My father-in-law recently forwarded pictures of our cousins in Italy. Well one of our cousins in Italy: we have many. (When you marry into an Italian family, you rather quickly gain lots of cousins.) This particular cousin, like my daughter, is five years old. Like my daughter she loves Disney princesses; she even sports a Cinderella backpack, and like my daughter she started kindergarten this year.
I have slowly been learning to speak L’italiano using a taped language course—one way to escape the constant political discourse this year on the radio as I drive back and forth to work, and I have been teaching my daughter a few Italian phrases along the way. My daughter is at the perfect age for picking up a second language, and I love the thought of her learning la bella lingua.
The thing that I have enjoyed most about the pictures of my daughter’s cousin is all of the commonalities the two girls share. They both love Disney princesses. They both have parents who take lots of pictures of important events in their lives, and their lives are being marked by many of the same big events—first day of school, buying back packs, meeting new teachers and friends. Even though these girls are an ocean apart and do not speak the same language, they share many common experiences.
I like the idea of my daughter gaining an international friend and recognizing that the person who seems so far away and different in terms of language and maybe even some customs is really quite a lot like her. I hope that she can get to know her cousin through email and snail mail correspondence (because letters are more fun to get than email). It’s a great place for her to begin to understand that people have more common ground than they have differences—a lesson that quite a few “adults” in our society desperately need to learn.
We live in a society of individuals, a society that celebrates uniqueness, that protects, via copyright and patent law, the expression of the innovative idea, and that is how it should be. However, sometimes in celebrating and promoting all that individualism and diversity, we lose sight of the things we have in common. We do not know how to talk to those who are an ocean or a world away, or sometimes those who are immediately next door but have a different viewpoint, and that makes it impossible to negotiate, compromise and do the things necessary to move society forward.
My daughter has a wonderful opportunity in front of her. She has a cousin in Italy, almost exactly her age with whom she can share common experiences. She can learn a little geography as she gets to know her cousin. We can explore Google earth to find the city where her cousin lives; we can learn a new language and incorporate snippets as we write to her; and more importantly we can work on developing relationships with people an ocean away.
I’m excited for my daughter, and I’m excited for me—another parent of a bright, chocolate-eyed five year old with whom I can commiserate. I can’t wait until my Italian is good enough that I can share experiences with her parents!
©2012 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.