There’s a famous English saying, ‘Mother knows best.’ And, generally speaking, it’s true. But I’d like to make one small addendum – if mother knows best, then Italian mothers know better.
I can say with absolute assurance that there is nothing Italian mothers cannot do, and do well.
To be raised by an Italian mother is to be showered in love, kindness, nourishment and toughness. Italian mothers know how to delicately traipse the fine line between nurture and discipline – so much so, they’ve made an art of it.
It’s well known that la bella figura is ingrained in the Italian psyche. It’s hard for outsiders to understand, but la bella figura is hard-wired into Italians and provides an unspoken set of guidelines for life, consistently upheld and passed down by Italian mothers. La bella figura is how one carries oneself. It’s about presentation and having pride in oneself. It’s about behaviour, and grace, tact and gentility. It’s about hospitality and beauty and to comportarsi bene.
La bella figura is why you’ll never see a messy Italian house. They simply do not exist. You will not find dust on skirting boards, or unpolished furniture, or disorder within a true Italian home. My mother will climb an 8ft ladder on one leg to clean a window sooner than she’ll go to sleep knowing there’s smudged glass left unattended.
La bella figura is why you’ll never see a badly dressed Italian. They simply do not exist. From newborn babies to nonnas and nonnos, Italians dress well – for themselves, and others. An Italian mother will get changed out of their house clothes to go to the shops. Imagine la vergogna otherwise.
Italian mothers understand the unsaid. After an excruciatingly long labour, my mother turned up to the hospital with exactly what I needed, without knowing I did – a big bowl of brodo e pastina. If there’s something my mum’s brodo can’t fix, from a cold to a broken heart, I’m yet to find it.
Italian mothers always know. There is nothing you can ever get by them. And they are always prepared. For everything. If you’re ever going to turn up announced anywhere, it’s best to choose the house of an Italian mother. There’s never a shortage of food, or coffee, or biscotti or abbracci.
Se Dio vuole, Italian mothers turn into Italian nonnas and a fiercer breed you cannot find. There is no messing with a nonna’s love, a nonna’s care and a nonna’s loyalty. I see it, every day, with my own son, and my nephews and niece. And I now understand the Italian proverb; ‘if nothing is going well, call your grandmother’. There is nothing quite like a nonna’s love.
Italian mothers, and nonnas, are exceptional. However, with apologies to the rest of them, mine is the absolute best.
My mother is a machine. She has never been too tired to cook, too lazy to iron, too overwhelmed to nurture and love. She is tenacious and hard-working, every single day. Her willingness to move forward in life, sempre avanti, no matter the hand she’s been dealt is legendary. She is the strongest person I know. She is funny, and sharp, and quick, and talented, and ruthless. She loves and helps people with reckless abandon.
I grew up in a home where everything was made from scratch – from the sugo to the ravioli. I grew up wearing clothes lovingly made by my mother, clothes that were mended when they wore. I grew up knowing that it’s not so much what you do that matters, but more so how you do it and, especially, the person you are along the way.
My mother has taught me how to be fierce, bold and brave. She has taught me to be strong. To be secure in who I am. But she’s also taught me to be kind. Kinder than anyone needs to be. She’s taught me how to love, and be loved. How to cook, and how to eat. How to live, and live well.
My mother is the heart of our family. Il cuore di tutto. She is a national treasure. What a privilege it is being raised, and loved, by her.