Mario and fairy books

Maria has innate compassion and nurturing genes in her body. She has always been a caretaker. When Mario was born, she would beg to give him his Binky or put him in his swing or feed him his smashed peas. I have a ton of pictures – back when you had to develop them – of the two of them together and inevitably, Maria’s arm is always wrapped around Mario. His protector.

In preschool, she had a girlfriend who was petite and quiet. Whenever another child would boss her around, Maria would step in and protect her. The girl’s parents nicknamed Maria “the muscle.” This weekend, Maria and I were just getting ready to sit down to play a card game. Her phone rang and she left to talk to her friend for a few minutes. She came back and told me that her friend needed to stop by. Within a minute, I heard the door open. Her friend was sobbing; Maria wrapped her arm around her friend, and walked with her down the stairs to her room continuously whispering “you will be ok.”

Mario did not quite inherit the compassionate and nurturing genes.  That is not to say that he doesn’t care for others; he just doesn’t have that automatic response of nurturing and caretaking. He expresses his care and concern by trying to make people laugh – by being goofy. When he was in preschool, he would get up in front of all of his friends and perform a crazy dance (he loved Gangnam Style). When one of his friends took a nasty fall while they were skateboarding, he jabbed him with playful jokes to keep him laughing until I arrived to take him home. Last week, I had a crappy day at work and he amused me with his little quips.

I have made Maria do more volunteer activities with me than Mario. This is partially because the moms of Maria’s friends tend to plan volunteer events more often than the moms of Mario’s friends. It is also because she didn’t put up as much of a fight as Mario did when I talked about doing something for those in need.

Lately, I have been lamenting about not pushing harder on Mario when he puts up a fight about volunteering. He needs to gain some perspective when he starts begging me for $150 pair of basketball shoes for the upcoming season. I have told him that there may be a possibility of purchasing such shoes but it does not come without putting forth some effort for others. Accordingly, he has agreed to put together hygiene kits for men at the homeless shelter along with a few of his friends. We are heading out this week to buy the supplies and then put them together to deliver. It just takes me putting forth some effort to get him to do it.

But I was excited to see him come downstairs on his own last night and read a book to Elena with me. I had mentioned reading to Elena over dinner with him and Maria and Jon last night. I threw in a comment that it would be really nice if the kids or Jon joined me for a chapter or two. They all rolled their eyes.

I situated my computer at the dining room table, and jumped on Facebook messenger with Elena. I was just getting ready to start reading the Weather Fairies book when Mario trotted down the stairs to join me. Elena started giggling like she always does when Mario enters the screen. I gave Mario the parts of Kirsty to read.

To my delight, he completely acted the part. He raised his voice up a few octaves to mimic Kirsty’s voice. Elena cracked up every time he read off the page. He read a chapter with us, and then I allowed him to head upstairs to finish his homework. I spent another 45 minutes reading to Elena. I didn’t make her chuckle like Mario had but we did have fun reading about the goblins and talking about the different weather fairies.

I visited Mario in his room after I finished with Elena. I told him how happy he had made Elena by simply reading a chapter of a book to her. I explained how a simple gesture can mean a lot to somebody. 

I recall telling my dad about taking a walk in the woods without looking at my phone the entire time. We had been talking earlier in the week about needing to disconnect more often. His response via text was “baby steps.” That phrase came to mind as I left Mario’s room and went to log off the computer for the night.

It is worth it

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

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

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

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

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

How old is your child?

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

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

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

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

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

Temporary only child

Maria has now been gone for 10 straight days. She has reached out to Jon or I maybe two times over that period. She is loving life with her grandma and her cousin as they engage in a road tour of the South to visit their cousin in Savannah. I am grateful for Patty giving the girls this experience. I’ve seen Instagram photos of Tybee Island, the Savannah Riverwalk, homemade pizzas, and Gatlinburg. I cannot wait to hear the handfuls of stories when she comes home.

Meanwhile, Jon and I were left with a single child: Mario. It is initially strange to have only one child in the house but after a few days, it starts to become the norm. It’s as though she’s off at college – we miss her here and there but know she’s doing her thing. When Ri has been gone a few days, Mario visited me at work. We were riding the elevator down to my first floor lobby when he commented “yea, it’s kind of nice being the only child.” He gets all the attention. He doesn’t have Ri bossing him around. He can eat whatever he wants (Jon has little oversight).

He is a fun kid, and we enjoy hanging together. We played a lot of one on one basketball outside (and mini-hoop inside); hit the pool with Jon; went to my work and got Nutella sticks (his favorite); walked the pup; and played baseball.

He asked to travel to Cincinnati with me this past weekend to see Sarah read from her book at Joseph Beth bookstore. He didn’t even complain when I made him listen to a StoryCorps podcast with me for 30 minutes on Ghetto Life. At one point during the podcast, Jon called, so the podcast stopped. After I got off the phone with Jon, I looked at him and asked if he was ready to stop the podcast? He shook his head no and told me to keep playing it. I’m not sure whether he was truly into it or whether he just wanted to make me happy. He is super affectionate with me – even at age 10- and enjoys making me smile.

I took him on a tour of my old Clifton neighborhood. He got to see Calhoun Street and the house that I lived in for a few years on Fairview Avenue. He even indulged me and got out in the 90° heat to take the steps down to the park. Unfortunately, the steps were covered with tall weeds and grasses so we could not make it down. He also got to experience Findlay Market – a place I went to every once in a while with my mom but is a mecca for my sister. She often went there with my mom as a young girl. She and Jorge were sipping on coffee when we arrived. We walked around to the sellers’ stands and checked out what they had to offer. Mario noticed a guy selling fedoras. He was a large black man sitting on a stool with a sweet-looking tan fedora on his head. He looked at Mario and chuckled “you got a little head boy. I don’t think my fedoras will fit you!” Mario smiled and tried one on anyway. Sure enough, it fit pretty good. The man looked at Mario and started laughing. “Well, you proved me wrong, son. Your head is bigger than I thought!”

We bought that fedora up in no time as we chatted it up with the gregarious seller. We then headed over to the succulent plant stand and bought me a couple of succulents. Mario encouraged me to stop when I hesitated in the walkway telling him I really didn’t need one. “Come on mom, they are cheap and they make you happy.”

After the market, we headed to the Underground Railroad Museum. What a powerful place. Mario walked around with me reading about historical slavery, reading about the abolitionists, and reading about modern slavery. He had so many questions around the modern slavery exhibit as it relates to sweat shops in Third World countries and human trafficking. I was brutally honest with him and we had a good conversation outside on the balcony.

After the museum, we had about an hour before we had to head to the bookstore. Sarah invited us to go to their hotel pool. Mario begged me to do it. Of course, I would allow him, I just did not want to go in myself. But he suckered me into it and so we sat in the hot tub and swam in the pool together before the bookstore.

He was a gem at the bookstore, taking care of his cousins and talking with my family members. He enjoyed hanging out with his boy cousins who always roughhouse with him. He also got to see Rod’s new red Corvette. He found a couple of books that looked interesting, and asked if I would get them. My Aunt Julie, the teacher, had a gift card for the bookstore and gave it to me in order to buy his books. What a doll. On the way home, I made him read a few pages from his new book. Then, I allowed him to watch his YouTube videos while we ate Wendy’s burgers driving up I-71.

Party planner

Ri has a career in party planning…starting now. She is hilarious with the things she thinks of for the parties we host – she’s much more creative and daring then me.
I picked her up from her friend’s house at 11:30 am on Saturday and we worked until 4:30 getting the house together for Sarah’s Kickstarter fund-raising party. The night before, Ri and her friend created bookmarks to give away as gifts to the women that came to the party. They wrote Vela in all types of styles and designs and the words “thank you.” They also added peace signs or words (“Vela is awesome!”). We stuffed the bookmarks into little paper bags and wrote Vela on the front of the bag. Ri explained that we needed a different design on the bag than on the bookmark because that livened it up more. She also thought we should add chocolate to the bag so I dutifully bought some chocolate squares to throw in.

Ri moved on to arranging the chairs in the living room for optimal talking space. I told her we needed a sign for the table where guests would lay down their books for the book exchange. There was no where to tape it on the table or wall so she created a sign to tape onto a book and then stood the book up on the table. Simple but creative. I love her so much.
She couldn’t wait to babysit Elena and another little girl, Sophia, whose mom was coming to the party. She did a good job as always in that area.

Her girlfriend, Henley spent the night, and I learned she is just as crazy as Ri. I came home from a quick walk with Rocco and found her with dangling earrings hanging out of her braces. All I could think was her mom was going to kill me when I called her from the ER.>

Book fairy and birthday parties

My sis is a book fairy.

She has been gifting books to me over the last few years and has a 100% satisfaction rate. Truly amazing since I am not typically a book reader. A package came in the mail on Wednesday night from Amazon. I ripped it open and found a gorgeous hardback book staring up at me.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.

Loved loved loved it. I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t wait to get home from work to read a book. Finished it in three days. Her story is powerful on many levels but I connected strongly with her mother and the sacrifices she made in order to provide for her family. Ri listened to me read a few pages on Friday night as we laid on the couch together while the boys watched some hunting show. Ri asked a ton of questions with each new page I read and I eventually got so annoyed I had to put my book down and pick Ri’s book up to read with her. We read Wonder together. She was on the chapter where the family dog dies. She began reading the first page of the chapter and we both figured out what was happening. She slowed her reading and when she got to the point where the little boy is crying about his dying dog, she began to bawl. And I joined.

She choked her tears back as she said “I remember you bringing Cy to see me at school before he died. I miss him so much.” Then she cried again. And I joined again. This girl has some serious emotion in her and I’d have it no other way. We laid on the couch in an embrace and cried about our sweet Cy. Then we went to bed.

On Saturday, we hit Mario’s friend, Jack’s party at Sports Ohio. Ri wanted to come with me and Mario didn’t freak our about it amazingly. Kate told Ri she could play in the inflatables with the other kids and Ri was so excited. Mario just didn’t pay her any attention as he ran around with his “bros'” (as he calls them affectionately). They played flag football, too. Ri gave it a try, which completely surprised me. Mario pleaded for the ball at every play.

Then came cake and ice cream. I scored a huge slice since no other moms wanted any.



After the party, Ri and I picked up Evie and headed out to my friend’s bonfire party. Ri and Evie were quite happy to see hot dogs and marshmallows and chocolate galore lined up on picnic tables. They played and performed shows for the adults that involved singing and goofy, eight-year-old girl antics. On the way home, they sang Rihanna and Michael Jackson songs.

Meanwhile, Mario opted to stay home with his dad because he much prefers Jon over me these days. They played Wii football and watched hunting shows and got wings at BW3s. Very manly activities that Mario loves.

On Sunday, we traveled to the farm for another birthday celebration with Meg, dad, Jack, Sar and Jorge. Jon slaved over homemade meatballs and sauce so that we could have a fabulous lunch out there. Meg-pie scored a yummy sheetcake from a bakery out in the hills and even bought chocolate chip ice cream! They do love me!

We took a hike as soon as we arrived out to the vine where Peepaw swung Ri and Mario back and forth to see who fell first. Except they changed into Mabel and Gramps when on the vine and Peepaw called out “how are Mabel and Gramps doing?! I think Gramps is falling! Oh no, Gramps is down!” Ri and Mario laughed hysterically.


Jack and I walked together and chatted about light-hearted topics like the meaning of life and being in the present moment. I just adore my little bro. And so do Ri and Mario. He raced Mario down the hill and picked him up over his head. He listened to Ri and all of her stories about school and family.


We came home to a warm meal and lots of kid jokes. Mario told a joke to Jack that Ri taught him:
Mario to Jack: "what's your name?"
Mario: "what does h-a-s spell?"
Jack: "has"
Mario: is it good or bad to kill someone?"
Jack: "bad"
Mario: "what do you put in your car tank?"
Jack: "gas"
Mario: "Jack has bad gas!!"
Ahh, the frivolity! That started my dad up and he got Mario to say "Mario has a screw loose." Now Mario gets me and Jon with that joke every day.


I am so lucky to have such a tender good-hearted family. And a family that knows my taste buds! The cake was superb!

We took another hike after devouring the cake and came back to the house ready to go to bed. The kids would have enjoyed that but we had to get home for school on Monday. And I got yet another birthday gift on Monday – a day off work while the kids were in school!

Fun at the farm and quiet in the city

Ri and Mario went to Peepaw’s and Mama Meg’s house on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend with them. As a result, Jon and I had the entire weekend to ourselves, which always feels like we are in an alternate universe. We went out to Polaris Mall this morning to fix my phone at the Apple store (and left right after the Apple store – we couldn’t get out of the mall quick enough). On the way home, we picked up Jersey Mike’s for lunch and as we left the store, we both thought of the times pre-M&M when we’d have nothing to do on the weekends but this: head out on errands, grab lunch, go to the coffee shop…. It’s nice to live that life again for a couple of days but we miss those pumpkins and want them home… tomorrow.

Meanwhile, they are living the farm life with their grandparents – shoveling horse poop, loading hay, and making abstract snow figures.


It is supposed to be a horse. They also got some sledding in on inner tubes and plastic sleds. Peepaw showed them how it was done first. Mario nearly got a concussion from going down one of the hills Sarah and Jorge made over New Years but they loved it.


Ri reported to me this morning that she read an entire Magic Treehouse book last night. Not sure what Meg and dad needed to do to make that happen but that’s one great thing about the farm – no 500 channel cable tv and lots of books!

That brought on another New Year’s resolution – unplug the tv before bed and get out a book. Yes, Jon, that means you too!


Mario Joseph has begged me all week to buy him books from Battelle’s Book Fair. When I picked him up today, he bolted over to me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to the book stand.

“Are my books still under the table?” he asked the sales woman. She reached under her table and delivered four books to Mario. He took them and smiled at me. The sales woman told me that for the past two days he has hidden those four books from everyone because he was worried that someone else would buy them. He loves them, he told her, because they have “real” pictures in them.

He immediately flipped through the pages to show me random pictures he liked. He specifically pointed out the monkeys book knowing they are one of my favorite creatures.

He begged me to read them to him after football. Oh, I hope this love for books remains for a lifetime!


wild for wild

I am wild about wild.

A week ago I pulled up my sister’s on-line magazine, Vela, and read a post where each of the writers wrote about their favorite summer reads. One writer talked about wild by Cheryl Strayer. I had heard about the book on NPR a while back and seen it sitting on the shelf each time I walked through Barnes and Noble to get my morning coffee. I figured with the combination of all of those signs from the universe, I should give it a try.

I am not a reader of long books. I typically go straight to the articles in the Atlantic or New Yorker and that suits me fine. But reading the writers’ entries on Vela made me want to give reading novels or memoirs another try since I hadn’t read one in a year (Left Neglected being the last).

I purchased wild a week ago and I completed it last night. I felt conflicted as I sat next to Ri in her bed. She had asked me to lay next to her until she fell asleep. She also asked me to read to her from my book. She hung in for four pages but then curled beside me and passed out. I didn’t want the book to end but I also wanted to find out how it ended. I found myself reading slowly for a paragraph and then speeding up for two. An hour later, the book was finished, and I cried. I cried over a combination of things: the beauty of mothers and daughters; the exhilaration at reading a novel again; the recognition of finding oneself; the confirmation of the release and freedom from just letting it all go.

I am now like a voracious animal in the wild. I want to scour the bookstore for my next memoir or novel and dig into it. I am thinking of Out of Africa since that was one of my sister’s favorite books. I’m just thinking that might be like going from 0 to 120 mph and overwhelm me! Maybe Molly Ringwald’s new book instead….

Raising the spirits with Pixar and George and Martha

I have been in a little bit of a funk the last week or so.  Winter is bringing me down, down, down.  I miss taking the kids for long walks, heading to the park for picnics, and SUN!  The weekends tend to bring much of the same options: indoor swimming, library, McDonald’s Playland, pet store.  I have been trying all sorts of mind games to get me out of the Winter Blues (Jon being home on the weekends is a god-send for some adult conversation and laughs) but I look back at past years and remember this time of year (end of January and February) all the same. 

Before I left work on Friday, an email popped up about a Gateway Family Fest on Saturday.  I typically delete anything from Gateway because 99% of the time it is a promo for a new bar or a band coming to a new bar.  Not my league anymore….  But I opened this one and saw that they were having something for kids from 10-12.  I got up for my run on Saturday morning early enough that I’d be home by 10 and we could head to Gateway.  However, when I got home my homebody kids did not want to budge.  They wanted to stay in their pjs on the couch.  By the time we took away electronics and told them they’d have to find something else to do, which in turn, pushed them to ask for the Gateway event, it was 11:15.  We arrived at the Gateway Theatre at 11:30 am.  Such a bummer because the 45 minutes we had at the Theatre was a blast.  They had a kids band that succeeded in getting even the most sedentary parents up and moving.  They had balloon artists and crafts (unfortunately, they had packed up when we arrived and I diverted Mario’s and Maria’s eyes from it so they wouldn’t be bummed out).  And they had short movies interspersed between musical sets.  The two we saw were Tom & Jerry and a Pixar film called Partly Cloudy.  Maria and Mario squealed when Tom & Jerry came on the big screen – they love that cartoon and have only seen it in my car.  I squealed in delight after the Pixar film because it was absolutely adorable.  The beginning shows storks delivering cute babies and kitties and puppies to houses.   It moves upward to show all of these white clouds making those sweet puppies and kitties and babies.  Then you see a sole grey cloud trying to make cute little things but instead only able to make alligators that bite, porcupines that prick and rams that butt.  The poor stork helping out the grey cloud looks like he has seen better days but he keeps coming back to the grey cloud to pick up the next little present to deliver.  The stork looks longingly to the bright white clouds and eventually flies away from the grey cloud to the white one.  The grey cloud gets angry and sad and cries his heart out.  The stork returns with a beautiful package.  He opens it and puts on his new football helmet and pads – he is ready for the next hard-to-deliver present from his friend, the grey cloud.  It was the sweetest, most genuine five-minute film I have seen.  Well worth the trip (along with the buttered popcorn!).

I left the theatre feeling a tad more uplifted.  I used the opportunity of having the kids in the car to head to one more place – Half Price Books.  I had been wanting to look for some good books for the kids (and me) for a while and Half Price Books is the best.  Maria scored a Junie B book – she loves those books recently.  Mario found a slew of Superhero books for me to read him while we were there (my book searching did not occur).  After finding a handful of kids’ book, we were on our way out when I saw it like a tulip in the weeds.  A collection of George and Martha.  The two cutest hippos ever.  I used to read them to my baby sis and I believe my mom read them to me. I couldn’t resist purchasing it.  We read ten stories tonight (they are mini versions) with the kids trying to guess which ones were my favorites (Split Pea Soup, The Bathtub). 

I write this blog tonight with the kids still up (10 pm) and Jon and his nephew watching a show about Alaska in the other room.  I stare in front of me at the fresh ruby flowers standing upright in their vase.  I eat buttered popcorn and drink a root beer.  I take a deep breath and slowly exhale.  Life ain’t bad, Mary Grace.  Just breathe and read a little George and Martha.

Books, books, books!

One of my favorite activities with the kids in the evening is reading books, especially when they are good.  Sounds logical but I can’t believe how many library books I bring home that are sub par.  I treasure the nights when we are all in our pj’s, cuddled together on the bed: Maria laying down with her head near one leg and Mario snug as a bug against  both legs.  They interact with me as I read the book and I see their minds expanding right before my eyes. 

I ran to the library tonight to return some past due books (why is it so hard to return library books on time?!) and to give me a reason to head a few blocks further north to get a double dip UDF ice cream cone.  I didn’t have much time so I just grabbed a handful of books that looked like they may be worthwhile to read.  I got some known favorites – Dr. Seuss and Fancy Nancy but then got a few random, unknown ones.    The kids got to choose two each when I got home.  Maria picked two Fancy Nancy books.  Mario picked Dr. Seuss and a brand new one: Otis and the Tornado by Loren Long. 

A breath of fresh air. A gem.  How couldn’t you fall immediately in love with sweet Otis, the tractor with a huge heart and immense courage? And how couldn’t you feel heavy-hearted for the giant bull “shaking in fear?”  I finished the book and breathed deeply.  The kids yawned in a state of wonder.  When I looked up Loren Long later in the evening, I found out he is from Cincinnati – my hometown.  No wonder the book is so good….