How to Raise a Jojo: The City of Rome

Rome may be the most magical city on Earth. I say “may be” because I often feel that wherever I am is the most magical city on Earth. However, Rome is a place I can visit over and over and never get bored. We’ve taken Josephine there four times. Maybe that’s why she’s so obsessed with pasta?

Each time we’ve visited Rome with Josephine, it’s been during the winter, when the Christmas lights are in full effect in every street and the air is just crispy enough for a trenchcoat over your sweater. It’s an incredible time to stand at the foot of the Spanish Steps with a bag of roasted chestnuts (which never taste quite as good as they smell). The city isn’t overflowing with tourists, but the hustle-and-bustle is just as pervasive as during the summer — it’s that unmistakable Christmasy energy. I just can’t get enough of it.

This past season was somewhat different from years past, though. It was our first trip to Europe in two years; like so many, we’d been homebound by the pandemic. To make the most of the experience, we decided to go not only to our old haunts in Rome but also to Egypt and Jordan, where we’d never ventured before. Consequently, we had to leave a little earlier than ever before and spend our first Christmas away from Houston in decades.

I was a little nervous about Christmas abroad with Josephine. She worried that Santa might not find us in Rome, and I worried that she’d miss the festivity of family, the warmth of Christmas morning next to our own tree. Still, I packed our bags, determined to make it incredible — BUT forgot her gifts!

We spent Christmas Eve (my birthday) on the hunt for replacement presents and wrapping paper, no small request the day before Christmas. Jamil and I pounded the pavement, pushing Jojo in her stroller because her little legs were firmly opposed to further walking. At each store, she’d get out and peruse the offerings. Little Pinocchio figurines? No one really wants to play with a wooden doll. Giant, stuffed gladiators? Those wouldn’t fit in the suitcase. Ultimately, while Jojo’s back was turned, I bought some LOL Surprize dolls and prayed she’d find them entertaining enough.

As I’ve explained before, I think that exposing kids to conversations and experiences with adults is key to their maturity. On this trip to Rome, we were lucky enough to travel not only with my parents but also with my godmother, my Aunt Donna, and her boyfriend, Roger. 

We selected an amazing restaurant, Ristorante Gallura, for Christmas Eve dinner. It was quite elegant, and Jojo was expected to be on her best behavior. Dinner began at 9PM, and we ordered multiple courses. With each course, we made sure to select something Josephine might  enjoy — the calamari in the fritto misto, the parmigiano and prosciutto, a gorgeous spaghetti alla vongole, and of course, dessert.

Josephine’s culinary exposure matters a great deal to us. We want her to be able to find something to eat on any (good) menu. If a restaurant has a children’s menu, we let her order from it, but if there isn’t one, we read the menu to her until something piques her interest. She loves seafood, vegetables, chicken, pork, lamb, beef. You name it. That’s not to say she doesn’t occasionally turn up her nose at something we put before her. She’s firmly opposed to jelly, for instance. She detests blueberries for some reason, too. Nothing can change her mind. I don’t even try. I despised mayonnaise and avocado; Jamil hated lima beans. Those little quirks distinguished us from the crowd.

We left Ristorante Gallura that night at almost midnight. Josephine never uttered a word of complaint. She also never got to look at an iPad. I wanted to reflect on why I think she’s so collected in these situations. We’ve been taking Josephine to nice restaurants since she was in utero. While she was in a carrier, we took her to restaurants regularly. She slept while we ended the night with a martini. When she got old enough to sit up in a restaurant and participate, we encouraged her to sit with us, drawing on notepads or coloring on children’s menus; if she got tired, we pulled her car seat out of the car, and she passed out by the table. 

At Gallura, we got a large table that had an upholstered bench with pillows on one side. She could frolic over there and even lie down. We’ve done that at multiple restaurants, given her little work spots, so she could entertain herself. We also avoid the common tendency to have her food brought out first. She can eat the bread and enjoy the appetizers, but she can’t get her meal 30 minutes before everyone else. What’s the point? Then, she’ll be ready to leave when we’re sinking into the best course. Nope. She waits it out, and she always has. If she gets too tired to see the meal through to the end, she can fall asleep on the bench or in my arms (more than likely, though, Jamil’s!). By expecting her to abide by the same standards as the adults around her, we build Josephine’s confidence and give her experience modeling the traits that will one day add to her success. I know this strategy may not work for everyone, but it’s what we’ve done from Day One, and it’s served us well so far!

Enjoy the photo gallery from our trip below.

Author: Jessica Givens