Independence 

It has been a bit of a struggle this school year in dealing with Mario and his voracious streak of independence. Actually, let me strike the word “struggle” and change it to the word “battle.”

We never had this issue with Ri. She begged to be driven to school every day and enjoyed if Rocco and I walked with her on the other days. She had zero desire to trek 1.3 miles to school.

Since the end of last year’s school year, Mario has been pleading with us to allow him to bike or walk by himself to school. Jon and I would discuss it here or there but never arrived at a decision (yes, we are the ultimate procrastinators). Then, the school season arrived. And there stood Mario, at our sides, begging to bike by himself to school.

The bike ride is a simple one. Straight down the main strip with one small downhill at the end. There are three crossing guards spaced out at different sections of the strip. Kids are walking and biking along the strip from 7:30 until 8:15. 

But they are typically with an adult.  

“Typically with an adult.” These words scorched Mario’s ears. He did not hear anything more. Then came the persuasive arguing.

“You let me bike to the library by myself. You’ve biked with me to school and back and told me I did a great job. I am responsible and call you every time I should.” And so on and so forth…. On and on…. 

So, in a fit of whining fatigue and  unbridled trust, we let Mario bike to school two days straight. The first day, Jon followed Mario on his bike. When Mario got to the hill to go down towards school, Jon stopped him and told him he did a great job. Mario had no clue he had been following him and he broke down in tears.

“Why did you follow me, dad? I thought I rode by myself.”

Jon apologized and took off down the street. Mario thought that Jon was upset with him, so he biked towards where Jon drove. He couldn’t find Jon. One of our friends approached Mario and saw that he was sobbing. Mario called Jon from the friend’s phone and told him he was sorry for yelling at him. Jon felt horrible. He reiterated that he just wanted to see how well Mario biked to school, and he waited to give Mario a hug at the end of the hill.  The next day, we let Mario bike all by himself. He did great, policeman waved at him as he went by, and he called and said that he got home after school.

But that night I talked to my mom and a couple of girlfriends and all of them thought that having Mario bike to school at age 8 was a bad idea. I had been questioning in my own head whether I should continue to allow it. On the one hand, Mario craves independence and loves achieving physical feats. He was so excited to go to school those mornings. He felt awesome. 

On the other hand, he’s only eight. Other kids likely crave independence from their parents too, but they arent allowed to bike all the way to school. Jon and I have always given a lot of leeway in raising Ri and Mario. But what is the limit? If something happened to him on the way to school, I knew I would never forgive myself. Yes, something could happen to him when he’s in fourth grade and riding by himself but that feels different than allowing him in third grade at age 8. Besides, the fourth grade school is much closer to us. But he’s also a responsible 8 year old about to turn 9 year old. And he craves the independence so why not continue to give it a chance? It is a safe neighborhood, there are crossing guards, there are police. Parenting is ping-pong in the head. 

In the end, Jon and I pulled the plug. We sat with Mario the night before school and told him that for the time being we did not feel comfortable with him biking by himself. We discussed our concern for his safety at his age. We told him that we believed in him and we believed he was responsible but that he was just too young to go to school by himself. 

He was absolutely deflated. He cried. He gave us his case as to why he felt he was responsible and able to bike down to school. He begged for us to change our minds. It broke my heart. I was still so torn but I could not go back on my position at that point. 

The next morning, he did not want to get out of bed. He did not want to eat cereal. He did not want to go to school. I was sick to my stomach. Why had I allowed him to bike to school in the first place only to take it away. Why would I give him a tiny taste of it only to pull it back? I was beating myself up all day long.

After school that day, we allowed Mario to have a friend over to spend the night. When I got home from work after fretting all day, Mario and his friend were having a blast together. They were playing basketball and video games. Mario had nothing to say about not being able to bike to school. As it is many times with kids, the worry we put on ourselves is lost on them after a few hours. Over the weekend, at random times, Mario continued to bring up his wish to bike by himself. He made his case on how responsible he was and how he stayed on the sidewalk and how he would never let a stranger take him. We listened and continued to mull over what to do with him. My “all or nothing” personality was shining bright in my thought process. Either he can bike everyday by himself or nothing at all…either I eat an entire sleeve of cookies or none… either I win the race or don’t run at all. Maybe I needed to learn to loosen the reins of that  personality trait a bit.

On Monday morning, as I made his waffles and talked with him about his day ahead, I flexed my rigid trait and told him that we would just see how things go throughout the fall and the spring. I also told him that I had arranged for him to be able to walk with a couple of friends once or twice a week (I didn’t include the fact that I or another mom would be walking behind him).

Sure enough, this past week, he got to walk with his buddy (and yes, I walked far behind them to make sure they got to school on time). He also got dropped off  by Jon and picked up by our sitter. And he biked to school with me a couple of days. Jon and I allowed him to bike home by himself those days since our babysitter was waiting for him and she could call us to let us know he made it back to the homestead. 

And with each day, all ended up being just fine. 

Details of Daily Life

It takes gargantuan effort for me. I have a pinball personality – bouncing from one area to the other and to another. But with continued practice and mindfulness, I’m able to focus a little bit more on the small, often forgettable moments, that in the end, create a scrapbook of happy:). 

Here’s a couple of recent:

Mario and I kneeling at the open window in the dining room and listening to the rain come down against the sidewalk and plants outside. He placed his arm on my shoulders as we listened together. Then he whispered “smell the rain, mom, doesn’t it smell good?” Moments later,  lightening filled the sky and we looked at each other thrilled to have witnessed it together (one of us usually observes it and it’s gone by the time the other looks up).

Ri blowing her nose incessantly through the night. I had to sleep in her bed with her because Sarah was in town and got the “master suite.” It’s bad enough that Ri kicks and punches through the night but top it off with constant snorting and nose blowing, and you wanna go sleep on the roof. At around 2 am, I finally had heard enough. I turned to Ri and crabbilly remarked “can’t you stop sniffling and blowing your nose!” She turned towards me. I could see a quarter of her face due to the moon shining in her window. Her eyes were barely open. “I’m sorry, mom, I’m trying to be quiet.”

I leaned over and hugged her and told her I was sorry for being obnoxious (it was 2 am however so she’s lucky I hadn’t thrown in a cuss word…). I gathered her up in her blanket and held her. Then we held hands down the hall to the bathroom downstairs. I had her get in the shower with the hopes of getting rid of the pollen and ragweed in her hair. When she finished, she wrapped her hair in a towel and came into the family room. We laid on the reclining couch together: I supplied her with tissues every few minutes and rubbed her back. We both fell asleep eventually. I woke before her and got a glance of my child. It was as if I was staring at a magnificent star in the sky. When she woke I told her the lack of sleep had made me temporarily cuckoo and apologized again for being such a crab in the night. She forgave me and patted my back. She’s a keeper.

Biking to Tim Horton’s with Mario. I picked up Mario for lunch this week. We had ridden our bikes to school in the morning so that we could ride to Stauf’s for lunch. He sprang the idea of Tim Horron’s on me when I arrived. Tim Horton’s is about a mile or two away and off a fairly busy road so I was hesitant. But when am I going to forego a challenge? We hopped on our bikes and pedaled towards Goodale. We talked about super heroes and Hawaii and any other topic that landed in Mario’s head. The sky could have been out of a Renassaince painting. We reminisced about going to Tim Hotton’s when Mario was in preschool. Parking the stroller in the entrance way and getting timbits. Watching the geese in the parking lot. 

We carbo-loaded on grilled cheese, muffins and timbits. Heaven. Then we biked back to his school – him leading the way – all the while chatting about everything to come into his mind. 

Taking a walk with only Ri on Sunday afternoon. No Rocco or Mario. It’s these times that I can learn about what she’s done in school, her latest crazes, what she wants to do in the Summer. She also makes me laugh with her witty retorts and her observations. Every time I tell her that I’m gonna cherish those moments together because pretty soon she will not want to be around me, she looks at me with amazement. She swears she will always want to hang with me and her dad and Mario. I won’t fight her on that thought; I will just hope it comes true….

Biking to the river! Finally. The bike path is open and both kids can ride bikes on their own for a respectable amount of time. I couldn’t have been happier while I watched Ri and Mario ahead of me on their bikes – pointing out the river and birds to one another. 


Mario was so excited to head to our spot on the river where we throw rocks. He engaged in his usual routine of pointing out oddly shaped rocks to me and trying to pick up the heaviest ones. Ri engaged in her usual routine – finding a way to get wet. She placed herself on a rock off the shore and asked us to lob rocks near her so she could get splashed.


On the way home, I remember the peach stripes pushing through the blue and white of the sky. The kids know how I love my sunsets and before I could point the colors out, they had already turned around to let me know. 

The details of daily life.

Summer nights 

Maria and Mario chowed down their dinner on Sunday night because Jon got a text from Biscuit and Cookie’s dad that they would be over in ten minutes to ride electric scooters with Mario. Ri chimed in that she wanted to go, too, on her bike.

Mario’s response in a flirty voice: “Ri has a date with Cookie….” 

She shoved him into the table.

We told them both to be back at Cookie’s and Biscuit’s house at 8 pm because it was a school night. Last word out of their mouths “ok.”

And 8 pm came and went. Jon was trolling the streets trying to find all of them. I was walking up and down adjacent streets. We asked neighbors if they’d seen them. Now, I was not too concerned for their safety. They were together in pairs – Ri and Cookie and Mario and Biscuit. That is one beautiful thing about our neighborhood – it has sidewalks, people are out, kids are running around. But I was irritated that they hadn’t listened to us. 

Finally, I see Ri and Cookie and Lucia biking down the street laughing and having a great time.

 “We stopped by and said hi to Lucia! When we told her Cookie’s mom was making ice cream sundaes she got her bike and joined us!”

Ok, we nabbed two of them but we needed the other two rascals. It was 8:20 and nothing. Then I get a phone call. My neighbor says “I’ve got two boys – one in neon. Want me to hold them til you get here?” Little does Mario know there are eyes all over Grandview watching him. I asked my neighbor to send them to Biscuit’s house.

   When I asked where they were, Mario replied excitedly “the highway!” 

What?!

He explained that he had convinced Biscuit to go down Grandview Ave. towards Tim Horton’s and the highway to “spice up” their usual route. Jon and I had a long talk with him about staying within a two block boundary. He is quite the instigator and I would bet he’s gonna be quite our little rule breaker, too.

But we forgot all about being irritated with them once the ice cream sundaes were served.  Moose track Ice cream, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup, whipped cream. Yum! We are gonna miss these summer nights.

   
  

 

Mario time

We’ve only had Mario all week with Maria gone to camp (how is she at a six day overnight camp already?!). We promised him dinner of his choice and where do you think we went two nights? Skyline. After night two, Jon and I swore we would not head back there for at least six months. It’s so good when you’re eating it, but then….

Mario has been the BEST son this week. I wish I could say it’s just because he decided to turn over a new leaf and not argue when it’s time for bed or time to do homework. But no, it’s not that. He has been an angel child because he wants an electric scooter and he keeps hoping that if he is excellent for us, we will get him one. 

He took out the trash, got his own water, cleaned up his mess, fed Rocco, took Rocco on a walk, went straight to bed. You name it. Everything that used to be a fight or end up in whining tirades, is simple now. It really has been a beautiful yet strange week. 

He’s also been Mr. Independent wanting to ride to the library by himself and read books. Whether he does that or not, I’m not sure. But I did follow him up there one evening and couldn’t find him anywhere. Sure enough, he was in a study room reading his Wings of Dragons book. Impressive. He had his blue sports bag on the table in which he carried his book. When we left, he tossed his bag over each shoulder and hopped on his bike. He looked 13. It seems everyday he grows another inch. 

   
 

We’ve been biking together every night, which he loves. I used to refuse to bike and only walk along side of him. But I do enjoy biking with him because he loves it so much and it’s much more relaxing to be by his side and able to talk. We biked to Stauf’s last night for a bagel dinner. He beat me at Crazy Eights four times in a row and won $6 off of me. He was stoked about that. We biked home talking about that electric scooter again. 

“Mom, I’ve been so good. Don’t I deserve a scooter now?” 

I told him I was concerned about what he’d be like once we got the scooter. Would he go back to complaining at bedtime and whining about cleaning his room?

An emphatic “no” shot from his mouth as if he knew that would be my question. He shot those pacific blue eyes my way and I knew he had me. But I didn’t let him know. I just reiterated that dad and I would talk about the scooter knowing full well we would end up getting it for him as an early birthday present. How could I resist this sweet biking partner of mine?

   
 

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.

Get Over It

For two days straight, I have been stressing about an email I sent to someone at work; worried that they would think it was unprofessional or that I thought they were making a poor choice. They had made a snappy comment about a situation and I added my own comment to theirs. It was nothing vulgar or demeaning – more like a written sigh of “oh, this is happening again….. If I could do it over, I wouldn’t have included the comment with the email. I try to keep emails completely professional for this reason – I know I will second guess myself over and over.

I am a pleaser.

I like to see people happy.

I remember going to a movie with my dad when I was little and feeling so happy when I heard him laugh at one of the lines. I always look around the room when we have people over to make sure they are smiling and having fun. I love when I say something to Jon and he laughs. So, there are no doubts that I’m a compulsive people pleaser. That trait is not the best to have when you work in a job that requires tough conversations and tough love.

I went to bed last night with that email on my mind. I woke up and thought about it on my jog. I tried to focus on the trees, the blossoming flowers, the squirrels dancing up the poles but that email kept butting in. After the run, Ri and I went to the river to find rocks to paint.  I tried to let go of the email but every time I found myself in a great moment with Ri, it popped up.  This lasted throughout the day

I took Ri over to her friend’s house in the late afternoon for a sleepover.  I had a few hours to myself before the boys got home.  I tried to read a magazine article, then clean, then garden. Nothing worked. That damn email kept jumping in my head.  
 
My bike.  Maybe if I just took off on my bike, I could work it out.  I typically take a walk when I have some free time but I get too tempted to read a book or check out my phone when I walk (I haven’t figured out a way to read while biking at 16 miles an hour).  I didn’t want to do that tonight. I wanted to ride along the trail with no music or distractions and figure out a way to stop the insanity.  
 
I changed up my usual route through downtown and traveled up north. Right choice. I couldn’t stop with each new mile I passed because of all of the beauty surrounding me. A worn, wooden troll bridge; fly fishermen casting their lines; pastures of wildflowers; a playground full of children; the river moving steadily over boulders; women walking with tiny babes slung across their bellies.
 
I got lost in it all while I thought about why I act the way I do, why I chose the profession that I did, where I want to be in five years, why I need to make people happy, if I turned the oven off, whether Ri was doing ok, if Jon shot a turkey….  The mind drifted from philosophical to practical.  I biked eleven miles up the trail and turned around for the ride home. It wasn’t until I hit the second to last mile near the intersection of Olentangy and Goodale Avenues that it hit me. 
 
“Get over it.” 
 
That’s it. 
 
“Get over it.”
 
My new affirmation to myself.  I know I am a caring, thoughtful, smart, empathetic person so if someone gets angry or defensive about something I say or do, I need to get over it.  I cannot worry that people may take something the wrong way or feel that I should have done or said something differently. I need to trust my intuition, trust my actions, take responsibility when I do something I look back on as not the best decision, know I am trying my hardest, and get over it.  
 
My legs may kill from cranking out 20 miles but my mind feels a lot more free and ready to think about anything other than… whatever that thing was.