To walk

In the summer, Maria started taking a two mile run/walk with me in the woods. She dreaded it but usually felt better once it was over and we were in the AC back home. Then, she got a treadmill, and she never wanted to hit the “nasty outdoors” again. She cannot stand the sun or heat. Yes, I am not kidding. I keep telling her that she should move to Seattle when she turns 18 so that she can live in the spitting rain and gray skies. 

Nevertheless, she would not put up a major fight (sometimes it would be a whine and other times an exasperated sigh) when I asked her to only take a one mile walk in the woods with me. She conditioned her agreement to go on us taking Rocco so we could watch him gnaw on sticks and play with pups in the woods. It’s been a bit easier to get her to go with me lately because I will allow her to go on and on and on about getting her temps. This has been a dream of hers for at least a year. For the last three months, she has talked about how she cannot wait until October 31 so that she can get her temps and drive around town. Jon can’t stomach to talk about it anymore so when I walk with her, she is permitted to talk about what the test will be like, how awesome it will be when she gets her temps, where she will want to drive, what questions she think will be on the test, where she will drive me around town…you name it.

I have also made her walk to school in the morning. She was appalled at the thought of it at the beginning of the school year but now she has gotten more used to it. Don’t get me wrong, she constantly talks about how she cannot wait to drive to school, but she doesn’t beg for Jon to take her every morning like she used to in year’s past.

The other night, I was doing some work on the computer, and she came up from the basement to tell me that she had an essay she wanted to read to me. We went upstairs and sat on my bed. It started out with a definition of “to walk.” She then detailed how our simple walks bring her some unexpected joy during this Covid time. She notices more on her walks and feels more prepared her for school day.  What?!

These are the little nuggets that I need to hear throughout my weeks to help me witness the positive marks I leave on my children. So often I beat myself up for snapping at the kids or not doing enough reading with the kids or falling short in some other arena…but then I hear my kid finding joy in something I brought them, and I realize I’m also doing some good in this world. 

Now, do I think she will forgo driving the car to school once she is able? Probably not. But she may take a few more minutes to think about it, and end up taking a tiny stroll after school, at least, to the woods with me.



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

Making the meatballs

The past two Sundays have been marvelous. Both children home with Jon and me all day long. Of course, both children want to be locked away in their respective rooms watching you tube or playing NBA video games – but they are at home. I feel whole with them in the house – like the package is complete. And when they actually choose (or sometimes are forced) to be in the same room with us, my heart comes close to exploding.

Jon spent nearly all Sunday afternoon cooking. He made homemade meatballs and ricotta and pesto shells. He relies on his Italian daughter to taste test. She does not hold back on the accolades or the criticism. Jon knows if he asks me or Mario, he will get a “they taste good” answer every time. We don’t have a refined palette. He yelled for Ri to come up from the basement to try his sauce. She took a taste off the wooden spoon and pinched her lips together while staring at the remnants of sauce on the spoon.

“It needs more garlic and salt.”

Next came the meatballs. Ri had complained last time that Jon’s meatballs were too dry. Jon was offended. The funny thing is that Jon does the same thing to his mom. He is brutally honest when it comes to her cooking – now he has a mini-him doing the same.

He asked her if she wanted to help him make the meatballs this time so they wouldn’t be too dry. She poured in the breadcrumbs as he mixed the meats and eggs together with his hands. Then they stood side by side and rolled the meatballs. It was straight out of an Italian Renaissance painting (or not). It did make me swoon watching them roll and chat. She loves time with him and she loves meatballs so I knew we’d keep her in the same room with us for a while. She even talked with Jon about her friends and gave him insight on who liked who – more than I’ve ever gotten out of her:) Them again, doesn’t surprise me, they do love them some gossip….

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)!

Pain is your professor

Sometimes it just sucks being a mom.

Maria decided to go out for class president. She has been working on her speech and answering questions as to why she would want to be president for two weeks. A few evenings ago, she found out that the speeches were being made the next morning and that the four other classmates she was running against were bringing in donuts and candy. We made a last minute run to Big Lots to get Ziploc bags, tons of cookies, laffy taffy, and bubblegum.

Earlier in the evening, she printed out the names of all of the people in her class and made a tally of (1) who would vote for her; (2) who may vote for her but may vote for another classmate; and (3) who would not vote for her and would vote for another classmate. She chatted about her tally sheet with Jon the entire way to her PT appointment. He was impressed with her polling skills.

She also spoke to some of the girls in her class and determined that they would actually listen to the speeches and vote for the candidate who who would represent them the best. As for the boys, she determined that they would simply vote for whoever bribed them with the best treats. Hence, why she overloaded ziploc bags with cookies, laffy taffy, and gum.

We sat in the kitchen stuffing the bags while reviewing her speech and making tweaks to it. Her theme earlier in the week had been to ensure everyone felt safe at school. However, she changed her theme last minute because another girl had the same theme. I’m not sure if that girl had the theme long before Maria or Maria had it first but no matter what, I knew it was too late in the game to question her decision to change. Her new theme was that everyone should have a voice at school. She promised if she became president, she would make sure to listen to everyone and work on implementing classmates’ ideas to improve the school. She also talked about wanting their freshman year to be a lot of fun (because she has so much fun at school and wants to spread the joy). She only had under a minute to make her speech so she couldn’t get into too much detail. After numerous tweaks, she felt comfortable with it and rehearsed it several times to make sure it was under one minute. She ended her speech with a slogan she created while walking through Big Lots earlier in the evening: “Vote Maria, its a great idea!”

She snap chatted with her two girlfriends (heaven forbid they call each other) to confirm they would pass out bags with her during the morning before school.

I think she believed she would win. She seemed confident in the morning when she was making her breakfast. I told her she would do an amazing job and to just make sure she looked up from her paper and made eye contact with people. Jon and I both thought she had a good chance of winning as well.

I got a call from her an hour and a half later. I thought she was calling to tell me that she made it through her speech since the night before she had told Jon and I that she would not get the results until the day after her speech). When I clicked over from my other call to talk to her, all I heard were sobs.

My heart sank.

I thought she was going to tell me that she made a horrible speech but instead, she told me that she did not get the presidency. She could barely get out any other words to me. I tried to soothe her. I reiterated how proud her dad and I were for her running for the presidency and how this will make her stronger in the long run. I told her to be gracious to the winner. I reiterated again how proud we were of her throwing her hat in the ring. I did not want her to stop taking risks based on this loss.

I heard some girls’ voices in the background as I continued talking to her and realized she was standing in the bathroom stall. I asked if her friends were around her. She affirmed they were. I advised that she lean on them for support through the school day. She agreed. We both said “love you” and she hung up.

OK, my first instinct: slap all the kids who did not vote for her. Second instinct: tell her all the kids that did not vote for her are idiots. Third instinct: ask for a revote.

Fourth instinct: take a chill pill. Replay the Glennon Doyle podcast in your head.

Pain is your professor.

She will grow from this incident. It will make her more resilient and wise. There is conflict between the desire to protect your little one from pain and the desire to have your little one takes leaps and bounds while on this earth. But it is impossible to protect from pain so my role is to help her understand that pain is growth. Pain is not a bad thing. Pain is her professor.

Jon called me later in the day and told me that he had called Maria at lunchtime. Of course, I had tried to call her several times and she did not answer the phone. But when her dad calls…. She told him that she ended up in second place and that she would still be a representative on Council. He said that she sounded much better.

Of course she did. She is building that resilience.

Happy 14th birthday Ri!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armpits

One person’s sweat stains are another person’s armpit hair. Huh?

This is going to be my new idiom if someone confides in me about being embarrassed in a situation. My 14-year-old self came back in full force on Monday night when I attended Maria’s last dance club session. It all started with the parents being called out to the cafeteria floor to dance with their kids. The first dance involved some type of shuffle moving eight pieces to the right and then eight paces to the left and then kicking your legs and then swirling your hips. I, of course, got all into it (but without being over-the-top – sometimes I hoot and holler as I’m dancing). We ended the dance with a couple of fortnight dance moves, which the dance instructor found hilarious watching the parents perform. Something came over me and I was able to crank out the orange justice like a master. When the music stopped, the dance instructor spoke into his microphone:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this mom here in the green sweatshirt has done the best orange justice moves I have ever seen!”

Yes, he was talking about me, and Maria wanted to die. She put her hands against her face and shook her head. After the shuffle, the instructor placed the parents and kids into three big circles. He started the music and called out for a female or male student or female or male parent to go in the center of the circle and dance. He called a few students first and they went in the middle and did random moves that everyone else mimicked. Then he called for a female parent. Somebody pointed at one of the moms who is very timid. She shook her head no over and over again. My one girlfriend who loves to dance as much as I do whispered to me that we should go out and dance with her. Without hesitation, we both ran out to the dance floor and pulled her into the middle. We proceeded to do the Arnold dance moves and the Saturday Night Live move. Then we held our hands high in the sky and did some type of crazy jump step move. The dance instructor called out for a father to go in the middle of the circle so me and my girlfriend skipped back to our places on the outer rim of the circle. Maria winced when I stood next to her.

“What?”

“Mom, you have sweat stains in your arm pits and everyone saw them.”

My heart dropped to my knees. There I was standing at Golf Manor pool with my friends as my mom walked in wearing her string cotton bikini and sporting her 6 inch long armpit hair for all to see.

I left Maria’s side and jetted to the bathroom. Yep, sure enough, there were my big pit stains as I raised my hands overhead. That is what happens after 15 minutes of dancing. Hell, I probably had them after the first minute. I took off my green sweatshirt and wrapped it around my middle. I had a black long sleeve shirt on underneath which did not show the stains. I always come prepared. I left the bathroom and went back to the outer rim of the circle to stand by Maria. She looked appalled. I immediately felt it and left the circle to stand with Jon. After that dance scenario, the instructor told everyone to get ready for one more fast dance sequence. As Maria walked over towards Jon and I, she mouthed “go home.” Her words were a knife stabbing me in the heart. I was both hurt and pissed. Jon was just pissed. I told him we should leave, but he kept a level head and said that we were going to stay (but he was not going to talk to her the whole way home). We stood there glaring at her as she moved with her classmates to the music. She knew she had crossed the boundaries.

The instructor turned on one last piece of music – a slow song to end the night. Maria came over to Jon and I and asked if we would dance. Jon shook his head no. A few of my girlfriends were calling me onto the dance floor and in order to avoid a big scene, I walked over with Maria. We all danced together and made small talk but when music ended, I walked away.

I had told Maria that she would have to walk home with me since she didn’t walk to the dance, and I held her to it even though I was mad at her. She apologized over and over again as we walked towards the house. I didn’t accept her apology or deny it. I just listened to her and walked in silence. I knew I was heavily affected by the exchange based on my own experience with my mom when I was her age. Of course, I was also not happy with her conduct towards us, but I could understand it having once been a 14-year-old girl in a similar situation. I knew she did not intend to be mean spirited; she was just reacting in the moment with all of her friends by her. She has always been one that is quick to embarrassment by her family. I can’t blame her at times with how unfiltered we can be.

We went into our separate rooms once we got home. I turned on some music and folded laundry. About 20 minutes later, Maria peeked her head inside my bedroom. I knew right then and there that I needed to give her a hug. We embraced and I started crying. And crying. Maria sat me on the bed next to her and we talked. We talked about my experience with my mom. We talked about how embarrassed she gets at times over me and Jon. We laughed. We hugged again. Then Mario walked in and said something ridiculous, and we added him to our embrace.

We all walked downstairs to grab a snack before bed. Jon walked in from his office and stood stoic in front of Maria. She apologized for telling him to go home. He gave her some crap for a minute or two but then he apologized, too, for embarrassing her (according to Ri, he had talked with, and jabbed at, the boys in her class for too long of a period of time and ate pizza that was for the kids).

Mario enjoyed the whole show laid out in front of him. However, he will be in the same boat in two years when he does dance club. I’m going to make sure to wear a pastel shirt so that the sweat stains are everywhere.

Time together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ri does basketball

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

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

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

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