"Labour options in Umbria are somewhat limited, epidurals are rare and gas and air non-existent. Pain relief was going to be in the form of a stick I could chew on. On a whim, we went to the island of Filicudi with friends for the Easter break, thinking it was our last chance for a holiday BC. Jude, seven weeks early, had other ideas – cue emergency helicopter ride to Sicily, breech baby, caesarean section. It was a dramatic entrance to the world and now aged six, he is living up to it! Milo’s birth, on the other hand, was pretty much by the book, in Viterbo hospital. This time my husband actually brought a stick as a funny joke. How I laughed through the pain of the contractions!"
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Umbria?
Kerry, 38, in Umbria 12 years this summer.
Whereabouts do you live and what is the area like?
We live in the Umbrian countryside between Orvieto and lake Bolsena.
Why did you decide to move there and what nationality are you and your partner?
12 years ago I fell in love with an English man, left Ireland for Italy, got married and started the rollercoaster ride of my life. We originally wanted to live near Arezzo in Tuscany but our search for the perfect ruin sent us further a field and in the end we bought a 400m2 casale in Italy’s green heart - Umbria. Previous work in finance did not prepare me for my new job as a builder’s mate. My skill-set expanded rapidly as I learnt how to plaster, make cement, use an air-compressor and salvage thousands of terra cotta tiles. In those days of restoring the house all we needed was strong backs and some good food and wine to keep us going.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born? What was your experience of having a baby in Umbria?
At 6 months pregnant my husband insisted I throw in the trowel, so to speak, while he got on with the last big jobs. The impetus of a baby arriving does wonders for enthusiasm levels! Young-ish and healthy I wanted to be ready for the birth so I practised yoga, went to the gym and ate all the right things. The pre-natal care was thorough although I found some of the dietary advice hard to accept. Not being a big red meat eater I was surprised to be strongly advised to eat steak. Hmmmm….I upped my intake of leafy greens instead.
Labour options in Umbria are somewhat limited, epidurals are rare and gas and air non-existent. Pain relief was going to be in the form of a stick I could chew on. On a whim, we went to the island of Filicudi with friends for the Easter break, thinking it was our last chance for a holiday BC. Jude, seven weeks early, had other ideas – cue emergency helicopter ride to Sicily, breech baby, caesarean section. It was a dramatic entrance to the world and now aged six, he is living up to it! Milo’s birth, on the other hand, was pretty much by the book, in Viterbo hospital. This time my husband actually brought a stick as a funny joke. How I laughed through the pain of the contractions!
Do you work and if so what do you do?
Rural Umbria is not the best place to find work, for Italians or foreigners. Over the years I have translated for an annual Horror Award ceremony, written for the Irish papers, taught English and organised weddings. Now I’ve written a book ‘Italy: a Survival Guide’ and I translate websites and teach. Although full-time, permanent work is hard to find, there are lots of opportunities to be creative; necessity is the mother of invention!
What language do you speak to your children?
The boys learnt English at home and Italian at school – they both went to crèche (asilo) part-time from 18 months to help with their language skills. Now their Italian is quite impressive, Jude at six is in the first year of elementary school and Milo, three, attends the state pre-school.
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
Of course the boys are considered ‘different’ but not necessarily in a bad way. We have regular play-dates with classmates and other parents are delighted if their little one picks up a few words of English along the way. We have a good circle of friends, of different nationalities, and we feel like we belong 90% of the time.
Do you think it essential to speak Italian where you live? How good was your knowledge of Italian before you moved to Umbria?
Like owning a car, speaking Italian is essential to survival in rural Umbria. When I first arrived my only phrase was: “Due birre per favore” (two beers please). There are plenty of private schools offering lessons in Italian and there are also state-run courses of Italiano per stranieri. These are a really inexpensive way to improve your language skills. The best way to truly learn Italian, is to fall in love with a native.
How welcoming have the locals been towards you and your family?
While the locals did not lavish us with affection and invitations to their homes straight away, we have grown on each other over the years. Having children automatically increases opportunities to connect so the local scene really opened up for us six years ago. The nearest village has a population of 2,000 and it reflects the larger Italian situation. Every week anther small business is forced to close, public building works have stopped midway through projects and even the political scene is a hotbed of drama!
Are there any services, activities for kids, day-trips for kids, family-friendly restaurants or kids’ shops you’d like to recommend?
Orvieto is our nearest biggish town and there are some interesting activities available for children and adults - bookshops that run craft workshops (lalberodelleparole.net), an indoor play area (Bim Bum Bam), rugby and football clubs. The UISP (Unione Italiana Sport Per tutti) runs the 25m metre pool and a gym in Ciconia. Courses include: yoga, zumba, fencing, swimming and dancing. Osteria Numero Uno in Orvieto is really child-friendly with delicious food and little nook for children to play, draw etc.
Rome is not far and offers families plenty of opportunities for day-trips, whether you fancy cycling through the Borghese Park or exploring the archaeological treasures by open-top bus.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in the region?
The obvious disadvantage of living somewhere far from your home country is the lack of familial support in the area. I envy friends who have parents, in-laws, grandparents and other relatives over here as they always have someone to call in case of an emergency or even just to baby-sit. On the other hand my family often come to visit and when they do we get to spend quality time together – we just had a fantastic Christmas with 11 of us in the house!
The benefit of being part of a wider, international community is that our children spend time in different countries and understand that there is a big world out there to discover - Umbria is not the end for them but a great beginning.
Is there anything you think would improve children’s lives where you live?
Better playground facilities. Over the years the swings and slides in many parks have been destroyed/fallen apart and have never been replaced. I realise this is an unfortunate side-effect of the economic recession but it would be great to see an improvement there.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Umbria with children?
I love Umbria, it has been the scene of some amazing moments in my life. Being a parent anywhere in world is tough, especially the first time around. Make sure you understand the lingo, have some friends nearby and get the best broadband connection possible! If you want to try something new and old at the same time, come to Umbria!
What couldn´t you live without in Umbria?
Teabags posted from Ireland – no that’s pathetic, I could live without them! Skype and broadband are really important to feel connected to my family and friends around the world. It was great to see my newborn nieces and nephews on screen when it wasn’t possible to visit them in person. My children like to chat to their grandparents and aunts and uncles on the computer; it’s so much easier to keep in touch now than 12 years ago.
What could you live without in Umbria?!
Mice and scorpions. Not being a country girl, the number of creepy crawlies and mice freaked me out at the beginning. I’m a lot better now, but I could still happily live without ever having another mouse jump out at me from between the folds of a blanket.
You can download Kerry`s book Italy: A survival guide here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Italy-A-Survival-Guide-ebook/dp/B00AFEOIIG
and you can also read her blog at http://irishinumbria.com/