Tender Mario moves

I woke up the other morning to a horrible cough. This happens to me more often as I get older. I can’t catch my breath and as I try to take a deep inhale, I cough worse. Anyway, my coughing woke Mario up from his sleep (he had had a nightmare earlier in the evening and we allowed him to sleep in our bed). It was a good thing it did because it was 7 AM and a school day. Mario jumped out of bed to head into our bathroom to take a shower. I heard him turn on the water faucet, and opened one eye when I felt him standing next to me a second later. He whispered “here mom, take a drink.” It was such a tender gesture from him. I grabbed the cup and watched him head back into the bathroom.

I came home from work a few days ago and Mario popped up from the downstairs. He gave me a big hug and told me he did the dishes. I looked in the sink and sure enough, they were all washed and placed haphazardly in the plastic drainer on the left side of the sink. After Mario washes bowls, he places them right side up so the water remains in them. It drives me crazy but I won’t complain since he took the initiative to do the dishes in the first place.

We finally got to Dick’s Sporting Goods this weekend to get Mario a new pair of gym shoes. He is definitely his mother’s child when it comes to his love for gym shoes. His Adidas were completely worn down with a hole in the toe and huge rip in the heel lining. He eyed quite a few basketball shoes before he chose his black and gold LeBrons (he knew I could not say no to anything LeBron-related). After he got his shoes from the salesman, he led me over to the women’s running shoe area. He was set on getting me a pair as well. I told him that I was good to go and we were just there to get him shoes. But, he was adamant that he wanted me to be able to experience the joy of getting a new pair of shoes as well.

On Saturday morning, I was lifting weights at the gym when I saw Mario’s number pop up. I answered the phone and he asked where I was. I told him I was at the gym, and he told me that he would walk to Stauf’s with me when I got home. The offer to walk to Stauf’s with me is equivalent to an offer to give me $25K. I would take the walk and time at Stauf’s over cash any day.

Mario and I walked to school together last week. I dropped him off to the basketball game. We talked about his favorite songs and about his plan to watch a movie a week this Summer with his buddies. As we talked and walked, he reached for my hand and held as we continued our stroll down the street. No big gesture on his part – just a gentle embrace of his left hand with my right as he continued his conversation with me.

We were eating dinner the other night – Jon and Mario and I (Maria was at dance club) – and out of nowhere Mario blurted out “I have the best mom – she plays basketball with me and always has fun.” Then he continued to eat his pasta and talk about roller skating in gym class.

Blake Shelton!

We got VIP tickets to the Blake Shelton concert for Maria for Christmas. It is all she wanted – she made it very clear that she could care less if she got any other present from any other family member other than these tickets. She wanted everyone to chip in so that we could buy the “VIP experience” with the singer she has adored for over a year. Jon and I are still at a loss as to how she enjoys country music so much. Neither one of us listen to it. It must be our two former babysitters from years ago. They both listened to country music as they drove Maria around town and that genre must have seeped deep down in her blood.

Maria counted down the days remaining before she got to see Blake in Pittsburgh. I could hav really cared less about seeing Blake but was excited to spend some quality mother/daughter time. We had to drive three hours to Pittsburgh, and another three hours back home to Columbus (I knew we wouldn’t get much alone time while in Pittsburgh because we were watching my sweet niece when we weren’t at the concert).

I kept reminding myself not to place any expectations on the mother/daughter time with Ri. I repeated the mantra “just enjoy her presence.”. I knew better than to expect her to give me insight into her friendships or boys or thoughts about her changing body. Any conversation like that would have made her recoil and clam up. So, we talked about random, and fairly insubstantial things such as what we would do with Elena, what Mario and dad were probably doing on a Saturday afternoon, when our cousin would have her baby….. We also found a good car trivia site and answered questions about countries, polar animals and presidents (she knows I love to get some education in on car trips).

Sarah and Elena dropped us off at PPG Arena at 4 PM. The line was already 30 people deep when we got there. We stood out in the chilly weather for about 25 minutes before they let us enter. We had a slight scare with me not being able to find our tickets on my phone right away but I came through. We retrieved our VIP lanyards and travel mug, andstood in line waiting to be escorted back to the lounge.

Maria stood twirling her lanyard anxious to head back. After what seemed like forever, they began to escort us through the hallways to the lounge. When we arrived at the lounge, there were escalators to the left. The guides were escorting fans down the escalator to get merchandise. However, when we got to the bottom, people were going back up to the lounge. I knew we had to be one of the first to enter the lounge or we would not get close to the stage. So, Ri and I left the merchandise counter (the next day I realized we got one free item with the VIP package that we lost out on) and squeezed in the line to enter the lounge. We saw the Voice chair as we walked in, and a small stage over to the right with a wood fence in front of it. There was already a group of older women and men who had placed seats against the fence to create a front row. Maria and I darted directly in back of the seats. People were starting to move over towards the area and we knew that if we left our position somebody would grab it. Maria and I quickly realized that we would be standing in the same spot for the next 2 1/2 hours.

I allowed her to go back to the Voice chair to get her picture taken. I also had her scour for any food. She returned with a huge chocolate chip cookie. There was nothing more. The time moved slow as we glanced around at the crowd and watched for any movement behind the curtain on the stage.

Maria’s phone was almost ready to die and mine was only at 60% so we did not want to play Crossy Road in order to pass the time away (we played this game while waiting for flights to Oaxaca and during down time with Elena – it’s our go-to). We played a couple of rounds of 20 questions and then the ABC game but we were both struggling to concentrate – Ri because she was so excited to see Blake and me because I was so excited for Maria to see Blake. She had been waiting for months for this moment. My favorite part of the wait was when Ri’s legs got tired and she leaned into me to hold her. The side of her face laid on my shoulder and I rubbed her back as I listened to the rhythm of her breath. I held the same person who, 13 years ago, used to ride in a snuggli on my chest up and down the streets of Grandview. The same girl who had me carry her in the backpack until the age of five, and would rest that same face on my shoulder when she tired of walking the hills.

7 PM arrived and fans were antsy. People started chanting Blake’s name. Maria continuously darted her eyes back-and-forth to each side of the stage to determine whether Blake was behind the curtain or not. Each time a song would end, the crowd silenced with the hope that his stage manager would be introducing him. But then a new song would start up. Finally, at 7:15, the stage manager bounced onto the stage and without much fanfare, introduced Blake Shelton. Maria immediately bawled when she saw him first come out.

He greeted the crowd and immediately went into his first song. Maria stood there with her phone in video mode and tears slowly trickling from her eyes. She was standing right in front of him! I was so happy for her. He finished his song and informed the crowd that he was going to read a couple of questions. He scrolled through the iPad in front of him and picked a question. It was from a random woman in the back of the lounge. He asked her to wave and thanked for her question. This made me want him to pick Maria’s question even more because he would then make eye contact with her to thank for the question. He moved onto another question – it was not Maria.

“Come on” I kept thinking to myself. How could he resist a 13-year-old’s question? Maria was one of two teens in the entire crowd. He finished answering the second question and pronounced he would read one more. He scrolled through and then stated:

“This next question is from Maria in Grandview Heights, Ohio, age 13″…. My stomach dropped. I looked over at Maria. She was sobbing as Blake Shelton stared at her. I guess without knowing it I had begun pointing at her when Blake Shelton started reading her question so he fixed his eyes on her. He noticed her sobbing and asked her why she was crying. She could not respond because her mouth would not open. She was paralyzed with awe. He proceeded to read her question, and expressed to the crowd how confused he was by it. It was hilarious. As she tried to talk through her sobs to explain it, he noticed that there was more to her question so he continued reading it. By the time he got done answering it, she was smiling and he was relieved. It was the sweetest interaction. He then grabbed his guitar and told the crowd that he was going to play another song. What came next was magical for her. He dedicated the next song to Maria. He made a joke about the song being a drinking song and that it was a little odd to dedicate it to a 13-year-old but he was doing it anyway. She stood there trying to videotape him while her shoulders and body shook with pure joy.

He wrapped up his time with a few more questions from the audience and then thanked everybody for coming to see him. As he stood up, he looked right at Maria, smiled, and threw his guitar pic to her. I just could not believe it. She was in complete shock. The crowd beside us all congratulated her when he left the stage. Her eyes were as big as a doe’s eyes in the headlights. She was trembling.

We walked to the back of the room to breathe. Two of his stage hands, two women, approached us with the blue plastic cup we had seen him drinking from earlier. They offered it to Maria. They told her that it was endearing to see her so excited to see Blake Shelton, and they thanked her for being a great fan (I am convinced those two women were the ones that picked Maria’s question for Blake Shelton to read).

Maria remained in a state of shock as we rode the elevators down to the show. She bought a Blake Shelton longsleeve shirt in order to wear it to school on Monday. She snap-chatted with all of her friends to tell them the news. I don’t think she came to her right mind until long after the concert started.

How many times had I dreamt of Andy Gibb or Prince or Michael Jackson looking straight at me from the stage and saying hello?! Her first concert as a teenager and she gets that treatment. It’s all downhill from here, baby doll….:)

There is no doubt that the memory of Blake Shelton looking at her and speaking to her will be seared in her mind. It is definitely seared in my mind. But also seared in my mind is the absolute joy on her face when she saw him walk on stage. I am so grateful for having been in her presence to witness.

Come on Down!

Yeah, that’s right. Jon and I got to be in the audience at The Price is Right. Now, let me clarify. We did not go to the Price is Right in California. We got to attend the traveling Price is Right right here in our hometown! Not quite the same as California but a decent imitation. I grew up on The Price is Right. I walked home from my grade school at lunch to watch the show. I’d heat up Mac-n-cheese in the stove and run upstairs to catch contestants spin the big wheel and bid in the showcase showdown. My memories of the show involve Bob Barker and the three models in their short dresses and perky smiles. I used to dream about being selected as a contestant, acting spastic as I won the bid, busting out the $1.00 on the Big Wheel, and winning the car in the showcase showdown. But those dreams ended at age 14 when I stopped watching the show; my high school was too far away to head home at lunch.

I quickly realized that I was an old school fan who loved the nostalgia of being a kid in the 80s just as much as I loved the show itself. It was a part of my childhood; a memory I enjoyed thinking about and reliving when I saw old clips on You Tube or when my kids asked what shows I liked as a kid. I came to this realization when I walked through the doors to register as a contestant and saw women in homemade Bob Barker T-shirts, men dressed in big wheel costumes, and couples dressed up as cartoon characters or Drew Carey and the Price is Right models. It was quite a sight to behold. They were serious, serious fans.

They would not allow me to register Jon as a contestant since you had to be there in person. Jon decided that he wanted to allow me to have all the glory and be the only one that registered with the chance to get on stage. I know in my heart of hearts, that if he would’ve registered, they would have pulled his name. He gets so lucky that way. And, he would’ve guessed all of the correct prices just like he did sitting next to me in the audience. But the line was 100 people deep when we got back to the Theatre, and we did not feel like waiting outside.

Jon bought premier seats for us. We were in the second row and could see the stage perfectly (we joked that we should’ve gotten the Price is Right seats for the John Cusack event and the John Cusack seats for the Price is Right). However, the front seats did mean that I got to see the big wheel when it came out in all of its glory. It did not disappoint with its colors and ding ding ding sounds as it spins; I remember vividly from all the years listening at home.

There was a gentleman sitting in the front row across the aisle from us who had Jon and I in stitches. He crossed his index and middle finger before every name that was called with the hopes that his name would be called. He laughed hysterically at everything, and was having the time of his life. He gave high-fives to all the contestants that “came on down” and yelled out prices to them with the hopes they would win big. He was all into it. I was hoping the host would bring him on stage just because he was so incredibly excited about the entire event but he never got up there.

Alas, my name never got called but it was still quite an experience for Jon and me. I am convinced it will be the one and only experience for us unless we end up out in California on the real show – but Bob Barker and the three models would need to come back, too.

We ended the night as winners, nonetheless. We devoured some White Castle hamburgers and onion chips on our way home.

Dancing and basketball

Maria had her eighth-grade dance on Friday night. We hit the jackpot with the first online dress we bought. She loved it, it looked spectacular on her, and I did not need to go into a shopping mall. Win all around! Being on student council, she had the task of coming up with the theme of the dance and decorating for it. They decided on a Hollywood awards theme and she ended up winning “most likely to become a millionaire” (and take care of her parents). The boy who also won it is the boy she has had a crush on for quite a while. Hilarious. I heard from her friends that some of the girls danced but the boys basically sat against the wall. Nothing has changed from the 1980s.

Jon and I realized that we had tickets to see John Cusack on Friday night. We realized this on Wednesday evening while talking with Jon’s brother and sister-in-law at the house. They stopped by late in the evening as they were heading to Colorado. The conversation turned to Christmas gifts and Jon’s brother asked him what he got. We both looked at each other in concern. Had we forgotten to go to our John Cusack event? I had bought Jon the tickets for his Christmas gift and we had forgotten all about it. Luckily, we had not missed it; however, it was two days away. We found someone for Mario to hang with because he gets scared being at the house by himself.

Maria wanted a bunch of her girlfriends to come back for a sleepover after the dance, which we allowed. What were we thinking? We came back to the looks of a sorority house at 4 AM. The kitchen was trashed with empty chip bags, cake mix and batter all over the counters and floor, and random freezer pop plastic tubes with remaining Popsicle juice everywhere. The girls were pumped up on sugar and laughing hysterically in the basement. Jon and I hit the sack at midnight and could hear them loud and clear for some time. We keep saying that this is just our insurance for when we get older and the kids need to watch over us. They better come to our side after we allowed all this!

Jon was a saint and took all of the girls to the eighth grade boys basketball game in Whitehall at 9:30 AM the next morning. They got to see their opposite sex classmates win the championship, and then Jon took them out to lunch afterwards. He is a sucker. Maria got home and headed right back out the door for a Girl Scout campout from Saturday night until Sunday. She loves these types of weekends – filled with friends.

Mario was charged up that Jon and I had something to do on Friday because he got to spend the night with his buddy. His buddy’s mom took them to Target to and they ended up riding bikes around the store. I guess the teenagers who were managing the area didn’t care. Gotta love them. He also managed to buy a whole pack of Oreos that he chowed down through the night. I took him to his basketball lesson on Saturday morning, and he felt good about his shooting for the tournament game that evening. He wanted to come home and show me all of the moves he learned. After he did that, I told him he had to help me fold laundry. He agreed but on one condition – that we watch the most famous dunks on Netflix while we folded laundry.

Peepaw came in on Saturday evening to watch him in Marysville. He got treated to a blowout with Mario making over 10 points. Grandma Ionno came in on Sunday morning for the 9 AM game and got treated to another blowout with Mario making quite a few points as well. But then the noon game came – and the team could not make shots to save their life. I could see Mario’s frustration from a mile away. The team he was put with for this tournament are good kids but a few of them lack the passion and drive that Mario has for the sport. That, in addition to Mario not getting his shots in, caused him to look very flustered on the court. I kept trying to yell for him to get out of his head but he was tuning us all out. Jon finally took him out in the last minute because he was complaining so much. He has got to learn to be a team player and to not blame others or the refs (even if they may be at fault). He’s gotta recognize his own flaws as well. But, a lecture right after the loss was not going to go anywhere. He had calmed down within 15 minutes and even managed to say “love you” when we left him to watch his buddies play another game.

Time together

Christmas was on a Tuesday this year, which meant I got to torture the kids with my presence for four days straight. It made me feel totally loved when we woke up on Friday morning (the kids first day off), and Maria’s first question to me as I headed downstairs was “don’t you have to work today?” The inflection in her voice made it clear she was not asking, she was hoping. The kiddos know when I’m home there will be some walking involved with the day. And some reading. And maybe even a household task. There will also be game playing and frivolity but they focus on the former activities much more.

Maria got what she wanted – I did head to work – but not before I got a walk in with her beforehand:) She and I and Rocco took a walk to the woods. She shot some good pictures of the bare trees and little white mushrooms growing on dead branches. As much as she complains about the walk, I think she secretly likes to get out. Not for long, for sure, but 15 minutes does her well. And, 15 minutes for me with her or Mario makes my day. It’s grounds me and puts me in an upbeat mood as I head off to make the bacon.

Over the four day’s before Christmas, the kids humored me with my requests for walks to the woods. They even talked with me during our walks. I make it hard not to talk to me by coming up with new games to play or asking questions that I know will interest them (Maria – what’s new with Blake Shelton; Mario – how are the Rockets doing). I think if I had one last wish before I passed on, it would be to take a walk with my kids. I love having them near me and listening to their banter even if it’s about the Kardashians or Fortnite, My spirit is full after time with them.

We also got our fill of boardgames. I crushed the kids at Family Feud. To be fair, they don’t have years of experience like I do of watching the show from the ages of 9 to 14. I innately know what “the survey says.” I amazed my kids with my knowledge of “name six items a man thinks he can fix but usually can’t” (I think I got that answer correct due to being with Jon all these years versus my years of playing). We also got a brand new deck of “beat the parents” cards. Jon and I agreed to go against Ri and Mario, and got on a correct answer streak to win the game. Jon stood up and pointed his fingers at them and yelled “in your face”! (I wonder where they get their competitive nature)?! Of course, I was standing right behind him cheering him on.

We also made cookies and the kids decorated. gingerbread house (we got two but the first crumbled after Ri tried to glue it together rather than use icing). As I sat on the kitchen floor wrapping presents, I looked up at them consumed in decorating their gingerbread house – Ri with her tongue out pasting a Starburst on the house and Mario with lips sealed tight working on a row of Dot candies along the roof. Those moments are a sort of prayer for me. I am consumed with love and comfort.

We played mini-hoop basketball in Mario’s room. Mario loves to play mini hoop when it gets cold outside. We have about three steps to move before we hit the hoop but he doesn’t care. He likes to ram past me and make slamdunks. Maria begged to take him on, and he finally acquiesced. She simply pushed him with one hand until she reached the hoop and then gently placed the ball into it. She finally agreed to try some new moves, which led to a few pounces and bruises, but they ended the match shaking hands.

Christmas arrived on Tuesday and the kids were scattered around their cousins and other family members. There was no morning walk or mad game of Family Feud. But there was those few moments – when Ri came from behind to give me a bear hug, and Mario beamed when he talked about going to the UC Bearcat game with me, and both kids stared with those bold blue eyes into my camera as I flashed a holiday picture – when I felt at complete peace and as though nothing at all could be better.

Hip Hop Nutcracker

As I scrolled through Facebook a couple of months ago, an ad for the Hip-Hop Nutcracker popped up. Since having kids, I have felt a tinge of jealousy towards families who post pictures of themselves all dressed up at the Nutcracker. Every year, I ponder the idea of dressing up and hitting that seasonal favorite. However, I never get around to it. December hits and it is a mad flurry of shopping, last-minute deadlines, parties, you name it. Besides, I did not think Mario or Maria would care for the show too much. It is long and neither of them enjoy watching ballet.

But when the Hip Hop Nutcracker ad came in view, I thought “this may be a possibility.” I have been struggling with things to do with the kids together. Mario loves movies; Maria does not. Maria loves to bake cookies; Mario does not. Neither off them ever want to take a walk with me! They have completely different interests now that they are older. But neither of them have had the chance to experience the Hip Hop Nutcracker so they couldn’t really say no to the invite in good faith. And besides, I did think Mario, at least, would enjoy it. He loves to watch old-school 80s rap videos with me and has quite a few hip-hop moves he has mastered. I wavered about whether Maria would enjoy it, on the other hand, since she was not a hip hop fan. How I gave birth to a child who loves country music is beyond me. After thinking about it some more, I decided that I would invite a few of Maria’s friends and their moms in order for Maria to have some girlfriends attend the show with her. Four other moms immediately responded that they would love to go with me.

We decided to go to Northstar for dinner before the show. I let Mario skip out on dinner with all of the women and girls and go to Subway with Jon instead. The North Star dinner was delicious, and I had a great time talking with fellow moms. Maria and her girlfriends sat at another table. They ordered smoothies and meals, and giggled most of the time. After dinner, they begged to have five dollars each to go across the street to a gourmet candy shop. Meanwhile, another mom and I stashed some giant, warm cookies to eat during the show.

After the girls spent what seemed like hours at the candy shop, we headed down to the Palace Theatre. One of the moms drove us, and somehow was able to get the very first parking spot in the parking garage. I will drive with her all the time with that luck. Mario met us at the front doors and we went up to our seats. But first, of course, I had to get the obligatory pictures.

The show began with the emcee and the DJ on the stage. The MC got the audience pumped up by rapping and playing old-school 80s jams. All of the moms stood up and hollered and danced for the first 20 minutes of the show to the embarrassment of all the teen girls in front of us. Maria and Mario kept looking at me with eyes blazing “sit down mom!” Mario tugged on me a few times but eventually they both gave up on their pleading because they knew I would not stop. As the show began, we settled down in our seats. I sat next to Mario and loved every second of it. The athleticism of the dancers was amazing. They also did a few dance moves that Mario does currently so that made us smile. Of course, when one of the dancers came out and spun on top of his head for a full 20 seconds, Mario looked at me and quipped “I could easily do that” (I did make him try it when we got home and although he could stand on his head, that was about the end of it.).

During intermission, I asked the girls how they liked it. They all smiled and said that it was good. I don’t know if they just knew that I am the one that got the event together so they did not want to disappoint me or whether they really liked it. Meanwhile, my daughter gave me the straight up truth. She did not really like the music but the show was “OK.” Mario told me that he was enjoying it. I don’t know if he truly liked it or whether he knew how excited I was about it so he did not want to burst my bubble. That kid loves to see me happy. During most of the show, he held my hand and waved it around when the emcee told us to dance. He’s my bud, for sure.

At the end, the emcee came out and let us engage in one more jam session before the end of the night. It was a blast. I think Maria and Mario may have been bored at times during the show but I think in the end when they were laying in their beds getting ready to sleep, they would say that it was a good time.

Ri does basketball

Maria decided to go out for basketball. Her eighth grade team needed a couple more players so she volunteered to join. She has become good friends with a girl on the team, Maggie, who I think acted as a big influence in her decision.

Maria loves to hang with a large group of girls. She seems to have most fun around a group of gals versus one on one. She likes a big party! I think this is a big reason why she loves to play sports. It is not necessarily the love of the game but rather, a love of friendships and camaraderie. She roots her teammates on fiercely. My personality is so different than hers; I am the one who wants to be on the field and be the star. People should root me on. I am not looking to cheer on other’s accomplishments without having some of my own. But not this girl of mine. She is happy to play a bit and then sit on the bench and cheer on her friends. And damn she does that well. She claps and cheers when a friend makes a play. She gives hugs and high fives when her friends come out of the game. She’s a mama hen. If someone gets hurt, she is the first one to get ice and help out. If someone is sad about how they played, she wraps them in a hug and makes them laugh.

I am amazed at her because it is so foreign to me. I think it’s a wonderful trait to have – this lack of concern about being a star and this joy in just being a part of the team. It’s this plain and simple – she’s a happy, happy kid. She enjoys life. She feels comfortable around all sorts of people. She enjoys conversations with others.

If you would have told me a year ago that Ri would be playing basketball and hanging out with the handful of gals that she is hanging with, I would have been skeptical. She’s really blossomed this year; it’s been a strong year for her. She is planting her roots and coming into her own, and man, it is exciting to watch.