Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italyby Jane Christmas
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To smooth over five decades of constant clashing, determined daughter Jane Christmas decides to take her arthritic, incontinent, and domineering mother, Valeria, to Italy. Will being at the epicenter of the Renaissance spark a renaissance in their relationship? As they drag each other from the Amalfi Coast to Tuscany walkers, shawls, and a mobile pharmacy of medications in tow they find new ways to bitch and bicker, in the process reassessing who they are and how they might reconcile. Unflinching and often hilarious, this book speaks to all women who have faced that special challenge of making friends with Mom.
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From Chapter 1
So why am I going to Italy-the Land of Love-with a sparring partner?
It's part détente, part death-bed request:
I am trying to resolve fifty-plus years of strained relations by seeing whether my mother and I can spend six weeks together without biting off each other's heads; six weeks being so distracted by art and antiquity that we can see each other as the individual works of art-flaws and all-that we are.
The words of my father just before he died have also prompted this trip.
"Make friends with your mother," he had instructed me. I wanted to scream: "Can't you just ask me to win the Nobel Prize in medicine? It would be easier to do!"
My father wasn't blind to our mother-daughter contretemps, and when he died in 1999 he left my mother and me without a gentle intermediary. As life ebbs away and my mother's health issues mount it doesn't leave much time to get this right-if that's at all possible.
So I came up with this ingenious trip to Italy as a way to make peace but also as a way to get to know this woman I call "Mom", a woman I know by sight and smell, by shared memories, by some primal connection, a woman who deep down I'm pretty certain I love but with whom I have had trouble bonding.
Tensions between mothers and daughters are legendary. Indeed, entire sections of bookstores could be devoted to the subject.
Based on modern anecdotal evidence, most women have a fractious relationship with their moms. Mothers, on the other hand, will rarely admit to it (and being the mother of a daughter I know of what I speak) because it points to a maternal failure. Getting along with your sons is one thing, but daughters are a special breed. Mothers see ourselves most clearly in our daughters. When mothers and daughters argue it is like arguing with ourselves.
An electrician was once doing work at my house one morning when my daughter and I erupted into a little morning dust-up. I tried to keep the argument quiet because, well, I don't believe in public displays of aggression, but it had regrettably escalated to the point where the electrician felt it prudent to intervene.
"You know why you two are arguing, right?" he said.
My daughter and I stared at him with questioning looks.
"Because you're both exactly the same."
My daughter stormed off, utterly and visibly horrified by his assessment. My reaction was much reaction: The little voice inside me let out a victory cry of "Yes!"
The mother-daughter tug-of-war is as different as its participants but it's there nonetheless. Show me a mother who says she has a good or great relationship with her daughter and I'll show you a daughter who is in therapy trying to understand how it all went so horribly wrong.
There is no better place to hash out mother-daughter matters than Italy. The country positively invented motherhood, worships it, in fact. It is the backbone of Italy's dominant religion; it is woven into the social fabric; it is an iconic feature of the culture: you cannot picture Italy without visualizing a robust mother smiling at the head of the family dinner table or smacking her misbehaved son.
Italy is the perfect destination on another level: Mom and I both love art, history, and Old World architecture. Nothing can silence my mother like the sight of a weathered tapestry or an ancient ruin. When we ooh and ahh over stone follies, pastoral views, oil paintings and antiques we give voice to a common denominator that confirms our familial tie, a tie that has become frayed by too many years of tugging.
Our shared interest in antiquity is the purpose we have given for the trip when friends, well aware of our contentious history, inquire as to why we're going with each other. But the unspoken reason-one that my Mom and I can barely admit to each other-is that we're using the background of the Italian Renaissance to spark a renaissance of our own.
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Meet the Author
Jane Christmas is the author of The Pelee Project: One Woman’s Escape from Urban Madness and What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. She has three children, and still has one mother, and lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
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This book was supposed to be about a daughter who expected to heal her relationship with her elderly mother by taking her on a trip to Italy. I felt so sorry for the mother ... all the daughter did was complain about Italy, the food AND her mother. Can you imagine how difficult it must be for someone to use a walker in Venice? There are well over 300 bridges (with steps) in Venice. I don't know how the mother didn't leave her daughter and catch the first plane home. I kept thinking it was going to get better ... it didn't.