Every moment of mindfulness changes a moment of conditioning.

I felt horrible for skipping out on a Friday gathering with my girlfriends. They had come up from Cincinnati and gotten a hotel room for two nights in order for all of to hang out together. It’s a once or twice a year event with my four girlfriends from grade school and high school. I knew I’d be tired as hell on Friday evening, and I knew they would not. They would want to head out late and drink wine. I’d want to slip on pjs and decompress. Friday nights are rough for me after a week of work. I need downtime. I made the executive decision to tell them I would meet up with them on Saturday morning.

I felt horrible about it – very guilty that they had come to my city and I was not even going to meet up with them until the next day. This was not out of the ordinary. I live in guilt. Be it that I was raised Catholic, or that I’m the oldest child, I often feel guilt about decisions I make. I fretted about it throughout work on Friday playing each scenario in my head.

“If I go, I will be tired and pissy and will want to go to bed at 10.”

“But if I don’t go, I will feel bad and worry they are mad.”

I took a walk in Tarpy with Rocco as soon as I got home Friday evening. This is my go-to refuge after long workdays. I kept my phone in my pocket so it was easier to resist the urge to look at Facebook as I walked the same trail I walk every day with my pup. I asked myself why I felt guilty. What brought that emotion up in me so strongly. My mind traveled back to childhood, and my need to please. I wanted others to feel good. I remember going to the movies with my dad and not paying much attention to the movie itself. Rather, I focused on glancing over at my dad every few minutes to see if he was laughing and enjoying himself. If I had girlfriends over, I’d make up plans of everything we could do so they’d have fun – even if it wasn’t my idea of fun.

I looked up at the changing leaves on the trees. One hosted leaves colored a dull red on the bottom with yellow on their tips. Rocco rushed by me with a large stick in his mouth. I took a deep breath and let it out. Repeat.

One of my girlfriends texted me when I got home. She sent a picture of all the girls eating cheese and bread and said “can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” I texted them back to tell them I could not wait to meet up. They texted me back some inappropriate responses due to their drinking state…. made me laugh.

I glanced up from looking at my phone. Rocco licked my hand. It soaked in how useless my hours of guilt had been. They were having a raucous time together. They weren’t talking about what a schmuck I was for not coming Friday night. Get out of your thoughts, Mary.

I woke up Saturday morning, took a long run, and ended up having a most fabulous day and evening with my gals.

Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

Is this how it will be every night when he is in college? Will I not be able to sleep worried that somebody is getting into his dorm room and strangling him? How can Jon be so calm and collected and not worry at all? How can he not think of the 10 million random, unlikely events that may occur to him while he’s away? I mean seriously, he didn’t worry at all that Mario may fall into the crack between his bed and the wall and suffocate?!

Mario was ready to go at 11 AM even though registration for basketball camp did not start until noon and lasted until 2 PM. I kept telling him if we get there at noon he would be starving and they did not have dinner until 5 PM. He did not care a bit. He wanted to get there and see his dorm. We ended up arriving around 12:15. We registered him and then walked over to his dorm a block away. How strange to walk in the doors and take a right down a hallway into a common area filled with unadorned chairs and coffee tables. It reminded me of heading into my first dorm at UC. His room was tinier than I imagined after hearing about the lush sleeping quarters of college dorms. It had two twin mattresses on wood slats and two simple writing desks. However, Mario thought it was the!

We tried to help him unpack his garbage bag of things (Jon kept asking him to use a duffel bag but he thought a garbage bag was easier) but he wanted to do it all himself. He shoved socks and underwear and shorts and shirts all in one drawer when he had six that he could use. Typical. I helped put the sheet on his bed and then he situated his blanket on top. He was stoked to have his room all to himself. The thought had been that he could take one of the mattresses and put them in his buddy’s room who had already agreed to bunk with his cousin. But when we saw the small size of the room, I doubted it would be possible. Then again, they are boys and could care less about space.

I got a call at 10 PM from him. When I saw his name light up on my phone screen, I, of course went to the awful. Something was wrong. He was hurt. He was sad. He missed us. When I answered, I heard boys laughing in the background. Mario answered with a jubilant “hi mom! “Then he proceeded to ask if me or Jon could bring potato chips and candy down to the dorm.

Are you kidding?

I was so happy to hear him happy that I was half tempted to deliver some food at 10 pm. However, I was in PJs and needed to get up early in the morning so I told him we would bring food down the next day. He hung up the phone while laughing with his friends. All was well. I went to bed. I was woken up by Jon at 11 PM. He was talking to Mario. As he had just rattled me from sleep, I again immediately went to the thought that something was wrong. Jon calmed me down and informed me that Mario just wanted to say good night. I took the phone from him and saw Mario laying in his bed FaceTiming me.

“Hi mom. I just wanted to say goodnight to you.”

I asked him if he was going to stay in the dorm room all by himself. He answered yes. I wanted to question him more about whether he was OK with that or whether he thought he might get scared. But then I thought I did not want to put those suggestions in his head if he was OK with it. So I let it go and just told him to call us in the morning when he woke up.

Then I fretted all night long. Did he have a nightlight that he could use and see around his room if he needed to get up? Did he lock his door so nobody could get in at night and hurt him? What if he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – did he know where it was? Holy shit, how your brain can work in the late hours of the night. It felt like I had just gotten to sleep when the phone rang at 6:50 AM.

“Hi mom!”

He survived the evening. He put me on hold as he got dressed. Then he jumped back on the FaceTime and told me he’d talk to me later. He had to get to breakfast. He called me two more times during the day to remind me to bring food that evening. Jon and I watched him shoot around when we arrived at 9 pm. He was joking with some boys and trying to make threes. We enjoyed watching him in his element. We met him at his dorm at 9:45 and delivered two bags of party chips and sour patch kids. He whisked the stash away and headed in to the dorm knowing he’d be loved by his camper friends.

At 11 pm, he Facetimed me. He just wanted to tell me goodnight. This time I felt a little more secure because when we dropped off the party chips to him, I made sure I asked some of the chaperone college kids if they slept in the same wing as the boys. They assured me that they had plenty of college basketball players sleeping in rooms near them if anything went wrong. I couldn’t help myself; Mario would have died if he heard me ask it.

That being said, I slept all night that evening.

Bed time

Maria has been begging for a new bed for months. She complains she’s not comfortable in her bed – it’s too hard and too lumpy. I’m not sure when we bought her bed or if we even bought it. It may have been my grandma’s since the headboard and footboard are hers. I can’t remember. In any case, seeing we have had foam pads laid across her bed for months, I figured it was time to get a new one. Besides, she swears she will sleep in later on a new bed….

I took the kids to the Original Mattress Factory down the street on Saturday morning. What a hoot that trip ended up being. The kids could have tested mattresses all day. Mario, of course, pleaded and begged and whined to be able to get a new mattress like Ri because his mattress was horrible, too. Yea, right. Of course, the ones they immediately gravitated to were the most expensive. $2,200 for a twin orthopedic mattress! Seriously? Mario couldn’t leave its side. The salesman, Thom, was a 20 year employee of the store and gave us its history. Maria was fascinated and peppered him with question after question. She loves any kind of history. He even took them behind the showroom doors to let them see where they stored equipment and beds. He was quite the host.

Then he showed me where the more reasonably priced beds were located in the back of the showroom. Now we were talking – $200-350. Of course, after laying on the orthopedic ones, these felt like rocks. Smart move, Mattress Factory. Mario kept jumping from one to another to another. Maria actually laid on a few for a while and soaked them in. She finally landed on one that she felt was the best. It was a pillow top double sided mattress that was not at the low range but not ridiculously high. She convinced me by analyzing the others in comparison to her current mattress and the difference in the pillow top. I tried it out and could feel the difference. But honestly, what drove me to agree was the sheer hope that this gem would have her sleeping until 9 am.

Mario continued to hop from bed to bed while I filled out paperwork for Ri. When I told them we had to go, Mario pleaded for the $2,200 mattress. When I said no way for the tenth time, he distressingly replied “ok, I will take that one.” He pointed to the $1,200 one. I’m glad he continues to believe he will be a pro football player making “$1 million dollars a week” because he’s gonna need it with his taste.




This is how M&M roll when Jon is away. Stay up way too late and fall asleep – only after eating ice cream sandwiches and watching a cheesy Nickelodeon show – on the couch, sprawled out with dad’s fleece blankets covering them.
I carry them upstairs when I decide to hit the hay. Maria wraps her arms around me and always mumbles some unintelligible words as I trek up the stairs. Then I plop her on her bed, cover her up with her three blankets, and kiss her goodnight. Sometimes she smiles at me.
Mario always jerks when I first pick him up but then realizes it’s me and melts his upper body into mine. I lay him in my bed and he scoots himself to the very edge until he’s almost hanging off, and then reaches for the covers. I lay them over his shoulders and kiss him goodnight. His mouth relaxes into a tiny oval shape – just the perfect nest to lay a robin’s egg – and I stare at him as I lay on my pillow with the moon’s light shining through the window. His breath is a lullaby and I fall quickly to sleep.

Saved again by Ms. Lamott

I love Anne Lamott.  I can’t say it enough: I love her. Love her! Love her!  

The other night, we started the process of putting the kids to bed.  I have talked to many a parent, and all agree that it is a “process.”  It might be a five-minute process for some lucky souls.  Fifteen minute for others.  Half hour or hour for others.  We are lumped into that group.  So by the time we reach an hour of “processing” for bed, we are both shot.  One false move by either kid may lead to a reaction that is overblown and far too intense based on the circumstances.  But that is the result of a long day full of irritations, be it people or things.  We can’t blow up on these people during our day because they are our bosses or clients or colleagues.  So we blow up on our little munchos because they are with us late in the evening and they are needy and they can’t fire us. 

And then we feel like crap.  Like mutant beings.

I typically hit my final point when I have asked M&M five times to stop wrestling on our bed and to brush their teeth.  I hear a crash and one of them crying.  Then fighting. Then more crying.  Then the crying one tattling on the other, and the other tattling about the crying one and how the crying one started it.  And then the crying one hitting the other making the other cry.  So now I have two crying kids and I want to smash my head against the wall.  I yell and scream and occasionally throw a small object against the wall.  I stomp around.  I shake my head. 

And then Maria walks up to me and wraps her arms around my legs.  Or Mario says “I’m sorry, mom.” And typically my anger and frustration lower quite a few notches if not dissipates on the spot. I am thankful for their resilience and my ability to realize my demons. 

When they are flat on back, tucked in and kissed goodnight, I open up Anne Lamott’s Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith.  I read a passage where she describes blowing up at her son one night. 

“What has helped me lately was to figure out that when we blow up at our kids, we think we’re going from zero to sixty in one second.  Our surface and persona are so calm that when a problem begins, we sound in control when we say “Now, honey, stop that.” or “That’s enough.” But it’s only an illusion.  In fact, all day we’ve been nursing anger toward the boss or boyfriend or mother, yet since we can’t get mad at nonkid people, we stuff it down…. It’s your child’s bedtime and all you want is for him to go to sleep so you can lie down and stare at the TV – and it starts up. “Mama, I need to talk to you.” It’s important.” So you go in and muster your patience, and you help him with his fears or his thirst, and you go back in to the living room and sink into your couch and then you hear “Mama? Please come here one more time.” You lumber in like you’re dragging a big dinosaur tail behind you, and you rub his back for a minute, his sharp angel shoulder blades.  The third time he calls, you try to talk him out of needing you, but he seems to have this problem with self-absorption, and he can’t hear that you can’t be there for him.  And you become wordless with rage.  you try to breathe, you try everything, and then you blow.  You scream, “Fucking dammit! What? What? What? Can’t you leave me alone for four seconds?”  Good therapy helps. Good friends help. Pretending that we are doing better than we are doesn’t.  Shame doesn’t. Being heard does….  I lay on the couch with my hands over my face, shocked by how hard it is to parent.  And after a minute, Sam sidled out, still needing me, to snuggle with me, with mean me, needing to find me – like the baby spider pushing in through the furry black legs of the mother tarantula, knowing she’s in there somewhere.” 

She manages with such ease to normalize this episode with M&M; to take a deep breath and know that I am trying my hardest. To talk to Jon. To admit my faults. And finally, to keep loving on my munchos even with my tail between my legs.

Sleep Mask and Earmuffs

Jon called down to me last night after he went upstairs to bed.  He directed me into Maria’s room when Maria was fast asleep at the top of her bed.  About half way down the bed laid Mario….

In earmuffs and a sleep mask. 

He has been fascinated with sleep masks for the last week, and he has a coronary every time he can’t find his before bed.  Last night, he told me I was being too loud so he grabbed his earmuffs, too on his way upstairs.  Maria falls asleep in a heartbeat without any aides. If a sleep mask and earmuffs do it for Mario, bring ’em on.

Mario’s brain

Mario is killin’ Jon and me.  He will not go to bed at night; he wants one of us to lay with him until he falls asleep.  The hard part is that he is simply not tired.  I can lay in bed with him for an hour and a half and he will not go to sleep.  He still takes two-hour naps at school and I know that is completely unhelpful.  He also is a natural night owl.  His energy peaks at 9 pm. His poor sister is worn out by 9:30 and usually asleep in her bed by that time.  He turns on her light and plays in her room as she snores the evening away. 

This evening was the same as the rest. Jon and I sat downstairs talking and listening to the sound of tiny feet running around the hall upstairs.  Suddenly, we heard a whisper.  “Mom, mom….  Mom, I need you.”  I walked up the stairs to his room and he stood looking concerned.  “What is it, Mario?” 

“Mom, I went into Maria’s room and I pushed my hands into her stomach and she cried so I ran back into my room so she wouldn’t see me and I just don’t know why I did it, my brain just tells me to do bad things sometimes and I can’t stop it.  Breath.  What can I do?”  It seemed like a perfectly good “dad” question if I had ever heard it (even though I know my brain has gone down that path, too).  He ran down to talk to Jon about the situation, got some dad advice, and met me halfway down the stairs. 

“Mom, will you come upstairs with me to give Ria a hug?” 

The nutball!

At this point, I knew he was stalling bedtime, and I firmly quipped “No, Mario, get to bed!”  He looked at me and crossed his arms and ran up the stairs and shut his door.  I proceeded down the steps and before I hit the last, he opened the door and whispered “Mom, I will let you apologize for being mean.”  All I could do was chuckle.  

“Mario, I should not have said that in a mean tone.  I am sorry.” 

Mario looked at me for a few seconds and quipped “It’s ok, mom, you can just sleep with me to make up for it.”  He never misses a beat, or I should say, his brain never misses a beat.