To walk

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

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

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

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

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

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



Taking the plunge – happy 13th Mario!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you!

Taking the risk

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

“I lost, mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama’s day 2020

Is this good, mom?”

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

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

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

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

Peace. Appreciation. Love.

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

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

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

That is concerning.

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

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

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

Then I read this from Glennon Doyle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.



Happy 14th birthday Ri!

I thought 13 would kill me. I was wrong. 14 is taking me down. How has this munch been on this planet for 14 years?

This year has brought 8th grade and a continued desire for school to last all year-round. She loves it. Her favorite thing about Summer is back-to-school shopping. She’s a freak, as Mario points out. She loves being with her friends throughout the day; she loves the structure and routine; and she loves her teachers. What’s that I heard about the math teacher? He’s mean? Not in Maria’s eyes-she thinks he’s the bomb.com. There is nothing she she complains about when it comes to school.

This year brought basketball. It also brought soccer and softball but I mention basketball because she swore she would never play the sport again. But when friends call, she can’t help but answer. They needed one more person for the team, and she agreed even though she readily declares her hatred for the sport (she did manage to score a few baskets this year) It is clear that her main drive for being on a sports team is not to actually develop in the sport and become elite, but rather, to embolden her relationships with her girlfriends. I will never forget her response to a teammate who scored a soccer goal after Ri came out of the game. She jumped up and down and hugged her when she came in for water. She was genuinely happy for her and could care less that it was not her who scored. She’s a team player to the nth degree. Coaches love her for it and rely on her to keep the other girls in line (right or wrong). She’s the mother hen of the bunch in every sport.

She gets along with everyone. She sees the good in all of her classmates, and is always ready to stand up for them if someone questions them. She is able to hang out with a wide range of gals, and still prefers being with a big group rather than one friend. She wants to be the host with the most when she has friends over – an abundance of snacks and drinks and an assurance that each friend has a snack she enjoys. She will undoubtedly host some sweet parties. Being with friends was the only reason she walked to school every day!

She fell madly in love with Blake Shelton (she still adores Patrick Swayze but he got pushed to the side a bit). She only asked for VIP tickets to the Blake Shelton concert in Pittsburgh in February. She got more than she could imagine when he dedicated a song to her and threw her his guitar pick. That could have been not only a Christmas present but a birthday present, Easter present, and Fourth of July present!

She experienced Washington DC with her eighth-grade class. I will never forget her walking through the back door after Jon picked her up from the school at 10 PM at night. She was bawling and I ran towards the door to ask her what was wrong. She struggled to get out the words:

“I miss my friends so much. I just want to be back in DC. We will never have that time back again. I just want to be back there!”

Like I said, she loves big groups of people. She thrives in that atmosphere.

She got chosen to be on the student council this year and is applying to be student council president next year as a freshman. She sets her goals high. I love that she is not fearful of the risk of disappointment. She just dives in and goes for it. She certainly does not have any fear of getting up in front of her classmates.

She got asked to be a junior bridesmaid for my cousin’s wedding in July. If we weren’t convinced that she loves a good party with s Tom of people, we are now. She soaked in the frivolity of the two evening affair and fit in just perfectly with the 20 somethings (yikes!). She rode from the church to the reception hall in the party limousine with the wedding party, even:) She didn’t want Jon or I anywhere in site. This was her evening to shine and my god, she did!

This is the year that she has retreated down to the basement. She loves to sit on the gray couch with her computer on her lap and watch Grey’s Anatomy or the latest YouTube tutorial. She has taken to sleeping down there, and we are close to agreeing it can be her bedroom. She loves the privacy. We have a shower down there so she can get herself ready to go in the mornings without seeing any of us! She gets up before the crack of dawn unlike any of the rest of us and likes the hour and a half of time to do her thing. We still aren’t quite sure what “her thing” is that she does besides straightening her hair at times, hopefully doing her ankle exercises, getting clothes together for practice, and eating her bowl of cereal. And, of course, staring at her phone.

She is still smitten with her cousin, Elena. She will do anything for that girl, including taking a long walk because she wants to ride her bike to the pancake restaurant. She won’t do that for anybody else. Their relationship is as sweet as can be with Elena still calling Maria “Meemaw” and enbracing her fiercely when they see each other. Elena still has moments of frustration with Meemaw and Ri has times where she wishes she was back at home in her basement by herself, but inevitably, every time we leave her, Maria misses that little girl immensely.

Ri is heading to high school next year. How is that at all possible? I remember back to when she was 9 months old and clinging to me. All I could think was “one day she will be able to do things on her own, feed herself, get dressed…and I can have some time to myself.” Shit, what was I thinking? I want that 9 month-old back so badly just to be able to feel her cling, and smell her skin, and kiss all over her head and toes. However, I also want this teenage girl who is finding her voice and navigating her way through this crazy life.

She only has four more years with us and then she’s off to college (she has made it very clear she will be off to college) and I will not only miss her clinging but I will simply miss her face. It’s really hard to think about not seeing her every day. But, I’m jumping ahead. I need to absorb all things Maria while I have her here. And there is so much to absorb.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Maria, Mario, and I took advantage of the 70° weather by throwing on our baseball mitts and tossing the ball in the front yard. We have enough space to stand 30 feet apart – enough distance for a decent throw but not so much that you can’t converse.

Maria talked about her birthday party – the hotel she wants to book, the restaurant she wants to eat at, the presents she’d love to get. Mario interrupted frequently asking her important questions like “what friends are you inviting” and “what day is your birthday?”

When Maria finished with her birthday party ideas, Mario began in on fifth grade camp. He was bummed he didn’t get a camp counselor he wanted but excited he got to be with his best friend, Owen. Maria gave him insight on activities he’d love and ones he’d hate. At first he didn’t want to hear them but then he got intrigued.

We laughed as Mario ran into a branch on our magnolia tree.

These are the moments I so love, and what I crave after a day at work. The connection lifts me up and energizes me. It’s such a simple act – tossing the ball from one glove to the next and chatting about our lives – that it doesn’t seem to correlate with the immense feeling of joy that overcomes me. It’s taken hard work and years of reflection to soak in those ordinary moments and feel the joy I do in them. I recently discovered a quote that I want to use for moments like these that will serve to further seal the joy in my heart. Kurt Vonnegut writes in one of his essays, quoting his uncle: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”