Friday, September 14, 2012

Cheerio ice cream


In Italy, September is more than the Back-to-School-month, which as all parents know is taxing enough. It is the dreaded "inserimento" month (unless you are so unlucky as to be pushed back until October because of the long waiting list). I have thought long and hard about how to translate this word into English, but it is quite impossible given the concept itself does not exist in the Anglo-Saxon world. Integration? Admission? Orientation? I guess it is a sort of orientation multiplied by a thousand.
An interesting article on this process written by an Italian journalist, who is the mother of twins, was published in the leading Italian newspaper just a few days ago. It is a spot-on analysis on why the stereotype of the Italian 30-year old still living at home with his mamma actually exists. As the author rightly states, after a very different experience enrolling her children in a British school this year after several inserimenti, the best gift we can give our children is the gift of indipendence, the confidence to stand on their own two legs.
But I digress, back to the inserimento.
Basically, when your child starts nursery school, pre-school or pre-K, the child and his/her parents have to go through a grueling process that lasts anywhere from ten days to three weeks, during which the parent slowly (and let me repeat this, slowly) gets the child accustomed to his/her new surroundings, teachers, classmates, routines etc. Needless to say I have been through this several times over the past 6 years with my two kids and it always involves endless hours of organization, guilt, massive financial expenditure and patience.
A traditional inserimento goes somewhere along these lines: 
Day 1 - child and parent spend time in the classroom together from 10:30-11:30
Day 2 - parent accompanies child to classroom at 10:30, leaves after a few minutes and waits outside the room until 11:30
Day 3 - drop off at 10:30 and pick up at 1:00pm (parent is on call and has to arrive immediately if child has a crisis). Child stays for lunch
Day 4 - drop off at 9:00 and pick up at 1:00pm (unless you are unlucky, like us, and Day 4 is on a Monday, which means you drop off your child at 10:30 again because he may be traumatized after a week end at home)
Day 5 - drop off at 9:00 - pick up at 1:00pm
Day 6 - drop off at 9:00 - pick up at 3:00pm, if child survives napping at school
Day 7 - drop off at 9:00 - pick up at 3:45-4:00 (general school hours)
Day 8 - as above
Day 9 - as above
Day 10 - if child is enrolled in pre-school/after school activities, drop off 8:30am, pick up 5:30-6:00pm
During this period of time, it is desirable for one of the parents to be present, preferably the mother. If a baby-sitter/nanny is suggested,  eye rolling and muttering ensues and she/he is usually only allowed after the first few days. If your child is doing really well (i.e. my daughter in her day), the process may be accelerated, but usually a minimum of a week is standard, even if said child is literally shoving you out of the classroom when you drop them off.
Then again, if your child is not dealing well or simply has caught on and is aware that every time he cries you will be summoned (i.e. my son at present), the process can take much longer.
Today my son is on Day 4. I took two days off of work for Day 1 and Day 2. My husband took 2 mornings off for Day 3 and Day 4. It is not going well. My son has turned into a koala bear that does not want to enter class, that hangs off of our legs and whimpers when we so much as try to stretch our back after kneeling on the floor with him for an hour. After Day 2, that ended really badly after I was practically forced into lying about having to go to the bathroom to leave him (he realized after a few minutes that I still wasn't back and bawled the whole 45 minutes I was gone), I was told he probably wouldn't be allowed to stay for lunch on Day 3. Yesterday he actually did stay for lunch, with poor F, the only parent left, standing quietly in a corner watching him as he ate. When F had to move away for 5 minutes to take a work call, he came back to a crying child.
So no, it is not going well. Our son does not want to go to pre-school. We feel guilty when we are in school and when we are at work. We have been paying a baby sitter since we got back from vacation and will probably have to hire her for another week if things don't change today, Day 4.

I am not a heartless mother and I very much appreciate the Italian school system and how nurturing the teachers and the Principal of the school are. Truly. I agree, it is important to make our children feel serene and confident in their surroundings because they spend most of their day almost every day there. I also agree to a certain extent that if problems are not solved immediately, they will come back to haunt us in different forms sooner or later. So yes, I am happy to have a school system that cares.
But my son has already been in the system for 2 years (he just turned three), in the same school (just a flight up), with the same principal. His sister is in the same school, another entrance, in second grade. He did a "pre-inserimento" in June, with his nursery school teachers taking him down to his new class and teachers, to play with his new classmates and start adjusting. It is also the same pre-school his sister went to and has been there numerous times. Not to mention that two of his best friends are starting with him and that he actually hugs and kisses his teachers goodbye at the end of each day. 
He knows. He knows very well what is going on and he is acting accordingly. If you were a little shy and frightened and you knew that with a tear or two you could get Mommy or Daddy to sit and watch you play in school and then take you home, wouldn't you take advantage of the situation?
Last but not least, since classes here often include different age groups (activities are differentiated according to age but it is a great experience for the younger children to have older children to learn from and it teaches the older children to care for and guide the younger ones during lunch break, recess and playtime), it means each year, the first month of your child's school is disrupted in its routine by the multiple inserimenti of younger children. And don't even get me started on parents of twins, parents who have one child starting nursery and another starting pre-school, parents of children of any age starting the school year in different schools or the worst case scenario (a mom whose older child is in the same class as my son's): parents who have one child starting pre-school and twins starting in separate classes in nursery!
So, as much as I agree with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4, by Day 5 I feel like my kid just needs to jump into the fu**ing deep end and start swimming! There may be tears, it may be rough for the first couple of days, but he will survive and by Day 10 he will be swimming underwater and diving in backwards.
Excuse me for a minute, my phone is ringing.
I'm back. That was F. He is sitting in class. Every time he tries to leave, our son has a hysterical fit... welcome Day 11, Day 12, Day 50!

In my last post I  mentioned a flavor I devised for the kids so they wouldn't feel left out while we were enjoying our coffee ice cream. Unfortunately I used up all the chocolate I had for our ice cream, so I had to think fast to justify this terrible action in their eyes. As I looked through our cupboards, my eyes stopped on the big box of Cheerios I brought back from the States (in Italy, Cheerios are a different recipe sold by Nestlé and have a lot of added sugar, so I always try to bring back a box or two). Would that work? I mean we all know children, Cheerios and milk go together like a house on fire, so it had to work in ice cream, right? The texture would be interesting, as I discovered recently in a gelateria that actually used breadcrumbs in one of their flavors (I kid you not). And for the crunch I would just add a few cheerios on top. It turn out so good that we really enjoyed it too: the texture was dense and creamy, with an oaty, malty note. It was a clean, yet complex flavor. I eyeballed the amount of Cheerio powder, but anywhere between a cup and a cup and a half of Cheerios before pulverizing, is fine. If you are using European Cheerios, definitety cut down on the sugar.

Ingredients (1 quart)
1½ cups heavy cream
1½ cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
 1-1 1/2 cups Cheerios, pulverized

Put the Cheerios in a ziplock back and beat repeatedly with a rolling pin until all the Cheerios are pulverized. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, whisk together eggs, yolks and sugar until pale yellow. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the milk and cream until almost boiling and turn off heat. With the mixer running on medium speed drizzle in ½ of the hot milk/cream into the egg mixture to temper it. Then pour mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk/cream.  

On medium low heat, stir constantly until the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a spatula/spoon. Take off heat, let cool, mix in the Cheerio powder and store in fridge. When the custard has completely chilled in the fridge, pour into the bowl of your ice cream machine and churn following instructions. When the ice cream is ready, pour into a freezer container to continue the freezing process.


  1. It sounds like complete madness! I'm sure I cried the first day my Mum left me at school but it's something every child has to get used to :-)

    I'm sure this ice cream will cheer up the children though, it looks fab. Have you heard of Momofuku's Cereal Milk ice cream? Also do try ice cream with breadcrumbs, it's so good!

    1. The ridiculous thing is that it is NOT his first day of school, he already went to the nursery school in the same building for two years!!
      I had read about the Momofuku ice cream now that you mention it, but had totally forgotten about it. I had the breadcrumbs in Nutella and bread gelato flavor recently and it was outstanding. As briefly mentioned above, that is where I got the idea. LOVED IT

  2. When my first child started kindergarten at 4, the parent was encouraged to read a book or do a puzzle together and then LEAVE! Sometimes my son had to be peeled off me. Our kindy is just 4 half days per week in South Australia.

    When starting reception (first year of school at age 5), it was the same. The teachers were caring but firm. For the first week, the children went to school from 8.45 - 2.15 and after that, it's a full school day 8.45 - 3.15.

    Sounds like the Italian system tries to be kinder on the kids (but harder on the parents)!

  3. That sounds so intensive. Why not just drop them off and pick them up at the end of the day? That worked well for me and my kids. I hope things improve and that your son starts to enjoy pre-school xx

    1. I know, none of us were traumatized by that approach! I am sure things will improve once we are just allowed to drop him off and leave. The guy has been in nursery for 2/3 of his life, it is not like it is a novelty!

  4. when I tried pre-school or daycare my son cried and i could not leave him for more than 2 days; then a couple of years later it was fine, he liked the change of scenery. This ice-cream sounds wonderful!

  5. Just read something about inserimento

  6. Wow that sounds like a very extreme way of doing it. I never knew that this existed. I remember being dropped off and crying. Then another day I didn't want my mum to go but after that I was fine. I'm sure most kids are like that and they cope just fine. I hope the situation gets better!

  7. I am probably not the best person to comment on the inserimento... I cried my way through my 3 years of asilo... nearly every single day! hahahahaha I always blame it on the terrible food we were given at mensa! :PPPPP
    How is it going now??? My eldest will start "big school" in Jan... let's see how we go! ;-)

    I love the idea of making ice cream with cheerios! And I MUST try the breadcrumbs, it must be amazing with Nutella! :-)

    1. The flavor I tasted at the gelateria was exactly that: Pane e Nutella. They also make a bread and jam version, but didn't have it the times I went. Incredible texture.

    2. Oh, and yes, I know a lot of kids who cried through school, but I am not sure a longer "inserimento" would have made it better. What I can say though, is that my son eats everything up and goes for seconds, so the food ain't the problem. However things are going much better now.

  8. Wow. What a story. It sounds so extreme to me! I remember my first days of school...I was one of those kids that couldn't wait to get back into the classroom. Thank you so much for sharing...what a delicious way to end my weekend. I hope you have a beautiful Monday, my friend!

  9. Oh wow. My Jackson would never let me leave. He actually yells out "NERVOUS!" in new places, but it always turns out fine. Good luck!

  10. I am rolling on the floor laughing hysterically as our 7 years of living in Italy - and going through pre-school and the beginning of elemmentary school all come rushing back. Amazing! Here in France, you just drop the kid and the parents are pushed out as fast as possible. They know just what happens. Just like your son does. Kids really are smart little manipulative beings, aren't they? Poor kids. But I will say that we loved Italian pre-school, it really is the best there is. Once your kids let go. And happy happy Cheerio cereal! I also bring back food from the US. And isn't it odd they only sell the sugary cheerios in europe and not the plain (which we love)? Very cool ice cream for the kiddies! (I loved this post and have to pin it on my "Great Blog Posts" board on Pinterest :-)

    1. Thank you Jamie, that is a true compliment from a talented write like you!


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