Living In Italy: “Your Boobs Suck,” And Other Lessons I Learned From My Mother-In-Law

Shortly after F and I were engaged, his mother came to Florence to stay with us for the weekend. She was pissed that her bouncing baby boy wanted to marry what she saw as a linguistically challenged, overtly sexual, liberal American idiot and  I can’t blame her. A birthing vagina totally can’t compete with a linguistically challenged one. Despite her negative-nancy attitude, I don’t think that she believed that we’d eventually marry. Rather, I think it bothered her that I believed we would. When the conversation about our wedding arose, I often saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes which meant that she thought she could still deter F,  or at the very least convince him to put the wedding off for another 40 or 50 years. If she said, “Anytime after I die is good! I don’t see the rush…,” I wouldn’t have been surprised. Since we never knew how she would react on any given day, we tried not to talk about it around her if possible. Sometimes she would get only mildly annoyed and pound the dough a little harder than necessary, or sigh loudly while brandishing a wooden spoon at her tomato sauce, but other times she went all out. Other times it was like she was competing in the dramatic Italian Olympics. On these occasions she would scream her guts out and bang pots and wail,  ”Dear God why you do dis to-a me-a?”  towards heaven. It was a lot like a movie. It was offensive and hurt my feelings, but more than anything my husband had fully ingested the shame. His mother’s tantrums brought back all of the Catholic guilt that had been ingrained in him as a kid and the words “our wedding” made him visibly uncomfortable the way I assume that confessing to masturbation at 12 did. Even I started to feel naughty at some point but that was less about the wedding talk and more about being physically violated.

Having his mother in Florence, alone, was supposed to be a bonding experience.  ”Just try to speak Italian and get to know her,” F  pleaded. He thought that I could actually win her over somehow and then she would magically support us. It was cute. It’s not that I was against building a relationship with her but it was a little hard to open up around someone who begged God to kill you on a regular basis (okay, a slight exaggeration but it felt that way).

Spending time with either of F’s parents gave me severe anxiety back then so I was surprised that the first day was lovely and we actually had fun together, despite the fact that she pulled her eyes taut when she talked about Chinese people and said once or twice that African people need to bathe more than “white” people. But she “wasn’t racist” because it “was a known fact” so it was all good (the fuck?). The three of us had dinner in a cute place and we even giggled together over F’s terrified reaction to a woman breastfeeding in the restaurant. His eyes diverted, face turned a million shades of embarrassment, and then we had to move tables because seeing a stranger’s boob was too much for him, which is funny considering the number of strange boobs that have been near his face in the past. Anyway, things were comfortably awkward for once instead of terrible. The weekend started out nice.

Around 7:00 in the morning I awoke to a small knock on our bedroom door. I covered my naked ass and said, “come in.” F’s mother flung open the door, dove into our laundry basket, and disappeared. It was like watching a cobra strike at a mouse. That’s seriously how stealthy and fast she is when it comes to laundry. I rolled my eyes and fell back asleep immediately because I do not wake before 8:30. When we awoke later I stumbled into the kitchen to find the kitchen spotless, as if it had been cleaned by elves on meth. F’s mom was working diligently in front of an ironing board, her elbow sawing back and forth with so much vigor that her tiny frame shook. “Buongiorno,” I mumbled. At about that time I’d reached the ironing board and I saw what she was so determined to de-wrinkle: One of my super skanky thongs. Next to that thong were about 10 others that had already been strong-armed into paper-like flatness. “What the fuck!? I yelled in English so she couldn’t understand me. She turned around. “Buongiorno. I made coffee.” I half-smiled and switched to Italian, “Thanks, but, uhm, why are you washing and ironing my panties!?” Francesco entered around that time and saw what she was doing. He smiled and headed for the coffee.

“DUDE! YOUR MOM! BOUNDARIES! Anything that touches my vagina and goes up my ass is off-limits to her!”

He turned, “She’s just trying to be nice, babe.”

Which I understood. I read that absolutely ridiculous yet semi-helpful book, The Five Love Languages, and I understood that some people show love with acts of kindness, but I think ironing my thongs crossed a lot of  important boundaries that existed for a reason.  ”My lady bits go there. Please, I’m begging you, tell her to not do our laundry!” I turned to her, “You don’t have to do work here. You’re on vacation! Go relax! I’ll take over from here!” But she smacked my hand when I reached for the iron so instead I drank coffee and sulked while I watched her examine my sluttiest undergarments. “She’s not going to like me if she knows that I own black lace thongs with pearls that run up my bum! You’re ruining our chances of a relationship by letting her do this!” I whined. F just shrugged and gave her suggestions on what he wanted to eat for lunch. Mother. Fucker.

We took her for a walk later that day since it was spring and nice out. I stayed silent and bitter while F and his mother chatted about various things. I watched the pigeons shit onto the cobblestone and was enjoying myself, until we took a turn and  stepped onto a street lined with wedding shops. It became a little awkward for everyone since we couldn’t talk about the wedding, yet, was clearly what everyone was thinking. The mom glanced at one store window full of pink and after a few minutes commented on the “adorable” color scheme.  Oh. Hell. No. When we passed a wedding dress shop with a window packed full of gag-inducing puffy cotton-ball-type gowns, I decided to go ahead and against my better judgment I expressed how much I hated them.

“Me no like it big dresses like that,” I said to Francesco.

“Me either,” the mom answered.

“I do!”, beamed Francesco, who for reasons I cannot understand is obsessed with me in the girliest most over-the-top shit ever. The man has bought me three or four “Jackie O”-type dresses in the last four years with matching Jackie O shoes that I never wear because I’m not classy and I’m not fifty. Due to his love of all things feminine, it wasn’t surprising that he loved the idea of me crashing down the runway in something that should be lit on fire instead of worn.

“You need this covered to here.” His mother said. She motioned like she was slitting her own throat.

“I need a dress that goes up to my chin?” I asked.

“Yes. Because you can’t wear strapless.”

“I want a strapless dress.”

“No. No, no, no! It will be ugly on you.” She scrunched up her entire body and shook her head to get the traumatic image out of her mind.

“Why? Because I have a tattoo?”

“No. Not for that. Oh God! Honestly I don’t know WHAT we’ll do with you. I mean, what can we do!? JUST LOOK AT THIS!”

She lunged forward and grabbed hold of my boobs faster than a frat boy after a kegger. I pushed her hands down slowly.

“Why are you groping me?”

“Don’t do that,” F mumbled to her.

“Why? I say the truth! Look at them! Disgrace!” She pointed to them and hoped that my husband would agree with her.

“Her boobs are fine, mom.” F exhaled a sound that can only be described as half exasperated and half, “I was raised super religious so let’s never talk about boobs with my mom again.”

“FINE!?” She grabbed them again getting a handful. “Look at these! I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW! We have to feed her! She need-a eat-da-a-more- a pasta! She need a eat a more! If she eat more dey get more big!”

I turned to passively pop my boobs out of her grip again. “Listen, even if I gained thirty pounds these are not going to change. They never change. I have gained weight before and these were the same. Always the same.” I gestured back and forth between the two. “SAAAAME.”

She waved her hands in the air like she was fanning an imaginary insect away, “Don’t ask me then. I don’t know. You’re going to look terrible in a wedding dress. You need bigger…Sigh. Don’t ask me.” Then she moved to walk a bit faster than us.

“Is she being serious?” I asked F.

“Yes. She’s crazy. Just ignore her.” He shook his head disapprovingly.

“What’s wrong with my boobs! I LIKE MY BOOBS! I think they’re a fine! Are they really that bad? Do you hate them!?”

“WHAT!? NO! I love your boobs! Fuck! I’m going to kill her. Now you’re going to panic about your boobs for weeks. Great!”

“She just told me I was going to look terrible in a wedding dress because she hates my boobs!”

I’ve always been “weird” in the boob department. I don’t have big boobs and I’ve never wanted them either.  It had never occurred to me until that moment that anyone would ever want me to have different boobs. They are not pancake small but they’re not big enough to notice, but unclothed I liked them. I liked them a lot, actually. When I was a kid I used my breasts to gauge if other girls were deformed. “My God, Jessica! Your boobs have pink nipples! You should get that checked out!” Apparently blogging wasn’t my first stint in narcissism.

I tried not to let it bother me at all but it occurred to me that most Italian women have large boobs. Holy shit! I was probably the first person that F had ever been with that didn’t have huge boobs. Dammit! I pushed it out of my mind for a while until I couldn’t anymore because grabbing my boobs in public to point out how NOT HUGE they were soon became her favorite past-time….

 

 

M. Elizabeth Evans @survivinginitaly.com & dirtyfilthythings.wordpress.com

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