Birthday no. 42

42 was a piece of cake, or I should say, pieces of cake, based on the many pieces I consumed through the day. My mom came up from Cincy on Monday night so that I could start 42 off right with a morning run and weight-lifting. I woke at 6:10 and the sunrise greeted me at mile 5. Gorgeous dark peaches and mango across the eastern sky as I finished up my run and walked into the gym for some heavy duty lifting. It’s been my routine for ten+ years and I cherish it.
I came home to kisses from Ri and Mario (even with my sweaty self) and a walk up to Stauf’s with my mom and Rocco. If only every day could begin like that – warm kisses, sweet kids, good conversation, Stauf’s coffee (add in Jon and it would be perfect)…. I hit work after Stauf’s and got happy birthday wishes from friends on Facebook. It is funny how excited people get over birthday messages via Facebook, especially when they are from people you rarely speak with during the year. But I must admit that I was one of those people smiling with each new message wishing me a great day.
I took off a little early from work to meet my sis at the house at 5 pm for a walk with Rocco and the kids to the woods. We timed it perfectly with the sun setting before us as we walked into the woods. Vibrant oranges laid as a backdrop against the yellows and reds of the trees’ leaves. Magical.
Mom was off her call when we arrived home and we headed out to Cap City for some yummy dinner and dessert. The waiter was a gem and allowed me to get both the salmon and the meatloaf because I couldn’t pick which one sounded better. They were delicious. And we couldn’t resist carrot cake for dessert (even though mom had bought me a sheetcake!).

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I have flowers galore in the house and at work thanks to my hubby. He sent some to my office that are quite the lift-me-up when I walk into my digs in the morning (along with a sweet note).

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The ones he sent to the house were ones he had delivered with Ri’s and Mario’s names on the card. When I opened the card and asked the kids “did you get these for me?”, Maria immediately said “no, dad did.” Not Mario though. He didn’t flinch when he responded “yes, I picked them out.” He likes to take credit where credit is not due…. but I can’t help but love him.
Ri wrote me a poem about love and gave me some acorns. Sarah wrote me a precious letter and mom hooked me up with running gear and an endearing card. We came home to more sheetcake and peanut butter chip ice cream. By 10 pm, none of us could move or stay awake.

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Mom hit the road back to Cincy and Sarah and I and the kids headed up to bed. And there, before my eyes, was my most awesome present – a bed full of folded clothes. Mom had folded four loads of laundry for me as well as cleaned up dog poop outside. Now that’s a helluva birthday present.

Doing something right

I have been reinforcing to Maria how special and unique she is since she arrived in this world.

I managed to score a personalized autograph from Gloria Steinem to Ri before Ri could say her first word. I read stories about strong women to her while we rocked to sleep. She met throngs of incredible female role models through her life: grandmas, great grandmas, aunts, cousins, colleagues, friends. Recently, after she made some quip about not “being skinny like other girls”, I taught her about affirmations.

“I am beautiful. I am funny. I am caring. I am strong. I listen to people.” These are a few of the affirmations she recited to me and her words were pure poetry to my mama/female ears.

So why would I be at all amazed at her response to me as I was fretting about mingling with my superiors at a work event Saturday evening?

“Mom, you just need to be yourself.”

I stared out my car window and smiled. Then I reached my hand to the back seat and felt her hand clasp mine. Our connection lifted me through the entire evening.

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I knew my daughter would be…

I always doubted when parents would say “I knew my child was going to be a veterinarian when….” Really? You gathered that your daughter would be a vet when she rubbed a kitten’s belly and it purred?! It seemed more the parent’s wish than the innate skills of the child.

But that skepticism was blown to pieces when Maria brought Jon and I together to resolve a spat we were having. Ri had overheard us bickering and came to the rescue. We had been bickering about something she didn’t need to know about so I made up something when she asked the problem. She sat Jon and me down opposite one another and had me explain the issue.

Me: “I wanted dad to take me to lunch today and he couldn’t.”

Maria: “Is that true, dad?”

Dad: “Yes, bu-”

Maria: “Hold on. Just answer the question, dad. Now mom, when did you tell dad you wanted to go to lunch?”

Me: “I called him at lunchtime.”

Maria: “So you waited until lunch to tell him you wanted to go to lunch? Do you understand he has work to do?”

Me: “Well he’s usually available.”

Dad: “I have asked your mom to lunch a bunch of times and she always says she’s too busy.”

Maria: “Really? Is that true, mom?”

Me: “Yes.”

Maria: “Then it seems that dad has tried to go to lunch with you in the past and you’ve always said no. Does that seem fair to get mad at him because he was working and couldn’t take you today?”

Me: “I guess not.”

I am an attorney but I have no particular desire to have my kids go into the profession. However, after the cross-examination from Ri, I can definitely see it. If she does become a lawyer, I will look back at that moment in time and say “I knew my daughter would be a lawyer the night she sat my hubby and I down…”

Then again, I could probably say the same if she became a psychologist or marriage counselor because after her grilling of us she gave us advice on spending time together by finding a place where I could eat chocolate and Jon could eat a sandwich and we could be together for a while alone.

Piece of work, she is.

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Tampon and Chocolate Delivery = Genius

Why did I not think up this enterprise?! I can see many a man buying this gift for their significant other in order to avoid the midnight runs to the local Kroger for sanitary products that he hides in the basket under a bunch of miscellaneous “manly” food items, chips, beer, slabs of meat.  Jon’s had many a funny story about purchasing my necessities.  I think it’s good for him though – strengthens character.

The only problem I have with the gift package is that it needs to come in a much bigger box with a lot more space for chocolate.  Four little chocolates will not do the trick when I am experiencing my monthly cycle.  I need a box big enough to fit King Size candy bars and mega bags of M&Ms. Oh, and make the surprise gift be a gift card to Dairy Queen….

Yeah, I’m good

“I’m really proud of myself, mom.”

“Yeah? Why, buddy?”

“Because I’m getting an award tomorrow night at my football ceremony. I worked really hard to get it. I didn’t know how to play football but now I’m good.”

I looked in my rear view mirror and watched Mario stare intently ahead as he spoke to me about his upcoming award. How is it that a five-year old could exude this confidence and pride so easily and I could not at age 41?!

I thought about Ri and how I could never imagine those words coming out of her mouth. Countless studies confirm that boys tend to be more self-confident and aggressive than girls. Every single time I walk in to my boss’s office to negotiate my salary, I think about my dad’s advice long ago: “You can’t feel bad about demanding a higher salary. If you think it’s what your worth, ask for it and don’t look back.” And this coming from a man with scruples and compassion and no desire to beat everyone up the corporate ladder.

I began to respond back to Mario with advice to not get too cocky about his achievement. But then I stepped back and stayed quiet. It’s not as though he was parading around chiding “I’m the best ever.” He was simply being honest in telling us how much he had accomplished and how excited he was about it. Good for him.

Something I should probably do for myself more often than I do – just like buying a new pair of running shoes or treating myself to a massage. A few kudos directly to myself be it as simple as getting Ri to school on time or reading Mario a cool book or as complicated as orchestrating a family Thanksgiving meal or pleasing an irate client.

Maybe the more I pat myself on the back, the more comfortable I will feel touting my accomplishments when necessary, and the closer I’ll get to that darn salary I deserve…!

Birthday No. 41

I opened the front door and Maria dashed down the stairs and chirped “Happy Birthday!” I heard a wail from the top of the stairs. Mario mourned at the failure to wish me a happy birthday first. He showed his anger by yelling “you are the worst sister and mom ever!” And so began my 41st birthday.

Jon had a “shape it up” talk with the kids, and after 10 minutes, they arrived in our bedroom bearing cards and gifts. Maria showed me her cards first. I had told her that all I wanted for my birthday was a poem and a cool picture. I knew I was asking a lot because Ri is not a big gan of drawing unless it’s pictures of glamorous girls. I try to get her to sit down and make something but it’s always a fight. So, I wasn’t expecting anything too elaborate, if anything at all. But she came through with a quirky poem and even a picture for me. Mario drew his signature multi-colored blocks picture that I always admire and a stick figure of himself. Precious.

They also grabbed a few items from the basement to give as presents truly believing that I had never seen them before. Maria grabbed the framed baby pictures of her and Mario. Mario gave me a book I bought a long time ago at the used book store and never read titled “An Unknown Woman.” Perfect for turning 41.

I hugged them both with mad intensity and thanked them for being so generous. As we made our way downstairs, Ri looked back at me with an excited look on her face. “Are you taking off work today, mom?” I answered “I wish.” She started to pout. “I wanted to stay home with you today, mom.” And she pouted the entire way to school refusing to kiss me goodbye when she left the car.

It feels wrong and inequitable that a seven year old’s attitude can have such a negative impact on an adult. I got ready for work thinking ” It’s my fricken’ birthday and I have this attitude all around me?” Really?!

I tend to idealize how events will turn out and 95% of the time, that leads to disappointment. So I have been trying to be conscious of that habit and avoid it.

However, that habit had reared it’s ugly head on my morning run and as I stepped into our house, I framed a perfect scene with my kids and hubby greeting me at the door holding elaborate cards and smothering me with kisses. Then they’d sing happy birthday and tell me how I am the greatest mom and wife on Earth.

Seriously?! What mom has ever experienced such an event? Pretty sure not even June Cleaver.

I took a deep breath as I pulled my bike up to the front entrance of my work. I looked around me. The sun was finally out. I had gotten to bike to work. Jon was taking me out in the evening. The kids had been sweet in the morning and only hot excited because they wanted to spend MORE time with me. Really, life was pretty good.

When I walked in my office, a bright pink and black package sat on my desk with a card. All of my colleagues had signed the card and I discovered an assortment of fine chocolates in the package. Always a good way to start a day.

My busy day received welcome interruptions from distant friends and relatives sending messages and close friends and family calling.

My sister left me the most hilarious message singing “Happy Birthday To Freak” on my voice mail (it’s a Menkedick tradition to call each other “freaks.”). My mom left me a “you are still young” message reiterating how active and vibrant I remained at the ripe old age of 41. My dad and Meg left separate messages sending their love. My mother-in-law called me with good news about her heart tests and wished me a great day. My brother met out with me for a coffee and a brisk Fall walk. I received a lovely card from Jon’s brother and family. I felt immensely loved, and that’s a darn tootin’ good feeling.

After work, I received my ultimate present – Perkins Pancake House! But before we could head out, Mario pounded out some fine pieces of craftsmanship for me. He has learned quite the hand-eye coordination to hammer nails. I kept cringing as he hammered the nails into the wood but he made it through with no bloody fingers.

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When we walked into Perkins, a torrent of memories flooded my brain. The muffin case, the kitchen, the booths. I waitressed at Perkins (as did many of my Heile aunts) for six years through high school and college. Waitressing at Perkins left an indelible mark on my speech – I still call people “hunny” and “dear.”. That’s all good and fine when it’s Jon or the kids but when it’s my boss, it’s not cool. I met a lot of struggling, flawed, surviving-on-a-shoestring folks working at Perkins and they taught me a heck of a lot about life. hard work, laughter, compassion, friendship to name a few. I wish I could find Annie, the bucktoothed mama of five who rode three buses to get to her morning shift at 5:30 am. Or Jessie, the black patch wearing night shift manager who carried a billy club by his side all evening. I never felt scared with him around. These folks were my extended family and I loved them dearly.

Perkins not only formed my speech but also my taste buds. I fell in love with Perkins’ food, especially the pancakes. They have a buttery lightness to them that I have not found anywhere else.

I could barely contain my excitement at work; I bragged about heading to Perkins at every meeting. People laughed thinking I was kidding. They need to make a trip and they will be converted. The men were jealous of Jon wishing their wives were as cheap of a date as me. I’d pick Perkins over Hyde Park any day.

And dang if the food didn’t taste just as good as I had imagined – absolutely delicious. I savored every last bite while the kids and Jon found immense pleasure in my giddiness. If I ever lose my job, I am heading back to Perkins.

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I felt so incredibly happy when I walked out of Perkins. The kids might as well had stars swooning their bodies and Jon a halo over his head – they were my angels and had absolutely made my night by feeding me pancakes and providing me the best of company.

And asif it couldn’t get any better, it did! We picked up a Giant Eagle sheet cake and ice cream. Yes, I ate a huge piece of cake with ice cream within one hour of demolishing pancakes. What are birthdays for?

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Mario sang happy birthday to me for the third time that night and Ri videotaped it (she is going to be a videographer at some point in her future). Jon wrote me a sweet card and I scored free massages and a gift certificate to FrontRunner. Nothing better.

At the end of the evening, I laid in bed staring at the muted light streaming through our blinds. I thought about the angst of my 20’s – trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. My 30’s – feeding my ego, graduating law school, working in the white tower firm, marrying my man, and having two babies. And then my 40’s – starting the decade off with my girlfriends in Italy. How apropos to start my 40’s, I thought.

I think these next few years will be for me to enjoy myself – travel, take long runs, eat good food (Perkins!), watch a movie in an actual theatre, meet up with friends, read enthralling books with M&M, connect more with my siblings, get lost in Jon. Enjoy all I have accomplished and endured these last 41 years, and give myself a little break. Laugh a little more. Do something spontaneous. Be silly and wild. Dig into nature. Watch an Oscar-nominated movie. Celebrate who I am and who I love and feel comfortable in my own skin.

Ahh, nice.

Mario blooms

A car drove past Mario and me while we biked to school this morning. I thought the guy driving was a colleague so when we biked past him, I waved. As I waved, I noticed that the guy was not my colleague and no one I knew. I said “that’s embarrassing, Mario. I just waved at that stranger.”

Mario’s reply: “No it’s not, mom. You probably made his day. He may have been sad and now he’s not.”

These are the moments where I realize that my kids have listened and seen me, and they have instilled some of my values in their lives. Mario has seen me say “hi” to people passing by, be pleasant to workers bagging our groceries, strike up a conversation with a gentleman waiting for a bus while we waited on our bike for the traffic light to change. He has witnessed the smiles on these people’s faces after someone smiles at them, says hello to them, engages with them. And he has heard me talk about the importance of being nice to others and how you can never know when someone just needs a smile to feel better.

And so he reminded me that I shouldn’t be embarrassed about waving to that stranger but rather feel happy that I may have made someone’s day and allowed them to see the randomness that is this life – be it a stranger waving at you or a bright red Autumn leaf falling on your shoulder or a child blooming right before your eyes.

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