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.

Bring on the commercial

I usually don’t mind when Jon heads to his cousin’s house on Sunday. However, when the Sunday happens to be Super Bowl Sunday, and we have watched the commercials as a family for the past few years, I mind. I don’t mind enough to argue they shouldn’t go (after all, it was his cousin’s birthday and there was going to be a smorgasbord of Italian foods) but I just got sad. I have to fight to find time where the four of us are together anymore between sports, robotics, work, friends, homework….

So, I struggled with whether to go with them or not. It was going to be a gorgeous day and I could use the time to sit outside and get work accomplished. I could also get a much-needed massage and clean up the house. But then I thought about all my self-help books and how they advised to forget about the dirty house and just experience life. This back-and-forth in my head was processed further in a conversation with my mom. It is comical getting her and I together. We are two of the most indecisive people on this planet so we just play off each other with “well, take this into account; oh, but what about this….”

I still hasn’t decided whether to go or not (although I was pulling in favor of going so I could be with my clan even if it would be driving for four hours in a crammed car) when my hubby got a text from his cousin informing him the matriarch was sick so they likely wouldn’t have Sunday dinner.

Decision made – not by me – by an outside force – but made.

And made in my favor. My Sunday rocked. I’m not sure if it was because I spent the 48 hours coming up to it thinking about how nice it would be to just have family time and lamenting the thought of having to sit in a car for four of the hours or whether the universe just bestowed a much needed family day on me, but whatever it was, I’m grateful.

I took a walk with Rocco when I woke up. Ri walked a loop with me on her way home from her friend’s house, which made me smile. Any time I get a walk in with my teenage, you tube, phone-addicted daughter, I’m happy. I made pancakes for Mario when I got home, and played Monopoly with both kids (although it ended poorly with Maria quitting based on Mario’s insensitive comments to her about not looking like she could wear Air Force Ones – it got better when Mario apologized and told her he’d buy her a pair).

Mario, Jon and I spent the afternoon working on Mario’s basketball hoop – we had started it weeks ago and then realized they gave us the wrong parts. It is always hysterical to work on a project together. Lots of laughs and lots of cursing. I took a break to get Maria out on a walk/run with me and Rocco in Tarpy. She did not want to go but was a good sport about it once we left the house. She talked about school and how excited she was for Florida. At one point in the walk, as we lunged up the steps towards the old Tarpy home, I felt a wave of gratitude. The sun poking through the massive oaks, the robins perched on empty branches, and my daughter by my side chatting away about life – it really doesn’t get any better. I halted her in her steps and made her take notice of it all. We breathed together. I photographed the moment into my brain.

When we got home, I took Mario to get his haircut. He got spoiled with a shampoo and head massage at Aveda. He thinks these pampered cuts will continue but he is sorely misunderstood….

We came home to the start of the Super Bowl. Maria came upstairs to watch with us. I had my wish – we were all together in the same room for two straight hours watching the game and the commercials. Mario ate pretzels and dip, Jon ate chicken and potatoes, Ri ate a chocolate chip cannoli, and I ate Hershey bars. To each his own….

Even if Mario expressed his frustration with me massaging Ri’s feet or Jon barked at Mario to stop flopping around – it was all good because we were all together while we barked and sighed. And the being together grounded me. This was my clan – my tribe – and we were all safe in our nest.

I woke up with a positive, ready-to-go attitude on Monday morning. This has not happened in a while:) I attributed it to the time together on Sunday. Funny how Jon and I used to dream of the day when the kids did their own things and we had the freedom to do whatever we desired. We would sit in the living room of our old house as they showed off their dance moves or sang a new song. It would be 9:30 am and we would have been up for three hours already. We were exhausted and it wasn’t even noon. It’s a reminder to absorb those moments – even when they feel everlasting and you just want one more hour of rest – because they fade away and you find yourself excited about getting to watch a commercial because your babes will be next to you.

Happy 14th birthday Ri!

I thought 13 would kill me. I was wrong. 14 is taking me down. How has this munch been on this planet for 14 years?

This year has brought 8th grade and a continued desire for school to last all year-round. She loves it. Her favorite thing about Summer is back-to-school shopping. She’s a freak, as Mario points out. She loves being with her friends throughout the day; she loves the structure and routine; and she loves her teachers. What’s that I heard about the math teacher? He’s mean? Not in Maria’s eyes-she thinks he’s the bomb.com. There is nothing she she complains about when it comes to school.

This year brought basketball. It also brought soccer and softball but I mention basketball because she swore she would never play the sport again. But when friends call, she can’t help but answer. They needed one more person for the team, and she agreed even though she readily declares her hatred for the sport (she did manage to score a few baskets this year) It is clear that her main drive for being on a sports team is not to actually develop in the sport and become elite, but rather, to embolden her relationships with her girlfriends. I will never forget her response to a teammate who scored a soccer goal after Ri came out of the game. She jumped up and down and hugged her when she came in for water. She was genuinely happy for her and could care less that it was not her who scored. She’s a team player to the nth degree. Coaches love her for it and rely on her to keep the other girls in line (right or wrong). She’s the mother hen of the bunch in every sport.

She gets along with everyone. She sees the good in all of her classmates, and is always ready to stand up for them if someone questions them. She is able to hang out with a wide range of gals, and still prefers being with a big group rather than one friend. She wants to be the host with the most when she has friends over – an abundance of snacks and drinks and an assurance that each friend has a snack she enjoys. She will undoubtedly host some sweet parties. Being with friends was the only reason she walked to school every day!

She fell madly in love with Blake Shelton (she still adores Patrick Swayze but he got pushed to the side a bit). She only asked for VIP tickets to the Blake Shelton concert in Pittsburgh in February. She got more than she could imagine when he dedicated a song to her and threw her his guitar pick. That could have been not only a Christmas present but a birthday present, Easter present, and Fourth of July present!

She experienced Washington DC with her eighth-grade class. I will never forget her walking through the back door after Jon picked her up from the school at 10 PM at night. She was bawling and I ran towards the door to ask her what was wrong. She struggled to get out the words:

“I miss my friends so much. I just want to be back in DC. We will never have that time back again. I just want to be back there!”

Like I said, she loves big groups of people. She thrives in that atmosphere.

She got chosen to be on the student council this year and is applying to be student council president next year as a freshman. She sets her goals high. I love that she is not fearful of the risk of disappointment. She just dives in and goes for it. She certainly does not have any fear of getting up in front of her classmates.

She got asked to be a junior bridesmaid for my cousin’s wedding in July. If we weren’t convinced that she loves a good party with s Tom of people, we are now. She soaked in the frivolity of the two evening affair and fit in just perfectly with the 20 somethings (yikes!). She rode from the church to the reception hall in the party limousine with the wedding party, even:) She didn’t want Jon or I anywhere in site. This was her evening to shine and my god, she did!

This is the year that she has retreated down to the basement. She loves to sit on the gray couch with her computer on her lap and watch Grey’s Anatomy or the latest YouTube tutorial. She has taken to sleeping down there, and we are close to agreeing it can be her bedroom. She loves the privacy. We have a shower down there so she can get herself ready to go in the mornings without seeing any of us! She gets up before the crack of dawn unlike any of the rest of us and likes the hour and a half of time to do her thing. We still aren’t quite sure what “her thing” is that she does besides straightening her hair at times, hopefully doing her ankle exercises, getting clothes together for practice, and eating her bowl of cereal. And, of course, staring at her phone.

She is still smitten with her cousin, Elena. She will do anything for that girl, including taking a long walk because she wants to ride her bike to the pancake restaurant. She won’t do that for anybody else. Their relationship is as sweet as can be with Elena still calling Maria “Meemaw” and enbracing her fiercely when they see each other. Elena still has moments of frustration with Meemaw and Ri has times where she wishes she was back at home in her basement by herself, but inevitably, every time we leave her, Maria misses that little girl immensely.

Ri is heading to high school next year. How is that at all possible? I remember back to when she was 9 months old and clinging to me. All I could think was “one day she will be able to do things on her own, feed herself, get dressed…and I can have some time to myself.” Shit, what was I thinking? I want that 9 month-old back so badly just to be able to feel her cling, and smell her skin, and kiss all over her head and toes. However, I also want this teenage girl who is finding her voice and navigating her way through this crazy life.

She only has four more years with us and then she’s off to college (she has made it very clear she will be off to college) and I will not only miss her clinging but I will simply miss her face. It’s really hard to think about not seeing her every day. But, I’m jumping ahead. I need to absorb all things Maria while I have her here. And there is so much to absorb.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Maria, Mario, and I took advantage of the 70° weather by throwing on our baseball mitts and tossing the ball in the front yard. We have enough space to stand 30 feet apart – enough distance for a decent throw but not so much that you can’t converse.

Maria talked about her birthday party – the hotel she wants to book, the restaurant she wants to eat at, the presents she’d love to get. Mario interrupted frequently asking her important questions like “what friends are you inviting” and “what day is your birthday?”

When Maria finished with her birthday party ideas, Mario began in on fifth grade camp. He was bummed he didn’t get a camp counselor he wanted but excited he got to be with his best friend, Owen. Maria gave him insight on activities he’d love and ones he’d hate. At first he didn’t want to hear them but then he got intrigued.

We laughed as Mario ran into a branch on our magnolia tree.

These are the moments I so love, and what I crave after a day at work. The connection lifts me up and energizes me. It’s such a simple act – tossing the ball from one glove to the next and chatting about our lives – that it doesn’t seem to correlate with the immense feeling of joy that overcomes me. It’s taken hard work and years of reflection to soak in those ordinary moments and feel the joy I do in them. I recently discovered a quote that I want to use for moments like these that will serve to further seal the joy in my heart. Kurt Vonnegut writes in one of his essays, quoting his uncle: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Tender Mario moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time together

Christmas was on a Tuesday this year, which meant I got to torture the kids with my presence for four days straight. It made me feel totally loved when we woke up on Friday morning (the kids first day off), and Maria’s first question to me as I headed downstairs was “don’t you have to work today?” The inflection in her voice made it clear she was not asking, she was hoping. The kiddos know when I’m home there will be some walking involved with the day. And some reading. And maybe even a household task. There will also be game playing and frivolity but they focus on the former activities much more.

Maria got what she wanted – I did head to work – but not before I got a walk in with her beforehand:) She and I and Rocco took a walk to the woods. She shot some good pictures of the bare trees and little white mushrooms growing on dead branches. As much as she complains about the walk, I think she secretly likes to get out. Not for long, for sure, but 15 minutes does her well. And, 15 minutes for me with her or Mario makes my day. It’s grounds me and puts me in an upbeat mood as I head off to make the bacon.

Over the four day’s before Christmas, the kids humored me with my requests for walks to the woods. They even talked with me during our walks. I make it hard not to talk to me by coming up with new games to play or asking questions that I know will interest them (Maria – what’s new with Blake Shelton; Mario – how are the Rockets doing). I think if I had one last wish before I passed on, it would be to take a walk with my kids. I love having them near me and listening to their banter even if it’s about the Kardashians or Fortnite, My spirit is full after time with them.

We also got our fill of boardgames. I crushed the kids at Family Feud. To be fair, they don’t have years of experience like I do of watching the show from the ages of 9 to 14. I innately know what “the survey says.” I amazed my kids with my knowledge of “name six items a man thinks he can fix but usually can’t” (I think I got that answer correct due to being with Jon all these years versus my years of playing). We also got a brand new deck of “beat the parents” cards. Jon and I agreed to go against Ri and Mario, and got on a correct answer streak to win the game. Jon stood up and pointed his fingers at them and yelled “in your face”! (I wonder where they get their competitive nature)?! Of course, I was standing right behind him cheering him on.

We also made cookies and the kids decorated. gingerbread house (we got two but the first crumbled after Ri tried to glue it together rather than use icing). As I sat on the kitchen floor wrapping presents, I looked up at them consumed in decorating their gingerbread house – Ri with her tongue out pasting a Starburst on the house and Mario with lips sealed tight working on a row of Dot candies along the roof. Those moments are a sort of prayer for me. I am consumed with love and comfort.

We played mini-hoop basketball in Mario’s room. Mario loves to play mini hoop when it gets cold outside. We have about three steps to move before we hit the hoop but he doesn’t care. He likes to ram past me and make slamdunks. Maria begged to take him on, and he finally acquiesced. She simply pushed him with one hand until she reached the hoop and then gently placed the ball into it. She finally agreed to try some new moves, which led to a few pounces and bruises, but they ended the match shaking hands.

Christmas arrived on Tuesday and the kids were scattered around their cousins and other family members. There was no morning walk or mad game of Family Feud. But there was those few moments – when Ri came from behind to give me a bear hug, and Mario beamed when he talked about going to the UC Bearcat game with me, and both kids stared with those bold blue eyes into my camera as I flashed a holiday picture – when I felt at complete peace and as though nothing at all could be better.

Hip Hop Nutcracker

As I scrolled through Facebook a couple of months ago, an ad for the Hip-Hop Nutcracker popped up. Since having kids, I have felt a tinge of jealousy towards families who post pictures of themselves all dressed up at the Nutcracker. Every year, I ponder the idea of dressing up and hitting that seasonal favorite. However, I never get around to it. December hits and it is a mad flurry of shopping, last-minute deadlines, parties, you name it. Besides, I did not think Mario or Maria would care for the show too much. It is long and neither of them enjoy watching ballet.

But when the Hip Hop Nutcracker ad came in view, I thought “this may be a possibility.” I have been struggling with things to do with the kids together. Mario loves movies; Maria does not. Maria loves to bake cookies; Mario does not. Neither off them ever want to take a walk with me! They have completely different interests now that they are older. But neither of them have had the chance to experience the Hip Hop Nutcracker so they couldn’t really say no to the invite in good faith. And besides, I did think Mario, at least, would enjoy it. He loves to watch old-school 80s rap videos with me and has quite a few hip-hop moves he has mastered. I wavered about whether Maria would enjoy it, on the other hand, since she was not a hip hop fan. How I gave birth to a child who loves country music is beyond me. After thinking about it some more, I decided that I would invite a few of Maria’s friends and their moms in order for Maria to have some girlfriends attend the show with her. Four other moms immediately responded that they would love to go with me.

We decided to go to Northstar for dinner before the show. I let Mario skip out on dinner with all of the women and girls and go to Subway with Jon instead. The North Star dinner was delicious, and I had a great time talking with fellow moms. Maria and her girlfriends sat at another table. They ordered smoothies and meals, and giggled most of the time. After dinner, they begged to have five dollars each to go across the street to a gourmet candy shop. Meanwhile, another mom and I stashed some giant, warm cookies to eat during the show.

After the girls spent what seemed like hours at the candy shop, we headed down to the Palace Theatre. One of the moms drove us, and somehow was able to get the very first parking spot in the parking garage. I will drive with her all the time with that luck. Mario met us at the front doors and we went up to our seats. But first, of course, I had to get the obligatory pictures.

The show began with the emcee and the DJ on the stage. The MC got the audience pumped up by rapping and playing old-school 80s jams. All of the moms stood up and hollered and danced for the first 20 minutes of the show to the embarrassment of all the teen girls in front of us. Maria and Mario kept looking at me with eyes blazing “sit down mom!” Mario tugged on me a few times but eventually they both gave up on their pleading because they knew I would not stop. As the show began, we settled down in our seats. I sat next to Mario and loved every second of it. The athleticism of the dancers was amazing. They also did a few dance moves that Mario does currently so that made us smile. Of course, when one of the dancers came out and spun on top of his head for a full 20 seconds, Mario looked at me and quipped “I could easily do that” (I did make him try it when we got home and although he could stand on his head, that was about the end of it.).

During intermission, I asked the girls how they liked it. They all smiled and said that it was good. I don’t know if they just knew that I am the one that got the event together so they did not want to disappoint me or whether they really liked it. Meanwhile, my daughter gave me the straight up truth. She did not really like the music but the show was “OK.” Mario told me that he was enjoying it. I don’t know if he truly liked it or whether he knew how excited I was about it so he did not want to burst my bubble. That kid loves to see me happy. During most of the show, he held my hand and waved it around when the emcee told us to dance. He’s my bud, for sure.

At the end, the emcee came out and let us engage in one more jam session before the end of the night. It was a blast. I think Maria and Mario may have been bored at times during the show but I think in the end when they were laying in their beds getting ready to sleep, they would say that it was a good time.

Ri does basketball

Maria decided to go out for basketball. Her eighth grade team needed a couple more players so she volunteered to join. She has become good friends with a girl on the team, Maggie, who I think acted as a big influence in her decision.

Maria loves to hang with a large group of girls. She seems to have most fun around a group of gals versus one on one. She likes a big party! I think this is a big reason why she loves to play sports. It is not necessarily the love of the game but rather, a love of friendships and camaraderie. She roots her teammates on fiercely. My personality is so different than hers; I am the one who wants to be on the field and be the star. People should root me on. I am not looking to cheer on other’s accomplishments without having some of my own. But not this girl of mine. She is happy to play a bit and then sit on the bench and cheer on her friends. And damn she does that well. She claps and cheers when a friend makes a play. She gives hugs and high fives when her friends come out of the game. She’s a mama hen. If someone gets hurt, she is the first one to get ice and help out. If someone is sad about how they played, she wraps them in a hug and makes them laugh.

I am amazed at her because it is so foreign to me. I think it’s a wonderful trait to have – this lack of concern about being a star and this joy in just being a part of the team. It’s this plain and simple – she’s a happy, happy kid. She enjoys life. She feels comfortable around all sorts of people. She enjoys conversations with others.

If you would have told me a year ago that Ri would be playing basketball and hanging out with the handful of gals that she is hanging with, I would have been skeptical. She’s really blossomed this year; it’s been a strong year for her. She is planting her roots and coming into her own, and man, it is exciting to watch.

Ri ❤️ DC

Maria loved her eighth-grade trip to DC. She loved it so much that when she walked through the back door (after Jon picked her up from the school bus at 10 pm), she was bawling. I thought something had happened to her and glanced back at Jon to get some insight. He gave me a little smile and shook his head. Then Maria fumbled some words out amidst sobs:

“I will never have that trip with my friends again. I didn’t want to see it end. I want to be back in DC.”

This girl. She loves these types of gatherings – big groups of family or big groups of friends hanging out and talking. Meg and I had just been talking about this the other day. She was talking about how she tends to like being with one other person and not a big crowd. Jon is like that as well. I can really go either direction but tend to be more spirited when more people are around. There is no doubt about our girl though. Her joie de vivre is in direct correlation with the number of people around her. So, this trip to DC with 80 of her closest friends smashed together on a few buses infused her heart with joy. She absolutely had a blast.

When she finally settled down after heading upstairs has washing her face and getting on pjs, she came into our bedroom and laid next to Jon. She could have probably talked for the next two hours about everything they did. She gave us a brief snapshot of going to Gettysburg, going to the mall and eating with her friends, hanging out on the bus and eating their snacks. She had the widest smile in all the pictures we saw of her on Instagram.

As I put her to bed that night, I told her that she had quite a gift. She felt deeply – to the core – and that meant she could feel immense joy and love in her bones. I told her that some people don’t ever get to experience that. I also told her that because she felt deeply, she would also have to accept that she may feel negative emotions deeply, also, like the sadness she felt as she entered the house crying. I stated I’d much rather feel it all then not.

Mario and I tried to cheer her up the next morning by making her eggs, bacon and toast and playing a game with her. She gets cheered up around a big group of people; I get cheered up having just a little bit of time alone with my two babes. The moments are far and few between anymore with as much as they have going on and as many things as they want to do … with their friends. Maria was so dejected from having to come home that she didn’t even have the energy to object to a walk to the woods with me and Mario. She eventually began to come back to life only after she realized that she still has another six months as an eighth grader to hang out with all of the friends who went to DC with her.

She was so excited about the thought of going to the farm over the weekend because Meg and Dad we’re having a throng of family out to celebrate Jack returning home from Sweden. Sure enough, when I arrived, I saw her playing with a couple of the young kids in the corner. Her smile was nearly as wide as it was in the DC picture.

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.