Dis expectations and embrace appreciation

I listened to just the right podcast this weekend. I was sitting at the skate park watching Mario and his friend do tricks on their scooters. Meanwhile, there were some serious skate dudes performing incredible flips and tricks. Mario and his friend looked precious as they scootered down a small ramp and looked over at me excited about their feat.

After watching them scores of times, my mind started to drift to Thanksgiving day. We are hosting Jon‘s family this year, which takes the burden off a bit because there are not as many people for dinner. In addition, they tend to be a rather quiet crew so I do not need to worry about anything getting broken, fights ensuing, or hurt feelings at the end of the night. But I do want to have a lively, entertaining day with them; so, I started thinking of ways that we could create such an atmosphere. 

I heard about an app that allows you to record people‘s stories, and thought that we could use it to record stories of Jon’s mom and his brothers. Maria could craft five questions for each of them and post them during Thanksgiving meal. I then played my sweet husband’s reaction when I told him that that was our plan.

“Mar, you have got to be kidding. People Just want to eat dinner and relax with one another. You don’t always have to have activities happening all the time.”

So my mind moved on to something that was not so intrusive. Maybe we would have paper and pencil laid out so people could write gratitude notes to one another. We did something similar with my side of the family a few years back, and it was a lot of fun. At least for me. On further thought, I realized that only one of Jon’s family members – his mom – would really enjoy writing such notes. Scratch that idea, also.

I tend to do this to myself. Exaggerate how awesome the day is going to be and all of the things that I hope to get out of it – be it gratitude notes, interviews with family where they detail a magnificent hidden secret that we would have never known about but for the interview, incessant laughter while playing an awesome board game. Then the day comes and goes, and I am disappointed. I am disappointed because people didn’t laugh as much as I thought they would, I didn’t get to interview anybody, no one expressed gratitude to one another…..

The perfectionist mind comes into play again. But not this year, baby. 

I have set no expectations. 

None. 

Rather, I have focused on appreciation. I learned that from one of Oprah’s SuperSoul Podcasts. Yes, I never thought that I would be an Oprah podcast listener but she has some good ones on there. And you can’t help but love how she finds such joy in wanting to better understand humanity, meaning, and spirituality on a deeper level. Her guest talked about how a death knell is having expectations of anything. He said that expectations will automatically destroy you. Rather, he recommends fostering appreciation; appreciation takes it off you and puts it on others. You change your mindset from wanting to giving. I no longer want things to happen the way I expect; rather, I give appreciation to those around me and for all that I have in my life. 

And guess what? It worked! I even caught myself at the dinner table starting down that path of expectations. I hoped someone would bring up a topic that would burst into a magnificent conversation. As soon as my mind started going down that path, I took a deep breath and shoved in a pile of potatoes. I looked around the table at my hubby, who had drank a few wines and was making me laugh all day long; my kids, who were on their phones making videos of one another; and my family, who are all very different from one another but who love each other and feel comfortable enough together to simply sit at the dining room table and eat.


Learning Division and Patience

I taught Mario long division. I felt like a superhero at the end of the evening. 

In the beginning, there was an in ordinate amount of stomping and crying and yelling and affirming “I am man-trash at division!” (Yes, that is Mario’s new phrase for everything bad). I remained calm, taking deep breaths as he slammed the table with his pencil, and rose up to bang his head against the wall. I allowed him to let off steam and then gently brought him back to the table to try another problem. He would get the first number but then have trouble with what to do next. He would stare at the problem, dig the lead of the pencil into the paper, and then begin his tirade routine all over. I, in turn, was able to continue my routine of taking breaths, letting him vent, and then re-setting him. I explained to him that skills do not always come immediately – there are certain skills that need continued work to master. This is sometimes lost on him and Ri. Although he stared at me in disgust, my communication was having an affect because he continued to work on the division problems with me. Thirty minutes after we began this work, I gave him 5÷125. He asked me to not give him any hints. I stood up from the table and moved to the stove to stir the chicken in the skillet.

“ Mom, I finished. Can you come and check it?”

I gave a silent prayer up to the heavens that he got it correct. I walked over to the table and looked down at his solution. I saw two at the top of the division problem. I saw where he subtracted 10 giving him another 2. I saw that he dropped down the five and put another five by the 2 on top and then subtracted the 25 to get a remainder of zero. In other words, he had done it! All by himself with no help from me. 

I beamed like he had received the Nobel Peace Prize. But that is just how it is as a mom. You feel that exuberant no matter if the accomplishment is folding their own laundry, acing a math problem, or winning a renowned prize. I patted him on the back and gave him a new problem. He got that one right, also. He looked up at me and asked if he could be done with math for the week. I told him that I would give him one more problem and then he could be done. I gave him 4÷164 and he got it correct. Alleluia! 


As I watched him complete the last problem, I made a conscious effort to soak in the moment with him. I am not exaggerating when I say that it felt like angels flew down from the heavens when he got that final answer correct. You could see how excited he was when he looked at me and I told him he had gotten it right. There is not a better feeling than seeing your kid work hard, and get to where he needs to get. 

A few years ago, I would have been too wrapped up in work, getting the house clean, feeding the kids, etc. to be able to calm myself enough to sit down for thirty minutes and persevere through tantrums to solve math problems. But I have gotten older, read more, contemplated more, and reconstituted my priorities. And, in return, received this gift.

Halloween 2017

It was a tough Halloween for me this year. After all, Halloween is all about me, right, not those pesky kids…?! This was the first year I did not walk with my kiddos at any point in time during their trick-or-treating adventure. I actually had to steal a child to walk with in order to recover from the trauma of not having my own near me (thanks Betsy, for allowing me to walk around with Makenzie – you are a lifesaver).

Mario debated whether he was even going to go out this year. He debated all the way up until the weekend before Halloween when he decided that he would just go as a referee. He had received a sweet Italian soccer shirt that had black and white stripes like a referre’s shirt earlier in the week from his aunt and uncle. Even then, he was still a bit on the fence on who he would walk with and if he really wanted to go out at all (whose kid is he?!) 

Maria knew all along that she would be heading out. She is a girl after my heart with her love for gathering as much candy as possible over a two hour period on a cold October night. My enthusiasm for this holiday has totally infiltrated my girl. She and her friend determined that they would be M&Ms weeks before Halloween, and they both got on Amazon to find matching outfits. Of course, Maria and I procrastinated and did not purchase the attire off of Amazon until  days before Halloween, which led to extravagant shipping costs on my end. Better planning next year…. 

Back to Mario … who decided the night before Halloween that he had to have a different costume. That day at school he had decided that he would walk with a group of his friends who all had “cool costumes” compared to him. So, I got to miss out on Maria’s end-of-the-year soccer party in order to take Mario to Halloween Express. It seemed that quite a few other families were in our same boat. I picked out a NASCAR driver outfit and a 70s disco outfit and Maria was appalled. Luckily, my niece showed up soon after us. She has a son who Mario looks up to – Isaiah – who is a couple of years older than Mario. He’s a super cool kid. So when Isaiah  picked a nerd costume, Mario decided he’d go for the same. 

Mario begged Jon and I to go to his Halloween party on Tuesday afternoon. He still wants us to attend those school parties with him but he doesn’t want us near him at other events. The mind of a ten year old…. We both left work to go see him in his parade and to be there for his after-party. However, all we got was a brief wave when we spotted him in the crowd.  He was off with his friends the rest of the time. It’s as though we are his long-time stuffed animal – he just needs to know we are there to be comforted. Even though we were being ignored, we hung in there through the party we knew that this would likely be the last of them. Maria‘s grade doesn’t do parties anymore. 


Both kids got invited to friends’ houses to have dinner before Halloween and then go out with a huge crew of folks.  Maria got dressed at the house and then met her M&M partner over at her friend’s house. She allowed me to straighten her hair and put it in ponytails, which made me very happy. I think she has allowed me to do her hair about five times through her entire life. Mario got dressed on his own and Jon and I cracked up when he came downstairs. He looked absolutely ridiculous, and he embraced it. I gave them each a pillow sack to use to hold all their candy, and told them they better not come home until it was filled to the top. My usual instructions year in and year out. They rarely disappoint. 


I took Ri to her friend’s house and Jon took Mario to his friend’s house. The girls were still giddy as if they were in kindergarten. Except this year you could tell they were more concerned about how they looked, and what outfits they chose, then in actually getting candy. 

Mario and his friends were simply interested in wrestling and jumping on the trampoline. But when the time came to head out for candy, they all took off like cockroaches subjected to light. I tried to keep up with Mario and his crew but after three houses he turned around and gritted his teeth: “Mom, stop! Please leave us alone – we want to do this ourselves!” 


Mario and his buddies lasted until 7:15. I was not at the house when he returned or I would have forced him back outside until 8:00. He’s lucky…. Ri called me at around the same time Mario stopped trick-or-treating. She asked if Jon or I could pick her up. I was still out with my girlfriend’s daughter so I told her Jon would pick her up but she needed to walk with me and Mackenzie for a block to get the last bit of candy. She sighed but obliged because she loves me. 


We walked back to the house Mario and Jon were at, ate a few chips, and headed home. The kids laid out their candy on the dining room table as they have in years’ past and examined all they got. Mario couldn’t get too excited because he was ready to barf from eating 20+ pieces while out with his friends. You can see the nausea on his face!


All in all, another fine year of candy gathering but I really hope they let me walk with them next year. Wishful thinking, I know. 

I guess I will need to nab another 6 year old to walk with again.

DC

The kids get a fall break every year, usually the third week of October. They only get Thursday and Friday off during the week but a lot of families take off a couple of days before, and use the week as a fall vacation. We have never done that. This year, I had extra vacation accrued that I would lose if I did not take by October 31. Therefore, I decided it was high time that we take a Fall trip. That was the easy part. Now where to go?

I immediately thought of Hocking Hills because it wa supposed to be warm and I love to hike. But then I thought about my lovely children and his hiking doesn’t tank as a vacation to them….  I asked my girlfriend (who tends to agree that hiking is not vacation) where she would go and she mentioned Chicago. I took a walk with Maria that evening and asked her what she thought about heading to Chi-Town. She freaked out. “Seriously mom, we could go to Chicago!?” Her enthusiasm sealed the deal for me. We arrived home and asked Jon to check on hotels. We mentioned the trip to Mario, and he was just as excited. And as life goes, we were quickly disappointed. The Chicago cubs were playing in the playoffs during the week we were going to go. The hotel prices were outrageous. 

Never ones to wallow in our tears, Ri and I thought of a back-up city. Washington DC. I had been wanting to take the kids to DC for a year or so because it is fairly close and they are at the age now where they’ve learned about politics, seen pictures of monuments in DC, read about the Declaration of Independence, and so on. 

Jon was able to find a hotel near the White House, and we were able to get flights for cheap. It was a done deal. We left on Tuesday night and returned on Friday night. Half of the fun for the kids is pulling their suitcases around the airport and flying on a plane. Our flight to DC was not even half full. The kids each got a row to themselves, which they loved. 


We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which the kids loved almost as much as flying. They had not been in a taxi before. Mario wanted me to tip the driver $100. He is very generous with my money.  Another small thing that thrills the kids is arriving at the hotel and getting the keys to the room. They inevitably engage in a power struggle over who gets the key to open the room. The compromise of late is that someone gets to use it to go up the elevator and another gets to use it on the room.  They fell in love with the room as soon as we walked into it. They opened up the curtains and gawked at the bustling outdoors. They loved that each of them had separate beds; they immediately relegated me to the sleeper sofa. I think not….

After reviewing the room, we traveled downstairs to the fitness room and pool. The kids loved the fact that they could lift weights and get on the treadmill with me. I was getting excited that we would have morning workouts but that never really came to fruition. They simply appreciated the fact that they could jump on the treadmill for a minute and then get off. We hit the hot tub and the pool that evening. There was a ceramic divider between the hot tub and the pool so we use that to be our imaginary net for pool volleyball. I predicted that game would end in a few tiffs, and I was right. But in hindsight, it was good fun.  The kids also had epic battles with some random foam noodles. Maria slammed Mario many more times then he got her and I swore that he would have welts all over his back. When I cringed and told them to stop, they swore that they were having fun doing it.


We are at District Taco Tuesday evening. It was only a few blocks from the hotel. Chips and guac hit the spot. After that dinner, we needed a walk so we headed over to the White House. The kids thought it looked tiny compared to how they pictured it. We all had a few words with the occupants of the White House before we departed…

 

On Wednesday morning, the kids woke up and asked to hit the gym. Woo-hoo!  They actually walked/ran on the treadmill for about 10 minutes, which was longer than I thought they’d last. Ri even lifted a few weights while Mario pedaled the stationary bike. It wasn’t long before they were asking to leave; I was excited we got 20 minutes in. We made a Starbucks run and then shot down to the Museum of African-American history. Unfortunately, you needed passes to get into the museum, which I may have known about if I would have read up beforehand. Whatever, better to wing it. We decided to go to the Museum of American History instead. We stayed there for an hour or so. The kids weren’t too interested. Mario thought an old car was cool and Maria liked looking at Ella Fitzgerald’s dress. We found a room for kids where they could experiment and create things. Mario found a way to get fruit from the top of a platform down into a basket, and Maria made a corn hole set to add to a play farm. 


We walked from the museum to the Capitol building for our 12:20 tour. I knew it was a bit of a walk but I was determined to get a good walk in on such a nice day. The kids didn’t complain too much…. Mario, consistently throughout the trip, begged for a taxi – no matter if our destination was one block away or 10 blocks away. Maria was good about walking – she knows how to please her mother.


We made it for our capital tour on time (I was mad that I had to discard all of the snacks in my book bag – I tried to hide them behind a pole much to the kids’ chagrin – Maria eventually grabbed the bag of goodies and forced me to throw it in the garbage can. Mario complained that he was hungry before the tour so he got a bit pissy in the beginning. But then he came around and he and Maria asked a ton of questions of the tour guide. 


After the tour, the guide mentioned that we could go across the street to our senator’s or house of representative’s office and ask them for passes to sit in the spectator seats in the Senate and House. Maria wanted to do it so badly (which I would have never guessed) but Mario was begging to just go to lunch. I told Mario that we would simply try to get into the Senate by asking the person if we could get in without tickets. We walked over and asked. We had no luck – she directed us to go across the street. This led to a breakdown by both kids – Mario pleading to leave and Ri pleading to go across the street.  I was trying to manage the bickering as we walked down the hall when all of a sudden a man dressed in a suit and holding a legal file stopped us. 

“I would like to help you get into the Senate. I have tickets that you can have so that you don’t have to go across the street.” 

We looked at one another in disbelief. Was he serious? He pulled out three green Senate passes and told us to walk around the building with him so the lady manning the Senate would not know that he gave them to us. We walked around the building with him and he pointed out different things to us. He then had us drop our phones and bookbag off prior to heading up to the Senate. He walked us to the elevator and asked if we wanted to meet up with him after lunch to see the House in session. The kids frantically nodded yes but I was still a bit skeptical…. Mario nudged me after he left and commented that he was trying to pick me up. Ri looked at him in disgrace. How could anyone want to pick up her mom?! We saw three senators speak in the Senate session: a senator from West Virginia who talked about economic needs, a senator from Wyoming, and a senator from North Carolina. They were basically talking to the air since nobody else was in the room but hey, we got to see a few reps in action. We left there and traveled to the cafeteria for lunch. It totally reminded me of the times I would visit my mom at Deaconess Hospital. The plastic trays, the cafeteria hamburger and fries, the soda fountain, the individual plates of cakes. We had a bit of fun right before dessert. The lights went off in the cafeteria and security was scrambling around talking into their headsets. Maria was truly frightened; Mario was ready to tag along with security and track things down. I frankly was a bit nervous, and thought maybe we should leave and not meet back up with our new friend. We debated, watched everybody walking around, and finally asked a front desk person if she thought everything was safe. She said that we were probably most safe inside the capital. So, we decided to stay, and for the next two hours we got to see parts of the Capitol where only the Senators and House of Representatives and their staff can go. We got to go on the floor of the House of Representatives. The kids got to walk down the aisle that the president walks down when he meets with members of the house. We even got a history lesson and learned about a shooting in the House of Representatives back in the 1950s. They were intrigued with the bullet hole in the wooden table in the middle of the room. The kids were good about asking questions and seemed genuinely interested in everything our friend said (we later learned that “our friend” was known for being generous to families who were visiting the Capitol, although Mario still thought he liked me:). We didn’t leave the Capitol building until 5 PM. 

We walked down to the Metro and took it directly to Georgetown where we met Aunt Ann for dinner. We got there a bit early so we decided to look at a card shop and get a few cupcakes from Sprinkles. Maria was on cloud nine because she had seen Sprinkles on one of her cupcake shows. The cupcakes did not disappoint. Anne treated us to an Italian dinner at Flavio. The kids talked up a storm with her – she kept turning her head from Maria back to Mario back to Maria back to Mario. I don’t think she’s used to the constant jabber of kids. But she did great keeping up and they loved having her attention. By the time we all ate our carb loaded meals, we were exhausted. The day has hit us hard. We gave Aunt Ann a big hug goodbye and I succumbed to the kids’ pressure to get a taxi to the Metro. How sad is that? We arrived back in the hotel and Maria was asleep within 10 minutes. I laid in bed with Mario watching some goofy show until he finally fell asleep. 


We woke Thursday to Maria searching her phone for a breakfast place for us. One of her favorite things about trips is eating out at new places.  Mario and I could’ve grabbed a Starbucks every morning but she likes to relax, have a good meal, talk, and then start the day. She chose a French café – I think it was because it was only a block away. They had different types of breakfast – nothing traditional – so Mario was completely appalled by it. Luckily, they did have chocolate chip muffins so he lessened his irritation a bit. Maria got an apple turnover and we were set. We sat at a high table near the entrance and reviewed what we had done the day before. 


We left for the monuments after breakfast. We saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the MLK Memorial. The kids were amazed at the Lincoln Memorial, and stood in awe with me at the MLK Memorial. We read all the quotes at MLK. 

We met our friend again at the Capitol and he gave us a tour of the legislators’ private subway system. He also led us through the hall the president walks down on his way out to the inauguration ceremony (and showed us pictures from this past inauguration). After the Capitol, we decided to hit the Newseum. I had heard that it was a cool museum, and the kids had heard there was an exhibit where you could be a news anchor. When we first got there, we were a bit disappointed. It was interesting to me because of my First Amendment work but the kids were rather bored with the incessant writing on the wall without much interaction. But then we found the area where kids could act like newscasters and watch themselves. They loved it. We ended up spending nearly two hours just doing that. Maria was precise and poised; Mario was hyped and comedic in his presentation. The area also had a virtual reality station where you had to escape the Berlin wall. The minimum age was 13 but we figured we would fib and get Mario in. The boy that’s Mr. Cool all the time lost his cool when he went up to the girl and she told him he had to be 13 to do it. He just ran away instead of saying he was 13. So he was all pissed off that he couldn’t do the virtual reality game. Of course, Maria gets upset that they won’t let him so she boycotts it herself. But after another few times as a newscaster, she got bored and went back over because there was no line to do the game. I scammed with Mario that I would walk in the line with him and tell the lady that he was going to be 13 at the end of the month. She caved and let him play. Am I the best mom or what!? They both loved it, and did it two times in a row. 


Even though there were six floors of information, the virtual reality and newscaster spots are the only ones that we reviewed. Lovely. By the time we left the Newseum, it was 5 PM. We slowly made it back to the hotel and rested for a few minutes. On our way back, Maria asked if she could hold Mario’s stuffed animal koala when they got back to the hotel. Mario said no way, and Maria was upset. I told her that we would go to a store near the hotel and see if we could find her a stuffed animal. Mario agreed to go because he wanted to see if they had any cool phone cases. We had some excitement on the walk there in the dark. Mario tried to leap over a garbage can and something came running out of it. We assumed it was a rat or a mouse – it led to 15 minutes of us trying to see if we could find it. Good times. We found Ri a stuffed animal puppy that you could also microwave to heat up. Gotta love what they come up with anymore. Maria was happy. Mario also found a phone case, which made him happy. And I was happy because they were happy, and it was a beautiful night to walk around DC with my two babes. They really wanted room service at the hotel so we ordered that and watched Hidden Figures on HBO. 


On Friday, I tried to get the kids to go down and work out with me. Maria refused and was adamant that we needed to have a big breakfast at a restaurant before we left DC. We found a breakfast place called Founding Farmers, and it did not disappoint. There was a 30 minute wait which caused some hesitation in staying (we are not a patient bunch), but it was well worth the wait when we got the food. Maria got vanilla cream French toast, Mario got chocolate chip pancakes, and I got eggs and bacon. Each dish was amazing. Even Mario liked it, which says a lot. 


After breakfast, we walked to Madame Tussaud‘s. They had been wanting to go there since we arrived in DC. I was hesitant – it cost a boat load  of money and it was … Madame Tussaud‘s. What happened to us going to culturally relevant museums? In my dreams, the kids would spend hours asking questions as they looked at exhibits and gained knowledge about our history. In reality, they wanted to stand next to Taylor Swift and the Rock. But, it actually ended up being a lot of fun because the kids absolutely adored it. There was a special room that had the White House desk and the press podium – that was a trip. They also had a room where are you could make wax hands. The kids were intrigued with the process – Maria got right in and wanted to do it but Mario was more hesitant. You had to put your hand in ice cold water for 30 seconds then dip it into burning water then back into cold and back into burning water several times in order for the wax to form. Mario kept looking at Maria‘s face as she did it and kept wondering whether it was a good idea. But in the end when he saw how cool Maria‘s hand looked he decided to try it himself. His face was hilarious as he held his hand in the water. 


After Madame Tussaud‘s, we had about two hours before we needed to head to the airport. The kids were ready to just head back to the hotel and sit around but I refused. We were going to get in one last museum if it killed us. I made them walk down to the National Archives so that we could see the Declaration of Independence. When we arrived, the line was all the way around the street. The kids laughed at me, but little did they know I would make them walk farther. I got out our map and decided that we would go to the Natural History Museum instead. The line was not too bad there – we waited for about 10 minutes and got in. We were able to see the Hope Diamond, which the kids wanted to see because Jon has talked about it before. We also saw the skeleton remains  of a number of animals, including the gecko (now we know what Buddy’s skeleton looks like). Mario got mad about something before we left the museum – I think Maria made fun of him – so he took off and Maria took off after him. I lost track of them, and they ended up waiting for me outside of the museum doors. However, I was looking all over for them inside before I went out to find them. This resulted in me ripping them a new one, and Mario walking ahead of us down the street. I was in the midst of trying to get us all to make up and have a good rest of the afternoon when Mario accidentally knocked over one of the ropes lining a museum. I heard someone from behind me scream harshly “pick that up!” I saw Mario walk back and begin to pick up what he had knocked over. I turned around and told the man who yelled at Mario that he could have asked more politely. He responded back with anger. This resulted in us going back-and-forth together before we each went our merry way. I was astounded at the exchange. What a way to end our time in DC! Maria told us that she was getting ready to flip him off if he kept yelling at me. Mario talked about how dad would have really given him a piece of his mind if he was there. Ahh, a family that vents together, stays together….

We got back to the hotel into our last DC taxi at 4:30 for our 7:30 flight. We had been told that we better take off that early because of DC traffic. Don’t you know that we got to the airport at 4:50 so we had 2 1/2 hours to kill! Ugh. We spent them sitting on a bench outside of customs and engaging in writing contests. Ri gave us a prompt and we had 10 minutes to write whatever we wanted. My kids are quite talented writers. I could not believe what they came up with. They made fun of all of my stories, of course. We also engaged in drawing contests, which always makes them laugh. I readily admit I have no skills in this area.

With 45 minutes left before boarding, Maria got herself a huge slice of pizza and Mario got himself a book. He wanted to buy a scary one but I told him I was sick of walking him to his room in the broad daylight so he needed a non-scary one.  Then we had a freak attack over the loss of Maria’s phone. She came running up to Mario and I as we searched for a book and said that she lost her phone. Mario and I walked back to where we had been drawing and didn’t see it there. Maria frantically searched her bag and couldn’t find it. I was so irritated; I went up to a security guard and asked if anybody had found it. Nope. He took me to another security guard and in the meantime, I received a call from Maria‘s phone. Maria was laughing and told me that she had accidentally put it down near the books when she was helping Mario try to find one. My goodness – how do parents survive all of this drama?! Our flight home was uneventful, thank god. Maria wrote some more and Mario stared out the window. 


Jon was waiting for us when we got off the plane – ready to take us home. We spent an hour laying in bed – the four of us – listening to the kids recall stories from the trip. 

Mario’s b-ball tourney

Mario can be intense. I think he got both my competitive nature and Jon’s desire to win, which creates a firestorm of emotion when he does not do as well he likes. 

He had tournaments all weekend for basketball. When we worked at the tournament, he was outside shooting hoops. At times, he was swishing them. At other times, he couldn’t shoot a basket to save his life. Unfortunately, the latter occurred right before we were leaving for his next tournament game. We got in the car upset as could be – slamming the car door as he plopped in his seat. Jon and I were frustrated at his attitude, and then proceeded to get irritated with one another about something stupid. We all sat in the car on the way to the tournament in cold stone silence. About 15 minutes into the trip, Mario whispered “A my name is Alan, my wife’s name is Addie…” 

Whenever it’s quiet in the car or I want the kids to stop looking at their tablets, I tell them we are going to play the alphabet game. They usually roll their eyes but go along with me. I wanted to keep the frown on my face when Mario spoke up with “A my name is” but I couldn’t. I immediately smiled, and was touched that he would break free from his anger and engage with us. It was quite impressive that the nine-year old could speak up but the 45 year-olds could not….

We arrived at the tournament in good spirits. He had a possibility of three games – all one and out. We thought it was a long shot that his team would advance since they didn’t have the best record but low and behold, they won the first game! Ri recorded it for the coach while rooting on her brother. Mario had to attend her tournament games so Maria was forced to attend his.


The boys got icees after their game. They waited around for another hour before their next game, wrestling around and being insane nine-year-old boys. We all questioned again whether we’d get through the second game or not. But these boys believed in themselves, and sure enough they won. Mario played another great game getting a couple of shots and playing magnificent defense. I think my talk earlier in the morning helped. I talked with him about trying to get his head out of the game. This seems like an oxymoron but I’ve been reading a book called “The inner game of tennis.” Jackson recommended it to me and said that it helped him a lot with his music. I immediately thought of Mario when I began to read it. He gets very upset with himself when he makes a poor shot or let’s an opponent get a shot on him and then he continues to do poorly because he is so upset. The book tries to help you understand that you need to simply play the game – get your head out of the judgment of whether you are playing good or bad – and just play. It also talks about letting go of the words “good” and “bad” and just letting the experience be what it is while moving onto the next one.  

We had a two hour wait between the second game and the championship game. Of course, they played on a day that it was 60° outside and sunny. I get a mom-of-the-year award for sticking around in that dark, dank gymnasium to watch my son play instead of being outside….

And they almost pulled out the championship game. They lost by four measly points. But they were really good sports about it, even cheering for the other team when they won their awards. It helped that they also got recognized for being a runner-up in the championship game; they all got medals. I was so proud of Mario for trying so hard in each game. 


And after sitting in a gymnasium all day long, we got to sit around a restaurant for the next two hours trying to calm down nine insane boys as they got balloon animals and grilled cheeses. Ahhh, what we endure as parents.


I engaged in the annual hmmming and hawing over what to get the kids this year. I torture myself by overthinking what they may want, what they do want, what they should get in order not to spoil them, what they should get to spoil them….

I long for the days they were babies and toddlers. It was so simple! I could get ten $1 toys, wrap them, and we’d be set Christmas morning. This year was especially strange because they really didn’t “want” for anything.  Realistically, they should never “want” for anything since they have all of life’s necessities at their disposal and much more; but alas, they are kids bombarded by advertisements friends with cool gadgets.  Maria had been begging for an iPhone 7 for her birthday but she cooled her heels about one for Christmas.  I think I assisted her in this change of heart by talking about how I believed experiences were more special than “things.”  I asked her what she remembered more – her new iphone she received two holidays ago or her trip to Oaxaca.  Oaxaca without a doubt.  

Mario was even perplexed about what he wanted – at first it was an Apple computer, then any type of computer, then a pug puppy, then any type of puppy.  At one point, Maria talked with him about the experiences bit and almost had him convinced to just wish for them and not ask for any “things.” But Mario couldn’t quite get there at age 9; he still wanted to open gifts on Christmas.

And there lies the dilemma  – as a parent, do you put your foot down and re-purpose Christmas to the holiday it should be: a holiday about giving to others and appreciating family, and sacrifices made, and peace, and love, and goodwill?  Or do you give “things” that the kids can madly unwrap on Christmas morning? Tradition gets the best of me and I inevitably err on the side of “things”.  However, this year I did not go as overboard as years’ past and tried to mix the things with some experiences.  Oaxaca will be a destination for us in 2017 as well as DC.  I also want to take some good camping trips.

We asked Santa to stick with a room décor theme for Ri this year.  She got a new desk and hutch, dresser and nightstand as well as some pictures and framed quotes.  Mario got a new Dell computer in order to vlog and listen to his jams.  He also got some Cowboys attire since that is his new favorite team thanks to Ezekiel Elliott).  I ended up getting him a dresser, too, since I found one for cheap on line, and he has never had one before. Yeah, not kidding.  He has just used the three tiny drawers in his steps going up to his bed. Of course, I ordered all the kids’ furniture on line so Jon and I get to assemble it ourselves.  We worked on the dresser the day after Christmas and 3 hours later, we were still slaving over it.  I was ready to ship the assembly off to a contractor but was not ready to pay $150 so we kept working. We finally finished 2 hours later, and now we can walk in Mario’s room and admire our work….

Maria’s desk and hutch was a bit easier to assemble, thank god.  I actually assembled the hutch all by myself; I screwed all the parts in backwards and had to dis-assemble it all and start over, but I finally got it.  It does feel good to know that you built something from scratch (especially when you are typically inept at such creations).  And I now know what a cam screw is!


We enjoyed Susie’s house for Christmas Eve.  Patty drove down with us this year and we first stopped at my mom’s to exchange gifts.  Patty got to admire her new home, and my mom got to ask Patty about her potential new home in Marietta.  My mom enjoys the company.  The kids loved on Lou and took a few trips down the stairs in their comforters before begging to open presents.  They got spoiled beyond belief: Mario got a desk chair and Ri got new boots.  Rocco got a new hedgehog playmate (which he did not destroy within the first ten minutes of playing with it – miracle).


The kids loved playing with Cy and Robert at Susie’s house.  They ran around and around with them playing with nerf guns and wrestling.  The fun had to cease when Cy turned to run away from Mario and rammed his head on the dip in the ceiling.  He got a nice gash.  Jane and Olivia rushed him to Urgent Care and a few staples later he was good as new.  It’s not a Heile party until someone starts bleeding.  The kids also love participating in the White Elephant game.  Mario got a puzzle and was less than impressed.  He had his eyes on a bag that had a Polo watch and a pair of “USA” socks in it because he thought they would be the perfect gifts for his dad.  He was finally able to steal the bag after Aunt Julie helped him out and took his puzzle. Ri scored a Starbucks card.


Ri and Mario loved holding baby Harper. Mario thoroughly enjoyed it for about three minutes and then was ready to move on. Ri would have held her all night.


We all sang Christmas carols with Aunt Susie towards the end of the night – one of the highlights of the evening.  Susie plays the piano while we try our best to keep a tune.


Mario was the first to get up on Christmas morning at 7 am.  We made him wait until 7:30 to wake Maria up.  We laid in bed trying to prepare for the day ahead. At 7:29, Mario woke up Ri and they both walked into our room commanding us to awaken and head downstairs.  Patty had been up since 6 am, and was showered and ready to head out to church.  Ri distributed the gifts to everyone, and the opening began. Big smiles planted on their faces.  It took about 45 minutes to get through gifts this year, which was pleasantly longer than last year.  I swear we were done opening presents in 10 minutes last year.

The kids were more mature this year in both the approach to opening presents and in the actual opening of the presents.  In years’ past, they would have been up at 6 am and jumping on our bed incessantly until we arose and trekked down the steps with them.  They would have been shaking each present and thinking heavily about which one to open first.    They would have torn through them in seconds unable to soak in appreciation for each gift one at a time.  But this year, they wokr at a reasonable hour. They waited patiently as we got on our sweatshirts and brushed our teeth.  

They still showed enthusiasm, when passing out the gifts under the tree but it was a more measured, calm enthusiasm.  They carefully tore the wrapping paper off their gifts and took their time scanning each present.  And they showed appreciation for each gift (even if it wasn’t something they particularly wanted (i.e., hats and gloves).


So here we are, setting up a computer and a desk  rather than a train set or a Barbie house.  The day was bound to arrive at our doorstep.  But I am going to work hard to celebrate it rather than bemoan it.  True, my babies are growing up and no longer require constant attention, and I miss that greatly. But my babies are growing up and no longer require constant attention, and I must appreciate that as well. 

I just wish we could go back to ten $1 gifts….

A Steampunk Christmas Carol 

I am still flabbergasted that the kids both performed in a play last week. How did these kids that came from two raging athletes ever acquire acting skills?! 

I still remember the first night we went to audition. Maria had called it quits as soon as she saw an eight-year-old boy bellow out five different tunes perfectly. Mario was right behind her. But then Mario’s friend showed up and sang a quaint little tune – happy birthday – and Mario felt like he could at least crank that song out. He followed his friend and sang “jingle bells”; his bravery allowed for Maria to feel comfortable enough to  stand up and sing “row row row your boat.” 

And with that, we were thrown into the world of acting. A completely foreign world to Jon and me. But the kids looked as if they had performed in plays 10 times over. They went to practice and picked up their lines. They made friends with the other actors. They ingratiated themselves with the director.  
I was surprised that they got roles with speaking parts since this was their first play. They only had about three speaking parts each but hey, that’s something for their first gig. And they were in a good deal of scenes. I loved watching them perform at the community center; I never felt comfortable performing in front of people so it amazed me to watch them perform so effortlessly. 

The last week of practice was intense. They had practice Monday through Thursday from 5:30-9:30, but they didn’t complain a bit. Ri especially enjoyed it. She loved the entire process involved in putting on a show – from setting the stage to putting on make-up to ensuring props were situated correctly, to performing. Mario, on the other hand, seemed to love only one piece – being on stage and getting the crowd to laugh. He hammed it up as much as he could enjoying the smiles and laughter from the crowd. 

I went to the final practice before the dress rehearsal on Thursday night and remember sitting with another parent and thinking “how will this play come together?” The parent next to me had done theatre in her past and reassured me it would come together just fine. And so it did. It came together wonderfully. 
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Meg and dad and Patty and Patrick’s family came on opening night. We bought roses for both kids.  They performed like pros and were so excited after it ended. They couldn’t come down off their acting high!


Saturday night’s performance was the best because the audience was so into it. They laughed and clapped and made it lively. I heard there were former actors with the Theatre Company who were in attendance and got the audience going. Whoever they were, I thank them because it really did liven up the entire show. Mario loved the attention…

My mom and Sarah came to the Sunday matinee. Ri was excited to see Elena but she was also so tired. Both of the kids were exhausted from 6 long nights working on the play. The feel of the last show was one of gratitude and relief that they had made it through to the end. It was much more low-key than Saturday. But they both again did a marvelous job reciting their lines with more power and conviction each day. However, Ri tripped on her costume during the matinee and ended up with a black eye because the ghost mask rammed into her. Poor thing. Nevertheless, in true Maria fashion, she just kept on going despite the obvious pain. 


After the play, we got the pleasure of cleaning up for 3 hours. Ri and Mario pitched in with the other kids and the adults tore down the set and picked up all the props and trash. We were all spent by 7 pm. But the kids had been promised Greater’s so off we went for ice cream. We talked at Greater’s (over brownie sundaes) until close to 9 pm before calling it a night. The kids hugged their fellow actors goodbye. I think they really enjoyed the experience and both want to audition for the next show in Spring. I am just pleased that their eyes got opened to another activity and that they were so capable of embracing it. 

Proud parents.