When I was eight months pregnant with my son, the private clinic where I was to give birth gave me a list of clothes to bring with me for the newborn. There were articles of clothing that I’d never heard of before: bodino, ghettina, tutina.
They all ended in -ino or -ina, which meant they were little and cute, but what were they?
If this wasn’t enough to send my hormone-assaulted brain into a spin, the clinic specified the required type of fabric. So my fetus and I set out to find a ghettina di lana leggera (light wool leggings) and other outfits that would compose his first foray into the world of Italian fashion.
My plan was to hand the list to the lady in the store with my credit card and be done with it. The shopkeeper was around sixty, a beautiful, gravelly-voiced grandmother. I was done for.
Approximately two hours and hundreds of euros later, my fetus and I emerged, sweaty and agitated. The signora had regaled me with questions. Which kind of cotton do you prefer? Lace at the collar or on the sleeves? Oh, she was full of questions.
But somehow I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask mine. I had only two, and they were fundamental at that point in time. Which is cheaper?
And, where is the bathroom?
Later, I handed my completed assignment over to Raffaella [mother-in-law]. She put her glasses on to examine the list and to feel the tiny garments. She was Giorgio Armani before a Vogue photo shoot. She was a Hollywood image consultant.
She described the workmanship of each minuscule article, saying things like “cross-stitch embroidery” and “cream and sky-blue appliqué.” I tried to figure out if these descriptions meant the clothes passed the test. I did not want to visit the exacting, gravelly-voiced grandmother at the baby store again.
My son was not yet at term and his look was already being scrutinized. He would have to be stylish and elegant as soon as he saw the light of day. Weren’t they going to give him a couple of months to get into the swing of things? Couldn’t he be given a few weeks of leeway on account of his American, sweatpant-wearing mother? “Hmmmm…” Raffaella would have to think about it, work on it, match some of these things with items she had bought. But it looked like my job was over. Hallelujah.
“You know, in the U.S., we usually buy baby clothes that can go in the washing machine,” I ventured, finding renewed confidence in my ninth month.
“Are you serious? They get ruined that way! What about the satin lock-down stitch?”
I didn’t mention that we also tend not to spend two hundred bucks on a wardrobe that would last less than a month, and that was destined to be covered with milk and vomit.
It was pointless. I didn’t want my son to get the figlio di nessuno, the “no one’s kid” label, as soon as he was born, so I let Nonna Raffaella handle my newborn’s wardrobe. After all, I figured, who cares what they dress him in? I had enough on my mind.
Wilson, Katherine. The Mother-in-Law Cure (Originally published as Only in Naples): Learning to Live and Eat in an Italian Family (p. 208). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.