the greatest pleasure in watching when he is interacting with something or someone and see those little pieces of me (and my wife, of course) that are reflected in those big brown eyes. You have to understand that I am slowly getting the hang of this parenting thing or rather I am OK with the fact that it is beyond my control and yet I have to put all my brawn, brains and heart into it in an attempt to budge it this way or that in a direction that is hopefully the better path for my kids. It usually, though, feels like Sisyphus and I actually have decided to adopt him as my parenthood mascot – my patron saint of Parenthood.

With my oldest son almost four and my youngest almost 9 months, I still have an eternity to go before earning my veteran parent benefits. There is still plenty of watching that boulder roll back down the hill and trudging back down the hill to push it right back up. And it’s draining.

Two things comfort me and transform the trudge into a little more of a skip in my step. The first is that I see plenty of other kids throwing tantrums at the supermarket and schadenfreude is the best therapy for parents – bar none. The second is the deception created by those moments – often just a split second – where your kids do something so normal and yet so superlative that you turn into silly putty and slide right back down that hill. A smile, a song where all the words are wrong, an unexpected hug, a sincere I’m sorry, replicating something taught without prompting, a delighted laugh, you know what I’m talking about. It gets you every time and is worth all the schlepping that is parenthood. Call me a sucker for punishment, but it’s every bit worth it pushing that rock day in and day out with a skip in my step.

Very, very better latte. Per favore!

For the past 100 years in a land not so far away (it’s actually a bedroom), a little boy (I know… you’re wondering how he stays so young!) shows up at the foot of his parent’s bed (they look every bit a hundred years old) and at the top of his lungs says:”I want very very better latte, per favore!” The latte he is referring to is not the Starbucks kind, but simply “milk” in Italian. Every day for the past century his parent’s have slept with one eye and ear open dreading the moment. They’ve tried everything to break the spell. Pleaded, threatened, ignored, hidden, cried even – to no avail. Every morning at around 5am, rain or shine, much like a Swiss cuckoo clock, the boy comes and makes his proclamation. It is repeated several times and more. Even the neighbors must hear and fear it since no village posse bearing pitchforks and torches has ever descended upon the household seeking to purge this scourge. I know this tale seems fictitious, but I assure you it is something that neither Tolkien nor Lewis nor Jordan nor Goodkind nor Eddings or any of the other master bards could conjure from the deepest recesses of their brilliant imagination. Such is the fantastical reality known to some of us as Parenthood.

Mother’s Day a New York Perspective

(Source: The New Yorker – Cover by: Chris Ware)

Just got this issue in the mail today and I had to smile… great wit. My gift to all of you awesome mom’s out there (albeit this is more akin to ripping out some of the neighbor’s prized roses and pretending I grew them myself…). I know I’m early, but shouldn’t it be a daily recurrence? Happy Mother’s Day!

Enjoy the silence…

I know. Depeche Mode wrote that about teen angst relationship stuff, but here I am past midnight enjoying it – immensely. I have not been able to sit down for two seconds to write anything down in the past few months – not even by locking myself in the bathroom (that actually makes it worse because the banging is even more nerve racking). Sure, I was warned, but this is something else. I don’t mind the having to change diapers again for the little one or the loads of laundry due to the tail end of potting training for the older one. I can handle the “stop touching your brother” and “don’t give that to him he will choke… and stop laughing it’s not funny!” or “how many times do I have to tell you not to (fill in the blank with pretty much anything a toddler could do)!” and my favorite from the adults “do you know what YOUR son did?!” I can take all of that because somehow I expected it from hearing other parents and from watching lots and lots of Bill Cosby. What I cannot take is the incessant cacophony of screaming and crying and yelling and singing (although closer to screaming) and the “daaaaaady can you (fill in the blank with anything)?!”

I used to hear myself think. Even after my first son was born. There were moments in which I could contemplate and knit my brow while reading, surfing the net or just thinking. I miss it terribly. I crave it. I dare say I need it!

I’ve been reduced to a bumbling fool by a 6 month old and a 3.5 year old.

I envy Homer Simpson.

OK. Back to enjoying the silence.

Pinocchio’s Whale and the Hi-Tech Parking Lot

I got back from Rome about a week ago and have been looking through my travel notes (yes, people still do that). Since I decided to enjoy my holidays away from the computer as much as possible I am just getting around to transferring some of these stories from paper to bytes.

The funny thing about Italy and Italians is their obsession with gadgets. Odd certainly for an ancient culture that still holds on passionately to quality of life over relentless innovation. And yet, despite their love affair with the latest hi-tech gadget (especially cell phones), the few times they attempt to implement technology on a larger and more practical scale the following occurs.

Imagine arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport after your first two-child (newborn and toddler) flight during which the toddler unexpectedly behaved the entire trip and the newborn discovered he hated flying the first seven hours of the eight hour flight. Mercifully my father-in-law has come to pick you up and things start to look up as he sweeps up the newborn in one arm and toddler in the other while you chug your first proper espresso on Italian soil after an almost 9 month absence. So what if it is drizzling outside? Three adults, two children, stroller and assorted luggage pile into the Nissan Micra (slightly larger than the new FIAT 500), which is the only size car capable of navigating the city center and parking on a dime. And just as we shut the car door the sky opens up and it starts to pour. That was close.

We pull up to the automated parking attendant to leave the lot and my father-in-law quickly sticks the parking receipt in the machine to pay. The machine chirps: “7 Euros please!”. My father-in-law inserts a 10 Euro bill only to hear the chirping voice again say, “No cash at this time. Only credit cards.” Fine. In goes the card. Silence. Again. Silence. Try another card. The first impatient honking is heard from behind. Another card and still silence. The voice suddenly chirps: “Please reinsert receipt!” As my father-in-law extends his arm towards the machine, the receipt, which is similar in flimsiness to the ones they give you in retail stores, is instantly soaked. At this point he pulls back into the lot to let other through. As we pull away we see the other two lanes are backed up with drivers stuck in the front fumbling with receipts and credit cards. Why, you must surely be asking, has my father-in-law put us in this situation instead of just waiting for us at the curb? Well, the airport has decided to eliminate curb side pick up except for taxis for arriving flights so you must park at the pay-to-park lot. Cha-ching!

We look around for a human being and I spot a sign that says (in English): “Cashier”. Good a human being. I grab the receipt from the dashboard and dash across the lot towards the sign. Thoroughly soaked I look around and notice two machines identical to the ones at the exit. What the… I walk up to the machine and comically attempt to stick the limp receipt into the slot (talk about feeling emasculated) successfully mushing it to bits and rendering (if possible) even more useless. I notice an intercom button. Nah. There is no way that there is a human being at the other end. This is Italy. Land of the beautiful, yet seldom-functioning, objects.

“Yes?” crackles a voice on the intercom.

“Agh!” I let out a small yelp of surprise. Someone is at the other end and answered immediately. I look around like in a spy movie and then slowly approach the intercom.

“Uhm… the machine at the exit is not, uhm, reading the, uhm, receipt because the rain soaked it. Uhm, what do I do now?”

“Sir, please try the other machine.”

“But the receipt is…”

“Sir, please try the other machine and if it still does not work call back.”

I actually did. I took the ball of sopping pulp that was the receipt and jammed it as best I could into the other machine. At the same time I pressed the intercom.

“Yes?”

“I just called and…”

“It didn’t work?!” the voice sounded surprised and rather annoyed.

“Uhm, no… not really.”

The voice sighed a very exasperated sigh and continued, “What is you name, Sir?”

I gave him my wife’s last name because if I attempted to tell them my very Anglo-Saxon last name we would have been there a while.

“Sir, go back to your car. Get in. Drive back to the exit. Get out of the car. Locate the intercom button. Press it. Give your last name. I will let you through.”

I did exactly as I was told for fear that any divergence would set our escape from the parking lot back a few more hours.

I pressed the intercom under the pouring rain and drew in a deep breath.

“Yes?”

“I am here at the exit.”

“Hello? I cannot hear you.”

Gulp.

“I am here at the exit.”

“Oh, it’s you.” The “Sir” had been dropped altogether. “Just a moment.”

A moment passed adding angst to what was now an experience that was lasting longer than our actual flight. Finally, the mechanical arm swung open and just like that the parking lot – like Monstro – spat us out.

Newborn vs. Toddler – A (Very) Short Discourse.

With a newborn bringing my wife and me back to square one, I find myself double taking as my three and a half year old starts coming into his own. I look at our baby boy and then at my eldest and cannot believe that in such a short amount of time he has become a little man. He has thoughts, quirks, opinions (too many, but what else is new), questions, cares, moods and surprises – lots of them. The balancing act of splitting time and attention between my two sons leaves me feeling guilty about missing out on any of either’s “baby steps.” I want the first smiles and babbles of our newborn, but my son using a new word out of thin air or reciting the alphabet by heart is equally endearing. The reality is that I just do not have the time to worry about these things so I take whatever is there and indulge fully in the moment I encounter whether it is with the newborn or the toddler.

Curd, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.

I love the smell of curd in the morning!

It is something you forget once your child moves on to eating solids. The tangy, slightly pungent smell of regurgitated milk. It is oddly a comforting smell. It is a newborn smell. Certainly better than what happens when you move on to solids and things get toxic.

The smell is also something that parents can relate to as a “been there, done that” badge of honor for having survived in the trenches. This is the reason you don’t sleep, the reason you lose your mind, the reason you forget everything, the reason you cannot get anything done and yet “it smells like victory.”

Despite all the laundry that goes with a newborn it becomes intoxicating to put your newborn on your shoulder and inhale that first whiff of curd. Even after a bath and a change of onesies there is that cheesy baby breath that hits your nostrils every time they sigh or yawn. You can even see those pieces in their mouth left over from their last burp.

Why am I so enthralled by this I really don’t know? Probably the realization that they are newborns today and toddlers tomorrow. I have flashbacks from my older son’s first months, but not the baby smells. Reminds me of the late great Peter Boyle as Frank Barone sniffing his grandkids because the baby smell is a sort of fountain of youth. Maybe I am crazy and find something as gross as spit up romantic? Maybe it is just the sleep deprivation? What is seen by so many as an unpleasant smell to me brings out warmth and coziness. The intimacy of holding part of you close. It is another living being, but it is an extension of your soul and a piece of your heart. All I know is that tomorrow it will be on to stinky diapers and I really don’t want to write about those so I figure I would put down a few words in honor of the classic “eau d’enfant”: curd.