Last night we perpetuated a brilliant scheme. Our babysitter couldn’t come until 9:00 p.m., which is a very normal time to go out in Italy, but is also an hour past our family’s bedtime. Yes, Tony and I usually go to bed at the same time as our children. Pathetic, I know, especially in Italy. But we do get up a lot earlier than they do, at least. Our children love babysitters, and get very excited about the prospect of one coming, which excitement often culminates in running through the house, hiding under beds, and erupting in sudden peals of hysterical laughter. The later the hour, the more extreme the excitement. For them, tiredness has an incongruously inverse proportion to energy level. So we didn’t want it to all begin at 9:00.
Our solution was to not tell them a babysitter was coming. We put them to bed as normal, which also included getting into bed ourselves and turning off our light, to keep up appearances. When Dominique came in for a last snuggle, we had anticipated his move (which happens nearly every night) and appeared to be innocently lying in bed, almost asleep. Completely fooled, he climbed into bed with us and fell asleep. Axa meanwhile finished listening to her mp3 bedtime story and, deprived of Dominique’s inevitable night-time chatter, also went to sleep. Sweet success! Two sleeping children, and it was only 8:35. The only near disaster to the plan was when we almost fell asleep ourselves, lulled by the same bedtime routine we had so carefully reproduced for the children. However, Tony managed to rouse himself and carry Dominique to bed, while I turned our light back on and finished getting ready for our date.
The babysitter arrived as scheduled. The children already know her from church, since she teaches Axa’s primary class, so we figured they would not be too startled if by some freak they were to wake up and find her instead of us. Since she doesn’t really speak English, we instructed her in how to explain to the children that she was the babysitter, and left her a Frog and Toad book to read to them in the event of an emergency. Then we snuck out the front door, feeling vaguely guilty, as if we were the parents of Hansel and Gretel, and had nefariously plotted to abandon our innocent children in the forest.
However, once we left the house we completely forgot about the children. We drove through the starry hills, took our usual walk down the Baroque porticoed main avenue in Cuneo, and stopped in at our usual cafè for our usual cup of thick, dark, divine Italian hot chocolate. Forget about Swiss Miss, Nestlè, or even normal American premium hot chocolate. They’re watery chalk by comparison. Italian cioccolato caldo is like a gourmet dark chocolate bar slowly melted to rich, warm, sensual perfection. It’s more of a dessert than a drink, almost like a hot, creamy chocolate mousse, and we (along with the Italians; I checked) always eat it with a spoon.
We have done this same date every week for the past month, and we’re not tired of it yet. We love the chocolate, the time for conversation, and the people watching. We had wondered initially what time the cafè closed, and we still don’t know. When we left it last night at 11:15, it was just as full of well-dressed, animated Italians as when we usually arrive at 7:45.
When we arrived home just before midnight, the children were still asleep. Our plan had been a complete success. What’s that you say? You think a work of deception on a three-year-old and a five-year-old is no triumph? Well, for us it is. After all, our kids don’t even believe in Santa Claus.