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!

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.”

Nuggets!

So I am learning day by day to try to appreciate certain moments experienced during the long, shelter-in-place days. It can be hard to do, especially when you wake up in the morning and realize you are still in the midst of this pandemic and that you have a full day ahead in the house or walking around the block.

But then there are those moments – that wake you up from your Groundhog Day slumber – and provide a renewed look on life. Mario came downstairs for dinner one night this week and told us he wants to make Chick-fil-A nuggets for dinner. He had seen a TikTok video where a guy made the nuggets from scratch. We kind of brushed him off, after all, who is going to listen to a TikTok video for a recipe?But the next morning he asked if I had gotten chicken strips for him to make the nuggets. I so happened to have bought chicken strips to make for me and Maria’s lunch that day. We had all of the other ingredients needed for the TikTok recipe so we decided to allow Mario to make us dinner for the evening.

Now, you have to understand, Mario doesn’t make dinner. Sweet Maria has been cooking since she was around four years old and has made us scores of amazing dinners through the years. Mario has sat back and enjoyed them. So I was a little doubtful that he would actually come through and make these nuggets himself.

But sure enough, as 5:30 rolled around, he placed his phone on the counter and began to watch his video. He proceeded to crack some eggs in a bowl and add milk. He measured out flour and powdered sugar into another bowl. He asked if I would put an inch of oil in our big cooking pot and cut up 1 inch cubes of chicken. He tasked Maria with making the sauce for the nuggets – she chose to make Cane’s sauce because she believes it’s much better than Chick-fil-A sauce. Mario monitored the amount of ketchup and mayonnaise she was adding into the mix and asked to taste test it with each new ingredient she included. When the oil started to bubble, he directed me to be prepared to stir the coated nuggets after he cast them into the oil. He was like a five star chef dictating what needed to be done in the kitchen. 

He took two pieces of chicken and rolled them in the egg mixture. Then he dipped them in the flour and powdered sugar and rolled them over and over until they were heavily coated. Finally, he tossed them into the boiling oil in order to avoid getting splashed. I was in charge of turning them over and over while they fried in the oil to ensure that they got toasted on every side. At first, we were a bit concerned because they were not getting too brown. But then magically, after three or four minutes, they started to brown and look just like the Chick-fil-A nuggets from the restaurant. Woo-hoo!

We used tongs to lift them out of the oil and place them in a bowl. Jon acted as taste tester and nodded with approval. Mario had succeeded! He allowed me to help dip the remaining nuggets in order for us to be able to move the assembly line a bit quicker and get to our dinner. Nothing like some fried foods to comfort you in a pandemic – Chick-fil-A nuggets and french fries.

 The time spent in the kitchen with Mario so intent on getting the chicken perfectly coated and Maria trying hard for the perfect combo of mayo and ketchup made my day – literally, made my day. I try to remember that the days are long and often monotonous with work calls, lunch, walk around the woods, work calls… But damn if these moments together, if only constituting 1/25th of my day, keep me hopeful and instill much appreciated bits of joy.

Snarky and sweet

I got sick two weeks ago on a Wednesday. It started as bad congestion and chest pain. I swore it was pneumonia. The doctor belied my belief and checked my lungs and nose and ears.

“It’s a virus. Nothing you can do but rest.”

Are you kidding? I can’t afford to be sick for the remainder of the week. I asked again if there were any drugs I could take. He reaffirmed the negative. I drove home giving myself a pity party. Eventually, I tried to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had needed a break from working out – my muscles were sore, my feet hurt. The universe must have known the only way I’d stop my routine would be to be taken out by a sickness. But I had no idea it would be a 10 day sickness. Yikes. I haven’t been sick for that long of a period of time in years. Again, in retrospect, the universe probably knew that I needed to have this sickness for that long of a period of time in order to give my body a rest. It is amazing now that I am feeling a bit better how rested my muscles feel. Imagine that!?

Anyway, in the thick of my sickness, probably day five, I tried to take the dog on a walk to the woods. It was a short walk – maybe 15 minutes tops. I saw a man who I see routinely in the woods with his German Shepherd. He is always friendly. He’s probably about 60 years old. He stopped me to say hello and ask how I was feeling. He could probably tell that I was not feeling the best due to my watery eyes and red nose. He proceeded to tell me how he got a really bad chest cold and major congestion. He told me that the worst of it lasted four weeks and five weeks later, he still doesn’t feel quite the best. 

“Are you kidding?!” I blurted at him. I wanted to kick him for giving me this information. I was already in a state of depression feeling like I would never get better. Five days of sitting around the house, anxious about not being able to breathe, not being able to sleep well at all, took it’s toll on me. I was fretting every night about trying to sleep. I couldn’t shake the thought that I was going to lose my breath in the middle of my sleep. Hence, not being able to sleep at all.

When the kids got home that evening, they came to check on me. Maria would provide me with tissues and Mario would take my temperature. I told Maria about my conversation with the man in the woods. She immediately responded with consoling words.

“Mom, he’s a lot older than you and he probably is not in any kind of physical shape that you are in. You work out all the time and you are healthy. It will not take you for weeks to get better. Do not listen to him about that.”

Later in the evening, Mario came in to check on me. He was hoping that I felt good enough to play a game of mini hoop. Not so much. I told him as well about my meeting with the man in the woods. He stood in front of me looking quizzically. Then he responded with sarcasm.

”Wow, mom, you only have three weeks left before you feel better, then! All right, let’s countdown these next three weeks.” He walked out of the room to grab some cheez-it’s. He came back in and bent down towards me whispering “hey mom, only three weeks!”

The difference in our kids. Maria went immediately to consoling me and making me feel better that it would not take three weeks in order for me to be alive again. Mario went immediately to taunting me and making me feel it would take an entire three weeks to recover.

Funny thing is that it could easily have been the other way around. Maria can be just as snarky as Mario (“Mom, you are seriously wearing that shirt – you look 85 in it”) and Mario can be just as caring as Maria (“Mom, you don’t need to put on makeup; you are beautiful without it”).

I adore these two so very much. Even when they’re snarky, I know they do it with love. As I laid around feeling crappy for ten days, one of the thoughts that kept me going was conversations with these two munchies. They are certainly coming into their own – be it snarky or sweet….

Workin’ 9 to 5, or more like, 7 to 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the call came at 9:30 PM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The fisherman

Mario has always been more interested in the outdoors than Maria. It is funny because Maria grew up going to the farm and loves being there. However, she could probably stay inside her grandparents’ house all day baking, coloring, watching Netflix, and playing games, without any inkling to go outside and take a hike in the woods. Mario grew up with Grandma and Grandpa Ionno. They didn’t have woods to play in but they did have a big backyard and a pond at their condo. I remember Patty calling me to tell me that she and Mario went fishing in her pond, and how much he loved it. Mario also grew up fishing with Jon at big Mario’s house when they traveled there on the weekends.

Recently, Mario has been fascinated with living off the land. He informed me on one of our car rides together that he wishes he could just take a month and go somewhere remote in order to survive by himself. Fifth grade camp did a doozy on him. There was a survivalist session during camp; Mario loved it. He made fire with flint and stone. His primitive soul ignited.

The other weekend, he researched good places to fish near our home. He found a place a few miles away near downtown – Scioto Audubon. Jon and I had wanted to get yard work done but when Mario begged me to take him fishing, I could not resist. He got his fishing pole and his lures together as well as a couple of chairs for us to sit. It was precious. We found the fishing dock; it was pretty busy with people that had clearly been there for a few hours. We were able to cozy our way to a little bank of the river and Mario placed a lure on his pole. A couple next to us started hollering. The woman had caught a tiny fish. It was hysterical.

I watched him cast his line and stare out into the water as he slowly reeled the line in. He’d get a bite here and there and tug up on his pole. I’d lean into him to watch him work it. He’d bring the line in and lament how the fish just nibbled and wouldn’t latch. He’d begin the process again. Watching Mario cast his line and focus all of his attention on that line out in the water reminded me of a podcast I listened to a while back where the speaker talked about prayer as being “absolute unmixed attention.” Here we were at the shores of the Scioto amidst fishing strangers, praying.

Mario, Ri and I traveled to my parents’ farm this past weekend. Mario was excited to fish. Peepaw had agreed they could fish from kayaks. Mario saw a couple of guys in kayaks when we went to the Scioto and mentioned that he thought it would be fun to fish in one. Leave it to Peepaw to agree. They left for Seneca Lake and we’re gone for nearly four hours. I was heading down the grassy hill from a hike with Rocco when I saw Mario standing next to the shed.

“Mom, come here!”

I walked over and he showed off his catch – a huge catfish. It had to weigh three pounds. He had also caught a saugeye and a blue gill but released them. He was so charged up. I stood with him as Peepaw taught him how to cut and filet the fish. Watching my dad teach him and watching Mario soak it in made me smile.

We grilled up the catfish to add to the chicken and veggies that had been planned for the evening. Everyone told Mario the fish tasted delicious. He agreed, and begged to go back out after dinner.