Jacopo Della Ragione first came to Beijing in June 2001 for travel and never left – literally. He canceled his flight back to Italy after a week. Fourteen years later, he’s married to native Beijinger Pan Yanrui and they have a 5-year-old son, Sirio. In 2010, Della Ragione’s mother, Adriana Neirotti, decided to move to Beijing and start a new life here. She now speaks conversational Chinese, has her own apartment near her family’s, leads an active social life, and teaches at the Italian Cultural Institute. During our chat at The Local, mother and son constantly corrected and poked fun at each other, with Della Ragione translating most of Neirotti’s long, measured Italian into rapid-fire English.
Adriana, what made you decide to move here?
Della Ragione: The decision was fairly easy. The big change was the birth of Sirio. [My mother] had been coming every year here for holidays since 2003 or 2004, each time for three weeks. Then she retired.
Neirotti: I had nothing to do, so I came here.
How difficult was it to adapt to life here?
Neirotti: Where can I buy bread? I don’t know. I found a group of women who [knit]called Beijing Guild. [International Newcomers Network Vice-President] Theresa [Ahdieh] told me I could join that group. I started asking the members where I can find this and that. And I walked. I walked and walked through Beijing – everything I saw, I wrote down.
Della Ragione: There was a [period]of adaptation on both sides. The first six months weren’t easy. For the first two and a half, she was living at our place. Then when she got her own apartment, it was a matter of finding a way to do things, like having a social life. Theresa was very nice, very helpful. Within six months, [my mother]started to have a social life bigger than mine. I called [one day after a group outing to the Ming Tombs]to check on her and she said “It went very well. We did rafting.” I said, “What? Rafting? Maybe you don’t know what that means.” She said, “No, no, we got in a boat and went down the river and everything!”
Who else is in your support network?
Neirotti: Italian women living in Beijing. We are about 30 [in the group]. We visit monuments every 15 days, and talk and talk and talk.
What made you decide to have your own apartment instead of living with Jacopo?
Neirotti: Don’t you know Jacopo? Would you live with him? [Laughs]
Della Ragione: She was living by herself for 10 years. In Milan, my aunt lives very close to where my mom used to live, but still separate. [My mom] also moved everything from Milan – not much furniture, but a lot of things like books.
Neirotti: [I brought] 500 books. I had 2,000.
Della Ragione: Some of them I took because they were mine, but there was still a lot. We would’ve had to find a bigger apartment. So we had to find her something close enough to be really convenient, but at the same time allow us to have our own privacy and lives.
Jacopo, were you worried that your mom would spoil Sirio?
Della Ragione: No. On that side she’s very helpful. Though sometimes we have disagreements, in the end this is my kid.
What kind of parenting disagreements do you have?
Della Ragione: Minor ones. Sometimes she thinks I’m a bit too harsh and strict. If I’m cold with [Sirio], she doesn’t defend him exactly, but she tells me off, which isn’t without reason. Most of the time when that happens it’s because I’m tired, the patience level goes down, and I overreact. But again, nothing major.
When Sirio was very small, it must have been useful to have grandparents from both sides here.
Della Ragione: There were actually more rules to be set on how we wanted our kid to be raised on [my wife’s]side. But [my in-laws]are extremely understanding and helpful. It’s great to have them both. I was born and raised in Florence; my mom’s parents lived in Turin while my father’s parents lived near Venice. Now I know how small Italy is, but back then it seemed far. I grew up seeing my grandparents fairly rarely, so I wanted Sirio to grow up as much as possible around his.
What does your mom bring to your family life that you can’t?
Della Ragione: If she weren’t here, Sirio’s Italian would be far from the level it is now. She also loves reading books; she passed this on to me. I really hope that I will be able to pass this onto Sirio. She’s bringing books, reading to him, making him read, making him write, teaching him how to recognize words when he was 3. She’s spending more time with him than I do now.
What is a typical week like?
Della Ragione: [My mother] comes to our place to pick Sirio up because his kindergarten is in our compound. She picks him up three times a week; the other grandparents too. It’s usually according to when they can drive the car and [my mother’s Italian]lessons. For the past year, Friday nights he also goes to her place and sleeps over.
Adriana, do you and Sirio have your own rituals?
Della Ragione: They play games together at her place. Her apartment is 100sqm, so it’s fairly big for one person. She keeps all these big boxes for Sirio to play with; he builds things up, which he cannot do at our apartment because we don’t have that much space. Possibly the biggest difference is that she doesn’t have him put things away when he’s done playing, while we do.
How has your relationship evolved since you moved here?
Della Ragione: My parents have been divorced since I was 10. I grew up with [my mother], so we’ve been always fairly close. After I moved to China, we kept that relationship by talking on the phone.
Neirotti: But a lot. Everyone said to me, “You speak four hours with your son? I speak with mine once a month!”
Della Ragione: She’s my personal therapist. Since I moved here, her biggest challenge [in Italy]was to find pre-paid telephone cards. She’s not kidding; we could’ve had a three-hour conversation on the phone weekly. But of course, it’s different being close on the phone and in person.
Do you have more appreciation for your mom now that you’re a parent?
Della Ragione: It’s not appreciation, it’s more a kind of understanding. Mother’s love is granted; they do things for you and look after you. It’s just the way it is. But I discovered these things are not just given. I love food. I like to eat, and I like to eat good food. I found myself cutting the best piece of a steak to give to Sirio. [As a kid], I would stab [my mother’s]hand if she tried to take something from my plate, so when I saw myself doing this I thought “Oh my God! This is new.” Suddenly a lot of memories came back where I could see myself from the parent’s side. I knew in that moment all those choices were choices made by my mother.
Disclosure: Jacopo Della Ragione is the former art director of True Run Media, beijingkids’ parent company.
This article originally appeared on page 68-69 of the April 2015 Issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com
Photos: Uni You