How a trip to the local park turned into a nightmare for a foreign mom in Rome - scorned by tourists, tested to the limits by her baby daughter and let down by her loving dog.
The ex-navy commander who lives upstairs told me he saw a rat in my stroller. My husband went to check and found rat poop in the convenient catch-all bottom, where I stuff bags of groceries so I can bring food home to my family. I felt like he ripped my heart out when he announced the Nuna would have to go. Considering its weight, no one would be carrying it up the stairs at night.
My blood boiled with anger: the insensitivity and downright ignorance of that suggestion. I’m here living in this place, another home not my own, where cobblestones are the one obstacle of my day that I can actually conquer. The balanced carriage, cushioned with a leather handle that I push with one hand, while I walk the dog with another, is one tool I literally couldn’t live without. If the Nuna goes, I go too (is what crossed this irate mother’s head). This “grand palazzo” where a pope once lived better deal once and for all with it’s embarrassing rat problem. Notice, not MY rat problem!
A year later, and I still have my Nuna - with its shock absorbent, all-terrain tyres. Oh yes, I’m grateful for our victory. Maybe the condominium finally got it together to call an exterminator, and the exterminator actually showed up. Or maybe, our small battle to clean up the trash that plagues this entire city was won. Either way, I plop my kid in that stroller, hook my dog’s leash around my wrist and kick some sanpietrini ass every day, to take them to the park.
Trees fall in the park. The city has closed it as a precaution against unpredictable winds.
Yesterday, my daughter walked up and down along the locked entrance gate. Crying, at no one specifically. An old couple walked by with long faces. “She’s crying because it’s closed,” I told them in Italian. The woman answered with a resounding “giustamente,” validating both my daughter and me (because as a mom, a whining child can be unseemly).
We moved away from the gate then, jumping off a low curb. I patiently tried to convince my daughter to move into the sun, and the bridge toward home. I pushed the empty stroller in front of me and the dog pulled on its leash. In the few seconds it took me to untangle the leash from my dog’s foot, my daughter had laid face down on the ground with her head buried in her hands. I called to her. Then I paused, wondering how this would play out.
Having never before been confronted with this behaviour, it was one of those new mom moments where you think “what the shiznit?” Do I pull out my phone and send a photo to her dad? Do I wait for the tantrum to end? Do I stuff her kicking and screaming into the beloved Nuna?
While my mind is running, two women walk by. I hear one of them yell “That is SO FUCKED. Oh my god. What kind of mother would let… and with her head on the floor. SO FUCKED. DISGUSTING.” I froze in shock. My voice disappeared. It took me a moment to move, registering that it was a British accent, she had spoken English, thinking I wouldn’t understand a tourist.
I picked up my daughter and noticed an Italian family watching. A mother explained to her children that my baby must have been crying for hours, and that is why she was now lying on the floor. The realisation that we had an audience kicked me into gear. My daughter gracefully sat down in the stroller and off we went over the bridge.
The tears started welling up at the corner of my eyes as we waited at a stoplight to cross the Lungotevere. I blinked and they ran down my face. “I’m a failure,” I said to myself, “I’ve failed as a mother.” We crossed the road and the dog stopped. “Thank you doggy for taking this shit in an inconspicuous place, rather than back there on the pedestrian bridge,” I thought. They say dogs can feel emotions and well, yep. Just as I was pulling out a waste bag to pick up the droppings, a family appeared out of nowhere. I saw little sneakers narrowly miss the first poop, but before I could say anything, a foot landed in the second pile. The kid stopped, the mom stopped and looked down, looked at me holding the dog. I lost it. Huge choking sobs. “I’m sorry,” I managed to babble, “so sorry.” The dad watched me as I struggled to pull a waste bag that had been ineptly inserted into its carrier by husband.
I pulled and pulled, and cried and cried. In moment of clear-headed genius, I opened the carrier. The bags rolled out onto the ground away from me. My daughter started crying. The mother, who was now on her knees scraping her kid’s shoe against a potted palm tree, looked at her husband. “I’m sorry,” I said again between blubbers. Somehow, I managed to scoop up the poop. I sat down on the curb, recalling the British woman’s words of judgment. The dog came over to lick my tears.
With a deep breath I got up and pushed the Nuna home. It glided over potholes and maneuvered its way around seas of tour groups. I parked it in the courtyard and carried my daughter upstairs. My husband took her and I ran to the bathroom where I had a good cry. The audacity of that woman has no explanation. That type of meanness, the lack of intercultural understanding, makes me so grateful to be in a city where, despite its numerous faults, people take care of each other. Even though no one actually helped me, it was the Italians that I encountered who encouraged my abilities as a mother: making me feel less alone in this adopted country.