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Posts tagged ‘Italy’

I saw Mommy dissing Santa Claus

Ho ho...no (Wikipedia)

Ho ho…no (Wikipedia)

Prepare yourself for a special holiday memory.

I’m seven years old. It’s Christmas time. My mother is leaning against the butcher block in the kitchen.

“I have to tell you something,” she said to me. She paused. She struggled to suppress a laugh. “There’s no such thing as Santa,” she said. And then the laughter came pealing out, like Christmas bells.

I think I said, “All right,” and then went on with my childhood. After all, we lived on one floor, so I could see the Christmas tree, and my parents putting presents under it, from my bed at night. Spoiler alert! If that was something people said in 1982.

And Christmas went on, too. We always hung stockings, got presents, and listened to worn cassettes of my father’s favorite carols. We drove around in the evenings to look at the neighborhood lights; we went to Rockefeller Center to see the big tree. My father decorated a meticulous tree; my mother made Belgian waffles on Christmas morning. Glad tidings, comfort, joy, all of that.

I asked my mother about this special memory recently, to see if she would admit to it. “Oh yeah,” she said. “If I couldn’t have Christmas when I was little, why should anybody else?” she said in a sing-song voice. Her sense of humor saves her from being the cynic of the Western world.

My mother emigrated to New York from Italy when she was five years old. She was born in a tiny mountaintop town, in Calabria, one of the poorest southern regions. The house she was born and lived in was built, like much of the town, around 1450. Dirt floors; smoking fires in the hearth; animals in the courtyard. There may have been a manger.

“There was no Christmas over there like here. We didn’t have much. Definitely no Santa,” she said. “Christmas was about going to church, the presepio [the Nativity scene], and the food.

“We didn’t have these endless supplies of food, everything was very limited. So whatever sugar or honey you had, you saved for Christmas.” My grandmother made Calabrese Christmas sweets, things we still love to eat, mainly variations on fried balls of dough dipped in honey or sugar: scalidi, struffoli, zeppole, turtiddi. And Christmas cookies. My husband likes to joke that cookies in my family are basically hard pieces of bread with sprinkles on them. But when you think about how getting sugar would mean walking an hour to the market town, it doesn’t seem so strange.

“And then, La Befana would come for Epiphany.” La Befana is the Italian equivalent of Santa Claus, in the form of a witch, left over from Pagan times, who comes on Epiphany Eve in January and fills stockings, certainly not plush ones with Snoopy on them like mine, with oranges, nuts, and candy. These things, part of my own children’s daily lives were cherished treats in Calabria. If you were bad, La Befana brought you coal. So that part translates. It’s the only part that does.

“When we got here, we didn’t speak English. We just didn’t get how Christmas was done,” my mother said. “The first year, we didn’t have a tree. We certainly didn’t have presents. Later we did have a tree, but Christmas was always a hard time. Your grandfather worked in construction, remember, so he was out of work all winter. So things were very lean until he could work again in the spring.” My mother was the youngest of five, with two sisters who were much older. “When they started working in the factory [they were seamstresses], I would get a doll, or they would make me a dress or a sweater. But still, the presents were the least of Christmas.”

Even in New York in the booming 1950s, where they had come to escape the want of the isolated villages of the Italian South, they still would hold sugar and honey in reserve till Christmas. I can see why the idea of Santa – even now, when we can dump entire pots of store-bought honey on trays of scalidi – would make you laugh, a little bit.

“But when we got married and you guys were little, we did Christmas the usual way. Your father always had that kind of a Christmas. Your grandparents would put up the Christmas tree on the 24th after all the kids were in bed, so they would wake up to a big surprise on Christmas morning. It was special for him. And Christmas was always special for you, too. But as for Santa, I don’t know. I just could never get into it.”

We gave Santa Claus lip service growing up, but I don’t have any memory of really believing, waiting for him to materialize in our house in the night. We didn’t have a chimney, so that didn’t help either. The presents, in my mind, were always from my parents, even though they kindly wrote “from Santa” on the labels. I have a friend whose parents did not go in much for Santa either. “We worked hard to buy those presents,” her mother told me. “Why should Santa get all the credit?” A fair point.

As for my all-American kids, two boys, ages six and three, are excited about Santa Claus. As is their privilege. And I encourage them to believe. But what I don’t want, especially when I think of how Christmas used to be for so many in my family, and how it still is for so many people, is for the focus of Christmas to be receiving gifts.

Instead, let it be sweet treats, bright lights on cold nights, being good to each other. My three-year-old is thrilled to screaming at the sight of Christmas lights glowing in the dark; I would rather him hold on to that wonder than the mystery of a man in red bearing judgment, and Legos.

That’s not to say those two will wake up on Christmas morning to a house full of nothing but the smell of good cheer. I look forward to treating them at this time of year. What I don’t want is to dangle the old man in front of them as a threat, and tell them he’ll turn the sleigh around if they are not good; if they don’t stop yelling; if they don’t pick up their toys, or eat their vegetables. That doesn’t seem right.

So, how to handle Saint Nick? Short of calling the boys into the kitchen to deliver some bad tidings?

“Am I a good boy?” my six-year-old asked me the other day. I could see he was apprehensive of the judgment that was coming, the ups and downs of his behavior that year dancing through his head.

“Listen to me,” I held his face, looked him in the eyes. “You are a good boy. Let’s end the suspense. Santa is coming for you.”

His eyes widened. “But can he see what I am doing? Can he see me when I do things that aren’t good?”

“Santa can see that you have a good heart. You are a good brother. You are a good friend. Even good boys make mistakes sometimes, and he knows that. Everybody makes mistakes. But he knows you are good. So just keep showing him the good boy you are inside, OK?”

I guess the best thing about Santa is that it gives you something magical to believe in, in the bleakest nights of midwinter. So let him believe. But also let him believe in the good within himself, year round.

And let him believe that Santa uses the same wrapping paper as us. And has the same handwriting as me. Wouldn’t that be magical?

 

“The Knife of Teodoro Zuccarelli” over at Medium – check it out!

The blog has lain fallow for a while, mostly because I have been writing some things offline. I also wanted the opportunity to use “has lain” in a sentence.

One of the things I’ve been working on: my essay, “The Knife of Teodoro Zuccarelli” is now up in the Open Ticket collection over at Medium. Go there and read a tale of brigands, a baroness, library books, and things lost in translation. Go read it now! Please and thank you!

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When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong, #3: the Miss Italia pageant

Miss Italia 2012

She’s going to Euro Disney! Giusy Buscemi, Miss Wella Professionals Sicilia, is Miss Italia 2012. (Photo credit: Fiatontheweb)

It’s September 10: the last day of summer vacation. Kindergarten is starting the following day. So let’s take it easy. Playground in the crisp morning, a late nap for T; C is working on his latest Lego Star Wars set: “The Battle of Naboo.” I’m pottering around. I gasp -

September! That can only mean one thing! When is Miss Italia starting? Oh no! Have I missed it? I drop all the awesome tasteful crafts I make in my spare time according to the laws of Martha Stewart magazine, and run to the TV. Translation: I drop the Martha Stewart magazine I read with feelings of inadequacy (Why did I insist on all those garish colors at the boys’ birthday party? Children love parties with an all-white theme!) and make a very short leap to the TV. Channel 1772 – the Italian-language station, RAI International. I subscribe to the channel just for stuff like this: so I can practice my Italian by watching people speak the language in its most natural form, which is arguing and carrying on.

Sure enough, it’s on when I turn to the station. And it’s live, in the middle of the afternoon here, and not even listed in the channel guide, which instead lists a program called Techetechete’ (I looked it up, and I still have no idea). But, look, there is Fabrizio Frizzi. Our hapless host. He hasn’t quit yet, like that other host did once. Phew. There are still 20 contestants in the running, down from 101 (and there are only 20 regions in Italy!), so that gives us a few solid hours left. And sure enough, I enter in on an argument. More, as I mentioned in my previous post about the pageant, polemiche. Polemics.

I sit down to watch while C sits at the dining room table with his Legos. Miss Italia runs for two nights, for at least three hours per night (it used to run for four nights, before it was half-cancelled last year). Who knows what I missed on the first night? Well, let’s imagine:

The judges, aided by voters from home, aka, “il televoto,” whittled down the contestants from 101 into smaller and smaller groups. When elimination time comes, the cameras panned to each woman individually, when she’s told if she is in or out. If she was out, close-up on the face: looks of annoyance and/or despair, and/or pretending not to care. That gets replayed immediately, giving the audience chances to lip-read for any cursing or bestemmie, blasphemies. The rejected Miss are kept bordocampo, on the sidelines – all the better to catch any tears, or storming off, or colluding with the other rejects to storm the stage. They are definitely allowed to step up to the mike to protest their eliminations. Last year’s winner no doubt then sang a song. More eliminations. Pause to watch le Miss dance around to a Madonna song, or with scarves maybe (this actually happened on night 2, something similar no doubt happened on the night 1). Then the proceedings are hashed out by the judges. Then more arguing with a crew of assembled journalists kept on hand to mix it up. And so on. Pause to plug tourism in the new host town, Montecatini Terme, in Tuscany. It’s a nice place; no arguments there.

Montecatini Terme, Toscana, Italia

Montecatini Terme. Oh, Italy, for stuff like this, we’ll forgive you this crazy pageant. And Silvio Berlusconi. And Fabio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to the argument at hand. The judges are defending their choices for the Top 20, as well as the inclusion of the televoto, up against an audience full of angry mamme e babbi whose daughters weren’t chosen, or fans whose region wasn’t represented.  From the next room, I hear C spouting fake Italian: “Fresha pizza! Bacalabaraciabara! Mutandi Wow!” All those dreams of raising my children with the Italian language, come to naught. Where’s my copy of Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino? We’re dumping Captain Underpants at bedtime, I don’t care who understands what.

He comes in the living room. “Why aren’t those people on your show speaking regular?”

“They are speaking regular. We speak English here. But in Italy, they speak another language. Did you know that this is what Nanny spoke when she was little like you? She lived in Italy and spoke Italian. So did your great-grandparents, my grandparents. Nanny still speaks Italian sometimes.”

Oh yeah! Malavita! Chist’ o cazzu! Fresha pizza again! Well, at least I’ve gotten two Italian terms, common in my house growing up, into his vocabulary. They’re not that nice, but still.

I think it would do him good to hear the language for the remainder of our afternoon at home, so I keep watching as he plays. I don’t think he’s watching the screen from the next room, so I don’t feel the need to elaborate at this moment on the extremely sexist nature of the program. At this age, all I can do is keep stressing to him that boys and girls, men and women, are capable of the same things. That they can both be doctors, or nurses, or Jedi knights. That the queen of his Playmobil castle can be just as strong as the king.

Of course Miss Italia objectifies women. At least, unlike the American equivalent, the Miss America pageant, it does not pretend to be a scholarship competition. Le miss just stand around in bathing suits most of the time (though this year, bikinis were banned), and when they are dressed, they are beautifully so, instead of looking like a bunch of Blanches from Golden Girls at age 22. Most of the contestants are there to try to get a job presenting one of the three million talk shows on Italian TV, and winning this is a good way to do it.

Look, I know it’s bad. It’s terribly antiquated, even for an antiquated country. But I like it for pretty much the same reason I like the Tour de France, or the Olympics, or Champions League soccer. It’s long, and mainly monotonous, giving me the chance to sink myself into this European dream, where I can pretend I’m not on some street in Massachusetts with a boring name, but in a villa, or a garret, or a even a hovel in the heart of Europe. Which is mainly where I ask Calgon to take me.

I watch shows like this on RAI to listen to the language, as its spoken now; I like to hear poetry in the names of the Italian regions, read 101 times and splashed across le fasce, the sashes: Miss Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Miss Valle d’Aosta (that’s practically France; she never wins), my family’s home regions: Miss Campania, Miss Calabria. These women, in their own superficial way, represent deep ties to these little towns in corners of Italy where their families have probably been living for a thousand years, places where they claw their ways out of the regional pageants near churches where their ancestors were married, the camposanti where they’re buried. It’s dumb, but it’s true; it’s a slice of a life of a place I dream of. I only wish I could see the commercials too, for the banal little items that fill these lives: boxed pasta, furniture sets, cheese like Nonna made, spreadable ham (really!). But we don’t often get those – they don’t apply to us and our market, so they are usually cut out and replaced with a Miss Italia best-of reel, of winner after winner crying, their hair and eyebrow thickness changing through the years.

C keeps fervently working on his model of the Battle of far-off Naboo while I watch eliminations, indignations, altercations, explanations, and further complications. Then he saunters into the living room with his Lego accomplishment, a smirk on his face announcing a big joke prepared:

“The Battle of Naboobs. Like those,” he said, sing-song, pointing slyly at the TV.

Like every good Italian daughter, I should have listened to my mamma.

“He hears everything,” she told me just the other day. “Even from the other room. So watch it!” Every discussion of breastfeeding, ill-fitting undergarments, everything boob-related has apparently gone straight into his ears, bounced off the TV set, and come right back at me. So much for his big language lesson. Instead, a pun on the female anatomy. And is anyone else’s five-year-old going through a private-parts obsession lately? Because that remark is one of many made concerning any part of the body usually covered by underwear, male or female. Aren’t they supposed to be in some sort of Freudian latency period or something?

As the lone female in this household, I have my work cut out for me, I see, as spokesmodel, er person, for womankind.  And the moment for these lessons has come more quickly than I would have thought. As in so many aspects of parenting, I feel like I am constantly playing catch-up to my kid; like I am parenting the child of a few weeks or months ago, though he has already made leaps since then, and continues to change so much, all the time. So, step one, a new reality: even more careful about what I say. And step two: watch Miss Italia after bedtime. Stick to better quality Italian-language shows during the day, like…Techetechete’? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.

The Battle of Naboobs. Sigh. (via tvblog.it)

For more of my parenting foibles, see also:

When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong, #1: The Tour de France

When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong, #2: National Geographic: Volcano!

Growing up Italian in a mac-and-cheese world

I grew up in a two-family house with my Italian grandparents. So my childhood sounded pretty much like this video below. Feel free to skip it, if you’re a ‘merican, but if you have such a grandmother, mi raccomando – WATCH IT

I only wish I had a talent for puppetry and thought of it myself. All I would need to change is the hair. My Nonna had very fine, silky black hair. Plus she wasn’t that cheerful. She was funny, though. Her response to the question, “How are you?”  was “Staiu moriendu!” – I’m dying. And her farewell (forgive the approximated spelling of Calabrese dialect): “Stat’attiendu, ca ti chiappa ‘ngunu!” Be careful, someone might kidnap you.

Growing up in a bilingual, first-generation-American household has helped shape how I look at the world, how I look at America, how I look at a box of macaroni and cheese (never ate it until college, LOVED IT, never told my grandmother about it). And now that my grandparents have passed away, and our family moves away from the culture we grew up with, how do I pass on this part of myself to my children? How do I keep their Italian heritage alive for them, now that they live in a mac-and-cheese world? Actually, C hates the stuff, he prefers meatballs. So at least there’s that, Nonna, can you hear me? I can sense her glowering at me from on high.

To start, I am trying to make sure they at least hear the Italian language. I am not a native Italian speaker, so it’s not natural for me just to speak it to them all the time. But I learned it in school, and am well-versed enough in the dialect that I often use Calabrese terms. There are some things you just can’t translate. Especially insults. Like calling someone “caccata” – you just know it when you see it, and English suffers for not having an equivalent term. Or lagnusu – it’s a slob, but someone who is a slob to the core of their being. And there’s scustumato, malavita, and hopefully you’ll never get called ‘numbala, or good-for-nothing. On the flip side, being sperta, if you’re a girl, or spiertu, if you’re a boy, is the highest compliment. You’re on the ball, you’re quick, you know what’s what without being told. I still aspire to be sperta. How am I doing? Well, I’m typing on the computer instead of cleaning my house, so not so good.

My children don’t take naps, they go ninnano’. And when my son doesn’t like what he gets, it’s chistu o cazzu – this or…let’s say “nothing.” He doesn’t have to know cazzu is a bad word; he just has to know he ain’t getting an alternative. Then there is the childhood favorite uffa! (one of T’s first words), and many more. There’s also the yelling. Yelling is caring in an Italian house.

When C and T were babies, I would often watch RAI International, the Italian-language TV channel, while I was nursing, hoping that some Italian would passively enter their bloodstreams. We would watch this insane cooking/talk show, La Prova del Cuoco, or my favorite, the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars, Ballando con le Stelle. Indulge me for a moment and let me tell you a little about them. Please? I have no one else to discuss them with.

I also had to watch these shows with the babies because, like many Italian television shows, they are so long they would fill up my DVR if I didn’t keep up, and my husband would go crazy (che ‘merican!). One episode of Ballando is four hours! Partly because they have to do a lot of vamping while they “tabulate” the audience votes so they can deliver the results the same night, and partly because of the fighting. Oh, the fighting. It’s the actual reason I watch Italian TV. Le polemiche, as far as I can tell, are as integral to Italian TV as product integration and Ryan Seacrest are to American TV.

On La Prova del Cuoco there was an old dude (Beppe Bigazzi) who sat in a throne off to the side of the stage, commenting on everything the host (Antonella Clerici) and the other cooks got wrong. They’re not cooking the mushrooms the right way; they don’t know the proper provenance of a particular recipe. Oh, this guy was a delight. He could derail the show for ten minutes.

Another all-time favorite is the 2007 edition of the Miss Italia pageant. This aired right after C was born so it was perfect. First, because it took RAI literally twelve hours over four nights to pick out the appropriate broad in a bikini. Then: Mike Bongiorno, the late and venerated Italian TV presenter, introduced his co-host, one Loretta Goggi. She walks on stage, and as she schlepps down this giant staircase she starts beefing and QUITS THE SHOW. On the spot. She just leaves this 80-year-old guy holding the bag, because she was enraged that it took the producers twenty minutes from the start of the broadcast to bring her on stage (she came on after some comedy bit). It was amazing. The reigning Miss Italia offered to fill in, because Bongiorno was just standing there, not knowing what to do. Way to capitalize, I say. La Goggi came back the following night, I think, but she and Bongiorno wouldn’t even look at each other. And they had to carry on like this for a million hours. Of riveting TV.

And then, Ballando con le Stelle. I once thought I was going to write a blog just on this show, but there is way too much there to recap. I just don’t have the time (see blog title). Four hours a week and it would always go over. Before I get to le polemiche, let me just say this for the show. I’m not sure what the opinion in Italy is of Milly Carlucci, but I think she is a very capable captain of some very rocky seas. And I don’t know why, but I can understand her Italian absolutely perfectly. With no gaps in comprehension. So for that I love her. Also, the costumes on that show are (mostly) gorgeous, not some grown-up version of Toddlers and Tiaras gear like they have on the American edition of the show.

Milly keeps things moving best she can as five judges have their interminable say on the dances, and then the celebs and pros give it right back to them. And if that doesn’t take long enough, they always bring in a bunch of journalists and other personalities of dubious provenance to sit bordocampo, next to the stage, and offer their opinions. At length. And they’re always trying to pick fights. Which is not hard to do because fights happen at the drop of a hat. I remember one series in which all the celebs and pros got together and threatened to quit if the judges didn’t recognize their abilities with more respect. Because these judges LOVE to give out 0’s, 1’s and 2’s. It’s not like on the American version, where if you get a 6 that’s a horrible score. There is one judge (who’s Scottish, by the way) who causes apoplectic displays of gratitude in the celebs if she gives them a 6.

All of this was nothing compared to the season that featured a dark, brooding actor named Lorenzo Crespi (just google him and see what ridiculous photos come up – NSFW). Crespi walked off the show just before he was supposed to dance, and no one could find him. He just left his pro standing there alone on the stage amidst the confusion. One of the co-hosts actually took his personal cell phone out on stage to try to call Crespi because he was nowhere to be found. He was probably somewhere in the bowels of RAI’s television studio at Foro Italico in Rome, punching a wall with great passion to the sax strains of “Baker Street.” This chaotic scene was the apex of a season of Crespi railing against his treatment by the judges, angry with every critique, and endlessly proclaiming himself more gifted than the other celebs. Then after he left, the producers milked le polemiche for all it was worth, further stopping the show to analyze, over and over again, what had happened. And badmouth Crespi. Here is just a tiny bit of it:

The whole affair was fascinating, unprofessional, and clearly partly done to grab attention. All of these polemiche are. But at the same time, I admire this mad behavior, because the personalities involved are so willing to drop their masks. These are not choreographed meltdowns, like the kind you see on Bravo reality shows. These people are outright losing it, and they don’t care who knows, because in that moment they feel so passionately about what’s happening. These perceived injustices have become their truth, and that makes them lash out in a most theatrical way. It’s a bit like a Luigi Pirandello play, in which Italian life itself is spectacle and it’s lived accordingly, in a constant state of high drama.

Bigazzi, la Goggi, and Crespi, come to think of it, are like four-year-olds, or at least like my four-year-old. Preschoolers are a little dramatic too, wouldn’t you say? The sky is green, say, because he says so, and to tell him otherwise provokes a fierce spiral of indignation. C is still figuring out how to manage a life that may not always jibe with his expectations, so he converts what he believes into what he sees. Like the play title, Cosi’ e (se vi pare): it is so, if you think it’s so. Appearance is all. This might make him, at times, un pochino scustumato. But it’s also what makes him sharp, what might make him him spiertu one day. I suppose to get at the great passion, you’ve got to take the tantrums. So maybe C is more Italian than I perceive him to be, after all.

When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong, #2: National Geographic: Volcano!

Pompeian painter with painted statue and frame...

From Pompeii (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously on “When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong”  — watching cyclists crash at the Tour de France.

So. The traveling Pompeii exhibit came to the Museum of Science in Boston over the winter (I know I’m late, but I didn’t have a blog over the winter), and we took C to see it. Mainly, I must admit, because I wanted to see it. I love Italy and ancient history, so it was a good excuse for a kid outing which would feature something I might enjoy. And I love the MoS, but was excited to skip my googleplex visit to the space capsule that every kid in Boston climbs in and out of a googleplex times, and see something new.

C was a good sport and perused the exhibit’s displays of Roman art. He was surprisingly interested; he asked questions, and let me explain what a fresco is (“Oh dear mother! You learned ever so much in college! ‘Twas not all in vain! Enlighten me further!”).

But then we came to a video, playing on a loop in a darkened alcove, recreating the events of August 24, 79 BCE. The scene opens on a quiet Campanian summer day. Then, a distant rumble! It quickly ramped up to buildings crumbling, a lone statue teetering on a roof and falling, rampant fire, and a finally, a carpet of blackness rolling toward the viewer. And, scene. And, scene. And, scene. We watched it several times. It was romantically eerie. C was captivated.

One of my favorite things about C is that he’s not a fearful child, by and large. He’s fine with the good old-fashioned dark. He is very matter-of-fact about thunderstorms, and ferocious beasts, and monsters in the closet. So what came into play here was his taste for the morbid – which I wouldn’t put in my top five of C traits, but he’s certainly not alone amongst preschoolers there, I don’t think. Or we just know a bunch of weird kids, I don’t know. And we hadn’t even walked through the casts of the dead yet. When we did, he didn’t really understand them. He thought they were sculptures, and all I could say was that, in a way, they were, and that they help us remember how these people lived and died.

Though I didn’t want to add fuel to the flames of his love of the macabre, I also didn’t want to gloss over the sad truth about what happened in Pompeii; personally, I don’t think it does C any good to pretend that bad things never happen. I know that lots of parents felt the exhibit was inappropriate for their children, and did not take them. And all I can say is that for many children, it probably wasn’t appropriate. Knowing my son, I felt that, with my help, he could handle it. And by shielding him too much from frightening things, I fear he won’t learn how to develop a mechanism to cope. That’s not to say I let him watch films and TV that feature outright violence, or even the (often terrifying) five o’clock news – he doesn’t.

Coming away from the exhibit he had a lot of good questions. What began as a morbid fascination turned into a real interest about Pompeii itself – we even took a couple of trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he was nearly kicked out of the Greek and Roman hall for yelling to his cousin, “THESE SCULPTURES WERE AROUND WHEN VESUVIUS ERUPTED! THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE NO ARMS!”

But while Pompeii was far across an ocean, and far into the past, volcanoes, he realized, were still around. And this did make him a little nervous. There were no tears or sleepless nights (though he did have a dream that he was swimming in a “cold volcano”), but he often wanted to talk about volcanoes, and how they worked, and he needed to be reassured that there are no volcanoes where we live (though someone in his class at preschool told him there was – thanks a lot, kid!). He reasoned that if we found ourselves near a volcano, say on the way to the supermarket or something, we could outrun it. Or our car was probably fast enough.

So we bought him this book, which is written for young readers, and despite the title: Pompeii…Buried Alive!, carefully handles, without glossing over, the destruction of the day. We also got this book on volcanoes, part of DK’s Eye Wonder series, which is great. Both of these became quickly dog-eared. They helped me explain to C that people know a lot more about volcanoes now than they did in the year 79, so that we are much better able to predict and prepare for volcanic eruptions. I remembered when Mount Saint Helens erupted, I told him as we looked at the Eye Wonder book. I was little like you. But many fewer people died during that eruption. It was nothing like Pompeii; they had much more warning, because of science and all that people had learned since.

But these books led to even more questions. Like, how many people died in Pompeii? The number is too great for C to get his head around. I tell him that it was a lot, but we don’t know exactly how many (it was around 16,000).  Then, for more answers, I go to the mother ship – the TV! She knows all! Let us check the oracle of Netflix!

I found the video National Geographic: Volcano!  on that cursed Netflix streaming. I guess this highlights one of the problems of Netflix streaming – it’s TOO fast. Whatever you want is at your fingertips. You want polar bears? Click. Special on polar bears. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done.

So we just pressed play. I figured, it can’t get more wholesome than National Geographic, right? Let’s watch this! I told him. It will tell you about volcanologists. They study volcanoes so that we can understand how they work. They can walk right on active volcanoes – right next to lava sometimes! And it’s fine! It’s fine! You’ll see!

It’s NOT fine, as it turns out. About fifteen minutes in, after a spectacular montage of volcano action footage that C wanted to watch a thousand times, a group of volcanologists head up a volcano, and only about half of them make it back. Great. Hey, television: it’s one thing to address important issues in a realistic fashion. It’s another thing to make a liar out of me! Thanks a lot!

But he still wants to be a volcanologist. Actually a “volcanologist bike racer superhero.” I wonder, like with most things C does, does he say that to please me or annoy me? I’m not sure. Both, I guess. He is still at the age where he tries to hold opposing thoughts in his head concurrently. Example: I wanted him to sit down and eat dinner. He wanted to say no, just to stick it to me. But he was hungry. After some hemming and hawing: “How can I eat dinner and not eat dinner at the same time?” I don’t know, I told him. Maybe Netflix has a show about that.

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