ow that my son has turned two, he tells me what he wants, and doesn’t. Mamma, non voglio quello, he announces in a perfect Italian accent, better than anything I’ve been able to muster in five years.
Watching him, I get long-forgotten flashes of my youth. I see myself sitting on the backyard porch steps and eating sweet blueberry yogurt. I didn’t like the blueberry chunks that felt lumpy and stringy in my throat. I remember trying to eat all the creamy part around the chunks, not finishing the plastic cup. Did I ever tell my mother?
Lorenzo tells me everything. Or so I’d like to think. Two mornings a week he goes to day care, but doesn’t like it. “Babies, no,” he says. Lollo and Mamma. He wants to be with me.
Sometimes, I get to the stoop of the day care and Lorenzo cries that desperate choking cry as if he is being carried to a certain death. The other children sit around bored with a few colorful plastic toys on the hardwood floor in front of them. There’s no air conditioning and I’ve dressed Lorenzo too warmly.
“What activity will they do today?” I ask the teacher. “Oh I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Sometimes I just take him back. I tell myself I can get my work done in the evening, that he needs to be with me instead of parked in a furnace, which happens to be the most expensive day care in the quarter with little to show for it.
The teachers do the paintings he brings home. Egg shells carefully pasted on egg-shaped paper and Auguri Mamma written in the teacher’s handwriting on the card.
“Lollo do you want to be with Mommy?”
Si, he answers.
I hug him tightly and explain to the teacher that he’ll come another day.
We go home and read books together, hard-backed books with thick pages that can’t be bent. We recite the stories of “Caps for Sale” and Goodnight Moon” in our own way.
“Give me back my hats,” says the man. What do the monkeys say? “No, no, no,” says Lorenzo, shaking his finger at me and smiling, waiting for the next question. He knows them all.
He sits on my lap on the play-mat. He’s warm and delicious, the smell of sweat and milk and scrumptiousness behind his ears. We walk to the park, him pulling along his toy dog by a string, saying Annamo bow bow, “Let’s go doggie” in his Roman slang.
We play together, alone, since all the babies are in day care. Sometimes a grandmother appears with a few grandchildren in tow and waves to us from the park bench, or a Romanian or Russian mother will have her child with her. But mostly it’s just us in the seesaw, the sand box, the slide. Mamma, guarda! Look, he says pointing out special rocks he’s found and leaves in the shapes of tractors.
In the stroller, we pass the outdoor market on the way home, and I buy him some toasty focaccia and ricotta cheese. He eats it and falls asleep with the hot breeze as we stroll back. I’ll get all my work done when he sleeps, I tell myself. He sleeps 45 minutes. The real work I do after he’s in bed. I often work until 1 or 2 in the morning until my brain gets slow and repetitive.
I remember playing Chutes and Ladders with my mother. We sat on the floor of my childhood bedroom with the forest green rug, yellow and pink puppy wallpaper. She explained the game to me, and let me win some. Does she know I remember? Does she remember?
In New York of the 1970s and 1980s children played kickball in the streets. “Interference!” we’d call when the large red rubber ball hit the maple tree branches. “Do-over!” It was fair and square.
Four decades later we live down the block from St. Peter’s Basilica. Last night someone broke into my husband’s car with a screwdriver, shattering glass on the child car seat. Not fair and square.
Soon, we are off to the U.S. and my mother has scheduled library story hour, My Gym, and Philharmonic Baby for Lorenzo. He will love it. Structure, music, and safety, accompanied by me or by my mother. We haven’t found similar activities here. What will Lorenzo remember?
I see my father cutting our lawn, in his comfortable white Chucks and 64 t-shirt, the smell of the grass rising up to me on the porch. I drive my red tricycle with my neighbor Jason on our adjoining driveways, racing up and down, feeling the pebbles beneath our tires. Catching fireflies with our cousins at night, punching holes in the aluminum foil-covered jars with a fork, careful not to tear the foil. My mother would let me take my insects in the Buick station wagon with me when we ran errands. I watched how they were crawling, flying, living.
Today, Nonno rode the train into Rome to pick up Lorenzo and take him to the beach. Lorenzo will sleep with Nonno and Nonna, his grandparents, tonight. He’s excited. He gets it, Perché prendo choo-choo con Nonno. E poi il mare, il sole up up su su, poi il notte buio. E poi arriva Mamma e Papà. (“I’ll take the choo-choo with Nonno. And then the beach. And the sun goes up up. And then it’s dark night. And then Momma and Papa come.”)
Lorenzo left two hours ago. I miss him already. They say Italy is no country for young people. What will his childhood be like here? It’s new for me too, seeing this Roman world through his eyes.
Some nights Lorenzo wakes up screaming, kicking his feet. Was it a bad dream? Filippo, coltello, bua. Filippo from daycare hit him with a plastic knife on his cheek during lunchtime, and it hurt. I assume it’s true because he tells me this at most meals, and I tell him I will take care of him. He’s safe with me. He’s my baby.