I had a Swiss mother who was organized, efficient and demanding; a witty, sharp, funny Tuscan father; and a four-year younger brother. Mine has not been the typical Italian family, I believe. On the contrary, I think my mother tried hard all her life not to be the typical Italian mother, all stressful and anxious.
I was never obliged to wear the traditional woolen underwear because she thought that being cold would fortify me. She did not like to spend her time in the kitchen because, she said, we eat to live and not the other way round. She detested mawkishness and even physical contact, hence “honey, sweetheart, darling” were to us only silly words, and kisses and hugs were slushy nonsense reserved for babies. We never went to the traditional seaside resorts with the same beach and the same parasol every year. Instead, we went travelling around Europe to learn languages, to avoid provincialism and to have a breath of fresh and different air. We did not go to the local school but to an experimental one, where we used to stay all day while the others had lunch at home. This was all because we were a really unusual family for 1960s Milan: my mother very soon got bored at the idea of being a housewife and went to teach in an underprivileged school far away from home.
This was a big difference between me and my girlfriends: “I have a working mother,” I used to say, and I still remember how proud I was. “I have a working mum and I look after my little brother.” “I have a working mum and she trusts us.” Her mantra was: “Do your job” and “Get yourself sorted.” “Do your job” used to mean “do the best you can” and this refrain still resonates in me. “Get yourself sorted” was her way of telling us we could do it, we were cool.