you always sneak up on us
With your cool, crisp morning air
And your ever darkening evenings
Your mums stand tall on the grocer’s shelves, waiting
for their new homes
Your pumpkins and gourds greet the neighbors
And your leaves, ahh, your leaves
Burst with color
and scatter like confetti all over
the yard.

Ahhh, Autumn

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  ~George Eliot

I knew it would be a gorgeous autumn day the moment I stepped onto the sidewalk for my morning run.  The air had the most subtle bite of chill to it – not frigid like the past few mornings and not heavy like hot summer mornings.  Perfect running weather.  The sun had been up for an hour by the time I got out to run and it greeted me with its cheerful self warming my bare legs.  I love this time of year with the beauty of the leaves, the cool temperatures, the smell of fireplaces heating homes, the cheers of people at the football game. 

Maria and Mario greeted me with a resounding “MOM!” when I opened the front door after my run.  Is there anything that makes you feel more loved than the sound of children excited to see you?  Mario grabbed two Berenstein books for me to read and we sat in his room with the blinds up and sun pouring in reading about “Too Many Commercials” and “Camping out with Ghosts.”  I love it when Mario initiates reading because he so rarely wants to do it.  He is not into anything at age 4 except super heros, wrestlers, and fighting.  I make him sit down at times and color or work in his workbook but after five minutes he is bored to death.  Other moms console me and tell me that it does get better but I have my doubts….  Maria is doing really well with her reading lately because I have made it my number one priority to make her read every night.  She is starting to see the fruits of her work when she gets a card and can read a lot of the words or sees me reading the paper and can decipher some of the headline.  Of course, I received two cards for my birthday that had the word “Bitch” in the inside of them (gotta love my friends and family!) and wouldn’t you know that she opened them and pronounced “You are a bitch!” just perfectly!  She immediately sensed that “b–” was a bad word and covered her mouth laughing.  Leave it to my girl to immediately know how to spell and sound out the cuss words.  Taking after her mom. 

After reading, we got on our sweatshirts and went outside to rake the leaves and play soccer.  Maria is so funny – she is the little worker bee as long as it is work she wants to do (never cleaning her room).  She is also the boss directing how things should get done.  As I raked, she announced that I should rake near the trash cans because that needed it more.  She then went into the garage and began moving things around to “places that they should really be.”  When I asked her to help me with bagging the leaves, she looked at the work and decided against it.  

Rather, we took a stroll to the library.  Mario begged to take a family walk so we decided that would be a good spot – four blocks away.  I was so excited to see the kids both ready to take a walk!  I was so excited that I even agreed to skip most of the way with the kids after they begged me to do it.  I felt 10 again.  We dropped Maria off at a friend’s house after the library and headed home to those dreadful leaves.  To my glee, Mario couldn’t stop helping Jon and me.  He loves that type of manual labor.  He raked and raked and raked for me.  I would sweep the raked leaves onto a tarp and we would take it down the drive to drop off the leaves at the curb and start the process again. 

“Mom, we are quite a team, aren’t we?” 

“Yes, doll, we are.”

“Are you proud of me for helping you?”

“I am so proud of you.”

Jon and I could not get over what a machine he was raking those leaves up, and kept stopping  to stare at him in complete awe.  I promised him the park after we raked the leaves – anything to stay outside on this gorgeous Autumn day.  I could just eat it up.

Thinking fo those kids again….

One of Mario's dress decisions

Mario enjoys dressing himself.  Actually, I think it is more accurate to state that Mario hates others to dress him.  He knows what works for him (which lately has been an old pair of black sweats and some plain colored long-sleeved shirt) and he wants to hear no different from a mom who wants him to wear a trendy, new short-sleeved polo shirt that she bought him months ago and he still has not worn (summer is over soon, buddy!).  Mario is 3. 

One of Maria's more "conservative" outfits

If Maria had a choice, Maria would allow her mom to dress her everyday.  She wants to have the right to overrule any clothes selection made by me, but she wants me to ultimately put the clothes on her body.  All the way down to her socks and undies.  Maria is 5. 

Maria enjoys being pampered.  If we were living in 18th century France, she would surely be the Queen.  She has no qualms demanding things from me, her father, her grandparents, her brother (to her credit, she will typically put a “please” on the end of a demand if that makes it any better).  She likes massages.  She loves fancy dinners.  She wants a stroller to pick her up when she steps outside the house. 

Yet, Maria is also gritty and bombastic and attentive.  She senses emotions and feelings in people before most adults.  She acts hawkish with her family always ready to protect them by any means.  If Mario is crying, she will search all over the house to find his binkie and if she cannot locate it, she will think about what else would calm him down (“give him candy, mom, now!”).  If Jon is having a stressful day, she will sit him on the couch and massage his shoulders (“It’s ok, dad, calmmm down.”).  If I get hurt (typically by Mario’s kick in the face or punch in the gut), she swoops me up and immediately applies a band-aid (bleeding or not) while asking me how I feel every ten seconds and rubbing my head. 

Maria and Mario at the pumpkin fest "corn swim" - Maria did not take her eyes off of Mario and pushed anyone who got close away

She cleans like a wild woman when in the mood.  I can put her in charge of washing the floors, scrubbing the cabinets, beautifying the windows – she will do it all (except her own room).  However, there is always one prerequisite – we have to play Cinderella while she is cleaning.

“Mom, act like you are my stepmother and you are making me clean – but you are a nice stepmother.”

“Cinderella, you better be cleaning so you can get to the ball and dance your tail off!”

“No, mom, so I can get to the ball and meet my prince.”

“You can meet a prince, darlin’ but you also need to have fun on your own and not be dependent on a man.”

“Oh, mom, just say it!”

Yeah, as much as I try to take the “fairy tale” out of the “fairy tale”, it does not work too well.  “It is her age”, other mothers tell me, “she will have no desire to talk about boys in a few years.”   Yeah, and I will turn 20 next year.  We’ll see.

Maria is also one heck of a singer.  We learned this fact during my sister’s reception at my parents’ farm in September.  My uncle Jack played with his band for a couple of hours while people ate and hung out.  After about a half of an hour, Maria walked over to the band, grabbed the microphone, and started singing.  No inhibitions.  Her cousin, Alana, stood by her side, a little shy and overwhelmed.  And Maria not only sang, she sang with such passion and force.  She held that microphone and swayed, moved it around her mouth, switched hands while continuing her tribute – a little budding Beyonce.   

Mario posing after taking 20 minutes to put his socks on "correctly"

And then there is Mario – the second born.  The “crazy little monkey” as we call him because it fits so well.  He is a typical second born child – trying to get all the attention and spoiled (although as I think about it, Maria is just as spoiled being the first-born – I guess we are equal opportunity spoilers!).  He will talk over Maria while she is trying to sing just to irritate her and have the audience focus on him rather than her.  He will cry and flail is arms and scream with the hope of getting his way (typically done when he wants chocolate or candy before dinner and is told no).  In addition to being a crazy little monkey, he  is also an independent little stubborn mule.  If he cannot get his sock on the way he likes it (he inherited from his Aunt Sarah an obsession for making the line on his sock lay directly over all of his toes) then he continues to try and try and try for however long it takes to get it right.  On the weekends, so be it.  Gives Jon and I more time to read the paper.  But on weekdays it is maddening as we are trying to get out the door for Kindergarten and work. 

He is the child that will go outside for an hour and find things to keep him busy without ever needing us to go out and play (Maria would not last five minutes).  He loves to dig and play any kind of ball (he could throw a baseball or shoot baskets for hours) and throw plastic toys around the yard.  He loves his golf but you cannot ever try to put a tee in the ground for him; you will have thought that you just encountered the Incredible Hulk with his explosive reaction.  He wants to do it all himself.  The same applies to breakfast.  He wants to take the waffle out of the package, put it in the toaster, and put the syrup on it.  He will only let me cut it and that is because I scared him by telling him if I don’t cut it he will choke to death from the huge pieces. 

M&M in the fall leaves

But, as much as Mario loves his independence, he still needs his family around him.  He hates the thought of anyone but mommy taking him out of the car, putting him to bed, finding his bink, getting his food (although he did ask for dad to get his cereal the other morning which may be a minor breakthrough), sleeping with him.  Maria left the other week for a couple of days and he continued to ask “Where is Ria? I miss her.”  When she is home, he watches her like a hawk and repeats almost all she does and says (she used to always whine that she did not want to talk about what she did at preschool and when I ask him at dinner what he did, he responds: “I don’t want to talk about that right now, mom!”).  When Jon went out of town for a few days, he cried on the way home one night for his daddy to come home.  Both he and Maria are like pack dogs – they like to see the entire pack together.

Hopefully, that desire will stick around when they are 17 years old.  However, somehow I see Maria dashing out the door to sing at the local bar and Mario darting out to play his fourth game of basketball for the day.