Last May, near the beginning of my blog tour, I was standing in the courtyard of Castello Sforzesco in Milan with my 9 month-old baby strapped to my torso in one of those papoose sacks. Jessica was struggling to maneuver the stroller through an unpaved gravel path, loaded down with about 30 pounds of baby gear. The unrelenting sun and lack of sleep had made us all miserable and cranky.
Just then we passed by a German family also in Milan to see the sights; Vater, Mutter, und zwei Kinder. The two kids were about 4 and 2 years old, and Mutter was 7-months pregnant with the third. Of note, they were conspicuously devoid of paraphernalia. The mother had NO purse, and the father carried only a small backpack, which looked deflated and practically empty.
I wondered out loud, “Where are they keeping the milk bottles and the snacks and the extra change of clothes and the sanitary wipes and the toys and the picture books…and the diapers for the little one??” In my world, ONE child is an equipment-intensive, logistical challenge, and I’m loaded down like an ox. Meanwhile these Deutsch Volks had none of that burden. Instead they wandered light and easy through the compound as if they were in their own backyard.
Then it happened. The oldest child spoke up and said he had to use the bathroom. Jessica speaks a little German, so she was able to understand the conversation.
For the record, I don’t speak any German but to me they always sound angry when they talk. Even though Italians yell and are ten times louder than your average German, the Italian language itself never sounds threatening. In German, even a whispered “Good morning” can sound aggressive.
Anyway, the father launches into his tirade, “KINDERS! You get your chance to shit between 7:00 and 7:05! If you miss it, scheiss nicht until dusk! RAUS!”
The poor kid shut up immediately and did not ask again. As for me, even though I witnessed this from a safe ten meters away, I wasn’t able to use the bathroom for two days after that. But at least the mystery was solved as to how they get by without a truckload of kid supplies in tow. Discipline doesn’t weigh you down; at least not physically.
Traveling in Italy with Children
I’m not sure where I was going with that story. This is meant to be an introduction to my chat with Shannon Kenny from ItaliaKids about traveling in Italy with children. Her company does travel planning for families, but even more fun are the summer camps that they hold each year for children of all nationalities, called Arte al Sole.
Listen to the podcast, and she talks all about the different activities that they have planned for the kids, many of which are tailored to the location. So making Carnival masks in Venice, painting ceramics on the Amalfi Coast, and a regional cooking class in each of the locations. They do science projects, put on stage performances, play soccer, and go on nature walks, just to name a few things on the itinerary.
Beyond the fun and educational activities themselves, as a parent, I had two big takeaways from our conversation:
- This is a GREAT way for the kids to do fun kid stuff while the parents go visit a “boring” museum or sit down at a quaint trattoria for a two hour lunch (with a “boring” bottle of Brunello). That way, everybody in the family is enjoying their vacation. Makes perfect sense to me. The camp ends at like 3:30 every day, so there’s still a lot of family time.
- It’s a mistake to think, “Oh, my kids are too young, we’ll wait until they’re old enough to appreciate it.” OK, maybe at 9 months, my baby was too young. But if they’re old enough to walk, talk, and draw, then they’re old enough to appreciate it. Oh, and they have to be potty trained, too. Not in the German sense where they only go to the bathroom according to a fixed time schedule. But they need to be able to use the toilet on their own.
Ah, yes, and speaking of my German friends in Milan, now I remember why I had mentioned their story. To go along with this podcast episode, I wrote a companion piece for Shannon’s blog which is essentially a checklist of essential preparations and supplies for traveling in Italy with children. Hopefully you’ll have an ample sized diaper bag, and a cheerful daddy pulling double-duty as a pack mule.
In the article, I name all the best Italian brands for baby food, diapers, clothes, etc., that a vacationing family would need to know. Also, I tell you where to find these things (who knows what a sanitaria is?), and their relative costs in Euros.
I would like to give a big “GRAZIE” once again to Shannon for sharing her advice about family travel in Italy with me today. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to participate. (Unfortunately she can’t really draw yet, and she still uses the bathroom whenever/wherever she damn-well pleases.)
Please visit Shannon on her websites:
Click the link to check out other episodes and see my list of the best podcasts about Italy.