Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Firenze: Affittanonna / Rent-a-Nonna

Italian culture depends heavily on the participation of energetic, committed grandparents in a well-supported retirement phase to help their adult children and young grandchildren. It is a given that the grandparents will be there, and often. 
Italian culture does not support the fragmentation of families that we see in America, as people move hither and thither multiple times, so often in search of, or to meet, a new professional position, and earn more money. In Italy, the grandparents live close to the grandchildren, and boy, do they show up. We see them and pickup and dropoff at school; they are with the grandkids every weekend, everywhere, all over town, on buses, with the little ones in their house, stuffing them full of food from their kitchen and monitoring their health, like large, wise birds. The owner of our palazzo, Francesca, last weekend hosted a sleepover with six year old boys, and she laughed as she told me about it.

The kids’ school routinely hosts grandparent events, appreciations, and craft workshops. The craft workshops involve grandparents coming to help the kids make some art project, in a convivial atmosphere. (One of my favorites was the workshop last year, where a grandma came and helped Victor glue felt eyes onto a brown washcloth dog, then knitted a collar on the spot in blue and white for said terrycloth canine. And put his name on it on a tiny name tag, a carefully lettered VICTOR. “She did it right there!” Victor exclaimed.)

Yesterday was the Festa dei Nonni (grandparent party). This occurs every year at this time. Last year, in materna (preschool), Victor did not have a grandparent present at the party, and so came home with his own art in hand, that was made for and meant for a grandparent. He was teary.
“No grandparent came for me! They are all too far away!” he cried. “Please invite my Italian grandma.” He was referring here to Nonna Barbara, our friend in Arezzo who helped us out with Victor when he was one. But Nonna Barbara actually has a newborn grandchild of her own right now.

So when the message came that the Festa dei Nonni was happening again, I sprang into planning action. We had to get a nonna for Victor. This could not happen again.

I contacted our friend Susan, who has been living in Firenze for the past year, and said I had a favor to ask her. I did not want to insult Susan; she is not even old enough to be my mother. She was curious. When I explained it, she gamely accepted and said she would he happy to go to school to be a borrowed nonna for the party. I explained further she would have to bring a snack. It would be best to glue herself to Victor in a supportive way.

I went back and checked my phone for the WhatsApp message to make sure I had gotten the details right. I had not. Gahh! Wrong kid!

Victor is no longer in materna, he is in prim’anno (first grade). The message had, in fact, been for Eleanor, who is in materna. 

I messaged another American mom and asked her what the first graders were doing for the Festa dei Nonni, since the preschoolers would be gorging on sugar upstairs with their numerous nonni.

“They have a special Mass,” the other mom said.

Gahh! Mass. Victor’s least favorite thing still, most because of the Collared Shirt War of 2015-2016 in Oklahoma, as his Catholic preschool there had a very strict dress code for their monthly mass.

So now, I realized, Victor was going to go to a Mass with no special rented nonna. I only had Eleanor covered, and it was too late to get a rented nonna for Victor. I racked my brain. I had no idea. I felt horrible.

Eleanor, meanwhile, remembered on the way to school yesterday who was coming to join her for this special party. Susan. Eleanor understand that she would not be by herself. Hopefully the cultural benefits of growing up Italian in Italy with Italian grandparents would be transparent to her.

“Susan! Susan is coming!”

Yep, I nodded, Susan will be there with a dolce, I told her, and if you have made any special art, please give it to her. The building is centrally located in town, and the classroom is in a straightforward location, thus easy to find. Susan did find her way to Eleanor’s class yesterday; she had been there a few weeks ago with me.  Eleanor and her nonna for the afternoon had a ball.

Eleanor’s moment of shyness with her sweet loaner nonna, Susan.

Don’t worry, the shy moment passed. She perked up.

I cringed to think of Victor in mass sitting next to a teacher, with no nonna to call his own.Victor really hates feeling out of place.

The report was that he was led from mass with red eyes by his soccer coach, and taken up to the top-floor gym to play ball.

He was still upset, for that and other reasons, when I picked him up at 5:30. He informed me, shirtless, flustered, and hot, on the locker room bench, that the day had been, for a variety of reasons, an epic fail.

He probably learned this idiom from watching YouTube videos of HobbyKidsTV.

Next year, I will know to get a stand-in nonna for each of them on this day.

Does anyone want to commit now to being my loaner nonna next year for this event?
I will repay you in extra Pokemon cards and Om Nom pro tips.
Meanwhile, back in Eleanor’s world….

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One Response

  1. I must be Italian because i am definitely like the nonnas in Italy. I wish that I could be there for sweet Victor. We were grandparents for Dorothy and Henry and also Della when they had Grandparents Day. Luis and I went to both Grandparents Days at Isabel and Cleo's schools. Still very hard for Luis to be in an elementary school-too many memories but he did it for his grandgirls. Miss you . abrazos

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