Proud mama

There are those moments as a parent that your heart sinks into the heels of your feet and you wish you could reverse time and start again. Such a moment happened yesterday at the Pinewood Derby with Mario. He was so excited about his first Pinewood Derby race. Peepaw and he built his race car the weekend before the race and he swore that it would win, at least in his Den (he thought he may come in second or third overall). Jon and I were equally excited for him but kept telling him that no matter what happened it would be a fun time.  However, those words typically fall on deaf ears with Mario. As many times as he shakes his head ok, we know he is thinking about victory. 

Mario sat at the end of the race track with his buddies. He was laughing and having a good time. His car was in the first heat. He pointed out his car to his friends. The race started. His car trailed immediately. It came in last. He sunk into his chair. His eyes watered. He would not look over at me or Jon. We stood to the side watching him. He kept watching the next races. His car was in a few more and came in last or close to last each time. He continued to sit in his chair, at times on the verge of tears and at other times just quiet. He didn’t push his chair to the side and run off. He wasn’t rude to his friends winning beside him. 

That would likely have been his response a year ago. He stood up about 20 minutes later and walked over to us.

“Can we go home?” His eyes were watery.

I walked out to the hall with him and talked to him about rooting his buddies on for the remainder of the race. I told him how proud I was that he was not getting angry or running away. I could sense that he appreciated the recognition from me and Jon and he decided to stay (buying him a Mountain Dew helped out, too). He sat down again with his friends and, within 20 minutes, was laughing with them. He ended up having a great time despite the fact he lost. 

As a mom, these moments lift me high into the heavens and reinforce Jon and I are doing something right. It is awesome to see your kid mature and be able to process his emotions. And I was glad to witness the entire event unfold and watch each step Mario took of that process.

Ri also impressed me yesterday. 

Ri just started soccer this year. Several of her friends play on a higher skilled team because they’ve been playing for a while. But a few friends played on Kiwanis with her this past Fall, which is the only reason she joined. Those friends, she learned on Saturday morning, we’re heading to the more skilled league. Of course, she overheard these friends talking about it right before her game and she started bawling. She told me she did not want to play anymore. She felt left out. She couldn’t go on the field. And so on. I took her aside and explained this was her first year playing. She just needed to try her best and keep practicing and eventually she would move up. I wiped her tears and sent her onto the field. She ran over to where her team was standing.

She played hard. She ran more than ever. She dribbled and kicked better than ever. After the game, she ran up to me and shouted that her coach wanted to see me. Her coach asked her to join the team. Ri was elated. We talked the entire way home about how working hard and sticking with something – no matter how upset you may be- is worth it. We also talked about commitment. I told her this new team would require more effort on her part. Coaches would be more intense. Her team would expect her to know plays. She kept repeating “I know, mom.” She told me she’d give it her all. 

Proud mama.

covert cookie deal

We have almost delivered all of Maria’s Girl Scout cookies – thank god. What a task it was this year with the ridiculously cold temperatures. Ri and I were relegated to packing the boxes of cookies in my car and delivering them rather than walking them door to door. Bethany was a savior and worked with Ri for two hours sorting boxes for each house.

By the time I got home in the evening it was dark outside. We loaded up a couple of boxes, threw on a scarf and hat and gloves, and made our way over to the next street for our deliveries. No one was outside due to the cold weather. It was a pitch black winter night. The street looked ominous without any people walking and with the street lights out. I pulled up in the driveway of the first house and Ri jumped out with two boxes of Thin Mints. 

“How much do they owe you”, I asked her.


She scurried up to the door and knocked. A tall man opened the door and invited her in while he got his money to pay her. She slipped out into the night minutes later and rushed to my car. She handed me the money. 

I couldn’t help but feel that we had just completed a covert drug deal. Not that I have any experience with such an operation but I have seen them on tv and at the movies. I told Ri how I felt and she looked at me in horror. 

“Mom! Seriously?!”

But my girl doesn’t miss a beat. As we pulled in the driveway of the next house, I jostled the cookie boxes trying to find a Samoas and a Do Si Do. 

“Hurry up, Mom, I gotta get the deal done.” God, I love her.

zoom zoom

Go, go, go, go. 

This is my default mantra. I have invested in many a self-help book to help me stay, stay, stay, stay but they have not worked. I’m hoping this year may at least bring one “stay”. Plantar fasciitis and a hamstring sprain will likely assist with this goal. 

And I wonder why Ri can’t sit still for too long … except to play barbies. She fidgets when she reads a book, which she really despises doing at this age. She chows down her food and is ready to move away from the table within ten minutes of the start of dinner. And Mario is even worse. He can’t wait until the commercials so he can wrestle with me until the show resumes.  And if we can get three bites of food in him before he pops up out of his chair to run around, it’s a miracle. 

“You did too much with them when they were little. It’s no wonder they always want to move.” I hear this from numerous friends and family. And I ponder “hmmm, should I have stayed home and read more to them on the weekends? Should I have not trekked over to Pittsburgh with them and showed them all over the city in a 48 hour period? Should I have made them have an obligatory hour rest period in their rooms? Should I have not walked down to the river with them every Sunday and trucked rocks home for us to paint all day? Should I have made them sit in the grocery store cart rather than let them roam the aisles and explore?

Ri and Mario headed to Boy Scout camp last weekend. My neighbor graciously took them on Friday night and I met up with them on Saturday. When I arrived in the morning, Ri was playing with two other girls and Mario was playing ping pong with a gang of boys. My friend approached me as I trekked through the door; she couldn’t stop raving about M&M. 

“They are so polite and listen to me more than my own kids! And they had a blast with all the other kids – they didn’t cry or get sad about you not being here at all!” 

She proceeded to tell me how they had no fear; they both hopped on their sleds and zoomed down the hills; helped prep for dinner; took on challenges in ping pong; and engaged with everyone. As we were talking, Mario jumped in front of me and gave me a hug. Then he was off for more ping pong. I didn’t see Ri until I took my bags into the girls dorm room. She was jumping back and forth on the bunk beds giggling with her friends. She was the ring leader. 

After a few rounds of s’mores late into the evening, I laid myself down in my bottom bunk bed. I stared up at Ri sleeping caddy corner from me. Her head was inches from the edge of the bed and there were no guard rails. I leapt out of bed and scooched her body all the way over to the wall. I laid back down and chuckled. Here I am worried half to death about her falling from the top bunk yet I allow her to run free at the grocery store and barrel down the steep neighborhood hill on her scooter. 

The next morning, the kids continued their sledding fun. As we ate breakfast, they asked what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day. “Nothing at all,” I report to them. I see their pupils float up towards their eyelids, deep in thought. 



Six year old boys … Will be … Dorks

Boys are strange, goofy, little creatures. How is it that I thought I would do better with a boy than with a girl? I remember being pregnant with Ri and swearing she was a boy. How could I, the consummate tomboy, ever have a daughter? Then I found out I was pregnant with a girl and was terrified for months. But then something magical happened when she was born – I became a mother to a girl. When she started 1st grade, I remembered starting first grade and all of the crap that girls – even at that age – put each other through. I could sympathize when she came home crying because girls were ignoring her. I could reassure her that she is a strong, smart girl and that no one should make her feel differently. And I could carry a passion in my voice because I’ve been there and I’ve survived.
But then there’s Mario. When I got pregnant again, Ri was almost two. I was digging having a girl, and I had trepidation about having a boy. When Jon and I went to the doctor’s office to find out the sex, and the doctor announced “you’re having a boy!”, I remember the stress I felt. “How would I handle a boy after having a girl? How would Ri enjoy a little brother versus a baby sister like I had?” I walked around after we found out the sex worried I may not love him as much as I loved Ri.
Ahh, but then he popped into this world (quite literally) and my heart melted. He cried and ate and slept just like Ri (lots of eating and crying; not much sleeping). He learned to crawl and walk like Ri. He mumbled the words “mama” and “daddy” just like Ri. He went to daycare and preschool and learned about numbers and characters just like Ri.
But then he went to kindergarten. Just like Ri…at first. But progressively, not so much like Ri. While she came home and dutifully did homework and talked about her day, he wiggled around in his chair and wanted to forego talking in order to wrestle. Ri would never bring home any grade less than a three (out of four) but Mario brought home some twos (and laughed about them). Where Ri cried her eyes out the day a note was sent home from the teacher that informed us she had talked when she wasn’t supposed, Mario tried to hide a similar note and then tried to justify why the teacher was wrong and he was right.
Yep, it’s a whole new ball game dealing with a boy. I can still hang with him when it comes to wrestling or playing football or tossing the frisbee, but when it comes to these goofy boy antics, I am lost. I took him and his friend to lunch, and all they did was punch each other, talk in weird voices, and wrestle on the ground. What do you do with that?!
We will need to set limits on appropriate behavior with him – like when we went to the doctor’s office today and he gave inappropriate answers to her questions or didn’t answer at all – that’s just not gonna fly. But his overall day-to-day goofiness and dorkiness is here to stay, I believe. Therefore, I better take a deep breath and embrace the dork in me and try to appreciate him for all his boy goofiness. After all, I know I will miss it when he’s 19 and too cool for school.


Boys will be … Nutty

Maria begged me to take her to lunch this week. I asked her if she wanted a friend to come along. On Sunday night, she was adamant that it should just be me and her and Mario. By Monday night, she had decided that she wanted a friend to go and no Mario. Mario had already heard that I was planning a lunch outing, however, so he rightfully demanded to be able to go too and bring a friend. It’s such a lesson in girl and boy behavior to take these kids out to lunch. Maria and her friend giggle and talk quietly. They order their lunch (which by the way is $29 at fricken’ Panera between two bowls of soup, two smoothies and two desserts – outrageous!) and sit at the outside table politely.
Then there are the boys. They throw things at the girls during the car ride to Panera. They tackle each other on the grass as we walk from the car to Panera. They refuse to tell me anything they will eat at Panera besides chocolate cookies. And they try to embarrass the girls. My god. I thankfully managed one good photo of the girls before the boys photo bombed with bunny ears above Ri’s head.

I took the boys to Stauf’s and all they wanted to do was play fight. I tried to get them to eat a bagel but after a bite they would go back to chasing each other. Now, I could have put on my disciplinarian hat and forced the boys to sit and eat…ha. That’ll be the day. I don’t have it in me. So I tried to interest them with questions.
“If you could be a super hero who would you be?”
“Superman so I could punch someone in the face!”
Hysterical laughter.
Not exactly the thinking I wanted to generate.
“If you were an animal, what would you be?”
“A tiger so I could scratch you.”
Belly laughter.
I stopped the questions and went back to letting them wrestle.
I heard a “mom” shout up the street and saw two of my own gender walking down the street sipping on smoothies.

Ahhh, kids I understand. As I snapped their picture, Mario and his friend blew past me calling each other “Dumb” and “Stupid” and poking one another. My girlfriend with all daughters tells me I should love the fact that my son is not at all into the drama of who likes who and petty name calling and spats, which is all she deals with in her three girls.
I’m not convinced.
But at least he counterbalances his rowdiness with kisses and snuggling in the evening. Yet, that’s when Ri starts to get her ‘tude going on. Ahh, sweet parenthood.>

Cake Walk 2014

Cake Walk 2014 kicked my butt. I don’t know if it was the opening and closing of the festivities or the loud band music and even louder kids, or the chocolate cake we devoured once home.
Maria went with her friend, Kathryn since she had a play date with her after school. This year she continued to step one foot closer to teenage-hood. She came to see Mario and me only a few times and it was only to ask for money and water. She hung out with one group of girls for a minute and then others the next. I likes seeing that.

Then she found our next door neighbor who is Grandview’s baton twirler and stood with her to try to learn how to twirl. She must have stood up there for 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, I should have left at 8:30 to head up to the event with Mario because he would have never known what time it started. I gotta take advantage of his youth while I am able. And all he wanted to do was play the kids games and all I wanted to do was try to win a cake. Guess who won?



He played the golf game again and again. Then he moved onto the football game where the volunteer was absent. All the kindergarten boys were loving the freedom of that. Soon a volunteer showed up so we moved to the lollipop game. Such anxiety each time he pulled a sucker out to see if it had a blue tip or not. He moved to the treasure chest and scored these dandies.

Then we hit the baseball pitch. He was allowed to stand on the line closest to the catcher but refused. He wanted to stand where the older kids had to stand. And don’t you know he got a strike on his first pitch.

Ri kept trying to win a cake but to no avail. I finally got Mario to head down with me and try to win. After three more hole-in-one attempts, he finally followed.
There was Ri standing in line with Kathryn and Evie. She smiled when she saw me and waved (at least I still get that). Mario and I went to another line and danced to the music as the band played. The music stopped, we sat in our chairs and hoped. Unfortunately, our numbers weren’t called. Mario got livid last year when this happened but this year he brushed it off. We stayed for the band’s last tune and although we didn’t win a cake, we bought a sweet blue one in the form if a mustache that Kathryn and her mom had made. And we dug in at 10 pm when we finally got home.


Heading to California on lemonade

Maria and her girlfriend Anna are on a mission to California. They are thinking of all sorts of ways to raise money to play for their airline tickets. I arrived home from work to find these two out front hosting a lemonade stand. They had made yellow lemonade and pink lemonade. Maria’s pink lemonade somehow warranted a greater price – $1.50 – than Anna’s yellow lemonade which was $1.00. Anna placed herself on the sidewalk and shouted “lemonade here! Get your lemonade!” Ri giggled. She’s not as front and center as Anna; she stays behind the scenes and collects cash. I purchased a pink lemonade and their eyes stated at me as I swallowed it. “Delicious” I pronounced (even though it was rather diluted – they can’t be skimping on lemonade powder when charging $1.50!). They both smiled wide. After about fifteen minutes, they came in for Rocco. “We need something more for customers. They not only get to buy lemonade; they get to pet this sweet dog!” Little Rocco was a good sport and sat next to them while they tried to retrieve customers. Sam from down the street came down (what a doll) and taste tested both kinds. He chatted it up with them – asking questions and making comments about their sign. Maria blushed and smiled while Anna chatted away with him.
They earned $10.75 by the time I made them pack it up (they rung in Mario as their last customer but he wasn’t as gentle as I was (“this lemonade is awful!” – the girls didn’t care – they had his moolah!). Maria informed Jon and I that Anna was keeping the money because she was planning out the California trip. Jon questioned her about that choice and asked whether they should split the money instead? Maria didn’t flinch in her response: “Anna can keep it all.” A trusting soul, she is. When I put her to bed last night, she asked if they could set up shop up the street next time so they got more people to pass them. It looks like she really wants to head to California. Hey, at least she still wants me to come.



Our meatball poet

Maria and her third grade class hosted a poetry cafe on Tuesday this week. She kept enticing Jon and I with how much we’d enjoy her poem. I asked her a few nights before if she was nervous. She replied “a little but some kids stood up and cried or shook the entire time they spoke so I’m doing better than them.” God love her.
I arrived home Tuesday to find her already made up in her new Target dress, hair flowing, lip gloss on, and a dab of light pink eye shadow rubbed perfectly on her eyelids.
“What do ya think?” She knew exactly what I’d say.
“I think you are beautiful inside and out and I think you are gonna rock out the poetry cafe tonight.” She smiled wide and twirled around the driveway.
We ate some Mac-n-cheese and headed down to school with three boxes of Girl Scout cookies (I forgot I volunteered to bring a snack – I knew the 15 boxes we ordered would come through in a pinch).
As we were walking towards the school door, Maria looked back at me to tell me to hurry up. She stared at me from my head to my toes and cried “that’s what you’re wearing to the cafe?!” I thought I had done pretty good – I had on a new t-shirt, nice jeans and a pair of sporty gym shoes. I curtly replied “you gotta dress hip for these cafés.” She kept walking. When she looked back at me, I pouted. She gave a tiny smile and said “sorry mom, I’m just nervous.” Oh, sweet baby. I hugged her and she was off to her classroom. Mario and I were off, too, towards the baked goods table.
Grandma Meg surprised Ri and Jon made it on time, too (dad waited to go to Michigan until after the cafe, which landed him up north at 1 am – true love for his baby girl).
Ri gave an impeccable performance. She wrote about a Swedish meatball hosting a party for international friends. It was smart and funny (and of course, the best from her mama’s eyes!).



They had paper and chalk on the tables so families could write poems to the kids. I looked down after Ri finished and Mario had written “you did a gud job Ri”. Break my heart.

Afterwards, the kids rushed to the sweets table and ran around together giggling.

Mario took the stage to sing – he can’t resist not being in the spotlight.

As we left the school, Ri turned around and moved close to me.
“This may sound a little weird, mom but … I’m really proud of myself.”
The night bursted into color and the sky sang “Alleluia”. I was so excited to hear her say those words to me. I think she’s starting to believe more in herself and recognize all of the amazing qualities she possesses. There is nothing more gratifying to a mom that’s seen those qualities all along.

Fashion sense


Note to Maria:

Never doubt your fashion sense. I want you to sport the basketball shorts with the hair flower with the go-go boots when you live in NYC and run a health care company. Change it up from the tired old black suit and black heels and pearl necklace. If anyone can do it, it is you, my dear.

Pinch me

Pinch me.

My life is ridiculously good.

Sweet, generous, loving kids.

Hilarious, caring hubby.

Warm, ever-present family.

True friends.

Great colleagues.

I am very lucky. Most days I stop myself ten times over and process this fact. Is it my culture transformation work I did at the university? Is it that I’m getting older and with that gaining a fuller picture of what it means to be happy? Is it that all the self-help books I read in my 30’s have finally hit home?

My weekends with the kids rarely disappoint. They are at ages now where they are able to play on their own or with each other but they also still want to hang with me and go to the park or take a bike ride. It’s perfect: I can get fully caffeinated, brush up on world events by reading my Times, and then later engage in a full-blown pillow fight.
And I love how their minds are developing; it leads to really awesome questions ranging from the benign – how are sidewalk made – to the sublime – why do we go to war. Mario points out things he sees in books we read together that I would never notice. Ri continues to practice the art of compassion by never judging others – the other day I about cussed out a young guy who cut in front of me in line at Kroger’s and she pulled me aside and whispered “mom, he may have somewhere really important to be.”

Yesterday was another day where I stopped myself over and over amazed at how wonderful I had it. The day brought wonderful near-Spring weather. The girls took a bike ride while I walked Rocco. We got a picture on the same rock we took a picture on when Rocco was a pup. Ri was very excited about that!


Mario met us at the park and the kids decided it was time for Rocco to adventure down a slide. Their eyes about popped out of their heads when he did it.


I love this picture of the kids running with Rocco. It’s a perfect depiction of the joy of warm weather.

And this is the perfect depiction of Ri laughing hysterically as she tries to catch up with Rocco!

Love love love these beginning days of Spring.
Next up, a trip to the river where Ri and Mario and I used to go on Sundays to collect rocks. It was closed for a year to create a bike path and I was anxious to see what the trail looked like. We piled in Stephanie’s van with the pup sitting next to Ri and the boys carrying their weapons (in case we encountered zombies) and headed down the street. We parked at the gas station and unloaded. What a sight.

The bank where we used to collect and throw rocks was still ready for us. But it was rather insane trying to make sure the kids didn’t fall (there were huge boulders lined up where there used to be gravel). Rocco added to the insanity by trying to jump in the river; Mario screamed like a maniac for me to hold his leash because “he didn’t want his dog to die!” So, I held him as he pulled me all over the rocks while I held Paxton to ensure he didn’t fall. Good workout.
The kids found great hide-outs made of sticks and leaves (I didn’t inform them that homeless folks probably used these “shelters” because I didn’t quite know how Steph would react but I did feel compelled to talk to M&M later that evening to help them appreciate the struggle all people face at times). The boys played capture and the girls played dorm room (whatever that is).


The kids found a big rock pile on our way out and I asked them to pose as savages. All complied except Mario who continued to laugh like a hyena!

In order to get them to leave, I had to promise them a snack at the gas station. They booked it after that promise. The boys got chocolate donuts (they slipped me one in thanks) and the girls got ice cream cones. They were happy as heck driving home.
We ended the night watching my girlfriend’s kids. A six week old and two year old who I had never met… Huh. I was a bit worried. But it ended up being absolutely joyous. Ri was excited all day to hold the six week old, Emerson Lois. She kept asking “when will it be 5:30?!” Mario kept telling me he didn’t want to babysit. But when they dropped off Miles, Mario took to him like sugar. He threw the ball with him and led him around his room to play. It was precious. And Miles couldn’t be more chill of a kid. He just followed Mario and played with whatever Mario gave him. He never cried once (kudos go all to Mario!).


He taught him how to crawl up the stairs so he wouldn’t fall down and how to beg for (and receive) a cookie. He was so compassionate and sweet with him. Warmed my heart.

And Ri was, as I knew she would be, a doll with Emerson. She laid with her and held her and couldn’t wait to change her diaper. Emerson is a real life baby doll!


Emerson pitched a little fit at one point and I had to put her in her seat while I got Miles’ dinner. The next thing I knew, Ri had her quiet by rocking her back and forth. She also had picked up the mom talent of multi-tasking as she rocked the baby and read a magazine – love it!

I sat at the kitchen table when my girlfriend left with her kids and my kids and Jon had gone to sleep and felt engulfed with gratitude. Another day full of laughter and sunshine and good kids and nature and a tired pup and chocolate donuts. Really, it doesn’t get any better.