Happy 10th birthday, Mario!

I can’t believe you are 10, Mario Joseph. With the way you act and what you know, I swear you are 18. This was evident when I went out shopping for your birthday gift. When I typed in 10 year old boy gifts on Amazon, I got a barrage of Lego sets, superhero masks, Nerf guns, and Pokémon cards. This show of gifts was a complete disconnect from what you had been asking for in the last few months. Your thinking was around an iPhone 7, a superb headset to use for vlogging, a pair of Uzzs or whatever those high-priced rapper sneakers are. You love the bling, that is for sure.

This year, you got into Jake Paul and rap music (a boy after his mama’s heart). I would find you in your room with your ear buds in jamming out. You even started to rap a bit after watching a lot of Jake Paul videos. I would try to teach you a few rap tricks while riding in the car, but all you would do was laugh at me and shake your head disapprovingly. 

You also got into YouTube big time. You love to watch videos on it but you also created your own YouTube channel. Your dream is to get 1 million subscribers. You started a giveaway in order to try to increase your subscribership. The first thing you gave away was a wallet in the mold of $100 bill. Dad and I watched your clip, and we were so proud of you! Actually, we were in awe that you had even created such a video – we have some homework to do to make sure you are staying within the bounds of a 10-year-old. But what are those bounds? We are still trying to test them out – we want you to be able to have the freedom to express yourself but we also want to make sure you are not engaging in activity that could end up harming you or us. Little did I think that I would have these issues when you arrived 10 years ago.

You continue to assert your independence. Ever since you were six, you felt as though you could walk or bike places all by yourself. Even places that were miles away. You were so excited for school this year because you are able to walk by yourself. Actually, you have chosen to walk with several of your guy friends but you love the thought of not having dad or I have to take you to school. You loved going to the pool by yourself this year and meeting up with friends. Of course, you depended on me and dad to give you $5 to spend while you were at the pool but that’s as close as we got to you there. You also enjoyed hitting the library by yourself. I think you may actually read a book up there but for the most part I think you just enjoy hanging with friends or playing on the Wii. 

You have also gotten into gym shoes this year. And not just any old gym shoes, but the best of the best. Kyrie basketball shoes, Jordans, and  expensive Saucony running shoes. Of course, you know your mom’s weakness. I cannot say no to a sweet pair of gym shoes. You and I have found I love in going to the running store and trying on 10 different pairs of shoes (we only walk out with one or two pairs each though:)). 

As much as you like receiving nice things, you also exercised your giving muscles this year. You attended Feed the Streets with me and you went to the shelter to help pack food during the summer. You also collected backpacks for homeless kids going back to school, and talked up a storm to the YMCA coordinators when we delivered them to the shelter. You enjoy giving to people, both in donations and in laughter. You had the coordinators cracking up and amazed at how confident you were at your age.

You and your cousin have gotten into scootering. You love to watch tricks being performed online by skaters, and then trying them out yourself. You have been trying to master some flip turns at the skate park. You love heading to your grandma’s house because she takes you and your cousin to the skate park everyday. 

You talk about moving to LA every other day, and buying a Lamborghini or a Bugatti. You dream of hosting a killer YouTube channel and having millions of fans. Somehow, dad and I can picture this dream coming true for you based on your personality. 

You still love chocolate and sugar just like your mom – you will chow down a chocolate long john donut at any time of the day or night. You love a good action or comedy film – the days of watching Pixar movies with you are over – you want PG-13 everything, if not R…. You would drop everything to go fishing or hunting with your dad. The only activity I engage in with you where I get that reaction is wrestling. You still love to wrestle with me (it’s getting harder and harder with your increased strength).  You fight with your sis at times but in the end, you always have her back. If you see her getting messed with, you move right to her side. You are still an emotional thing and very sensitive. You get really upset when someone interrupts you and you get sullen when someone says something that hurts your feelings. You want respect (but you have to remember to give it, too). You have gotten better at expressing your frustrations more calmly since you have gotten closer to the double digits. We are working now on letting go of comments that may hurt your feelings and enveloping a greater sense of worth about yourself and your abilities. 

When I asked you what 10 would bring, you told me you wanted to learn more scooter tricks. When I asked about school, you said you wanted to read faster. When I asked what you wanted to do with your mom, you stated that you wanted to do more for the homeless (you knew the right answer!). When I asked what you wanted to do with your dad, your immediately chirped back that you wanted to go hunting, and lots of it. 

Dad and I are so lucky to have you in our lives. You bring much laughter to the household and beyond. You also remind us to play hard and let go of chores and work. Jump on the bed and wrestle. Head out back and play basketball. Watch the skater on Xbox take a head dive. It’s all cool, just like you. Happy 10th birthday, my darlin’. We love you!

Happy 12th Ri!

Our baby girl turned 12 on May 2. It’s hard to believe that 12 years ago, I was walking around the hospital halls trying to break my water so that I could finally meet her face-to-face. What would she look like? How would she act? Would she cry a lot or be chill? 

I had worked out the morning Ri was born – a 3 mile run and then weight-lifting and squats. I drove down to the doctor’s office for my 9 am appointment fully expecting to hear that all was going smoothly and take care until my next weekly visit. After all, I was still two weeks away from my due date. But surprise! As I laid on the table with legs spread and hands resting on my belly trying to feel Ri kick at me, the doctor peeked up from behind the sheet to calmly pronounce “you are dilated and effaced – you are going to have a baby today.”

Shit!

My stomach ached with fear of the pain of birth, joy at finally meeting my daughter, anxiety about the contractions, excitement about this change in our lives. But mostly, fear of the pain I was going to go through since I was adamant to “go natural” with no drugs. My Aunt Terrie had given me her birth video from the 1990s and listening to it would make you believe that she was being tortured by every person in the room. I laughed while watching it at my 6 month mark but it was not funny any longer. This was the real deal! 

The contractions came on the way to the hospital  with Jon (I drove home from my doctor’s appointment in order to take the dog for a quick walk and gather my things – Jon thought I was insane). They weren’t bad at all – just strange. Then they came every three minutes once we were in a hospital room. Still, they were tolerable. After an hour, the doctor recommended that they break my water and see what happens. They broke it at 12:30 PM and just over two hours later – at 2:41 – I got to make face-to-face contact with Maria Grace. I did not know what to think about those little black eyes staring up at me. 

Was she actually going to call me “mom” someday? How did this come about? How was I, a “mom?!”

When I was pregnant with Maria, I read an essay by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek titled I’ll Never Stop Saying Maria. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I must’ve read it 20 times over and cried each time harder than the last. I had a rough relationship with my mom as a teenager. She and I would fight – and fight hard – over the dumbest things.  Harsh words thrown like grenades at one another. Slamming doors. Screaming and tears. I had similar fights with my stepmom as a teen. In looking back, you can reason it – you can see why it was all happening. I had a lot of emotions swirling around my teen body with my parents’ divorce, my move from my community, being apart from my baby sister. I didn’t process how I was acting, why I was acting the way I was, how I may be hurting people who had dedicated themselves to raise me. Was this how it would be with me and this girl growing in me?

 At one point in my pregnancy, the fear of having a daughter was so great that I thought “I don’t think I will love her as much as I love my dog!” My dog wouldn’t scream at me and fight me to the death. 

But then my daughter arrived. 

The first few weeks, I would wake up terrified she was suffocating or choking on throw-up (too many 80’s horror movies). I would run into her room and jostle her to make sure I could see that she was breathing (I completely relate to Shirley McClane’s character in Terms of Endearment when she would pinch Deborah Winger, hear her cry, and then leave the room with a sigh of relief)!

In Quindlen’s essay, she argues that raising a daughter is a “complex matter.” She states:

Despite those who burble about someone to shop and chat with, the truth is that in their search for self, girls challenge their mothers in a way that boys rarely do. The ruling principle of burgeoning female identity seems to be a variation on Descartes: I am not my mom, therefore I am. Prudence Quindlen’s revenge, my father once called our youngest child, figuring she would give me the agita that I had given my own gentle mother. Certainly that has sometimes been the case. But Maria has done something for me that I never anticipated. She made me want to be a better woman.

Ri is just starting to test me and exhibit a bit of lip. It’s bearable for the moment. Typically, after a squabble, she will come give me a hug and apologize or I will do the same. We don’t stay angry for long. I want to think it will stay this way when she’s 16 – how much can she really change? My friends with teens laugh hysterically at my question. And then I think back to me at 16. Holy hell….

I am a Type A personality – I want control over things and I want them executed, NOW. I cannot sit still for more than three minutes, and I am prone to the extremes. I could hike for 10 hours straight. I thrive on constant action. Maria loves to savor her time. She could sit down to an amazing meal for five hours and simply enjoy the company and the deliciousness of the food. I would scarf mine down in 10 minutes and say “where are we off to next?!” Ri loves to rollerskate and rock climb; she could skip intense competition altogether. Ri is a daredevil. She would skydive or bungee jump in a heartbeat; I would rather have my eyes poked out. Ri listens and feels down to her core. She knows how to be in the moment. I barely savor a bite of my double chocolate chip scone on Sunday morning. These personality differences – along with raging hormones – are bound to cause some strife, but I am still confident, as Ri turns 12, that we can weather it. After all, I have the two women who weathered it with me giving me advice and solace during these times.

Ri is a fun kid – rarely in a foul mood – and she loves to have a good time. Even a ride to Target ends up amusing with her. She throws herself into the world – not caring if people look at her funny or think she’s weird. One of her mottos could be: “This is me – take it or leave it.” I’ve commented on numerous occasions that she may want to re-think wearing pj’s and roller skates to the coffee shop. Her response: “you tell me not to care what people think, so I don’t. Let’s go!” She would rather spend a day with her cousin Elena than go to a friend’s party. She is loyal to family, and chooses time with them over anything else. She’s non- judgmental and gets along with most everyone no matter if they are a star athlete or grunge. The other day I rolled my eyes at a lady wearing spiked heel and a crop top in the library. Maria counseled me: “you don’t know where she’s from or what she’s like so don’t judge her, mom.”

I imagined having a daughter would be exciting – getting to raise a female to conquer the world! I would teach her how to play softball, read books about strong women, take her to inspiring events. And it has been all that and more so far. But what I didn’t realize was how much Ri would influence me. I recall reading one of Shirley MacLaine’s books before I even contemplated kids. She talked about her daughter and believed that her daughter was her mother in a past life (love Shirley and her belief in reincarnation). I often think the same about Ri. How many times has Ri corrected me or reminded me of how to act?! I cuss and she gives me the glare. I’m inpatient and sighing, she tells me to calm down. 

She makes me consider what is important in life. She gets me thinking about new experiences. She pushes me to try new foods and relax for her homemade facial. She makes me jump off the inflatable when I’m scared to death. She sprays me with the hose while I’m in my work clothes and has me laughing about it minutes later. She has me question why I feel I have to wash the floor when I could be playing Yahtzee instead. 

She quashes my ego; it’s no longer about me, me, me but about her, her, her forging a life that is spontaneous, joyful, genuine, and open-minded.  It is such a gift to watch her grow up. Happy 12th Ri!  I am eternally grateful you are my daughter.



 

Happy 9th birthday, Mario!

Mario turned nine yesterday. At least, he turned nine in biological years. In Mario years, he’s 21. 


If he could break free from the confines of his parent’s house, he’d do it in a heart beat. If he could head to the bar and drink a cold one, he’d be off. If he could head to the coffee shoppe and get an espresso, he would walk there in a second. If he could bike to campus to hang out with millennials, he’d grab his helmet and take off. 

This is not to say that he doesn’t still ask me to get him water or rub his back at night. It’s not to say that when he’s chillin’ on the couch he doesn’t ask me to sit next to him and snuggle. He even still let’s me squeeze and kiss him in private (he’d die if I did it around friends). 

But he has definitely hit an independence streak. I think he may deal with us until age 16 and then pack his bags for California and take off to hang with the surfer dudes and make vlogs. But he loves  money so much that if he did move out, he’d be one of those young, hip entrepreneurs who drops out of high school but makes millions.

So, how to sum up Mario’s eighth year of life? He loves you tube. He loves watching music videos. He loves playing video games with his buddies. He loves going to football games and playing on the hill with his friends and talking with the older kids. He loves wrestling and jumping all around the house. He loves sports. He enjoys biking by himself to the library or down to school. He still craves chocolate everything. He will drop all plans to go fishing. He remains a total character. He is compassionate and sweet, and loves to make people laugh.

Some highlights from his eighth year:

1. Football games with his buddies and sideline passes with his dad.


2. Halloween trick-or-treating with his two friends (and mom not standing too close to them as they went house to house)…and a boatload of candy!


3. Serving Thanksgiving meal to homeless men at the Y and chatting it up with them.


4. Christmas morning opening presents – oh, the drama and anticipation!

5. A broken arm! At 11:20 pm on NYE, you ran into my friend’s dining room  holding your arm and crying that it was broken. Your friend had fell down on it as you were playing. Sure enough, it was. We sat at the hospital as the New Year was brought in laughing at you in your “high” state from the pain meds. 


6. You took care of Grandpa Ionno’s grave in Marietta.

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7. You went to Feed the Streets with me and walked a mile passing out water and lunches to people in need.

8. You went hunting with your dad and “had the best day of your life!”


9. You watched OSU hockey with your buddies in a suite with tons of cookies, and met Brutus!


10. You got all dressed up for Easter and killed it on the volleyball court.


11. You went on Spring Break with the Webers and Muellers to Hocking Hills. You went fishing and hiked. I met you there two days into break and we explored together. You loved taking risks and climbing steep rock climbs.


12. You cranked baseball this year – one of the strongest players!


13. You fed a baby calf and named it after a girl at school (romantic, just like your dad).

14. You starred in your first talent show singing “We will rock you!”

15. You became enamored with ball pythons.

16. You started sporting sweet Panama Jack hats.


17. You won Elena’s heart by making her laugh with your silly antics.


18.You kayaked and fished on Lake Erie.


19. You went white-water rafting, zip lined, and completed a mud obstacle course in West Virginia!


20. You blobbed your sister!

21. You swam in the creek at Park of the Roses with your pup!

22. You won a poop emoji at the Ohio State Fair!


23. You started third grade – your last year at RLS!


24. You celebrated your birthday with a bunch of friends at Get Air and a sleepover!


Happy birthday our sweet Mario. I hope this year brings you lots of learning experiences and lots of adventures. And guess what?

We love you (you weren’t here to say it before me:)!).

Wait a minute 

Thanksgiving arrived abruptly this year. In years’ past, I spent a week pre-festivities getting things together and prepping the house for thanks and gratitude. After all,Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I am a big believer in gratitude and its positive effects on your life. NPR had a clip about gratitude the day before Thanksgiving. I gratefully got to take a walk with the pup before work and listened to the entire interview. Researchers conducted a study of a group of patients who recently suffered heart attacks. One group wrote in a gratitude journal for weeks after the heartatrack and the other group did not. The group who kept a journal got better more quickly. Other studies have shown that people who practice gratitude tend to be more hopeful, joyful and content. 

The last couple of years, I’ve created a gratitude tree for Thanksgiving. The kids have helped to cut leaves out of construction paper and I’ve had family write down what they are thankful for and hang their leaf on a twig. I tried to even have family members go around at the dinner table and pronounce something or someone that they are grateful for but Jon always gives me the look (deep down, I know he’s grateful for me and my antics nonetheless).

However, this year,Thanksgiving snuck up on me like a burglar. I barely had time to set the table much less create a tree. We had Jon’s family over this year. All of his brothers were in town for the holiday, which is a rare treat. Maria was in seventh heaven because she got to stay with Patty for three days straight and sleep over with her girl cousins, Alana and Dagmawit. Mario loved hanging with his boy cousins, too.  

The traditional Thanksgiving meal was served, and it was carb heaven. Patty’s corn casserole, potatoes, Patrick’s stuffing and rolls. We were able to get the adults around the dining room table, too, which was nice. The kids acted goofy and rambunctious in the other room. 

After the meal, I took the pup for a walk with Chris and Connie and Michael and Debbie. It felt good to move a bit. None of us were ready for all the desserts even at the end of the night. The carb overload was too much. We were ready for some music serenades though. Maria and Alana gave us a short concert.  

Amy and Zach stopped by for a bit after dinner and chatted it up with us. We commiserated over plantar fasciitis and leg aches. Rocco flipped out when he saw Zach; he recognized him immediately. Zach was our life-saver when Rocco was a pup; he let him out two times a day and tossed the stick with him all the time. 

Margie and I talked about raising these girls of ours and all the joy and heartache in that task. Michael and Debbie talked about their biking adventures. I had Connie watch the you tube clip on awareness that Meg posted on FB. I figured she’d appreciate it in her social work role. 

The girls couldn’t get out of the house quick enough to head home with Patty. They were so excited to do blind makeovers on each other. And Mario was stoked about sleeping over at Gio’s because they were gonna play video games all night.

Jon and I got a breather on Friday morning. I got in a good workout and he got in a farm auction. Then the entire crew and more joined us on Friday evening to celebrate the matriarch’s birthday. 

How is Patty 76?! The woman looks and acts half that age. She’s unbelievable.  

I loved seeing all the cousins get together and play. It reminds me of hanging out with my cousin Kerry on special occasions. And sweet Baby Harper joined us in the celebration! She is such a doll; she goes to anyone and smiles non-stop. Maria plopped her right on her hip and carried her from room to room. Mario glued on to Isaiah as soon as he walked in the house. He loves Isaiah because he is an amazing athlete. He wanted to play b-ball with him but it was raining. 

The boys went with me to pick up the pizzas for dinner. I put on some electronica jams for them and turned around to this vision.  

Heaven help me. 

We sat at the dining room table and debated whether Kevin dangling a friend from his feet out a three story window was funny or not (Kevin was a young lad at the time). Then we moved onto other childhood antics (no matter what occasion the story of Chris and Jon taking all the milk and making Patrick use water for his cereal comes up!). After the pizza was demolished and we had a break on conversation, the kids and I found candles and decided on one single one to light in the pie. We gathered around and sang happy birthday to Patty. She was overcome with emotion. “This is only the third birthday party I’ve had in my lifetime.” I’ve got my eyes on a huge one for 80.   

   
Margie and I took the girls for a walk after dessert. Ri had no desire to go but Alana and Dag wanted to go so she succumbed. Margie and I got to talk about motherhood again, and the challenges that come along with it. Both our gals are rather strong-willed, which we love but also can lead to trying times. If we can make it through those teen years though, they will be leaders with their personalities! When we got home, the girls waltzed downstairs and sang us a song in their get-ups….  

  
And, of course, I had to irritate Jon at least once during the holidays by asking everyone to gather around for a family picture. Carrie moved us towards the steps for a different pose this year and it only took fifteen minutes for all of to situate who should be where. But we did it! 

 Ionno Thanksgiving 2015!

Happy 10th Birthday to our Buddha Girl!

How is this baby ten years old already?


My heart rests atop the knot in the middle of a tug-o-war rope. One side wants you to stay my little Buddha baby and one side wants to witness you continue to grow and learn and feel and experience. The above picture is your daycare school picture at 6 months old. I dressed you up in your maroon turtleneck and little wool skirt and you sat up perfectly straight for the camera. But there was no smile happening for that cameraman. He tried and tried – wiggling funny animals your direction and making ridiculous faces – but you’d have none of that action. You were probably contemplating the meaning of his existence as he engaged in those antics (and thinking “keep acting crazy, I’m not cracking a smile!”).

Grandma Meg’s friend had this comment when looking at your sweet face: “if you want to draw Maria’s face, you just draw a perfect circle.” She was dead on. We called you our Buddha because of that perfectly round head, those eyes in full contemplation, and that full belly.  I remember how you would lay in your crib and suck on your binky while rubbing the satin part of your pink bunny against your face. Just rubbing and staring at the ceiling.

And you used to lay your head on my shoulder with your arms draped over my arms.  Mouth open and drool coming out of the side.  I would find any mirror I could find and look at you sleeping against me.  How strange it was to have this little being completely dependent on me but how much I completely and totally loved it like I could have never imagined.  I couldn’t wait to come home from work to play with you, hold you, rock you, read to you.  And you must have felt the same way because you stayed up off and on throughout the entire night until you were 20 months old!  You clearly wanted as much time with me and dad as possible. And now look at you – 10 years old and just as contemplative as you were at 6 months.

You’ve also inherited a bit of feistiness and fearlessness in your ten years, which makes you quite the handful at times.  But you always engage people with compassion and love and understanding, which is not something exhibited by a lot of people your age – or any age – for that matter.

Example: Mario was not listening when I told him it was time for bed. He kept playing around and jumping on the bed and I had enough. I yelled at him and told him I was sick of him not listening to me. He began crying and ran to his room. You approached me as I washed my face and began your diatribe: “Mom, I really don’t think it’s fair that you yelled at Mario. He is used to you allowing him to jump around on the bed and act silly because you usually let him get away with it each night. I know you are probably tired tonight because you had a bad work day but I think you could have been a little nicer to Mario and he would have listened.”

You were at once standing up for your little brother and being gentle to the one you were up against (me). I think you are a born lawyer and would be able to sway a jury to your side in a heartbeat.

Another example: You were listening to Mario beg to get his ears pierced because he thinks it’s cool and dad continued to refuse his request. You sat quietly for a bit and then started in on dad: “why can I get ears pierced and Mario can’t? What’s the difference? Is it because he’s a boy and I’m a girl? Is that fair?”

You are thoughtful about your arguments and are fairly quick at responses to your “opponent.” I’m telling you, Judge Maria would be a judge I’d vote for….

You continue to embody a most caring heart; you are always concerned about people’s feelings and love to see folks’ smile. We were getting ready for a city-wide garage sale and you wanted to donate all monies you got from the sale of your items to a local shelter. When your little brother is dying for a new toy, you are the first to try and buy it for him with your piggy bank fund.

We’ve struggled a bit this year with self-doubt and worries that you aren’t good enough. You can tend to give up on something and then dive into negative thinking.  These pre-teen years will continue to bring on those doubts and worry and I will work my hardest to talk you through them and listen to you. I have seen you do a good job the past few months talking things out more with me and your grandmas and your aunts, and we promise to continue to encourage open dialogue as you navigate these lovely pre-teen years.

But this year has also been a huge turning point year for you, sweet RiRi.

You have enjoyed a diverse group of friends. You do not have one best friend that you can’t live without; rather, you have a lot of friends who you feel comfortable hanging with for a play date. You are perfectly content doing a range of activities depending on the friend: playing barbies, climbing trees, jumping on a trampoline, drawing pictures, riding your bike, doing science experiments or watching tv.

You decided to play soccer! And now claim it as your favorite sport! This is the girl who absolutely detested it in years’ past and refused to give it a thought. It does not come particularly natural to you but you try hard and usually give it your best at practice and at games. And, you even ended up as the top scorer for your soccer team this Spring with two goals! I was so proud of you that I leapt off the bleachers screaming “that’s my girl!” Not embarrassing at all for you, I’m sure.

You got in the geography bee! There were only five fourth graders and five fifth graders to qualify based on high test scores and you were one of the fourth graders; and there was only one other girl in the bee (a fifth grader). You studied for it fairly routinely (a little nudging from me at times) and ended up one question away from being the student who moved ahead to the regionals. You got all of the first ten questions correct without batting an eye. You were poised and collected while the question was read and when you answered. Others shifted in their seats or twisted their hair but you remained super cool (this is you looking super cool heading off to school)!

You participated in Girls on the Run! Now this was another mind blowing occurrence. You hate, and I mean hate, to run. So if the program had been just about running, there is no way you would have agreed. But in reading about it, it focused on leadership skills and building self-esteem. I really wanted you to participate because you are at an age when it is so important to learn about self esteem and positive thinking.  But I still knew it would be a hurdle to get you to participate because of your hatred for running. So I talked with you about it numerous times and explained to you that it wasn’t focused on the running and that you could run as fast or as slow as you wanted. Plus, it would give you time with your girlfriends.  I knew that part would help win you over as you are always up for social hour.  You hesitantly agreed and I am so proud of you for continuing through it this Spring. The first few weeks you begged to not go – you were bored and you dreaded the running – but I made you go and you always ended up saying “it wasn’t too bad.”  And then, holy cow!  You had a practice 5K to get you prepared for the race at the end of May.  You dreaded it. You went to sleep on the eve of the practice run and cried about having to get up the next day and do it.  I kept encouraging you and thought of you throughout the day you ran it.  When I finally got hold of you after practice, you sounded exhilarated.  I asked how it went and you exclaimed “it was good!”  You ended up finishing it in 35 minutes and you even asked if you and I could take a little run on Saturday mornings.  I about fell out of my chair at work, and the rest of the day I beamed about you and your perseverance (but don’t worry, I know you’d rather bike any day of the week!).

You learned the violin and performed wonderfully at the Spring concert! I am so proud of you sticking with it through the year even though there were days you did not want to practice. Learning an instrument and understanding melodies and comprehending notes will benefit you in many ways; one benefit is being able to Skype with Uncle Jack and play music with him!)


And you continued to teach me to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I still can’t believe you got me to parasail with you this Summer. This is an activity I would have never accomplished absent my daring daughter taunting me and making me feel wimpy for not trying something a nine-year old had no fear doing. So thank you, Ri, for keeping me adventurous and daring!

Dad and I are constantly amazed by you and know that you will only amaze us more in this tenth year of life. We love you a gazillion times over and are overjoyed to be your parents!

Happy 10th Birthday, Ri!

43 for 43!

On my birthday… Top 43 things I’ve done in my 43 years:

1. Given birth without any drugs. Some of the most excruciating pain I’ve experienced but the miracle and grace of both childbirths cannot be described.

2. Rode the Beast at Kings Island without completely soaking myself.

3. Married my hubby. Some of the most excruciating pain at times (ha) but his humor and love for family surpasses anyone’s on the planet. He is my number one supporter and I’m so glad I get to share this life with him.

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4. Swam with a shark! Yes, only a three foot shark but still, a shark!

5. Traveled with my dad and Meg on family vacations to Michigan and Washington. I would pout up a storm as a teenager about having to go and now I am so grateful for those memories and for instilling a deep appreciation of nature the outdoors in me.

6. Parasailing! I would never do it with Jon in Cancun but Ri convinced me in Florida. I was scared sh–less but I did it.DSC03900

7. Watched my sister give birth to my niece. It was one if the most tender, intimate, amazing experiences of my life, and it was kinda nice not to have to push and struggle in order to see the birth!

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8. Walked with Ri and Mario as infants in the Baby Bjorn. I still can feel their tiny head resting on my chest and their baby feet cupped in my hands.

9. Finished a marathon! I would have never done it without Sarah asking me to run it with her. Hell from mile 15 on but it was like childbirth: hell going through it and within ten minutes afterwards, you are ready to do it again!

10. Trips to my Grandma Menkedick’s house. She never disappointed. Always had chips and cookies to share and hilarious stories about card games with her friends or vacations she took. She was a true grandma in the sense of the word and we loved each other dearly. As I laid with her in her final days, she continued to whisper “you were a good granddaughter, Mary.” And I made sure she knew she was a beautiful grandmother.IMG_0351

11. Danced with a turkey in Mexico. That’s right. At Sarah’s and Jorge’s wedding. Mexican tradition we were told. My dad and I had drank enough Mezcal to not care whether it was tradition or not.

12. Taught aerobics. I was no Jane Fonda but I taught a mean class for a while.

13. Traveled to New York with my mom in my early 20’s. What a hoot we had between seeing Phil Donahue in person and getting hit on by New York construction workers.

14. Spent a lot of time with my Heile aunts. These women showed me love, let me watch inappropriate movies and listen to disco music, played card games with me, fed me junk food, let me spend the night, and listened to me ramble on and on about my superball collection and my stuffed animals. They will all be sainted for that.

IMG_9012 15. Took a 40th birthday vacation with my long-time girlfriends to Italy. Nothing like connecting with old friends over wine, the Italian countryside, and home-cooked meals.IMG_0250

 

 

16. Coached girls’ softball. I love watching these girls gain confidence in themselves and support one another. And it’s awesome spending time with my girl.IMG_9407
17. Hosted a surprise 60th birthday party for my mama. She is the last person to ask for pampering and I was thrilled to give her some.

18. Biked 100 miles in Pelotonia to support cancer research. On a mountain bike even!

19. Took an 8th grade class trip on a bus to Washington DC. Everyone has got to partake in that experience once in their lives.

20. Kissed a dolphin. One of Jon and I’s favorite excursions in Cancun.

21. Watched my brother act in a play at Ohio State and jam it out with his musical band on stage. He is an artist in every sense of the word and I marvel at his talent. I love how Ri proudly brags “my Uncle Jack is famous because he has a CD.”

22. Bought a gorgeous home in Grandview that is already filed with hundreds of memories of times with kids and family and friends (Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are the best!).IMG_6905

23. Had a super short 80’s spiked-on-one-side haircut that I will never ever have again.

24. Stood front row in a field in Ireland and watched Michael Jackson perform a full two hour long concert.

25. Caught a baseball thrown to me by my favorite Reds player of all time, Dave Parker, and completed a 5K that ended in the Reds Stadium (and won first place in my division!).IMG_3718

26. Wrote to Anna Quindlen after the birth of Maria telling her how much that her article in Newsweek about her daughter, Maria, deeply affected me. She wrote me a thoughtful letter in return. Cherish.

27. Went sled riding down Wyman Woods hill with Maria and Mario nearly every Winter – even when there was barely any snow and a lot of molehills that had my butt bone aching for days.IMG_7550

28. Hunted turkeys with Jon at 5 am in the morning. Nothing like spacing out to a gorgeous tangerine sunrise only to be awakened by rifle shots and turkeys squawking.

29. Entered a hot legs contest but came in second. Allegedly it was rigged for the girl who won first to win it – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

30. Took in the Grand Canyon with Jon and the kids.  One day we will head back and hike to the bottom and back up.  IMG_2524
31. Got my law degree. I wish I could change careers every three years but this degree has done me well.

32. Participated in the Day of the Dead celebration in Oaxaca with my mom and sis and Jorge. The reverence and beauty in the celebrations of their deceased is beautiful.

33. Flew right next to the pilot in a tiny airplane from Key West to some city in Florida I cannot recall. But I can recall the amazing sunset that occurred before my eyes. Both terrified of the flight and mesmerized by the beauty of the falling sun.

34. Dipped my legs into the Arctic Ocean. Jon dipped his entire body and shivered for four hours afterwards (even with 30 minutes in a steam room).

35. Petted an alligator. The kids got a kick out of this adventure – where else but off the highway in Florida.

36. Nursed my babies. It didn’t last long and pumping was a bit– but the experience while it lasted created such a peaceful intensity.

37. Strollered my babies everywhere the first five years of their lives. God, I loved that BOB. It took us to the river to throw rocks, up to Giant Eagle for donuts, all around Grandview for me to get my run in, through Blue Ash to get Marx Bagels, to the parks. I was depressed for a good month when Mario would no longer ride in it.20141106-213506.jpg

38. Saw Prince in concert twice. Once in 6th grade with my mom – dressed in all purple and sat at the top of the coliseum and once with Jon and sat in the first 20 rows of the arena. Prince was sexy and amazing both times – total crush on him.

39. Witnessed Jorge get sworn in as a US citizen, and witnessed the joy and determination in the scores of immigrants’ faces who were joining Jorge in the process.  There was no way to not feel immense joy for the entire rest of the day.IMG_0633

40. Climbed the steps of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh with Sarah and Ri.

41. Ate a fried grasshopper.

42. Jogged the 7 hills of Cincy race and ran up every hill.

43. Kept a blog so I can remember all these things. With each year, I forget more and more!

I by all means know how blessed I am to have been able to experience all I have in these past 43 years, and to possess such a richness of both family and friends. There’s no stopping me at 43 – can’t wait to see what’s on my list of things I’ve done at 86!

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Party Girl

I do believe that if Ri could spend every weekend at a friend’s house, she’d do it. She would not long to be home with us or cry for Jon or me in the middle of the night. She is a party gal.

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She had to go to the Ox a Roast festival on the opening night – Thursday. She completely forgot that it was her brother’s birthday. I called the mom she was with over and over with no luck and then finally drove down to get her. And I see the two of them “hanging out” with plastic cups of lemonade (can we keep that beverage in those cups at age 18, please?). They were giggling and running around and loving life. I will give Ri credit – when I reminded her it was Mario’s birthday, she felt bad and wanted to run home. She continued to party it up for Mario’s birthday – getting all of his gifts lined up for him and singing as he opened them. >

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She stole a big ol’ hug from Mario after he opened her present and demanded a smooch from him.
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She made sure we placed seven candles in his chocolate donuts (she wanted to give him seven donuts) and brought him in to sing to him.
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She got invited to a sleepover at Anna’s house on Friday night. Anna was under the weather a bit so they stayed home and skipped the Ox Roast. I texted Anna’s mom on Saturday to see how things were and she informed me that Ri didn’t want to come home. Lovely. Eventually, Anna and Ri came to our house and begged to go to the Ox Roast. I packed us up and we headed down for a wild and crazy night.
Mario ran around trying to find Quinn. He’s at the age where I don’t quite need to watch over his every move but I also am not comfortable just letting him go on his own all night. Ri, on the other hand, is at the age where the thought of me walking with her absolutely makes her quiver in embarrassment. I am slowly coming around to the idea that she can walk around on her own as long as it is a small area and I am present somewhere in that small area (it also took a couple of weeks to feel comfortable about her walking up the street alone to meet friends to walk to school – ugh!). So Ri and Anna took off on their own while I kept an eye on Mario.
And what’s the first thing he did? Win a goldfish. Petco has got to love the Ox Roast because every kid wins a fish and therefore needs a tank and food and accessories. Mario showed his fish off and then moved on to the rides. He found Quinn and rode a few with him.

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He loves the wheel at the end of the Wacky House because he can run with all his might and not go anywhere. He thinks it’s hilarious. The guy running the House thought Mario was hilarious and let him stay in it for a long time.
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As he was running nowhere, Anna came rushing over to me screaming “Maria’s in the dunk tank!” Huh? I didn’t even know there was one. I grabbed her hand and ran over to the tank. There Ri was – all in pink, arms crossed, ready to get dunked.
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A couple of boys from her grade tried to get her (Will and Danny) but the quarterback of the football team achieved success. She loved it and got right back in line to do it again. Party animal.
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Mario wanted to dunk her so badly and got her on his first try.
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He then moved into line with Ri. Now, Mario loves to party, too but he hates getting wet. This is the kid who flipped out when his shorts got wet on the log flume at Kings Island. But he kept swearing to me that he’d be fine. He eventually got up on the seat and waited to be dunked.
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I believe the quarterback got him, too. As soon as he walked over to me afterwards, I saw him soaked and shivering.
“Mom, I wish I could reverse time and have listened to you.”
That is a rare admission and I soaked it up. I called Jon to come get him as we continued to watch Ri and her girlfriends get dunked over and over again.
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I eventually made Ri and Anna leave with me at 9 pm since Jon was at home watching the football game and I wanted to relax a bit with him. They sulked for a second but then dragged their feet to the car. Ri partied it up for a bit when we got home while Mario conked out on the couch immediately (that running to nowhere wore him out). Ri passed out after a bit on the chair.
The next morning, she came into my bedroom a bit bleary-eyed and stood next to me.
“Mom, can we go to the new MarketPlace and get some muffins. I need food in my stomach.”
Spoken like a true party girl. >