A year of babyhood.
Little Giacomo was born on the shortest and, to me, the sweetest day of the year. It has been the fastest, longest, most tiring, most inspiring year of my life. I now intimately understand all of the parenthood cliches (and may even be a cliche myself).
For me, motherhood has meant very little sleep and infinite sweetness. I am still in awe of this little boy one year (and two months) on.
In addition to baby snuggles and 2 am feedings, this year has been a huge learning curve in terms of logistics. We have learned so much about raising a baby, and specifically about raising a baby in Rome. Pretty much all of it by trial and error.
The hardest thing has simply been being so far away from our families. That is why we were thrilled that Giacomo turned one (in his adorable outfit) in California, then rang in the New Year with his family in Ireland.
It has been an unforgettable 14 months in our lives. Now we have a very nearly toddling, always communicating, Irish-American Roman on our hands. I don’t think there is any such thing as parenting expertise because you are always learning along with your ever-changing kiddos – but the past year has definitely made us think more and more about the pros and cons of raising a baby in Rome.
Just keep in mind: much like giving birth in Italy, all I can offer here are my own personal experiences and feelings about bringing up a baby in Italy.
Pros of Raising a Baby in Italy
I personally have found the quality of healthcare to be fantastic. During pregnancy, my encounters with the health system felt rushed and bewildering but I have found the schedules and organization for pediatrics to be clear and helpful, and the quality of care to be very good. It takes some time to navigate because you have to go the ASL office after the baby is born and has a codice fiscale, then select a doctor that you might know nothing about, and finally take them in for the first appointments. All of the vaccines are handled at a completely different centralized office with little explanation for new parents- but we have managed and never paid a dime. It has been a very welcome if not entirely intuitive.
People are incredibly helpful and interested when you travel with a baby in Italy. Strangers have offered to drive us from train stations, airport security has come around to our side to help unload liquids and then waved us through, and hotels have always been able to make up a baby bed without a fuss. I have noticed that lots of people smile at babies in the US but strangers are much less likely to offer you a hand (or keep smiling when they see you in line to board the plane). It’s true: Italians love babies.
Babies are a part of life in Italy. I rarely have to ask “can I bring the baby?” Because if you have a little one, it is assumed they are coming along. Babies go out to dinner, they cry in public, they take up space on the sidewalk, and all of this is normal. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I am bone tired. That is just parenthood of young children, I believe, but I also truly regret that I never took maternity leave. It is certainly a thing in Italy but not when you freelance / liberal professionalista. However, I appreciate that the lifestyle is flexible enough that I can make my own hours and that we can afford to live in Italy. It means cutting back, but these were cuts we could make and for that I am grateful.
Price of Childcare
I am digging myself into an impossible hole here because whatever price I give, someone will invariably comment to let me know that I have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s because there are several different tiers of prices and there is a mix of public and private daycare for young children. maximum prices for private providers who are approved to work in partnership with the commune (local government, which realized they simply could not keep up with demand) are set by the commune. This means you will find different prices in different parts of Italy. What I can say is that for private childcare in the center of Rome in 2018, you will pay around €500/month for Monday – Friday, 8 am – 5 pm ish. You can find it for less, you can find it for more, you can pay different rates for fewer hours etc, but that’s the average. And as much as it is, it is significantly less than in any major US city or even some other European capitals.
Cons of Raising a Baby in Italy:
We don’t own a car in Rome (and if we did that would come with its own cons of needing to search for parking and enduring extra monthly costs), but public transportation leaves a lot to be desired. Add a baby into the mix and you are sometimes very stuck. There are very few accessibility considerations in Italy I have 100% had to unload a baby in one arm and carry an empty stroller in the other down two flights of stairs because the metro station’s elevator was broken. Buses rarely have space for strollers (though people tend to be nice about trying to offer you a seat), and hauling a baby on and off with traffic whizzing by because the bus has barely pulled into the stop is pretty anxiety-inducing. I also don’t really want to get started on the state of the roads and sidewalks. Let’s just say that using a stroller in Rome is a daily battle.
Not only is it hard to get somewhere with a baby, but it is also hard to BE somewhere with a baby because babies wear diapers and diapers need to be changed. Rome bathrooms are gross, period. If they don’t have a toilet seat, you can be pretty sure there won’t be anywhere to change the baby. This is a huge issue if you want to leave the house for more than a few minutes because you never know when you will need one. That being said – again, people tend to be very nice and offer to pull up chairs for you to lay a mat across but none of it feels very safe or comfortable.
Speaking of diapers – god help you if you need some after 9 pm or before 8:30 am. Most baby supplies are at pharmacies, which tend to keep limited hours, close midday, and shutter everything on Sundays. We have to be sure that we have planned ahead at all times because there is not running out for something you forgot. We sometimes miss the convenience of that safety net.
Not everything is a pro or a con when it comes to raising a baby in Rome. There are also a few things that I see as a draw or a trade-off of being in Rome verses in the US or Ireland.
We didn’t have a dock-a-tot or a crazy spinning swing to rock a newborn. Baby stuff is expensive everywhere but there is simply a smaller selection that is easily available in Italy. I did my fair share of 3 am Amazon purchases of swaddles in those early months, but for the most part, we made do with fewer gadgets and managed just fine.
I wrote about what babies in eat in Italy in detail in another post but I am going to go ahead and say that baby food here is a tradeoff. I worked in international mother and child nutrition for many years so I fully believe that a balanced diet is the best way to go – but I also fully believe all of the studies that show that babies need iron rich foods. I make Giacomo’s food but I will be honest that I am not in the habit of pureeing liver for him. While I love the abundance of fresh and healthy food here, I think that it is a shame there are no iron-fortified cereals or other foods available.
The Star of the Show
And Giacomo? Well, I am pretty sure none of the above matters to him one bit. He is a happy and calm little boy who loves to eat and sometimes even sleeps. His favorites come down to:
- Food: pasta with Parmigiano and/or chicken with peas.
- Thing: the moon. He points it out to us in the sky and in every book we read. I never knew children’s books included so many moons.
- Book: This changes constantly but currently Good Night Gorilla (has a moo and a banana – both excellent things) and Quantum Physics for Babies (because to him, this is simply a book about balls and balls are the best toys).
- Animals: dogs. Followed closely by our cat.
- Word: mama (yes, I am very proud).
- Sign: G knows a bit of baby sign language and his favorite thing to communicate (by far) is “MORE”. More songs, more pasta, more bath, more.
- Activity: the swings. And don’t you dare try to go anywhere without stopping at the playground because he knows where every single one is and will not appreciate it if you do not make the appropriate turn down the appropriate street at the appropriate time.
He also loves to dance, and bounce, and kiss the cat, and go to the market, and eat the foam off my cappuccino, and overall be a very sweet human who is dangerously observant and never forgets something once you show it to him.
Italian strangers stop me on the street to tell me that he will be a heartbreaker with his blue eyes. But my heart is very full and I am incredibly lucky to be his mama.
Now, let’s all try to sleep 7 hours straight, please.
Or 6. I’ll happily take 6.
My mama bear shirt (and G’s matching onesie that says baby bear), plus his birthday one-derful shirt were gifts from Canvas Avenue, which has adorable personalized items for little ones and delivers all over the world.