A Divide In the Pram, er, Stroller

By Carla Passino
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, July 3, 2006

It's open combat between the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack.

Our son is barely a couple of months old but my husband and I already are engaged in a rerun of the War of Independence over his upbringing. Who will win the skirmishes between president and queen, diapers and nappies, lorry and truck, sneakers and trainers, tube and telly?

We live in Milan, so we start on a level battlefield, but my husband has powerful allies: Two American cousins and their families live a mere hour and a half away from us and could tilt the balance in America's favor. With no British relatives in sight, I simply had to make a preemptive strike.

When it was my turn to lull the baby to sleep, I started whispering old nursery rhymes in his ear. This subconscious conditioning could not fail: Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross . . . and learn Mummy's brand of English.

But my secret plan was betrayed by a traitorous grandmother and my husband swiftly retaliated. At feeding times he sang a (frankly appalling) rendition of "My Way" -- "And now / The milk is near . . ." -- that clearly tried to play on the baby's most basic instincts to sway him over to his side. Worse, he tried to buy our son's allegiance by tickling his vanity: "Aren't chu beauuudifool?" he cooed -- emphasizing his American accent. I even caught the two of them watching sports together and cheering the American team.

This could not do. I scoured the Internet for information on the best British schools in Milan, where our son will learn that King Harold lost England and his head to William the Conqueror, 14 pounds equal one stone, route rhymes with cute and lever with beaver. Of course, he will not attend school for at least another three years, but forward thinking is the key to winning wars, isn't it?

Alas, my cunning enemy had foreseen this move and prepared a list of his own -- featuring flashy American schools with plenty of sport facilities. We talked about both sets of schools to the baby. He gave each of us equally puzzled stares and went back to sleep.

As he grows up, he no doubt will learn to exploit this cultural rivalry to his best advantage. He will barely have eaten his way through his Halloween treats than he will be sinking his teeth into British Bonfire Night's parkins. For every "Scooby-Doo" episode, he'll watch one of "The Fimbles."

But he will be spared the food fights: steak and kidney pie vs. meatloaf, bangers and mash vs. fried chicken, Spotted Dick vs. apple pie. When it comes to food, my husband and I both revert to the Italian heritage we have in common. When our son weans off the milk, it'll be salami and lasagna for him, with both Mummy's and Daddy's blessings.

Peace, at last.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company