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.