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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Guilt

Every moment of mindfulness changes a moment of conditioning.

I felt horrible for skipping out on a Friday gathering with my girlfriends. They had come up from Cincinnati and gotten a hotel room for two nights in order for all of to hang out together. It’s a once or twice a year event with my four girlfriends from grade school and high school. I knew I’d be tired as hell on Friday evening, and I knew they would not. They would want to head out late and drink wine. I’d want to slip on pjs and decompress. Friday nights are rough for me after a week of work. I need downtime. I made the executive decision to tell them I would meet up with them on Saturday morning.

I felt horrible about it – very guilty that they had come to my city and I was not even going to meet up with them until the next day. This was not out of the ordinary. I live in guilt. Be it that I was raised Catholic, or that I’m the oldest child, I often feel guilt about decisions I make. I fretted about it throughout work on Friday playing each scenario in my head.

“If I go, I will be tired and pissy and will want to go to bed at 10.”

“But if I don’t go, I will feel bad and worry they are mad.”

I took a walk in Tarpy with Rocco as soon as I got home Friday evening. This is my go-to refuge after long workdays. I kept my phone in my pocket so it was easier to resist the urge to look at Facebook as I walked the same trail I walk every day with my pup. I asked myself why I felt guilty. What brought that emotion up in me so strongly. My mind traveled back to childhood, and my need to please. I wanted others to feel good. I remember going to the movies with my dad and not paying much attention to the movie itself. Rather, I focused on glancing over at my dad every few minutes to see if he was laughing and enjoying himself. If I had girlfriends over, I’d make up plans of everything we could do so they’d have fun – even if it wasn’t my idea of fun.

I looked up at the changing leaves on the trees. One hosted leaves colored a dull red on the bottom with yellow on their tips. Rocco rushed by me with a large stick in his mouth. I took a deep breath and let it out. Repeat.

One of my girlfriends texted me when I got home. She sent a picture of all the girls eating cheese and bread and said “can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” I texted them back to tell them I could not wait to meet up. They texted me back some inappropriate responses due to their drinking state…. made me laugh.

I glanced up from looking at my phone. Rocco licked my hand. It soaked in how useless my hours of guilt had been. They were having a raucous time together. They weren’t talking about what a schmuck I was for not coming Friday night. Get out of your thoughts, Mary.

I woke up Saturday morning, took a long run, and ended up having a most fabulous day and evening with my gals.

Kid time part two

So just when I thought Saturday was wonderful, Sunday provided just as much joy. I took Rocco out in the early morning to get a good run in the woods. When I came home, Mario asked if we could go to Stauf’s. A dream come true. Both kids willingly put on their gym shoes to walk up to the coffee shop with me.

We played our go-to card game – crazy eights- but with a twist to it. Maria came up with the idea that whoever lost the game would have to crawl on all fours down our street as we approached home. I mentioned that there would be two losers with the three of us playing and she made an executive decision that whoever had the most cards when one of us won would be the loser. Of course, that ended up being me. We then decided to play a game of war which we have not played in a long time. Maria came up with the penalty for losing that game as well. Whoever got out of cards first had to hop on one foot down our street. Mario ended up with that one.

Maria enjoyed shouting out commands to Mario and me as we performed our designated penalty move down the street. As soon as I tried to take a rest from walking on all fours, Maria would shout out “keep going, keep going!” When we finally arrived home, hips hurting, Maria and Mario asked if we could do a couple of the athletic challenges.

The first challenge involved shooting a basketball into the hoop blindfolded. Maria retrieved a sleeping mask from the house and gave it to Mario. She then held up four fingers to see if he could see or not (I don’t really understand why the kids do this seeing that Mario could just make up another number to act like he couldn’t see when he could, but I digress). She placed him at the distance of a free-throw line. He had 30 seconds to shoot as many baskets as he could. He, of course, was bragging that he would win this game for sure. He ended up making one basket in 30 seconds. I thought for sure I could handle it. Maria went next and also got one. I went last and ended up with only one as well. It is a lot harder than you think. We shot another round and each got two. Then on the final round, Mario ended up beating us with three. Bum.

Next came the dizzy run. Oh, how I hate activity that spins you around and around. I still have nightmares from Mario’s and my adventure at the Ohio State fair. He made me get on a round spaceship where we stand against the wall and the spaceship twirls around at top speed for what feels like seven years. I got off of that ride and could not function for 30 minutes. I literally laid on the concrete in the middle of the fairgrounds to try to get my composure back. This dizzy run game took me right back to that feeling.

Mario went first. He had to stand a plastic bat upright on the ground and place his head on top of it. Then he had to spin his body around it ten times. Then he had to throw the bat to the side and run down our driveway and back. How did Maria and I not think to put our video camera on?! It was hilarious. He ran directly over to the bushes on the side of the house and fell right into them. He tried to get himself up but was so discombobulated he couldn’t stand up. Finally he got himself up and ran all the way the other direction against the fence. It was hysterical. He finally was able to adjust himself so that he could run in a somewhat straight line to the end of the driveway and back. I was not looking forward to my turn.

Maria, however, was. She grabbed the bat and told me to start timing her. She went around and around with her head firmly on the top of the plastic bat and when I yelled 10, she began her run. She had a little bit more composure than Mario but still found herself running into the fence and then veering all the way over to the neighbors porch towards the end. She was a few seconds behind Mario by the time she reached the finish line.

I was up next. I warned the kids that I may pass out. I did my 10 spins, and lifted my head up. Shit. I felt like I was going to throw up while my head simultaneously exploded.

The kids enjoyed every minute of it.

After my ordeal, we agreed that we needed some AC time in the house before we engaged in any more athletic competitions. The kids read their books for 30 minutes without too much complaining. I went to Kroger’s to buy chicken and herbs for dinner. Maria had won the right to choose dinner and she wanted garlic crusted chicken with ceasar noodles. When I return from the store, the kids agreed to head to the pool for an hour before dinner.

When we arrived, Maria spotted five of her male classmates swimming in the pool. She refused to go in to the same area they were located. So, we ended up in the 7 foot area where I timed Maria and Maria as they competed to see who could touch the bottom of the pool the quickest. We went down the slides a couple of times and jumped off the diving board until the whistle blew for adults-only swim. Mario teased Maria and kept standing over her when she wanted to get out of the pool. He would push her back into the pool when she lifted up to get out. She is not a rule breaker, unlike her brother, so it stresses her out to remain in the pool when it’s for adults only. She about ripped Mario a new one when she finally got out of the pool.

Dinner turned out halfway decent for once. I actually followed the directions on how to make the chicken, which made it turn out pretty daggone good (the last time I tried to make garlic crusted chicken, I coated it in flour not reading the directions properly – needless to say, much of that chicken went to waste). We sat together as a family talking about random people and events. It was wonderful. These summer nights, prior to school starting and all of the activities around sports and homework, are to be cherished. I soaked it in as I mixed my noodles and chicken, and devoured a big bite of goodness.

Kid time

This may go down as one of my most favorite days ever. I got in a sweaty, excruciating workout in the morning, and arrived home to two kids that were just waking up at 10 AM. Jon and I have been dreaming about our children waking up at a decent hour since they were infants. Ever since birth, they both woke up at the crack of dawn. But over the last week or so, they have been sleeping in. Mario slept in until 11 AM the other morning! It’s usually more like 9 AM but that still is still a wonderful gift to us. Of course, they will be going back to school in a month and have to start getting up at the butt- crack of dawn again:)

I made Mario some waffles and cleaned up the kitchen while Maria sauntered upstairs from her “dorm room” basement asking if we could play bananagrams. I have got her addicted to that game; she loves it because she’s gotten better and better. We begged Mario to play with us, and he finally agreed.

After bananagrams, Ri and I went for a quick run/walk in the woods. A few days ago, I made her go on a run/walk with me to try to get her ready for soccer conditioning. She had absolutely no desire to go. However, when we had run/walked our 2 miles and we’re heading home, she admitted that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. She has gone on a run/walk with me every day since. Don’t get me wrong, I still have to beg her, but she will throw on her gym shoes and eventually talk to me during the trip. It is such a gift to “coach” her in running and spend tine with her outdoors. I know she doesn’t appreciate it as much as I do, but hopefully she will have fond memories when she gets older:) Isn’t that always how it works?

We browsed the Internet after we got home to see what we could do for the rest of the day. It looked like rain was coming in the late afternoon so we nixed the idea of heading to a waterpark. I wanted Darby Creek; the kids wanted ziplining. The only place that was close and halfway reasonable in cost was Camp Mary Orten – the ziplining place we went to about five years ago. Mario was so scared to zipline that he had to go with the instructor on every line except for the very last one. The instructor could not hold him because the line went too fast. I remember him begging and pleading to just give him one more minute before he had to go by himself. After five minutes, he finally did it, and loved it. Then, of course, after the very last line, he begged to do the course again by himself.

This time around, I could still see some nervousness in him, but he did all the lines on his own. He even showed off here and there by stepping his heels off the platform and looking down to the land far below. Maria, as always, was the complete daredevil ready and willing to do whatever stunt they suggested. She loved the trust fall zip line where you go backwards and can hold the rope really low so it feels like you are going to fall to the Earth. A nightmare for me but a pure Adrenalin rush for her. Mario loved the super fast zip line at the end of the course. He loved the speed. They both loved seeing my terrified face as I zipped through the forests. They thought my eyes were going to pop out of my face on the trust fall.

After ziplining, we stopped off at the house to throw on our swimsuits and headed straight to the pool to cool off. We made it right at 5 pm so we could get a full 45 minutes in before adult swim. Mario dunked Ri over and over and then insisted we play the color game (don’t ask). We jumped off the diving boards and went down the slides. It was heaven.

Then we hopped back in the car to drive home and order Chipotle for dinner – the kids’ one wish for the evening. After eating our Chipotle and watching the Office, we began our board game Olympics, which consisted of Bananagrams, Settlers of Catan, 2 games of Crazy Eights, and the Scrambled States of America. Ri won 3 and Mario won 2 (yes, I won none). Mario took it like a champ without ruining the night with a tantrum (Ri could have just as easily ruined the night with a tantrum if she had lost – she’s ms. competitive lately).

Ri held an award ceremony (I had to sit on the ground as the third place loser, Mario knelt as second place, and Ri stood as first place). We talked about what athletic events we would engage in the next day since Ri promised Mario we’d engage in athletic competition as well as board games competition. We topped the night off with the kids wrestling in the living room as I commentated on their different moves (one of their most enjoyable activities):) Nine times out of ten this ends poorly but they promised they wouldn’t get in a fight, and they actually came through with their promise. It ended in laughter, and all of us heading to our rooms for a sweet night’s sleep.

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.”

Dancing and basketball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Taking the time to mindset pre-vacation

My stress level had nearly hit the top rung. It was mid-July and we had gone through nearly 2 months of summer without a babysitter. It is the first summer we decided to go without a sitter. Jon would be able to work from home so we figured he could at least have some oversight of the kids. Now, my “oversight of the kids” is quite different then Jon’s “oversight of the kids.” My oversight: I ask to see their homework even when they say they have done it; I make them a sandwich when they say they are hungry and make sure they get some strawberries with that PB&J; I help them clean their rooms while we jam to music. Jon’s oversight: he tells them to grab lunch if they are hungry; he asks them if they’ve done their homework and trusts when they say yes; he tells them they need to clean their room and assumes they will do so while he does his own thing.

With my type A personality, Jon’s oversight can lead to a bit of stress. But even if Jon’s oversight did not stress me, my own crazy worry would do the trick. One week I think that the kids are going to go back to school and be behind all the other kids for not having read six books during the summer or completed their math workbook. Other weeks I am concerned that they are not getting outside as much as they should. And yet other weeks I think they are going to be diagnosed diabetic since all they’ve eaten is crap.

And then there is my general worry about finances, my job, Jon’s job, kids’ college. You name it.

So, needless to say, when we were a few days away from leaving for Michigan, Jon sat me down and reinforced in me that we were going to let all the stress and worry go, and make this a good vacation. He demanded that I not worry about the cost of lunch, or whether the kids read for an hour on the trip, or what the kids selected when we stopped at the gas station to get a snack. “Just let it go” he told me, and “enjoy yourself.”

His advice sank into my bones. I was struggling with trying to let go of work and worry and school and tasks, and his words sank into my bones allowing my concerns to drift off. Our clan had been broken up throughout the summer – either Maria was gone for a couple of weeks or Mario. I had worked long hours some days and not been home when both kids were there. So, I needed this trip to ground me back to what’s important and what matters. In the end, no matter the circumstances – catastrophe or minor setback or huge fortune – family and community and connection drive me.

I breathed in all of the wonder of my small clan as we drove up north. We stayed in a small cottage that I found on VRBO. It was not quite as plush as I thought it may be, but, as with most things, my initial reaction of mediocrity flipped to quaint and charming after the first night of getting accustomed to it.

The hilarious part of the trip was the fact that there was only an air-conditioned unit on the top floor. The top floor was one bedroom with a queen size bed and a twin bunk bed. Jon and I planned on sleeping downstairs and letting the kids have the upstairs. However once Jon found out that the AC was only in the upstairs bedroom, he refused to sleep downstairs. The kids refused to sleep downstairs because they were scared with us being upstairs. Therefore, we all got to sleep together in the same bedroom … like Little House on the Prairie! (“I whispered “good night Mary, good night Laura, good night John Boy” as went to sleep). I ended up on the floor on a futon the rest of the night because Jon and I do not fit in a queen sized bed. One of the kids slept with me each night – I preferred Mario because he does not kick. Jon got the queen bed all to himself (except for one night when he agreed to let Maria sleep with him but regretted it all night as she kicked him every hour).

We woke up most mornings and went straight out to the lake for some paddle boarding or kayaking. We would come back inside and play a game of Monopoly before deciding what the plans were for the day. The kids still like to please their mama so they agreed to a hike most days. It would take us about 40 minutes to get to the dunes so we would make a day out of it and do something around Glen Arbor. What a cute little town. Jon and I have been saying for years that we don’t know what we will do when we retire because we have different locale tastes. He could be on a farm the rest of his life and I could be in the mountains the rest of mine. But we both agreed that Glen Arbor would be a locale we could settle.

It was surreal to climb the dunes with Maria and Mario when I had climbed the exact dunes as a kid with my dad and Meg. Bits of my childhood experiences would pop into my head as we walked on a trail or leaped through the dune sand. Life is strange. They had a love-hate relationship with the dunes and trails like I did as a kid. Part of them just wants to sit back at the cottage and watch You Tube but another part of them enjoys the thrill of climbing up a steep dune and running back down it. When I was their age, part of me just wanted to be back in the city with my friends but another part of me loved conquering those dunes with my family.

They also reminded me of how I would act when they bitched and moaned about how long the hike lasted. They were lucky – when I was a kid, my dad would take us on 3 or 5 mile hikes. I was easy on them with 1 or 2 milers.

One of their favorite places to eat in Glen Arbor was Dune Dogs. It is a little shack that sells hotdogs with all sorts of toppings. Maria, Jon and I also enjoyed the Cherry Hut. Their cherry pies are no joke. Mario, not a fan of cherries, did not find it amazing. But we made him smile with a superman ice cream cone from across the street.

We got our obligatory vacation putt-putt games in as well. The boys won the first game and the girls came back to win the second. We were going to have a playoff game on the last night we were there but the line was ridiculous to play. Mario was so bummed that we could not do it because he was ready to get revenge. We also got to do a ropes course at the putt-putt location. Mario and I had never done one before and Maria was adamant that we try it. She, of course, was fearless. Mario was a bit hesitant but then did great. I was surprised at how nervous I was because it was not ridiculously high. But, I kept my composure and did not scream throughout the climb. A win for everyone.

Oh, and we saw a black bear! Unfortunately, it was a dead one. It was lying on the side of the road behind a maintenance truck. It must have just been killed before we passed it. Poor baby.

Once back at the cottage, nobody wanted to leave. A couple of nights we ran out to grab some dinner (one night we traveled to 5 different spots for a nice Italian dinner only to find carry-out pizza joints so we ended up at KFC enjoying crispy chicken legs and mashed potatoes!). The other nights we made dinner at the cottage and then went out for a night swim. Maria was always ready for a swim and a jump off the dock. Mario, not so much. He had this irrational fear of fish biting his toes. But in contradiction to that fear, he liked standing in the water up to his ankles and watching the tiny minnows nibble at his dead skin. I could not stand it. Maria enjoyed it as well. And Jon. Freaks.

One of the ways I was able to get Mario to jump off the dock and into the lake was to play a game. He, I and Maria would hold hands and have to yell out a certain response to a question while we jumped in the water. I found that one of the questions he loved was to name a basketball player. Ri and I must have jumped off the dock with him 10 times before he realized where he was and feared the fish. The most exciting time for the kids in the lake was when Jon made one trip out to the deck and proceeded to chuck the kids off each time they got near him. They absolutely loved it (and went flying into the water).

Mario did a little bit of fishing but not as much as I thought he would. There were not a lot of fish right by the dock, but he did manage to catch two fish at one time on our first day. Ri tried to fish as well, but we were a bit concerned with her because she is so wild with her casting. She casted her lure right into Jon’s chest at one point.

I thought we would light campfires every night and make s’mores. Not so much. The Ionno family has a real problem with starting fires, which I guess is a good thing in the end. We could not start one in West Virginia and we had no better luck in Michigan. We got a very small one started but it kept dying out. We were able to make some half-baked s’mores but then called it a night due to the massive amount of bugs eating at us. There was no campfire after that first night. We opted for plain old Hershey bars and marshmallows.

I got some alone time with each of the kids, too. Mario and I would swim out to the dock together, and I would play the name game to keep him out there with me for a bit. He also liked playing in the sand with me (competitive castle building). Maria and I paddle boarded together and tried yoga on the boards. We never were able steady ourselves but it was fun to fall in together.

I loved this vacation so much. It was by far my favorite one with the kids. I think a big reason for my enjoyment was because I made a conscious effort to relax and let the stress go prior to heading out. I continuously thought about letting it all go for a few days before our departure. I have failed to take that step and consciously get in that mindset for past vacations. I let go of any expectation that the kids would sit on the deck and read books for two hours or any expectation that I should get up and exercise. We just all did what we wanted to do, which ended up being perfect. The kids didn’t want to play on their phones all the time. They came out and played in the sand and paddle boated with me. I had no desire to go out for a 5 mile run. Rather, I enjoyed walking out in the lake with the kids and sitting on the dock with Jon while they fished.

Another reason I enjoyed it so much was because the kids are older. They were able to do things on their own and engage with us about books, news, movies. On past vacations, when the kids were younger, it was a lot of running after them and long days of sitting in the pool as they said “mom, watch this somersault or “mom, time me while I go under water!”

The number one indicator that I loved this vacation so much was that I still remember it like it happened yesterday. With other vacations, I have come home and within 24 hours forgotten about any fun we had. I immediately got consumed back at work, with school, with errands. But this time, my carefree mindset stayed with me as we passed back into Ohio. Granted, a bit of stress and worry came here and there but it was a lot less intense and I could re-adjust my mind to take me back to what is important in this life. And it surely is not whether I please my boss, get promoted, fail to get my kids to read 6 books in the summer, or feed them Oreo’s for dinner. It is community and my clan and sending love and kindness out into the world.

Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

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

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

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

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

Are you kidding?

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

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

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

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

“Hi mom!”

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

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

That being said, I slept all night that evening.