Ok, how smart is this? You can personalize a whole roll of wine label stickers and then you always have a present on hand. Brilliant. Genius. If you send us a story about wine, we'll design one of these for you.
Megan said yes immediately before her brain could process anything. She loved any chance for adventure. She loved packing her bags, getting lost, and arriving someplace totally new and calling it home. She thrived off change. And that hadn’t happened in a while. She was a new mom in a small town and the most exciting parts of her day were watching her young son discover the world. She wasn’t bored, exactly. She loved being a mom. But there were quiet times in her afternoons where she would daydream about her past life as a single girl in a big city. So when her huband, Carlo, got a career opportunity to relocate to Rome from Ohio, Megan started packing before he’d so much as hung up the phone with his higher-ups.
They’d lived in the US for a few years. It had been fine. He worked some weird hours to compensate for the time difference but that was about as inconvenient as it got. And he did well. Megan got to quit her job in sales and spend her time with their adorable little son, Luca. But, while Megan was gun-ho from the beginning about moving to Europe, Carlo was skeptical. He knew his wife was adventurous but also knew she was, well, very American. What did that mean? Punctual, planned out, organized, and very, very set in her ways. (Even though she would effusively deny this allegation.) And he knew that some of those traits would make her transition into living in Italy, well, possibly a challenge.
“Tesoro, are you sure you want to do this? I was given an option. We can say no.” Carlo warned. He looked at his wife in her daily uniform of athleisure wear, trying to picture her in his home country among women talking over one another in bright red lipstick, dressed in all black while lighting one cigarette off of another and trading gossip like currency. He laughed to himself at the image.
Megan was no stranger to Italy, she had studied there in college for a few months and had traveled for holidays to visit her in-laws. She gazed out her kitchen window at her literal white picket fence, remembering her years studying abroad. Her brain raced down memory lane peppered with sexy nightclubs, fabulous meals, and $30 plane rides to just about anywhere on the continent. She turned to her husband and said with much more force than she anticipated, “WE ARE GOING TO ROME.” Carlo told his boss yes. And noted that his wife could be a little scary.
Megan and Carlo rented an apartment in his old neighborhood, San Giovanni. Her mother-in-law helped scope out schools and enrolled Luca at a local school that had a beautiful Asilo, an Italian nursery school. It was a historical institute still home to a congregation of nuns from The Daughters Of St Paul. Megan was skeptical about sending Luca to a conservative Catholic school, but Carlo assured her that nothing in Italy was too conservative. Megan imagined her baby being slapped with a ruler but her husband insisted that the actual classes were taught by actual and licensed teachers, the nuns quite simply oversaw the school. Megan scanned the pictures online, searching for a yardstick or bruised children. When she saw none, she agreed.
Adjusting to life abroad was a lot more difficult than Megan had expected. She quickly realized that when she studied in Italy, she was young with little responsibility and was able to play and party and occasionally study. That was about it. She had never needed to deal with the bureaucracy, the language, doctors, internet providers, cell phone companies, plumbers, or bankers before. And Carlo said she wasn’t allowed to yell at him anymore about how the entire country operated so she had nowhere to vent except little Luca, who didn’t understand a thing.
“This is a crazy country we live in,” she would say in a sing-song voice while stacking wooden blocks on the floor of his bedroom. Carlo’s mother had dumped boxes of ancient children’s toys into their new apartment and Megan was still on her best behavior with her in-laws at this point in time. So she made stack of the heavy, solid blocks, pretending that they were as much fun as the Magna Tiles she’d left back in Dayton.
It didn’t take long for Megan to realize how different her new life was going to be. She had this come-to-Jesus moment while shopping for dinner, about a month after they’d arrived. Luca was supposedly safe with the nuns, Carlo was home putting together the first shipment of IKEA furniture, and Megan was determined to cook a proper meal for her newly relocated family.
After bouncing her metal granny cart across two blocks of ancient cobblestone streets, she milled around the back of the butcher shop, noting how the other customers took a number from a plastic dispenser and waited for their turn to be called. An early 2000s rap song played over the speakers and she started humming along. It didn’t feel totally appropriate to be buying sausage while listening to a track that most definitely reminded her of very short skirts and big belts and stiletto heels but the idiosyncrasy made her smile to herself as the rapper shouted every curse word in the English language into the mom and pop shop. “Motherfu-”
“Prossima!” The butcher called, waving her number.
She’d kind of noticed that swears weren’t bleeped-out in American songs but it hadn’t really sunk in until that particular day. She watched families wander the small aisles and order their lamb chops while the word motherfucker was repeated in every stanza and left with large chunks of fresh beef.
She stopped by her apartment to leave the bags and grab something for Luca to eat. He was getting out soon and all the other parents who were there at pick up always had a snack. A panino, focaccia a mandarin, real food. Not a bag of Ritz Bits. She hadn’t known this was a thing and had been LOUDLY shamed by both the teachers and nuns for arriving empty-handed.
“No merendina? No snack, he is growing, LUCA NEEDS A SNACK,” Mind you this was an hour after lunch which consisted four literal courses served to her almost two year-old. Now Megan made sure to carry a giant panini for her tiny boy in her hand where everyone within a kilometer could see it. She realized that she was very motivated by shame.
Megan walked into the school, snack overtly visible, and waited for the teacher to get Luca. A grandma was there waiting for her granddaughter, Adele. Adele was a cute little cherub-looking girl with dimples so deep that Megan wondered if she bit the inside of her mouth when she chewed.
Holding hands like an internet meme that your mother would forward, Luca and Adele ran out the door together. Luca in his little OshKosh overalls and Adele with her pink… her pink Playboy bunny t-shirt. Oh god. Adele ran to her grandma who scooped her up and looked over a piece of paper with the teacher, obviously quite pleased with whatever was written.
No one seemed bothered by this. It’s not like she was being deprived of a snack. She was just a two-year-old bopping around with Hugh Hefner’s logo emblazoned on her chest. Megan wrinkled her forehead after shoving Luca’s sandwich in his face. Should she try to explain that the bunny on the little girl's tee shirt was not the Velveteen Rabbit? Her Italian wasn’t that strong, so she decided against it. The grandmother looked at Luca’s panini and nodded with approval.
“Andiamo Adele,” The grandmother took the cherub’s hand and led her charge out of the nursery, her personal Playboy billboard conspicuous for all of Rome to see.
Luca’s teacher Giada, came out to show her, what she soon realized was the most important information of the day, the lunch menu that was served. Next to each item was a check or left blank.
Pasta al pomodoro, check
Petto di pollo, check
Fagiolini, no check
At the beginning of the school year, she had asked Carlo why they showed her what the kids had and hadn’t eaten. It seemed a little excessive. In Ohio, she’d packed Luca his berries and noodles and half of it would come back home in a mixed-up mess and she would consider that a successful meal and move on with her life. She’d never been particularly infatuated with what he’d ingested that day. Apparently, asking this question was an unforgivable faux pas. Her mother-in-law was over and contorted her face into an expression that would have justified attempted murder.
“IT’s VERY IMPORTANT,” she insisted while taking the spoon from Megan and stirring the risotto, as if this task was clearly above her daughter-in-law’s pay grade. She continued, “If they have chicken for lunch, you cannot make chicken for dinner. You must make fish or meat. They must eat different food, he is growing.”
Damn, she thought, just bought chicken for dinner. It might be helpful to mention that chicken is not meat. Chicken is chicken and meat is meat in Italy. So, Megan joined the ranks of parents who would pour over the lunch menu paper every day after school, grandly expressing overt satisfaction or shaking their heads and groaning in disapproval over what food their child had eaten.
One day, at the usual school pickup time, Megan was handed another piece of paper along with the one that was very pleased with Luca for finishing all of his penne. It was a hand-drawn invitation of a large table filled with copious amounts of food. The kids were performing in an end-of-the-year concert for the parents. How cute. Megan remembered the Christmas pageant they put on that year. She had been so impressed, it wasn’t Broadway, but the teachers managed to corral twenty 1 to 4-year-olds, on stage into a real show that even she could follow. She read the paper, La Tavola, was the title. Of course, it was. In Italian, that translated to the table which, from what Megan could discern in nine months of living in this boot-shaped country, was all people really seemed to care about.
The only instructions Megan was given for the performance were to dress Luca in green leggings and a white tee shirt. That was easy. At bathtime Megan tried to ask Luca about the concert, “Will you sing sweetie? What will you be?”
Her now two-and-a-half-year-old started splashing and laughing in the tub. “La frutta mamma, I’m fame.” Luca spoke Italian at school, and English at home. This made his ability to form sentences in one language a bit complicated. It also meant that she was going to have to wait for the actual show to see what Luca was going to do.
“What is he going to be?” asked Carlo, over a dinner of Ossobucco, which they ate just the two of them after Luca went to bed. Megan looked at her meat which was not chicken and then smiled at her husband,
“It’s a surprise.”
The day of the concert, Megan got Luca ready. It had been ten months since they had made the move to Italy. And she’d learned a lot, mostly through frustrating trial and error. She no longer showed up early to appointments (because she knew she’d be waiting for hours,) she no longer tried to run errands in the afternoon when all the stores decided to close for a nap, and tried to stop flinching when she heard an F-bomb blast over the speakers at the grocery store, or gym, or a child's birthday party. If you can’t beat 'em, join ‘em… or… when in Rome… or whatever it takes to just roll with the punches. There were bigger fish to fry in the world.
The evening of the performance (Oh, yeah, she also had to get over the idea, ingrained in her since birth, that children should go to sleep before 11pm. The Italians seemed to not believe in bedtimes,) Megan, Carlo, and his parents met at the school. Nuns in their full habits ushered them into the Teatro with all the other families. Everyone found seats and pulled out their phones to try and get the best angle to film. The curtains opened and the production started with the adorable kids wearing overalls and carrying toy rakes as they planted seeds and picked apples from cardboard tree costumes with little faces poking out the middle.
In the next scene, the farmers tended to the animals. There were chickens, sheep, cows, and ducks. Ok, thought Megan, I think I get it. It’s like a real farm-to-table show. She laughed to herself, remembering an old episode of Portlandia when Fred Armison goes to the chicken farm to see where the menu item had grown up. This wasn’t an anecdote to share with her new Italian family. Some things just didn’t translate.
Megan scanned the stage, wondering when Luca would come out. The teachers carried tables to the stage and the farmers all gathered around. A sign went up on the background of the stage, Cantina Sociale. A little boy played the guitar. A little girl came out as an apple, then a little boy as a bottle of olive oil. Then pasta, then bread, olives and greens, salt and pepper, and meat and chicken (which is not meat.) One by one they flooded the stage dancing and celebrating.
Then Luca came out, scanning the room and looking for his parents, beaming with the reaction from the audience. He was very cute. Everyone clapped. Megan froze. What in the actual hell was Luca? Luca was a bottle of wine, parading across the stage. Megan scanned the room waiting for the horrified shocked faces from the other parents. She was sure that as soon as the other adults in the room realized what Luca’s costume was, they would at least whisper to each other in protest. A bottle of white wine, at a nursery school concert. No one was shocked. Megan turned to Carlo, who wiped a tear from his proud face.
‘Carlo, he’s a bottle of wine.” Megan whispered through clenched teeth.
Carlo waved her off, “Shhh, I’m taking a video. Look how cute he is.”
“Our toddler is a BOTTLE OF ALCOHOL.” Megan tried to keep her voice down. Carlo continued to film, genuinely irritated with his wife.
“Of course he is, a tavola cannot miss a bottle of wine. Wine is the heart of our society. He’s a heart,”
Carlo looked like he might break into a full-on cry. Megan looked up at the stage at her little Luca wedged between a bottle of olive oil and a strawberry. When in Rome.
The curtains closed and reopened. The final scene. All the kids crowded the stage and started to dance. The teachers joined their students as the nuns poked their heads out from backstage with pride.
Megan recognized the song that seemed to get louder and louder as the children boogied harder and harder. And that was when Megan lost it. She was laughing so uncontrollably that tears streamed down her face. Although the wine bottle was lost on Carlo, the music choice was not. He leaned over to his wife’s ear, “Don’t worry, no one knows what they are saying.”
But Nelly, circa 2002, did…
I was like, good gracious, ass is bodacious
Flirtatious, tryna show patience
I'm waitin' for the right time to shoot my steez…
Megan scanned the room through her tear-filled eyes. Everyone was up on their feet, dancing and celebrating the kids. She joined them, clapping to her baby boy dressed as a bottle of wine dancing to a hip hop song about getting laid.
That summer, Megan took Luca back to the US to visit family. Driving over to her favorite cousin's house for some catchup time, Hot In Here came on over the radio. Megan looked at Luca in the rearview mirror sitting in his car seat. She reached for the volume and turned it up. Luca belted it out. He knew all the lyrics. The nuns would be so proud.