A Facebook memory popped into my feed a few weeks ago. It was a video of Maria and Mario, probably ages six and four, sitting on our kitchen floor with a variety of objects in order to perform a science experiment. I remember purchasing the boxed experiment – it looked like something we could handle. All you needed was some baking soda, vinegar and food dye to create an erupting volcano. Those were the days when I would search Target and Giant Eagle for any craft, experiment or toy to add to our weekend days.

We probably had taken a run in the double BOB stroller that morning to Giant Eagle to purchase the volcano fun. I could usually get in at least a couple of miles prior to hitting Giant Eagle if I promised the kids a donut from the donut case. I sometimes made them bring a hard cover chapter book to read to me while I ran with them. Again, the promise of a donut can work wonders….

I faintly recall helping them with the volcano that day. However, it may be more of a re-creation of my mind after watching the video over and over. It is hard to remember back to those days when they were that young. I can recall feeling like those days lasted forever – waking up at 6 am and going all day until 9 pm. Stroller ride, walks, park, lunch, games, reading, paint, snacks, Dora….

I remember getting a small break to go to Stauf’s and read a few pages of a book while eating a darkly toasted bagel. It was heaven to escape the long days with the kids. I also remember telling myself that I will miss those long days when they get older, but I had no idea of how exactly it would feel because I was so engrossed in the everyday with the kids. What would it be like to wake up and not have Mario plead for me to stay home with him rather than go on a quick run? What would it be like to be swimming with Maria and not have her constantly ask to play an underwater game? What would it be like to go to the park and not have both kids pull on me to tackle the obstacle course and slide down the slide with them 10 times over? How absolutely exhausted I was at the end of those days, so how can I yearn for them so much now?

Crazy ass universe. What I would do to cradle those small feet and toes right now. What I would do to have that tiny sweet hand grab mine as we walk down the street. But, if I am honest, I have no desire to go back to the days of getting up at 6 AM and having to give my full attention to those humans all day long. It was exhausting and it was for a time that I could handle it. That time period is not right now. So I need to embrace where we are today. Two grown kids at over 5 feet tall, both with gargantuan feet, both with their own viewpoints, both happy and comfortable in their skin. When I look back to that video again, I see traits in the kids that remain with them today. Mario with his goofiness and desire to make people laugh, and Maria with her pedagogical style and desire to be in control.

Ten years ago I could never have imagined where we are today. Today, I can’t imagine having two kids in their 20s. So, what is the lesson? To totally absorb these times that I have in front of me right now because I will soon look back at the videos I am currently making and lament at how the time flew by.

Shopping and eating…

Maria begged me to take her and her girlfriend to the mall on Friday night. Mario stayed with Patty this weekend – loving his time with his grandma before she moves from Marion. 

It was a cold night on Friday so I knew that we would not be able to play outside. This was pretty much the only reason I agreed to the mall – that, and it allowed for me to at least walk around and get some exercise while they looked at clothes. It also brings back fond memories of my girlfriend Beth and I going to Kenwood Mall on the weekends. We would spend hours up there just walking around, eating lunch, looking to see if any other friends or boys were around. We inevitably would find other friends hanging out because that is what we did in the 1980s. Nowadays, kids actually go there just to shop. How strange is that?

 I couldn’t believe how long Maria and her friend could remain in one store. I waited out on the couches for them, catching up on emails, but after 25 minutes I thought maybe they had been held hostage in there. I went to check on them and, sure enough, they were trying on there seventh shirt in the dressing room – just as happy as can be. 

Ri walked out with this snazzy top and I told her there was no way her father would allow her to wear that outside the house. She loved it though, and of course, I caved in and got it for her – but required her to agree that she would only wear it this summer, not beforeehand. I’m a real stickler aren’t I?!

They finally decided to move to a different store. They chose Bare Minerals. I watched a video of how to put on make up, and realized how little I know about proper application of that stuff. I was tempted to buy everything that was on the video because the older lady starring in it transformed from wrinkles and blemishes to a supermodel. But the  practical part of me, along with many generations of women who have never been consumed by that stuff, overpowered any remaining desire I had. I grabbed the girls and told them we needed to move on to another store. But this was not before they both applied some funky pink lipstick.

We moved on to Lush. I actually liked the store – all organic bath products. The bath bombs smelled delicious. I caved in and bought each girl one of them. These are the times that I wish we had a huge bathtub – I could get into using one of those bath bombs every night to relax me.

We hit a few more clothing stores, including the newly designed Abercrombie and Fitch store, which the girls geeked over. Finally, 2 1/2 hours later, they were starving and ready to go. Everyone was craving Mexican food so we decided to head to El Vaquero. Not a smart move when you are starving and they feed you nonstop chips and salsa. 

We were ill or by the time our food came but how can you reject fish tacos and enchiladas? And to top it off and make us truly stuffed, we had to get the fried ice cream for dessert!  I was positive we would all have stomachaches at 2 am.

Surprisingly, we all slept like logs. In fact, we woke up the next morning and decided to top off our Mexican grub from the previous evening with some timbits from Tim Hortons. If you are gonna splurge, splurge big!

All in a Sunday morning

7 am.
Ten years ago it would have floated by without notice or care. My pillow under me, Jon by my side, maybe a dream wrapping up in my rested head. Today, the house is bustling with kids’ footsteps up and down the steps, laptops chiming hello, and a pup barreling onto the bed for morning kisses.
Jon rescued me Sunday morning and escorted Rocco downstairs with the kids. That lasted ten minutes before we heard the charge of Rocco through the hall, up the stairs, and to our room. I lazily climbed out of bed, got dressed and lumbered down the steps with Rocco pushing his nose into my leg right behind me. The kids were on the couch playing Animal Jam on the computers. I gave them the “I am not happy you are on a computer and not taking care of a Rocco” look and they both closed the computer tops and pronounced “we want to take a walk with you!”
Ri got her scooter. I got the stroller for Mario in case he got tired of walking (the BOB is still our tried-and-true even though Mario is almost seven years old). We got Rocco and headed to the woods. We walked into a chirping, vibrant forest and I was elated to have my babies with me to experience such early morning goodness. They immediately dashed to the climbing tree and Rocco immediately whined and cried as they climbed the tree. He gets whacked out every time they scale it and watches them intensely until they are back on ground.


Mario and Ri went to their second favorite tree that leans way over to the side. They love to climb it. Mario decided he was going to jump off of it rather than have me help him down. All I heard as I walked out of the meadow with Rocco was “MOM!” Ri was helping him up and he was holding his back. Great, he’s broken his vertebrae. But he shook it off for try no. 2. Here’s how that try went:



Mario jumped.
Mario feigned death.
Ri laughed hysterically.
We picked him up and they both went up the tree for one last hurrah before leaving for Stauf’s.

On the way out of the woods, Mario complained that his back hurt. Maria exclaimed “I’ll carry you little buddy!” He hopped on her back and the hysterics began. Rocco chewed on Mario’s shoe and Ri tumbled every other second. What cuties.


We walked up to Giant Eagle and the kids went in while I held Rocco (who again whined like a baby when they left). I gave them my Visa (they are so independent) and they got a bag of grapes (they had to eat a handful before a donut) and two donuts. Stauf’s was trumped by GE donuts.
Next we headed to the church park. Mario freaked about Rocco climbing the jungle gym set. He worries like heck about that dog. He was nervous about him getting lost at Park of the Roses, too. He doesn’t worry about jumping from a tree but he worries about his pup. And Rocco worries just as much about him. Mario began to swing and Rocco dashed over and jumped on the swing as Mario swung up. Mario got scratched good. I yelled at Rocco and he came to his side immediately. “It’s ok, mom. He didn’t mean it.” He has his back.
We left the park and talked about zombies and softball pitching on the walk home. Ri promised Mario she’d take care of him as his nurse when we got home because he banged his knee at the park. I carried him upstairs to his bed and she brought band-aids and the computer to him. She fetched him water and listened to him talk about his animals on Animal Jam.
Meanwhile, I went down to sit on the deck with Jon and play gin rummy. He whooped on me but I enjoyed just hanging out with him in the shade of the trees.
Pretty nice Sunday, I must say. And all of this before 10:30 am!>

Mario and me

It’s been Mario and me since Ri left for Cincy on Monday morning. The kid is too stinkin’ cute and I find myself squeezing him and kissing him every free moment I have. He begged me to come to his tee-ball practice on Monday morning and I could not resist. I rescheduled a morning meeting and went down to see him. He’s got a heck of an arm on him. He is ready for coach-pitch and he does not hesitate to to tell me the same. He kept glancing over at me to make sure I was watching him.
After work, I came home with the hopes that he would want to take a bike ride or long walk. But he just wanted to chill so I threw him into the stroller (Jon, close your ears) and we took Rocco for a walk. He brought the computer but after me wrangling him about not talking to his mom, he stopped playing on the condition that we play the animal game. And so we did. He always thinks I’m going to select a pig since it’s my favorite animal so his first question is always “is your animal pink?” So tender.
We had to step into DK Diner for a donut on our way home. Don’t you know they had two chocolate long johns left so Mario and I were in heaven. When we got home, Mario found American Ninja tryouts on tv and pleaded for me to watch them with him. And so we did. He was amazed when a girl made it through the course. It is my life’s goal to make that kid understand that girls can do anything boys can do. You’d think with as adamant as I am about that, he would understand. I’m quite sure he simply makes the comments just to irk me and Ri.
We repeated our steps on Tuesday night except DK Diner only had a vanilla long john so I had to walk away donut-less (Mario was willing “to deal with” a vanilla one). We watched more Ninja together and we did headstands. I had read a study that found that standing on your head for a minute a day was beneficial to you and I explained the study to Mario. He then timed me and made me stay in a headstand for a minute – I think he wanted me to pass out so he could stay up for the rest of the night. I made it and he congratulated me just like a trainer.
He fell asleep on my lap at 9:50 and I sent the rest of my emails while I watched his little sweet face dream. We woke up this morning and took a walk to Giant Eagle for some milk. We played a new game – guess the number. I picked a number from 1-20 and he had to guess it. He guessed my number – 16 – on the first try. He was so charged up.
“I think I can read your mind, mom!”
Well, I just couldn’t let him down so on the next try when he guessed 39 out of 1-40, I said yes even though it wasn’t the number in my head. And so it went. He would pick one less than the top number (59 if 1-60; 79 if 1-80). Finally he said “mom, you are just thinking of any number that comes right before the last number!” So I figured it was time to not fib and the next time he guessed, I told him he guessed the wrong number. But when he guessed again after saying “oh yeah, I knew that was wrong but I bet this one is right…” I had to say he was right even though he wasn’t. I’m a wimp that way. I’m probably leading him down a bad path since many articles talk about letting your kids fail but I’m sure there are worse things I could be doing with his life.
He swore he wasn’t going to get a donut at Giant Eagle but when we got there, he couldn’t resist. I made him eat some grapes before he ate his donut, which served two purposes: (1) get some vitamins in him and (2) get him filled up so I got half of his uneaten donut.
On the way back home, I asked if he missed Ri. “Sort of” he responded. It is wonderful to get alone time with each kid but I’m ready to get us all back together (and I know Mario is too notwithstanding his “sort of” response).

Shots and donuts

Mario survived.

It was a trying ordeal but he persevered after counting to 100.

Yes, the dreaded doctor’s appointment is over. He’s only been sick about it for weeks. When we got to the office, he was initially excited about getting weighed and measured (25th percentile height (he’s got his Grandma Ionno in him!) and 60th percentile in weight). But when we got in the examination room, he turned on us.

“I’m scared mom. My stomach feels funny because I’m so scared.”

Maria chimed in before I could speak.

“It’s ok baby boy. You are going to be brave just like your big sis. You are just gonna get those shots and act like nothin’ happened to you buster.” She pinched his cheek just like your eighty year old grandma would do.


He tried to stay stoic. He began counting to 100. Ri continued to try to make him laugh. The doc eventually came in to look him over and he impressed her with his counting and his spelling of “Mario.” She gave him a clean bill of health and then told him he’d only need two shots. We had told him four because that’s what Ri had gotten at age five so we thought he’d be relieved. But instead he took the opportunity to bargain.

“How about just one shot?”

The doc laughed. Maria looked dejected. She wanted him to get all four and be brave.

“Can he get three?” she asked. “And can I get an examination done on me after you are done with Mario?” She’s the only kid I know that enjoys visits to the dentist and doctor.

The doc left and it seemed like an eternity until the nurses arrived. Mario asked every 30 seconds when they’d be in to give him his shots. Maria rolled up both his sleeves and kissed the top of both of his arms.

“Grandma Ionno’s mom used to kiss her on the place where she was going to get a shot so I’m keeping up the tradition, Mario.”

He let her kiss him with the hopes that this ritual would somehow lessen the pain. The nurses finally stepped in and Ri and I held his hands while they inserted a shot in each arm.

He screamed. And cried. I held him.

Maria repeated “you are our strong baby boy, yes you are.”

Five minutes later we were driving to Giant Eagle to get the donut we promised him.

When Ri and I were getting ready eraly that morning, she had wondered what we could do for Mario after his shots as a reward for being brave.

“It was easy with me because all I ever wanted was ice cream or spaghetti. Mario doesn’t like food like I do! We may need to buy him a toy!”

But then as she stood in the mirror brushing her hair, she shouted “Oh duh! Mario loves donuts! We can get him lots of long john donuts!”

And so it was decided. He’d get a donut and Ri, by default of being with us, would get one, too. I have a feeling she set me up for that one….


A week in review

Jon arrived on US soil this afternoon and will be waiting for me when I get home tonight. Ahhh. Feels great.

The week without him provided much laughter, a bit of stress, some crying, and a boatload of hugs and kisses. The run-down:

1.Wii tournaments with the neighbor kids who have gotten comfortable enough with us that they just walk through the door and yell “hi, anyone home?”

2. Mario made a new buddy – Quinn, one of the neighbor kids. Quinn has a head of strawberry curls and reminds me of Huck Finn. Mario stopped him on his bike Monday night to ask him to play at our house. Quinn said he wanted to ride his bike. Mario threw down his football and stomped up the yard to me to announce his displeasure. “He doesn’t want to play! I don’t like him!” After explaining why he may want to take a breath and re-think his proclamation against Quinn, he gently approached Quinn again and asked if he could come over after he rode his bike. Quinn agreed and they’ve been playing Wii ever since!

3. Maria strengthened her friendship with Sophie, the 3rd grade neighbor kid. I like Sophie because she never wants to play barbies and she loves being outdoors.


4. Mario got his first flag football picture taken on Tuesday night. What chaos! Forty 5 and 6 year olds running frantically around the park, tackling and wrestling each other. Mario may be tiny but he is mighty. He warmed my heart the way he wrapped his arms around his team members when the group picture was taken (you could barely see him in the middle – his little pea-head only popping out!).


5. We took two morning walks in the stroller and witnessed an extravagant sunrise one morning. We turned the corner onto First Avenue and BOOM, the oranges and peaches and reds hit us. No talking, no movement (except for my feet pressing the pavement). Just admiration of nature’s canvas.



6. Mario and I devoured two long john donuts for breakfast (each!).


7. Maria got to stroll Mario to school for the first time ever and she was charged! Mario usually flips out whenever Maria takes the reins but he was either too tired or in a magnanimous mood on Wednesday morning. Maria kept looking up at me in sheer delight. When Ri walked into school, Mario looked back at me with a sullen face and said “I wish Ri could stroller me all the way to my school.”


8. We met Grandma and Grandpa Ionno at Polaris Mall to deliver a Mario package to them. Mario ran to grandma as soon as he caught his eyes on her. He said “Gracias Amigo” to her to show her the extent of Spanish words he knows. When grandma replied “do you know any more Spanish words” he looked at her in deep thought and finally said “come on amigo!”

9. Ri and I had a girls night on Thursday and strollered to Orange Leaf at 8:30 pm when it was pitch black outside. We worked on Maria’s blog on the way – she wrote about horse back riding and how you have to concentrate when you ride. My darlin’ horse lover.

10. And now we end the week with Maria having her buddy over for a play date. Two feisty gals to contend with all night but I hope the park and bike riding will wear ’em out!

Happy 5th Birthday, Mario!

Dearest Mario Bo Bario:

How are you five years old already? How did I turn my back for what seems like 2 seconds on my seven pound, 19 inches smiling black-haired baby boy and find a wild, vibrant, insane toe-head five-year-old son?

You entered this world in a flash. My water had barely broke when I started to feel heavy contractions. And then, 15 minutes later, there you were squirming all around and wailing for your mama. You seemed so tiny to us although you were the same size as Maria when she was born. Maybe it’s because Maria was almost 2 and a half when you were born and nearly 40 pounds so any newborn would pale in comparison! You came home to a room decorated with safari animals. It was the smallest room in our house. We could not even fit a rocking chair in it to rock you. So your sister was kind enough to let us rock you in her room. She loved that predicament, actually, because she got to have me and dad in her room while she fell asleep since it took us quite some time to get you to sleep every night. And then when we thought we had you to sleep, you would pop up in your crib and hold out your arms and cry. Neither dad nor I could walk away. And so there we were back in the rocking chair again.

You smiled ten times more than your sister smiled as a baby. You loved to play on your green safari blanket filled with mirrors and lights. You always wanted someone right by your side when you were on it; if someone was there, you had a blast. If someone left your side, you cried hysterically until they came back in the room.

You are like your mama – extreme. You either smile like a mad man or cry your eyes out. All or nothing. Either incredibly happy or completely pissed.

When you are in the mood, you crack people up with your antics. Whether it’s singing the “Call of the Wildman”, yelling “hey hot ladies” out the car window, grooving to “I’m Sexy and I Know It”, or making funny gestures at the dinner table, you get everyone laughing. How many nights have I come home from a rough workday only to find myself in a better mood after sitting with you for five minutes? You bring out the fun of life – the silliness and absurdity that it entails. Dad and I need that.

So, what highlights can we review from your fourth year of life?

1. You learned how to do a mean cannonball off the low dive.

2. You played on your first baseball team.

3. You got to experience the ocean.
4. You probably ate your weight in donuts!

5. You slept in a tent with Robert.
6. You rode a roller coaster at Kings Island.
7. You caught a catfish at Uncle Mario’s and Aunt Vicki’s house.
8. You went to the dentist for the first time (and had a cavity!).

9. You put on your first play, Abiyoyo, at your school.
10. You played your first round of putt-putt and wanted to win (imagine that?).

11. You learned how to skip a rock in the river (thanks Peepaw).
12. You got to go to a zombie walk at Halloween (thanks Grandma Ionno).
13. You got to find golf balls on the golf course (thanks Grandma Lolo).
14. You got to ride a horse (thanks Mama Meg).

15. You got to give Grandma Menkedick a kiss and hold her hand before she passed away at age 92. You also spoke kind words about her at her funeral (what a brave boy).
16. You fell in love with the Wild Kratts and Ben Ten.
17. You learned to swim like a fish!
18. You visited Pittsburgh.

19. You took your first plane trip.

20. You pet an alligator!

21. You climbed a sand dune.

22. You helped mom in the garden.
23. You learned to dj!
24. You ruled the dance floor at a wedding reception!

25. You rode in a boat!




So there you have it, little man. Or, I guess I need to start saying “big man” since you are now five years old. Go a bit slower this year, will you? I want to savor five as long as possible…. We love you.

Sunday stroller bliss

Since Maria wouldn’t come home on Saturday night with me (no hard feelings, really – I loved listening to my own music and having an hour and a half of alone time!), I got to take a run with Mario in the stroller on Sunday morning.

I was able to crank out about 4 miles before we headed to Tim Horton’s for Sunday morning donuts. And it was another stroller ride where Mario never asked for the iPad but instead talked with his mama the entire time. Beautiful. We played the animal guessing game for most of the trip. He always guesses pig, frog, and monkey when he is guessing my animal because they are my favorite. He’s getting better about asking actual questions to figure out the contemplated animal after he runs through “mama’s favorite list.” He asks if they live in a jungle or farm, if they have fur, if they are fast. His animals I have to guess about are typically from Wild Kratts and obscure as can be. The honey badger, blue morpho butterfly, scorpion…. He’s so proud when I need help in guessing it.

The Wild Kratts show is a nice little educational tool that Grandma Ionno found. Mario gives me more insight into the animal planet from watching that show than I could find on my own (did you know the orangutan has sore arms from swinging and picks off aloe from trees to massage into his arms? Brilliant (both Mario and the orangutan))!

When we arrive at Tim Horton’s we are greeted by a flock of geese protective of their little ones. Mario jumped out of the stroller and began following them. He knows the wrath of the mama goose if he gets too close so he kept far enough away not to receive her treatment.


After the donut store we decided to head to the river to collect more rocks. The lack of rain created a rocky bank for Mario to step onto and the amount of mussels and clams amazed us. We could have been on Cape Cod (ok, I exaggerate a tad). We must have played on that bank for 45 minutes and it felt like 10. I love those times with Mario where we just chill – throwing rocks and staring at the water to wait to see a jumping fish. He does good for my need to be more calm.

On our way back to the stroller,a passing runner told us there was a turtle a few 100 feet back on the trail. We were all over it. We found “Cutie” (as Mario named it) off the trail soaked in mud. We caressed its shell but stayed away from its mouth to avoid a possible finger crunch.


On the way off the trail, we picked a few wildflowers to take home for Maggie’s party. I put them in the seat next to Mario in the stroller and he kept getting irked by the flowers falling on him. I said “flowers, you better stop falling on Mario, do you hear me?!” Mario loved that exchange and began to play the role of the flowers saying “we won’t listen to you” so that I would “have a talk with the flowers” again. This exchange lasted the entire way home.

Look at me!

Mario begged to bring in donuts for his friends today. It’s Friday so I caved in and agreed. We biked down to Tim Horton’s and he ordered 20 timbits – all chocolate except one glazed “because Fiona only likes glazed.” He already knows how to impress the ladies.

He loves to bring the donuts because everyone swarms him. Jon and I are learning that he is bound to be the class clown with all of the antics that he engages in to get attention. Last night, he shrunk his head down into his shoulders to make it look like he had no neck because he was making fun of Jon’s lack of neck and we laughed hysterically. He kept doing it over and over basking in his glory of making us laugh. And when we stopped, he tried another antic to get us going again.

He loves attention, our boy. Whether it’s through donuts or acting crazy, he’ll find it.


Good Morning!

Maria woke me up this morning at 6:20. She jumped out of our bed and shot into her room. She was dressed in 5 minutes and back in our room asking when Maggie would be over. Can we say excited?!

Maggie took Maria to the school that Maggie teaches at today. it was the last day of school for Maggie’s kiddies so they were making sundaes and watching movies. Maria was pumped. Jon said she sat on the front door steps for 10 minutes waiting for Maggie to pick her up. Doll baby girl.

Meanwhile, Mario climbed in bed with Jon and me while Maria got dressed. I tried to gently sneak out from under his arm but he quickly opened his eyes and asked “where are you going, mom?” I told him I was going for a run and I’d be back soon. He did what I knew he’d do – begged to go with me. And I responded the way I knew I’d respond – ok. So, he hopped in the stroller with the iPad and we were off. We had to make the Tim Horton’s stop to get Timbits but only after he ate a graham cracker with peanut butter so he had some nutrients swarming around his system.

We returned an hour later in order to miss seeing Maggie taking Maria for the day (Mario would have been so angry to not be included to the party). On the way down the street, Mario and I engaged in his favorite game. He says “You don’t love me mom!” and I respond “of course I love you goofy” while I reach down and tickle him. He loves this game and we play it all the way home. I pick him up out of the stroller to take him inside, and he gives me a huge bear hug as we walk in the back door and get ready for school.

A good start to the morning.