Mario and fairy books

Maria has innate compassion and nurturing genes in her body. She has always been a caretaker. When Mario was born, she would beg to give him his Binky or put him in his swing or feed him his smashed peas. I have a ton of pictures – back when you had to develop them – of the two of them together and inevitably, Maria’s arm is always wrapped around Mario. His protector.

In preschool, she had a girlfriend who was petite and quiet. Whenever another child would boss her around, Maria would step in and protect her. The girl’s parents nicknamed Maria “the muscle.” This weekend, Maria and I were just getting ready to sit down to play a card game. Her phone rang and she left to talk to her friend for a few minutes. She came back and told me that her friend needed to stop by. Within a minute, I heard the door open. Her friend was sobbing; Maria wrapped her arm around her friend, and walked with her down the stairs to her room continuously whispering “you will be ok.”

Mario did not quite inherit the compassionate and nurturing genes.  That is not to say that he doesn’t care for others; he just doesn’t have that automatic response of nurturing and caretaking. He expresses his care and concern by trying to make people laugh – by being goofy. When he was in preschool, he would get up in front of all of his friends and perform a crazy dance (he loved Gangnam Style). When one of his friends took a nasty fall while they were skateboarding, he jabbed him with playful jokes to keep him laughing until I arrived to take him home. Last week, I had a crappy day at work and he amused me with his little quips.

I have made Maria do more volunteer activities with me than Mario. This is partially because the moms of Maria’s friends tend to plan volunteer events more often than the moms of Mario’s friends. It is also because she didn’t put up as much of a fight as Mario did when I talked about doing something for those in need.

Lately, I have been lamenting about not pushing harder on Mario when he puts up a fight about volunteering. He needs to gain some perspective when he starts begging me for $150 pair of basketball shoes for the upcoming season. I have told him that there may be a possibility of purchasing such shoes but it does not come without putting forth some effort for others. Accordingly, he has agreed to put together hygiene kits for men at the homeless shelter along with a few of his friends. We are heading out this week to buy the supplies and then put them together to deliver. It just takes me putting forth some effort to get him to do it.

But I was excited to see him come downstairs on his own last night and read a book to Elena with me. I had mentioned reading to Elena over dinner with him and Maria and Jon last night. I threw in a comment that it would be really nice if the kids or Jon joined me for a chapter or two. They all rolled their eyes.

I situated my computer at the dining room table, and jumped on Facebook messenger with Elena. I was just getting ready to start reading the Weather Fairies book when Mario trotted down the stairs to join me. Elena started giggling like she always does when Mario enters the screen. I gave Mario the parts of Kirsty to read.

To my delight, he completely acted the part. He raised his voice up a few octaves to mimic Kirsty’s voice. Elena cracked up every time he read off the page. He read a chapter with us, and then I allowed him to head upstairs to finish his homework. I spent another 45 minutes reading to Elena. I didn’t make her chuckle like Mario had but we did have fun reading about the goblins and talking about the different weather fairies.

I visited Mario in his room after I finished with Elena. I told him how happy he had made Elena by simply reading a chapter of a book to her. I explained how a simple gesture can mean a lot to somebody. 

I recall telling my dad about taking a walk in the woods without looking at my phone the entire time. We had been talking earlier in the week about needing to disconnect more often. His response via text was “baby steps.” That phrase came to mind as I left Mario’s room and went to log off the computer for the night.



Taking the plunge – happy 13th Mario!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you!

Taking the risk

My girl lost the student council president election. I received a phone call at 7:40 AM as I was taking my morning run. The phone call came up from my husband. I answered assuming it was him. Instead, I heard a sobbing daughter and the following words:

“I lost, mom.”

I should have been ready. I knew she would find out today. I also had an inkling that she may not win. She was up against a girl in her class who made a good speech about being responsible and a strong leader. She also has an older brother who graduated last year and was well known by students in the school.
But I wasn’t ready because deep down inside, I just kept hoping that Ri would win and that we would not be having this conversation. I remember learning about this “wait and hope” mentality when I was learning to be a facilitator at Ohio State. It is a default thought process I go to often. Let’s not delve into what could be painful or difficult conversations now with the hope that the difficult conversation won’t have to happen. Well, inevitably, the situation arises.

So here I was abruptly stopping my gait and trying to resurrect words of consolation to Ri as cars zoomed past me. My heart ached for her because I knew how much she wanted to be president and how sad she was about losing. I did not want to discount that sadness by saying something like “it’s not a big deal – who cares about being president” or “people are stupid – they should have voted for you” – although those were all responses that were coming into my head most immediately. But I took a breath and went in a different direction. I affirmed what she was feeling and simply stated that it had to feel crappy to get this news. But after listening to her for a few minutes, I told her this:

“You should be proud and hold your head high that you went for it. You ran for president when many people would be too scared to do so knowing that they could very well lose the election. You took the risk. That is where you won.”

I really believe that, too. I know even as an adult I have avoided certain challenges because I was scared of making a fool of myself or scared of not coming out on top. It takes a lot to dive into the waters and put yourself out there. She should embrace the strength she had to even take on the challenge.

I will talk with her in due time about what she can learn from this matter. Was there something more that she could have done to prepare? Could she have thought about her speech more and went in a different direction? Are there things she could ask her friends about what they liked about her friend’s speech over hers? This can take some courage because you are going to hear constructive feedback, but it is absolutely necessary in order to grow. You will need the ability to hear such feedback as you get older. Again, something I continue to struggle with – knowing the feedback is constructive and not a slap in the face. It is the only way to excel.

But for this morning, I will simply give her hugs and reaffirm my pride in her simply going for it. Girlfriend needs to feel that power, that strength, in putting herself out there. She needs to understand that is a trait that will be so important for her in years to come.

Vinegar!

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/mary.m.ionno/videos/10151705524597508/?extid=XKT9l8mb7l49ppcs&d=n

Mama’s day 2020

Is this good, mom?”

Maria knelt on the soft dirt and pushed the mulch between the irises. She was trying to use the fresh mulch sparingly so as to not waste it. She is her mother’s daughter when it comes to trying to save money. On the other side of the driveway, Mario poured out bags of mulch and left it 2 inches high to spare himself having to kneel down and spread it. He is his father’s son when it comes to penny pinching.

The neighbor’s yard displays beds of bright red tulips and manicured bushes sitting in pristine mulched beds. Maria and I have been lamenting about our yard’s aesthetic value for days, which continues to decrease each time our neighbors are out working in their yard. So, when Jon agreed to run to the store and buy mulch, I thought I should take advantage of the kids’ agreement to do whatever I wanted them to do on Mother’s Day. They had already been forced to take a 2 mile walk on the bike trail with me so they were undoubtedly hoping that their deeds were done. Ha, never.

Maria was the first one to come out and help. This is the typical case in situations where I need assistance. Maria is always the first one out to help unload the groceries. Mario takes his time so that all of the trips have been taken before he has to carry just one last bag inside.

Maria hopped in the back of the pick-up and heaved bags of mulch my way. She was hysterical to watch as she attempted to lift the bags with every ounce of muscle in her body. We dragged two bags over to our ivy-soaked oak tree and dumped the black mulch onto the ground. We worked together on opposite sides of the tree evenly spreading the mulch.  Neighbors passed by and commented about how good the mulch looked. Mario finally came out; Jon directed him to work on the patch of sticks and dirt by the driveway. Jon nudged me a few minutes later and told me to look over at him. He had his camo bucket hat on his head and was pulling weeds from the dirt. Ri was busy leaning over the stone wall to smooth a clump of mulch.

Peace. Appreciation. Love.

I could have been struck dead at that moment and left this earth in a good place. The sensation starts in my chest. It’s a lightness, as if all the blood has been drained and my chest is floating up in the air like a balloon. My mind ceases producing all of the bullshit chatter it is used to spitting out, and absorbs the delicacy of the moment. My babies working next to me, accumulating dirt stains on their forearms and shins.

Prior to mulching, they begrudgingly took a few walks with me throughout the day. One of the walks took us to our old stomping grounds along the river. We walked past the rocky bank where I used to pull the double stroller over, and carefully lead the kids down the jagged rocks to the river. They took joy in throwing stones as far as they could hurl them into the water. Mario would call out “watch mom” incessantly as he threw a bigger rock into the river to try to make an even greater splash. He is still that little boy calling out my name today as he picks up random rocks and hurls them into the calm river. Maria was never as interested in hurling the rocks; she would throw a few in camaraderie with her little brother but then she would choose to take off her shoes and socks and dip her feet in the water. She liked to feel the sensation of the water on her feet and fingertips. Mario wanted nothing to do with feeling water on him – he would freak out every time Maria splashed him. He just wanted to hurl rocks and jump from boulder to boulder. 

These babes have spent their lifetime with me. How weird is that? They have never known of life without me. They have come to understand this world, in part based on what I have taught them or how they have seen me engage with the people and things. Shit.

That is concerning.

The times I have not been working I have spent with them.  I did not go out for drinks on Friday nights with girlfriends because I wanted to spend the time with the kids. I did not attend work events because I would rather be at my kids’ soccer game or recital. I put myself in ridiculous looking swimsuits and hit the pool to dive off the boards with the kids because they loved to watch how scared I would be going off the high dive. 

I gave them and continue to give them all of the love that I could possibly muster. It is easy to do, after all, because they are my babies. It comes naturally. I can’t imagine not loving them with every ounce of my being.

However, I often still find myself wondering what more I can be doing in this life – helping out at the local shelter, participating in a food drive, teaching homeless kids…. I beat myself up about not doing more…I should take the kids to the shelter more often, I should start a non-profit, I should register for the latest 5k to stop Alzheimer’s…

Then I read this from Glennon Doyle:

“Were you afraid that you’d been so busy loving your people that you forgot to do something important?

Because what I’ve learned from you is that there isn’t a damn thing more important than loving your people.

Do you wish you’d written a book? A book? Mama, your love has written the entire world of our family into existence. The characters in your story are bold and brave because your love made them that way. Our plot line is love and courage and hope and steadfastness. Our family is a beautiful story, Mama—and the hero of our story is you. You are the hero. You are the one. You created this family and you watch over it and tend to it and delight in it and you are the closest I’ve ever come to seeing God, Mama.

And here is the moral of your story: You taught us that what matters is love, and that love is relentlessly showing up for your people.

Because of you, we will always remember that the most world-changing work we can do is this: We can live in a way so that our children will be able to say, Not one moment of my life did I wonder if I was adored. Never, ever did I feel alone. And they will pass it on.

(Full post https://momastery.com/blog/2020/05/09/to-my-mama-who-taught-me-the-most-important-thing/)

How beautiful is that? What a wonderful way to think about all the energy we put into our children and the lack of energy we often have to put into other areas. We are raising humans who will be able to love other humans, who will feel comfortable in their skin, who will know how awesome it is to be loved and adored. I will have succeeded if Ri and Mario grow up and think “not one moment of my life did I wonder if I was adored. Never, ever did I feel alone.”

Peace sign, sure…

Last Sunday morning, I had ornate plans in my head involving Maria and Mario. I would wake up Sunday morning and take the dog for a run. When I came home, Maria and Mario would be waiting by the door with jackets on ready to take a walk up to Stauf’s. We would eat bagels and play cards and then walk up the street to the old playground we used to go to on Sunday mornings. We would all bunch up together and slide down the slide, laughing and playfully kissing one another until we got to the bottom. We would swing each other on the swings….

OK, now maybe I was going a tad too far with my imagination, but I did have a plan to at least spend some time with the kids in the morning.

I went downstairs to let Rocco outside and Maria was already on the couch playing on her phone. It was 7:30 AM. I glanced over at her and smiled.

“Awesome, you are up! I thought me and you and Mario would go to Stauf’s in a bit.”

She sighed and gave me a frown.

“What? I just thought we could stay home this morning and chill.”

I chose to ignore her comment and walked upstairs to check in on Mario. I figured if I could get Mario to go, Maria would follow. She likes hanging out with her little brother. When I got up the stairs, I heard the video game. Mario had already gotten on the Xbox.

“Hey dude, how about we head to Stauf’s with your sister?”

“Do we have to? Can’t we just hang here and chill?”

I could feel my irritation growing stronger. I told him I really wanted to take a walk because it was so beautiful out and we don’t get much time together – the three of us. He shrugged his shoulders, and kept playing his game. Grrrrr. I took my frustration out the way I know best – telling him he’s not gonna be on x-box all day and he’s got chores. He replied exasperated and a bit snotty “I know, mom.”

We proceeded to continue this banter with me getting more and more angry at him for not just excitedly agreeing to a walk. After my last quip, he pushed his chair back into the blinds. With the sound of the blinds hitting against the window, I went off. I shot him the middle finger for a quick second. I immediately hoped he had not caught it but he was staring right at me.

I left the scene and darted into my bedroom. I passed Jon along the way – he had heard the commotion and was coming in to check up on us.

”What’s going on”, he asked Mario.

“Mom just gave me the finger, that is what is going on.”

Jon told Mario to clean his room, and then came into our room to chastise me. “Seriously, babe?!”

“I was trying not to cuss him out so I thought I would do a finger gesture instead. I was hoping he wouldn’t catch it..”

I was fully aware I had overreacted, and let my anger get the best of me. My brood has some quick tempers so I get it honestly. We never get violent, but we can cuss with the best of them! Lovely. I could already picture Mario in the therapist chair with a box of tissues detailing that morning his mom flipped him off.

I knocked on his door and gently opened it. He turned around from cleaning his dresser to look at me. I sat on his bed and patted the area beside me motioning him to sit. He walked over and sat down. I placed my hand on his shoulder, and began to cry as I apologized. I told him how hard it is to see him grow up, and not be interested in all of the routine activities we did when he was younger – like going to the coffee shop and throwing the ball and playing board games. When I looked up at him, his eyes were as wide as if he had just seen a ghost. I think he was completely taken aback – first his mom is enraged and now she is crying her eyes out. Actually, he was probably just thinking “what a freak!”

He leaned over and gave me a hug. My boy has empathy even when he’s freaked out. His gesture made me cry harder. I eventually got my act together, and told him the memory I had of when he was a little boy. He would hear me walking down the stairs and would cry out my name. He would beg me not to run. I would have to rub his back and tell him that I would be back in less than an hour to play. I’d stand up and he’d say “can you rub my back for a few more minutes?” He didn’t want me to leave his side.

He smiled. I then told him how there were days when I’d leave the house and think to myself “I can’t wait until he gets up and doesn’t care if I leave.” It hurt to hear him cry my name every morning and beg for me to stay. I then told him that those days are here and now I miss the days he was a little boy.

Life is crazy.

I reiterated how normal it is for parents to have these moments of temporary insanity and how much he should know I never mean to cuss at him or give him an explicit gesture. They don’t mean for one minute I don’t love him with every piece of my being and think he’s the epitome of cool. He’s more and more self-reliant, as he should be. Dad and I have done something right since he’s not crying out my name when I leave.

I called my mom later that evening and told her about the incident. I relayed how bad I felt but how quickly I went in to apologize to Mario with the hopes that he would see that people can mess up, but can also admit to their errs and seek forgiveness. My mom, always ready to find a way to make me feel better, asked if I really meant to give Mario the Peace sign but instead my index finger simply didn’t raise up with my middle finger?

Yes! Yes, that is what happened.

I hung up the phone with my mom and walked into the family room. Mario was watching TV. I sat down next to him and said “hey, you know that incident earlier, I was actually trying to give you the peace sign but you didn’t see my index finger.” He cocked his head to one side and gave me an unbelievable stare.

He laughed, but didn’t call bullshit.



Dinner time

It is pretty pathetic when your 14-year-old daughter makes better meals than you do. Maria has been in the kitchen since she was eight years old – making pancakes, frying eggs, and creating cupcakes.

Our family has been on a staple diet of random, minute-made dinners for months. Tacos, pork and potatoes, lean cuisines, crackers and cheese, and hot pockets. Granted, the last couple of months have entailed Maria or Mario at practice until 7 or 8 PM so it was hard to coordinate family dinners… But who am I kidding, we probably would’ve had a similar selection even if they didn’t have practices. Neither Jon nor I have any desire to slave away in the kitchen after a long day at work so the microwave is our trusted companion.

Maria, on the other hand, quite enjoys alone-time in the kitchen. The thought of spending a couple of hours alone baking in the kitchen excites her. Trying out new foods and recipes does as well. Jon and I are all game for new recipes but it’s the time in the kitchen piece that kills any excitement.

Maria was obviously getting sick of lean cuisines because this weekend she tossed out the idea of her making a couple of meals a week. She was diplomatic in her proposal – she stated she’d love to cook two meals and have Jon and I could cook two meals as well. She’s always up for getting everyone involved in the process so she asked Mario, Jon, and me to give her two recipes each and we would then vote on all of the recipes submitted. Maria sat us down in the living room on Sunday afternoon so that we could conduct the vote.  Each of us ended up getting one of our meals selected.

Maria made my selection on Monday night. Sloppy Joe sandwiches, baked potatoes and broccoli. Mario ate four sandwiches – that is unheard of for him. He had his friend Owen over that night and Owen devoured four as well. Maria felt on top of the world. On Tuesday, she made her selection. Paprika-baked chicken, parmesan cauliflower rice, peas and corn. Again, it did not disappoint. She and I loved it. Jon loved all but the cauliflower rice – he’s more inclined to have the real stuff. Mario, of course, had devoured food prior to dinner while over at his friend’s house but nibbled on some chicken and rice. Mario tends to shy away from anything too healthy….

I’m up tonight with Mario’s selection – spaghetti and meatballs. Yes, the meatballs will be purchased from the local pizza shoppe…. I readily admit to not having the cooking skills or patience of my part-Italian daughter.

Diving deep

Mario presented his slideshow on light pollution after dinner last night. We laughed at some of the internet sites where he found his facts. He cited a company’s webpage. The company sold stones that helped reduce light pollution. Creative or desperate?!

The mood was light and airy as he wrapped up. It quickly moved to irritable as we told Mario he still needed to read 15 minutes. He responded as he typically does – with a grunt and a plea to read tomorrow night – not tonight. Jon and I reiterated that won’t work and he huffed away and we sighed. As he walked by hastily to head upstairs, Jon reminded him he needed to start practicing basketball everyday. Mario has got quite the ego when it comes to b-ball and some of the dinner conversation earlier had been around how there should be an A-Team and a B-team for b-ball, and that he and his friend Owen should be on the A-Team. We talked about not getting too boastful because other kids were practicing hard and may show up this season with their skills much improved. Jon told him he needed to practice if he wanted to be one of the best. Mario retorted that he has been out there practicing – we just don’t see him because we are working.

Jon mentioned that one of Mario’s friends had a free throw line drawn on his b-ball court so he could shoot free throws for 15 minutes straight (Mario’s practicing usually never entails taking free throw shots – he just likes to practice his three-point shot and his dribbling).  Mario quickly responded as follows:

“Do you know who helped Drew draw the free-throw line? His dad!”

Jon immediately scolded Mario for being sarcastic. Mario responded that he was just telling him that Drew’s dad drew the line. I picked up quickly that Mario was not trying to be sarcastic but rather, was sending out a plea to Jon to do more with him, including practicing his shots with him. Mario asked to go read his book, and walked upstairs. Jon looked at me quizzically and I proceeded to tell him what I thought Mario was feeling. It is not as though Jon doesn’t spend a lot of time with this kid. He is at every football game and takes him hunting and fishing and out to Dover.  Nonetheless, Mario was needing some dad-love, it was clear.

Jon, being the good dad, heard me and walked up the stairs after Mario. A few minutes later, I heard Mario talking to Jon. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I was glad to see that there was dialogue between them both. When I ascended the stairs a half-hour later, I found Jon on one side of our bed and Mario on the other.  I smiled.

“I assume I am sleeping in your room tonight?!” I asked Mario. I saw him smile and pull the blanket up around his ears.

Outdoors? No thanks.

I hate the outdoors.

These words routinely shoot out of Maria’s mouthwhen I get on her about not wanting to take a walk with me. I get frustrated with her, and think “how could you not wanna be outside in this beautiful weather?!” It is 65°, cloudy with breaks of sunlight, and the smell of fall in the air. But then I have to take a step back. I remember when I was her age and my parents would take me on family trips to Michigan. I would whine and complain about how I wanted to get back to the city and how awful it was to hike in the dunes…. and so on and so on. Yep, it all comes back to you when you have kids.

Maria has different interests than I do. She has no desire to go on a 3 mile run or head to the gym. I am getting more and more used to that reality. She has her own personality, which in the end, I would much rather see than her imitating everything I love. That being said, I still do enjoy a walk with her even if she hates the outdoors. And, to her credit, she understands this and concedes to a walk with me most times I ask (in credit to us both, I ask less so I won’t be disappointed and she says yes more in order not to disappoint).

There is no amazing, heartfelt, deep talks going on during these walks. Instead, she is usually telling me about the latest learnings in school, the latest tests, updates on Grey’s Anatomy…. but that is OK. We continue to have dialogue, which I have read over and over again, is what should be a staple in a mother-daughter relationship. When I was Maria’s age, I was struggling to have any connection with my mom. It just so happened that I was a raging teen and my mom was finding her own footsteps with a soon-to-be new husband. I felt lost. I do not want Maria to ever feel that way.

I had grand visions of she and I walking in the woods together and talking about deep-seated emotions, troubles with friends, dreams of the future. But I have learned to be content with simple dialogue. The simple, ordinary talks and walks need to be, and I’m learning are, just fine. I know she knows that I am here for her no matter what, and that is what matters.

Walks with her after a long day at work rejuvenate me. I know they don’t have the same effect on her but that’s love for ya. In return, I allow her to get a ride to school three days a week (which kills me)!

It is worth it

Nothing more tender than having your son cuddle up against your side, place his head on your shoulder, and flip the pages of the book as you finish reading them.

Never mind that the book is “It” by Stephen King….

That’s right. My 12-year-old son is enamored with horror films and now, it seems, horror books. He doesn’t necessarily love the gore and slashing in them; rather, he seems to enjoy the storyline. At least that is what he seemed to focus on with It. I still remember having to turn on all of the lights when he came home at 10 PM from seeing the movie with a few friends. He asked if he could tell me about the movie; we sat down in our living room. I was preparing to hear about all the blood and the screaming and the disgusting scenes of death. But instead, he described every detail relating to the characters in the movie. He talked about choices they made and why they made them based on their past experiences. He described the characters’ personalities. He described scenes so precisely you felt you were there. I was amazed.

Mario cannot wait until the movie comes out on Netflix so we can watch it together. I have zero desire but cannot resist his pleas when he flashes that grin.

His teacher mandated last week that he read a fiction book. He has been reading nonfiction with me. Last night, I told him that I would run to the library and pick out some good ones. He immediately requested for me to get It. When I asked the juvenile librarian where the horror section was, she looked at me quizzically.

How old is your child?

I hesitantly replied 13. I was hoping that maybe adding a year to his age would get me in better graces with her.

Well, she grimaced, I think you may like these books.

She handed me a book with two young kids on the front cover. They were each wielding a sword with a horse behind one of them. I could tell from the picture that there was no way Mario would be interested. The other two books were part of a series that had a fanged creature on the cover. They, too, weren’t gonna do the trick.

I start to doubt my mothering skills when my son is not interested in books that most kids his age and even older are reading every day. Right or wrong, we have allowed Mario to watch and discuss mature films and issues, and there is no going back. I snuck upstairs after I checked out the books the librarian recommended so I could find It. Turns out, It is the size of a small child. Over 1000 pages.

When I arrived home, I called Mario down to review the book selection. As I surmised, he was not at all drawn to the three books provided by the librarian. Rather, he was fascinated with It. He acknowledged, nonetheless, there would be no way he could read the entire book in three weeks. He calculated out the number of pages he would need to read per day and he was not willing to do it. But that didn’t stop him from asking to read a few pages with me that evening. And although I hate horror films and books, I was happy to sit with my boy and have that time together. Even if we were about to dive into blood and gore.