Be happy with this moment

My latest quote obsession. How I embodied it this week:

1. Watching Maria as lead attorney at her Mock Trial at the courthouse. She defended a student arrested after tampering with eggs for the school breakfast. The girl is a natural trial attorney. She grilled the witnesses on cross examination (and even got recognized by the Judge). She used inflection in her voice while giving the closing. She’s a natural. The judge awarded her “Most Outstanding Attorney.”

2. Playing Mexican Dominoes with Mario and hanging out in the kitchen with him and Jon. We spent nearly 3 hours, cleaning the kitchen and playing Mexican dominoes this afternoon. He was forced to hang with us because this was part of a consequence he earned, but he didn’t complain too much and we all had a really good time together. I kept trying to ask him questions he did not want to answer like what major he’d choose in college or what he likes most about himself. Jon knew he did not want to answer so Jon rang a little buzzer to alert him he didn’t need to answer. It was quite hilarious. Jon was able to get Mario talking a bit more than I was , and by the end, we learned a few more facts than we had known.

3. Watching Mario play basketball. Damn, he and his teammates are fun to watch! The game is so much more physical in high school, and Mario plays tough.

4. Watching Maria give tours at the new high school. Girlfriend was chosen to give a speech at the ribbon cutting, and lead one of the tours of the school. She has certainly positioned herself as a leader at that place, and ingratiated herself amongst her teachers.

5. Making food for the kids. I will be the first to admit, and the kids will be the first to inform me, that my cooking is not premier. It, frankly, is not even that good. But I can crank out microwavable foods and do a few things on the stove. The kids have learned to live with that. So, when either of them asks me to make them breakfast or lunch, I do it in a heartbeat. Mario asks much more than Maria. There is something about making their food that brings me joy. It is a way to take care of them now that they are so independent.

6. Watching the kids interact together. There is no greater joy that I can get than seeing the two of them talking together or goofing off together. Thank God Maria is the older sibling, and is a natural nurturer. Mario doesn’t know how good he has it. And Mario is good about loosening Maria up at times she needs it!

Resolutions

My mom and I have routinely huddled up at the end of each year or the beginning of each new year to discuss what our New Year’s resolutions will be. Some years are better than others in achieving them. Last year, I resolved to stretch more after my exercise routine because I was dealing with some sore hamstrings and hips. I did a decent job of achieving that goal. I also resolved to stop snacking so much at night. I could not put a checkmark of achievement next to that goal….

This year, Mario has inadvertently assisted me in crafting my resolutions. Now that he has moved up to the attic, we do not get a glimpse into how much he is studying versus playing on his computer. With Maria, there was never any doubt that when she was down in her basement bedroom, she was studying. She, of course, is an anomaly of a teenager. She wants nothing more than to overly achieve in school – sometimes to the point of it being a stressor and riddling her with anxiety. For her, our goal is to remind her that she also needs to enjoy her life and put some of her focus on play time. We have always known that Mario has a different set of  a goals and ideals than Maria. Mario is more like your typical boy teenager – he wants to have fun in school, get in as many study halls as possible, hang with friends, and goof off. A good day to him does not center around getting 100% on a math test; rather, it centers around getting together with some of his friends and watching a funny video or packing in a car and heading to Chipotle for lunch.

The first quarter of school he came home with all Bs and As. We knew he did not try that hard (he admitted as much) so we told him that for the second quarter, he needed to set a goal for two more As. He agreed that he would do so.

Now, this is where Jon and I dropped the ball. We know Mario – we know that playing a video game with friends will always trump doing homework, even if he knows that that is what he should be doing. It is too hard for him to say no. This is where we as parents need to step in to establish boundaries on video playing time and homework time. We did not do that, but rather assumed that he was able to make those choices on his own based on his desire to do better. All quarter long, he affirmed he was doing what he needed to be doing, and should end up with As and B’s. So, when I went online a week ago and saw his grades for second quarter, I was taken aback. Not only has he fell in the number of As but he even had a couple of C+s.

After sternly talking with him about his grades and my concern that he was not putting effort into school, I sat back to look at my own behavior. We have known that Mario is a different kid than Maria. He is not driven to excel in school. He has enjoyed high school this year because of the freedom it gives him and because he made friends early on with juniors and seniors so he gets shout outs from them throughout the day. Learning is ancillary to the social scene.

It was just so much easier to assume that he was studying up in his room then to take the time each evening to try to review all of his subjects with him. The funny thing is that I am constantly looking for ways to do more with him and this was staring down my face. Not exactly a riotous good time for either of us – but time, nonetheless.

I also realized that I needed to have a longer conversation with him about why he put so little effort into his work the second quarter. I have been trying to implement some of the learnings I get from all my podcasts and I had just listened to We Can do Hard Things where Dr. Becky Kennedy spoke about good kids doing bad things and getting deeper into why the kid felt like he needed to take the particular bad action.

I spoke to my mom that evening and told her about Mario’s grades, as well as my New Year’s resolution to take time every night to review his classes. She thought it was a worthy resolution, and one I should have probably implemented a year ago for 2022. Yea, well, better late than never.

Kid cures

I have been sick the past few days with some sinus funk. Just enough to make me feel crappy but not so much that I have to be bed-ridden all day. My kids and Jon want nothing to do with me because they don’t want to get sick – of course, the first thought with these types of symptoms is that I have Covid. Once I took the test and was negative, however, they still wanted to keep their distance. Jon has allowed me to sit in the same room as him – as long as we are a good distance apart – in order to watch a couple of shows together. My mom and I still talk in the evenings, which I appreciate in order to connect with another human. But I miss playing a game with the kids or taking a walk with friends.

I woke up this morning hoping to feel better but I still felt crappy. Maria, being the sweetheart that she is, agreed to play gin rummy with me as long as I sat 6 feet from her across the table. I begged her to allow me to take a walk with her and the pup but being the mother hen that she is, she refused. Just as she was getting ready to walk out with Rocco, Jon walked in with Mario who he had picked up from a sleepover. Mario asked where Maria was going, and I told him he should go with her. Surprisingly, he agreed to do so.

I think it’s been a year since the two of them walked together. I lit up with excitement. They looked at me like they always do when I get excited about something so mundane. They shake their heads as I put the collar on Rocco and energetically ask him if he’s excited to walk with them both. They sigh as I tell them to turn around so I can get a picture of them before they take off. I stare out the window as they stroll down the sidewalk with Rocco pulling on his leash. The thought of my babes walking together comforted me through the day.

Later in the day, my dad messaged our Adventure Team to see if we wanted to play cards. We jumped on a call within minutes but rather than start with cards, we engaged in funny faces and bouncy ball antics and trampoline jumping in order to entertain my brother’s daughter. He had been watching her through the day while his girlfriend worked, and informed us that Aliz had been wanting to see “her people”. This is the term she gives to our Menkedick clan. We all try to get in a few words about how our week has gone between blowing raspberries at Aliz and listening to Elena beg for us to watch her do a trick. It really is a crazy scene for anyone from the outside watching in but somehow it feels completely normal while we’re in it. It’s these times together that boost me up for the day. While they didn’t cure me of my sickness, they did make me forget about my aches for a while, and they lifted off the heaviness of the sinus funk. I mean, really, how can I feel crappy when I’m watching a munch ball Swedish toddler laugh heartily at my niece showing her dolls off, and my daughter rolling a super ball off her head?!

MLK

I woke up yesterday morning still trying to figure out something for the kids to do to honor MLK’s legacy. I postponed my research on volunteer activities this year, and therefore, missed out on some events that needed pre-registration. When the kids were little, I took them to the MLK March downtown and to volunteer at the YWCA. However, in the past few years, we have not participated in an organized event (thank you Covid).

I spent an extra 20 minutes lying in bed this morning searching for activities around Columbus. I had no luck. I looked up articles about MLK to read with the kids. I watched a video on the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. What shall I do?

Maria was downstairs on the couch working on her homework. I interrupted her studies to ask her to help me find something for us to do to celebrate MLK. She informed me that she had woken up in the morning and already acted. I was confused. “What did you do”, I asked her.

“I read about education reform, and called Senator Rob Portman to express my concerns about the segregation of the education system.”

Huh?

“Yea, here is the site if you want to take action. You can also call the Senator to express concern about CRT and student debt. The site has a script you can read off of if needed.”

Well, I’ll be darned (as one of my relatives used to say when I was growing up). My girl had already taken action without me even asking. It was a proud moment, and I teared up. Maria looked at me as if this was no big deal – second nature to find a cause and take action. Jon and I did something right with this girl. She is on her way to improving public policy and changing this world for the better.

On the other hand, Mario was already out sled riding by the time Maria and I connected. He was enjoying the day off with his buddies. When I picked him up at his buddy’s house, I asked him what we could do to honor MLK. He was at a loss for ideas. Lesson learned with this kid for next year. I need to plan something for he and I to do.

He ended up agreeing to write a letter of appreciation to his grandma for her service to her grandkids, including Mario. He wrote about how grateful he was for all of the love and dedication she provides to him. It was a token of love in honor of MLK. He also was forced to play a boardgame with me and Maria. We played Monopoly – haven’t played that game together in quite some time. His love for money came out strong. When Maria and I play, we tend to feel bad if we are taking others’ last dollars. Not Mario – he relishes every moment and rubs it in. After he beat us, I told him I would not be worried about that love of money as long as he took a portion of it and did some thing good for the world with it. He agreed. That’s a win.

In the evening, we all sat down for home-made ribs Jon cooked on his new smoker, and talked about Mario going to high school and Maria’s thoughts on classes he should take. We said a prayer of gratitude to Grandma Menkedick whose birthday was on the same day. I made vinegar-based cole slaw in her honor (hers was much better).

I was grateful for the family dinner. Watching Jon love on his ribs was delightful. Listening to Maria talk about her socialist self playing a capitalist game in Monopoly was amusing. Play jabbing Mario as we ate brought joy. Being present to notice all these things shows I’m learning – learning to embrace the moment and allow the joy to seep in.

Thank you Dr. King for your work, and your commitment to justice and equality.

The boy is 14

Mario turned 14 on September 4. It was a bit of a wild card as to whether he would be able to celebrate or not. He got sick the previous weekend; he had a horrible sore throat, cough, low-grade fever, and congestion. I took him to urgent care on Saturday, and he tested negative for strep and COVID. It is just a nasty bug, they told us. He felt worse on Sunday and could not head to school on Monday. He tried to go back on Wednesday but felt horrible after school. We tested him for COVID, strep and mono on Thursday and all were negative. He finally felt better on Friday but stayed home so he would feel better on his birthday. You know he is getting more mature when all he wants for his birthday is a trip to IKEA to find furniture for his new attic bedroom.

Patty came in on Saturday morning, which was another wish Mario had for his birthday – to see his grandma. We went to lunch at Rooster’s (much to Maria’s dislike), and then headed up to IKEA. Mario refused to allow Jon and I to walk around with he and Patty. Jon and I had enough of IKEA within 15 minutes but did manage to score some new dinner plates. Mario found a couch he liked along with cushions he thought I’d love because they were only $6 each but still soft (he knows his mama’s love for a good deal).

We came home and opened presents. Maria was the only one to purchase an actual present. Mario wanted a microphone for his gaming off of Amazon and she got it for him (she even paid half)! He was charged up and immediately walked over to give her a hug. I live for those moments of tenderness between them because they so rarely happen anymore; however, I can always guarantee some affection between them if Maria gets him a present:)

Later that evening, Jon and I were invited to a party at the parent’s house of one of Mario’s friends. The mom informed me that she had gotten a huge DQ cake for Mario so we told Mario he had to come with us.  I got to embarrass him a bit by having everyone sing happy birthday. He endured it because he knew he had a whole DQ cake to devour afterwards.

Leading up to his birthday, Mario went round and round on what he wanted for his birthday. He does this every year. He will want something a couple of months before his birthday, and then will think of something else a month before and then something else two weeks before…. This year, he badly wanted a moped. He researched and learned that 14-year-olds can get licenses. I don’t know if he lost interest because the thought of a new bedroom on the third floor outweighed the moped or because we kept saying no to the moped, but by August he was on to a new attic bedroom as a birthday gift.

He recently moved his PC and desk up to the attic because he wants privacy while he berates and laughs with his friends on-line. I was hesitant to allow him up there because of the window AC unit, and the amount we have to spend on cooling off the upstairs. But his dad allowed it, likely channeling his frustration with never having his own room as a kid. I would have never dreamt that we would allow him to play video games so much but since Covid, it has become the activity of choice for him and all of his friends. I justify the amount of time on the video games because he is chatting with his friends the entire time. However, God only knows what those games will do to his brain 10 years from now. Who knows, maybe he’ll use his skills and be a famous gamer or create a much-loved app.

He cannot wait to decorate his attic bedroom. Hence, why we had the couch purchase. He is also getting new carpet and a new desk. Jon and I figure that it will help the resale value of the house so we don’t feel like we are spoiling him too much….

This year, Mario became obsessed with building muscle. He was on a kick to start creatine, which we quickly shut down. However, he has now moved onto simple protein powder. We agreed to it if he actually maintains a good diet in addition to it. He is his mother’s child with his love for lifting weights. He tore a ligament in his hand and had to get a cast. The first question he asked the doctor was whether he could still lift weights. It nearly made me cry with pride:)

He loves himself some rap music – playing Kanye to me the other day as we drove to the grocery. Again, he is his mother’s son.

His favorite sport remains basketball. He got into a spring league with the Pumas. It was a bit rough in the beginning because he didn’t play much, and he didn’t know the new coaches, but then he ended up really elevating his game, and starting throughout the rest of the season. It was a joy to watch him develop, and watch him get more confident.

He got spoiled with vacations this year. He went to Savannah with Patty and his three cousins. He now loves the beach. This is 180° turn from six years ago when he was scared to death to go in the water because he thought he would be attacked by a shark. Thank you Jaws. He also got to go on a trip to Myrtle Beach with three of his buddies. He learned how to wakeboard, and loved it. He’s been begging to head back to the beach since he arrived home.

He’s got a set of dudes that he hangs out with regularly. This summer was so nice because he biked everywhere. Of course, because they biked everywhere, this typically entailed lunch out nearly every day. Jon and I decided early on in the summer that he would have to do chores and mow the grass in order to earn $25 a week. He spent that every week at Chipotle or Noodles. They played a lot of wiffleball and hung out at the l football field. I bought him a pool pass but he only ended up going down there a handful of times. He has a buddy who has a pool at his house so the boys decided that it was much cooler to go over there.

He started to show interest in girls – Jon and I only found that out from hearing rumors from other parents and from looking at Life360 and seeing him at a girl’s house down the street. He and his buddies would hang out with her and her girlfriends in the summer evenings. By hanging out, I mean they say on her porch and looked at their separate phones together:) I am dreading that whole scene – I keep telling him that I am his one and only love but he doesn’t quite agree with me….

He went out to the farm again this year for a week of work with my dad. They built a pergola and bailed a lot of hay. I went out on the last day to help them out, and it was a great work out. I keep telling my dad that he should get a strongman competition out there.

He loves to play the game Rust with his buddies. He has no desire to watch TV shows or movies with his mom anymore. However, I did find that if I would sit down and watch Rust on YouTube video with him, he will allow it. So, I bit my lip and sat with him on many days to watch the latest tactics in Rust. I will take those moments when I can get them.

He likes to take car rides with me to Speedway to get energy drinks and a bag of chips (usually around 10 pm). We were getting one dollar lottery tickets but then the lottery machine broke down. Jon teases me that I will be in the old person’s home and Mario will come visit me with lottery tickets to scratch with him.

Jon and Mario get their time together by heading out to Dover and fishing. Mario did not get his Canadian fishing trip this year due to Covid but he is hoping for next year. He loves that time with Jon.

Mario and Giovanni got to spend a week down at Patty’s house this summer as well. They love to walk around Marietta by themselves. They also love to play in the woods near Patty’s house. They stay up late and watch stupid shows together. They egg each other on, which will inevitably get them into trouble (hopefully while in Marietta so not on our watch!).

Mario has a kind heart. He doesn’t openly show it like some people – always hugging or asking questions or talking incessantly. He’s more the silent type. But he does care. When I came home from surgery and tried to walk to the kitchen, he yelled at me to sit still or I could hurt my knee. When he writes notes to Patty, he always adds a sentence hoping she’s taking her medicine and doing her exercises.

He is good with Giovanni’s kids when they are in Dover. He fishes with them and plays with them, and they adore him. He is also good with Elena when she comes to town. He doesn’t want to spend too much time with her but the time he does spend, she adores. He’s gotten better about reacting poorly (to put it nicely)when we ask him to take out the garbage or do his chores. I think he knows he has it pretty good with us so he has learned to do as we ask when we ask.

He still likes to wrestle with me although I’m bound to break a limb if I continue much longer. The boy is strong – he even pushed Jon backwards the other day when they were play fighting (Jon will swear he caught him off guard). He cracks Jon and I up with his spoofs of Jon and his quips about school.

He spent a lot of his time at age 13 looking up how to make quick money. He swore that he was going to start buying shoes off of Stock X and then resell them at a higher price. He talks about flipping houses and getting into the real estate market when he gets older. Or becoming a welder. He has no interest in college at this point in time and less he would be recruited to play basketball somewhere. We will see if that changes as he enters high school next year.

I love this kid with every ounce of my body, and I know he loves me and his family right back. Happy 14th to you, son!

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The days are long but the years are short

And so it started off like every other year, except last of course. The kids woke up a little later, even Maria did not set her alarm until 7 AM. In past years, she has gotten up as early as 4:30 in the morning to get her self prepped and ready. She’s over that this year being an upper class junior…. Mario surprised me and was ready before Maria. He acts like he doesn’t care but we know he does. At least for the first day of school. By next week, he will be sleeping in until 7:40, throwing on a pair of shorts and t-shirt, and be out of the house by 7:55 to arrive at school right at 8 am. 

Maria has been looking forward to the first day of school since she got out of her last day of school as a sophomore. She absolutely loves to be in the school building, with her friends, learning, talking to teachers. I think she also likes the set routine and regimen. For some people, going to the store to buy new clothes is what gets them excited. For Maria, it is going to the store to get a whole new set of school supplies for the beginning of the year! Mario, to the contrary, has been dreading the start of school since he got out of his seventh grade year. He readily admits that seventh grade was a piece of cake due to most of it being spent online in his PJs (and playing video games on the side while choir was being held). He waited until the last minute to purchase his one supply needed for school – calculator – to which he saw the price and said “we could buy me a new keyboard for this amount – do I really need a calculator?”

Maria is taking five AP classes this year because colleges look for rigorous classes in your junior year. She has watched hundreds of videos about this and as soon as Jon and I try to talk with her about scaling it down, she zips the conversation up. These decisions are hard for a parent. On the one hand you want your daughter to challenge herself and take rigorous courses. On the other hand, you don’t want your daughter to be anxious and overwhelmed with too much on her plate. Jon and I decided to allow her to take the courses after much advocacy on her behalf at the dinner table. She does have three weeks to be able to drop one but I am positive that she will not start to feel the stress until after that period of time. In the end, Jon and I felt that she’s a junior in HS and should have the right to make her own decisions after weighing our input. I may live to regret the decision to not put the kabash on all of those AP classes two months from now but I am hoping for the best. I’ve got to believe letting her make the ultimate decision will provide valuable lessons one way or the other:)

Mario readily admits that this year is going to be difficult for two reasons: he actually has to sit in school for seven hours a day, and he has much more rigorous classes than last year. His history teacher is known to be strict and require a lot of online reading. His algebra teacher gives a lot of homework as well. I am going to have to be glued to the school website to make sure he is keeping up with assignments. I am trying to have some fun with it all and re-learn US history and algebra. God knows I’ve forgotten nearly everything I learned from eighth grade so it will be fun to re-educate myself (or so I think at this point in time but two months in, I am sure I will feel differently)! 

Maria could not wait to be able to drive to school every day. I had some real heart palpitations because I am such a strong believer in getting up and moving your body in the morning. I think a walk to school opens up the mind and gets her ready for the day. That being said, I am a sucker, and let her drive. If she hadn’t been looking forward to driving her junior year ever since she was six years old, I may have came to a different decision. She refused to drive her brother, however, which was going to make me reconsider. Mario, though, didn’t seem too irritated by her decision. He wanted to bike so that he could easily get home for lunch every day. 

I posted their first day of school pictures on Facebook – I have only posted one or two pictures since Covid hit. As I stared at them on the top of the steps I couldn’t believe that he was going into eighth grade and she was only two years away from graduating high school. It is so cliché-ish, but it is so true – the days are long but the years are short. I ached to have them back to their toddler years. The only thing I could do was go back to my photo memories and look at pictures of them as little tykes. I found a picture of the two of them from the first day of school when Mario was in kindergarten and Maria in third grade. I put the pictures side-by-side and looked at them throughout the day. Little humans have turned into big humans. The nervousness of starting school has gone to the wayside and they are now used to the routine every August.  They have every ability to get to school on their own and don’t need me to walk with them and hold their hands. I know that’s a sign of good parenting – they are confident and self-reliant – but boy do I miss holding those little hands in mine.

Connection

I know I repeat over and over to people the story of how I used to beg the universe to age my kids so they did not want me to make their lunch or play a game or go swimming or watch their magic tricks. Not to sound horrible- I loved doing those things – just not every waking second. I wanted a break every once in a while. They didn’t even know how to sleep in until 7 am – rising at the break of dawn and ready to roll.

Then it happened. They turned into teenagers and they fled the coop. I woke up at 9 am and they were still in bed sleeping or watching you tube on their phones. I asked if they wanted to walk to Stauf’s, and they declined. They would make their own breakfast when they were hungry. I offered to play cards or Monopoly but they had plans with friends. I turned on one of our favorite comedy shows but they had moved onto their own Netflix series.

Wait, hold up, not sooooo fast!

And so here I am reminiscing about the past, and how much I miss the moments I had wished away. I beg and plead, and then eventually demand, that the kids play a game with me (it used to be a walk until I had knee surgery; the kids thanked the heavens when they learned no walking for me for 12 weeks). There is typically a lot of sighing and complaining on Mario’s part; Maria has pretty much succumbed to my pressure. I don’t care though – I need connection with them even if they moan about it.

And indeed, Mario moaned last weekend when I told him we were gonna play a game before he could get on his video game with his friends. We decided on Kids vs. Adults trivia since we couldn’t find Monopoly. We laughed at Mario’s answers to questions – how does he not know where Venice is?! We made fun of Maria getting questions about movies, which she never watches. The kids teased me for constantly rolling the die to the “lose a turn” side. It was the best 45 minutes of my day because I had both of my babies by my side.

In fairness, the games we we play now are much more exiting than the ones we played years ago (god help me if I see Candy Land anytime soon). And the kids have quite the quips as we engage in play. They are mini-adults with strong personalities and convictions. They speak their minds. They have senses of humor. Their wicked smart. They love fiercely. They are independent.

All those years of loving the crap out of them and smothering them with hugs and kisses and listening to their stories and taking them to the pool paid off. They are fine humans. They know their momma needs connection, and they provide it even when their friends are hounding then to get on the latest video game or head to the thrift store. The time together is short – a game or two long – but so so sweet – and long enough to keep that thread taut between us.

To walk

In the summer, Maria started taking a two mile run/walk with me in the woods. She dreaded it but usually felt better once it was over and we were in the AC back home. Then, she got a treadmill, and she never wanted to hit the “nasty outdoors” again. She cannot stand the sun or heat. Yes, I am not kidding. I keep telling her that she should move to Seattle when she turns 18 so that she can live in the spitting rain and gray skies. 

Nevertheless, she would not put up a major fight (sometimes it would be a whine and other times an exasperated sigh) when I asked her to only take a one mile walk in the woods with me. She conditioned her agreement to go on us taking Rocco so we could watch him gnaw on sticks and play with pups in the woods. It’s been a bit easier to get her to go with me lately because I will allow her to go on and on and on about getting her temps. This has been a dream of hers for at least a year. For the last three months, she has talked about how she cannot wait until October 31 so that she can get her temps and drive around town. Jon can’t stomach to talk about it anymore so when I walk with her, she is permitted to talk about what the test will be like, how awesome it will be when she gets her temps, where she will want to drive, what questions she think will be on the test, where she will drive me around town…you name it.

I have also made her walk to school in the morning. She was appalled at the thought of it at the beginning of the school year but now she has gotten more used to it. Don’t get me wrong, she constantly talks about how she cannot wait to drive to school, but she doesn’t beg for Jon to take her every morning like she used to in year’s past.

The other night, I was doing some work on the computer, and she came up from the basement to tell me that she had an essay she wanted to read to me. We went upstairs and sat on my bed. It started out with a definition of “to walk.” She then detailed how our simple walks bring her some unexpected joy during this Covid time. She notices more on her walks and feels more prepared her for school day.  What?!

These are the little nuggets that I need to hear throughout my weeks to help me witness the positive marks I leave on my children. So often I beat myself up for snapping at the kids or not doing enough reading with the kids or falling short in some other arena…but then I hear my kid finding joy in something I brought them, and I realize I’m also doing some good in this world. 

Now, do I think she will forgo driving the car to school once she is able? Probably not. But she may take a few more minutes to think about it, and end up taking a tiny stroll after school, at least, to the woods with me.



Taking the plunge – happy 13th Mario!

I have watched this video about 100 times since it came up in my feed a few weeks ago. At the time it popped up, Mario had been teasing me about turning 13. He knows how much it kills me to think of him turning into a teenager. Every night, he approaches me and pokes my shoulder stating “Mom, you know I’m turning 13 soon.” He secretly waits for me to plead for him not to turn 13 and stay my baby. He knows he has my heart, and I will do anything for him. Jon always teases me that I need to cut the umbilical cord.  I do find myself still fetching him water when he asks for it, although I tend to do the same for Maria (she just asks for it less than he does).

This video took me back to the years before he turned double digits – when he would routinely want to be by my side. I recall trying to tip toe down the stairs in order not to wake him so I could go out for a morning run. Inevitably, as soon as one of the stairs would creek, I’d hear him loudly whisper “mom”. I would try for another step and then hear “mom” again but in a bit more anxious tone. Some days I could head up the stairs, go into his room, and convince him to go back to bed because I would be back really soon. He would typically call my bluff and tell me that I wouldn’t be back for another two hours. I would tell him that as soon as I got back we would do something fun together. I would say about half of the time, this worked. The other half of the time, I bundled him up and threw him in the stroller to take my run with me. We would play different games like who could find the most birds on our run, or 20 questions, or spot the bunnies.

Because he and Maria wanted to be around me every weekend, we had to come up with things to do. My daredevil Maria thought up ziplining to end the summer and bring in the new school year. I believe Mario was going into first grade in this video so he was probably close to six years old. He was all for the zip lining adventure until he got onto the first course. He saw how far down the ground was, and refused to go. Luckily, the instructor convinced him to go with him. We only did five zip lines that day and Mario insisted on the instructor for the first four of them. After each one, Maria would encourage him to do the next one by himself. He would sit there pensively, like you see on the video, and then decide that he wanted the instructor. I don’t recall what we said or did on the fifth line to get him to finally do it by himself. I’m sure Maria was putting the major pressure on him and as you can see in the video, I was trying my hardest to cheer him on. I knew if he didn’t do it that he would be mad that he didn’t give it a try by himself. I know my child – it may take him until the last minute, but he will want to be able to say he tried it. Whether it’s ziplining or basketball or just being a good human, Mario wants to do it well. As he gets older, he may put up a façade about not caring or try being too cool, but deep down inside, I know that he is a good human and can accomplish what he sets out to do. What he has set out to do lately is play good football and fish like a world-class fisherman.

My dad was a huge help in purchasing a fishing kayak for his 13th birthday. Mario had been pleading for the last month about getting a fishing kayak for his birthday. He knew he would not get anything else if he asked for that yet he still wanted it. He sent me a picture and I forwarded it to my dad to get his two cents. My dad did his typical dad research and found that it was a really good fishing kayak. He also was able to locate the one place in three states that still carried it. He drove to West Virginia to purchase it before Mario’s birthday. It came with a crappy paddle, which of course he had researched, so he drove over to Marietta to purchase a good paddle from one of the sporting stores. To top it off, and just because he is the type of dad and grandpa who thinks through everything, he stopped at the local marina, and got the kayak registered.

Sure enough, Mario begged to go to Seneca Lake after he was escorted to his present at the farm. My dad, of course, agreed to take him down there. I went with my niece so I could see how he maneuvered this new present of his. My dad and I were both amazed. There he was, before we had even kayaked over towards him, standing in his kayak and casting his line like a fisherman who had been fishing for 30 years. While Mario was in his element, I paddled around with a Elena who enjoyed touching the lily pads and pointing out the flowers. I looked over my shoulder several times to find my dad 20 feet from Mario watching him cast his line and try for a fish. What a sight as a daughter and a mom – my heart was full. My dad eventually came over to video Elena paddling the kayak. Sure enough, about a minute later, we heard Mario shouting “I got one!”

We quickly paddled over to Mario. He had a huge grin on his face and proudly rose the fish to his chest to show it off. My dad, the proud peepaw, immediately awed about the huge size, and Mario continued in the awe. “It’s gotta be at least 2-3 pounds!”

These are the moments that make this crazy life worthwhile. The joy on Mario’s face as he held the fish high in the air. My dad’s million snapshots of Mario with his fish that I scrolled through later in the night. Elena’s quips about Mario needing to catch a “giant popper.” It reinforces my belief that a good life is all about creating experiences, and having that connection with the people near you experiencing the event with you.

My son is an avid fisherman at age 13 (I typed 12 and had to delete:)). He swears he will be heading to Canada as soon as he graduates high school (earlier if we’d let him), owning a bait shop, and fishing everyday. Jon and I half believe him. He has mentioned to me on several occasions (usually when I’m on work calls at 10 pm) that he would never want a 9-5 job and have to work all hours of the day. I’m glad my work has provided that enlightenment to him:)

If you listen closely to Mario in the video, you will hear him whisper “I can do this.” I don’t know that I heard this on the actual day – I was too busy rooting him on. I listen to it now and I am filled with emotion – pride at raising this brave soul, admiration for his drive, joy in being around him, immense love for his entire being, excitement about what’s to come for him.

Here’s to taking those plunges, Mario, and living life to its fullest. Happy 13th!

Love you!

Coneflower Trail

I woke up yesterday morning to my usual Sunday routine. Throw on a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt, slip on my running shoes, leash up Rocco, and head to Tarpy for an elongated morning run.

The weather made it easy to want to run. It was the type of morning where you could feel Fall sprinting up to take the lead over Summer. I consciously took some deep breaths as we walked into the woods. The leaves of the oaks and ash and basswood created patches of light along the mulched trail. I watched Rocco sprint ahead, stop to sniff, and continue down the path.

There is a fork in the trail right before the train tracks. If you take a right, your led up a small hill that ends in the backyard of the Tarpy house. If you take a left, you go over a bridge and up a small incline to a field of wildflowers. Over the last year or so, Rocco has decided that he likes the left side of the woods more than the right side. He will take the right side loop with me a couple of times on Sunday morning but then he waits at the fork for me to finish the right side loop and joins me on the left side. It is rather precious to run down the hill and see him sitting upright, tongue out, eyes wide, waiting to take my side as we run around the left side of the woods.

As I witnessed the wildflowers by sight and Rocco witnessed them by touch (running after some critter I have to assume), I thought about what to do with the kids during the day. Back when they were young, it would have been a trip to Cincinnati or a day at the zoo. As they get older, I am lucky to get in a couple of hours before they complain that they want to be with friends or that they need to get homework done.

I have gotten the backpacking bug from going with my dad and sister a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping the kids would want to go with me this weekend but it did not happen for us. I need to just set a date and go for it but I’m really bad at doing that. Although we’d missed out on our backpacking adventure, it didn’t mean we couldn’t take a hike. I searched up Metro Parks and found two that looked good. One of the two was only 18 minutes away. The other was 28. My hatred of driving played a factor in the decision. The one 18 minutes away was the Coneflower Trail at Prairie Oaks. It was a 2 mile loop, which was about all I could get from the kids without serious whining.

I arrived home to break the news – we were taking a hike. Maria immediately went to homework she had to finish. Mario went to his number one argument – it’s a day if rest so he should be able to chill…. I listened politely and then told them it was too gorgeous outside to stay indoors all day so they had to deal with it. They knew there was no hope in complaining so they grabbed their gym shoes and we were off (Starbucks may have been promised after the hike).

We loaded Rocco in the backseat with Mario and headed out west to Prairie Oaks. We arrived to a fairly empty parking lot, which was a relief. We found the trail head and started on our way. We walked along a grass path for a bit before coming to the actual Coneflower trail. It had a “x” on the picture of a dog, which we promptly ignored.

The trail sat parallel with the Darby Creek and we could hear Rocco run through the grasses and brush to hit the creek for a quick dip. At one point, there was a clearing and we walked down to the creek to find Rocco splashing around happy as can be. The pup loves him some water. There were two other pups dipping their feet in the water – French bulldogs. Their faces are made to be squeezed. Maria was in love asking the owners all sorts of questions about them. Mario remained quiet but enjoyed petting the bigger one.

We headed back to the trail to continue our discussion about Mario’s birthday. Maria had all sorts of ideas for his birthday party, all of which Mario shot down. As I think back to our conversation, Mario’s birthday took up a chunk of it. I am getting more comfortable with time spent with the kids where no big revelation is given. I have had these dreams of walking with Ri and Mario where they divulge all their dark secrets and fears and we talk through them.

Not so much.

So I’ve learned to change my expectations, which has led to a much more enjoyable experience. I simply appreciate the time with them.

At the end of the trail, there was a fork and I took to the right side. It ended up being the longer way back to the parking lot. The kids realized this after it was too late. They took my phone to try to locate our car. They saw that it was another quarter mile away. I smiled and they knew I was excited to get a few extra minutes with them. We walked along the yellow and purple wildflowers and I asked them to take 20 seconds to just breathe in the beauty of the day.

Silence. 10 whole seconds (Mario blurted out “Done” after 10 seconds).

I made them name something they were grateful for – family, they both said. Even after a forced outing, they were still grateful for me and Jon and our family. I responded I was grateful for them coming with me. They smiled, and gave an even wider smile when they saw the Volvo up ahead.