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.



Tousled

Winner of the losers!

The moms got a kick out of our sons winning the championship of the losers bracket. As my mom said “you should call it the lower bracket.” Indeed, we should, but that’s not as enjoyable.

It is so fun to watch Mario play basketball now. It was cute back when he was in second or third grade and you’d watch him try to dribble the ball without stumbling over his feet. We would crack up watching them try to bring their elbow back and launch the ball into the net. Now they are like miniature NBA players with the dribbling between the legs and the cutbacks and the driving into the net. I love the athleticism. I am amazed at one of Mario’s friends who can grab a rebound and run down the court passing defenders like they are but ghosts, and then lobbing a lay up even with a defender fouling him. I watch Mario in awe as he dribbles around a defender and makes a jump shot – swoosh in the basket. These boys have been playing together for 6 years. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They have formed a connection. 

The moms have formed a connection as well. We get excited for each other’s kids when a great shot is made and cringe together when one of our boys hits the ground hard. I receive videos from moms of Mario making a three, and I send out videos of other boys making a shot. It makes it all the more enjoyable to have a posse sitting with you and watching the games. It also gives us a chance to connect about what the boys are up to, whether we signed up for activities in time, what camps are popular for the summer….

Jon has been helping coach for the last few years. He loves the time with Mario and the other boys. He’s a natural coach and mentor. The boys look up to him and actually listen to what he has to say. I’m sure some of that is due to Jon’s stature – he can be viewed as the hulk – but some is definitely due to his attitude and playfulness with the boys. While my mom and I watched them play yesterday, there was a moment when the boys had huddled for a time out. Jon and another coach went out on the floor to talk to the boys and as Mario turned to go back out to the court, Jon placed his hand on Mario’s head and tousled his hair. Mario turned and smiled at him. The moment filled me with joy. I could feel the bond between those two in that simple gesture and I was so grateful for Jon in that moment. He is an awesome dad to our kids, and they feel his love for them.

This tournament was the last hoorah for these boys. They move onto 7th grade basketball with a school coach rather than coaching by their dads. Mario talks about how ready he is for middle school basketball because he thinks it will be more competitive. He is excited to ride a bus to games. But I think he will carry a tinge of sadness when it starts up next year because he will miss Jon on the coaches’ bench. A hair tousle from another coach just won’t be the same.

Peace sign, sure…

Last Sunday morning, I had ornate plans in my head involving Maria and Mario. I would wake up Sunday morning and take the dog for a run. When I came home, Maria and Mario would be waiting by the door with jackets on ready to take a walk up to Stauf’s. We would eat bagels and play cards and then walk up the street to the old playground we used to go to on Sunday mornings. We would all bunch up together and slide down the slide, laughing and playfully kissing one another until we got to the bottom. We would swing each other on the swings….

OK, now maybe I was going a tad too far with my imagination, but I did have a plan to at least spend some time with the kids in the morning.

I went downstairs to let Rocco outside and Maria was already on the couch playing on her phone. It was 7:30 AM. I glanced over at her and smiled.

“Awesome, you are up! I thought me and you and Mario would go to Stauf’s in a bit.”

She sighed and gave me a frown.

“What? I just thought we could stay home this morning and chill.”

I chose to ignore her comment and walked upstairs to check in on Mario. I figured if I could get Mario to go, Maria would follow. She likes hanging out with her little brother. When I got up the stairs, I heard the video game. Mario had already gotten on the Xbox.

“Hey dude, how about we head to Stauf’s with your sister?”

“Do we have to? Can’t we just hang here and chill?”

I could feel my irritation growing stronger. I told him I really wanted to take a walk because it was so beautiful out and we don’t get much time together – the three of us. He shrugged his shoulders, and kept playing his game. Grrrrr. I took my frustration out the way I know best – telling him he’s not gonna be on x-box all day and he’s got chores. He replied exasperated and a bit snotty “I know, mom.”

We proceeded to continue this banter with me getting more and more angry at him for not just excitedly agreeing to a walk. After my last quip, he pushed his chair back into the blinds. With the sound of the blinds hitting against the window, I went off. I shot him the middle finger for a quick second. I immediately hoped he had not caught it but he was staring right at me.

I left the scene and darted into my bedroom. I passed Jon along the way – he had heard the commotion and was coming in to check up on us.

”What’s going on”, he asked Mario.

“Mom just gave me the finger, that is what is going on.”

Jon told Mario to clean his room, and then came into our room to chastise me. “Seriously, babe?!”

“I was trying not to cuss him out so I thought I would do a finger gesture instead. I was hoping he wouldn’t catch it..”

I was fully aware I had overreacted, and let my anger get the best of me. My brood has some quick tempers so I get it honestly. We never get violent, but we can cuss with the best of them! Lovely. I could already picture Mario in the therapist chair with a box of tissues detailing that morning his mom flipped him off.

I knocked on his door and gently opened it. He turned around from cleaning his dresser to look at me. I sat on his bed and patted the area beside me motioning him to sit. He walked over and sat down. I placed my hand on his shoulder, and began to cry as I apologized. I told him how hard it is to see him grow up, and not be interested in all of the routine activities we did when he was younger – like going to the coffee shop and throwing the ball and playing board games. When I looked up at him, his eyes were as wide as if he had just seen a ghost. I think he was completely taken aback – first his mom is enraged and now she is crying her eyes out. Actually, he was probably just thinking “what a freak!”

He leaned over and gave me a hug. My boy has empathy even when he’s freaked out. His gesture made me cry harder. I eventually got my act together, and told him the memory I had of when he was a little boy. He would hear me walking down the stairs and would cry out my name. He would beg me not to run. I would have to rub his back and tell him that I would be back in less than an hour to play. I’d stand up and he’d say “can you rub my back for a few more minutes?” He didn’t want me to leave his side.

He smiled. I then told him how there were days when I’d leave the house and think to myself “I can’t wait until he gets up and doesn’t care if I leave.” It hurt to hear him cry my name every morning and beg for me to stay. I then told him that those days are here and now I miss the days he was a little boy.

Life is crazy.

I reiterated how normal it is for parents to have these moments of temporary insanity and how much he should know I never mean to cuss at him or give him an explicit gesture. They don’t mean for one minute I don’t love him with every piece of my being and think he’s the epitome of cool. He’s more and more self-reliant, as he should be. Dad and I have done something right since he’s not crying out my name when I leave.

I called my mom later that evening and told her about the incident. I relayed how bad I felt but how quickly I went in to apologize to Mario with the hopes that he would see that people can mess up, but can also admit to their errs and seek forgiveness. My mom, always ready to find a way to make me feel better, asked if I really meant to give Mario the Peace sign but instead my index finger simply didn’t raise up with my middle finger?

Yes! Yes, that is what happened.

I hung up the phone with my mom and walked into the family room. Mario was watching TV. I sat down next to him and said “hey, you know that incident earlier, I was actually trying to give you the peace sign but you didn’t see my index finger.” He cocked his head to one side and gave me an unbelievable stare.

He laughed, but didn’t call bullshit.



Diving deep

Mario presented his slideshow on light pollution after dinner last night. We laughed at some of the internet sites where he found his facts. He cited a company’s webpage. The company sold stones that helped reduce light pollution. Creative or desperate?!

The mood was light and airy as he wrapped up. It quickly moved to irritable as we told Mario he still needed to read 15 minutes. He responded as he typically does – with a grunt and a plea to read tomorrow night – not tonight. Jon and I reiterated that won’t work and he huffed away and we sighed. As he walked by hastily to head upstairs, Jon reminded him he needed to start practicing basketball everyday. Mario has got quite the ego when it comes to b-ball and some of the dinner conversation earlier had been around how there should be an A-Team and a B-team for b-ball, and that he and his friend Owen should be on the A-Team. We talked about not getting too boastful because other kids were practicing hard and may show up this season with their skills much improved. Jon told him he needed to practice if he wanted to be one of the best. Mario retorted that he has been out there practicing – we just don’t see him because we are working.

Jon mentioned that one of Mario’s friends had a free throw line drawn on his b-ball court so he could shoot free throws for 15 minutes straight (Mario’s practicing usually never entails taking free throw shots – he just likes to practice his three-point shot and his dribbling).  Mario quickly responded as follows:

“Do you know who helped Drew draw the free-throw line? His dad!”

Jon immediately scolded Mario for being sarcastic. Mario responded that he was just telling him that Drew’s dad drew the line. I picked up quickly that Mario was not trying to be sarcastic but rather, was sending out a plea to Jon to do more with him, including practicing his shots with him. Mario asked to go read his book, and walked upstairs. Jon looked at me quizzically and I proceeded to tell him what I thought Mario was feeling. It is not as though Jon doesn’t spend a lot of time with this kid. He is at every football game and takes him hunting and fishing and out to Dover.  Nonetheless, Mario was needing some dad-love, it was clear.

Jon, being the good dad, heard me and walked up the stairs after Mario. A few minutes later, I heard Mario talking to Jon. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I was glad to see that there was dialogue between them both. When I ascended the stairs a half-hour later, I found Jon on one side of our bed and Mario on the other.  I smiled.

“I assume I am sleeping in your room tonight?!” I asked Mario. I saw him smile and pull the blanket up around his ears.

The fisherman

Mario has always been more interested in the outdoors than Maria. It is funny because Maria grew up going to the farm and loves being there. However, she could probably stay inside her grandparents’ house all day baking, coloring, watching Netflix, and playing games, without any inkling to go outside and take a hike in the woods. Mario grew up with Grandma and Grandpa Ionno. They didn’t have woods to play in but they did have a big backyard and a pond at their condo. I remember Patty calling me to tell me that she and Mario went fishing in her pond, and how much he loved it. Mario also grew up fishing with Jon at big Mario’s house when they traveled there on the weekends.

Recently, Mario has been fascinated with living off the land. He informed me on one of our car rides together that he wishes he could just take a month and go somewhere remote in order to survive by himself. Fifth grade camp did a doozy on him. There was a survivalist session during camp; Mario loved it. He made fire with flint and stone. His primitive soul ignited.

The other weekend, he researched good places to fish near our home. He found a place a few miles away near downtown – Scioto Audubon. Jon and I had wanted to get yard work done but when Mario begged me to take him fishing, I could not resist. He got his fishing pole and his lures together as well as a couple of chairs for us to sit. It was precious. We found the fishing dock; it was pretty busy with people that had clearly been there for a few hours. We were able to cozy our way to a little bank of the river and Mario placed a lure on his pole. A couple next to us started hollering. The woman had caught a tiny fish. It was hysterical.

I watched him cast his line and stare out into the water as he slowly reeled the line in. He’d get a bite here and there and tug up on his pole. I’d lean into him to watch him work it. He’d bring the line in and lament how the fish just nibbled and wouldn’t latch. He’d begin the process again. Watching Mario cast his line and focus all of his attention on that line out in the water reminded me of a podcast I listened to a while back where the speaker talked about prayer as being “absolute unmixed attention.” Here we were at the shores of the Scioto amidst fishing strangers, praying.

Mario, Ri and I traveled to my parents’ farm this past weekend. Mario was excited to fish. Peepaw had agreed they could fish from kayaks. Mario saw a couple of guys in kayaks when we went to the Scioto and mentioned that he thought it would be fun to fish in one. Leave it to Peepaw to agree. They left for Seneca Lake and we’re gone for nearly four hours. I was heading down the grassy hill from a hike with Rocco when I saw Mario standing next to the shed.

“Mom, come here!”

I walked over and he showed off his catch – a huge catfish. It had to weigh three pounds. He had also caught a saugeye and a blue gill but released them. He was so charged up. I stood with him as Peepaw taught him how to cut and filet the fish. Watching my dad teach him and watching Mario soak it in made me smile.

We grilled up the catfish to add to the chicken and veggies that had been planned for the evening. Everyone told Mario the fish tasted delicious. He agreed, and begged to go back out after dinner.

Tender Mario moves

I woke up the other morning to a horrible cough. This happens to me more often as I get older. I can’t catch my breath and as I try to take a deep inhale, I cough worse. Anyway, my coughing woke Mario up from his sleep (he had had a nightmare earlier in the evening and we allowed him to sleep in our bed). It was a good thing it did because it was 7 AM and a school day. Mario jumped out of bed to head into our bathroom to take a shower. I heard him turn on the water faucet, and opened one eye when I felt him standing next to me a second later. He whispered “here mom, take a drink.” It was such a tender gesture from him. I grabbed the cup and watched him head back into the bathroom.

I came home from work a few days ago and Mario popped up from the downstairs. He gave me a big hug and told me he did the dishes. I looked in the sink and sure enough, they were all washed and placed haphazardly in the plastic drainer on the left side of the sink. After Mario washes bowls, he places them right side up so the water remains in them. It drives me crazy but I won’t complain since he took the initiative to do the dishes in the first place.

We finally got to Dick’s Sporting Goods this weekend to get Mario a new pair of gym shoes. He is definitely his mother’s child when it comes to his love for gym shoes. His Adidas were completely worn down with a hole in the toe and huge rip in the heel lining. He eyed quite a few basketball shoes before he chose his black and gold LeBrons (he knew I could not say no to anything LeBron-related). After he got his shoes from the salesman, he led me over to the women’s running shoe area. He was set on getting me a pair as well. I told him that I was good to go and we were just there to get him shoes. But, he was adamant that he wanted me to be able to experience the joy of getting a new pair of shoes as well.

On Saturday morning, I was lifting weights at the gym when I saw Mario’s number pop up. I answered the phone and he asked where I was. I told him I was at the gym, and he told me that he would walk to Stauf’s with me when I got home. The offer to walk to Stauf’s with me is equivalent to an offer to give me $25K. I would take the walk and time at Stauf’s over cash any day.

Mario and I walked to school together last week. I dropped him off to the basketball game. We talked about his favorite songs and about his plan to watch a movie a week this Summer with his buddies. As we talked and walked, he reached for my hand and held as we continued our stroll down the street. No big gesture on his part – just a gentle embrace of his left hand with my right as he continued his conversation with me.

We were eating dinner the other night – Jon and Mario and I (Maria was at dance club) – and out of nowhere Mario blurted out “I have the best mom – she plays basketball with me and always has fun.” Then he continued to eat his pasta and talk about roller skating in gym class.

Dancing and basketball

Maria had her eighth-grade dance on Friday night. We hit the jackpot with the first online dress we bought. She loved it, it looked spectacular on her, and I did not need to go into a shopping mall. Win all around! Being on student council, she had the task of coming up with the theme of the dance and decorating for it. They decided on a Hollywood awards theme and she ended up winning “most likely to become a millionaire” (and take care of her parents). The boy who also won it is the boy she has had a crush on for quite a while. Hilarious. I heard from her friends that some of the girls danced but the boys basically sat against the wall. Nothing has changed from the 1980s.

Jon and I realized that we had tickets to see John Cusack on Friday night. We realized this on Wednesday evening while talking with Jon’s brother and sister-in-law at the house. They stopped by late in the evening as they were heading to Colorado. The conversation turned to Christmas gifts and Jon’s brother asked him what he got. We both looked at each other in concern. Had we forgotten to go to our John Cusack event? I had bought Jon the tickets for his Christmas gift and we had forgotten all about it. Luckily, we had not missed it; however, it was two days away. We found someone for Mario to hang with because he gets scared being at the house by himself.

Maria wanted a bunch of her girlfriends to come back for a sleepover after the dance, which we allowed. What were we thinking? We came back to the looks of a sorority house at 4 AM. The kitchen was trashed with empty chip bags, cake mix and batter all over the counters and floor, and random freezer pop plastic tubes with remaining Popsicle juice everywhere. The girls were pumped up on sugar and laughing hysterically in the basement. Jon and I hit the sack at midnight and could hear them loud and clear for some time. We keep saying that this is just our insurance for when we get older and the kids need to watch over us. They better come to our side after we allowed all this!

Jon was a saint and took all of the girls to the eighth grade boys basketball game in Whitehall at 9:30 AM the next morning. They got to see their opposite sex classmates win the championship, and then Jon took them out to lunch afterwards. He is a sucker. Maria got home and headed right back out the door for a Girl Scout campout from Saturday night until Sunday. She loves these types of weekends – filled with friends.

Mario was charged up that Jon and I had something to do on Friday because he got to spend the night with his buddy. His buddy’s mom took them to Target to and they ended up riding bikes around the store. I guess the teenagers who were managing the area didn’t care. Gotta love them. He also managed to buy a whole pack of Oreos that he chowed down through the night. I took him to his basketball lesson on Saturday morning, and he felt good about his shooting for the tournament game that evening. He wanted to come home and show me all of the moves he learned. After he did that, I told him he had to help me fold laundry. He agreed but on one condition – that we watch the most famous dunks on Netflix while we folded laundry.

Peepaw came in on Saturday evening to watch him in Marysville. He got treated to a blowout with Mario making over 10 points. Grandma Ionno came in on Sunday morning for the 9 AM game and got treated to another blowout with Mario making quite a few points as well. But then the noon game came – and the team could not make shots to save their life. I could see Mario’s frustration from a mile away. The team he was put with for this tournament are good kids but a few of them lack the passion and drive that Mario has for the sport. That, in addition to Mario not getting his shots in, caused him to look very flustered on the court. I kept trying to yell for him to get out of his head but he was tuning us all out. Jon finally took him out in the last minute because he was complaining so much. He has got to learn to be a team player and to not blame others or the refs (even if they may be at fault). He’s gotta recognize his own flaws as well. But, a lecture right after the loss was not going to go anywhere. He had calmed down within 15 minutes and even managed to say “love you” when we left him to watch his buddies play another game.

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!

Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

Is this how it will be every night when he is in college? Will I not be able to sleep worried that somebody is getting into his dorm room and strangling him? How can Jon be so calm and collected and not worry at all? How can he not think of the 10 million random, unlikely events that may occur to him while he’s away? I mean seriously, he didn’t worry at all that Mario may fall into the crack between his bed and the wall and suffocate?!

Mario was ready to go at 11 AM even though registration for basketball camp did not start until noon and lasted until 2 PM. I kept telling him if we get there at noon he would be starving and they did not have dinner until 5 PM. He did not care a bit. He wanted to get there and see his dorm. We ended up arriving around 12:15. We registered him and then walked over to his dorm a block away. How strange to walk in the doors and take a right down a hallway into a common area filled with unadorned chairs and coffee tables. It reminded me of heading into my first dorm at UC. His room was tinier than I imagined after hearing about the lush sleeping quarters of college dorms. It had two twin mattresses on wood slats and two simple writing desks. However, Mario thought it was the bomb.com!

We tried to help him unpack his garbage bag of things (Jon kept asking him to use a duffel bag but he thought a garbage bag was easier) but he wanted to do it all himself. He shoved socks and underwear and shorts and shirts all in one drawer when he had six that he could use. Typical. I helped put the sheet on his bed and then he situated his blanket on top. He was stoked to have his room all to himself. The thought had been that he could take one of the mattresses and put them in his buddy’s room who had already agreed to bunk with his cousin. But when we saw the small size of the room, I doubted it would be possible. Then again, they are boys and could care less about space.

I got a call at 10 PM from him. When I saw his name light up on my phone screen, I, of course went to the awful. Something was wrong. He was hurt. He was sad. He missed us. When I answered, I heard boys laughing in the background. Mario answered with a jubilant “hi mom! “Then he proceeded to ask if me or Jon could bring potato chips and candy down to the dorm.

Are you kidding?

I was so happy to hear him happy that I was half tempted to deliver some food at 10 pm. However, I was in PJs and needed to get up early in the morning so I told him we would bring food down the next day. He hung up the phone while laughing with his friends. All was well. I went to bed. I was woken up by Jon at 11 PM. He was talking to Mario. As he had just rattled me from sleep, I again immediately went to the thought that something was wrong. Jon calmed me down and informed me that Mario just wanted to say good night. I took the phone from him and saw Mario laying in his bed FaceTiming me.

“Hi mom. I just wanted to say goodnight to you.”

I asked him if he was going to stay in the dorm room all by himself. He answered yes. I wanted to question him more about whether he was OK with that or whether he thought he might get scared. But then I thought I did not want to put those suggestions in his head if he was OK with it. So I let it go and just told him to call us in the morning when he woke up.

Then I fretted all night long. Did he have a nightlight that he could use and see around his room if he needed to get up? Did he lock his door so nobody could get in at night and hurt him? What if he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – did he know where it was? Holy shit, how your brain can work in the late hours of the night. It felt like I had just gotten to sleep when the phone rang at 6:50 AM.

“Hi mom!”

He survived the evening. He put me on hold as he got dressed. Then he jumped back on the FaceTime and told me he’d talk to me later. He had to get to breakfast. He called me two more times during the day to remind me to bring food that evening. Jon and I watched him shoot around when we arrived at 9 pm. He was joking with some boys and trying to make threes. We enjoyed watching him in his element. We met him at his dorm at 9:45 and delivered two bags of party chips and sour patch kids. He whisked the stash away and headed in to the dorm knowing he’d be loved by his camper friends.

At 11 pm, he Facetimed me. He just wanted to tell me goodnight. This time I felt a little more secure because when we dropped off the party chips to him, I made sure I asked some of the chaperone college kids if they slept in the same wing as the boys. They assured me that they had plenty of college basketball players sleeping in rooms near them if anything went wrong. I couldn’t help myself; Mario would have died if he heard me ask it.

That being said, I slept all night that evening.

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.