Workin’ 9 to 5, or more like, 7 to 6.

In the beginning of the summer, Mario was complaining about not being able to get a job at age 11. He saw Maria coming home with wads of cash from babysitting and he wanted some of that action. He’s at that age where parents don’t trust him yet to babysit their younger children and businesses will not hire him. He’s banking on a job with a friend of ours who owns a landscaping company but even with that, he still needs to be 14. I mentioned this dilemma to my dad when we were taking a walk in late spring. He responded with a shrug of the shoulders. “If Mario wants to come out to the farm for a couple of weeks and do some hard labor, I would pay him.”

When he first spoke those words, I didn’t think so much about the money as I thought about having two weeks in the summer that Mario would not have access to Xbox or much tv. I could go to work not having to check up on him every two hours to make sure that he was getting his reading in or playing outside. When I mentioned the idea to Mario, he jumped on it. Or, I should say, he jumped on the money part of it.

“How much do you think Peepaw will pay me?”

I then had to sit down with him to tell him that part of the deal in going out to the farm was just to be with his grandparents and be in the outdoors. He had just slept in a tent with a couple of buddies outside of our house a few weeks back and I reminded him about how much he loved it. I told him that Peepaw would be the number one person to talk to about surviving in the outdoors, pitching a tent, making food, you name it. Mario listened and nodded his head in agreement.

Then he questioned one more time “I just still wonder how much I could make….”

Mario has not frequented the farm like Maria. Ri doesn’t think twice about going out there for multiple days in a row. Mario has never gone out there for multiple nights, let alone by himself.

My dad thought long and hard about the work he would have Mario help him with for the two weeks. At first it was going to be cutting back the grasses through the fields. Then it moved to building a bench alongside the creek. But he finally ended up with a project that he thought Mario would love: a fire pit between the blueberry patch and the house. If they had time, they would also build a yoga platform. Mario had been begging Jon and I to build a firepit outside of our house so I knew he would love the thought of building one at the farm so that he could learn how to do it at our house.

The first week, Jon drove Mario to Zanesville to meet Grandma Meg. Jon reported that the drop off went smoothly. At about 8 pm, we got a call from Mario. He FaceTimed us so we could see the color of the sky and the meadows. This brought me much joy. I thought “he’s soaking up the outdoors and may just be fine out there.”

Then the call came at 9:30 PM.

“Mom, can you come out here and spend the night?”

He is out there with his grandma and grandpa. He is completely safe. He is being fed. He is receiving love. And nonetheless, my heart broke and I wanted to be there with him. I kept reminding him to just enjoy the time with his grandma and grandpa and to work hard because he was earning money for the summer. I hate to say it, but I knew in the short-term, referencing money would be a huge motivator.

It was the nighttime that really got him. He would call us excited during the day and show us the progress he and Peepaw were making on the firepit. He would FaceTime us to show every little detail of what they were doing. The first couple of days he was out there were even more rough because it was a lot of hard labor. They dug holes into the dry land and moved toms of dirt. My dad reported after that the second day was rough for Mario. He took breaks every 30 minutes or so (which, by the way, would probably be what most normal humans do – my dad and I tend to go a mile a minute when we start in on a project), To Mario’s credit, and because I always have to stand up for my man, he did get a major sunburn on his shoulders the day before he went out to the farm. I told him to apply sunscreen but he forgot and spent five hours out in the 90 degree heat at a birthday party. Nonetheless, I’m sure he could have sucked it up a bit more. He knew I was coming out on the third day – Thursday – so on Wednesday I kept reminding him that I would be out in 24 hours. I think this kept him going. When I arrived on Thursday, they had cleared the land and laid the first layer of bricks to the firepit. They needed to lay another four layers of stone. I was eager to help with the work. I love that stuff. If I ever lose my job, I think I will do some type of landscaping or masonry work.

Mario drove the four-wheeler route over to the chicken coop while I loaded the stones on it. Dad put on the caulking and Mario and I took turns laying the stone. We were a good team.

We left that night at 5:30. Mario was excited to get back to his Xbox. Maria was excited to meet up with her friends. About 25 miles away from Columbus, the traffic stopped. I was in the far lane of the highway and we were trying to determine how bad the accident was before the exit. Maria told me I should get off the exit because Google estimated it would be an hour wait. However, I went with my intuition and kept on the highway thinking that it wouldn’t be that long. Big mistake. About two hours later we were getting off at the next exit (only 4 miles away from the one I missed) to take the back roads home. Just shoot me.

We arrived home with none of us wanting to see each other’s faces for 24 hours. While we were waiting on the highway, we tried to play games to keep the time rolling. This inevitably led to much irritation by each one of us based on the the other two engaging in irritating behavior.

The weekend came and Mario argued that he should not have to do any activities because he worked so hard at the farm. I explained to him that work is something that us adults do every day without a break. He was seriously milking it.

Jon and I were worried that he would not want to go back out to the farm because of how homesick he had gotten and because of the thought of getting up at 6 AM to start the workday. However, when we asked him if he’s ready to go back out, he said he was. He did try to shorten the time by a day so that I would come out earlier and hang with him. But when Sunday night came, he packed up his things and was ready to go. He called us Sunday night to let us know he had made it but didn’t cry to me on the phone about how he wanted me to come get him. The next day he FaceTimed me about five times but he never pled for me to come out there. He just showed me everything that he and Peepaw were accomplishing.

On Tuesday, they pretty much had finished everything. He called me to see if I would come out Tuesday night. I told him I would be out Wednesday morning and he did not complain. I also told him to ask Peepaw and Mama Meg what else he could do to help out since Peepaw has to be the ones to screw in all the boards.

By the time I got out there on Wednesday morning, he and Peepaw had completed the firepit and the yoga platform, and put away all the materials they had been working with over the last two weeks. It looked wonderful. They also had spent two hours picking blueberries off the vines and putting them in individual containers in accordance with the type of blackberry picked. I got treated to a taste test of blueberries upon my arrival. Heaven. We sat on the screened-in porch and chatted. It was nice to chill out for 45 minutes and just sit with family. I am usually on the go when I am there either playing with Elena or taking a hike. I am trying to learn how to sit still more often.

Mario showed me up close all the work that they accomplished. Then he held my hand on the way back to the porch and said softly “can we go now? ” I asked if he would take a quick hike with me. He was adamant that he did not want to take a hike. But then Peepaw nudged him and I promised it would be a short hike. Mario couldn’t resist our pleading. It ended up that all of us headed out – Mama Meg, Peepaw, me, and Mario. It was an enjoyable hike up to the abandoned house and down through the path to the meadow. We chatted about Stranger Things and the 80’s. My soul felt nourished.

We arrived back and stood around the table eating chips. Peepaw came down the stairs with money for Mario. He handed him $400 in 20s and a 50 dollar bill. Mario’s eyes bugged out of his head. My dad explained that although their time was cut a bit short, they did accomplish what he wanted to accomplish and Mario woke up every morning ready to get to work. He didn’t try to sleep in, and he didn’t complain during times of boredom or when he was super hot. He hung in there and for that he was rewarded.

The experience made me feel so joyful. I really wanted my dad and Mario to connect during his time out at the farm. I had romantic visions of grandfather and grandson having deep conversations while sitting in the fishing boat for hours on end. A little on Golden Pond scene if you will. I am not quite sure that my romantic vision lined up with the reality of the two weeks, but that’s fine. The realistic version of the romantic vision did occur. Peepaw and Mario hung out together through the day, talking about random matters, and being in each other’s company. They got some fishing in and ribbed each other on who caught the largest fish. They bonded over blueberries. Mario also got to connect with Mama Meg more than he usually does when we are out there for a short period of time (they bonded over the show Stranger Things).

He doesn’t understand at this age how important this time spent with grandparents will be to him, I think back to times with my grandparents with immense love. I didn’t think about it as a kid – the times spent with them seemed routine like going to school and brushing my teeth. But now I find peace and comfort in looking back at the times I sat next to my Grandma on the couch eating Pringle’s and sipping Coca Cola out of a slender tall glass. She didn’t have to say a word to me for me to know she loved me and thought I was special. I recall rubbing my Grandma’s feet as she sat back in her Lazy Boy recliner. She would give me a quarter for my work. She’d close her eyes while I massaged her tired soles and brought her some comfort after a long day. Her freezer always had a gallon of vanilla ice cream waiting for me and her fridge had the Hershey chocolate syrup. I recall my mom and I going to Kroger’s years after my grandma died. I was in the pickle section trying to find the dills. My mom commented “grandma would always buy dill pickles because she knew you loved them.” I had no clue she knew that about me.

Mario and Maria are blessed with three sets of grandparents. All of them provide different personalities and hobbies and passions for Ri and Mario to experience. All of them also provide similar wisdom and love that only a grandparent can gift to a grandchild.

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.

Ditch Snapchat for your story

It is f’ing hard to let go of your kids. I stood at a local festival with my mother-in-law for over two hours watching my kids’ traverse the park.

“Is that Maria over there with the boy she likes?”

“Why isn’t Mario playing with his friends?”

“Maria never hangs out with that girl – are her friends ignoring her?”

“Mario walked right by Owen and did not say a word. Why?”

The questions, over and over again. The concern. The worry.

My head keeps attempting to prevail. “They are kids; let them find what they love and who they enjoy being with and how they want to act.” I know intuitively that I cannot control those things.  They aren’t two years old anymore. I can’t manage their playdates, and manage what they say in response to a question asked of them. I can’t whisper in their ear to demand they say “thank you” or steer them over to the blue slide because I know how much fun it will be.

But my heart prevails nearly every time. I want them to feel love and surround themselves with people they love and who love them back. I want them to be kind to others and generous, and carefree.  When I see Ri staring at the ground or standing off to the side of the crowd, I want to burst through the crowd and push her into the middle proclaiming “she is the coolest kid ever!”  While Mario’s friends are gathered at the ring toss barely saying two words to each other, and Mario is over at the basketball game not paying them any attention, I want to drag him over to his friends and make him play with them.

As Patty and I stood on the grass next to the dunking station and the floating ducks, she laughed at the thought of her mother doing what she and I were doing. “She would have never been worried about who I was with or how I was getting along.” I think back to my parents; I can’t recall a single time my mom or dad asked me how things were going with friends or whether I wanted to have a sleepover with certain girls. They just let it roll with who I selected.  No interference.

Why is that so hard for me to do with my kiddos? I think it is because I always want them to be happy.

Happy. Happy.

But what will they truly gain from constant happiness in the shadow of their doting mother? Nothing. They will fall flat. They may not have to climb the hill of despair or sadness but they also won’t feel the exhilaration of tumbling down the hill of joy and exuberance. Disappointment and hurt and questioning feeds the soul and produces grit and character. How boring it would be if everything came easy and routine. The people who I have fallen in awe of throughout my life are the ones that have stories. Deep, complicated stories. The people I have wanted to throw out of my path are the ones that have lived staid, boring, easy lives. The ones that have not tried to understand others; who have taken their privileged lives for granted; who strive for more stuff rather than more experiences.

I want my kids to grow up to tell their stories. To have rich, deep experiences and dreams of what they want out of this life.  To strive.

I realize tonight that I am focusing my energy on the wrong things. I am so worried about whether my kids have friends and who they hang with that I have completely ignored whether they are creating their stories. Whether they are paying attention to who they are and what they love. Whether they are limiting their views of snapchat and youtube, and creating their own worlds and dreams.

I texted them both tonight as they drove home with Patty and their cousins.  They had a two hour drive from Columbus, and I could see the light from all of their phones creating a fluorescent aura as Patty pulled out of her parking space. I asked them to tell me their stories – as they see them at age 11 and 13.  I am sure they had little idea of what the heck I meant.  Maria texted me back; Mario ignored me. Then I texted them that I wanted them to be cognizant of all the youtube and snapchat they were indulging in and to try to branch out and read articles or research something that interests them.  Again, Maria responded with an “Ok, Mom!” She knows the characters and symbols to use to make me feel that she gets me….

I know now that I cannot head down to the local festival without a gang of friends to keep me occupied. I cannot put my energy into watching my kids to see who they will talk to or how they will act in a certain situation.  I have put my blood, sweat and tears in them for the last 13 and 11 years, and I have to hope that I have given them the building blocks to be good, kind, strong humans.  I have a new job now as they move into the social media world, into the popularity contest world, into the self-doubt world – I have to give them building blocks to think critically, to care about more than the latest snapchat post or youtube vine. I have to help them dig deep and create their stories. Their deep, complicated, rich, amazing stories.

My baby turns 13!

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

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

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

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

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

YES!

“You have a girl. ”

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

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

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

“You are going to have a baby today.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 13th, love!

Mom and Dad

Dis expectations and embrace appreciation

I listened to just the right podcast this weekend. I was sitting at the skate park watching Mario and his friend do tricks on their scooters. Meanwhile, there were some serious skate dudes performing incredible flips and tricks. Mario and his friend looked precious as they scootered down a small ramp and looked over at me excited about their feat.

After watching them scores of times, my mind started to drift to Thanksgiving day. We are hosting Jon‘s family this year, which takes the burden off a bit because there are not as many people for dinner. In addition, they tend to be a rather quiet crew so I do not need to worry about anything getting broken, fights ensuing, or hurt feelings at the end of the night. But I do want to have a lively, entertaining day with them; so, I started thinking of ways that we could create such an atmosphere. 

I heard about an app that allows you to record people‘s stories, and thought that we could use it to record stories of Jon’s mom and his brothers. Maria could craft five questions for each of them and post them during Thanksgiving meal. I then played my sweet husband’s reaction when I told him that that was our plan.

“Mar, you have got to be kidding. People Just want to eat dinner and relax with one another. You don’t always have to have activities happening all the time.”

So my mind moved on to something that was not so intrusive. Maybe we would have paper and pencil laid out so people could write gratitude notes to one another. We did something similar with my side of the family a few years back, and it was a lot of fun. At least for me. On further thought, I realized that only one of Jon’s family members – his mom – would really enjoy writing such notes. Scratch that idea, also.

I tend to do this to myself. Exaggerate how awesome the day is going to be and all of the things that I hope to get out of it – be it gratitude notes, interviews with family where they detail a magnificent hidden secret that we would have never known about but for the interview, incessant laughter while playing an awesome board game. Then the day comes and goes, and I am disappointed. I am disappointed because people didn’t laugh as much as I thought they would, I didn’t get to interview anybody, no one expressed gratitude to one another…..

The perfectionist mind comes into play again. But not this year, baby. 

I have set no expectations. 

None. 

Rather, I have focused on appreciation. I learned that from one of Oprah’s SuperSoul Podcasts. Yes, I never thought that I would be an Oprah podcast listener but she has some good ones on there. And you can’t help but love how she finds such joy in wanting to better understand humanity, meaning, and spirituality on a deeper level. Her guest talked about how a death knell is having expectations of anything. He said that expectations will automatically destroy you. Rather, he recommends fostering appreciation; appreciation takes it off you and puts it on others. You change your mindset from wanting to giving. I no longer want things to happen the way I expect; rather, I give appreciation to those around me and for all that I have in my life. 

And guess what? It worked! I even caught myself at the dinner table starting down that path of expectations. I hoped someone would bring up a topic that would burst into a magnificent conversation. As soon as my mind started going down that path, I took a deep breath and shoved in a pile of potatoes. I looked around the table at my hubby, who had drank a few wines and was making me laugh all day long; my kids, who were on their phones making videos of one another; and my family, who are all very different from one another but who love each other and feel comfortable enough together to simply sit at the dining room table and eat.


Putting up the tree

I can’t believe we got our Christmas tree up the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That is a record for us procrastinating folks.

Sundays have been deemed “mom-not-allowed-to-run” days by the kids. Sunday morning, Mario hopped on our bed with a huge smile on his face and announced “mom, no running today!” Maria jolted into our room 30 seconds later and we all laid together (thank god for a king size bed). These moments are some of the best. Inevitably, Mario will say something that makes us laugh hysterically and Ri will follow up with some witty response. Then there’s lots of hugging and squeezing … and wrestling. It all makes me so pleased.

After Jon had enough of Mario’s jackknifes into his side, he got up to get his coffee. The kids and I decided to head to Stauf’s for breakfast (actually I begged and they gave in). I made them both walk with me rather than scooter or bike. Lots of whining at first but then they realized that it wasn’t so bad, especially when you play 20 questions. The kids picked a bar table and chairs for us to sit at Stauf’s. We got our bagels and cream cheese (all three of us got the same Black Russian bagel but three different cream cheeses) and started in on Go Fish. Mario whooped on us. Usually it’s Ri. We moved on to War and when Mario started killing us in that, we had to shut it down (Ms. Maria gets a bit competitive nowadays). 

   

 On our walk home, we played Pac Man on the brick enclosure in front of the real estate office. It was all fun and games until Mario tripped into the middle of the flower bed and fell on a Thanksgiving wire ornament. Ri and Mario died laughing while I reoriented the ornament. 

About two blocks from home, Ri announced “we should put up the Christmas tree!” Mario agreed. We’d never put up the tree this early but we had nothing planned for the day so I thought we better crank it out. We use the tree my Grandma Menkedick gave us when Ri was  a baby. She used it for years before handing it down to us. It is about eight feet tall and looks kinda real…. The kids love putting the branches on and could not fathom a “real” tree. 

Mario lost interest as we started on the ornaments. Ri tried to entice him by putting on Christmas music. It helped for a bit. He just wanted to find the pickle ornament. He loves to hide that ornament every year and dare people to find it. Ri got out some old, precious ornaments that I had bought my grandma in the 1970s. We found some of Jon’s when he was little, too. The kids loved to hear stories of our childhood.  

I see all these pictures of friends’ trees – they are so organized with matching gold ornaments and icicles sprinkled throughout the fir. Our tree is a hodge podge of randomness. An old 1970s ornament alongside a handmade paper ornament along side a plastic M&M guy alongside a plastic dog. But I wouldn’t change it at all. 

It was Ri’s turn to place the “blue star” on the tree. It is more like a North Star compass- every year we talk about getting new tree topper and every year we fail to do so. Mario begged to put it on instead of Ri but for once Ri didn’t give in to him.    

He didn’t get upset though (he really is getting so much better at letting things go)  and we all posed for a picture by dad. Rocco even joined us (after his tail knocked over two ornaments – a warning Jon had given us three seconds prior to it happening).

 After Jon took the picture, we begged him to get in one with us. It took the kids’ longing eyes to convince him (he has no problem saying no to me!). Of course, none of them turned out Christmas card worthy but at least he’s in one. I keep telling him he will appreciate that I made him get in these pictures when he’s old and can’t remember these times – these pictures will help him out….

  

So here’s to Christmas 2015 and a holiday filled with family and laughter and gratitude for those who have left us – Grandma would have just adored our little tree.

Happy rescue

I think if Mario had to choose between me and Jon’s mom, Patty, to live with for the next ten years, I’d be pushed to the side. The boy loves him some Grandma time. And thank goodness she loves her some Mario time because she rescued us yet again when we were juggling teacher-in-service days and work. 

Patty got home from Florida on Wednesday evening and barely had time to get her bags before she headed 30 minutes up north with me to Lazer Craze. The kids were there for an evening of laser tag and pizza and games. Patty rescued us from pulling our hair out on Thursday – trying to juggle Jon out of town, Sarah in town, and me having to attend a mandatory meeting.  She sat up at Lazer Craze with me for an hour watching the kids play and listening to the loud music. I am sure she was exhausted from her trip but she did not complain one time. She let Ri and Mario drag her from game to game to watch them play. 

   
 It really is amazing that this woman in her mid-70’s can go as hard and as strong as women in their 30’s. She is always up for a wrestling session with Mario and water volleyball with Ri. Jon and I woke up on Thursday morning to a text from Patty – it contained two pictures of Mario in his pjs fishing at her pond. 7am and they are outside fishing. That ranks in and of itself in the “way too cool” annals for grandparents.

 
She watched his crazy you tube videos with him, let him play restaurant and serve her at her bar table, took him to Lazer Craze again to play, and made him cinnamon rolls every morning. Seriously?!

No wonder when he has to come home, he pouts! I can’t recall a day when I asked Mario if he wanted to go to Grandma Ionno’s house and he replied “no.” It is always an ecstatic “yes”! That says a ton right there. And when Patty spends the night at our house, both kids beg to sleep downstairs with her. And although we say no, somehow Mario inevitably ends up cuddled by her side in the morning.❤️

Week in review

We have been busy the last couple of weeks so I thought I’d wrap it up in one concise post! Here we go:

1. Ms. Elena visits! I guess I should mention Satah and Jorge came, too, but all we cared about was Elena. Actually, not true. Mario loved shooting hoops in his bedroom and out back with Jorge and Ri loved talking about anything with Sarah. I loved eating Elena’s cheeks. 

   

   

2. Meg and dad visit! They came in to take the kids to the Franklin Park Conservatory to see the butterfly exhibit. They loved it and Meg and Dad got some great photos (but I’m still waiting on them to send them my way…). Then we met up at the park for some ultimate frisbee – that was ultimately pretty pathetic – but fun. I know where my active genes come from: I love that we have an hour to spare and we run around like mad. 

   

  

3. Tether ball tournament. Ri mentioned that her school had tether ball and Jon made a pit stop on our way home. The man has some mean tether ball skills. He whooped on all of us. Ri and I escaped without injury but poor Mario got a ball in the face, which had to sting since Jon has quite the swift hand. He eventually forgave Jon and wanted another shot on him. But no one can beat the king. 

 

  

 

4. Playground gymnastics. Mario and Ri and I showed off our flips and splits; I hung in for a while but then they showed me up.

 

  

  

  

 

5. China night at Mario’s school. Mario had been talking about this night for a few weeks. He talked about the dragons he was making and the play he was going to put on with his class. He did not disappoint. We had to get there 15 minutes early because Mario “had to meet Blake” before the show began. All the two of them did was wrestle around the school yard. When we finally went inside, it was adorable. They had a panda picture stand and a passport for the kids to fill out at each room they went to in the school. Grandmq even got a picture with the Panda!

   

  

 

Mario taught us Chinese art, that dragons are good luck, and that red and orange are lucky colors in China. He also put on a heckuva performance waving a flag and singing and drumming a Chinese melody. It was hilarious to see all these boys hyper as heck all night and then get on stage and be somber and calm as they waved their drumsticks slowly and chanted Chinese lyrics. 

 

  

  

 

I love these school events. Mario was charged his Grandma came to be with him, too. We picked up Ri from soccer and let Mario pick the restaurant for dinner. We thought Chinese would be appropriate but he opted for Bob Evans. I couldn’t blame him – pancakes sounded really good after fried rice and tea. 

6. We saw an owl! I’ve been trying to spot an owl for weeks – ever since a friend posted a picture of one on Facebook. She said she found it two blocks from our house. After three weeks, I finally spotted one a street over in an evergreen. I can’t believe I spotted him – he was a tiny little guy. I ran home and told Jon. We made the kids shorten their shower and get in their nighties and we all drove over to see the owl. I couldn’t get a good picture of it and was getting frustrated. Maria took my arm and consoled me. “Mom, we will have the memory and that’s better than a picture.” 

  

7. Ri and her Girl Scout troop went to the YWCA to make crafts with the kids staying there. The girls did great with the kids. There was a girl making crafts who was in their same grade and afterwards we talked about how easy it is to find yourself in a situation where you need help. I think the girls really got it and talked about going again and helping out. Afterwards, we treated them to DQ. I had Kathryn, Ri, Lucia, and Gwen in the car on the way home and they sang top-40 songs and yelled hi to random folks walking down the street. Ahh, to be young and carefree!

   

 

8. An Ionno family visit at Rooster’s! We ate fried mac-n-cheese. Yes, it sounds wrong but oh, it is so right! Maria knows what to order!

 

Patty and Uncle Chris and Patrick and Carrie and Connie were there watching the Ohio State game. Tony was in town, too. when we walked in, he announced that he had just won $100 playing Keno, which is some gambling game you can play at the restaurant. Mario’s eyes lit up. He was hooked the rest of the time we were there. Meanwhile, Ri and Alana did up Tony’s hair. 

   

 

9. And finally, Ri got braces! She was a rock star through it – never crying once. I can’t believe how wide that tiny mouth of hers opened!

  

She chose red and orange rubber bands. She wanted a before and after shot of her teeth so she could send it to her grandmas.

   

 

Darling girl!

Christmas 2014

The kids get two weeks off for Christmas break every year.  Every year I find myself frantically calling my dad and stepmom or Jon’s mom or our sitter to see if they can take the kids certain days. You’d think I would learn with each year and plan a bit in advance but it is a lesson I will never learn.  Probably because I get away with it every year – finding family and friends to watch the kids on the days Jon and I have to work.  The year it doesn’t work out and I can’t attend the boss’s meeting is the year that will make me change my ways.

The kids counted down the days prior to their two-week break with increasing joy until finally on the Friday of the last day of school, Mario exclaimed “no more school after today!”  I guess two weeks feels like a lifetime to a kid.  We had our usual holiday trek to Cincinnati on Christmas Eve.  We hit mom’s house first and madly opened presents.  The kids always want to dig in as soon as we open the door and mom obliges.  IMG_2526

Susie hosted Christmas Eve at her house for the first time since I was little, and it was really enjoyable.  She had gingerbread houses for the kids to decorate (Mario was way too cool to decorate his for more than a minute), and a movie for them to watch (never got to that but good thought). IMG_2554 IMG_2555 IMG_2557

I wondered if I’d feel at all saddened by having it at Susie’s since I had spent my life going to Grandma Heile’s house for Christmas Eve. But I didn’t because all that mattered was that I had my Heile posse with me for the evening.  Ri joined right in the crowd as she always has since she was little. She fits right in with her 20 something cousins.IMG_2568 IMG_2570

Mario, on the other hand, is a bit more intolerant of the noise and chaos and constant hugging! Emily came up to hug him and he pushed her away. I took him upstairs to tell him that was rude, and he looked me in the eye and cried “doesn’t she know that I don’t like to be hugged?”  Spoken just like his father. I calmed him down and we went back downstairs only to have Cy accidentally hit him in the tongue and mouth with his head as they were playing horsey.  Back upstairs he stomped – angry and hurt.  Then, he suffered a third incident 30 minutes later when Robert picked him up by his feet and dropped him on his head. Lovely.  Poor kid couldn’t catch a break. But then he scored a Nerf gun from Aunt Jane and all was good.

Ri helped me play the white elephant game this year.  We took home the horrible clown that everyone hates to get each year.  Actually, we didn’t even win it – Cy’s girlfriend did – but she was so scared of it that Maria took it from her to be nice.    Ri could play those games all night long with her cousins; she loves it.

We left Susie’s around 7:30, which was nice. We arrived home at a reasonable hour versus the 10:30 or 11 pm times in years’ past.  The kids knocked off soon after we left (Ri first as always and then Mario shortly thereafter).IMG_2590

We did not arrive home to luminaries up and down the street, which was a bit disappointing.  Our street has always had about a 90% turnout rate on luminaries and it is magical to turn the corner and see the soft glow of lights lining the entire street.  But it was raining softly when we arrived home, and the lights would have gotten burnt out upon lighting.  Patty had wrapped some of the kids’ gifts for me while we were gone, which was such a blessing.  I came home to nothing to do (in years’ past, I ran around frantically wrapping and getting things under the tree).  Jon and I went straight to bed knowing the two goofs would be up at the crack of dawn.

They woke up at 6:30 am and we heard them outside of our door whispering and excited.  They lasted until about 6:50 am (we had asked for 7 am) before busting open the door and yelling “Come on! Let’s open presents!”  Jon and I rose from the bed, hair in every direction, and got pulled down the stairs by each kid.  It took approximately two minutes for the kids to open all 7 of their presents.  Seriously.  Next year we are going to have to take more time.  It was 7:05 am and Christmas was over.  But they were both happy campers.  Ri got her phone she wanted and Mario got his Nintendo.  They immediately unwrapped those items and started playing with them.  Jon and I got each other comforters without having any idea we were both getting each other one.  Two peas in a pod.IMG_2601 IMG_2595

Meg, Dad, Sarah, Jorge and Elena arrived around 9 am for our second round of fun.  Ms. Elena’s first Christmas!  We ate yummy quiche made by Meg-pie and cinnamon rolls and then skyped with Uncle Jack and Sofia.  It was great seeing the dude-man on Christmas day; he never ceases to make me belly laugh. He seems to be enjoying the Nordic life sporting a sweet wool sweater during our talk.  Elena let Ri and I hold her while we opened presents.  She loved the mega-blinged out baby walker we bought her with all sorts of sounds and lights on it.  As we sat around together watching Elena, I was reminded of all the years that Jon and I would head to Meg and Dad’s house for Christmas morning.  Jack and Sarah were in grade school and high school, and just as excited as Ri and Mario about present opening.  We’d get a call at the apartment at 7 am telling us to head over.IMG_2615 IMG_2625 IMG_2633

 

We hung out until around 12:30 and then they left to head back to the farm.

Bring in round three!

Patty and Patrick and crew and Chris and Connie and Frances came over around 1:00 to spend the rest of the day with us.  The kids loved hanging out together all day long. Chris told his jokes like he used to when Jon and I were dating.  Patrick and Jon talked about all the things they got into when Patty took them to work with her.  It was a good reminiscing session; their stories never cease to impress me.  Boys. We opened gifts after dinner.  Patrick and Carrie gave me the best gift I have ever gotten.  A shirt box full of chocolates.  There were probably 100 of the chocolate squares overfilling the box.  IMG_2640Pure heaven!

We missed Joe’s presence.  Patty teared up a few times thinking about him.  Mario also talked about how much he missed him.  And Ri cried at school before break because she was working on a tribute to Joe and sadness overcame her.  There is no doubt he felt the love soaring up to him this holiday.IMG_2639

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The girls went home with Patty on Christmas night like they have in past years.  They look so forward to that time with her.  She took them to play volleyball at the Y the next morning and all of her friends enjoyed their humor.  Mario and Gio spent the night at Gio’s house one night and our house the next.  They played video games and laughed about farts and butts and all things that make boys chuckle.  I am so happy that they still enjoy one another and get to spend time together.  Patty is a machine with them.  She takes them to the Y, to the arcade, to the movies, to McDonald’s.  She plays with them at the condo.  Her energy really needs to be bottled up and sold; we’d make millions.20140207-142722.jpg

We ended the holidays with a visit from Bill and Jean and Kerry and Kevin and kids.  Meg and Dad and Sarah joined in the afternoon fun. We made it easy and ordered City Barbecue and Bill made his awesome chocolate desserts.  Maria and Mario do not get to see Ben and Annaliese that often but they still find ways to connect.  Ben and Mario connect over the iPad; Maria and Annaliese connect over her American Girl doll and barbies.  I remember when Kerry and I were young and both possessing much different interests but we’d get together two times a year and catch up.  There was a connection between us even with the months apart and our different pursuits.  I am a strong believer in staying close to your roots. I am quite sure that Grandma Menkedick was smiling down on us all day.IMG_0011 IMG_0019 IMG_0032

After that crew left on the Sunday before New Year’s, we had the house to ourselves.  What to do without the commotion, present-opening, running around, and chaos?

Put on the pj’s, eat some of Bill’s chocolate cake, and read Vela.

 

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Remember your roots

Remember your roots.

Michael Keaton’s speech reminded us of that phrase as he talked about his dad working two jobs and his mom raising seven kids in a farmhouse.

His speech naturally made me think of my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa Heile raising eight kids and loads of grandkids in that Hunt Road house. Grandma outside mowing the lawn; Grandpa working in the factory. Grandma Menkedick raising two sons all by herself after her husband died shortly after my dad was born. They ate lots of veggies from my Grandma’s aunt’s garden since she got them for free. I still remember my Grandma taking the strawberry jelly packets from Perkins after we went out to breakfast. She stored them at her house so she didn’t have to buy jelly at the store. Jon just shakes his head every time we go to breakfast because I follow right in her footsteps (we have a pantry full of grape and strawberry jellies).

My aunts worked at Perkins Pancake house in order to earn money to pay for college, cars, apartments. Little was handed to them. I followed in their footsteps as well beginning my Perkins career as a senior in high school and staying with it through college.

My dad worked hard as a manager of a grocery store after I was born. Both he and my mom had me earlier than they may have been ready for but they did what they needed to provide for me. My mom took care of me and finished school. My stepmom worked and cared for my sister and brother. They all made it work even if their careers or situations weren’t exactly as they had imagined. I see now, as a 43 year old wife and mother of two, what a struggle it can be. But I never saw that as a 7 year old and my kids hopefully don’t see it either.

My roots, my kin molded me into a self-reliant, bold and gracious individual. There are few days that pass me by where I’m not reflecting on one or more of the family members who shaped me, and singing their praises for lifting me into the wonderful life I live today.

I willingly wrap my arms around those roots of mine, and wrap them around me tight.