FREEDOM, NOT CUDDLES, MADE ME STRONG

Schermata 2015-03-06 alle 14.45.00

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.

 

She never pestered me with the usual “Where are you going, where are you now, what time are you back home?” I made my teenage mistakes, I changed school when I thought it was not the right place for me anymore and after A-Levels I went to Israel to live in a kibbutz for one month – this was back when there were no mobile phones to contact home. I’m not sure if my parents were cool or simply knew how to keep anxiety under control. I only know that this is still my family role model: two adults helping their children to grow up in every sense – giving them freedom, offering them the best possible instruments in their path towards adulthood, making them feel that doors are always open. To fly away, of course, but also to go back in case they need anything.
In my family, the roles really were equal: my dad was able to iron his own shirts; he used to do the shopping on Saturday while my mum was teaching and ever since childhood we used to do little jobs to earn pocket money for our holidays. That’s why, when I came to England to live with a British family for the first time at the age of sixteen, I felt at home. I was free, as I had always been. With free rein and a solid, strong sense of responsibility.