It was a simple choice for Spring Break. No, not Miami, not Charleston, not Disney but rather – Pittsburgh, PA! Not that anyone would be wondering why Pittsburgh but just in case….
Aunt Sarah lives there! And Uncle Jorge. And Stella and Mona – their dogs.
Pittsburgh also is home to a few hotels with pools and hot tubs.
Combine Sarah, Jorge, the dogs and a hotel pool and you have a fantasy Spring Break for me and the kiddies.
Mario and I headed out of Columbus at 9:30 am on Thursday morning after I took a morning run (knowing that would be my last free hour without kids by my side), got Mario to stop playing Wii basketball and get dressed, and made a bag of snacks for the road (always a must). I had loaded the stroller in the car the night before. And Grandma Meg’s present. I had gotten our duffel bag packed full of clothes, barbies, blankies, and swimsuits and placed it on the couch. I had packed the camera, money, and stuffed animals in my backpack. Ready, set, go. Mario grabbed his book bag filled with the most random items: plastic superhero figurines, socks, bathing suit, and small beach ball. We gave Cy a big doggie hug and took everything outside to the garage. Mario, my wild child who cannot simply open the car door and sit in his seat, twirled around in circles and hit his head against the side of the car as I put my book bag in the front seat. I reached back to pick him up and console him. When he finally calmed down, I sat him in his seat with his backpack and his pillow pet. I went around to my side and climbed in the front. We were off!
Mario provided commentary to me about his power rangers movie on the way out to the farm. He also kept asking when we would be in “Mexico.” I think he correlates Mexico with Aunt Sarah since she was there the majority of Mario’s life and he cannot seem to grasp the fact that she has now moved to Pittsburgh. As we travelled through the countryside looking at cows and horses, my mind suddenly fixated on our duffel bag. I looked in my rear view mirror and could see everything behind me. That would be impossible with a big red duffel bag on top of the stroller. I pulled the car over and opened the back of the car. No duffel. I left it in the garage as i consoled Mario.
After a slew of inappropriate words outside of the car, I plunked back in my seat. Mario immediately sensed my frustration. I told him we forgot our bag with clothes in it and he replied “Mom, don’t worry, I packed my swim trunks in my book bag.” His words touched me, and I realized in the big scheme of this crazy life, there could be many worse situations to be in at that moment. I laughed and reached my hand back to his hand giving him a kiss in the air. We continued down the country road to Grandma Meg’s house. I walked in the door and divulged my forgetfulness to Meg and Maria. Maria’s reaction was diametrically opposed to Mario’s. She wailed and then stuttered between sobs, “But, mom, my new bathing suit was in that bag!” We played with Grandma Meg’s dog and cats, gave her some sweet birthday presents, and hit the road with a full bag of chocolate chip cookies (very dangerous).
On to Pittsburgh. Through Wheeling and past Cabela’s (Jon’s favorite). When we hit Pittsburgh, we went through the Pitt Tunnel and over the bridge. The kids interrupted their tv show to admire the sights for three seconds. Finally, we found ourselves parking at Sarah’s apartment. We hurried out of the car and into her place before our fingers and faces froze in the Pittsburgh air. As soon as the door opened, big ol’ Stella and little darling Mona greeted us. They jumped and yelped and flipped all over the hard wood floors. Maria and Mario lapped it up. Mario joined right in with the nonsense running all around and letting Stella jump on her even though Stella is nearly as tall as Mario. Mario got an ear and eye cleaning 5 times over from Stella who thoroughly enjoyed licking all over his little head after she cornered him. Maria, on the other hand, earned the nickname “Enforcer” by constantly issuing commands to the dogs and withholding love until they obeyed. She attempted to teach them tricks (that Aunt Sarah has already taught them, thank god) and put on shows for us, the audience. Poor Jorge – he is not at all used to this chaos and I am sure that our presence for even a half hour jettisoned the thought of kids far out of his mind!
After Aunt Sarah’s house, we ate lunch at Pamela\’s Diner. Yum. Absolutely delicious banana and granola pancakes with whipped cream and syrup. Spinach and feta omelette. Onion rings. Perfect vacation food. After Pamela’s, we hit the local Target to get some clothes for Mario and me and a bathing suit for Maria Grace. She chose a black two-piece. Mario chose some striped overalls in a size too little because he likes to see his socks when he looks down. After Target, Sarah and Jorge were ready for a little break so we dropped them off and headed to the hotel. I love the enthusiasm that Maria and Mario bring to simply walking into a hotel. They bounced all around the lobby while I checked in and ran to the elevator to push the button. They spotted the pool.
“Mom, look at the pool. It is right by the elevators so it is so convenient!” Maria boasted.
Mario merely screeched “The pool! The pool!”
We headed up to floor 6 after Maria let Mario hit the button in the elevator. This action became a huge source of bargaining and compromise for the next two days as I guess in little kids’ worlds, pushing the button in the elevator is much more cool than pushing it outside of the elevator. Overall, they did pretty good (with Maria giving into Mario a majority of the times). We stepped in our room (after Maria used the key card in it which Mario found no interest in until the last day) and both kids gasped with excitement. It had a huge tv, a huge bed, a sofa and a coffee maker (Maria’s favorite). We threw off our clothes and got in our suits.
The hotel pool. AKA, super chlorine-ridden pool. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon driving home that I realized how the amount of chlorine in that pool. Red blotches grew all over my skin and I itched and hurt at the same time. Maria and Mario did not have it quite as bad but we all still smelled like chlorine after 4 showers. Nonetheless, it was worth it for the fun we had in the pool and the hot tub. Maria actually jumped in the pool by herself for the first time and swam over to me at the other end of the pool. Mario jumped in by himself with his swimmies on his arms and rose up from under the water with a half-scared, half-amazed look on his face that quickly turned to a huge smile. Aunt Sarah came and played with us that first night acting like a shark with Mario on her back and allowing Mario to push her in the water while she stood “bored” on the side of the pool. The kids adore her.
Sarah hit the road after the swim and we went down to the hotel restaurant for a quick bite. Maria wanted both chicken fingers and nachos. I promptly said “no” and the waiter looked at her sullen face and suggested that she could have chicken fingers with just a “few” nachos on the side. Fifteen minutes later, he brought out four large chicken fingers and an entire plate of nachos with cheese. Maria said “thank you” without me even having to prompt her! We ate quickly because Mario was whining and complaining and took the remainder of our meals upstairs. Maria loved eating in the room while watching tv (she is my child) – she got the roll away desk out and her chair and set up shop. We fell asleep around 10:30 and woke at 7:30 – not bad for these two poor sleepers.
Friday consisted of jam-packed, action-filled events with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jorge. We picked Sarah up at 9:15 and headed to the Cathedral of Learning where she teaches her undergrad course. She had high hopes for us – to climb up 36 flights of stairs to the top of the cathedral. Maria and Mario wanted to do it so badly but after 14, their little legs were stinging. We agreed to make it to floor 15 and take the elevator. We got to the 36th floor and it treated up to a sight of all of Pittsburgh. The kids stared down and basked in their glory of climbing half way up the stairs.
We got to wait outside of the cafe for a half hour while Sarah met with a student. We people-watched and talked about what it would be like to be in college. A lot of questions posed to me from Maria about what I did in college (I fibbed a bit about studying hard and never partying). Finally, it was time to go to Aunt Sarah’s class. We got there a few minutes early and Sarah was not there yet. Here students were, however, and we introduced ourselves. Maria got shy. Mario stood on the chair in the front of the room and talked about how he loved basketball.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is across the street so we headed over there to see the big dinosaur outside. It wears a different scarf every other day (so I hear). We decided to go see the dinosaur exhibit. Four hours later, we left. The museum housed a plethora of exhibits and kids’ activities. They got to act like archeologists and dig for bones. They got to see big mammals and little birds and dinosaur bones. They got to learn facts about trees and stones in the Discovery Room and they touched fossilized dinosaur dung. Yeah!
We left the museum for a long walk in Schenley Park with Sarah, Jorge and the pups. What an incredible park to have so close to their disposal. I felt like I had entered a state park. A stream, rock bridge, trail, huge trees. Maria walked the dogs through the entire park only getting help once in a while from Sarah or Jorge. I carried Mario the entire way who had collapsed at the entrance from exhaustion. My hips and shoulders felt like someone had stabbed them a million times at the end of the trip. But so worth it. We grabbed our suits after the park because we just needed a little more action and we headed to the pool with Sarah and Jorge. Jorge became Maria’s servant shortly after we jumped in the water. “Jorge, come now.” “Jorge, over here!” And, Jorge earned his “uncle” title that afternoon by divulging Maria’s demands and playing with her incessantly until we all called it quits. Sarah earned her title as well by sword fighting with Mario in the hot tub and submerging her head under when he won.
To top off the day, we headed to The Church Brew Works, a restaurant housed in an old church. We got there at 7 pm – way too late for the kids we would find out. I knew it was a long shot that they would be good based on all of the hoopla from the day and no nappage but I was hopeful. Within ten minutes of sitting down, Mario whined about his stomach hurting. He sat on my lap the rest of the dinner intermittently crying or getting mad that we were still sitting there. Maria turned on us, too, after her pasta and salad arrived and the salad had vinaigrette on it rather than ranch and her pasta was “yucky.” She broke down. We got her chicken fingers but by that time, it was too late. Sarah, Jorge and I conversed to the extent possible and called it a night. Again, I think we jettisoned Jorge’s desire for kids out another 10 years.
The kids and I headed back to the hotel. Mario was hurting from refusing to go to the bathroom and had diaper rash (his one ailment he is constantly prone to). Maria begged to go to the pool. I was hoping that the front desk had some type of diaper creme. We went down and had no luck. However, the girl at the front desk offered to go buy some for me. What a godsend. She has no clue what a wonderful gesture that was for me. We watched Maria swim while we waited. Maria did a good job playing on her own in the water – a good sign for this summer.
We headed to the room to apply the creme, and poor Mario cradled himself in my arms. We sat there watching tv until we all fell asleep. Mario awoke at midnight screaming hysterically. It’s bad enough to be awakened at midnight by a screaming kid but even worse when you are in a hotel and know that people around you are shaking their heads and cussing at you under their breath. I consoled him to the point where his crying became muffled, and then I made him pee in the toilet. As I stood behind him trying to keep him quiet and asking him to try to go to the bathroom, he farted. And that is when the fun began. Poor moms. How many of us have a similar story of getting crapped on, literally?! Rancid, disgusting, putrid – the only words that can begin to describe what I had to clean off of me and the bathroom floor. An hour later, I climbed into bed with Mario sleeping soundly. At least he slept the rest of the night.
Mario woke before Maria so I took advantage of the Cartoon Channel so I could rest my eyes a little longer. Maria woke at 8:15 am, which is the latest she has ever slept (thanks to that dog walking the day before). We went straight to the pool for our last vacation swim – I knew better than to mention breakfast with the hopes that we would swim for a mere half hour and then they’d be too hungry to continue. The plan failed. One and a half hours later, I finally got them to go and that was only because a maintenance man came in to check the chlorine and he went along with my act when I asked him if the pool was closing. I should have slipped him a $20 on my way out.
We headed back to our room, got changed, and headed out to Aunt Sarah’s for one last jaunt with the crazy pups. When we arrived, books and papers covered the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and glass of water amidst them. Joan Didion. The Best of Nonfiction Writing. The New Yorker magazine. I admire their passion for writing and reading. Sarah told me they got up and immediately began reading and writing. A foreign life to me at this stage of my life, but one that always inspires me to continue to ask questions and express myself and access my goals. And I have learned that one of my goals at this stage of my life is to enjoy and cherish this time with my kids, and to provide them with experiences that will help them see the world outside of our home and neighborhood. As hard as these “vacations” can be, I feel exhilerated at the end of them because of the experience of it all.
And back to Sarah’s and Jorge’s lives, Maria and Mario interrupted their lives that morning as they bombarded Sarah with a ton of questions about the pups, ran around the apartment with them, and fed them enough treats for a week. Nonetheless, Sarah and Jorge welcomed the two tornadoes with open arms and wide smiles, and provided them with much love before our departure. We said our goodbyes with the dogs a’ barkin’ and headed back to Columbus, Ohio. The West Va. gas station (West Va. is Mama Ionno’s birthplace) greeted us and provided us with Cheetos for Mario, Chex Mix for Maria and CornNuts for me to get us home. We had a brief layover with Pee-paw at the farm (long enough for Maria and I to take a hike and find deer bones that Maria wants to take to school and for Mario to see the horses).
Mario fell asleep within ten minutes of hitting the road to Columbus. He slept until we were ten minutes from home, which is when Maria knocked off. We walked in the back door and experienced that mixed feeling of relief in being home and sadness in knowing that vacation was over. We all sat on the couch and relived the trip with dad. Later that evening, Maria laid in her bed looking distraught. “I want to be back in Pittsburgh” she sulked. And folks laughed when we told them Pittsburgh for Spring Break.