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!

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.

Mario turns 11!

How is my youngest baby turning 11 years old? It is just not right. I still have vivid memories of lying on the hospital bed and feeling the most intense pain of my lifetime. Whereas Maria entered the world after a rather melodic string of breathing and pushing, Mario entered the world with one Big Bang. I think I may have had one good grunt before the final push where I bared down and he jetted out of me like a bullet. It hurt like holy hell but the pain was well worth it. Seconds later I held his perfect self next to me and loved everything before me.

The kids and I were taking a bike ride yesterday and Maria recalled how sad she was that she couldn’t go to the hospital to see her baby brother be born. However, she was excited to get Timbits and bring them to the hospital room. We were laughing and surmising that if Mario had the ability, he would have grabbed one of those Timbits with his tiny one-day old hand and gobbled it up. He has always loved his donuts.

I strolled him up to Giant Eagle nearly every weekend from the age of one to seven, and he would use that little hand to grab a chocolate long john donut from the case (and sometimes a second if he begged and begged me). I conditioned the donut on me reading to him while we strolled home. We would also play the “can you spot the animal” game where we would see how many birds or squirrels or rabbits we could spot before we made it to the store. He always won.

He has always loved to wrestle. Even when he was younger, he was as strong as a bull and would knock me over when he charged at me. Now, it is comical. I try to wrestle him while I am on my knees but he can take me down if he gets the right angle. I think this is the year that that he will win against me more than he loses.

He continues to be the comedian of the family. He tries out all sorts of new lines on us. I typically laugh because I like to see him feel good. He calls me out on it chiding me that I am fake laughing. But, I must say, the majority of the time, I truly find him funny. I can totally see him doing stand-up comedy when he gets older.

He fell In love with basketball this year. He adores James Harden. We were at each other’s throats for the NBA playoffs between LeBron and Harden. My LeBron won out, which made me happy but I felt for Mario who was devastated for his Rockets. For a while there, we did not know whether we could get him to play any other sports. He wanted to focus solely on basketball. He would beg me to go outside and shoot hoops with him every night. I would oblige him but then tell him he needed to work on shooting by himself 20 minutes a day. He did it every once in a while but didn’t yet quite have the drive to make himself get out there on his own and practice. He must just love being with his mom too much:)

I agreed to coach his baseball team this year. At first I agreed to it just so that he would play another sport besides basketball but I ended up really enjoying it. We had a blast together. Of course, there were times that I was ready to strangle him for slacking off or he was ready to strangle me for saying something embarrassing to him. But for the most part we had fun together driving to practices and games and hanging with one another. And we won the championship! Now I have my work cut out for me when I coach him again next year….

He got his first musical instrument this year for fifth grade. He ended up with the trombone. Surprisingly, he could belt out some notes right from the beginning. He loved on that damn trombone for about two days but now I have to fight with him to bring it home once a week to practice.

He fell in love this year. With an on-line game. Fortnight. It became a phenom this year; all the parents joke about how ridiculous it is to get their kids off the tv (“joke” equates to “whine and complain”). They would literally sit playing this game for 24 hours straight if allowed. I keep justifying the amount of time that I allow him to play by the fact that he is talking and playing with friends. Yes, pretty lame justification since they are all talking and playing but in their separate homes. Nevertheless, during moments when I am slammed at work and need to get some emails out, I appreciate Fortnight.

He spent quite a few weekends this year with Jon at big Mario’s house. They would target shoot and fish, and get fed amazing Italian meals. He loves that time with his dad and his Italian family (recall, since he was little, he maintained he was “full Italian” and not “any German”). He and I had a few fun trips together out to the farm. One of our favorite places we hit on our way to the farm was Salt Fork State Park. We jumped off a large boulder into the lake. We also had quite a few trips to the running shoe store. We both have a gym shoe fetish. We cannot get enough of them. So, one of our favorite activities is going to the running store and trying on all of the new hot shoes.

He got to head to DC, Pittsburgh, and Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan this year. He is a great companion to have on trips. You can always count on him to bring out a one-liner that cracks you up. There were a few elbow jabs I would have to give him to make him take hikes in Michigan with me but overall he is typically game for new adventures.

He also got to spend quite a bit of time in Marietta with his grandma. He loves hanging out with her and his cousin. They go to the mall, play video games, and hit the skate park. I think back to my times with my grandmas and the fun I had at their houses that were the quintessential “homes away from home.” I know Mario will look back at these visits and cherish his times with Patty.

As this pumpkin seed boy turns 11, I hope he sees what an amazing human he is and loves himself. He used to berate himself when he was younger if he made a mistake. He’d call himself “stupid” or “idiot.” Jon and I would scold him to not call himself those names and to just see the episode for what it was – a mistake to learn from. He has not berated himself for a long time (so maybe we had a parenting win:)). God knows he knows how to talk himself up and love on himself (“tell me one sport I’m bad at mom… I know, you can’t…”). I’d rather him over-believe in himself than the opposite. I have never been an 11 year old boy but I imagine he goes through times of poor self-esteem or self-doubt or confusion about friends and relationships. I put a heck of a lot of effort into Maria at this age knowing what I knew about being an 11-year-old girl. I am set on doing the same for this boy, and I know he will turn out just fine. Actually, just excellent.

He’s coming into his own more and more. I can’t wait to see what 11 brings this year. All I know a few days into his 11th year is that he remains a sweetheart. He is gentle and playful with little kids, he pets every pup he sees on our walks, he gives outrageously strong hugs, he spots bunny rabbits for his mama, he helps his dad with dishes, and he even kisses his sister’s cheek when she pleads for it after a rough day.

From the moment he jetted out of me, I knew he was a perfect addition to our family. He’s proved it over and over again with each new year.

Love you Mario!

My baby turns 13!

How is it that my little pumpkin girl is turning 13? It seems just a breath away that I was walking down the street calling Jon to announce our pregnancy. I was at the corner of Grandview and Third when Jon answered his cell phone.

He had traveled out of town that weekend to hang with his best friend, Paul. He answered the phone and I think we made chit chat for a minute. I can’t recall exactly how I brought up the pregnancy but I do recall the reaction, pure silence.

There were a lot of “oh my gosh” statements after the silence – a symbol of both joy and fear. We were having a baby! What the heck would happen once we had a baby? We are pregnant! How the heck were we going to handle a newborn?

I recall the first three months of morning sickness. I sat at my desk at Carlile Patchen, and stared into my computer screen hoping that the nausea would subside. I craved giant-sized hamburgers. I longed for chocolate and pickles. The thought of toothpaste made me want to throw up. It was so strange to have all of these sensations. My belly did not start to expand until about the fifth month of pregnancy. It was only then that I could show off my little baby bump. I would rub that bump as if the more rubbing I did, the healthier you would be.

It was around that time that Jon and I found out the sex of our little nugget. I swore I would have a boy. I have always been a tomboy, always been aggressive, loved my sports, and hated dresses. I was positive the universe would deliver a boy to me. I also figured Jon would want a boy even though he kept saying the cliche-ish line “I don’t care what sex it is as long as it is healthy. ” I laid on the table while the nurse pressed the wand hard against my belly. She moved it around and around and finally asked us if we were ready to learn the sex.

YES!

“You have a girl. ”

How was that possible?! How could my testosterone-laden body produce a girl? Whereas I was in shock, Jon was not. He took it all in stride – happy as a peach to have a baby girl. I, however, had major trepidation. That would mean we would have a mother/daughter relationship. Heaven help me. I had past experience with a mother/daughter relationship and it was a struggle. I remember calling my mom to announce that we were having a girl. Her reaction: “oh.” We both must have still harbored a bit of PTSD from my teenage years.

It took a while to get used to the thought of having a girl. I remember walking Cy, our dog at the time, and thinking “how will I ever love a human being as much as I love my loyal pup?” What was my problem?! Yet, although those thoughts went through my head, I still spent countless hours rubbing my expanding belly and listening to Free To Be on any car trip I took.

And then the day came. I went into the doctor’s office for my 9 AM appointment after I had taken a 3 mile run and lifted weights earlier that morning. My doctor performed her weekly exam. While she felt around, she poked her head up.

“You are going to have a baby today.”

What?! I was not having any contractions; I did not feel weird at all. Wasn’t there supposed to be some big revelation that I felt the baby was coming? I called Jon on my way home and told him that we were having a baby. His reaction was the same as mine had been. I arrived home and told Jon I was going to take Cy on a quick walk. He thought I was crazy, but he allowed me to do it (he knows me all too well). We got to the hospital around 11 AM; by that time, I was starting to feel some contractions. They felt like mild cramps, nothing to worrisome. The doctor checked me out around noon, and asked if I wanted to break my water to speed up the process. By that time, my mom had arrived from Cincinnati. We decided to go for it. It was not 20 minutes later that I was sitting on my green yoga ball pushing myself back-and-forth from the hospital bed. The contractions were getting worse. Breathe, Breathe. Breathe. That is all I could hear. It began to hurt worse and worse. But I was in it for the long run with you, baby girl. I wanted to feel every single ache. And boy, did I. There was a period of time where I was on my hands and knees rocking back-and-forth and feeling like I would not be able to survive another minute. Then the contractions would calm down a bit and I’d be able to breathe. But then they would start right back up and I would want to cry. Jon and my mom championed me through it right by my side. Finally, the nurses told me I could turn over and start pushing. What a relief. I pushed so hard, so quickly that I busted all of the blood vessels in my face. I wanted you out! I got to see the top of your head in the mirror and I could not believe it. There you were. All of that belly rubbing produced this little pipsqueak. I pushed one final push and before I knew it, I was holding your little 7 pound body in my arms. What a day.

The politically correct thing to say next is I fell completely and totally in love with you in that moment. Not so much. It took a while to absorb that intense bond between mother and child. At first, as I stared at you while she slept, I felt too many emotions to feel that deep connection. Would I do alright as a mom? Would you love me back? Were you getting all your nutrients? Craziness. And the questions running through my head! Why weren’t you taking my milk? Why didn’t you want to snuggle on my chest rather than move all around in every direction? Why did you have to get up every hour?!

As I became more confident in my role as a mother and you clocked in a greater amount of time on this earth, the connection clicked. My heart exploded with love and adoration for my baby girl, and I swallowed up all of you. And then, there was no turning back. I loved seeing you round, buddha face in the morning (even when you kept me up all night). I could not wait to get out of work and pick you up. I loved taking you on long walks, and having you touch the bark of different trees or smell the scent of different flowers. I couldn’t wait to walk up to Stauf’s with you on the weekend, and have everyone fawn over how cute you were.

I would read the book, Someday, to you nearly every night. The mother in the book watches her daughter grow up, and expresses has hopes and dreams for her daughter along the way. I would tear up every time I read it. One night when you were in preschool, I finished reading it and had those tears in my eyes. You looked up at me as you sat on my lap in that yellow rocking chair. You had tears down your little buddha face.

How biased I was to assume I would have a boy because I had so much testosterone and hated dresses? Sure enough, you were known as “the muscle” at preschool because you would defend some of the timid kids when kids were picking on them. Don’t mess with my girl; she will put you on her place. Heck, you are able to pick up your mom without a problem (there is no doubt your physical dominance is directly from your mom and dad).

You continue to want to be a daredevil. One of the presents you asked for your 13th birthday is a hot air balloon ride. You also asked to skydive (you know your mother will not agree to that) and bungee jump (no way). You will try anything. We love your intrepid spirit.

You continue to forge friendships with a wide array of people. Girls that love sports; girls that love boys; girls that love video games; and even boys. You get along with anybody and everybody that crosses your path.

You love to hug people. You sometimes even ask to hug a family friend you just met. You have no fear of jumping into any conversation. We love your willingness to embrace.

You are the goofiest, dork of a girl at times. You are not scared to make fun of yourself. You are not scared to act like a total fool around people. We absolutely love this about you. The more self-assured you are, the better it will be as you get older. Keep that goofiness about you and do not care what other people think.

You love school this year, as always. You love broadcasting in the mornings, hanging out with your friends, and going to your sporting events and practices. You loved your softball season with the bus rides to and from softball games. You are easy-going and spirited.

Quite simply, Ri, you are a great kid. Dad and I hit the jackpot with you as our first born. You have given us immense joy, and we know that you are going to knock this world out as you continue to get older.

Happy 13th, love!

Mom and Dad

Happy 10th birthday, Mario!

I can’t believe you are 10, Mario Joseph. With the way you act and what you know, I swear you are 18. This was evident when I went out shopping for your birthday gift. When I typed in 10 year old boy gifts on Amazon, I got a barrage of Lego sets, superhero masks, Nerf guns, and Pokémon cards. This show of gifts was a complete disconnect from what you had been asking for in the last few months. Your thinking was around an iPhone 7, a superb headset to use for vlogging, a pair of Uzzs or whatever those high-priced rapper sneakers are. You love the bling, that is for sure.

This year, you got into Jake Paul and rap music (a boy after his mama’s heart). I would find you in your room with your ear buds in jamming out. You even started to rap a bit after watching a lot of Jake Paul videos. I would try to teach you a few rap tricks while riding in the car, but all you would do was laugh at me and shake your head disapprovingly. 

You also got into YouTube big time. You love to watch videos on it but you also created your own YouTube channel. Your dream is to get 1 million subscribers. You started a giveaway in order to try to increase your subscribership. The first thing you gave away was a wallet in the mold of $100 bill. Dad and I watched your clip, and we were so proud of you! Actually, we were in awe that you had even created such a video – we have some homework to do to make sure you are staying within the bounds of a 10-year-old. But what are those bounds? We are still trying to test them out – we want you to be able to have the freedom to express yourself but we also want to make sure you are not engaging in activity that could end up harming you or us. Little did I think that I would have these issues when you arrived 10 years ago.

You continue to assert your independence. Ever since you were six, you felt as though you could walk or bike places all by yourself. Even places that were miles away. You were so excited for school this year because you are able to walk by yourself. Actually, you have chosen to walk with several of your guy friends but you love the thought of not having dad or I have to take you to school. You loved going to the pool by yourself this year and meeting up with friends. Of course, you depended on me and dad to give you $5 to spend while you were at the pool but that’s as close as we got to you there. You also enjoyed hitting the library by yourself. I think you may actually read a book up there but for the most part I think you just enjoy hanging with friends or playing on the Wii. 

You have also gotten into gym shoes this year. And not just any old gym shoes, but the best of the best. Kyrie basketball shoes, Jordans, and  expensive Saucony running shoes. Of course, you know your mom’s weakness. I cannot say no to a sweet pair of gym shoes. You and I have found I love in going to the running store and trying on 10 different pairs of shoes (we only walk out with one or two pairs each though:)). 

As much as you like receiving nice things, you also exercised your giving muscles this year. You attended Feed the Streets with me and you went to the shelter to help pack food during the summer. You also collected backpacks for homeless kids going back to school, and talked up a storm to the YMCA coordinators when we delivered them to the shelter. You enjoy giving to people, both in donations and in laughter. You had the coordinators cracking up and amazed at how confident you were at your age.

You and your cousin have gotten into scootering. You love to watch tricks being performed online by skaters, and then trying them out yourself. You have been trying to master some flip turns at the skate park. You love heading to your grandma’s house because she takes you and your cousin to the skate park everyday. 

You talk about moving to LA every other day, and buying a Lamborghini or a Bugatti. You dream of hosting a killer YouTube channel and having millions of fans. Somehow, dad and I can picture this dream coming true for you based on your personality. 

You still love chocolate and sugar just like your mom – you will chow down a chocolate long john donut at any time of the day or night. You love a good action or comedy film – the days of watching Pixar movies with you are over – you want PG-13 everything, if not R…. You would drop everything to go fishing or hunting with your dad. The only activity I engage in with you where I get that reaction is wrestling. You still love to wrestle with me (it’s getting harder and harder with your increased strength).  You fight with your sis at times but in the end, you always have her back. If you see her getting messed with, you move right to her side. You are still an emotional thing and very sensitive. You get really upset when someone interrupts you and you get sullen when someone says something that hurts your feelings. You want respect (but you have to remember to give it, too). You have gotten better at expressing your frustrations more calmly since you have gotten closer to the double digits. We are working now on letting go of comments that may hurt your feelings and enveloping a greater sense of worth about yourself and your abilities. 

When I asked you what 10 would bring, you told me you wanted to learn more scooter tricks. When I asked about school, you said you wanted to read faster. When I asked what you wanted to do with your mom, you stated that you wanted to do more for the homeless (you knew the right answer!). When I asked what you wanted to do with your dad, your immediately chirped back that you wanted to go hunting, and lots of it. 

Dad and I are so lucky to have you in our lives. You bring much laughter to the household and beyond. You also remind us to play hard and let go of chores and work. Jump on the bed and wrestle. Head out back and play basketball. Watch the skater on Xbox take a head dive. It’s all cool, just like you. Happy 10th birthday, my darlin’. We love you!

Happy 12th Ri!

Our baby girl turned 12 on May 2. It’s hard to believe that 12 years ago, I was walking around the hospital halls trying to break my water so that I could finally meet her face-to-face. What would she look like? How would she act? Would she cry a lot or be chill? 

I had worked out the morning Ri was born – a 3 mile run and then weight-lifting and squats. I drove down to the doctor’s office for my 9 am appointment fully expecting to hear that all was going smoothly and take care until my next weekly visit. After all, I was still two weeks away from my due date. But surprise! As I laid on the table with legs spread and hands resting on my belly trying to feel Ri kick at me, the doctor peeked up from behind the sheet to calmly pronounce “you are dilated and effaced – you are going to have a baby today.”

Shit!

My stomach ached with fear of the pain of birth, joy at finally meeting my daughter, anxiety about the contractions, excitement about this change in our lives. But mostly, fear of the pain I was going to go through since I was adamant to “go natural” with no drugs. My Aunt Terrie had given me her birth video from the 1990s and listening to it would make you believe that she was being tortured by every person in the room. I laughed while watching it at my 6 month mark but it was not funny any longer. This was the real deal! 

The contractions came on the way to the hospital  with Jon (I drove home from my doctor’s appointment in order to take the dog for a quick walk and gather my things – Jon thought I was insane). They weren’t bad at all – just strange. Then they came every three minutes once we were in a hospital room. Still, they were tolerable. After an hour, the doctor recommended that they break my water and see what happens. They broke it at 12:30 PM and just over two hours later – at 2:41 – I got to make face-to-face contact with Maria Grace. I did not know what to think about those little black eyes staring up at me. 

Was she actually going to call me “mom” someday? How did this come about? How was I, a “mom?!”

When I was pregnant with Maria, I read an essay by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek titled I’ll Never Stop Saying Maria. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I must’ve read it 20 times over and cried each time harder than the last. I had a rough relationship with my mom as a teenager. She and I would fight – and fight hard – over the dumbest things.  Harsh words thrown like grenades at one another. Slamming doors. Screaming and tears. I had similar fights with my stepmom as a teen. In looking back, you can reason it – you can see why it was all happening. I had a lot of emotions swirling around my teen body with my parents’ divorce, my move from my community, being apart from my baby sister. I didn’t process how I was acting, why I was acting the way I was, how I may be hurting people who had dedicated themselves to raise me. Was this how it would be with me and this girl growing in me?

 At one point in my pregnancy, the fear of having a daughter was so great that I thought “I don’t think I will love her as much as I love my dog!” My dog wouldn’t scream at me and fight me to the death. 

But then my daughter arrived. 

The first few weeks, I would wake up terrified she was suffocating or choking on throw-up (too many 80’s horror movies). I would run into her room and jostle her to make sure I could see that she was breathing (I completely relate to Shirley McClane’s character in Terms of Endearment when she would pinch Deborah Winger, hear her cry, and then leave the room with a sigh of relief)!

In Quindlen’s essay, she argues that raising a daughter is a “complex matter.” She states:

Despite those who burble about someone to shop and chat with, the truth is that in their search for self, girls challenge their mothers in a way that boys rarely do. The ruling principle of burgeoning female identity seems to be a variation on Descartes: I am not my mom, therefore I am. Prudence Quindlen’s revenge, my father once called our youngest child, figuring she would give me the agita that I had given my own gentle mother. Certainly that has sometimes been the case. But Maria has done something for me that I never anticipated. She made me want to be a better woman.

Ri is just starting to test me and exhibit a bit of lip. It’s bearable for the moment. Typically, after a squabble, she will come give me a hug and apologize or I will do the same. We don’t stay angry for long. I want to think it will stay this way when she’s 16 – how much can she really change? My friends with teens laugh hysterically at my question. And then I think back to me at 16. Holy hell….

I am a Type A personality – I want control over things and I want them executed, NOW. I cannot sit still for more than three minutes, and I am prone to the extremes. I could hike for 10 hours straight. I thrive on constant action. Maria loves to savor her time. She could sit down to an amazing meal for five hours and simply enjoy the company and the deliciousness of the food. I would scarf mine down in 10 minutes and say “where are we off to next?!” Ri loves to rollerskate and rock climb; she could skip intense competition altogether. Ri is a daredevil. She would skydive or bungee jump in a heartbeat; I would rather have my eyes poked out. Ri listens and feels down to her core. She knows how to be in the moment. I barely savor a bite of my double chocolate chip scone on Sunday morning. These personality differences – along with raging hormones – are bound to cause some strife, but I am still confident, as Ri turns 12, that we can weather it. After all, I have the two women who weathered it with me giving me advice and solace during these times.

Ri is a fun kid – rarely in a foul mood – and she loves to have a good time. Even a ride to Target ends up amusing with her. She throws herself into the world – not caring if people look at her funny or think she’s weird. One of her mottos could be: “This is me – take it or leave it.” I’ve commented on numerous occasions that she may want to re-think wearing pj’s and roller skates to the coffee shop. Her response: “you tell me not to care what people think, so I don’t. Let’s go!” She would rather spend a day with her cousin Elena than go to a friend’s party. She is loyal to family, and chooses time with them over anything else. She’s non- judgmental and gets along with most everyone no matter if they are a star athlete or grunge. The other day I rolled my eyes at a lady wearing spiked heel and a crop top in the library. Maria counseled me: “you don’t know where she’s from or what she’s like so don’t judge her, mom.”

I imagined having a daughter would be exciting – getting to raise a female to conquer the world! I would teach her how to play softball, read books about strong women, take her to inspiring events. And it has been all that and more so far. But what I didn’t realize was how much Ri would influence me. I recall reading one of Shirley MacLaine’s books before I even contemplated kids. She talked about her daughter and believed that her daughter was her mother in a past life (love Shirley and her belief in reincarnation). I often think the same about Ri. How many times has Ri corrected me or reminded me of how to act?! I cuss and she gives me the glare. I’m inpatient and sighing, she tells me to calm down. 

She makes me consider what is important in life. She gets me thinking about new experiences. She pushes me to try new foods and relax for her homemade facial. She makes me jump off the inflatable when I’m scared to death. She sprays me with the hose while I’m in my work clothes and has me laughing about it minutes later. She has me question why I feel I have to wash the floor when I could be playing Yahtzee instead. 

She quashes my ego; it’s no longer about me, me, me but about her, her, her forging a life that is spontaneous, joyful, genuine, and open-minded.  It is such a gift to watch her grow up. Happy 12th Ri!  I am eternally grateful you are my daughter.



 

Happy 9th birthday, Mario!

Mario turned nine yesterday. At least, he turned nine in biological years. In Mario years, he’s 21. 


If he could break free from the confines of his parent’s house, he’d do it in a heart beat. If he could head to the bar and drink a cold one, he’d be off. If he could head to the coffee shoppe and get an espresso, he would walk there in a second. If he could bike to campus to hang out with millennials, he’d grab his helmet and take off. 

This is not to say that he doesn’t still ask me to get him water or rub his back at night. It’s not to say that when he’s chillin’ on the couch he doesn’t ask me to sit next to him and snuggle. He even still let’s me squeeze and kiss him in private (he’d die if I did it around friends). 

But he has definitely hit an independence streak. I think he may deal with us until age 16 and then pack his bags for California and take off to hang with the surfer dudes and make vlogs. But he loves  money so much that if he did move out, he’d be one of those young, hip entrepreneurs who drops out of high school but makes millions.

So, how to sum up Mario’s eighth year of life? He loves you tube. He loves watching music videos. He loves playing video games with his buddies. He loves going to football games and playing on the hill with his friends and talking with the older kids. He loves wrestling and jumping all around the house. He loves sports. He enjoys biking by himself to the library or down to school. He still craves chocolate everything. He will drop all plans to go fishing. He remains a total character. He is compassionate and sweet, and loves to make people laugh.

Some highlights from his eighth year:

1. Football games with his buddies and sideline passes with his dad.


2. Halloween trick-or-treating with his two friends (and mom not standing too close to them as they went house to house)…and a boatload of candy!


3. Serving Thanksgiving meal to homeless men at the Y and chatting it up with them.


4. Christmas morning opening presents – oh, the drama and anticipation!

5. A broken arm! At 11:20 pm on NYE, you ran into my friend’s dining room  holding your arm and crying that it was broken. Your friend had fell down on it as you were playing. Sure enough, it was. We sat at the hospital as the New Year was brought in laughing at you in your “high” state from the pain meds. 


6. You took care of Grandpa Ionno’s grave in Marietta.

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7. You went to Feed the Streets with me and walked a mile passing out water and lunches to people in need.

8. You went hunting with your dad and “had the best day of your life!”


9. You watched OSU hockey with your buddies in a suite with tons of cookies, and met Brutus!


10. You got all dressed up for Easter and killed it on the volleyball court.


11. You went on Spring Break with the Webers and Muellers to Hocking Hills. You went fishing and hiked. I met you there two days into break and we explored together. You loved taking risks and climbing steep rock climbs.


12. You cranked baseball this year – one of the strongest players!


13. You fed a baby calf and named it after a girl at school (romantic, just like your dad).

14. You starred in your first talent show singing “We will rock you!”

15. You became enamored with ball pythons.

16. You started sporting sweet Panama Jack hats.


17. You won Elena’s heart by making her laugh with your silly antics.


18.You kayaked and fished on Lake Erie.


19. You went white-water rafting, zip lined, and completed a mud obstacle course in West Virginia!


20. You blobbed your sister!

21. You swam in the creek at Park of the Roses with your pup!

22. You won a poop emoji at the Ohio State Fair!


23. You started third grade – your last year at RLS!


24. You celebrated your birthday with a bunch of friends at Get Air and a sleepover!


Happy birthday our sweet Mario. I hope this year brings you lots of learning experiences and lots of adventures. And guess what?

We love you (you weren’t here to say it before me:)!).

Wait a minute 

Thanksgiving arrived abruptly this year. In years’ past, I spent a week pre-festivities getting things together and prepping the house for thanks and gratitude. After all,Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I am a big believer in gratitude and its positive effects on your life. NPR had a clip about gratitude the day before Thanksgiving. I gratefully got to take a walk with the pup before work and listened to the entire interview. Researchers conducted a study of a group of patients who recently suffered heart attacks. One group wrote in a gratitude journal for weeks after the heartatrack and the other group did not. The group who kept a journal got better more quickly. Other studies have shown that people who practice gratitude tend to be more hopeful, joyful and content. 

The last couple of years, I’ve created a gratitude tree for Thanksgiving. The kids have helped to cut leaves out of construction paper and I’ve had family write down what they are thankful for and hang their leaf on a twig. I tried to even have family members go around at the dinner table and pronounce something or someone that they are grateful for but Jon always gives me the look (deep down, I know he’s grateful for me and my antics nonetheless).

However, this year,Thanksgiving snuck up on me like a burglar. I barely had time to set the table much less create a tree. We had Jon’s family over this year. All of his brothers were in town for the holiday, which is a rare treat. Maria was in seventh heaven because she got to stay with Patty for three days straight and sleep over with her girl cousins, Alana and Dagmawit. Mario loved hanging with his boy cousins, too.  

The traditional Thanksgiving meal was served, and it was carb heaven. Patty’s corn casserole, potatoes, Patrick’s stuffing and rolls. We were able to get the adults around the dining room table, too, which was nice. The kids acted goofy and rambunctious in the other room. 

After the meal, I took the pup for a walk with Chris and Connie and Michael and Debbie. It felt good to move a bit. None of us were ready for all the desserts even at the end of the night. The carb overload was too much. We were ready for some music serenades though. Maria and Alana gave us a short concert.  

Amy and Zach stopped by for a bit after dinner and chatted it up with us. We commiserated over plantar fasciitis and leg aches. Rocco flipped out when he saw Zach; he recognized him immediately. Zach was our life-saver when Rocco was a pup; he let him out two times a day and tossed the stick with him all the time. 

Margie and I talked about raising these girls of ours and all the joy and heartache in that task. Michael and Debbie talked about their biking adventures. I had Connie watch the you tube clip on awareness that Meg posted on FB. I figured she’d appreciate it in her social work role. 

The girls couldn’t get out of the house quick enough to head home with Patty. They were so excited to do blind makeovers on each other. And Mario was stoked about sleeping over at Gio’s because they were gonna play video games all night.

Jon and I got a breather on Friday morning. I got in a good workout and he got in a farm auction. Then the entire crew and more joined us on Friday evening to celebrate the matriarch’s birthday. 

How is Patty 76?! The woman looks and acts half that age. She’s unbelievable.  

I loved seeing all the cousins get together and play. It reminds me of hanging out with my cousin Kerry on special occasions. And sweet Baby Harper joined us in the celebration! She is such a doll; she goes to anyone and smiles non-stop. Maria plopped her right on her hip and carried her from room to room. Mario glued on to Isaiah as soon as he walked in the house. He loves Isaiah because he is an amazing athlete. He wanted to play b-ball with him but it was raining. 

The boys went with me to pick up the pizzas for dinner. I put on some electronica jams for them and turned around to this vision.  

Heaven help me. 

We sat at the dining room table and debated whether Kevin dangling a friend from his feet out a three story window was funny or not (Kevin was a young lad at the time). Then we moved onto other childhood antics (no matter what occasion the story of Chris and Jon taking all the milk and making Patrick use water for his cereal comes up!). After the pizza was demolished and we had a break on conversation, the kids and I found candles and decided on one single one to light in the pie. We gathered around and sang happy birthday to Patty. She was overcome with emotion. “This is only the third birthday party I’ve had in my lifetime.” I’ve got my eyes on a huge one for 80.   

   
Margie and I took the girls for a walk after dessert. Ri had no desire to go but Alana and Dag wanted to go so she succumbed. Margie and I got to talk about motherhood again, and the challenges that come along with it. Both our gals are rather strong-willed, which we love but also can lead to trying times. If we can make it through those teen years though, they will be leaders with their personalities! When we got home, the girls waltzed downstairs and sang us a song in their get-ups….  

  
And, of course, I had to irritate Jon at least once during the holidays by asking everyone to gather around for a family picture. Carrie moved us towards the steps for a different pose this year and it only took fifteen minutes for all of to situate who should be where. But we did it! 

 Ionno Thanksgiving 2015!

Happy 10th Birthday to our Buddha Girl!

How is this baby ten years old already?


My heart rests atop the knot in the middle of a tug-o-war rope. One side wants you to stay my little Buddha baby and one side wants to witness you continue to grow and learn and feel and experience. The above picture is your daycare school picture at 6 months old. I dressed you up in your maroon turtleneck and little wool skirt and you sat up perfectly straight for the camera. But there was no smile happening for that cameraman. He tried and tried – wiggling funny animals your direction and making ridiculous faces – but you’d have none of that action. You were probably contemplating the meaning of his existence as he engaged in those antics (and thinking “keep acting crazy, I’m not cracking a smile!”).

Grandma Meg’s friend had this comment when looking at your sweet face: “if you want to draw Maria’s face, you just draw a perfect circle.” She was dead on. We called you our Buddha because of that perfectly round head, those eyes in full contemplation, and that full belly.  I remember how you would lay in your crib and suck on your binky while rubbing the satin part of your pink bunny against your face. Just rubbing and staring at the ceiling.

And you used to lay your head on my shoulder with your arms draped over my arms.  Mouth open and drool coming out of the side.  I would find any mirror I could find and look at you sleeping against me.  How strange it was to have this little being completely dependent on me but how much I completely and totally loved it like I could have never imagined.  I couldn’t wait to come home from work to play with you, hold you, rock you, read to you.  And you must have felt the same way because you stayed up off and on throughout the entire night until you were 20 months old!  You clearly wanted as much time with me and dad as possible. And now look at you – 10 years old and just as contemplative as you were at 6 months.

You’ve also inherited a bit of feistiness and fearlessness in your ten years, which makes you quite the handful at times.  But you always engage people with compassion and love and understanding, which is not something exhibited by a lot of people your age – or any age – for that matter.

Example: Mario was not listening when I told him it was time for bed. He kept playing around and jumping on the bed and I had enough. I yelled at him and told him I was sick of him not listening to me. He began crying and ran to his room. You approached me as I washed my face and began your diatribe: “Mom, I really don’t think it’s fair that you yelled at Mario. He is used to you allowing him to jump around on the bed and act silly because you usually let him get away with it each night. I know you are probably tired tonight because you had a bad work day but I think you could have been a little nicer to Mario and he would have listened.”

You were at once standing up for your little brother and being gentle to the one you were up against (me). I think you are a born lawyer and would be able to sway a jury to your side in a heartbeat.

Another example: You were listening to Mario beg to get his ears pierced because he thinks it’s cool and dad continued to refuse his request. You sat quietly for a bit and then started in on dad: “why can I get ears pierced and Mario can’t? What’s the difference? Is it because he’s a boy and I’m a girl? Is that fair?”

You are thoughtful about your arguments and are fairly quick at responses to your “opponent.” I’m telling you, Judge Maria would be a judge I’d vote for….

You continue to embody a most caring heart; you are always concerned about people’s feelings and love to see folks’ smile. We were getting ready for a city-wide garage sale and you wanted to donate all monies you got from the sale of your items to a local shelter. When your little brother is dying for a new toy, you are the first to try and buy it for him with your piggy bank fund.

We’ve struggled a bit this year with self-doubt and worries that you aren’t good enough. You can tend to give up on something and then dive into negative thinking.  These pre-teen years will continue to bring on those doubts and worry and I will work my hardest to talk you through them and listen to you. I have seen you do a good job the past few months talking things out more with me and your grandmas and your aunts, and we promise to continue to encourage open dialogue as you navigate these lovely pre-teen years.

But this year has also been a huge turning point year for you, sweet RiRi.

You have enjoyed a diverse group of friends. You do not have one best friend that you can’t live without; rather, you have a lot of friends who you feel comfortable hanging with for a play date. You are perfectly content doing a range of activities depending on the friend: playing barbies, climbing trees, jumping on a trampoline, drawing pictures, riding your bike, doing science experiments or watching tv.

You decided to play soccer! And now claim it as your favorite sport! This is the girl who absolutely detested it in years’ past and refused to give it a thought. It does not come particularly natural to you but you try hard and usually give it your best at practice and at games. And, you even ended up as the top scorer for your soccer team this Spring with two goals! I was so proud of you that I leapt off the bleachers screaming “that’s my girl!” Not embarrassing at all for you, I’m sure.

You got in the geography bee! There were only five fourth graders and five fifth graders to qualify based on high test scores and you were one of the fourth graders; and there was only one other girl in the bee (a fifth grader). You studied for it fairly routinely (a little nudging from me at times) and ended up one question away from being the student who moved ahead to the regionals. You got all of the first ten questions correct without batting an eye. You were poised and collected while the question was read and when you answered. Others shifted in their seats or twisted their hair but you remained super cool (this is you looking super cool heading off to school)!

You participated in Girls on the Run! Now this was another mind blowing occurrence. You hate, and I mean hate, to run. So if the program had been just about running, there is no way you would have agreed. But in reading about it, it focused on leadership skills and building self-esteem. I really wanted you to participate because you are at an age when it is so important to learn about self esteem and positive thinking.  But I still knew it would be a hurdle to get you to participate because of your hatred for running. So I talked with you about it numerous times and explained to you that it wasn’t focused on the running and that you could run as fast or as slow as you wanted. Plus, it would give you time with your girlfriends.  I knew that part would help win you over as you are always up for social hour.  You hesitantly agreed and I am so proud of you for continuing through it this Spring. The first few weeks you begged to not go – you were bored and you dreaded the running – but I made you go and you always ended up saying “it wasn’t too bad.”  And then, holy cow!  You had a practice 5K to get you prepared for the race at the end of May.  You dreaded it. You went to sleep on the eve of the practice run and cried about having to get up the next day and do it.  I kept encouraging you and thought of you throughout the day you ran it.  When I finally got hold of you after practice, you sounded exhilarated.  I asked how it went and you exclaimed “it was good!”  You ended up finishing it in 35 minutes and you even asked if you and I could take a little run on Saturday mornings.  I about fell out of my chair at work, and the rest of the day I beamed about you and your perseverance (but don’t worry, I know you’d rather bike any day of the week!).

You learned the violin and performed wonderfully at the Spring concert! I am so proud of you sticking with it through the year even though there were days you did not want to practice. Learning an instrument and understanding melodies and comprehending notes will benefit you in many ways; one benefit is being able to Skype with Uncle Jack and play music with him!)


And you continued to teach me to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I still can’t believe you got me to parasail with you this Summer. This is an activity I would have never accomplished absent my daring daughter taunting me and making me feel wimpy for not trying something a nine-year old had no fear doing. So thank you, Ri, for keeping me adventurous and daring!

Dad and I are constantly amazed by you and know that you will only amaze us more in this tenth year of life. We love you a gazillion times over and are overjoyed to be your parents!

Happy 10th Birthday, Ri!

43 for 43!

On my birthday… Top 43 things I’ve done in my 43 years:

1. Given birth without any drugs. Some of the most excruciating pain I’ve experienced but the miracle and grace of both childbirths cannot be described.

2. Rode the Beast at Kings Island without completely soaking myself.

3. Married my hubby. Some of the most excruciating pain at times (ha) but his humor and love for family surpasses anyone’s on the planet. He is my number one supporter and I’m so glad I get to share this life with him.

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4. Swam with a shark! Yes, only a three foot shark but still, a shark!

5. Traveled with my dad and Meg on family vacations to Michigan and Washington. I would pout up a storm as a teenager about having to go and now I am so grateful for those memories and for instilling a deep appreciation of nature the outdoors in me.

6. Parasailing! I would never do it with Jon in Cancun but Ri convinced me in Florida. I was scared sh–less but I did it.DSC03900

7. Watched my sister give birth to my niece. It was one if the most tender, intimate, amazing experiences of my life, and it was kinda nice not to have to push and struggle in order to see the birth!

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8. Walked with Ri and Mario as infants in the Baby Bjorn. I still can feel their tiny head resting on my chest and their baby feet cupped in my hands.

9. Finished a marathon! I would have never done it without Sarah asking me to run it with her. Hell from mile 15 on but it was like childbirth: hell going through it and within ten minutes afterwards, you are ready to do it again!

10. Trips to my Grandma Menkedick’s house. She never disappointed. Always had chips and cookies to share and hilarious stories about card games with her friends or vacations she took. She was a true grandma in the sense of the word and we loved each other dearly. As I laid with her in her final days, she continued to whisper “you were a good granddaughter, Mary.” And I made sure she knew she was a beautiful grandmother.IMG_0351

11. Danced with a turkey in Mexico. That’s right. At Sarah’s and Jorge’s wedding. Mexican tradition we were told. My dad and I had drank enough Mezcal to not care whether it was tradition or not.

12. Taught aerobics. I was no Jane Fonda but I taught a mean class for a while.

13. Traveled to New York with my mom in my early 20’s. What a hoot we had between seeing Phil Donahue in person and getting hit on by New York construction workers.

14. Spent a lot of time with my Heile aunts. These women showed me love, let me watch inappropriate movies and listen to disco music, played card games with me, fed me junk food, let me spend the night, and listened to me ramble on and on about my superball collection and my stuffed animals. They will all be sainted for that.

IMG_9012 15. Took a 40th birthday vacation with my long-time girlfriends to Italy. Nothing like connecting with old friends over wine, the Italian countryside, and home-cooked meals.IMG_0250

 

 

16. Coached girls’ softball. I love watching these girls gain confidence in themselves and support one another. And it’s awesome spending time with my girl.IMG_9407
17. Hosted a surprise 60th birthday party for my mama. She is the last person to ask for pampering and I was thrilled to give her some.

18. Biked 100 miles in Pelotonia to support cancer research. On a mountain bike even!

19. Took an 8th grade class trip on a bus to Washington DC. Everyone has got to partake in that experience once in their lives.

20. Kissed a dolphin. One of Jon and I’s favorite excursions in Cancun.

21. Watched my brother act in a play at Ohio State and jam it out with his musical band on stage. He is an artist in every sense of the word and I marvel at his talent. I love how Ri proudly brags “my Uncle Jack is famous because he has a CD.”

22. Bought a gorgeous home in Grandview that is already filed with hundreds of memories of times with kids and family and friends (Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are the best!).IMG_6905

23. Had a super short 80’s spiked-on-one-side haircut that I will never ever have again.

24. Stood front row in a field in Ireland and watched Michael Jackson perform a full two hour long concert.

25. Caught a baseball thrown to me by my favorite Reds player of all time, Dave Parker, and completed a 5K that ended in the Reds Stadium (and won first place in my division!).IMG_3718

26. Wrote to Anna Quindlen after the birth of Maria telling her how much that her article in Newsweek about her daughter, Maria, deeply affected me. She wrote me a thoughtful letter in return. Cherish.

27. Went sled riding down Wyman Woods hill with Maria and Mario nearly every Winter – even when there was barely any snow and a lot of molehills that had my butt bone aching for days.IMG_7550

28. Hunted turkeys with Jon at 5 am in the morning. Nothing like spacing out to a gorgeous tangerine sunrise only to be awakened by rifle shots and turkeys squawking.

29. Entered a hot legs contest but came in second. Allegedly it was rigged for the girl who won first to win it – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

30. Took in the Grand Canyon with Jon and the kids.  One day we will head back and hike to the bottom and back up.  IMG_2524
31. Got my law degree. I wish I could change careers every three years but this degree has done me well.

32. Participated in the Day of the Dead celebration in Oaxaca with my mom and sis and Jorge. The reverence and beauty in the celebrations of their deceased is beautiful.

33. Flew right next to the pilot in a tiny airplane from Key West to some city in Florida I cannot recall. But I can recall the amazing sunset that occurred before my eyes. Both terrified of the flight and mesmerized by the beauty of the falling sun.

34. Dipped my legs into the Arctic Ocean. Jon dipped his entire body and shivered for four hours afterwards (even with 30 minutes in a steam room).

35. Petted an alligator. The kids got a kick out of this adventure – where else but off the highway in Florida.

36. Nursed my babies. It didn’t last long and pumping was a bit– but the experience while it lasted created such a peaceful intensity.

37. Strollered my babies everywhere the first five years of their lives. God, I loved that BOB. It took us to the river to throw rocks, up to Giant Eagle for donuts, all around Grandview for me to get my run in, through Blue Ash to get Marx Bagels, to the parks. I was depressed for a good month when Mario would no longer ride in it.20141106-213506.jpg

38. Saw Prince in concert twice. Once in 6th grade with my mom – dressed in all purple and sat at the top of the coliseum and once with Jon and sat in the first 20 rows of the arena. Prince was sexy and amazing both times – total crush on him.

39. Witnessed Jorge get sworn in as a US citizen, and witnessed the joy and determination in the scores of immigrants’ faces who were joining Jorge in the process.  There was no way to not feel immense joy for the entire rest of the day.IMG_0633

40. Climbed the steps of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh with Sarah and Ri.

41. Ate a fried grasshopper.

42. Jogged the 7 hills of Cincy race and ran up every hill.

43. Kept a blog so I can remember all these things. With each year, I forget more and more!

I by all means know how blessed I am to have been able to experience all I have in these past 43 years, and to possess such a richness of both family and friends. There’s no stopping me at 43 – can’t wait to see what’s on my list of things I’ve done at 86!

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