Mario and fairy books

Maria has innate compassion and nurturing genes in her body. She has always been a caretaker. When Mario was born, she would beg to give him his Binky or put him in his swing or feed him his smashed peas. I have a ton of pictures – back when you had to develop them – of the two of them together and inevitably, Maria’s arm is always wrapped around Mario. His protector.

In preschool, she had a girlfriend who was petite and quiet. Whenever another child would boss her around, Maria would step in and protect her. The girl’s parents nicknamed Maria “the muscle.” This weekend, Maria and I were just getting ready to sit down to play a card game. Her phone rang and she left to talk to her friend for a few minutes. She came back and told me that her friend needed to stop by. Within a minute, I heard the door open. Her friend was sobbing; Maria wrapped her arm around her friend, and walked with her down the stairs to her room continuously whispering “you will be ok.”

Mario did not quite inherit the compassionate and nurturing genes.  That is not to say that he doesn’t care for others; he just doesn’t have that automatic response of nurturing and caretaking. He expresses his care and concern by trying to make people laugh – by being goofy. When he was in preschool, he would get up in front of all of his friends and perform a crazy dance (he loved Gangnam Style). When one of his friends took a nasty fall while they were skateboarding, he jabbed him with playful jokes to keep him laughing until I arrived to take him home. Last week, I had a crappy day at work and he amused me with his little quips.

I have made Maria do more volunteer activities with me than Mario. This is partially because the moms of Maria’s friends tend to plan volunteer events more often than the moms of Mario’s friends. It is also because she didn’t put up as much of a fight as Mario did when I talked about doing something for those in need.

Lately, I have been lamenting about not pushing harder on Mario when he puts up a fight about volunteering. He needs to gain some perspective when he starts begging me for $150 pair of basketball shoes for the upcoming season. I have told him that there may be a possibility of purchasing such shoes but it does not come without putting forth some effort for others. Accordingly, he has agreed to put together hygiene kits for men at the homeless shelter along with a few of his friends. We are heading out this week to buy the supplies and then put them together to deliver. It just takes me putting forth some effort to get him to do it.

But I was excited to see him come downstairs on his own last night and read a book to Elena with me. I had mentioned reading to Elena over dinner with him and Maria and Jon last night. I threw in a comment that it would be really nice if the kids or Jon joined me for a chapter or two. They all rolled their eyes.

I situated my computer at the dining room table, and jumped on Facebook messenger with Elena. I was just getting ready to start reading the Weather Fairies book when Mario trotted down the stairs to join me. Elena started giggling like she always does when Mario enters the screen. I gave Mario the parts of Kirsty to read.

To my delight, he completely acted the part. He raised his voice up a few octaves to mimic Kirsty’s voice. Elena cracked up every time he read off the page. He read a chapter with us, and then I allowed him to head upstairs to finish his homework. I spent another 45 minutes reading to Elena. I didn’t make her chuckle like Mario had but we did have fun reading about the goblins and talking about the different weather fairies.

I visited Mario in his room after I finished with Elena. I told him how happy he had made Elena by simply reading a chapter of a book to her. I explained how a simple gesture can mean a lot to somebody. 

I recall telling my dad about taking a walk in the woods without looking at my phone the entire time. We had been talking earlier in the week about needing to disconnect more often. His response via text was “baby steps.” That phrase came to mind as I left Mario’s room and went to log off the computer for the night.

Giving back

I took Maria to the Van Buren homeless shelter last night to help me serve food to the women staying at the shelter. Mario was going to head over with us but Jon arrived home just as we were walking to the car, and he chose to stay with his dad. Ri was glad. She likes that alone time with me.
It’s been a few months since we went to the YWCA Family Shelter to do crafts with the kids. Ri did such a great job with the kids when we went there on Sunday mornings. She loved when toddlers and pre-schoolers showed up because they let her help them draw and glue and gave her hugs. She soaked it up.
I didn’t know what to expect at this homeless shelter because it was our first time serving dinner. They had told me Ri might get bored because she couldn’t serve food from the kitchen (I did not disclose to Ri that she couldn’t serve food because she had her heart set on it and I didn’t want her to be upset before we even left for the shelter).
We arrived to just a few women sitting at tables in a large room. I introduced Ri and the volunteer helpers welcomed her. The coordinator of the dinner quickly reminded me that Ri would have to stay in the dining area. I asked what we could do in the area and she directed us to a pail and washcloths. Ri didn’t hesitate. She got her washcloth and began wiping down the tables. And the chairs. I know she had wanted to serve food but she didn’t whine or complain at all.
When the women stood in line to get food, the leader brought out pitchers of juice and cups. Ri volunteered to pour the juice and give it to the women after they got their food. And so we did. The women were a so sweet to her responding with “thank you baby” and “aren’t you darling.” She’d take the juice over to the table for the women who had a hard time walking. After all the women went through the line, she walked around the tables to see if she could get anything for them. She didn’t feel awkward or nervous. Rather, it came completely natural to her.
If I’ve done one thing right as a parent, it is installing in her the gift of empathy and helping others. I have always felt strongly that she needs to understand how lucky she is to have happened to be born in a first world country, to working parents who have a home and can afford food and transportation and clothing; and to have such a support system of family who think the world of her. I don’t want her to take it for granted and I want her to respect all people, and understand that everyone goes through rough times. In the end, we are all much more alike than we are different.
It’s always been pretty easy with Ri – she seems to innately understand and be sensitive to others’ feelings.
Sure enough, one of the women was telling Ri about her grand daughter and how much she loves to take her to the park and another woman was talking about dressing up as Wonder Woman for Halloween. Ri smiled as they spoke to her and engaged back with them.
I have grown up with parents and family reinforcing in me that “there but for the grace of god go I.” We are all struggling to make the best of this life; all struggling to find happiness and joy. The woman at the shelter could be me. And she deserves respect and love and compassion.
As we were packing up, a lady called out “Mom, hey mom. Come here.”
I walked over to her. She wrapped her arm around me.

“You’ve got a heck of a daughter there. It’s wonderful that she’d spend her time helping us. She’s beautiful.”

I couldn’t agree more – on the inside and out.