Monday, October 22, 2012

And the fat lady sang her ass off


Dear Readers,

Italians seem to have a penchant for things that go on and on: Mass, Sunday lunch, red tape, opera, the shelf life of politicians. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I discovered that the average children's birthday party here in the Boot lasts a good 4 to 5 hours. Seriously. I have two kids in elementary school, a boy in fifth grade and a girl in third, and between them they've racked up enough hours at feste di compleanni to qualify for two master's degrees, a Ph.D, and a diploma from bartending school.

On quizzing my American friends, I found out that Stateside kiddie parties last 2 hours max. My ever-practical compatriots, you see, know that overlong exposure to gargantuan amounts of sugary snacks and drinks combined with the metabolism, energy level and excitement threshold of 7-year-olds is like putting a hand grenade in a Hot Pocket. You don't wanna be there to pick up the grisly pieces.

Indeed. This past Saturday, my daughter Gemma attended a classmate's birthday party that degenerated into the kind of chaos normally associated with nineteenth-century wilderness explorers who haven't seen civilization for months, have eaten too much whale blubber, and have too many firearms at hand. The first three hours went smoothly enough, with the kids indulging in gastronomic excesses worthy of ancient Rome and gamboling gleefully around the garden--as if in Charlie's Chocolate Factory--devouring an avalanche of panini, potato chips, candy, chocolates, muffins and cake, washed down with rivers of Fanta and Coke.

Well, cut to Lord of the Flies. The happy gathering went all Darwin and a massive brawl broke out--kids pummeled one another, pushed and shoved, got knocked backwards over chairs, pulled hair, attempted to strangle one another with sticky hands. It was Caligula meets the Three Stooges. The fiasco ended with a hearty "vaffanculo!!!!!" shouted over the roiling, sneaker-clad melee by a 7 year-old Napoleon hopped up on fructose, and much of the group in tears. The host father--it was his first party--was found hiding in a corner of the kitchen, ashen and babbling, "I did all I could, I did all I could, I did all I could, oh god."


My daughter, pre-holocaust


Gemma--in that strange, amnesiacal way children have--looks back on the event and says it was fun. She refuses to even look at anything sugary, however, and if you need an indication of the unprecedented nature of this phenomenon, let me say that if the dinosaurs possessed some sort of jurassic sweet tooth, my daughter would be among the T-Rexes. I expect it won't last long, though. Unlike that party.


Caligula, the partier supremus.
Take that Chuck E. Cheese.

We Americans like things short and sweet: the average sitcom is 22 minutes long, excluding commercials, for example. You could say we like our fun in manageable doses. On the other hand, modern-day Italians, like their Roman predecessors, can't seem to get enough of a good thing. Even, apparently, when it turns into a bad thing. Just think, in the time it took for this rather Wonka vs. Kurtz kiddie melodrama to play itself out, La Traviata could have been staged twice.

They say nothing's over til the fat lady sings. Here in Italy, the fat lady sings--and sings, and sings (or even shouts vaffanculo! to 7 year-olds)--but that don't mean it's over.


Yours from the Tuscan trenches,

Campobello


12 comments:

  1. Ah, but then there's the other side of the Florin. Every Italian children's party includes spumanti for the adults. At least the ones I've been to. It makes the eventual brawl easier to laugh about. I think.

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    1. You are so right, Michele! :) I once made it a point to attend a kid's party thrown by Neapolitan Mom--the spread was incredible and I just strapped on the feed bag. Me and all the other parents. I swear we outnumbered the kids by, like, 3 to 1.

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  2. Anonymous11:16 PM

    Hello, I've posted occasionally on your blog. I know what you mean. Aside from parties at home, the time-limited McDonald's or Chuck-E-Cheeze festas seem so far away. I don't have kids, but I teach them! lol. Everything seems to drag here. Children's parties, baby showers, the whole "goodbye" process of cheek-kissing pretty much everyone in attendance (which I still hate and try to escape as much as possible with a big air kiss a tutti!) As the other person mentioned, thank goodness for prosecco....or wine...amari.... Btw, your daughter is lovely!

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    1. Thank you! (I'm just thankful she wasn't the one yelling vaffanculo);-)

      In many ways I like the slower pace and relaxed concept of time Italians have--except, of course, when I need to just get something done. As you know, they have perfected the art of "lo stare insieme" (being together). So you can imagine my surprise at finding this artfulness missing at Saturday's party!

      I've always cringed slightly at the interminable cheek-kissing, too--especially with ancient relatives nobody seems to know. I'm going to steal your group air-kiss idea!

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  3. Omg the cheek-kissing. I've tried the group air kiss too, but then whoever I'm leaving with inevitably goes in for the individual pecks and I feel ridiculous, already halfway out the door, like I'm trying to escape the scene of a crime.

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    1. Next time I think I'll wear one of those flu masks and see if it gets me excused from the endless baci.

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  4. Anonymous10:16 AM

    It says a lot about the father that he felt remorse.. My son's last birthday party ended when the brats decided to dance on the tables and spit on one of my son's best friends who was from a different class. Holding on to the crying 9 years old I told the dancing Caligula's "vaffanculo, the party is over" I'd rather go to Mass with you MIL instead of hosting another party here. I was tramatized. Papaya

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    1. Oh, Papaya--your anecdotes/comments are always absolutely hilarious. I believe you're the one that ought to be writing this blog! :-)

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    2. Anonymous12:40 PM

      Just teaching children has opened my eyes to different styles of child-rearing here. Elizabeth/Campobello has a post which touched on this but I never cease to be amazed by the total lack of respect and senses of entitlement kids here seem to have. Not to say this seems to be the global trend, but to see so many 'limp' mothers beg their children to do something that should come naturally (say...a 9 year old should respect an adult who kindly asks him to get off the baby-swing because an actual 2 year old would like to use it.) "No".... limp mother: "ma amore mio, per favore." "Nooooooo, sono appena salito" Limp mother: "amore mio, ma c'e il piccino, per favore." "No." Conversation ends. Or if I tell mothers their child punched/kicked/bit/bodyslammed another kid in english class the response is usually "eh, ma sai, oggi aveva una brutta giornata a scuola." or "ah, vabbe`,e` un po stanco oggi, sai, ieri siamo andati in campagna..." Not shock. not horror. not shame. punishment? forget it! Sorry to hijack the comments....but I could easily imagine the table-dancing/spitting on another child scenario. ughhhhh

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    3. I agree that there are some definite cultural differences in parenting styles, as well as individual differences (of course). I was having a conversation just yesterday with an expat friend about how (so we hear) in the States times have changed from when we were in school and now parents are apt to blame the teachers/anyone/anything else for their misbehaving children. From what you are saying, this happens here in Italy, too (and indeed I have observed a degree of this). There seems to be a growing (dare I say global? Western?) trend of shirking parental responsibility.

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  5. How nice to read you again, dear E. Apologies for being remiss. Brilliant, as usual, this last post of yours.

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    1. Thanks, P. No apologies needed, of course :)

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