The boy is 14

Mario turned 14 on September 4. It was a bit of a wild card as to whether he would be able to celebrate or not. He got sick the previous weekend; he had a horrible sore throat, cough, low-grade fever, and congestion. I took him to urgent care on Saturday, and he tested negative for strep and COVID. It is just a nasty bug, they told us. He felt worse on Sunday and could not head to school on Monday. He tried to go back on Wednesday but felt horrible after school. We tested him for COVID, strep and mono on Thursday and all were negative. He finally felt better on Friday but stayed home so he would feel better on his birthday. You know he is getting more mature when all he wants for his birthday is a trip to IKEA to find furniture for his new attic bedroom.

Patty came in on Saturday morning, which was another wish Mario had for his birthday – to see his grandma. We went to lunch at Rooster’s (much to Maria’s dislike), and then headed up to IKEA. Mario refused to allow Jon and I to walk around with he and Patty. Jon and I had enough of IKEA within 15 minutes but did manage to score some new dinner plates. Mario found a couch he liked along with cushions he thought I’d love because they were only $6 each but still soft (he knows his mama’s love for a good deal).

We came home and opened presents. Maria was the only one to purchase an actual present. Mario wanted a microphone for his gaming off of Amazon and she got it for him (she even paid half)! He was charged up and immediately walked over to give her a hug. I live for those moments of tenderness between them because they so rarely happen anymore; however, I can always guarantee some affection between them if Maria gets him a present:)

Later that evening, Jon and I were invited to a party at the parent’s house of one of Mario’s friends. The mom informed me that she had gotten a huge DQ cake for Mario so we told Mario he had to come with us.  I got to embarrass him a bit by having everyone sing happy birthday. He endured it because he knew he had a whole DQ cake to devour afterwards.

Leading up to his birthday, Mario went round and round on what he wanted for his birthday. He does this every year. He will want something a couple of months before his birthday, and then will think of something else a month before and then something else two weeks before…. This year, he badly wanted a moped. He researched and learned that 14-year-olds can get licenses. I don’t know if he lost interest because the thought of a new bedroom on the third floor outweighed the moped or because we kept saying no to the moped, but by August he was on to a new attic bedroom as a birthday gift.

He recently moved his PC and desk up to the attic because he wants privacy while he berates and laughs with his friends on-line. I was hesitant to allow him up there because of the window AC unit, and the amount we have to spend on cooling off the upstairs. But his dad allowed it, likely channeling his frustration with never having his own room as a kid. I would have never dreamt that we would allow him to play video games so much but since Covid, it has become the activity of choice for him and all of his friends. I justify the amount of time on the video games because he is chatting with his friends the entire time. However, God only knows what those games will do to his brain 10 years from now. Who knows, maybe he’ll use his skills and be a famous gamer or create a much-loved app.

He cannot wait to decorate his attic bedroom. Hence, why we had the couch purchase. He is also getting new carpet and a new desk. Jon and I figure that it will help the resale value of the house so we don’t feel like we are spoiling him too much….

This year, Mario became obsessed with building muscle. He was on a kick to start creatine, which we quickly shut down. However, he has now moved onto simple protein powder. We agreed to it if he actually maintains a good diet in addition to it. He is his mother’s child with his love for lifting weights. He tore a ligament in his hand and had to get a cast. The first question he asked the doctor was whether he could still lift weights. It nearly made me cry with pride:)

He loves himself some rap music – playing Kanye to me the other day as we drove to the grocery. Again, he is his mother’s son.

His favorite sport remains basketball. He got into a spring league with the Pumas. It was a bit rough in the beginning because he didn’t play much, and he didn’t know the new coaches, but then he ended up really elevating his game, and starting throughout the rest of the season. It was a joy to watch him develop, and watch him get more confident.

He got spoiled with vacations this year. He went to Savannah with Patty and his three cousins. He now loves the beach. This is 180° turn from six years ago when he was scared to death to go in the water because he thought he would be attacked by a shark. Thank you Jaws. He also got to go on a trip to Myrtle Beach with three of his buddies. He learned how to wakeboard, and loved it. He’s been begging to head back to the beach since he arrived home.

He’s got a set of dudes that he hangs out with regularly. This summer was so nice because he biked everywhere. Of course, because they biked everywhere, this typically entailed lunch out nearly every day. Jon and I decided early on in the summer that he would have to do chores and mow the grass in order to earn $25 a week. He spent that every week at Chipotle or Noodles. They played a lot of wiffleball and hung out at the l football field. I bought him a pool pass but he only ended up going down there a handful of times. He has a buddy who has a pool at his house so the boys decided that it was much cooler to go over there.

He started to show interest in girls – Jon and I only found that out from hearing rumors from other parents and from looking at Life360 and seeing him at a girl’s house down the street. He and his buddies would hang out with her and her girlfriends in the summer evenings. By hanging out, I mean they say on her porch and looked at their separate phones together:) I am dreading that whole scene – I keep telling him that I am his one and only love but he doesn’t quite agree with me….

He went out to the farm again this year for a week of work with my dad. They built a pergola and bailed a lot of hay. I went out on the last day to help them out, and it was a great work out. I keep telling my dad that he should get a strongman competition out there.

He loves to play the game Rust with his buddies. He has no desire to watch TV shows or movies with his mom anymore. However, I did find that if I would sit down and watch Rust on YouTube video with him, he will allow it. So, I bit my lip and sat with him on many days to watch the latest tactics in Rust. I will take those moments when I can get them.

He likes to take car rides with me to Speedway to get energy drinks and a bag of chips (usually around 10 pm). We were getting one dollar lottery tickets but then the lottery machine broke down. Jon teases me that I will be in the old person’s home and Mario will come visit me with lottery tickets to scratch with him.

Jon and Mario get their time together by heading out to Dover and fishing. Mario did not get his Canadian fishing trip this year due to Covid but he is hoping for next year. He loves that time with Jon.

Mario and Giovanni got to spend a week down at Patty’s house this summer as well. They love to walk around Marietta by themselves. They also love to play in the woods near Patty’s house. They stay up late and watch stupid shows together. They egg each other on, which will inevitably get them into trouble (hopefully while in Marietta so not on our watch!).

Mario has a kind heart. He doesn’t openly show it like some people – always hugging or asking questions or talking incessantly. He’s more the silent type. But he does care. When I came home from surgery and tried to walk to the kitchen, he yelled at me to sit still or I could hurt my knee. When he writes notes to Patty, he always adds a sentence hoping she’s taking her medicine and doing her exercises.

He is good with Giovanni’s kids when they are in Dover. He fishes with them and plays with them, and they adore him. He is also good with Elena when she comes to town. He doesn’t want to spend too much time with her but the time he does spend, she adores. He’s gotten better about reacting poorly (to put it nicely)when we ask him to take out the garbage or do his chores. I think he knows he has it pretty good with us so he has learned to do as we ask when we ask.

He still likes to wrestle with me although I’m bound to break a limb if I continue much longer. The boy is strong – he even pushed Jon backwards the other day when they were play fighting (Jon will swear he caught him off guard). He cracks Jon and I up with his spoofs of Jon and his quips about school.

He spent a lot of his time at age 13 looking up how to make quick money. He swore that he was going to start buying shoes off of Stock X and then resell them at a higher price. He talks about flipping houses and getting into the real estate market when he gets older. Or becoming a welder. He has no interest in college at this point in time and less he would be recruited to play basketball somewhere. We will see if that changes as he enters high school next year.

I love this kid with every ounce of my body, and I know he loves me and his family right back. Happy 14th to you, son!

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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

Tousled

Winner of the losers!

The moms got a kick out of our sons winning the championship of the losers bracket. As my mom said “you should call it the lower bracket.” Indeed, we should, but that’s not as enjoyable.

It is so fun to watch Mario play basketball now. It was cute back when he was in second or third grade and you’d watch him try to dribble the ball without stumbling over his feet. We would crack up watching them try to bring their elbow back and launch the ball into the net. Now they are like miniature NBA players with the dribbling between the legs and the cutbacks and the driving into the net. I love the athleticism. I am amazed at one of Mario’s friends who can grab a rebound and run down the court passing defenders like they are but ghosts, and then lobbing a lay up even with a defender fouling him. I watch Mario in awe as he dribbles around a defender and makes a jump shot – swoosh in the basket. These boys have been playing together for 6 years. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They have formed a connection. 

The moms have formed a connection as well. We get excited for each other’s kids when a great shot is made and cringe together when one of our boys hits the ground hard. I receive videos from moms of Mario making a three, and I send out videos of other boys making a shot. It makes it all the more enjoyable to have a posse sitting with you and watching the games. It also gives us a chance to connect about what the boys are up to, whether we signed up for activities in time, what camps are popular for the summer….

Jon has been helping coach for the last few years. He loves the time with Mario and the other boys. He’s a natural coach and mentor. The boys look up to him and actually listen to what he has to say. I’m sure some of that is due to Jon’s stature – he can be viewed as the hulk – but some is definitely due to his attitude and playfulness with the boys. While my mom and I watched them play yesterday, there was a moment when the boys had huddled for a time out. Jon and another coach went out on the floor to talk to the boys and as Mario turned to go back out to the court, Jon placed his hand on Mario’s head and tousled his hair. Mario turned and smiled at him. The moment filled me with joy. I could feel the bond between those two in that simple gesture and I was so grateful for Jon in that moment. He is an awesome dad to our kids, and they feel his love for them.

This tournament was the last hoorah for these boys. They move onto 7th grade basketball with a school coach rather than coaching by their dads. Mario talks about how ready he is for middle school basketball because he thinks it will be more competitive. He is excited to ride a bus to games. But I think he will carry a tinge of sadness when it starts up next year because he will miss Jon on the coaches’ bench. A hair tousle from another coach just won’t be the same.

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.

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.

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.

Tender Mario moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mario turns 11!

How is my youngest baby turning 11 years old? It is just not right. I still have vivid memories of lying on the hospital bed and feeling the most intense pain of my lifetime. Whereas Maria entered the world after a rather melodic string of breathing and pushing, Mario entered the world with one Big Bang. I think I may have had one good grunt before the final push where I bared down and he jetted out of me like a bullet. It hurt like holy hell but the pain was well worth it. Seconds later I held his perfect self next to me and loved everything before me.

The kids and I were taking a bike ride yesterday and Maria recalled how sad she was that she couldn’t go to the hospital to see her baby brother be born. However, she was excited to get Timbits and bring them to the hospital room. We were laughing and surmising that if Mario had the ability, he would have grabbed one of those Timbits with his tiny one-day old hand and gobbled it up. He has always loved his donuts.

I strolled him up to Giant Eagle nearly every weekend from the age of one to seven, and he would use that little hand to grab a chocolate long john donut from the case (and sometimes a second if he begged and begged me). I conditioned the donut on me reading to him while we strolled home. We would also play the “can you spot the animal” game where we would see how many birds or squirrels or rabbits we could spot before we made it to the store. He always won.

He has always loved to wrestle. Even when he was younger, he was as strong as a bull and would knock me over when he charged at me. Now, it is comical. I try to wrestle him while I am on my knees but he can take me down if he gets the right angle. I think this is the year that that he will win against me more than he loses.

He continues to be the comedian of the family. He tries out all sorts of new lines on us. I typically laugh because I like to see him feel good. He calls me out on it chiding me that I am fake laughing. But, I must say, the majority of the time, I truly find him funny. I can totally see him doing stand-up comedy when he gets older.

He fell In love with basketball this year. He adores James Harden. We were at each other’s throats for the NBA playoffs between LeBron and Harden. My LeBron won out, which made me happy but I felt for Mario who was devastated for his Rockets. For a while there, we did not know whether we could get him to play any other sports. He wanted to focus solely on basketball. He would beg me to go outside and shoot hoops with him every night. I would oblige him but then tell him he needed to work on shooting by himself 20 minutes a day. He did it every once in a while but didn’t yet quite have the drive to make himself get out there on his own and practice. He must just love being with his mom too much:)

I agreed to coach his baseball team this year. At first I agreed to it just so that he would play another sport besides basketball but I ended up really enjoying it. We had a blast together. Of course, there were times that I was ready to strangle him for slacking off or he was ready to strangle me for saying something embarrassing to him. But for the most part we had fun together driving to practices and games and hanging with one another. And we won the championship! Now I have my work cut out for me when I coach him again next year….

He got his first musical instrument this year for fifth grade. He ended up with the trombone. Surprisingly, he could belt out some notes right from the beginning. He loved on that damn trombone for about two days but now I have to fight with him to bring it home once a week to practice.

He fell in love this year. With an on-line game. Fortnight. It became a phenom this year; all the parents joke about how ridiculous it is to get their kids off the tv (“joke” equates to “whine and complain”). They would literally sit playing this game for 24 hours straight if allowed. I keep justifying the amount of time that I allow him to play by the fact that he is talking and playing with friends. Yes, pretty lame justification since they are all talking and playing but in their separate homes. Nevertheless, during moments when I am slammed at work and need to get some emails out, I appreciate Fortnight.

He spent quite a few weekends this year with Jon at big Mario’s house. They would target shoot and fish, and get fed amazing Italian meals. He loves that time with his dad and his Italian family (recall, since he was little, he maintained he was “full Italian” and not “any German”). He and I had a few fun trips together out to the farm. One of our favorite places we hit on our way to the farm was Salt Fork State Park. We jumped off a large boulder into the lake. We also had quite a few trips to the running shoe store. We both have a gym shoe fetish. We cannot get enough of them. So, one of our favorite activities is going to the running store and trying on all of the new hot shoes.

He got to head to DC, Pittsburgh, and Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan this year. He is a great companion to have on trips. You can always count on him to bring out a one-liner that cracks you up. There were a few elbow jabs I would have to give him to make him take hikes in Michigan with me but overall he is typically game for new adventures.

He also got to spend quite a bit of time in Marietta with his grandma. He loves hanging out with her and his cousin. They go to the mall, play video games, and hit the skate park. I think back to my times with my grandmas and the fun I had at their houses that were the quintessential “homes away from home.” I know Mario will look back at these visits and cherish his times with Patty.

As this pumpkin seed boy turns 11, I hope he sees what an amazing human he is and loves himself. He used to berate himself when he was younger if he made a mistake. He’d call himself “stupid” or “idiot.” Jon and I would scold him to not call himself those names and to just see the episode for what it was – a mistake to learn from. He has not berated himself for a long time (so maybe we had a parenting win:)). God knows he knows how to talk himself up and love on himself (“tell me one sport I’m bad at mom… I know, you can’t…”). I’d rather him over-believe in himself than the opposite. I have never been an 11 year old boy but I imagine he goes through times of poor self-esteem or self-doubt or confusion about friends and relationships. I put a heck of a lot of effort into Maria at this age knowing what I knew about being an 11-year-old girl. I am set on doing the same for this boy, and I know he will turn out just fine. Actually, just excellent.

He’s coming into his own more and more. I can’t wait to see what 11 brings this year. All I know a few days into his 11th year is that he remains a sweetheart. He is gentle and playful with little kids, he pets every pup he sees on our walks, he gives outrageously strong hugs, he spots bunny rabbits for his mama, he helps his dad with dishes, and he even kisses his sister’s cheek when she pleads for it after a rough day.

From the moment he jetted out of me, I knew he was a perfect addition to our family. He’s proved it over and over again with each new year.

Love you Mario!