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.

The struggle is real

I continue to struggle.

My weekends used to be filled with trying to find one hour for myself. Now they are filled with trying to find one hour for me and the kids to have together.

Maria and Mario were supposed to head to the farm with me this weekend to watch their cousin. Maria would normally never miss a chance to do this but soccer and friends got in the way. Mario, on the other hand, would not have been keen to babysit his cousin but would have liked the thought of hanging out with his mom. However, he too, decided that sticking around his friends would be a better idea.

I am getting more and more comfortable with the notion that Maria is becoming more interested in nurturing friendships than hanging with family. It is natural, and I think a positive step to see her wanting to do more things with friends and be away from the homestead. I would be concerned if she always wanted to be around me or Jon and never hung out with friends. Why is it, though, that we can never have a middle ground? Why can’t she want to hang with us at least a little bit? This year she catapulted from one extreme to the next. But again, I am glad that she’s finding camaraderie with a group of girls who I think are a good bunch.

Mario is not so much into nurturing friendships as he is into just having a good time with his buddies. He will sit on Fortnite for three hours, if possible, chatting it up with his friends online. He’s also been better about going to the park with some of his buddies and hanging out. I took a group of them to the woods the other day and they were hilarious banging bats against trees and smashing little fruits that had fallen off of trees. Destructive creatures, they are. But sure enough, when they heard some rustling in the woods, they came running to me to protect them.

It seems that I get to see Maria only when I see her with her friends. On Friday night, she met up with her girlfriends and they played in the band for football Friday night. She absolutely loves being with her friends and being at school. She actually started crying the other night with the thought that in four years they will be seniors and have to go off to different schools.

I was amazed on Saturday night when we were over at a friend’s house for the Buckeye game, and Mario asked if we could go apple picking the next morning with his friend and his friend’s parents. Seriously? Mario would typically not want to get up and spend Sunday morning that way so I agreed to do it even though I had been looking forward to sleeping in that day (after having a full day with Miss Elena at the farm).

Mario woke me up at 7:30 am and told me that we would be leaving in an hour. I took the dog for a quick walk and came home to play a little one on one with Mario. The friend and his parents arrived as I was getting whooped, and we took off to the Apple farm. It was the same farm I went to with Mario when he was in first grade. As we drove out there, I told him how I had met him out here for his school trip when he was in first grade. He actually remembered bits and pieces of it. I talked about how he held my hand through the orchard and was so excited to have me with him. He smiled. He doesn’t get to embarrassed at those stories yet. And sure enough, he held my hand again here and there as we went through the orchard to gather apples.

We competed to see who could jump the farthest from one apple tree to the next and bit into red apples and yellow apples to see which one tasted the best. We hit the market, as well, and found a candy cigar for him to act like he was smoking (I figure the less taboo I make it the less he will want to do it). We grabbed some cider and gummy bears as well. But what he really wanted to do was hit the corn maze. We drove over to it and only found a lake kids maze. We went through it in about three minutes. However, there was a big bouncy house right by the maze so we paid five dollars to go in it. I, of course, could not sit there and watch him and his friend have bounce house fun; I went in it as well. We competed to see who could get through it the quickest. The first few times we all bolted through, and did not mess with one another. But then we got aggressive and started pulling and pushing each other as we ran through the obstacles. At one point, I was climbing up the wall to slide down the slide. Mario was at the top and he was trying to push me down. I kept telling him that he needed to stop or else we would both fall down. He didn’t. We fell. We both laid on the rubber house aching in pain. I had gotten burned and he complained about his little toe.

“It’s broken. It hurts!”

I told him that he was fine and he needed to get up. He started crying that he was not fine. And it went downhill from there. He had a football game in a few hours and I knew Jon would be so irritated with me for having played around in the bounce house with Mario right before his game. So, I kept telling Mario to suck it up and to walk on it, he was just fine. Mario kept telling me that he was not just fine and it hurt. By the time we got to my friend’s car, we were not speaking to each other. Beautiful.

How can our lovely morning turn so quickly?!

When we got home, I gave him ice to put on his foot and told him to rest. I ran to Kroger’s to get food for the week with the hopes I would come back and he would be miraculously cured. Not so much. He could barely put his socks on or his football cleats. I took him to the field and told him that he needed to play hard and Jon called me about 10 minutes after I dropped him off questioning what the heck I did to him as he limped over to him on the field.

Great.

He ended up not playing at all in the football game because he told his coach that he hurt his toe and he would “try” to run as best as he could. His coaches did not seem to like the word “try “so he ended up sitting out. I think this was just fine for him but it irritated the heck out of Jon and me. We felt that he was nursing this injury so he would not have to get out and play. Was he? Who knows. When we got home, I took off his socks and looked at his toe. There was a bruise about the size of my pinky fingernail on his pinky toe but really not a lot of swelling. So, I would say that Jon and I were likely correct but whatever, we weren’t going to dwell on it. However, if I wrestle him next weekend two hours before the game, I’m in trouble.

Maria worked the concession at football all day Sunday, and then came home for two minutes to grab her book bag just to turn around and head over to her friend’s house “to study”. She arrived home at 7:30 PM and asked if we could go and find tutus for her and her friends since they had crazy day at school on Monday. I was so tired and had no desire to go out and try to find tutus. However, I had not had any alone time with my girl all weekend. So, I agreed to take her. I was tempted to drive for 45 minutes to the farthest store possible just so I could spend more time talking with her. However, as soon as we walked to the car, she asked if we could go somewhere close because she had to get to bed in order to get up early and get ready. Of course. So, we went to a store 15 minutes away – but at least I got a chance to talk with her for 30 minutes on the round-trip.

And her tutu ended up being absolutely adorable!

Bringing that superhero to life

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page the other night. I love it. I have engaged that superhero on a few occasions this week. And that imaginary friend of mine has been most helpful in allowing me to stick with the word “no “and not beat myself up for it every five minutes. It is a crazy thing that we can feel so confident – ready to take on the world – be an amazing being – and then a second later doubt who we are and what we are doing this with this one, crazy life of ours.

Nonetheless, I can see myself maturing around these thoughts and emotions. The other day, I went to Maria’s soccer game. She started the first half and I cheered her on while sitting with the other moms. The ball got close to her but she didn’t move towards it quickly. I have learned to keep my mouth shut during these games and not yell “come on Maria!” Or “get to that ball!” However, just because I am not yelling it does not mean I am not thinking it. She had a couple of balls hit near her and she just did not have the oopmh to go and grab them. When she got subbed out I went down to her bench to see if her feet were hurting her. She caught me coming and waved me away briskly.

“Mom, no parents are allowed down here!”

I translated that to mean I’m not allowed down there. I could not help myself. I started to turn around but quickly chirped over my shoulder “run after that ball when you get back in there!”

I walked back up the stone steps to sit with the moms. I watched Maria on the bench. She sat with her arm wrapped around one of her soccer friends. And when one of her good friends scored a goal a few minutes later, she jumped up from the bench and cheered her on. She was jumping up-and-down and yelling “great job Lucia!” I thought to myself about how I would react when I was her age. I would have been the one on the bench secretly upset that I did not score the goal. I probably would have given a half cheer, if anything. Yet, here was my daughter, cheering wildly for one of her friends. She has her own personality and her own reasons for playing the sport. She doesn’t necessarily play to be the number one scorer on the team. She enjoys being a good partner on the team and rooting on everybody. Hence why she’s a captain. It is not about her – it is about the team. I thought about this my entire way home. I decided that when Maria walked through the door I was going to apologize. I wanted her to know that my competitiveness got in my way, and that the game was for her – not me. I told her she should play the way she wants to play. God love her that she can be so enthusiastic and sincere for her teammates’ scores. It made me realize, too, how much I thrived for recognition as a kid, which is why it was so hard for me to congratulate others because it took it off of me. Woo, a lot of thinking going into a few words to my daughter but that’s how it gets as I get older. Constantly questioning and trying to understand.

And trying like hell to make sure that superhero is by my side.

Mario turns 11!

How is my youngest baby turning 11 years old? It is just not right. I still have vivid memories of lying on the hospital bed and feeling the most intense pain of my lifetime. Whereas Maria entered the world after a rather melodic string of breathing and pushing, Mario entered the world with one Big Bang. I think I may have had one good grunt before the final push where I bared down and he jetted out of me like a bullet. It hurt like holy hell but the pain was well worth it. Seconds later I held his perfect self next to me and loved everything before me.

The kids and I were taking a bike ride yesterday and Maria recalled how sad she was that she couldn’t go to the hospital to see her baby brother be born. However, she was excited to get Timbits and bring them to the hospital room. We were laughing and surmising that if Mario had the ability, he would have grabbed one of those Timbits with his tiny one-day old hand and gobbled it up. He has always loved his donuts.

I strolled him up to Giant Eagle nearly every weekend from the age of one to seven, and he would use that little hand to grab a chocolate long john donut from the case (and sometimes a second if he begged and begged me). I conditioned the donut on me reading to him while we strolled home. We would also play the “can you spot the animal” game where we would see how many birds or squirrels or rabbits we could spot before we made it to the store. He always won.

He has always loved to wrestle. Even when he was younger, he was as strong as a bull and would knock me over when he charged at me. Now, it is comical. I try to wrestle him while I am on my knees but he can take me down if he gets the right angle. I think this is the year that that he will win against me more than he loses.

He continues to be the comedian of the family. He tries out all sorts of new lines on us. I typically laugh because I like to see him feel good. He calls me out on it chiding me that I am fake laughing. But, I must say, the majority of the time, I truly find him funny. I can totally see him doing stand-up comedy when he gets older.

He fell In love with basketball this year. He adores James Harden. We were at each other’s throats for the NBA playoffs between LeBron and Harden. My LeBron won out, which made me happy but I felt for Mario who was devastated for his Rockets. For a while there, we did not know whether we could get him to play any other sports. He wanted to focus solely on basketball. He would beg me to go outside and shoot hoops with him every night. I would oblige him but then tell him he needed to work on shooting by himself 20 minutes a day. He did it every once in a while but didn’t yet quite have the drive to make himself get out there on his own and practice. He must just love being with his mom too much:)

I agreed to coach his baseball team this year. At first I agreed to it just so that he would play another sport besides basketball but I ended up really enjoying it. We had a blast together. Of course, there were times that I was ready to strangle him for slacking off or he was ready to strangle me for saying something embarrassing to him. But for the most part we had fun together driving to practices and games and hanging with one another. And we won the championship! Now I have my work cut out for me when I coach him again next year….

He got his first musical instrument this year for fifth grade. He ended up with the trombone. Surprisingly, he could belt out some notes right from the beginning. He loved on that damn trombone for about two days but now I have to fight with him to bring it home once a week to practice.

He fell in love this year. With an on-line game. Fortnight. It became a phenom this year; all the parents joke about how ridiculous it is to get their kids off the tv (“joke” equates to “whine and complain”). They would literally sit playing this game for 24 hours straight if allowed. I keep justifying the amount of time that I allow him to play by the fact that he is talking and playing with friends. Yes, pretty lame justification since they are all talking and playing but in their separate homes. Nevertheless, during moments when I am slammed at work and need to get some emails out, I appreciate Fortnight.

He spent quite a few weekends this year with Jon at big Mario’s house. They would target shoot and fish, and get fed amazing Italian meals. He loves that time with his dad and his Italian family (recall, since he was little, he maintained he was “full Italian” and not “any German”). He and I had a few fun trips together out to the farm. One of our favorite places we hit on our way to the farm was Salt Fork State Park. We jumped off a large boulder into the lake. We also had quite a few trips to the running shoe store. We both have a gym shoe fetish. We cannot get enough of them. So, one of our favorite activities is going to the running store and trying on all of the new hot shoes.

He got to head to DC, Pittsburgh, and Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan this year. He is a great companion to have on trips. You can always count on him to bring out a one-liner that cracks you up. There were a few elbow jabs I would have to give him to make him take hikes in Michigan with me but overall he is typically game for new adventures.

He also got to spend quite a bit of time in Marietta with his grandma. He loves hanging out with her and his cousin. They go to the mall, play video games, and hit the skate park. I think back to my times with my grandmas and the fun I had at their houses that were the quintessential “homes away from home.” I know Mario will look back at these visits and cherish his times with Patty.

As this pumpkin seed boy turns 11, I hope he sees what an amazing human he is and loves himself. He used to berate himself when he was younger if he made a mistake. He’d call himself “stupid” or “idiot.” Jon and I would scold him to not call himself those names and to just see the episode for what it was – a mistake to learn from. He has not berated himself for a long time (so maybe we had a parenting win:)). God knows he knows how to talk himself up and love on himself (“tell me one sport I’m bad at mom… I know, you can’t…”). I’d rather him over-believe in himself than the opposite. I have never been an 11 year old boy but I imagine he goes through times of poor self-esteem or self-doubt or confusion about friends and relationships. I put a heck of a lot of effort into Maria at this age knowing what I knew about being an 11-year-old girl. I am set on doing the same for this boy, and I know he will turn out just fine. Actually, just excellent.

He’s coming into his own more and more. I can’t wait to see what 11 brings this year. All I know a few days into his 11th year is that he remains a sweetheart. He is gentle and playful with little kids, he pets every pup he sees on our walks, he gives outrageously strong hugs, he spots bunny rabbits for his mama, he helps his dad with dishes, and he even kisses his sister’s cheek when she pleads for it after a rough day.

From the moment he jetted out of me, I knew he was a perfect addition to our family. He’s proved it over and over again with each new year.

Love you Mario!

Taking the time to mindset pre-vacation

My stress level had nearly hit the top rung. It was mid-July and we had gone through nearly 2 months of summer without a babysitter. It is the first summer we decided to go without a sitter. Jon would be able to work from home so we figured he could at least have some oversight of the kids. Now, my “oversight of the kids” is quite different then Jon’s “oversight of the kids.” My oversight: I ask to see their homework even when they say they have done it; I make them a sandwich when they say they are hungry and make sure they get some strawberries with that PB&J; I help them clean their rooms while we jam to music. Jon’s oversight: he tells them to grab lunch if they are hungry; he asks them if they’ve done their homework and trusts when they say yes; he tells them they need to clean their room and assumes they will do so while he does his own thing.

With my type A personality, Jon’s oversight can lead to a bit of stress. But even if Jon’s oversight did not stress me, my own crazy worry would do the trick. One week I think that the kids are going to go back to school and be behind all the other kids for not having read six books during the summer or completed their math workbook. Other weeks I am concerned that they are not getting outside as much as they should. And yet other weeks I think they are going to be diagnosed diabetic since all they’ve eaten is crap.

And then there is my general worry about finances, my job, Jon’s job, kids’ college. You name it.

So, needless to say, when we were a few days away from leaving for Michigan, Jon sat me down and reinforced in me that we were going to let all the stress and worry go, and make this a good vacation. He demanded that I not worry about the cost of lunch, or whether the kids read for an hour on the trip, or what the kids selected when we stopped at the gas station to get a snack. “Just let it go” he told me, and “enjoy yourself.”

His advice sank into my bones. I was struggling with trying to let go of work and worry and school and tasks, and his words sank into my bones allowing my concerns to drift off. Our clan had been broken up throughout the summer – either Maria was gone for a couple of weeks or Mario. I had worked long hours some days and not been home when both kids were there. So, I needed this trip to ground me back to what’s important and what matters. In the end, no matter the circumstances – catastrophe or minor setback or huge fortune – family and community and connection drive me.

I breathed in all of the wonder of my small clan as we drove up north. We stayed in a small cottage that I found on VRBO. It was not quite as plush as I thought it may be, but, as with most things, my initial reaction of mediocrity flipped to quaint and charming after the first night of getting accustomed to it.

The hilarious part of the trip was the fact that there was only an air-conditioned unit on the top floor. The top floor was one bedroom with a queen size bed and a twin bunk bed. Jon and I planned on sleeping downstairs and letting the kids have the upstairs. However once Jon found out that the AC was only in the upstairs bedroom, he refused to sleep downstairs. The kids refused to sleep downstairs because they were scared with us being upstairs. Therefore, we all got to sleep together in the same bedroom … like Little House on the Prairie! (“I whispered “good night Mary, good night Laura, good night John Boy” as went to sleep). I ended up on the floor on a futon the rest of the night because Jon and I do not fit in a queen sized bed. One of the kids slept with me each night – I preferred Mario because he does not kick. Jon got the queen bed all to himself (except for one night when he agreed to let Maria sleep with him but regretted it all night as she kicked him every hour).

We woke up most mornings and went straight out to the lake for some paddle boarding or kayaking. We would come back inside and play a game of Monopoly before deciding what the plans were for the day. The kids still like to please their mama so they agreed to a hike most days. It would take us about 40 minutes to get to the dunes so we would make a day out of it and do something around Glen Arbor. What a cute little town. Jon and I have been saying for years that we don’t know what we will do when we retire because we have different locale tastes. He could be on a farm the rest of his life and I could be in the mountains the rest of mine. But we both agreed that Glen Arbor would be a locale we could settle.

It was surreal to climb the dunes with Maria and Mario when I had climbed the exact dunes as a kid with my dad and Meg. Bits of my childhood experiences would pop into my head as we walked on a trail or leaped through the dune sand. Life is strange. They had a love-hate relationship with the dunes and trails like I did as a kid. Part of them just wants to sit back at the cottage and watch You Tube but another part of them enjoys the thrill of climbing up a steep dune and running back down it. When I was their age, part of me just wanted to be back in the city with my friends but another part of me loved conquering those dunes with my family.

They also reminded me of how I would act when they bitched and moaned about how long the hike lasted. They were lucky – when I was a kid, my dad would take us on 3 or 5 mile hikes. I was easy on them with 1 or 2 milers.

One of their favorite places to eat in Glen Arbor was Dune Dogs. It is a little shack that sells hotdogs with all sorts of toppings. Maria, Jon and I also enjoyed the Cherry Hut. Their cherry pies are no joke. Mario, not a fan of cherries, did not find it amazing. But we made him smile with a superman ice cream cone from across the street.

We got our obligatory vacation putt-putt games in as well. The boys won the first game and the girls came back to win the second. We were going to have a playoff game on the last night we were there but the line was ridiculous to play. Mario was so bummed that we could not do it because he was ready to get revenge. We also got to do a ropes course at the putt-putt location. Mario and I had never done one before and Maria was adamant that we try it. She, of course, was fearless. Mario was a bit hesitant but then did great. I was surprised at how nervous I was because it was not ridiculously high. But, I kept my composure and did not scream throughout the climb. A win for everyone.

Oh, and we saw a black bear! Unfortunately, it was a dead one. It was lying on the side of the road behind a maintenance truck. It must have just been killed before we passed it. Poor baby.

Once back at the cottage, nobody wanted to leave. A couple of nights we ran out to grab some dinner (one night we traveled to 5 different spots for a nice Italian dinner only to find carry-out pizza joints so we ended up at KFC enjoying crispy chicken legs and mashed potatoes!). The other nights we made dinner at the cottage and then went out for a night swim. Maria was always ready for a swim and a jump off the dock. Mario, not so much. He had this irrational fear of fish biting his toes. But in contradiction to that fear, he liked standing in the water up to his ankles and watching the tiny minnows nibble at his dead skin. I could not stand it. Maria enjoyed it as well. And Jon. Freaks.

One of the ways I was able to get Mario to jump off the dock and into the lake was to play a game. He, I and Maria would hold hands and have to yell out a certain response to a question while we jumped in the water. I found that one of the questions he loved was to name a basketball player. Ri and I must have jumped off the dock with him 10 times before he realized where he was and feared the fish. The most exciting time for the kids in the lake was when Jon made one trip out to the deck and proceeded to chuck the kids off each time they got near him. They absolutely loved it (and went flying into the water).

Mario did a little bit of fishing but not as much as I thought he would. There were not a lot of fish right by the dock, but he did manage to catch two fish at one time on our first day. Ri tried to fish as well, but we were a bit concerned with her because she is so wild with her casting. She casted her lure right into Jon’s chest at one point.

I thought we would light campfires every night and make s’mores. Not so much. The Ionno family has a real problem with starting fires, which I guess is a good thing in the end. We could not start one in West Virginia and we had no better luck in Michigan. We got a very small one started but it kept dying out. We were able to make some half-baked s’mores but then called it a night due to the massive amount of bugs eating at us. There was no campfire after that first night. We opted for plain old Hershey bars and marshmallows.

I got some alone time with each of the kids, too. Mario and I would swim out to the dock together, and I would play the name game to keep him out there with me for a bit. He also liked playing in the sand with me (competitive castle building). Maria and I paddle boarded together and tried yoga on the boards. We never were able steady ourselves but it was fun to fall in together.

I loved this vacation so much. It was by far my favorite one with the kids. I think a big reason for my enjoyment was because I made a conscious effort to relax and let the stress go prior to heading out. I continuously thought about letting it all go for a few days before our departure. I have failed to take that step and consciously get in that mindset for past vacations. I let go of any expectation that the kids would sit on the deck and read books for two hours or any expectation that I should get up and exercise. We just all did what we wanted to do, which ended up being perfect. The kids didn’t want to play on their phones all the time. They came out and played in the sand and paddle boated with me. I had no desire to go out for a 5 mile run. Rather, I enjoyed walking out in the lake with the kids and sitting on the dock with Jon while they fished.

Another reason I enjoyed it so much was because the kids are older. They were able to do things on their own and engage with us about books, news, movies. On past vacations, when the kids were younger, it was a lot of running after them and long days of sitting in the pool as they said “mom, watch this somersault or “mom, time me while I go under water!”

The number one indicator that I loved this vacation so much was that I still remember it like it happened yesterday. With other vacations, I have come home and within 24 hours forgotten about any fun we had. I immediately got consumed back at work, with school, with errands. But this time, my carefree mindset stayed with me as we passed back into Ohio. Granted, a bit of stress and worry came here and there but it was a lot less intense and I could re-adjust my mind to take me back to what is important in this life. And it surely is not whether I please my boss, get promoted, fail to get my kids to read 6 books in the summer, or feed them Oreo’s for dinner. It is community and my clan and sending love and kindness out into the world.