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. 

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.


Under one roof

So, I guess the holidays are officially over. We had the Menkedick crew over yesterday and the last of the gifts were ripped open by the kids. 

Time to put away the glittery centerpiece – the only remaining holiday item out of storage. All the other items were packed up and stored away within 48 hours after Christmas. Except for the lights strung around the trees in the front yard; they remained hanging until a few days ago due to the lack of desire to stand in the cold and try to flip the lights off the top branches without success. 

This holiday felt a little off to me. I still haven’t figured out what made it feel this way. It could be the kids being older.I believe Ri officially knows there is no Santa Claus. She doesn’t readily admit it but I can tell. She knows the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are not real so why would Santa? I try to give her a condensed version of the precious articles I read on line by mothers who explained to their dis-believing children that Santa is simply a symbol of the season of giving and kindness. She nods and listens half-heartedly. She’s always been my old soul; she probably has always known there is no Santa but has kept it secret in order not to disappoint Jon and me. On the other hand, Mario seems to still believe. I don’t think he ponders it too much as long as he has gifts on Christmas morning. And when I put Elfie in his room with his Legos, he ran into our bedroom the next morning and was excited that Elfie liked his Lego men. The magic is somewhat still there, at least. 

It took 12 minutes to open presents Christmas morning. It was 7:17 am when we finished. You know you are in for a long day. You think “I just want to sleep for an entire day” but then the kids leave to hang out with grandma and you wonder “what should I do now they are gone?!” 

Or maybe it was the quick in and out with so many different family members. Christmas Eve at my mom’s for an hour ripping through presents and then to Aunt Susie’s with aunts and uncles and cousins and spouses and dogs (the cousins have chosen to own dogs prior to having kids). Talk to an aunt for five minutes, a cousin for ten. Sing caroles. Open presents. On Christmas Day, host my dad and Meg and then Jon’s mom and brothers. Everyone in for a few hours and then off to another home. Again, part of me is exhausted and ready for five minutes alone and another part of me wants a deep, long conversation with my family member. 

Maybe it’s all that yin and yang that leads me to find myself in a state of flux the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  What are my goals for 2016? What do I want for Jon and I? What do I want the kids to accomplish? I want to cook more. I want the kids to engage in more service and not whine when they have to do homework. I want Jon and I to hike. I want to sit still for an entire two hours. I wish Christmas could have lasted longer. I didn’t get to talk to Aunt Julie or Laura….

Step back. 

Take a breath. 

Try for one manageable feat at a time.  I am so bad about thinking of 20 different things to accomplish that I get overwhelmed and accomplish none. 

On New Year’s Eve, we went over to a friend’s house. A couple of Mario’s friends were there and a friend of Maria’s was there. The kids played upstairs and Jon and I hung in the kitchen talking to the adults and catching up with old friends. It was around 11:30 pm and Ri was knocked out upstairs. Jon and I agreed we should hit the road so we could be home at midnight. We were making the rounds saying goodbye when Mario flew into the kitchen crying in pain. 

“It’s broke! I heard it crack!” 

He held his arm. The way he was cradling it and the tears in his eyes had me nervous. A resident doctor was at the party and came over to look at it. She asked some questions and turned and probed it, and then told us we should take him to the ER. Lovely. She made a homemade sling for him and we were off. 

It was broken. 

We got home at 2 am drunk with fatigue. The rest of the weekend was long and tiresome and chill. I looked at Christmas pictures with Ri and reviewed FB posts of family. I cracked up thinking about Mario stealing the white elephant gift from Michael and Susie and Kenny leading us in caroles. I smiled remembering Ri open up her Molly baby from Grandma Lolo and Mario playing checkers with my dad. Alana and Gio excited to give me a box of chocolates. My aunt Julie and I exchanging duplicate pictures of each other in DC.  The girls opening American Girl dolls from Patty. Ri and Grandma Meg playing dolls together. Ben drawing random pieces of food on white papers, rolling them up, and giving them out to everyone. Maria and Anna taking Rocco on a walk together.

I love family. I actually get excited when I know there’s a get-together coming up. Nothing pleased me more than to have both my sis and brother in town a few years ago to share Christmas. This isn’t a new realization by any means. I’ve always been family-oriented. I could never leave Ohio because my parents and family live here. I wouldn’t want to not be close to them. And that’s one of the traits that attracted me to Jon right away. He loves family just as much. 

But I do realize how my expectations on what the holidays will bring need to be adjusted. I am not gonna get 30 minutes to sit down with my cousin to talk about the insanity of politics or to talk with my brother about the meaning of life. There’s too much chaos and revelry and excitement and people to see. So I just get to ask my cousin about her new house or my aunt about her classroom and move on to the next conversation. That’s fine. If you want a longer time, go out to dinner in January. The holidays are not structured for long-winded dialogue but for hugs and brief updates and cooing over new babies. 

So, here’s to my crazy, amazing family and all the fabulous times we have together – mostly over the holidays now since we are all doing our thangs, ya know…. Christmas 2015 will be appreciated for reminding me that the simple act of being together under one roof is a gift for which to be grateful. 


hubby hits a home run

How do you keep 25+ kids from trouncing all over your house? Two words. 

Dunk tank.

Jon agreed to grill steaks for Mario’s baseball team if one of the boys got a triple play. Leave it to Owen to do it. Since we were having Mario’s team over, we decided to have Maria’s team over, also, to celebrate the softball season. I was busy trying to gather basketballs, soccer balls and corn hole sets while Jon was being more strategic and more aware of what the kids would really want to do. He was calling Ohio Bounce and ordering a dunk tank. And why not a bounce house, too?!

God love him. He knows how to throw a party.  Patty had been with us all week watching the kids while our sitter was out of town. Not only did she take the kids all over and play with them non-stop, but she kept the house clean, too. I really can’t get over her energy – and this coming from me – the energizer bunny! She was our savior and allowed for me and Jon to do all the other necessities: get the yard looking decent, buy groceries, prepare food. The kids scored big and got to head one block up to a friend’s block party from noon to 3 as we ran around getting ready for the onslaught of people (65 of them!). In addition to savior Patty, we nabbed savior Patrick who prepared all the hamburger patties, prepped the beans and made everything tasty. 

The dunk tank arrived at 3 and Mario couldn’t wait to get in it. He stood in the tank while the hose slowly filled it. 500 gallons of water later, the kids tried it out before the guests arrived. I had not changed out of my workout clothes so I let M&M dunk me, which thoroughly thrilled them. It was actually quite exhilarating. A bit frightening with the first dunk but then hilarious. 

And I think the kids would agree; they dunked one another for close to five hours straight! They would wait in line for 20 minutes to get a chance to be dunked and they watched intensely as one of them got in the tank and one of them threw the ball attempting to hit the bullseye.


There came a point when the kids’ arms started to tire. At that point, they would throw a lame pitch and then run up to the bullseye and push it with their hands. Totally unfair but they cracked up over it.  Except Mario. He did not find that fair so he stood by it and stopped kids as they ran up to hit it. 

The younger kids loved the bounce house. After most folks left, M&M and a couple of their friends went between the dunk tank and the bounce house. They basically created a homemade slip-n-slide because they were soaked when they jumped in the bounce house. How no one left without a broken arm is beyond me.


So, lesson learned. Let the hubby take charge of kid parties from now on because he knows how to rock it. Lots of good memories from that evening to last us. Definitely same time next year.

These days.

My ideal day is waking early for a morning workout and coming home to take a walk to Stauf’s with Ri and Mario. I love it because we are all present in the moment. We notice the cardinal tucked in the mid section of a bush. We squeal at the bunny darting out of a flower bed. We touch the needles of the pine tree in the alley and I reminisce to them about when they were babies and I placed their finger on a needle and yelped “ouch” and they smiled at me in delight. 

The kids still get excited to scope out a table at the coffee shoppe. They recently added high tables and bar stools to the shoppe so I knew they’d go for those. Mario steps up on the lower rung of the chair and lifts himself into the seat. Maria gets water for us all. I order bagels and a coffee. We sit at the table and play War and crazy eights (with Grandma Menkedick’s cards from 1963). When I win at the war between Mario and me, Ri laughs because I get one of Mario’s aces out of it. Mario reluctantly hands it over. This is the one place that the both of them remain in good spirits while playing a card game – must be the chill atmosphere.


It takes a lot for me to relax – as Jon says “you never stop.” But I can sit in that coffee shoppe with these kids for hours and have no desire to move. There must be some relaxer drug in those bagels.

Maria’s stomach was hurting her after she finished her bagel and chai tea latte – she spent a long time in the bathroom. I went to check on her after Mario and I thought she may have passed out. There she was looking miserable and holding her tummy. My girl likes to go at it in life – no matter if it’s partying at the pool or eating a bagel smothered in cream cheese. 

So what do I have her do to recover?

Bike to the river with Mario and me. I figured she needed to move that food out of her system so she needed to move her body in order to accomplish that. It would be worse for her to go home and lay down. Right?!

So there she was biking next to me looking miserable. Mario was up ahead biking away in his own little world, loving the freedom he had. We arrived at our old stomping grounds shortly after we departed. It seemed to take such a longer time when I had them both in the double stroller (hmmm, wonder why? maybe the 100 pounds I had to push slowed me down). Ri immediately went to lay on a big rock to rest her tummy. Sweet girl.


Meanwhile, Mario was in heaven. He loved looking at the different rocks and throwing them in the river. As we tried to skip a few, he said to me “I remember coming here in the stroller with you and Ri and eating my timbits.” The kid doesn’t remember much so I was excited to hear that he remembered our river trips. We searched for unique rocks after Ri rested a bit. Mario would find one and run over to show Ri and me. He found one with a fossil in it that he thought was cool. They both discovered round, smooth ones that they decided to paint for Emma on her first day of babysitting them. We watched the tiny birds fly in and out of their hive nests situated in the corners of the bridge overpass. Pure delight. These are the moments to slurp up and recall when you’re having an annoying day.


Ri started to peter out on us after a while so we called it a day and headed down the bike trail to home. Ri was my trooper riding her bike with a tummy ache. She wanted Jon to pick her up badly but I told her she could make it. I’m quite sure she was cursing me in her head but she did it and with each small feat like that, I’m convinced she’s gained another layer of grit. Mario was like a teenager biking far ahead of us but stopping at every stop light and waiting for a green light. He likes that independence. 

Maria looked at me when we pulled into the driveway. “Are you proud of me, mom?” “Absolutely”, I told her. 

I walked inside the house and Mario was guzzling water. “Hey, mom”, he said flatly sounding just like a teenage boy. 

Please let me not forget these days.

Lockets, hash browns and pigs

I managed to get in a lunch with my girl and a zoo trip with my boy last week. I canceled another lunch with a girlfriend in order to surprise Ri because I felt so bad about how we started our day. I had come home from running in the early morning and Ri was standing in the kitchen bawling. I asked her what was the matter and she told me she lost her locket that she had gotten for her birthday a week earlier. At first, I was calm and told her to search her backpack. We talked about where it could have been lost. I thought she’d find it in her backpack so that soothed my emotions. When she didn’t, I proceeded to get a bit angry in my tone telling her she had to be more careful with things. Ok, maybe telling isn’t the correct verb. More like yelling. She bawled harder and ran upstairs. Ugh.

While she was crying to Jon, I found the locket in the pocket of her backpack. I called her downstairs and gave it to her. Then I hugged her. Then I told her I was sorry for raising my voice. Then I told her that I have to work on not getting so upset. Then I took a deep breath. She finally stopped crying and gained some composure before heading off to school, and I gained a big guilty chip on my shoulder the rest of the morning.

So I biked over to her school and surprised her for lunch. We walked to Stauf’s and got a bagel and hash browns. And we had a most enjoyable talk about what she wanted to do this Summer and what she’s liked most about fourth grade. As we walked back to school, I apologized again for getting upset with her. I explained there was a better way for me to teach her about taking greater care of things and that I didn’t want to raise my voice like I did. She did her Ri thing – flicked me in the arm and laughed and said it was ok – wanting to move onto a new topic. But I hope she got where I was coming from and values the open communication between us. We held hands on the way in to school (not long before that ends) and i gave her a gentle flick as she walked to class. The guilty chip fell off my shoulder as I biked back into work. 


The next day, I headed to the zoo with Mario. Jon took the first shift and I took the second. Mario was so excited to have Jon go with him; he was mildly happy to have me. Dad is the prized possession for sure. When I arrived, they were walking towards the cheetahs. Mario gave Jon a huge hug goodbye and told him he loved him – I can never get enough of that action. Then we raced towards the cheetahs. But we’d get about 500 feet and then have to stop to play (5 first grade boys – what else did I expect). 

We finally arrived at the African zone only to have ten kids walk by us yelling “you just missed the cheetah run!”  Ok, great, thanks. I wanted to pelt them in the head. Luckily, our boys were unphased. We still got to see the giraffes and hang out in a safari tent.


But best of all, Mario tracked down some pigs for me to see in the farm area. Big ol’ heifers laying around and snorting. Mario was so excited to find them for me.

Such a doll when he wants to be. We walked back to the front of the zoo to meet up with his class. Mario was charged up because they got to ride in a Coach bus since the yellow buses never came to pick them up. “It even has a bathroom in it” he exclaimed as I gave him a hug goodbye. Good reminder to me – appreciate the simple things in life.