The days are long but the years are short

And so it started off like every other year, except last of course. The kids woke up a little later, even Maria did not set her alarm until 7 AM. In past years, she has gotten up as early as 4:30 in the morning to get her self prepped and ready. She’s over that this year being an upper class junior…. Mario surprised me and was ready before Maria. He acts like he doesn’t care but we know he does. At least for the first day of school. By next week, he will be sleeping in until 7:40, throwing on a pair of shorts and t-shirt, and be out of the house by 7:55 to arrive at school right at 8 am. 

Maria has been looking forward to the first day of school since she got out of her last day of school as a sophomore. She absolutely loves to be in the school building, with her friends, learning, talking to teachers. I think she also likes the set routine and regimen. For some people, going to the store to buy new clothes is what gets them excited. For Maria, it is going to the store to get a whole new set of school supplies for the beginning of the year! Mario, to the contrary, has been dreading the start of school since he got out of his seventh grade year. He readily admits that seventh grade was a piece of cake due to most of it being spent online in his PJs (and playing video games on the side while choir was being held). He waited until the last minute to purchase his one supply needed for school – calculator – to which he saw the price and said “we could buy me a new keyboard for this amount – do I really need a calculator?”

Maria is taking five AP classes this year because colleges look for rigorous classes in your junior year. She has watched hundreds of videos about this and as soon as Jon and I try to talk with her about scaling it down, she zips the conversation up. These decisions are hard for a parent. On the one hand you want your daughter to challenge herself and take rigorous courses. On the other hand, you don’t want your daughter to be anxious and overwhelmed with too much on her plate. Jon and I decided to allow her to take the courses after much advocacy on her behalf at the dinner table. She does have three weeks to be able to drop one but I am positive that she will not start to feel the stress until after that period of time. In the end, Jon and I felt that she’s a junior in HS and should have the right to make her own decisions after weighing our input. I may live to regret the decision to not put the kabash on all of those AP classes two months from now but I am hoping for the best. I’ve got to believe letting her make the ultimate decision will provide valuable lessons one way or the other:)

Mario readily admits that this year is going to be difficult for two reasons: he actually has to sit in school for seven hours a day, and he has much more rigorous classes than last year. His history teacher is known to be strict and require a lot of online reading. His algebra teacher gives a lot of homework as well. I am going to have to be glued to the school website to make sure he is keeping up with assignments. I am trying to have some fun with it all and re-learn US history and algebra. God knows I’ve forgotten nearly everything I learned from eighth grade so it will be fun to re-educate myself (or so I think at this point in time but two months in, I am sure I will feel differently)! 

Maria could not wait to be able to drive to school every day. I had some real heart palpitations because I am such a strong believer in getting up and moving your body in the morning. I think a walk to school opens up the mind and gets her ready for the day. That being said, I am a sucker, and let her drive. If she hadn’t been looking forward to driving her junior year ever since she was six years old, I may have came to a different decision. She refused to drive her brother, however, which was going to make me reconsider. Mario, though, didn’t seem too irritated by her decision. He wanted to bike so that he could easily get home for lunch every day. 

I posted their first day of school pictures on Facebook – I have only posted one or two pictures since Covid hit. As I stared at them on the top of the steps I couldn’t believe that he was going into eighth grade and she was only two years away from graduating high school. It is so cliché-ish, but it is so true – the days are long but the years are short. I ached to have them back to their toddler years. The only thing I could do was go back to my photo memories and look at pictures of them as little tykes. I found a picture of the two of them from the first day of school when Mario was in kindergarten and Maria in third grade. I put the pictures side-by-side and looked at them throughout the day. Little humans have turned into big humans. The nervousness of starting school has gone to the wayside and they are now used to the routine every August.  They have every ability to get to school on their own and don’t need me to walk with them and hold their hands. I know that’s a sign of good parenting – they are confident and self-reliant – but boy do I miss holding those little hands in mine.

Connection

I know I repeat over and over to people the story of how I used to beg the universe to age my kids so they did not want me to make their lunch or play a game or go swimming or watch their magic tricks. Not to sound horrible- I loved doing those things – just not every waking second. I wanted a break every once in a while. They didn’t even know how to sleep in until 7 am – rising at the break of dawn and ready to roll.

Then it happened. They turned into teenagers and they fled the coop. I woke up at 9 am and they were still in bed sleeping or watching you tube on their phones. I asked if they wanted to walk to Stauf’s, and they declined. They would make their own breakfast when they were hungry. I offered to play cards or Monopoly but they had plans with friends. I turned on one of our favorite comedy shows but they had moved onto their own Netflix series.

Wait, hold up, not sooooo fast!

And so here I am reminiscing about the past, and how much I miss the moments I had wished away. I beg and plead, and then eventually demand, that the kids play a game with me (it used to be a walk until I had knee surgery; the kids thanked the heavens when they learned no walking for me for 12 weeks). There is typically a lot of sighing and complaining on Mario’s part; Maria has pretty much succumbed to my pressure. I don’t care though – I need connection with them even if they moan about it.

And indeed, Mario moaned last weekend when I told him we were gonna play a game before he could get on his video game with his friends. We decided on Kids vs. Adults trivia since we couldn’t find Monopoly. We laughed at Mario’s answers to questions – how does he not know where Venice is?! We made fun of Maria getting questions about movies, which she never watches. The kids teased me for constantly rolling the die to the “lose a turn” side. It was the best 45 minutes of my day because I had both of my babies by my side.

In fairness, the games we we play now are much more exiting than the ones we played years ago (god help me if I see Candy Land anytime soon). And the kids have quite the quips as we engage in play. They are mini-adults with strong personalities and convictions. They speak their minds. They have senses of humor. Their wicked smart. They love fiercely. They are independent.

All those years of loving the crap out of them and smothering them with hugs and kisses and listening to their stories and taking them to the pool paid off. They are fine humans. They know their momma needs connection, and they provide it even when their friends are hounding then to get on the latest video game or head to the thrift store. The time together is short – a game or two long – but so so sweet – and long enough to keep that thread taut between us.

To walk

In the summer, Maria started taking a two mile run/walk with me in the woods. She dreaded it but usually felt better once it was over and we were in the AC back home. Then, she got a treadmill, and she never wanted to hit the “nasty outdoors” again. She cannot stand the sun or heat. Yes, I am not kidding. I keep telling her that she should move to Seattle when she turns 18 so that she can live in the spitting rain and gray skies. 

Nevertheless, she would not put up a major fight (sometimes it would be a whine and other times an exasperated sigh) when I asked her to only take a one mile walk in the woods with me. She conditioned her agreement to go on us taking Rocco so we could watch him gnaw on sticks and play with pups in the woods. It’s been a bit easier to get her to go with me lately because I will allow her to go on and on and on about getting her temps. This has been a dream of hers for at least a year. For the last three months, she has talked about how she cannot wait until October 31 so that she can get her temps and drive around town. Jon can’t stomach to talk about it anymore so when I walk with her, she is permitted to talk about what the test will be like, how awesome it will be when she gets her temps, where she will want to drive, what questions she think will be on the test, where she will drive me around town…you name it.

I have also made her walk to school in the morning. She was appalled at the thought of it at the beginning of the school year but now she has gotten more used to it. Don’t get me wrong, she constantly talks about how she cannot wait to drive to school, but she doesn’t beg for Jon to take her every morning like she used to in year’s past.

The other night, I was doing some work on the computer, and she came up from the basement to tell me that she had an essay she wanted to read to me. We went upstairs and sat on my bed. It started out with a definition of “to walk.” She then detailed how our simple walks bring her some unexpected joy during this Covid time. She notices more on her walks and feels more prepared her for school day.  What?!

These are the little nuggets that I need to hear throughout my weeks to help me witness the positive marks I leave on my children. So often I beat myself up for snapping at the kids or not doing enough reading with the kids or falling short in some other arena…but then I hear my kid finding joy in something I brought them, and I realize I’m also doing some good in this world. 

Now, do I think she will forgo driving the car to school once she is able? Probably not. But she may take a few more minutes to think about it, and end up taking a tiny stroll after school, at least, to the woods with me.



Mario and fairy books

Maria has innate compassion and nurturing genes in her body. She has always been a caretaker. When Mario was born, she would beg to give him his Binky or put him in his swing or feed him his smashed peas. I have a ton of pictures – back when you had to develop them – of the two of them together and inevitably, Maria’s arm is always wrapped around Mario. His protector.

In preschool, she had a girlfriend who was petite and quiet. Whenever another child would boss her around, Maria would step in and protect her. The girl’s parents nicknamed Maria “the muscle.” This weekend, Maria and I were just getting ready to sit down to play a card game. Her phone rang and she left to talk to her friend for a few minutes. She came back and told me that her friend needed to stop by. Within a minute, I heard the door open. Her friend was sobbing; Maria wrapped her arm around her friend, and walked with her down the stairs to her room continuously whispering “you will be ok.”

Mario did not quite inherit the compassionate and nurturing genes.  That is not to say that he doesn’t care for others; he just doesn’t have that automatic response of nurturing and caretaking. He expresses his care and concern by trying to make people laugh – by being goofy. When he was in preschool, he would get up in front of all of his friends and perform a crazy dance (he loved Gangnam Style). When one of his friends took a nasty fall while they were skateboarding, he jabbed him with playful jokes to keep him laughing until I arrived to take him home. Last week, I had a crappy day at work and he amused me with his little quips.

I have made Maria do more volunteer activities with me than Mario. This is partially because the moms of Maria’s friends tend to plan volunteer events more often than the moms of Mario’s friends. It is also because she didn’t put up as much of a fight as Mario did when I talked about doing something for those in need.

Lately, I have been lamenting about not pushing harder on Mario when he puts up a fight about volunteering. He needs to gain some perspective when he starts begging me for $150 pair of basketball shoes for the upcoming season. I have told him that there may be a possibility of purchasing such shoes but it does not come without putting forth some effort for others. Accordingly, he has agreed to put together hygiene kits for men at the homeless shelter along with a few of his friends. We are heading out this week to buy the supplies and then put them together to deliver. It just takes me putting forth some effort to get him to do it.

But I was excited to see him come downstairs on his own last night and read a book to Elena with me. I had mentioned reading to Elena over dinner with him and Maria and Jon last night. I threw in a comment that it would be really nice if the kids or Jon joined me for a chapter or two. They all rolled their eyes.

I situated my computer at the dining room table, and jumped on Facebook messenger with Elena. I was just getting ready to start reading the Weather Fairies book when Mario trotted down the stairs to join me. Elena started giggling like she always does when Mario enters the screen. I gave Mario the parts of Kirsty to read.

To my delight, he completely acted the part. He raised his voice up a few octaves to mimic Kirsty’s voice. Elena cracked up every time he read off the page. He read a chapter with us, and then I allowed him to head upstairs to finish his homework. I spent another 45 minutes reading to Elena. I didn’t make her chuckle like Mario had but we did have fun reading about the goblins and talking about the different weather fairies.

I visited Mario in his room after I finished with Elena. I told him how happy he had made Elena by simply reading a chapter of a book to her. I explained how a simple gesture can mean a lot to somebody. 

I recall telling my dad about taking a walk in the woods without looking at my phone the entire time. We had been talking earlier in the week about needing to disconnect more often. His response via text was “baby steps.” That phrase came to mind as I left Mario’s room and went to log off the computer for the night.



Taking the plunge – happy 13th Mario!

I have watched this video about 100 times since it came up in my feed a few weeks ago. At the time it popped up, Mario had been teasing me about turning 13. He knows how much it kills me to think of him turning into a teenager. Every night, he approaches me and pokes my shoulder stating “Mom, you know I’m turning 13 soon.” He secretly waits for me to plead for him not to turn 13 and stay my baby. He knows he has my heart, and I will do anything for him. Jon always teases me that I need to cut the umbilical cord.  I do find myself still fetching him water when he asks for it, although I tend to do the same for Maria (she just asks for it less than he does).

This video took me back to the years before he turned double digits – when he would routinely want to be by my side. I recall trying to tip toe down the stairs in order not to wake him so I could go out for a morning run. Inevitably, as soon as one of the stairs would creek, I’d hear him loudly whisper “mom”. I would try for another step and then hear “mom” again but in a bit more anxious tone. Some days I could head up the stairs, go into his room, and convince him to go back to bed because I would be back really soon. He would typically call my bluff and tell me that I wouldn’t be back for another two hours. I would tell him that as soon as I got back we would do something fun together. I would say about half of the time, this worked. The other half of the time, I bundled him up and threw him in the stroller to take my run with me. We would play different games like who could find the most birds on our run, or 20 questions, or spot the bunnies.

Because he and Maria wanted to be around me every weekend, we had to come up with things to do. My daredevil Maria thought up ziplining to end the summer and bring in the new school year. I believe Mario was going into first grade in this video so he was probably close to six years old. He was all for the zip lining adventure until he got onto the first course. He saw how far down the ground was, and refused to go. Luckily, the instructor convinced him to go with him. We only did five zip lines that day and Mario insisted on the instructor for the first four of them. After each one, Maria would encourage him to do the next one by himself. He would sit there pensively, like you see on the video, and then decide that he wanted the instructor. I don’t recall what we said or did on the fifth line to get him to finally do it by himself. I’m sure Maria was putting the major pressure on him and as you can see in the video, I was trying my hardest to cheer him on. I knew if he didn’t do it that he would be mad that he didn’t give it a try by himself. I know my child – it may take him until the last minute, but he will want to be able to say he tried it. Whether it’s ziplining or basketball or just being a good human, Mario wants to do it well. As he gets older, he may put up a façade about not caring or try being too cool, but deep down inside, I know that he is a good human and can accomplish what he sets out to do. What he has set out to do lately is play good football and fish like a world-class fisherman.

My dad was a huge help in purchasing a fishing kayak for his 13th birthday. Mario had been pleading for the last month about getting a fishing kayak for his birthday. He knew he would not get anything else if he asked for that yet he still wanted it. He sent me a picture and I forwarded it to my dad to get his two cents. My dad did his typical dad research and found that it was a really good fishing kayak. He also was able to locate the one place in three states that still carried it. He drove to West Virginia to purchase it before Mario’s birthday. It came with a crappy paddle, which of course he had researched, so he drove over to Marietta to purchase a good paddle from one of the sporting stores. To top it off, and just because he is the type of dad and grandpa who thinks through everything, he stopped at the local marina, and got the kayak registered.

Sure enough, Mario begged to go to Seneca Lake after he was escorted to his present at the farm. My dad, of course, agreed to take him down there. I went with my niece so I could see how he maneuvered this new present of his. My dad and I were both amazed. There he was, before we had even kayaked over towards him, standing in his kayak and casting his line like a fisherman who had been fishing for 30 years. While Mario was in his element, I paddled around with a Elena who enjoyed touching the lily pads and pointing out the flowers. I looked over my shoulder several times to find my dad 20 feet from Mario watching him cast his line and try for a fish. What a sight as a daughter and a mom – my heart was full. My dad eventually came over to video Elena paddling the kayak. Sure enough, about a minute later, we heard Mario shouting “I got one!”

We quickly paddled over to Mario. He had a huge grin on his face and proudly rose the fish to his chest to show it off. My dad, the proud peepaw, immediately awed about the huge size, and Mario continued in the awe. “It’s gotta be at least 2-3 pounds!”

These are the moments that make this crazy life worthwhile. The joy on Mario’s face as he held the fish high in the air. My dad’s million snapshots of Mario with his fish that I scrolled through later in the night. Elena’s quips about Mario needing to catch a “giant popper.” It reinforces my belief that a good life is all about creating experiences, and having that connection with the people near you experiencing the event with you.

My son is an avid fisherman at age 13 (I typed 12 and had to delete:)). He swears he will be heading to Canada as soon as he graduates high school (earlier if we’d let him), owning a bait shop, and fishing everyday. Jon and I half believe him. He has mentioned to me on several occasions (usually when I’m on work calls at 10 pm) that he would never want a 9-5 job and have to work all hours of the day. I’m glad my work has provided that enlightenment to him:)

If you listen closely to Mario in the video, you will hear him whisper “I can do this.” I don’t know that I heard this on the actual day – I was too busy rooting him on. I listen to it now and I am filled with emotion – pride at raising this brave soul, admiration for his drive, joy in being around him, immense love for his entire being, excitement about what’s to come for him.

Here’s to taking those plunges, Mario, and living life to its fullest. Happy 13th!

Love you!

Coneflower Trail

I woke up yesterday morning to my usual Sunday routine. Throw on a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt, slip on my running shoes, leash up Rocco, and head to Tarpy for an elongated morning run.

The weather made it easy to want to run. It was the type of morning where you could feel Fall sprinting up to take the lead over Summer. I consciously took some deep breaths as we walked into the woods. The leaves of the oaks and ash and basswood created patches of light along the mulched trail. I watched Rocco sprint ahead, stop to sniff, and continue down the path.

There is a fork in the trail right before the train tracks. If you take a right, your led up a small hill that ends in the backyard of the Tarpy house. If you take a left, you go over a bridge and up a small incline to a field of wildflowers. Over the last year or so, Rocco has decided that he likes the left side of the woods more than the right side. He will take the right side loop with me a couple of times on Sunday morning but then he waits at the fork for me to finish the right side loop and joins me on the left side. It is rather precious to run down the hill and see him sitting upright, tongue out, eyes wide, waiting to take my side as we run around the left side of the woods.

As I witnessed the wildflowers by sight and Rocco witnessed them by touch (running after some critter I have to assume), I thought about what to do with the kids during the day. Back when they were young, it would have been a trip to Cincinnati or a day at the zoo. As they get older, I am lucky to get in a couple of hours before they complain that they want to be with friends or that they need to get homework done.

I have gotten the backpacking bug from going with my dad and sister a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping the kids would want to go with me this weekend but it did not happen for us. I need to just set a date and go for it but I’m really bad at doing that. Although we’d missed out on our backpacking adventure, it didn’t mean we couldn’t take a hike. I searched up Metro Parks and found two that looked good. One of the two was only 18 minutes away. The other was 28. My hatred of driving played a factor in the decision. The one 18 minutes away was the Coneflower Trail at Prairie Oaks. It was a 2 mile loop, which was about all I could get from the kids without serious whining.

I arrived home to break the news – we were taking a hike. Maria immediately went to homework she had to finish. Mario went to his number one argument – it’s a day if rest so he should be able to chill…. I listened politely and then told them it was too gorgeous outside to stay indoors all day so they had to deal with it. They knew there was no hope in complaining so they grabbed their gym shoes and we were off (Starbucks may have been promised after the hike).

We loaded Rocco in the backseat with Mario and headed out west to Prairie Oaks. We arrived to a fairly empty parking lot, which was a relief. We found the trail head and started on our way. We walked along a grass path for a bit before coming to the actual Coneflower trail. It had a “x” on the picture of a dog, which we promptly ignored.

The trail sat parallel with the Darby Creek and we could hear Rocco run through the grasses and brush to hit the creek for a quick dip. At one point, there was a clearing and we walked down to the creek to find Rocco splashing around happy as can be. The pup loves him some water. There were two other pups dipping their feet in the water – French bulldogs. Their faces are made to be squeezed. Maria was in love asking the owners all sorts of questions about them. Mario remained quiet but enjoyed petting the bigger one.

We headed back to the trail to continue our discussion about Mario’s birthday. Maria had all sorts of ideas for his birthday party, all of which Mario shot down. As I think back to our conversation, Mario’s birthday took up a chunk of it. I am getting more comfortable with time spent with the kids where no big revelation is given. I have had these dreams of walking with Ri and Mario where they divulge all their dark secrets and fears and we talk through them.

Not so much.

So I’ve learned to change my expectations, which has led to a much more enjoyable experience. I simply appreciate the time with them.

At the end of the trail, there was a fork and I took to the right side. It ended up being the longer way back to the parking lot. The kids realized this after it was too late. They took my phone to try to locate our car. They saw that it was another quarter mile away. I smiled and they knew I was excited to get a few extra minutes with them. We walked along the yellow and purple wildflowers and I asked them to take 20 seconds to just breathe in the beauty of the day.

Silence. 10 whole seconds (Mario blurted out “Done” after 10 seconds).

I made them name something they were grateful for – family, they both said. Even after a forced outing, they were still grateful for me and Jon and our family. I responded I was grateful for them coming with me. They smiled, and gave an even wider smile when they saw the Volvo up ahead.

Taking the risk

My girl lost the student council president election. I received a phone call at 7:40 AM as I was taking my morning run. The phone call came up from my husband. I answered assuming it was him. Instead, I heard a sobbing daughter and the following words:

“I lost, mom.”

I should have been ready. I knew she would find out today. I also had an inkling that she may not win. She was up against a girl in her class who made a good speech about being responsible and a strong leader. She also has an older brother who graduated last year and was well known by students in the school.
But I wasn’t ready because deep down inside, I just kept hoping that Ri would win and that we would not be having this conversation. I remember learning about this “wait and hope” mentality when I was learning to be a facilitator at Ohio State. It is a default thought process I go to often. Let’s not delve into what could be painful or difficult conversations now with the hope that the difficult conversation won’t have to happen. Well, inevitably, the situation arises.

So here I was abruptly stopping my gait and trying to resurrect words of consolation to Ri as cars zoomed past me. My heart ached for her because I knew how much she wanted to be president and how sad she was about losing. I did not want to discount that sadness by saying something like “it’s not a big deal – who cares about being president” or “people are stupid – they should have voted for you” – although those were all responses that were coming into my head most immediately. But I took a breath and went in a different direction. I affirmed what she was feeling and simply stated that it had to feel crappy to get this news. But after listening to her for a few minutes, I told her this:

“You should be proud and hold your head high that you went for it. You ran for president when many people would be too scared to do so knowing that they could very well lose the election. You took the risk. That is where you won.”

I really believe that, too. I know even as an adult I have avoided certain challenges because I was scared of making a fool of myself or scared of not coming out on top. It takes a lot to dive into the waters and put yourself out there. She should embrace the strength she had to even take on the challenge.

I will talk with her in due time about what she can learn from this matter. Was there something more that she could have done to prepare? Could she have thought about her speech more and went in a different direction? Are there things she could ask her friends about what they liked about her friend’s speech over hers? This can take some courage because you are going to hear constructive feedback, but it is absolutely necessary in order to grow. You will need the ability to hear such feedback as you get older. Again, something I continue to struggle with – knowing the feedback is constructive and not a slap in the face. It is the only way to excel.

But for this morning, I will simply give her hugs and reaffirm my pride in her simply going for it. Girlfriend needs to feel that power, that strength, in putting herself out there. She needs to understand that is a trait that will be so important for her in years to come.

Vinegar!

A Facebook memory popped into my feed a few weeks ago. It was a video of Maria and Mario, probably ages six and four, sitting on our kitchen floor with a variety of objects in order to perform a science experiment. I remember purchasing the boxed experiment – it looked like something we could handle. All you needed was some baking soda, vinegar and food dye to create an erupting volcano. Those were the days when I would search Target and Giant Eagle for any craft, experiment or toy to add to our weekend days.

We probably had taken a run in the double BOB stroller that morning to Giant Eagle to purchase the volcano fun. I could usually get in at least a couple of miles prior to hitting Giant Eagle if I promised the kids a donut from the donut case. I sometimes made them bring a hard cover chapter book to read to me while I ran with them. Again, the promise of a donut can work wonders….

I faintly recall helping them with the volcano that day. However, it may be more of a re-creation of my mind after watching the video over and over. It is hard to remember back to those days when they were that young. I can recall feeling like those days lasted forever – waking up at 6 am and going all day until 9 pm. Stroller ride, walks, park, lunch, games, reading, paint, snacks, Dora….

I remember getting a small break to go to Stauf’s and read a few pages of a book while eating a darkly toasted bagel. It was heaven to escape the long days with the kids. I also remember telling myself that I will miss those long days when they get older, but I had no idea of how exactly it would feel because I was so engrossed in the everyday with the kids. What would it be like to wake up and not have Mario plead for me to stay home with him rather than go on a quick run? What would it be like to be swimming with Maria and not have her constantly ask to play an underwater game? What would it be like to go to the park and not have both kids pull on me to tackle the obstacle course and slide down the slide with them 10 times over? How absolutely exhausted I was at the end of those days, so how can I yearn for them so much now?

Crazy ass universe. What I would do to cradle those small feet and toes right now. What I would do to have that tiny sweet hand grab mine as we walk down the street. But, if I am honest, I have no desire to go back to the days of getting up at 6 AM and having to give my full attention to those humans all day long. It was exhausting and it was for a time that I could handle it. That time period is not right now. So I need to embrace where we are today. Two grown kids at over 5 feet tall, both with gargantuan feet, both with their own viewpoints, both happy and comfortable in their skin. When I look back to that video again, I see traits in the kids that remain with them today. Mario with his goofiness and desire to make people laugh, and Maria with her pedagogical style and desire to be in control.

Ten years ago I could never have imagined where we are today. Today, I can’t imagine having two kids in their 20s. So, what is the lesson? To totally absorb these times that I have in front of me right now because I will soon look back at the videos I am currently making and lament at how the time flew by.

https://www.facebook.com/mary.m.ionno/videos/10151705524597508/?extid=XKT9l8mb7l49ppcs&d=n

Mama’s day 2020

Is this good, mom?”

Maria knelt on the soft dirt and pushed the mulch between the irises. She was trying to use the fresh mulch sparingly so as to not waste it. She is her mother’s daughter when it comes to trying to save money. On the other side of the driveway, Mario poured out bags of mulch and left it 2 inches high to spare himself having to kneel down and spread it. He is his father’s son when it comes to penny pinching.

The neighbor’s yard displays beds of bright red tulips and manicured bushes sitting in pristine mulched beds. Maria and I have been lamenting about our yard’s aesthetic value for days, which continues to decrease each time our neighbors are out working in their yard. So, when Jon agreed to run to the store and buy mulch, I thought I should take advantage of the kids’ agreement to do whatever I wanted them to do on Mother’s Day. They had already been forced to take a 2 mile walk on the bike trail with me so they were undoubtedly hoping that their deeds were done. Ha, never.

Maria was the first one to come out and help. This is the typical case in situations where I need assistance. Maria is always the first one out to help unload the groceries. Mario takes his time so that all of the trips have been taken before he has to carry just one last bag inside.

Maria hopped in the back of the pick-up and heaved bags of mulch my way. She was hysterical to watch as she attempted to lift the bags with every ounce of muscle in her body. We dragged two bags over to our ivy-soaked oak tree and dumped the black mulch onto the ground. We worked together on opposite sides of the tree evenly spreading the mulch.  Neighbors passed by and commented about how good the mulch looked. Mario finally came out; Jon directed him to work on the patch of sticks and dirt by the driveway. Jon nudged me a few minutes later and told me to look over at him. He had his camo bucket hat on his head and was pulling weeds from the dirt. Ri was busy leaning over the stone wall to smooth a clump of mulch.

Peace. Appreciation. Love.

I could have been struck dead at that moment and left this earth in a good place. The sensation starts in my chest. It’s a lightness, as if all the blood has been drained and my chest is floating up in the air like a balloon. My mind ceases producing all of the bullshit chatter it is used to spitting out, and absorbs the delicacy of the moment. My babies working next to me, accumulating dirt stains on their forearms and shins.

Prior to mulching, they begrudgingly took a few walks with me throughout the day. One of the walks took us to our old stomping grounds along the river. We walked past the rocky bank where I used to pull the double stroller over, and carefully lead the kids down the jagged rocks to the river. They took joy in throwing stones as far as they could hurl them into the water. Mario would call out “watch mom” incessantly as he threw a bigger rock into the river to try to make an even greater splash. He is still that little boy calling out my name today as he picks up random rocks and hurls them into the calm river. Maria was never as interested in hurling the rocks; she would throw a few in camaraderie with her little brother but then she would choose to take off her shoes and socks and dip her feet in the water. She liked to feel the sensation of the water on her feet and fingertips. Mario wanted nothing to do with feeling water on him – he would freak out every time Maria splashed him. He just wanted to hurl rocks and jump from boulder to boulder. 

These babes have spent their lifetime with me. How weird is that? They have never known of life without me. They have come to understand this world, in part based on what I have taught them or how they have seen me engage with the people and things. Shit.

That is concerning.

The times I have not been working I have spent with them.  I did not go out for drinks on Friday nights with girlfriends because I wanted to spend the time with the kids. I did not attend work events because I would rather be at my kids’ soccer game or recital. I put myself in ridiculous looking swimsuits and hit the pool to dive off the boards with the kids because they loved to watch how scared I would be going off the high dive. 

I gave them and continue to give them all of the love that I could possibly muster. It is easy to do, after all, because they are my babies. It comes naturally. I can’t imagine not loving them with every ounce of my being.

However, I often still find myself wondering what more I can be doing in this life – helping out at the local shelter, participating in a food drive, teaching homeless kids…. I beat myself up about not doing more…I should take the kids to the shelter more often, I should start a non-profit, I should register for the latest 5k to stop Alzheimer’s…

Then I read this from Glennon Doyle:

“Were you afraid that you’d been so busy loving your people that you forgot to do something important?

Because what I’ve learned from you is that there isn’t a damn thing more important than loving your people.

Do you wish you’d written a book? A book? Mama, your love has written the entire world of our family into existence. The characters in your story are bold and brave because your love made them that way. Our plot line is love and courage and hope and steadfastness. Our family is a beautiful story, Mama—and the hero of our story is you. You are the hero. You are the one. You created this family and you watch over it and tend to it and delight in it and you are the closest I’ve ever come to seeing God, Mama.

And here is the moral of your story: You taught us that what matters is love, and that love is relentlessly showing up for your people.

Because of you, we will always remember that the most world-changing work we can do is this: We can live in a way so that our children will be able to say, Not one moment of my life did I wonder if I was adored. Never, ever did I feel alone. And they will pass it on.

(Full post https://momastery.com/blog/2020/05/09/to-my-mama-who-taught-me-the-most-important-thing/)

How beautiful is that? What a wonderful way to think about all the energy we put into our children and the lack of energy we often have to put into other areas. We are raising humans who will be able to love other humans, who will feel comfortable in their skin, who will know how awesome it is to be loved and adored. I will have succeeded if Ri and Mario grow up and think “not one moment of my life did I wonder if I was adored. Never, ever did I feel alone.”

Nuggets!

So I am learning day by day to try to appreciate certain moments experienced during the long, shelter-in-place days. It can be hard to do, especially when you wake up in the morning and realize you are still in the midst of this pandemic and that you have a full day ahead in the house or walking around the block.

But then there are those moments – that wake you up from your Groundhog Day slumber – and provide a renewed look on life. Mario came downstairs for dinner one night this week and told us he wants to make Chick-fil-A nuggets for dinner. He had seen a TikTok video where a guy made the nuggets from scratch. We kind of brushed him off, after all, who is going to listen to a TikTok video for a recipe?But the next morning he asked if I had gotten chicken strips for him to make the nuggets. I so happened to have bought chicken strips to make for me and Maria’s lunch that day. We had all of the other ingredients needed for the TikTok recipe so we decided to allow Mario to make us dinner for the evening.

Now, you have to understand, Mario doesn’t make dinner. Sweet Maria has been cooking since she was around four years old and has made us scores of amazing dinners through the years. Mario has sat back and enjoyed them. So I was a little doubtful that he would actually come through and make these nuggets himself.

But sure enough, as 5:30 rolled around, he placed his phone on the counter and began to watch his video. He proceeded to crack some eggs in a bowl and add milk. He measured out flour and powdered sugar into another bowl. He asked if I would put an inch of oil in our big cooking pot and cut up 1 inch cubes of chicken. He tasked Maria with making the sauce for the nuggets – she chose to make Cane’s sauce because she believes it’s much better than Chick-fil-A sauce. Mario monitored the amount of ketchup and mayonnaise she was adding into the mix and asked to taste test it with each new ingredient she included. When the oil started to bubble, he directed me to be prepared to stir the coated nuggets after he cast them into the oil. He was like a five star chef dictating what needed to be done in the kitchen. 

He took two pieces of chicken and rolled them in the egg mixture. Then he dipped them in the flour and powdered sugar and rolled them over and over until they were heavily coated. Finally, he tossed them into the boiling oil in order to avoid getting splashed. I was in charge of turning them over and over while they fried in the oil to ensure that they got toasted on every side. At first, we were a bit concerned because they were not getting too brown. But then magically, after three or four minutes, they started to brown and look just like the Chick-fil-A nuggets from the restaurant. Woo-hoo!

We used tongs to lift them out of the oil and place them in a bowl. Jon acted as taste tester and nodded with approval. Mario had succeeded! He allowed me to help dip the remaining nuggets in order for us to be able to move the assembly line a bit quicker and get to our dinner. Nothing like some fried foods to comfort you in a pandemic – Chick-fil-A nuggets and french fries.

 The time spent in the kitchen with Mario so intent on getting the chicken perfectly coated and Maria trying hard for the perfect combo of mayo and ketchup made my day – literally, made my day. I try to remember that the days are long and often monotonous with work calls, lunch, walk around the woods, work calls… But damn if these moments together, if only constituting 1/25th of my day, keep me hopeful and instill much appreciated bits of joy.