The Joys of Parenting A Daughter

I had not seen Maria since Friday morning when I dropped her off for school with the exception of a few minutes on Saturday afternoon between her return from a friend’s house and her departure to her cousin’s house.  I pulled into the driveway at 5:30 pm and she ran down the driveway yelling “MOM!”  What a marvelous feeling. 

I loaded her and Mario in the car to head to Wendy’s Gymnastics.  She asked me if she could run in the house and get a snack.  I told her I would head in with her (knowing that her snack may be a four course meal).  Indeed, she was ready to rip into another cereal bar (after eating one a half hour ago with the sitter).  I told her that she could have an apple or grapes rather than the cereal bar since we would be eating dinner right after the gym.  She looked at me in disgust and walked away.  I asked her if she wanted fruit, and she shut the door behind her.  Lovely.  When I opened my car door, I got the following pleasantry thrown my way:

“I can’t wait until you are away in Cancun. You can’t leave soon enough.” 

Even lovelier.  I gave her a sad face that I know she saw through my rear view mirror but it stirred no response.  When we got to Wendy’s, she opened her door, stepped out of the car, and marched into the gym alone.  Mario looked at me as I picked her up out of his seat and observed “She seems mad at you.”  He is a smart cookie.  He gave me his sweet Mario hug to make up for Maria’s quick departure. 

Once inside, she continued to ignore me.  I had a pack of Tic Tacs and I offered her a few.  She accepted and whispered “thanks, mommy.”  I didn’t press the issue any more.  I want her to feel that she can assert herself with me – without retribution or revenge on my part.  I am not going to give her grief for saying she wanted me in another country – she needs to be able to get her feelings out (although there are times that it takes me biting my lip to near bruising to avoid saying something to her I will regret (and sometimes I say it anyway and slip up; I am human after all)).  I will draw the line if she cusses me out or behaves like a crazy woman but other than that, I am going to let her process her feelings. 

About a third of the way through gymnastics class, she waved me down and motioned for me to watch her jump off the balance beam.  I did.  And I gave her a thumbs up and a standing ovation.  She smiled at me. 

All is good.

My baby girl turns 6

Maria Grace turned 6 yesterday at 2:41 pm.  I still remember her birth like it happened this afternoon. I remember how nervous but excited I was to have her through natural childbirth, aka, no drugs.  Mom had me that way, Meg had Jackson that way.  I wanted to follow in their giant footsteps.  Actually, the thought of getting a needle as long as a pencil shot into my back and losing all sensation from the waist down terrified me 10 times as much as the thought of foregoing drugs.  

I got pretty cocky in the delivery room for a while after they broke my water.  The contractions were uncomfortable but tolerable.  I remember looking at my mom and Jon and bragging “this isn’t too bad.”  And within minutes after that brash declaration, the universe shifted in ways only a momma in childbirth can understand.  Excruciating pain.  Sharp wrenching cramps.  Uncontrollable urges to bear down with nurses chanting “do not push yet.” I kept thinking to myself “if I have to tolerate this for 30 minutes, I will die.”  Luckily, within fifteen minutes, the nurses told me I could lay down and start pushing.  I can only liken this to having a huge dresser laid on your pubic area; having someone remove it for a few seconds; and then throw it back on with a few more clothes and knick knacks in it.  I was relieved after hearing the nurses tell me to start pushing but only for a few seconds until I realized that the actual pushing was just as painful as the restraint from pushing.  And then to look up in the mirror on the ceiling and see that there really was a tiny human that was poking her “little” head out of my body.  Holy cr–! 

“Little” being the extremely relative word in this instance.  “Little” is what the head was an hour after birth when I had been stitched up and regained some of my senses.  “Little” is not what the head was when it was trying to poke through my body and see the outside world.  It was HUGE and OBNOXIOUS and CAUSING IMMENSE PAIN!  But the body is an amazing thing because as much as I hurt and wanted to stop pushing, I also pulsated with joy and anxiety in meeting my daughter who I had nourished and cared for the last nine months in her safe cocoon.  When I saw her head crowning, that joy drove me to push harder and harder until I heard the shrills of excitement from the bystanders announcing that a baby was on its way out! 

Maria, Alana and Mario rockin' it out on Ri's b-day!


And then she was bundled up in that hospital blanket and placed in my arms.  Jon stood by me looking down at us.  There she was with her dark eyes and her black hair and warm skin.  A little Maria Grace ready to dominate the world.  And 6 years later she is well on her way.  

Her style can be commanding “Uncle Jack, come stand HERE!”, or gentle “It’s ok, Baby Gracie, I got you.”  Her attitude can be sassy “Ok, dad, I get it – you don’t have to repeat it.” or sweet “Mom, you are the best mommy ever!”  

Maria makes her presence known wherever she travels through that loud booming voice of hers.  She has the Heile/Menkedick vocal chords.  Her favorite pastime is yelling just like she used to do as a baby in her crib every two hours of every night.  How Jon and I survived the first 15 months is beyond me (yes, 15 months before she slept through the night – we really need to be sainted).   Maria loves to take care of younger kids – the mother hen is alive and well in her.  No matter if it’s Gracie or Lucy or Maggie or Maura, she sits with them and shows them books or toys, she holds their hand when they try to walk across the room, she makes funny faces at them and makes them laugh, she pats their backs when they start to whimper.  She is a natural. 

Maria and her family

Maria and her family

Maria also loves to be around family.  She adores her grandparents who all bring something special to her life; she worships her uncles who even break down and play barbies with her; she frolics with all of her aunts and cousins who treat her like one of them and let her join in all of the festivities.  She especially loves her little brother who can be a pain in the butt at times between hitting her, pinching her, pulling her hair, waking her up, and sitting on her.  Nonetheless, she is always ready to squeeze and hug him when he allows, and she will protect him at all costs (we can never forget when Mario and her were in the bounce house and a boy tried to push Mario – Maria stepped in and pushed him back warning “Don’t hurt my brother!”).  She received the nickname “The Muscle” in daycare and  the name lives on as she gets older.  Her hugs can be lethal but always well-intentioned.

Trying out her new bike

She is observant like her daddy recognizing people’s goofy mannerisms or certain things in books or places that I would never have noticed.  She is wild like her momma running around and being loud whether it is at parties or at the house.  She likes to live life large.  She loves food and drink.  She is always ready for a loaf of garlic bread and pasta and meatballs, and could go without anything else if she had that plate at her side 24 hours a day.  Maria loves to help cook (which is a fascinating phenomena since her mama embarrassingly rarely cooks).  When we make pancakes or cookies or macaroni, she wants to read the box and add the ingredients and stir the food.  She looks forward to setting the table and having all of us eat together.  However, she is less fond of making a lot of conversation at the dinner table.  She is like her dad – there to eat and not to chat. She enjoys pretty dresses and beaded sandals but is still not hesitant to put her knees on the ground and dig for worms.  She loves to put on make-up but detests brushing her hair and wails at the thought of anyone else brushing it.  

Maria celebrating her b-day at school

She still climbs into bed at 6 am and snuggles her body up against mine; many times she lifts her head and places my arm under it (I always hated sleeping this way with boyfriends but with my daughter it is a joy!).  She adores her daddy and goes through serious withdraw when he leaves town for more than a couple of days.  He stands up for him when he is getting grief from me or another family member but quickly turns on him when Grandma Ionno is around demanding that she “take care of Dad because she is the boss and he is her son!”  She loves her mama as much as she loves her daddy but as it tends to be with mothers and daughters, it is much more emotional in nature.  She either thinks I am the greatest thing to hit this Earth or the most evil person to walk into her life.  I can only imagine how much more pronounced this will be as she gets older – teenage years are thankfully seven years away.

Ri giving me the bear hug

Maria exudes a spirit that few kids her age possess.  She is free and spontaneous and relaxed and aware and empathetic and magical.  I think she is the coolest girl on the planet, and I want to give her mondo kisses and lovin’ every time I lay eyes on her.  Luckily, I can still get away with doing that; I am certainly going to live it up while I am able.



My intrepid, no holds-barred girl!

“You’re chunky.”

 “Yeah, you are chunky!”

Laughter erupted amongst the kindergarten boys and girls as they looked at Maria – the subject of the comments.  Maria stood in line waiting to march back in the school from recess.  She informed her teacher.  The teacher’s response: both kids who shouted the comments to Maria got “yellow” marks for the day (one below the best mark – green). 

One of the kids’ mother, Angie, texted me while I facilitated a retreat that same afternoon.

“Anna needs to apologize to Maria today. Please call me when we can come over.”

After my retreat, I called Angie to get the scoop.  “I cannot believe that Anna would say that to Maria – I am so sorry.”  She continues to tell me how awful she feels and how she sat Anna down to talk to her about how those words could hurt her friends’ feelings.  She asked Anna how she would feel if someone came up to her and said she had an ugly nose.  Anna started crying immediately.     

We hung up the phone.  I stared into the dining room at Maria drawing a picture.  I felt a mixture of emotions.  Anger ranked as the overwhelming one at that moment.  Anger not so much towards Anna but towards this deep-rooted ideal that girls must be skinny in order to be beautiful, and this ideal entering into kindergarten of all places.  To five-year olds.  This weight thing is such a struggle for most women.  I have found many a day that I spend an excessive amount of time worrying about what to eat or irritated about how my jeans fit that I lose track of the big picture – living.  I don’t want Maria to become pre-occupied with her weight to the detriment of living.  I want her to be how she is now: ready to chow down on a piece of cake in front of her, willing to put on her ballerina outfit and dance around the room, proud of her strength, at ease with looks.  However, I can already sense a bit of doubt about how she thinks she looks.  She gets angry at times while putting on her jeans when they won’t button easily.  She looks at her face in the mirror and scrunches up her eyes while complaining “I am not beautiful.” 

Maria and Anna at their Halloween party

Society certainly does not help with all of the magazines and tv shows flaunting 100 pound women smiling, having fun, surrounded by friends.  While I was thinking of the comments to Maria, I wondered to myself whether I would have been as angry if kids called her “ugly” or “stupid.”  I would have been angry because I don’t want people to be mean to MY child but I would not have been as angry.  Why?

Because I struggled with my weight and listened to people call me “chunky.”  I have witnessed first-hand how difficult it can be to persevere and how crappy it makes you feel.  How you second guess yourself and become pre-occupied with it.  I have seen my friends do the same.   

But really, what I have found as I raise Maria is that a lot of the time I get so angry about something, I can look back at my life and see where I was hurt by it.  And that was no different in this situation.  These kids said something mean to Maria.  They could have told her she was ugly, or had a huge nose, or dressed goofy.  Maria would have been hurt by that, also.  I think making a national event of such comments because they deal with “the weight issue” may be perpetuating the issue more than resolving it.

My girl and me

The mom of the other kid, Zach, called me later in the evening and asked if Zach could bring a picture over to Maria.  They arrived at the door fifteen minutes later.  Zach handed Maria a gerber daisy and a picture of him, Maria and Anna playing and smiling.  Maria blushed.  He said sorry.  Maria hugged him. 

Maria learned forgiveness, Zach and Anna learned compassion and humility, and I learned to take a deep breath.  I do not want to project my former (and sometimes current) battle with weight and looks on my daughter.  Yeah, society is ridiculous with its promotion of the skinny, the young, the white.  But this incident did not need to rise to the national level.  We needed a discussion about loving yourself and loving your body, your heart, and your mind.  We needed some apologies and hugs and smiles.  And we got just what we needed.

Much More Than Attitude

Maria sporting attitude

Maria and Mario have never been shy about their feelings.  If I upset Maria, she stomps away, sighing heavily, and usually blurting out some mean-spirited comment like “I don’t like you, Mom!”  If I upset Mario, he points his finger at me, crunches up his face until he looks like a 90-year-old man, and yells “No, mom, get away from me – I am mad!” 

I teeter on the edge with my response to these blow-ups.  Do I tell them that they may not yell at me when I sometimes yell at them and when they are, after all, part Italian (us Germans have no problem with anger management!)?  Do I allow them to yell but not make mean comments?  Do I let them get it all out and then ignore them until they calm down?  

 I err on the side of letting them vent but then I think about when they grow up and Maria is 30 years old in the corporate conference center yelling at the top of her lungs at her staff because they got her a coffee with three sugars instead of four or Mario playing in the finals of the World Cup and starting a  brawl with an opposing team member because he made a snide comment about Mario’s girlfriend while running down the field.  But is there a better result if I shut them up from the beginning? A heart attack from too much anger build-up? Fear of speaking their mind?  


Mario showing his attitude

I remember the “pre-kids” time of my life when I would be talking with friends who had their own children.  I spouted out all sorts of advice to their dilemmas: “I would smack their butt and put them in the corner; I would make them take a time-out for 15 minutes; I would take away a favorite toy: I would never let them talk to me that way.”  Oh yeah, that is a good one.  As if we have any control over that last one.  But what did I know?  It is not until those little munchballs arrive into your circle of life that you realize that all the advice and pre-conceived notions you had about motherhood and children was ridiculously naive. 

Just like I believe that it is impossible for me to understand the pain and exhilaration a triathlete must feel at the end of a competition, it is impossible to step into the shoes of a mom until you become one yourself.  You second guess all of the “sure-fire” advice you gave to your mom-friends in the past.  You worry about nearly every decision you make.    

So, in the end, I don’t think there is any “right” answer on how to deal with these “attitude” problems besides go with my intuition at the time of the incident and not doubt myself for the next five hours.  One thing I know for sure: Maria and Mario are happy kids.  They enjoy life.  They feel.  Surely, they get mad, sad, and disappointed, and they express it.  But they also, much more often, get excited, delirious, and captivated, and seeing them fully expressive in those states comforts me with the thought that I am doing something right.        

My Happy Girl

My Happy Boy

Be Careful What You Wish For

When Mario was around 1-year-old, he did not enjoy cuddling with me.  He asked for his dad a lot.  He refused to kiss me. 

No wonder he did not cuddling!

I divulged to Jon how much this bothered me and how I longed for the day that Mario would call for me, run and hug me, kiss me goodnight. 

Fast forward to the age of two and a half.  Mario cuddles; Mario kisses; Mario asks for me…ONLY.  For everything. 

He needs to get dressed – “Mommy Do It!”  He needs his blanket – “Mommy Do It!”  He needs his milk – “Mommy Do It!”  He needs to get out of the car – “Mommy Do It!”  

And, if Jon ignores his demands and picks him up out of his car seat or puts on his pants, Mario launches into an unrestrained frenzy.  He arches his back like an upside down cat, he jabs his arms at any body part available, he lunges his head into your gut, and he screams and sobs “no, mommy do it” with an unfathomable sorrow. 

Yes, I know this ridiculous and that Jon needs to be able to do these things for him, but it still crushes me.  So what do I do?  I pick him up from where Jon left him and take him back to the way life was before Jon engaged in whatever act that prompted the holy fit.  It is really the only thing that calms him (or I can just give him a bar of chocolate but that will lead to another piece and another and another (he has his mom’s obsession with chocolate)).  

Tonight, Jon ejected him from his car seat after we arrived home from Cincy.  He immediately protested as soon as Jon got near his car seat.  Jon had no choice – I had Maria who had fallen asleep in her seat.  Mario screamed, he kicked, he yelled.  He sobbed as Jon placed him on the couch and tried to take his coat off without getting maimed.  I ran down the stairs after putting Maria to bed and he could not get any words out.  Finally, between sobs, Mario blurted out “Daddy took me car seat.”  I asked him if he wanted to go outside with me to the car and he shook his head “yes.”  We go outside and grab my bag from the car. By the time we head inside, he has calmed down and is holding onto me like a little chimpanzee with the mama chimp. 

A few minutes later, I had to run down to get his milk.  I did not think he noticed me heading downstairs until I heard a frantic cry followed by “Mommy, take me. Take me, Mommy” over and over again.  By the time I got back up the stairs (not even two minutes later), his face had turned cherry red and it looked as though his head had been dipped in to a bowl of onions.  His tears could be seen from the bottom of the steps, and he looked at me with such misery.  I scooped him up, took him down the steps, re-poured the milk, and rubbed his head.  He looked into my eyes, clasped a hand on each cheek, and purred “mommy.”

There are times when it gets old – especially on weekday mornings when Maria is grumpy and wants me to help her get dressed, too.  But as much as I sigh, complain, or moan about it, I secretly love it. 

My lover boy - for now at least!

I am not naive.  Next time I blink, he will be asking for dad, refusing to cuddle, refusing to kiss.  Therefore, I must slurp it up today.