I do this often nowadays. Absorb the wonder of a moment. This absorption thankfully developed after many years of doing the opposite. Failing to take in the beauty of a child entranced in a book or the daydream being pondered as a bite is taken out of a warm Black Russian bagel slathered in cream cheese.  

Mario clasped my hand as we walked down 1st Avenue talking about the latest video games on the market. He held it nearly all the way to Stauf’s. Ri pointed out all the squirrels scurrying around and commented that they “are taking over the world.” We all laughed at the thought of squirrel domination. The both of them desperately tried to find a bunny rabbit since I told them repeatedly that I just wanted to see one bunny on Easter. 

We walked into Stauf’s and Ri was excited to find a high table with three bar stools. I ordered their bagels while they began to read their books. Ri had only 23 pages left of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. She was intent on finishing it. Mario had taken pride in reading one page of his book in three minutes time so I used that as a means to get him to read 7 pages. “It would take you 21 minutes but I bet you could do it in 20.” He was not fooled by this dare to make him read more. He had already found the deck of playing cards and wanted to play War. “After you read, dude-man,” I told him.  He sighed and turned his eyes towards the words on the page.

What a delight to watch your children performing a task so intently. I recalled the days when Mario was in a high chair and I fed him little pieces of bagel dipped in cream cheese so he wouldn’t choke. And Ri roamed around Stauf’s gravitating to the old phone booth to act like she was calling someone. The cliche is so true – time really does fly. 

But soaking up these moments helps anchor me to the now, and although time is flying,  I’m at least soaring with it. 

Ri finishes her book. She excitedly describes the end to me and I can feel the pride she feels in finishing another book. Mario continues to read through the end of his page and I break out the cards. 

“Let’s play some War!” 

Mario has all the Aces but then loses three of them to Ri after a war. He laughs and bangs his head on the table trying to get us to laugh, too. It works. People walk by and smile. We all pick up our next card and turn it over. A two, three and a four. Although not inherently funny, we all start cracking up again. 

Life is messy

Yesterday, I sat on the edge of the bathtub reading Alya and Zeno to Ri as she brushed her teeth. Then I made her sit next to me to read the next page. We traded pages back and forth until the end of the chapter. One more down. She ran off to play with her friend as soon as I closed the book.
That’s how it typically rolls.
I used to have idyllic thoughts of Ri and I cuddling on the couch reading Little Women together and discussing what we read after each chapter.

Ri hates Little Women.
Ri hates to take time out from playing to read.

That’s reality. Face it, Mary.

After many months fighting it and fighting Ri to enjoy it (“Damnit, Ri, you have to enjoy reading this book with your mom because I said so!”), I’ve come to terms with reality.
Ri is going to fight tooth and nail to avoid reading. She is going to moan when I make her sit down and do it. She is not going to pick Little Women or Little a House on the Prairie as her book choices.

That is ok.

Life is messy and imperfect. Kids tend to not have your idealized version of a day well spent. They would rather sit on an iPad playing Minecraft or Animal Farm all day than do multiplication tables. I was there at one time, too.

Remember that, Mary.

When we do read together, Ri’s pleasant. She reads the words with inflection and tone. She even listens when I read to her. She engages with me afterwards when I ask her what she thought of the chapter (but that is with much less excitement and one leg out the door).
So I have learned to temper my desires and live with what I got right now. A messy, sighing, exasperated process whereby I have to initiate reading with my daughter and see her tapping her leg waiting for the last page of the chapter to arrive. And that’s ok. Because she’s reading and learning and pronouncing more words correctly even if it’s killing her. After all, how many nights did I sit up with my dad and yell at him for making me do my algebra problem over and over until it was correct? But now I’ve got perseverance and can add up grocery items in my head to know if I’ve reached $50 so I can use my $5 off coupon. The benefits come through eventually. It’s just as a parent it can get difficult to see up ahead. You get caught in the yelling and whining and you think “is it even worth it?”

But then you breathe.

And catch your daughter reading alone (albeit a People magazine).

And you remember how you were and where you are today.

And you keep plugging away at it – through the mess and tantrums – to arrive at another chapter accomplished.


Legos and Baggie books

I refused to allow the kids on the computer Saturday morning so they roped me into playing Legos with them. Quite an experience.
Mario created flying men who could wield a giant axe mid-air to cut off peoples’ heads. Lovely.
Maria created a trailer to carry horses and several townspeople to Texas. (Non-sarcastic) lovely.
Maria and I were finally able to get Mario to calm his violent men down and hop on the trailer. Then she surprised him and made the trailer fly! Mario was impressed.
He follows her lead more than he will ever admit. For example, she created a “blender” on her trailer for the people to make smoothies. Within two minutes, he was building a similar blender and explaining how people can make smoothies. Ri looked at me and smiled. She knows her influence.
After an hour or so, they begged to play Minecraft for a few minutes. I agreed only if Mario read a Baggie book to us.
Mario whined a bit but then gave in to the pressure and sat next to Ri and read. He is doing so well with sounding out his words. He does really good looking at the pictures to figure out the words, too. Sweet story about that: in one of Mario’s books, there was a picture of a dog running with his owner everywhere. A boy asks “can I take your dog on a walk?” A girl responds “No, take the dog for a run!” She looks angry in the picture even though it’s clear that is not the intent. When Mario read that last sentence, he read it angrily. I asked him why he used that tone. He responded “look how angry that girl looks – that is how she would talk.” Very analytical thinking out of that boy.
He was close to finishing his baggy book when he hit a hard word: “skipping”. He tried a few attempts when Ri stepped in and gave a hint.
“How does “sk” sound?”
Mario couldn’t quite get it.
“What do you do with rocks at the river?”
“Good job buddy! Now what does “ing” sound like?”
“Oh, skipping!”
God, I love seeing those exchanges! How darling. Makes my heart flip-flip.


G for Grumpy

I walked in the door this morning after hitting the gym and found this precious sight. Mario was reading his baggie book out loud while Ri listened. He struggled with the word “grumpy”. He saw the expression on the boy’s face in the book and took a stab at the word.
“He is ‘angry.”
Maria gently corrected him.
“Good try little buddy. It’s not ‘angry.’ It starts with a ‘g.’ Try it again.”
“Oh, grumpy!” Mario exclaimed. He must have recalled reading that word with his teacher earlier.
Maria praised him.
He completed the book and asked me to sign his paper. Maria spoke up.
“I already completed it, Mom. You just need to sign your name.”
I looked at the paper. It had the book’s title on it, the date, and then the words “Mario did amazing!” in the Comments section. I felt a burst of happiness at the entire sight, and knew my Wednesday would be wonderful.



In my twenties, I remember my girlfriend talking about sleepless nights with her sick daughter. They were horror stories to me full of broken sleep, house-bound days, and snot wiping events.

And then came Maria and Mario. And broken sleep, house-bound days, and lots of snot wiping. And survival through lots of ice cream, 5 hour energy shots and Vela blogs.

Almost two weeks ago, Maria developed hard-core allergies. Her eyes swelled and watered and became bruised. We went to the doctor three different times over an eight day period to try to find the root cause. At first, it was diagnosed as allergies, then pink eye, and then a skin infection with allergies. It took her out of school for the last three days of the school week. I stayed with her for one of them, my mom for one, and Patty for the last (thank god for family). Patty was going to keep Ri for the weekend until I told Ri that I was still heading to Pittsburgh for Sarah’s graduation. Ri freaked and begged to come even with swollen eyes. I couldn’t say no since she looks up to her aunt so much so I agreed to meet Patty half way in order to get Ri Friday night. At the same time, Mario had no desire to go to Pittsburgh. He was starting to feel hot and had a rash on his cheeks. Patty offered to take him so that Ri and I could go to Pittsburgh without the stress of a sick kid. What a god-send she is. Not only did it help me but it also made Mario’s day because any time with Grandma is the best time ever for him. I have no doubt that he would choose Patty over me anytime.


After driving back to get Mario and sitting in major traffic, we arrived at the Wendy’s in Delaware for the exchange. Mario hopped right into Patty’s car without hesitation. Ri jumped in mine and begged to head straight to the farm. She wanted to see Savvy who recently returned to the farm. She also wanted to be closer to Pittsburgh to see Aunt Sarah. And so I downed my Five Hour Energy at 8 pm and we were off. Ri played market on the iPad most of the way asking me what foods I wanted to buy and re-asking me after the first grocery trip was completed… and second… and third. I didn’t mind the constant interaction, however, because I needed stimuli.

We got to the farm way past Meg and dad’s bedtime and Ri was so slaphappy she laid next to me giggling for 20 minutes. Meg and I both commented the next morning how soothing it was to hear that core laughter coming from her little soul.

We woke Saturday morning to an exquisite day and headed east to Pittsburgh. We made it to Sarah’s apartment and Ri ran inside to greet Sarah and Jorge, and most importantly, the dogs. Maria got her fill of kisses and we were off to graduation.


The Cathedral of Learning has been Sarah’s second home for the last three years. It sits amongst the bustle of traffic and looks like a building out of Florence, Italy. You just know minds are churning away inside of it. When Ri and Mario and I visited two years ago, we met Sar in her classroom. She hadn’t arrived yet so Mario did a dance for her class and Ri stood near him completely embarrassed.

It was a good thing that Mario stayed back because the graduation included an hour and a half of graduate readings. Each grad read a piece of their work for five minutes. I gave Ri the iPad but hoped she would listen to the stories. I didn’t think she spent too much time listening until she and I were walking to Stauf’s this week and I said “let’s make up a poem. I will start. One day I walked in the woods.”

Ri stopped me immediately. “No mom. You should say ‘One–day–I–walked–in the woods.” She had totally picked up on the voice inflections during the readings. I Love It.

Sarah read a lyrical essay about my grandma. Ri knows how sentimental I am so she crawled down to my chair and rubbed my cheek as Sarah spoke. Always the caretaker. I could listen to Sarah for hours and read her writings all day long. She is talented beyond belief (and her professor, Jean Marie completely agrees).

Afterward, Ri and I walked down all 36 flights of steps and took the elevator back up to five to chow down on desserts at the reception. There was a little girl there and Ri gravitated right to her while Meg and I spoke to Sarah and her professor. It really was a lovely afternoon.

And the loveliness continued when we dined at a Thai restaurant with an outdoor patio. They had a warm atmosphere with vines of flowers surrounding us and the sun laying its rays upon us. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to have an entire conversation with another adult without a child interrupting me. And to eat amazing food.


After stuffing our face, we took the dogs for a walk in Frick Park. The ride over in Jorge’s and Sarah’s little car and the two dogs was comical. Stella sat on Mona and then leaned over and licked Ri too death.




Sar let Ri walk both dogs when we got to the park. That is a helluva job seeing that Stella is a big mamba jamba and pulls whenever a dog or squirrel comes near. But Ri surprised us all. She jerked back the leash when Stella pulled and bellowed “NO!” Sar and I turned our faces to one another and cracked up. She’s no joke.


We sat in New York traffic in the middle of Pittsburgh but finally arrived back at reached Sarah’s apartment and gave her graduation present to her. A little bubbly and cheez-it’s as well as a Street Food cookbook and wooden cookbook holder. Ri knows her aunt.

We hit the road back to the farm to spend the night again. When we arrived at 9:15, we got to surprise Peepaw at the cabin. He had his friends around the table getting ready for some poker. We decided to leave them be and stay down at the house. Grandma Meg had some Nashville clips to show us on Hula. Ri was addicted at first blush and I was soon thereafter. We finally hit the hay at 10 pm and Ri’s cough only kept us up half the night. When we got up in the morning, Ri got to ride her Taz and even persuaded me to ride for a second. She loves her horses.



We drove home at noon and I was exhausted. I told Ri I needed 10 minutes to rest and before I knew it, we both woke up two hours later. Sarah tired us out. Jon arrived shortly after our nap with bad news – no turkeys. We all laid on the carpet and talked about our weekends as the sun faded away. We were in bed by 9. Mario, to the contrary, was busy wrestling Grandma Ionno until 11 pm.

Fun at the farm and quiet in the city

Ri and Mario went to Peepaw’s and Mama Meg’s house on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend with them. As a result, Jon and I had the entire weekend to ourselves, which always feels like we are in an alternate universe. We went out to Polaris Mall this morning to fix my phone at the Apple store (and left right after the Apple store – we couldn’t get out of the mall quick enough). On the way home, we picked up Jersey Mike’s for lunch and as we left the store, we both thought of the times pre-M&M when we’d have nothing to do on the weekends but this: head out on errands, grab lunch, go to the coffee shop…. It’s nice to live that life again for a couple of days but we miss those pumpkins and want them home… tomorrow.

Meanwhile, they are living the farm life with their grandparents – shoveling horse poop, loading hay, and making abstract snow figures.


It is supposed to be a horse. They also got some sledding in on inner tubes and plastic sleds. Peepaw showed them how it was done first. Mario nearly got a concussion from going down one of the hills Sarah and Jorge made over New Years but they loved it.


Ri reported to me this morning that she read an entire Magic Treehouse book last night. Not sure what Meg and dad needed to do to make that happen but that’s one great thing about the farm – no 500 channel cable tv and lots of books!

That brought on another New Year’s resolution – unplug the tv before bed and get out a book. Yes, Jon, that means you too!

wild for wild

I am wild about wild.

A week ago I pulled up my sister’s on-line magazine, Vela, and read a post where each of the writers wrote about their favorite summer reads. One writer talked about wild by Cheryl Strayer. I had heard about the book on NPR a while back and seen it sitting on the shelf each time I walked through Barnes and Noble to get my morning coffee. I figured with the combination of all of those signs from the universe, I should give it a try.

I am not a reader of long books. I typically go straight to the articles in the Atlantic or New Yorker and that suits me fine. But reading the writers’ entries on Vela made me want to give reading novels or memoirs another try since I hadn’t read one in a year (Left Neglected being the last).

I purchased wild a week ago and I completed it last night. I felt conflicted as I sat next to Ri in her bed. She had asked me to lay next to her until she fell asleep. She also asked me to read to her from my book. She hung in for four pages but then curled beside me and passed out. I didn’t want the book to end but I also wanted to find out how it ended. I found myself reading slowly for a paragraph and then speeding up for two. An hour later, the book was finished, and I cried. I cried over a combination of things: the beauty of mothers and daughters; the exhilaration at reading a novel again; the recognition of finding oneself; the confirmation of the release and freedom from just letting it all go.

I am now like a voracious animal in the wild. I want to scour the bookstore for my next memoir or novel and dig into it. I am thinking of Out of Africa since that was one of my sister’s favorite books. I’m just thinking that might be like going from 0 to 120 mph and overwhelm me! Maybe Molly Ringwald’s new book instead….

DQ and books = Good Night!

Dairy Queen’s Nutter Butter Blizzard with chocolate ice cream – pure heaven. If I could eat one for breakfast and dinner, life would be even better.

The kids and I biked to DQ last night after Mario’s football practice. Mario got an orange freeze (just like his dad – how can you go to DQ and not get ice cream?!) and Maria got a peanut butter chocolate sundae. I asked the cashier to make it “mini” but she failed to heed to my request and Maria’s eyes burst open when the cashier slid it across the counter to her. I gave her the “you aren’t eating all of that” look and she promptly walked over to the other side of the building and began shoveling it in with the thought she’d eat it all before I paid. But I know her tricks and made her stand next to me and wait to eat until Mario and I had ours.

My nutter butter blizzard hit the spot. Maria impressed me by only eating half of her sundae. Mario didn’t care for his freeze so he traded with Maria. I think we converted him to the ice cream side with her sundae – he chowed it down!


We hopped back on our bikes and could have rode for hours with the sugar we delivered to our systems. Instead, we rode home, took showers, and read books. Mario picked “Tacky the Penguin.” What an awesome book. It’s perfect for Mario who is much like Tacky, himself! Mario absolutely cracks up at Tacky’s songs (“How many toes does a fish have?”) and his cannonballs. And in the end, Mario learns that being unique gives you an advantage in life.


Maria read Junie B. Jones to the end (even though I know she skips some pages here and there!). I’m so happy when I see her curled up on the over-sized chair reading!


We woke up this morning with Maria’s head at the end of one side of the bed, me smashed in the middle, and Mario on the other end with his arms sprawled at on either side of him. What a night!

I just read what?!

I read an article about reading to kids yesterday.  Yet another piece of reading that makes you wonder whether you are doing all that you can as a parent.  Heck, up until I read the article, I had been charged up because I have been pretty good about reading books to M&M every night.   But now I have to worry about whether my mere reading to them is even doing anything beneficial for them or whether I might as well sit them in front of the tv to watch SpongeBob every night.

Reading a little Dr. Seuss

When I got home with the kids after work, I set aside two library books to read after dinner.  Things never quite go as planned on school nights because dinner and showers and playtime get in the way.  Before we know it, the clock says 9:00 and we still haven’t read a book.  So, I picked one of the two books and sat between the kids.  The winner was Hot Hot Hot – a book about wooly mammoths and the Ice Age.  The mammoths get hot because Summer comes around and they don’t know what to do.  Ice melts when they lift it up in the sky.  “Why does the ice melt?” I ask them.  Maria chimes in “because the sun melts it.”  Nice job.  One for Ri.  The next page shows the mammoths cutting off their hair.  “Why would they do that?” Mario raises his hand and bursts out “because they are hot and that will cool them off!”  Rock-n-roll Mario! One mammoth fans the other but that mammoth gets hot from continuously fanning the other.  I ask them “why would that mammoth get hot” 

Maria responds “because the mammoth has to keep fanning the other one and is not getting any air himself.”  Mario responds “it’s not nice of the other mammoth to get fanned all the time and not fan her friend, too.”  Different explanations – both well thought-out – they are geniuses!   All of my nightly reading has paid off – they comprehend the stories and are brilliant.  I can stop worrying now.  Yeah, right.  I can just channel my worry to one of a mama’s many other concerns: are they eating healthy enough, are they getting enough exercise, are they adapting socially….

Books, books, books!

One of my favorite activities with the kids in the evening is reading books, especially when they are good.  Sounds logical but I can’t believe how many library books I bring home that are sub par.  I treasure the nights when we are all in our pj’s, cuddled together on the bed: Maria laying down with her head near one leg and Mario snug as a bug against  both legs.  They interact with me as I read the book and I see their minds expanding right before my eyes. 

I ran to the library tonight to return some past due books (why is it so hard to return library books on time?!) and to give me a reason to head a few blocks further north to get a double dip UDF ice cream cone.  I didn’t have much time so I just grabbed a handful of books that looked like they may be worthwhile to read.  I got some known favorites – Dr. Seuss and Fancy Nancy but then got a few random, unknown ones.    The kids got to choose two each when I got home.  Maria picked two Fancy Nancy books.  Mario picked Dr. Seuss and a brand new one: Otis and the Tornado by Loren Long. 

A breath of fresh air. A gem.  How couldn’t you fall immediately in love with sweet Otis, the tractor with a huge heart and immense courage? And how couldn’t you feel heavy-hearted for the giant bull “shaking in fear?”  I finished the book and breathed deeply.  The kids yawned in a state of wonder.  When I looked up Loren Long later in the evening, I found out he is from Cincinnati – my hometown.  No wonder the book is so good….