Tousled

Winner of the losers!

The moms got a kick out of our sons winning the championship of the losers bracket. As my mom said “you should call it the lower bracket.” Indeed, we should, but that’s not as enjoyable.

It is so fun to watch Mario play basketball now. It was cute back when he was in second or third grade and you’d watch him try to dribble the ball without stumbling over his feet. We would crack up watching them try to bring their elbow back and launch the ball into the net. Now they are like miniature NBA players with the dribbling between the legs and the cutbacks and the driving into the net. I love the athleticism. I am amazed at one of Mario’s friends who can grab a rebound and run down the court passing defenders like they are but ghosts, and then lobbing a lay up even with a defender fouling him. I watch Mario in awe as he dribbles around a defender and makes a jump shot – swoosh in the basket. These boys have been playing together for 6 years. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They have formed a connection. 

The moms have formed a connection as well. We get excited for each other’s kids when a great shot is made and cringe together when one of our boys hits the ground hard. I receive videos from moms of Mario making a three, and I send out videos of other boys making a shot. It makes it all the more enjoyable to have a posse sitting with you and watching the games. It also gives us a chance to connect about what the boys are up to, whether we signed up for activities in time, what camps are popular for the summer….

Jon has been helping coach for the last few years. He loves the time with Mario and the other boys. He’s a natural coach and mentor. The boys look up to him and actually listen to what he has to say. I’m sure some of that is due to Jon’s stature – he can be viewed as the hulk – but some is definitely due to his attitude and playfulness with the boys. While my mom and I watched them play yesterday, there was a moment when the boys had huddled for a time out. Jon and another coach went out on the floor to talk to the boys and as Mario turned to go back out to the court, Jon placed his hand on Mario’s head and tousled his hair. Mario turned and smiled at him. The moment filled me with joy. I could feel the bond between those two in that simple gesture and I was so grateful for Jon in that moment. He is an awesome dad to our kids, and they feel his love for them.

This tournament was the last hoorah for these boys. They move onto 7th grade basketball with a school coach rather than coaching by their dads. Mario talks about how ready he is for middle school basketball because he thinks it will be more competitive. He is excited to ride a bus to games. But I think he will carry a tinge of sadness when it starts up next year because he will miss Jon on the coaches’ bench. A hair tousle from another coach just won’t be the same.

Making the meatballs

The past two Sundays have been marvelous. Both children home with Jon and me all day long. Of course, both children want to be locked away in their respective rooms watching you tube or playing NBA video games – but they are at home. I feel whole with them in the house – like the package is complete. And when they actually choose (or sometimes are forced) to be in the same room with us, my heart comes close to exploding.

Jon spent nearly all Sunday afternoon cooking. He made homemade meatballs and ricotta and pesto shells. He relies on his Italian daughter to taste test. She does not hold back on the accolades or the criticism. Jon knows if he asks me or Mario, he will get a “they taste good” answer every time. We don’t have a refined palette. He yelled for Ri to come up from the basement to try his sauce. She took a taste off the wooden spoon and pinched her lips together while staring at the remnants of sauce on the spoon.

“It needs more garlic and salt.”

Next came the meatballs. Ri had complained last time that Jon’s meatballs were too dry. Jon was offended. The funny thing is that Jon does the same thing to his mom. He is brutally honest when it comes to her cooking – now he has a mini-him doing the same.

He asked her if she wanted to help him make the meatballs this time so they wouldn’t be too dry. She poured in the breadcrumbs as he mixed the meats and eggs together with his hands. Then they stood side by side and rolled the meatballs. It was straight out of an Italian Renaissance painting (or not). It did make me swoon watching them roll and chat. She loves time with him and she loves meatballs so I knew we’d keep her in the same room with us for a while. She even talked with Jon about her friends and gave him insight on who liked who – more than I’ve ever gotten out of her:) Them again, doesn’t surprise me, they do love them some gossip….

Bring on the commercial

I usually don’t mind when Jon heads to his cousin’s house on Sunday. However, when the Sunday happens to be Super Bowl Sunday, and we have watched the commercials as a family for the past few years, I mind. I don’t mind enough to argue they shouldn’t go (after all, it was his cousin’s birthday and there was going to be a smorgasbord of Italian foods) but I just got sad. I have to fight to find time where the four of us are together anymore between sports, robotics, work, friends, homework….

So, I struggled with whether to go with them or not. It was going to be a gorgeous day and I could use the time to sit outside and get work accomplished. I could also get a much-needed massage and clean up the house. But then I thought about all my self-help books and how they advised to forget about the dirty house and just experience life. This back-and-forth in my head was processed further in a conversation with my mom. It is comical getting her and I together. We are two of the most indecisive people on this planet so we just play off each other with “well, take this into account; oh, but what about this….”

I still hasn’t decided whether to go or not (although I was pulling in favor of going so I could be with my clan even if it would be driving for four hours in a crammed car) when my hubby got a text from his cousin informing him the matriarch was sick so they likely wouldn’t have Sunday dinner.

Decision made – not by me – by an outside force – but made.

And made in my favor. My Sunday rocked. I’m not sure if it was because I spent the 48 hours coming up to it thinking about how nice it would be to just have family time and lamenting the thought of having to sit in a car for four of the hours or whether the universe just bestowed a much needed family day on me, but whatever it was, I’m grateful.

I took a walk with Rocco when I woke up. Ri walked a loop with me on her way home from her friend’s house, which made me smile. Any time I get a walk in with my teenage, you tube, phone-addicted daughter, I’m happy. I made pancakes for Mario when I got home, and played Monopoly with both kids (although it ended poorly with Maria quitting based on Mario’s insensitive comments to her about not looking like she could wear Air Force Ones – it got better when Mario apologized and told her he’d buy her a pair).

Mario, Jon and I spent the afternoon working on Mario’s basketball hoop – we had started it weeks ago and then realized they gave us the wrong parts. It is always hysterical to work on a project together. Lots of laughs and lots of cursing. I took a break to get Maria out on a walk/run with me and Rocco in Tarpy. She did not want to go but was a good sport about it once we left the house. She talked about school and how excited she was for Florida. At one point in the walk, as we lunged up the steps towards the old Tarpy home, I felt a wave of gratitude. The sun poking through the massive oaks, the robins perched on empty branches, and my daughter by my side chatting away about life – it really doesn’t get any better. I halted her in her steps and made her take notice of it all. We breathed together. I photographed the moment into my brain.

When we got home, I took Mario to get his haircut. He got spoiled with a shampoo and head massage at Aveda. He thinks these pampered cuts will continue but he is sorely misunderstood….

We came home to the start of the Super Bowl. Maria came upstairs to watch with us. I had my wish – we were all together in the same room for two straight hours watching the game and the commercials. Mario ate pretzels and dip, Jon ate chicken and potatoes, Ri ate a chocolate chip cannoli, and I ate Hershey bars. To each his own….

Even if Mario expressed his frustration with me massaging Ri’s feet or Jon barked at Mario to stop flopping around – it was all good because we were all together while we barked and sighed. And the being together grounded me. This was my clan – my tribe – and we were all safe in our nest.

I woke up with a positive, ready-to-go attitude on Monday morning. This has not happened in a while:) I attributed it to the time together on Sunday. Funny how Jon and I used to dream of the day when the kids did their own things and we had the freedom to do whatever we desired. We would sit in the living room of our old house as they showed off their dance moves or sang a new song. It would be 9:30 am and we would have been up for three hours already. We were exhausted and it wasn’t even noon. It’s a reminder to absorb those moments – even when they feel everlasting and you just want one more hour of rest – because they fade away and you find yourself excited about getting to watch a commercial because your babes will be next to you.

Guilt

Every moment of mindfulness changes a moment of conditioning.

I felt horrible for skipping out on a Friday gathering with my girlfriends. They had come up from Cincinnati and gotten a hotel room for two nights in order for all of to hang out together. It’s a once or twice a year event with my four girlfriends from grade school and high school. I knew I’d be tired as hell on Friday evening, and I knew they would not. They would want to head out late and drink wine. I’d want to slip on pjs and decompress. Friday nights are rough for me after a week of work. I need downtime. I made the executive decision to tell them I would meet up with them on Saturday morning.

I felt horrible about it – very guilty that they had come to my city and I was not even going to meet up with them until the next day. This was not out of the ordinary. I live in guilt. Be it that I was raised Catholic, or that I’m the oldest child, I often feel guilt about decisions I make. I fretted about it throughout work on Friday playing each scenario in my head.

“If I go, I will be tired and pissy and will want to go to bed at 10.”

“But if I don’t go, I will feel bad and worry they are mad.”

I took a walk in Tarpy with Rocco as soon as I got home Friday evening. This is my go-to refuge after long workdays. I kept my phone in my pocket so it was easier to resist the urge to look at Facebook as I walked the same trail I walk every day with my pup. I asked myself why I felt guilty. What brought that emotion up in me so strongly. My mind traveled back to childhood, and my need to please. I wanted others to feel good. I remember going to the movies with my dad and not paying much attention to the movie itself. Rather, I focused on glancing over at my dad every few minutes to see if he was laughing and enjoying himself. If I had girlfriends over, I’d make up plans of everything we could do so they’d have fun – even if it wasn’t my idea of fun.

I looked up at the changing leaves on the trees. One hosted leaves colored a dull red on the bottom with yellow on their tips. Rocco rushed by me with a large stick in his mouth. I took a deep breath and let it out. Repeat.

One of my girlfriends texted me when I got home. She sent a picture of all the girls eating cheese and bread and said “can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” I texted them back to tell them I could not wait to meet up. They texted me back some inappropriate responses due to their drinking state…. made me laugh.

I glanced up from looking at my phone. Rocco licked my hand. It soaked in how useless my hours of guilt had been. They were having a raucous time together. They weren’t talking about what a schmuck I was for not coming Friday night. Get out of your thoughts, Mary.

I woke up Saturday morning, took a long run, and ended up having a most fabulous day and evening with my gals.

Peace sign, sure…

Last Sunday morning, I had ornate plans in my head involving Maria and Mario. I would wake up Sunday morning and take the dog for a run. When I came home, Maria and Mario would be waiting by the door with jackets on ready to take a walk up to Stauf’s. We would eat bagels and play cards and then walk up the street to the old playground we used to go to on Sunday mornings. We would all bunch up together and slide down the slide, laughing and playfully kissing one another until we got to the bottom. We would swing each other on the swings….

OK, now maybe I was going a tad too far with my imagination, but I did have a plan to at least spend some time with the kids in the morning.

I went downstairs to let Rocco outside and Maria was already on the couch playing on her phone. It was 7:30 AM. I glanced over at her and smiled.

“Awesome, you are up! I thought me and you and Mario would go to Stauf’s in a bit.”

She sighed and gave me a frown.

“What? I just thought we could stay home this morning and chill.”

I chose to ignore her comment and walked upstairs to check in on Mario. I figured if I could get Mario to go, Maria would follow. She likes hanging out with her little brother. When I got up the stairs, I heard the video game. Mario had already gotten on the Xbox.

“Hey dude, how about we head to Stauf’s with your sister?”

“Do we have to? Can’t we just hang here and chill?”

I could feel my irritation growing stronger. I told him I really wanted to take a walk because it was so beautiful out and we don’t get much time together – the three of us. He shrugged his shoulders, and kept playing his game. Grrrrr. I took my frustration out the way I know best – telling him he’s not gonna be on x-box all day and he’s got chores. He replied exasperated and a bit snotty “I know, mom.”

We proceeded to continue this banter with me getting more and more angry at him for not just excitedly agreeing to a walk. After my last quip, he pushed his chair back into the blinds. With the sound of the blinds hitting against the window, I went off. I shot him the middle finger for a quick second. I immediately hoped he had not caught it but he was staring right at me.

I left the scene and darted into my bedroom. I passed Jon along the way – he had heard the commotion and was coming in to check up on us.

”What’s going on”, he asked Mario.

“Mom just gave me the finger, that is what is going on.”

Jon told Mario to clean his room, and then came into our room to chastise me. “Seriously, babe?!”

“I was trying not to cuss him out so I thought I would do a finger gesture instead. I was hoping he wouldn’t catch it..”

I was fully aware I had overreacted, and let my anger get the best of me. My brood has some quick tempers so I get it honestly. We never get violent, but we can cuss with the best of them! Lovely. I could already picture Mario in the therapist chair with a box of tissues detailing that morning his mom flipped him off.

I knocked on his door and gently opened it. He turned around from cleaning his dresser to look at me. I sat on his bed and patted the area beside me motioning him to sit. He walked over and sat down. I placed my hand on his shoulder, and began to cry as I apologized. I told him how hard it is to see him grow up, and not be interested in all of the routine activities we did when he was younger – like going to the coffee shop and throwing the ball and playing board games. When I looked up at him, his eyes were as wide as if he had just seen a ghost. I think he was completely taken aback – first his mom is enraged and now she is crying her eyes out. Actually, he was probably just thinking “what a freak!”

He leaned over and gave me a hug. My boy has empathy even when he’s freaked out. His gesture made me cry harder. I eventually got my act together, and told him the memory I had of when he was a little boy. He would hear me walking down the stairs and would cry out my name. He would beg me not to run. I would have to rub his back and tell him that I would be back in less than an hour to play. I’d stand up and he’d say “can you rub my back for a few more minutes?” He didn’t want me to leave his side.

He smiled. I then told him how there were days when I’d leave the house and think to myself “I can’t wait until he gets up and doesn’t care if I leave.” It hurt to hear him cry my name every morning and beg for me to stay. I then told him that those days are here and now I miss the days he was a little boy.

Life is crazy.

I reiterated how normal it is for parents to have these moments of temporary insanity and how much he should know I never mean to cuss at him or give him an explicit gesture. They don’t mean for one minute I don’t love him with every piece of my being and think he’s the epitome of cool. He’s more and more self-reliant, as he should be. Dad and I have done something right since he’s not crying out my name when I leave.

I called my mom later that evening and told her about the incident. I relayed how bad I felt but how quickly I went in to apologize to Mario with the hopes that he would see that people can mess up, but can also admit to their errs and seek forgiveness. My mom, always ready to find a way to make me feel better, asked if I really meant to give Mario the Peace sign but instead my index finger simply didn’t raise up with my middle finger?

Yes! Yes, that is what happened.

I hung up the phone with my mom and walked into the family room. Mario was watching TV. I sat down next to him and said “hey, you know that incident earlier, I was actually trying to give you the peace sign but you didn’t see my index finger.” He cocked his head to one side and gave me an unbelievable stare.

He laughed, but didn’t call bullshit.



Dinner time

It is pretty pathetic when your 14-year-old daughter makes better meals than you do. Maria has been in the kitchen since she was eight years old – making pancakes, frying eggs, and creating cupcakes.

Our family has been on a staple diet of random, minute-made dinners for months. Tacos, pork and potatoes, lean cuisines, crackers and cheese, and hot pockets. Granted, the last couple of months have entailed Maria or Mario at practice until 7 or 8 PM so it was hard to coordinate family dinners… But who am I kidding, we probably would’ve had a similar selection even if they didn’t have practices. Neither Jon nor I have any desire to slave away in the kitchen after a long day at work so the microwave is our trusted companion.

Maria, on the other hand, quite enjoys alone-time in the kitchen. The thought of spending a couple of hours alone baking in the kitchen excites her. Trying out new foods and recipes does as well. Jon and I are all game for new recipes but it’s the time in the kitchen piece that kills any excitement.

Maria was obviously getting sick of lean cuisines because this weekend she tossed out the idea of her making a couple of meals a week. She was diplomatic in her proposal – she stated she’d love to cook two meals and have Jon and I could cook two meals as well. She’s always up for getting everyone involved in the process so she asked Mario, Jon, and me to give her two recipes each and we would then vote on all of the recipes submitted. Maria sat us down in the living room on Sunday afternoon so that we could conduct the vote.  Each of us ended up getting one of our meals selected.

Maria made my selection on Monday night. Sloppy Joe sandwiches, baked potatoes and broccoli. Mario ate four sandwiches – that is unheard of for him. He had his friend Owen over that night and Owen devoured four as well. Maria felt on top of the world. On Tuesday, she made her selection. Paprika-baked chicken, parmesan cauliflower rice, peas and corn. Again, it did not disappoint. She and I loved it. Jon loved all but the cauliflower rice – he’s more inclined to have the real stuff. Mario, of course, had devoured food prior to dinner while over at his friend’s house but nibbled on some chicken and rice. Mario tends to shy away from anything too healthy….

I’m up tonight with Mario’s selection – spaghetti and meatballs. Yes, the meatballs will be purchased from the local pizza shoppe…. I readily admit to not having the cooking skills or patience of my part-Italian daughter.

Diving deep

Mario presented his slideshow on light pollution after dinner last night. We laughed at some of the internet sites where he found his facts. He cited a company’s webpage. The company sold stones that helped reduce light pollution. Creative or desperate?!

The mood was light and airy as he wrapped up. It quickly moved to irritable as we told Mario he still needed to read 15 minutes. He responded as he typically does – with a grunt and a plea to read tomorrow night – not tonight. Jon and I reiterated that won’t work and he huffed away and we sighed. As he walked by hastily to head upstairs, Jon reminded him he needed to start practicing basketball everyday. Mario has got quite the ego when it comes to b-ball and some of the dinner conversation earlier had been around how there should be an A-Team and a B-team for b-ball, and that he and his friend Owen should be on the A-Team. We talked about not getting too boastful because other kids were practicing hard and may show up this season with their skills much improved. Jon told him he needed to practice if he wanted to be one of the best. Mario retorted that he has been out there practicing – we just don’t see him because we are working.

Jon mentioned that one of Mario’s friends had a free throw line drawn on his b-ball court so he could shoot free throws for 15 minutes straight (Mario’s practicing usually never entails taking free throw shots – he just likes to practice his three-point shot and his dribbling).  Mario quickly responded as follows:

“Do you know who helped Drew draw the free-throw line? His dad!”

Jon immediately scolded Mario for being sarcastic. Mario responded that he was just telling him that Drew’s dad drew the line. I picked up quickly that Mario was not trying to be sarcastic but rather, was sending out a plea to Jon to do more with him, including practicing his shots with him. Mario asked to go read his book, and walked upstairs. Jon looked at me quizzically and I proceeded to tell him what I thought Mario was feeling. It is not as though Jon doesn’t spend a lot of time with this kid. He is at every football game and takes him hunting and fishing and out to Dover.  Nonetheless, Mario was needing some dad-love, it was clear.

Jon, being the good dad, heard me and walked up the stairs after Mario. A few minutes later, I heard Mario talking to Jon. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I was glad to see that there was dialogue between them both. When I ascended the stairs a half-hour later, I found Jon on one side of our bed and Mario on the other.  I smiled.

“I assume I am sleeping in your room tonight?!” I asked Mario. I saw him smile and pull the blanket up around his ears.

Outdoors? No thanks.

I hate the outdoors.

These words routinely shoot out of Maria’s mouthwhen I get on her about not wanting to take a walk with me. I get frustrated with her, and think “how could you not wanna be outside in this beautiful weather?!” It is 65°, cloudy with breaks of sunlight, and the smell of fall in the air. But then I have to take a step back. I remember when I was her age and my parents would take me on family trips to Michigan. I would whine and complain about how I wanted to get back to the city and how awful it was to hike in the dunes…. and so on and so on. Yep, it all comes back to you when you have kids.

Maria has different interests than I do. She has no desire to go on a 3 mile run or head to the gym. I am getting more and more used to that reality. She has her own personality, which in the end, I would much rather see than her imitating everything I love. That being said, I still do enjoy a walk with her even if she hates the outdoors. And, to her credit, she understands this and concedes to a walk with me most times I ask (in credit to us both, I ask less so I won’t be disappointed and she says yes more in order not to disappoint).

There is no amazing, heartfelt, deep talks going on during these walks. Instead, she is usually telling me about the latest learnings in school, the latest tests, updates on Grey’s Anatomy…. but that is OK. We continue to have dialogue, which I have read over and over again, is what should be a staple in a mother-daughter relationship. When I was Maria’s age, I was struggling to have any connection with my mom. It just so happened that I was a raging teen and my mom was finding her own footsteps with a soon-to-be new husband. I felt lost. I do not want Maria to ever feel that way.

I had grand visions of she and I walking in the woods together and talking about deep-seated emotions, troubles with friends, dreams of the future. But I have learned to be content with simple dialogue. The simple, ordinary talks and walks need to be, and I’m learning are, just fine. I know she knows that I am here for her no matter what, and that is what matters.

Walks with her after a long day at work rejuvenate me. I know they don’t have the same effect on her but that’s love for ya. In return, I allow her to get a ride to school three days a week (which kills me)!

It is worth it

Nothing more tender than having your son cuddle up against your side, place his head on your shoulder, and flip the pages of the book as you finish reading them.

Never mind that the book is “It” by Stephen King….

That’s right. My 12-year-old son is enamored with horror films and now, it seems, horror books. He doesn’t necessarily love the gore and slashing in them; rather, he seems to enjoy the storyline. At least that is what he seemed to focus on with It. I still remember having to turn on all of the lights when he came home at 10 PM from seeing the movie with a few friends. He asked if he could tell me about the movie; we sat down in our living room. I was preparing to hear about all the blood and the screaming and the disgusting scenes of death. But instead, he described every detail relating to the characters in the movie. He talked about choices they made and why they made them based on their past experiences. He described the characters’ personalities. He described scenes so precisely you felt you were there. I was amazed.

Mario cannot wait until the movie comes out on Netflix so we can watch it together. I have zero desire but cannot resist his pleas when he flashes that grin.

His teacher mandated last week that he read a fiction book. He has been reading nonfiction with me. Last night, I told him that I would run to the library and pick out some good ones. He immediately requested for me to get It. When I asked the juvenile librarian where the horror section was, she looked at me quizzically.

How old is your child?

I hesitantly replied 13. I was hoping that maybe adding a year to his age would get me in better graces with her.

Well, she grimaced, I think you may like these books.

She handed me a book with two young kids on the front cover. They were each wielding a sword with a horse behind one of them. I could tell from the picture that there was no way Mario would be interested. The other two books were part of a series that had a fanged creature on the cover. They, too, weren’t gonna do the trick.

I start to doubt my mothering skills when my son is not interested in books that most kids his age and even older are reading every day. Right or wrong, we have allowed Mario to watch and discuss mature films and issues, and there is no going back. I snuck upstairs after I checked out the books the librarian recommended so I could find It. Turns out, It is the size of a small child. Over 1000 pages.

When I arrived home, I called Mario down to review the book selection. As I surmised, he was not at all drawn to the three books provided by the librarian. Rather, he was fascinated with It. He acknowledged, nonetheless, there would be no way he could read the entire book in three weeks. He calculated out the number of pages he would need to read per day and he was not willing to do it. But that didn’t stop him from asking to read a few pages with me that evening. And although I hate horror films and books, I was happy to sit with my boy and have that time together. Even if we were about to dive into blood and gore.

Workin’ 9 to 5, or more like, 7 to 6.

In the beginning of the summer, Mario was complaining about not being able to get a job at age 11. He saw Maria coming home with wads of cash from babysitting and he wanted some of that action. He’s at that age where parents don’t trust him yet to babysit their younger children and businesses will not hire him. He’s banking on a job with a friend of ours who owns a landscaping company but even with that, he still needs to be 14. I mentioned this dilemma to my dad when we were taking a walk in late spring. He responded with a shrug of the shoulders. “If Mario wants to come out to the farm for a couple of weeks and do some hard labor, I would pay him.”

When he first spoke those words, I didn’t think so much about the money as I thought about having two weeks in the summer that Mario would not have access to Xbox or much tv. I could go to work not having to check up on him every two hours to make sure that he was getting his reading in or playing outside. When I mentioned the idea to Mario, he jumped on it. Or, I should say, he jumped on the money part of it.

“How much do you think Peepaw will pay me?”

I then had to sit down with him to tell him that part of the deal in going out to the farm was just to be with his grandparents and be in the outdoors. He had just slept in a tent with a couple of buddies outside of our house a few weeks back and I reminded him about how much he loved it. I told him that Peepaw would be the number one person to talk to about surviving in the outdoors, pitching a tent, making food, you name it. Mario listened and nodded his head in agreement.

Then he questioned one more time “I just still wonder how much I could make….”

Mario has not frequented the farm like Maria. Ri doesn’t think twice about going out there for multiple days in a row. Mario has never gone out there for multiple nights, let alone by himself.

My dad thought long and hard about the work he would have Mario help him with for the two weeks. At first it was going to be cutting back the grasses through the fields. Then it moved to building a bench alongside the creek. But he finally ended up with a project that he thought Mario would love: a fire pit between the blueberry patch and the house. If they had time, they would also build a yoga platform. Mario had been begging Jon and I to build a firepit outside of our house so I knew he would love the thought of building one at the farm so that he could learn how to do it at our house.

The first week, Jon drove Mario to Zanesville to meet Grandma Meg. Jon reported that the drop off went smoothly. At about 8 pm, we got a call from Mario. He FaceTimed us so we could see the color of the sky and the meadows. This brought me much joy. I thought “he’s soaking up the outdoors and may just be fine out there.”

Then the call came at 9:30 PM.

“Mom, can you come out here and spend the night?”

He is out there with his grandma and grandpa. He is completely safe. He is being fed. He is receiving love. And nonetheless, my heart broke and I wanted to be there with him. I kept reminding him to just enjoy the time with his grandma and grandpa and to work hard because he was earning money for the summer. I hate to say it, but I knew in the short-term, referencing money would be a huge motivator.

It was the nighttime that really got him. He would call us excited during the day and show us the progress he and Peepaw were making on the firepit. He would FaceTime us to show every little detail of what they were doing. The first couple of days he was out there were even more rough because it was a lot of hard labor. They dug holes into the dry land and moved toms of dirt. My dad reported after that the second day was rough for Mario. He took breaks every 30 minutes or so (which, by the way, would probably be what most normal humans do – my dad and I tend to go a mile a minute when we start in on a project), To Mario’s credit, and because I always have to stand up for my man, he did get a major sunburn on his shoulders the day before he went out to the farm. I told him to apply sunscreen but he forgot and spent five hours out in the 90 degree heat at a birthday party. Nonetheless, I’m sure he could have sucked it up a bit more. He knew I was coming out on the third day – Thursday – so on Wednesday I kept reminding him that I would be out in 24 hours. I think this kept him going. When I arrived on Thursday, they had cleared the land and laid the first layer of bricks to the firepit. They needed to lay another four layers of stone. I was eager to help with the work. I love that stuff. If I ever lose my job, I think I will do some type of landscaping or masonry work.

Mario drove the four-wheeler route over to the chicken coop while I loaded the stones on it. Dad put on the caulking and Mario and I took turns laying the stone. We were a good team.

We left that night at 5:30. Mario was excited to get back to his Xbox. Maria was excited to meet up with her friends. About 25 miles away from Columbus, the traffic stopped. I was in the far lane of the highway and we were trying to determine how bad the accident was before the exit. Maria told me I should get off the exit because Google estimated it would be an hour wait. However, I went with my intuition and kept on the highway thinking that it wouldn’t be that long. Big mistake. About two hours later we were getting off at the next exit (only 4 miles away from the one I missed) to take the back roads home. Just shoot me.

We arrived home with none of us wanting to see each other’s faces for 24 hours. While we were waiting on the highway, we tried to play games to keep the time rolling. This inevitably led to much irritation by each one of us based on the the other two engaging in irritating behavior.

The weekend came and Mario argued that he should not have to do any activities because he worked so hard at the farm. I explained to him that work is something that us adults do every day without a break. He was seriously milking it.

Jon and I were worried that he would not want to go back out to the farm because of how homesick he had gotten and because of the thought of getting up at 6 AM to start the workday. However, when we asked him if he’s ready to go back out, he said he was. He did try to shorten the time by a day so that I would come out earlier and hang with him. But when Sunday night came, he packed up his things and was ready to go. He called us Sunday night to let us know he had made it but didn’t cry to me on the phone about how he wanted me to come get him. The next day he FaceTimed me about five times but he never pled for me to come out there. He just showed me everything that he and Peepaw were accomplishing.

On Tuesday, they pretty much had finished everything. He called me to see if I would come out Tuesday night. I told him I would be out Wednesday morning and he did not complain. I also told him to ask Peepaw and Mama Meg what else he could do to help out since Peepaw has to be the ones to screw in all the boards.

By the time I got out there on Wednesday morning, he and Peepaw had completed the firepit and the yoga platform, and put away all the materials they had been working with over the last two weeks. It looked wonderful. They also had spent two hours picking blueberries off the vines and putting them in individual containers in accordance with the type of blackberry picked. I got treated to a taste test of blueberries upon my arrival. Heaven. We sat on the screened-in porch and chatted. It was nice to chill out for 45 minutes and just sit with family. I am usually on the go when I am there either playing with Elena or taking a hike. I am trying to learn how to sit still more often.

Mario showed me up close all the work that they accomplished. Then he held my hand on the way back to the porch and said softly “can we go now? ” I asked if he would take a quick hike with me. He was adamant that he did not want to take a hike. But then Peepaw nudged him and I promised it would be a short hike. Mario couldn’t resist our pleading. It ended up that all of us headed out – Mama Meg, Peepaw, me, and Mario. It was an enjoyable hike up to the abandoned house and down through the path to the meadow. We chatted about Stranger Things and the 80’s. My soul felt nourished.

We arrived back and stood around the table eating chips. Peepaw came down the stairs with money for Mario. He handed him $400 in 20s and a 50 dollar bill. Mario’s eyes bugged out of his head. My dad explained that although their time was cut a bit short, they did accomplish what he wanted to accomplish and Mario woke up every morning ready to get to work. He didn’t try to sleep in, and he didn’t complain during times of boredom or when he was super hot. He hung in there and for that he was rewarded.

The experience made me feel so joyful. I really wanted my dad and Mario to connect during his time out at the farm. I had romantic visions of grandfather and grandson having deep conversations while sitting in the fishing boat for hours on end. A little on Golden Pond scene if you will. I am not quite sure that my romantic vision lined up with the reality of the two weeks, but that’s fine. The realistic version of the romantic vision did occur. Peepaw and Mario hung out together through the day, talking about random matters, and being in each other’s company. They got some fishing in and ribbed each other on who caught the largest fish. They bonded over blueberries. Mario also got to connect with Mama Meg more than he usually does when we are out there for a short period of time (they bonded over the show Stranger Things).

He doesn’t understand at this age how important this time spent with grandparents will be to him, I think back to times with my grandparents with immense love. I didn’t think about it as a kid – the times spent with them seemed routine like going to school and brushing my teeth. But now I find peace and comfort in looking back at the times I sat next to my Grandma on the couch eating Pringle’s and sipping Coca Cola out of a slender tall glass. She didn’t have to say a word to me for me to know she loved me and thought I was special. I recall rubbing my Grandma’s feet as she sat back in her Lazy Boy recliner. She would give me a quarter for my work. She’d close her eyes while I massaged her tired soles and brought her some comfort after a long day. Her freezer always had a gallon of vanilla ice cream waiting for me and her fridge had the Hershey chocolate syrup. I recall my mom and I going to Kroger’s years after my grandma died. I was in the pickle section trying to find the dills. My mom commented “grandma would always buy dill pickles because she knew you loved them.” I had no clue she knew that about me.

Mario and Maria are blessed with three sets of grandparents. All of them provide different personalities and hobbies and passions for Ri and Mario to experience. All of them also provide similar wisdom and love that only a grandparent can gift to a grandchild.