Family, Ham and Chocolate

Mario’s game face
M & M getting ready for the hunt!

I love Easter.  It is my favorite holiday for two reasons: (1) I adore chocolate and there is a ton of it between the easter egg hunts, the grandparents, and me splurging on it “for the kids’ baskets;” and (2) people seem to be more relaxed on Easter – less frantic about presents, meals, attire.  Easter comes right at the time of a new season – winter cold is gone and grass is turning green.  People are excited about being outside again. 

We celebrated Easter today out at the farm.  The forecast called for rain all weekend with strong thunderstorms at times.  When we woke up this morning, the sky was grey and dreary but had promise to it.  Patches of yellow and blue broke through in the sky, and I had a feeling during my morning run that we would be spared.  I was right.  The Grandview Easter Egg Hunt began at 10 am with soggy grass underfoot but no rain showers.  Maria’s nightmare came true when she heard that 5-7 year olds were grouped together (“I will never get as many eggs as 7 years olds).  However, she perked back up when she met up with her friend Anna and her grandma.  I stood with Mario in the 2-4 year old group coaching him about how to engage in the hunt (“pick up the eggs first – not the bags of oreos and cookies”).  He put his game face on after my speech, and anxiously awaited for the announcer to yell “GO!”  What comes over me and other parents at these easter egg hunts?  We are so competitive following our kids around the area pointing frantically at eggs that we see.  When the kid is looking in the opposite direction, we yell “Mario, look!  Mario!  Mario, over here!  Mario!!!”  Mario ended up with more eggs than Maria, which led to Maria frowning and complaining that she did not get “any” eggs even though she had three in her basket.  Her friend gave her two of her eggs, which led to 180 degree change in Maria who smiled from ear to ear.  the kids sat down to open their eggs, and Mario promptly gave me the first chocolate candy piece he opened.  What a doll.  I had told him how much I loved easter chocolate and he had told me that he would share his with me.  However, I was not going to believe it until I saw it.  And there it was.  He does love his mama!  Maria, on the other hand, gave me a stern look when I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from her basket.  “Mom, this is my food.”  She is so generous when it comes to other things but not her food!

We rushed home after the hunt and hopped in the car to the farm.  Within five minutes of walking in the door, Maria and Mario and their cousins found the baby chicks.  Tiny and precious and so delicate.  Just what three and five-year olds need to handle.  But Grandma Meg managed to let all of the kids hold them without incident.  Mario chanted “Calm, calm” to the chick while he held it.  Maria acted like she was a vet while she held one asking me what was wrong with my baby chick.  They were infatuated at first sight.  Maria and Anneliese, her 8 year old cousin, played beautifully together.  Surprisingly, Mario and his three-year old cousin, Ben, also played together for the first time ever.  In the past, they were into their own things (and still at that young age where you don’t play much with other kids) but this time they were by each others’ sides for most of the day.  Ben would yell for Mario and Mario would run to him.  Mario would ask Ben to get something for him and Ben would get it.  They threw stones in the stream for 30 minutes and talked about being in the army while they rode the rocking horses.  They used croquet clubs as hammers and swords.  Boys.  Maria and Anneliese held the chicks a lot and walked Rosie and played in the stream.  Tomgirls – yeah! 

We ate yummy ham and potato salad and deviled eggs and corn casserole and butter rolls.  Patty’s potato salad won everyone over with people going up for thirds!  I swear I am going to enter her p. salad into a contest – it will undoubtedly take first place.  Desserts made my stomach larger just looking at them – brownies, cookies, shortcake, chocolate cake, lemon bars in addition to all of the Easter candy!  Oh, how I love this holiday! But, oh, how I wish I had some sort of will power.  I get on Maria about eating too much but then I stand around the table eating 3 brownies, cake, candy and cookies.  I blame those Menkedick genes that cannot resist chocolate (unless you are supernatural like my father).  My 91 year-old grandmother devoured the desserts just like me so I think I am doomed.  

The kids got to ride the horses towards the end of the day and then got treated to a stellar easter egg hunt.  There is part of me that still wants to participate in those hunts – I see an egg hiding in the fence post and I get so excited.  I was a damn good egg finder back in my day….  We finished up the afternoon holding the chicks some more and chatting with family that we don’t see as often as we would like.  Maria would love to have Anneliese closer and Mario and Ben would have a blast together now that they are the ripe old age of three.  Grandma M. is strong as ever, carrying on conversation and watching the kids play.  I wish I lived closer to her so we could see her more often even though she even states that having M&M over any more often would seriously wear her out.  She has got to be kidding – my kids are little angels…! 

In sum, a great start to a holiday weekend.  The farm is a gem, and Meg did an awesome job hosting us all.  Dad did an awesome job entertaining the kids (even though he allowed Mario to fall in the stream!).  And the rest of us just soaked in the beauty of a wet Spring day.

The Relief of a Good Drop-Off and Night with Family


Sitting on our bed post ready for school

I took Mario into daycare today with Maria.  We had a pretty good morning with a healthy dose of tv, waffles, play, self dress, and more tv.  I got home from my run and the kids were already dressed so they got to watch another show while I showered.  Mario also scored a cereal bar on the way out the door since I did not know how much he ate for breakfast.  On the way to the car, we stopped and looked at Cy’s poop , which is always a source of amazement and disgust (“Mom, do you smell it?!”).  Maria was once fascinated about it but she has since “grown” out of that stage and now just rolls her eyes each time Mario points it out as if she is 13 years old dealing with her babyish 2-year-old brother.  Mario also got to open the car door himself and get in his car seat himself.  Some mornings he could care less if I help him and other mornings when I go to swoop him up into the seat, he screams and cries as if a horrific, disgusting sea monster had just grabbed him with its tentacles and taken him out to sea.  He flails his body and growls and cries “Nooooo!”  And he can never recover.  He gets so angry that he cannot let go of the emotion for a long while.  Much longer than the time it takes to daycare.  So, this was a good morning because he climbed in the seat himself.  We sang “Free to Be You and Me” all the way to school, which really put me in a pleasant mood since it brings back times of my childhood. 

We pulled into school and took our time getting out of the car (another necessity because any type of hurried behavior can set Mario over the edge, too).  I kept telling Mario about all the fun things they were going to do at school today like water play and telling time.  Maria even helped me out.  She can totally read when I need her to help me.  As we walked down the preschool hall, I chirped “everyone wants to be in Mr. Parks’ room!”  Maria looked at me and without hesitation exclaimed “I wish I could be in your classroom, Mario – that would be cool!” even though I know that she really would not want to be in that classroom.  That is my girl. 

We got some animals from Maria’s room that Mario loves to play with and took them to his room.  Finally, we waltzed down to Amanda’s room to say to his old teacher and then waltzed back to preschool.  After all of that, Mario stood in his classroom as I said goodbye and did not ball and wail and cry hysterically.  Yippee!  It only took an extra hour of time and nonstop codling.  We are set now! 

Seriously, though, I do think I would stand on my head on a bed of nails in order to see Mario happy in his preschool room.  It just makes my day so much easier.  I can get more done, my mood is up, my mind is uncluttered.   Jon has drop off duty tomorrow so hopefully it will go just as well.

The kiddies from our weekend get together where they learned how much fun the hose is to play with in this heat

We had a great night tonight with visiting brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews and cousins.  Maria’s two older cousins, Emi and Elly, are fantastic to have around because they are so good with Maria and Mario.  M&M adore them, too.  We also had Maria’s newest cousin over to the house, Dagmawit.  Jon’s brother, Kevin and his wife Margie adopted her from Ethiopia recently and it was her first time to visit us.  She is a gem of a kid.  She and Maria are very similar in personality – opinionated, direct, and strong-willed.  Maybe it has to do with their moms’ personalities! 

Mario in his dress, headband, make-up and shoes - What a trooper!

The girls dressed Mario up in girl clothes and smothered him in make-up.  Mario is the good sport through it all even modeling for us as he came outside.  Maria and Dagmawit got dolled up by Emi and Elly.  After dinner, they all threw on bathing suits and played in the baby pool with the hose.  The adults actually got to talk together for an hour without being interrupted every 15 seconds.  Very strange….

I love nights like tonight – surrounded by family, good food and drink, great conversation, laughter.  The night even ended well with Maria and Mario on my lap in the rocking chair making up stories about baby bunnies and giraffes who fall in love.  Life is good.

Loving Anne Lamott

I have been thinking about faith lately.  It is inevitable when I have two kids who constantly make me question my existence and purpose. 

Jon and I were both raised Catholic and head to church every so often but definitely do not attend on any type of regular basis or have an urgent need to take the kids.  We want them to have faith, however.  I feel that is necessary to ground them, make them more thoughtful, make them more empathetic and understanding people.  If it was completely up to me, I would head down south to one of those small churches to just hear the people sing like it was their last breath and dance and have fun and truly engage in a celebration.  That to me is one thousand times better than sitting in a quiet church listening to a man give a monotone sermon about Jesus.  It is so dull to me.  I have only met one priest in my entire life who had some pizzazz and “umph” that got a rise in me and made me want to continue to sit in the pew. 

I want M&M to have their hearts filled with spirit when they go to church.  I want them to feel more alive, more hopeful when they leave. 

This leads me to Anne Lamott.  She is my faith at this stage of my life.  She is my refuge – she is who makes me hopeful and makes me feel alive.  Her stories about her son, her fears, her obsessions, her downfalls are so true and so real and so raw that I can’t help but dive into them and become a part of them.  I walk away from one of her stories and I have learned something.  I have faith that all will be ok.  I smile at her comparisons.  I feel reassured that I am doing the best I can with where I am.  I see beauty in M&M even if they almost drive me to buy a one way ticket to Istanbul. 

Thank you Anne Lamott for giving me this faith that I continue to struggle to find.  Someday I may find a chapel, cathedral, temple, church, park, where I feel a part of the community and I believe in what is being expressed and taught.  Until then, I have you.  Amen!

The Beauty in a Touch

The rascals ready to head outside

Maria and Mario have been giving us a run for our money lately.  Jon and I have threatened on a few too many occasions that we are going to send them off to a deserted island to make it on their own.  I think they are at the point of agreeing to such a proposal. Maria asked me tonight whether Jon and I would agree to let her move in with a boyfriend if she had just gone on one date with him.  Yeah, I am not kidding.  Age 5. Yikes. Of course, at this point, I am ready to bellow “yes, go!” but I restrain myself knowing that my mind is warped from too many jigsaw puzzles and barbie dramas.  I look so forward to the weekends but by the time 7 pm Sunday hits, I am done.  Cooked. 

Me and the babes posing for the camera

The family did have a good weekend this past weekend, however. We went to “Big Mario’s house on Saturday afternoon to go fishing.  Mario had fished with Jon a few weeks back and Jon thought it would be great to have the entire family out on the dock fishing.  He got poles, lines, bait.  We got to Mario’s, said our hellos and then headed down to the dock for some good ol’ fishing.  While we waited for Jon to get the poles together, we threw catfood into the water to attract the fish.  Mario cracked us up with his utter joy in seeing the ripples formed from the fish grabbing at the food.  He would see a snatch and his eyes would bulge out, his right arm would shoot up, and he would exclaim “look mom!” Precious.  Maria just wanted to put her feet in the water and move them around in the mud.  She has always been sensual – feeling the silk of her blankie, soaking her hair in the bath.  She loved the feel of the mud on her feet.  After Jon got the poles together, he brought one to Mario.  He clung to me and yelled “no, mom – I am scared.”  Huh?! Jon informed me that during the last fishing trip, a catfish’s barb had gotten Mario and so he may be gunshy (or hookshy?) now.  That he was.  He wanted nothing to do with fishing.  Well, one down. 

Maria and her dad with their catch

Maria gave it a try.  Within 5 minutes, she and her father got a catfish.  But after that one, she became bored because the fish did not bite right away.  Poor Jon.  So much for our lovely family outing.  I gave them a bath (they adore Mario and Vicki’s bubble bath tub) and Jon continued his fishing all alone.  We did have a kickin’ pasta family meal thanks to Aunt Vicki who made meatballs, homemade bread, and zucchini muffins with icing.  Yum! 

On Sunday, we hosted Grandma Lolo at Stauf’s.  What a time that was.  My poor mom.  She had bad allergies and then the kids were insane with energy and goofiness, and would not sit still or give us a moment to talk.  I was ready to strangle them both but there were too many people around.  I continue to struggle with allowing them to talk and express themselves at the table (I am not one of those parents that think kids should be silent at the dinner table) but not allowing them to be rude and interruptive.  

Sibling love

When we got home, I told Jon I was ready to go nuts.  He had his talk with them (“You will listen to us” with Mario responding “no, I will not.”).  We all went our respective ways to cool off.  It worked because within fifteen minutes we were off on a run in the stroller through Grandview.  Maria and Mario brought their coloring and sticker books and Maria played teacher with Mario telling him how smart he was and how cute he was 9. 

We rushed down to COSI when we got home for Maria’s friend’s birthday party.  Jon and I watched Mario while Maria went to her private room.  He had a blast.  We decided he is definitely going to be a mountain climber or an extreme sport adventurer.  He climbed up these wood decorations on the outer part of the steps and did not miss a beat.  There were nooks and crannies that he needed to step in or avoid and he was right on.  It was hilarious.  And he wanted no help.  If he did not get it right away, he kept trying with all of his heart.  He does not give up.  Maria had a blast with her friends and was fine being on her own for two hours. 

We came home and called it a night staying around the house.  Mario had a few meltdowns because he failed to take a nap during the day.  He hit me a few times, also, which promptly led me to place him down and walk away from him.  Within three seconds of being put down, I hear “MOMMMMMY!” along with whimpering of “sorry mommy.”  He laid next to me on the couch watching a movie before bed, and at one point he placed the inside of his hand on my cheek.  I looked over at him and he whispered “I love you mom.”  Meltdown.  That is all it takes to forget the major tantrums he had throughout the day.  He knows the tricks. 

We went upstairs to play before bed and Maria played barbies.  She told Jon that her barbies were models and that they were all “perfect.”  Jon asked her if she thought I was perfect.  Maria responded “no, mom is alright.”  I gave her a sigh and told her that I would rather be smart and funny and engaged in life than be a size 0.  Hopefully that soaks in.  However, she did go on to clarify that these models also went to college.  Ok, getting better.  We eventually got them to bed but Maria came downstairs about a half hour later.  Jon asked what she needed and she said she wanted to tell me something. 

She came over to the computer and said “Mom, I am sorry for saying that you are not perfect earlier.  You are the best mom.”  A second meltdown.  And she got what she wanted – me upstairs laying with her until she fell asleep.  Sometimes giving in is the best route to go.


Swimming Lessons, Gay Pride Parade, and Stauf’s Coffee

Another insane weekend this past weekend but one where we stayed in town all weekend.  It is a miracle.  On Friday, we traveled to Jon’s hometown of Marion, Ohio to the local YMCA to see Maria and her cousin in their swim lessons. 

Maria and her cousin at swim lessons

They took an entire week of lessons at the Marion YMCA, which meant that they got a whole week at Grandma and Grandpa Ionno’s house.  Maria was in heaven.  I am convinced that Jon’s mom, Patty, is the energizer bunny.  I think if I took off the bunny’s suit in that commercial, Patty would be under it.  She has more energy than a 40-year-old (she is 70); actually, she has more energy than most 25 year olds!  She loves taking her grandkids and in a true testament to her, they love staying with her for days on end.   In addition, it is absolutely wonderful to see these two girl cousins build a strong, loving relationship with one another (although Patty has nicknamed them the “bickersen twins” because of the way they bicker at each other through the day)!  

On Saturday,  I took Maria down to the Gay Pride Parade.  I never hesitated taking her down there until I got questioned about it by some close friends. 

My girl playing dress up

“Why do you want to take her down there? “ 

All of the questioners were supporters of gay rights but questioned taking a five-year old to a festival where there may be “strange behavior.”  To their credit, there was “strange behavior” in relation to the norm we have come to expect – topless women, men in bikini bottoms with rainbow hair, women dressed as men, men dressed as women.  But, we did not notice those attributes as much as we noticed all those people smiling, laughing, shouting “hi” as we passed them on our bike, enjoying the sunny hot Columbus day.  

And, isn’t that the most important thing that you can teach a five-year old?  That life is meant to enjoy; that you don’t have to dress a certain way or have a lot of money or act your age (or sex) to have a good time.  I never once felt out-of-place or concerned or embarrassed.  To the contrary, I smiled a lot; I gave high-fives, I laughed.  And Maria did, too.  She did not flinch when she saw a girl walk down the street topless.  She did not point and gawk at the man in his skin-tight rainbow attire and long golden hair.  She just joined in the fun, eating her cupcake and taking in the sun.  

I started to reconsider my decision last night as I lay in bed watching the news.  Should a kid be “subjected” to such an “alternative” world at such a young age?  My answer – why the hell not? Is seeing a topless woman going to make my daughter degenerate or make her run around naked from now on?  Is witnessing two men hold hands as they walk down the street going to turn her into a wicked, warped girl? If anything, it is going to allow her to appreciate and empathize with all sorts of people – rich, poor, obnoxious, clueless, downtrodden, frantic, depressed, enthusiastic….   When she meets that girl in kindergarten who is different from the “normal, popular” girls, she will take her hand and head out to the playground with her.    

Eating ice cream with our bike helmets still on - we can't wait!

On Sunday, we took a stroller ride to the donut shop and chowed down on our favorite morning food.  I really do need to stop this habit but I figure once a week is not going to kill us.  After the breakfast feast, we headed to a woods near our house tucked away in a cul-de-sac in the west side of our neighborhood.  We were able to walk on the trail because it had not rained in a few days (the last time we arrived, it was like a swamp).  We strolled back to the railroad tracks and picked wild flowers.  We stood on the wood steps and bowed to Emperor Maria who commanded us to attack the Huns (which Mario immediately took her up on by jumping on his imaginary horse and slaying everyone around).  We looked at spiders and cool rocks, and trees.  I love getting them out in nature – it is such an elixir.  We got home two hours later and had lunch and read books and watched a Little Bear.  Jon agreed to take them up to bed for naps and I got to slip away to Stauf’s for my granola cranberry pancake, my paper, and quiet after a promise to the kids of ice cream later!


Maria and Mario watching the fish at the Conservatory

I love weekends.  Sometimes I dread them on Friday when we have nothing planned and I know the kids will be up at 6:30 am and will likely not nap and will tear up the house and will pee in pants, and will beg to eat bad food, and will talk back to me and Jon.  But then inevitably on Sunday night, I sit down after putting the kiddies to bed, and I reflect on a wonderful weekend.  The past weekend ranked high among weekends where we had the most fun. 

I picked the kids up early on Friday and we headed to Devon pool (Grandview has been closed for a week and a half now – ugh!).  Maria is getting better about jumping into the pool by herself and hanging out while Mario and I play near her. 

Maria going underwater

Mario, unfortunately, has not taken to the outdoor pools.  He gets so cold – frigid – as soon as he hits the water, and immediately hops out.  The good thing is that he keeps himself amused outside of the pool by playing with “noodles” as if they were swords, rolling plastic cars along the side of the pool, and throwing his football to me.  He can usually last an hour or two.  I keep hoping that he will get used to the water – maybe if he puts on fifteen pounds. 

On Saturday morning, we took off to the library to get movies for our trip to Cincy and then headed to Giant Eagle for a birthday cake for Grandma Lolo.  Maria’s excitement soon turned to depression when she realized that there were no white sheet cakes.  She has convinced herself that she only likes white sheet cake even though she downs chocolate and yellow ones at other birthday parties.  Luckily, there were cupcakes in the aisle beside us that were screaming for our attention since the container contained both white and chocolate cupcakes.  Maria regained her excitement and proclaimed “White and chocolate so you and me can be happy, mom!” 

Meanwhile, there was Mario salivating at the muffin case.  “Mom, I want that chocolate muffin.”  The boy is his mother’s son – he would dine on chocolate everything if he had the choice.  I refused his pleads and the tantrum soon started.  He turns himself into a monster, squinting his eyes, balling his fists, and making a “grrr” sound.  He learned that from his sis back in the day.  I have learned to give him one chance to move off of his monster antics and then just walk away.  I had to walk away this time because he really wanted that muffin.  Eventually, he came around the corner to Ri and I, and we left the store for Stauf’s. 

I would have to rank sitting at Stauf’s with M&M as one of my favorite things to do.  We talk about the latest paintings on the wall, the people studying, our plans for the weekend, school, friends, family.  Those times take me through my week.  After Stauf’s, we headed home and into the car.  I realized Mario had his “big boy undies” on when we got in the car, and I thought I would give him a chance to wear them all the way to Cincy without peeing (actually, I was just too lazy to go back in and change him).  About half way down to Cincy, he began complaining that his pee-pee hurt, which typically means he has to pee.  I pulled off the nearest exit and veered off the berm.  I whipped him out of the car and into the grass on the side of the road and he experienced his first road side pee. He loved it. 

We got to Cincy, changed into our bathing suits, and headed to my mom’s condo pool. 

Maria on her "noodle"

Maria, aka “fish”, jumped right in even though the water was absolutely frigid.  She wore herself out by swimming to me (aka going under water and holding her arms out to me), going underwater, and jumping off the side of the pool to me.  Mario, on the other hand, took one step into the pool and jumped back out.  The frigid water was too much for his little body.  He spent the time using the noodles as swords and fishing poles.   He also made his monster faces and pushed me into the pool when I got close to the edge.  We broke for a snack of cheese-its and apple juice.  Mario found his new favorite food in the cheese-its.  He went to town on them. 

Mario chillin with his cheese-its

After the swim, we went to Aunt Julie’s house to pick up her two pups, Butters and Willie, to take them on a stroll.  The kids love to take them for a walk around the neighborhood, and have learned how to pull at their leashes to make sure they heed to their commands.  When they returned, they went to Julie’s basement to play with her doll house while we got to actually talk without being interrupted.  It was comical listening to the conversation between M&M playing with the doll house. 

Maria: “Can you help me put the baby to bed.” 

Mario: “No, I am too busy.”

Maria: “What do you want from the store.”

Mario: “I don’t care.”

Yeah, pretty much a day in most couples’ households!  We got treated to a delicious meal of grilled hamburgers and macaroni and cheese and beans (yeah, we are easy to please!).  We re-named Maria the Indian name “Little Bites” in order to push her to take small bites (she ripped into the burger and macaroni like she was amongst fifteen starving ravages who were going to take her food unless she got to it first).  Mario, on the other hand, had to be force-fed three bites of macaroni and two bites of hot dog.  We hit the road back to Columbus at 8:30 and for once they both passed out before we got home (usually one of the two if not both of them stay awake the entire trip). 

On Sunday morning, we got up and found that we had no pancake mix.  That is a travesty for Sunday morning because Maria and I are used to cooking up pancakes, eggs and bacon for us to eat (Mario helps stir the eggs but refuses to eat our meals).  So, they jumped in the stroller in their nighties and we strolled up to Giant Eagle.  On the way back home, Mario fell asleep (another rarity) so we decided to scrap the pancakes and go for the real deal – donuts!  We headed to TIm Hortons for two timbits each (I do set a limit!), and then back up Grandview home towards home. 

Maria and I had made the executive decision to head to the Conservatory while Mario slept on the trip.  Therefore, when we got home and Mario awoke, we got dressed (it takes a solid fifteen minutes to get dressed since Mario now likes to dress himself and he takes FOREVER and all clothes are always on backwards).   We headed to the Conservatory at 10:45 am.  While we were buying our tickets, a volunteer mentioned that butterflies would be released at 1 pm.  I immediately dismissed the event because I did not think there was any way that we would make it over 2 hours.  However, my children never cease to amaze me. 

Maria and her huge butterfly

It got a little dicey around 11:45 after we walked through all the rooms except the butterfly room (the Pacific Room) and they started to whine that they were ready to go.  But then came the Gift Room with all of its fun toys and a volunteer who asked us if we wanted to see him release a few butterflies outside.  The first one he released landed on Mario’s finger and he was hooked.  He held that butterfly for ten minutes until it finally got up the nerve to break free.  Maria eventually got one to perch on her finger and we learned all about butterflies from the volunteer.  It was such a tender moment.  When we came home and Mario talked about the butterflies, he recanted the words of the volunteer “And you cannot touch the butterflies’ wings because they are like paper.” 

We spent a half hour out in the garden area looking for the three butterflies and trying to catch them.  It was a good preview to the Pacific Room where there were scores of butterflies fluttering around us.  The kids ran after them, leaped to try to catch them, pointed when they came close and shouted “take a picture, mom!”  They amazed us with their coloring and patterns.  We stayed in that room for over an hour admiring the creatures.  I could not believe it. 

Mario and his favorite butterfly

We arrived back home for a lunch of hot dogs, cottage cheese and grapes (I should say the kids came home to that – I came home to ice cream and animal crackers).  Mario went down for a nap and Maria and I headed to Mirror Lake on campus to see Uncle Jack in the play Romeo and Juliet.  He played the Friar.  I strategically planned to get there after about half of the play was over because I knew Maria would get antsy.  It worked out well because she started to get antsy in the last few scenes but she still remained interested asking questions such as why Juliet was sad, why Romeo killed himself, why Jack looked mean.  Great play to take her to, heh?!  She was enamored, as always, with Uncle Jack.  She got to go up on stage afterwards and play out her scenes.  I even gave her a line to deliver and she did it with an uncanny ease.  If there is any profession I could see her in at this moment, it is acting. 

Mario joined us after the play was over for a little fun at Mirror Lake.  We disturbed the ducks and we threw rocks and we got snacks and we sat on the rocks together.  It was pure bliss. 

Mirror Lake Adventure

And that was it – our weekend in a nutshell.  By 9 pm on Sunday, I was exhausted.  My bones ached.  My mind felt like mush.  How wonderful it all was!

Canada or Bust

“Should we take the kids to Toronto for the wedding?” 

“Would we drive?” 

“It will be too much to fly. It would be fun to see all of the Italian relatives.” 

“But we will be in a car for eight plus hours with the kids and your parents.” 

“Let’s flip a coin.” 

After much back and forth, we decided to go for it.  Pack the car up with lots of snacks and games and books and movies.  Pick up the in-laws in Marion, Ohio to head up to Toronto with us.  Make sure someone watches our pup for four days. Ensure the “out of office” is on our email.  Confirm Maria has her wedding dress she picked out from Target and her “high heels” that she demanded to where to the event.  

We picked the kids up early from school, which always results in exuberance and glee and spazzing out throughout the halls (teachers either love us or hate us based on our (or I should say mostly, my, “laissez faire” attitude with the children).  We headed up north to grandma and grandpa’s house, got on the road, and stopped within an hour to eat some Wendy’s fast food (yes, I enjoy my food stops!).  A few value meals and a round of frosty shakes and we were back in the car watching Pocahontas as we traveled towards Cleveland.  

About three hours later, 10:30 pm, we stopped at our hotel.  Maria and Mario were so excited about staying at a hotel that it took us an hour to get them to fall asleep.  Eventually, Mario ended up with me in my bed and Maria with Jon in his bed.  I don’t know which kid is worse to sleep with since Mario wakes up crying in the middle of the night not knowing where he is and Maria kicks around the bed all night.  

M&M trying to sleep on the floor but Mom's and Dad's beds were too tempting!


When we woke up on Friday morning, the first thing out of Maria’s mouth was “can we go to the pool?”  Mario chimed in with “yeah, let’s go NOW!”  We walked down to our breakfast buffet and each devoured vastly different breakfasts (Jon with his eggs and eggs and eggs; me with my numerous cereals and toast; Mario with his waffles and dabs of yogurt; and Maria with her hodge podge of waffles, various cereals in one bowl (her new favorite thing to do for breakfast), muffins, and toast).  After our meal, the kids and I jumped in our swim suits and headed to the hotel pool.  It was surprisingly warm.  We splashed around for an hour or so and then got the boot from dad and the in-laws who wanted to get on the road. 

The water babies


“Niagara Falls, here we come!”  

We all piled into the Yukon (which is a big automobile but with two kids, four adults and a good amount of luggage , food, and toys, it is cramped) and headed onward to Buffalo, New York.  We finally made it to the Falls (after swearing we were lost on a couple of occasions).  We decided not to park and walk to the Falls because of the rain and our desire to just get to Toronto (Maria later told her girlfriend who had gone to the Falls, too, that we just “drove by them.”  Lovely!).   

Although we could not stop at the Falls, we could stop for lunch!  We stopped at another Wendy’s along the Niagara strip and chowed down on nuggets, fries, and more frostys.  We jumped back in the truck, when within five minutes, we felt a drop on the right side of the car and a terrible grinding noise.  

“What the he–?” I whispered to Patty, Jon’s mom.  

Oh please  tell me that it is nothing and the noise will stop soon.  Yeah, wishful thinking.   

A flat tire due to a piece of aluminum lodged in the big ol’ Yukon tire.  

At least we were near a house with a gravel driveway.  We pulled over.  Jon and I tried to change the tire but that was quite the joke. The man who owned the house was in a mechanic’s suit and had a work van so I kept hoping he would pity us.  Jon and I had to look hilarious outside of the truck, combing through manual pages, sliding under the truck to try to find tools.  Finally, he came over to “see what we were up to” (a nice way of saying “you dumbasses, I want you off my property so I am gonna help you in whatever way I can).” 

Workin' on that tire!


He began to help us but Jon had already called Triple A to get a “professional” on the scene.  Luckily, the Triple A guy came in less than a half hour and had us fixed up in less than that time.  Meanwhile, Patty and I couldn’t help but roll about the whole event.  

“What’s next?!” 

Surprisingly, the trip was pretty quiet after that incident and we arrived at Philip and Lucy’s house (our cousins) at 5 or so.  Lucy had cooked for us (of course).  She had a salad with tomatoes that had been picked 6 months earlier!  Is that insane?  And they were delicious!  She also had pasta soup, bread, pizza, cheese, fried cheese dumplings, and chocolate chip cookies.  Ahh, heaven.  We ate and ate and ate.  Finally, we decided we had to hit the road for our hotel in order to get some sleep for the night.  

The hotel was very European in style with a crisp, white, modern lobby but very plain, sparse rooms with two beds, a tv and a bathroom.  Maria and Mario just wanted to know where the pool was located.  We jumped in our suits and headed down for a late night swim.  The pool was freezing!  Luckily, there was a tepid hot tub in the pool area, which Mario enjoyed thoroughly.  Jon sat in the hot tub with Mario for the most part, while I caught Maria jumping into the frozen pool.  We trekked it back upstairs to our room, got in our pjs, and goofed around the room until finally zonking out at 11:30.  That, to me, was the most memorable, wonderful time of the trip.  

The next morning, the kids and I went to the breakfast buffet bar, which was way too amazing for Maria and me.  We salivated with each step around the hotcakes, the donuts, the chocolate croissants, the bacon, the cereals.   Mario, on the other hand, could have cared less about it.  After stuffing ourselves, we headed to the pool (nothing better than being completely bloated from gorging on food and then stuffing yourself into a tight bathing suit).  Mario bolted to the tepid hot tub – he is so tiny and skinny that he immediately freezes when he gets into a pool that is not heated.  Of course, I made him get out of the tub every five minutes due to my fear that his organs would melt even though the water was tepid, and he sat on the top step the entire time kicking the water around.  Maria loved jumping in the water to me and then acting like I was her prince and we had just got married.  Yes, everything these days revolves around boyfriend and girlfriend and prince and princess – even swimming. 

We headed to the wedding that afternoon, which was beautiful, simple and very catholic.  After the wedding, the families hosted the guests in the downstairs of the church with prosciutto, olives, cheeses and bread.  Desserts and fruit, too.  We all chowed down only to be fed a seven course meal a few hours later at the reception.  Yes, these Italian weddings can pack on ten pounds in one day.  Maria fell back in love with her Italian cousin, 9 year-old Jean-Franco.  A couple of years ago they played around at another Italian wedding but he was younger then and a little more amenable to playing with a 3-year-old girl.  This time around, he is 9 and “mature” and she is just old enough at 5 to be “an annoying little girl” versus a cute little toddler.  However, she was still able to spend some time with him, lying her head on his arm while he played games on his i Touch (yeah, age 9).  As she confessed later to us in the car “that was my favorite part of the trip.”  Mario ran around like a mad man, sliding across the dance floor, making monster noises, and flirting with the hot Italian ladies.   

Maria dancing with her cousins


Mario passed out at 10:30 pm just like a frat boy who parties it up so hard through the night that he lays out flat in the middle of the room when it finally hits him.  Maria made it to her car seat but was out within five minutes.  It was actually snowing when we left the wedding (ahh, I miss that now that I am dealing with 87 degrees and humidity!). 

On Sunday, we promised we would get out quickly so we could deal with the traffic and we could get home at a reasonable time.  “Get out quickly” is not a term used in the Italian culture.  There was no way we were getting out of our cousins’ house without sitting down to a big ol’ Italian lunch of pasta, manicotti, shrimp, pizza.  I am not complaining by any stretch, however, because I enjoyed every minute of it, especially the act of just sitting around and talking, relaxing, catching up.  We don’t do that enough. 

Mario with his comfort items for the trip home (bink and blue blankie)


We took off around 1:3o with the stomachs full.  The ride home went amazingly well just like the ride to Canada.  The customs line was a little longer but we kept reading to the kids and singing songs and playing “three little pigs.” I was surprised at the amount of tv watching – I thought it would be on non-stop but we managed to only watch a video here or there.   Impressive! 

Maria passed out on Grandma


When we finally pulled into the neighborhood at 9:30 pm, we felt a sense of relief in being “back home” but also a sense of loss in leaving our gregarious, generous, warm family from up north.  If Maria has her way, we will be back up this Summer so she can again hang out with Jean-Franco because he is “sooooo cute!”

From Perfection to Grief to Perfection Again

Maria starting the day with her yoga moves

We woke up this morning to a hazy, slightly chilly morning with no rain in sight and a double stroller screaming for a tour through the city.   Jon had gone East for one more try at turkey hunting, which left me for a second day of bliss with my darling children (Saturday had been filled with a three-hour b-day party at an indoor pool – fun for the kids, but afterwards every parent looked like they had gone through that negative gravity machine that Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd were in for the movie Spies Like Us). 

I was not upset at Jon taking off for the day because it was going to be a gorgeous day, which inevitably lead to lots of bike rides, stroller rides, and walks.  Within an hour of waking, we were on the road in the double stroller with our stuffed monkey and dog, two blankets and obligatory binky ar we are going to get him off that thing by age 3 (it took Maria to 4 ½).  We headed down the road to Tim Horton’s for a breakfast of sugar and dough.  It was heaven. 

Mario enjoying his timbits!

 After breakfast, we headed across the road to a bike trail that we had not experienced because we typically headed down the opposite stretch of road.  The trail was gorgeous.  You felt like you were in a national forest at times with the tree cover and the rivers on both sides of you and the birds flying closely overhead singing their morning lullabies to you.  We stopped at a bank on the river to throw stones into the water (Mario could stay in that place for three hours and enjoy every second of it).  We also snagged some killer stones for our rock garden (Maria knows how much I love rocks and she presented me with a gorgeous red one wishing me a happy mother’s day (yes, she is still celebrating!)). 

We stopped on the way back to pick wild flowers and make a bouquet for grandma.  It was perfect.  We visited our friend Kim at the fire station and presented her with a few flowers, and then went home to get dressed (yes, the kiddies begged to stay in their nighties and I could not resist – they looked too precious on a Sunday morning). 

After a quick change, we hopped back outdoors and the kids jumped on their bikes to head to the little woods down the street (we went at Maria’s request – lately she has been wanting to take walks and hikes, which I immediately agree to in order to get her away from the tv and leapster).   Maria guided us through the woods to the fire station and back down to the park and back up to our bikes all the while finding us walking sticks and cool rocks. 

Maria and Mario enjoying their tree climbing

Mario loved climbing over the giant fallen tree trunks.  They both mentioned a few times while in the woods how they were “getting exercise” to keep them healthy (yes, my influence finally shines through!).  When we got back to our bikes, we were all drained and it was quite the chore to get home.  Maria ended up getting on Mario’s tiny toddler big wheel and Mario on Maria’s bike in order to keep them amused and doing something new.  We get home and all three of us plopped down on the front steps.

“What now?” I said to them.  “I am hungry.”

Maria seconded her hunger while Mario just stared at the ants crawling on the step below.  I suggested macaroni and cheese and Maria agreed at first.  Then, a few seconds later, she piped in with a question:

Mom, how about we get Jeni’s ice cream for lunch?” 

Normally, I would have been rationale and explained that lunch was a necessity before ice cream but it was Sunday, we were exhausted, and Jeni’s Dark Chocolate and Buckeye State ice creams sounded too tempting to nix.  So, off we were in the stroller to Jeni’s for our ice cream lunch.  While eating lunch, we decided the library was the next stop because we had run out of new books. 

The library slurped us up as always and we did not leave there until an hour and half later with new books in tow and a craft that Maria made me for Mom’s Day (yes, again!).  From the library, we walked to Giant Eagle for cheese, bananas, and squeeze yogurt (Mario’s new love – he chose the “I Carly” yogurt because “she is my girlfriend” – nice influence Maria!). 

We traveled back to the house after the grocery, and crashed on the couch with popcorn and a My Little Pony video (which was luckily only a half-hour ong).  I sat on the couch with Maria on one side and Mario on the other and felt that calm elation I get every once in a while when I have been through something great or I have heard a wonderful speech or I have finished an amazing book.  I was so pleased with life. 

Jon got home shortly thereafter, and I got packed up to head to Stauf’s for a bagel and coke and a little “me” time.  As I got my stuff together, Maria asked me to play barbies with her.  I told her I was going to meet a friend for coffee. 

She flipped out. 

She bawled.

 She went boneless.

 She sobbed. 

She screamed at me.  “I don’t like your friend, mom!”

What a grand send-off after a remarkable day. 

I tried to calm her down.  I hugged her.  I told her we’d go for a walk when I got home.  I told her I loved her to the moon.  Nothing worked.  She cried and begged to come with me. 

Ok, so do I take her?  I started to feel like I should or else she may feel like she has been abandoned or not loved?  But if I took her, she may never understand that her mother needs time with friends.  But she does see me go to work every day so she knows I have friends and activities outside of her.  But since I work every day, I should take her with me on the weekends.  And the voices continue and continue… 

I chose to leave and walk to Stauf’s.  It felt necessary to get away for a few minutes but the entire time I felt the pang of motherhood.  Did I scar Maria by leaving this afternoon?  Will she feel abandoned?  Will she be stronger because she knows mom can’t be there with her every second?  Will she be more independent now?    

An hour later, I walked up to the house and saw Maria in the side of the yard. 

“Mom! Can we go on a walk now?” 

M&M watching the circus horses coming down the street

Maria posing with the elephants

No grudge for leaving; no apparent scars; all smiles.  Ok, so maybe I do worry too much.  In any case, we are back to continuing our wonderful day.  Off to see the elephants and horses walking to the railroad from the circus!     


Maria’s 5th B-day

Maria opening her Leapster b-day present

Maria turned 5 on May 2. It was official at 2:41 pm – I still remember laying on that hospital bed five years ago,seeing her head crown in the mirror, and getting that last burst of energy to push her out. And then … swoosh!  There she was…my daughter with her black hair and pug nose and tiny, sweet, doll-baby body.  And now here I was looking at that little munchball turning five.  My heart skipped beats throughout  the day thinking about her getting a year closer to teenage-hood.  Or, in looking back at that day, it could have been skipping due to the 21 kids we had running through our tiny house that afternoon.
I had been planning Maria’s soiree since she had decided to have her party at our house.  She wanted to invite all of her school friends, prior school friends, cousins, and neighborhood friends.  I had hoped that she would want it at a gym (like last year) or a pool – anywhere other than our tiny house!  But she is a home body, and she wanted it nowhere other than her own home.  And, she wanted a “girl” party with make-overs and nail polish and hair-dos.  But she also wanted to invite boys.

Maria taking charge at her b-day party

I spent hours perusing the internet for games and ideas for an at-home party.  It did not hit me until that day at how insane it was for me to research “how to have a party” for a five-year old.  Some of the sites were so intense that they had the party routine down to 15 minute increments (play hot potato from 1 to 1:15 and then move onto crafts  from 1:15 to 1:30 but don’t go to far over 1:30 because you will want to have room for the princess dance from 1:30 to 1:50…).  My psyche knew when to slow me down and I ended up picking only one game from my review of different sites and kept myself from going crazy by not trying to plan out every second of the day.
The kiddies and their parents began to arrive right at 2 pm.  Our humble 1200 square foot home remained in good spirits as people continued to step inside.  The girls bolted up to the bedroom for make-up and nails and hair.  I felt a little awkward at first because some kids did not know the others and some mothers the same,  Also, Maria immediately glued herself to certain girls and not others.  
“Come on, Ri, pay attention to all your guests.”
“I am mom!”
Eventually, I had that talk with my neurotic inner self and let go of my anxiety around everyone talking and knowing one another.  I just let it all be, and god, was it refreshing.  I found that as soon as I let it all go, I saw all the girls chatting and laughing; I saw parents engaging in lively conversation.  It really can come down to what colored glasses you choose to wear.     

Mario trying to break open the pinata

The boys of the group enjoyed the bouncy house that we had rented at the last-minute (a godsend!).  The weather held out for the first hour so the kids got to enjoy bouncin’ and running around the yard and the parents were able to head outside rather than squeeze in our kitchen and living room.  We even got to use the pinata I got from my Aunt Christina!  Of course, my dad and Jon had to get out their pocket knives and rip into the poor pinata in order to get it to open but we did make the kids close their eyes during that part!

Mario was the ultimate clingy son (he had stayed a couple of days with grandma and grandpa i. so he was wanting his mommy non-stop when he came home).  But once he saw the princess make-up, nails, and hair-dos happening upstairs, he became intrigued and went all out in goth black nail and toe polish and red lipstick smeared all over his lips, chin, and sides of his face).  We had princess tattoos for the girls and batman ones for the fellows – that was a hit that I did not expect (Mario still has his on his right arm after eight days). 
Maria became a tad overwhelmed toward the end of the party while opening her presents.  There were way too many gifts to open due to the amount of kids who came.  Next year, I have resolved to find a way to limit the gifts – maybe have families donate to their favorite cause or Maria’s favorite cause?  Who knows – I just don’t want to see 25 gifts in the living room for one little girl! 

Proud owner of a Barbie!

 Nonetheless, Maria was her sweet self and opened all of the presents and gave hugs and kisses to all of her friends (and very much enjoyed all of the presents that she got since the majority centered around barbies or make-up or princesses).  Of course, that was tempered after the party when I told her that she could not open a particular present until later.  She glared at me and said “I didn’t like my party, mom, and I don’t like you!”  Yeah, she is only 5.  I am in for it. 
But within 15 minutes she was back in my arms showing me her new musical jewelry box with the tiny fairy dancer – very similar to the one I used to have as a young girl – and I took full advantage of that moment with her knowing that it was too precious to take for granted.     

Maria blowing out those five magical candles and wishing for???

Sleeping Beauties

We can spend forty-five minutes trying to get them to bed, absolutely exhausted and irritated at their hyperactivity and zeal at 9 pm at night (and with little to no naps!).  There comes that tipping point, like in the movie Terms of Endearment, when Debra Winger’s sons are walking out to the car with her and her interested man.  The sons try to ask her a question and she politely asks them to go to the car and wait for her.  They do not listen and ask again, and with a little more irritation in her voice she responds “go wait at the car hunny.”  They ask yet again and she finally bursts out “GO WAIT AT THE CAR HUNNY!”   

I remember laughing so hard at that scene when I was a teenager not having any clue that such a scene would be my life in my thirties with two kids.   Actually, I guess that scene does not occur very often… I think back to Debra Winger’s acting and wonder if it was that hard for her to act that scene out or whether she just imagined her own kids doing that and nature took over. 

I pulled a Debra Winger the other night with M&M when I was trying to get them to go down to sleep.  Maria had chosen a book to read, which we did as Mario ran around the room pointing guns at us and threatening us with his plastic sword.  Then it was Mario’s turn. 

“Get a book Mario, and then it is bedtime.”

He  continued to play Ninja.  

“Ok, bedtime, then.”

“No, Mommy.  Book.”

“Get your book, then, Mario.”

He continued to run around chasing Maria with his sword.

“Get your book, Mario,” I pronounced a little more emphatically.

He stayed the course of chasing Maria with his sword.


He placed the sword down on the chair and got Clifford.   Maybe I just need to start at that tone right away?

After reading and rocking, I finally got to head downstairs for some peace.  I wrote, ate some ice cream, and trekked back upstairs to call it a night.  And what did I find? 

Mario sleeping with his two obligatory binkies


Those boisterous, high-energy children sleeping like little fairies in their beds.  Maria had even changed into one of my old silk nighties (that I got for my wedding!), which made me just want to eat her up.  It is funny how your mind lets all the irritations and anger slip away in one quick second after seeing little babes resting like this.  I guess it is nature’s way of protecting the young.  Make sure they look sweet and angelic shortly after their tirades so mom and dad stick around another day. 

Smart move.

My little fairy