Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

Is this how it will be every night when he is in college? Will I not be able to sleep worried that somebody is getting into his dorm room and strangling him? How can Jon be so calm and collected and not worry at all? How can he not think of the 10 million random, unlikely events that may occur to him while he’s away? I mean seriously, he didn’t worry at all that Mario may fall into the crack between his bed and the wall and suffocate?!

Mario was ready to go at 11 AM even though registration for basketball camp did not start until noon and lasted until 2 PM. I kept telling him if we get there at noon he would be starving and they did not have dinner until 5 PM. He did not care a bit. He wanted to get there and see his dorm. We ended up arriving around 12:15. We registered him and then walked over to his dorm a block away. How strange to walk in the doors and take a right down a hallway into a common area filled with unadorned chairs and coffee tables. It reminded me of heading into my first dorm at UC. His room was tinier than I imagined after hearing about the lush sleeping quarters of college dorms. It had two twin mattresses on wood slats and two simple writing desks. However, Mario thought it was the bomb.com!

We tried to help him unpack his garbage bag of things (Jon kept asking him to use a duffel bag but he thought a garbage bag was easier) but he wanted to do it all himself. He shoved socks and underwear and shorts and shirts all in one drawer when he had six that he could use. Typical. I helped put the sheet on his bed and then he situated his blanket on top. He was stoked to have his room all to himself. The thought had been that he could take one of the mattresses and put them in his buddy’s room who had already agreed to bunk with his cousin. But when we saw the small size of the room, I doubted it would be possible. Then again, they are boys and could care less about space.

I got a call at 10 PM from him. When I saw his name light up on my phone screen, I, of course went to the awful. Something was wrong. He was hurt. He was sad. He missed us. When I answered, I heard boys laughing in the background. Mario answered with a jubilant “hi mom! “Then he proceeded to ask if me or Jon could bring potato chips and candy down to the dorm.

Are you kidding?

I was so happy to hear him happy that I was half tempted to deliver some food at 10 pm. However, I was in PJs and needed to get up early in the morning so I told him we would bring food down the next day. He hung up the phone while laughing with his friends. All was well. I went to bed. I was woken up by Jon at 11 PM. He was talking to Mario. As he had just rattled me from sleep, I again immediately went to the thought that something was wrong. Jon calmed me down and informed me that Mario just wanted to say good night. I took the phone from him and saw Mario laying in his bed FaceTiming me.

“Hi mom. I just wanted to say goodnight to you.”

I asked him if he was going to stay in the dorm room all by himself. He answered yes. I wanted to question him more about whether he was OK with that or whether he thought he might get scared. But then I thought I did not want to put those suggestions in his head if he was OK with it. So I let it go and just told him to call us in the morning when he woke up.

Then I fretted all night long. Did he have a nightlight that he could use and see around his room if he needed to get up? Did he lock his door so nobody could get in at night and hurt him? What if he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – did he know where it was? Holy shit, how your brain can work in the late hours of the night. It felt like I had just gotten to sleep when the phone rang at 6:50 AM.

“Hi mom!”

He survived the evening. He put me on hold as he got dressed. Then he jumped back on the FaceTime and told me he’d talk to me later. He had to get to breakfast. He called me two more times during the day to remind me to bring food that evening. Jon and I watched him shoot around when we arrived at 9 pm. He was joking with some boys and trying to make threes. We enjoyed watching him in his element. We met him at his dorm at 9:45 and delivered two bags of party chips and sour patch kids. He whisked the stash away and headed in to the dorm knowing he’d be loved by his camper friends.

At 11 pm, he Facetimed me. He just wanted to tell me goodnight. This time I felt a little more secure because when we dropped off the party chips to him, I made sure I asked some of the chaperone college kids if they slept in the same wing as the boys. They assured me that they had plenty of college basketball players sleeping in rooms near them if anything went wrong. I couldn’t help myself; Mario would have died if he heard me ask it.

That being said, I slept all night that evening.

Temporary only child

Maria has now been gone for 10 straight days. She has reached out to Jon or I maybe two times over that period. She is loving life with her grandma and her cousin as they engage in a road tour of the South to visit their cousin in Savannah. I am grateful for Patty giving the girls this experience. I’ve seen Instagram photos of Tybee Island, the Savannah Riverwalk, homemade pizzas, and Gatlinburg. I cannot wait to hear the handfuls of stories when she comes home.

Meanwhile, Jon and I were left with a single child: Mario. It is initially strange to have only one child in the house but after a few days, it starts to become the norm. It’s as though she’s off at college – we miss her here and there but know she’s doing her thing. When Ri has been gone a few days, Mario visited me at work. We were riding the elevator down to my first floor lobby when he commented “yea, it’s kind of nice being the only child.” He gets all the attention. He doesn’t have Ri bossing him around. He can eat whatever he wants (Jon has little oversight).

He is a fun kid, and we enjoy hanging together. We played a lot of one on one basketball outside (and mini-hoop inside); hit the pool with Jon; went to my work and got Nutella sticks (his favorite); walked the pup; and played baseball.

He asked to travel to Cincinnati with me this past weekend to see Sarah read from her book at Joseph Beth bookstore. He didn’t even complain when I made him listen to a StoryCorps podcast with me for 30 minutes on Ghetto Life. At one point during the podcast, Jon called, so the podcast stopped. After I got off the phone with Jon, I looked at him and asked if he was ready to stop the podcast? He shook his head no and told me to keep playing it. I’m not sure whether he was truly into it or whether he just wanted to make me happy. He is super affectionate with me – even at age 10- and enjoys making me smile.

I took him on a tour of my old Clifton neighborhood. He got to see Calhoun Street and the house that I lived in for a few years on Fairview Avenue. He even indulged me and got out in the 90° heat to take the steps down to the park. Unfortunately, the steps were covered with tall weeds and grasses so we could not make it down. He also got to experience Findlay Market – a place I went to every once in a while with my mom but is a mecca for my sister. She often went there with my mom as a young girl. She and Jorge were sipping on coffee when we arrived. We walked around to the sellers’ stands and checked out what they had to offer. Mario noticed a guy selling fedoras. He was a large black man sitting on a stool with a sweet-looking tan fedora on his head. He looked at Mario and chuckled “you got a little head boy. I don’t think my fedoras will fit you!” Mario smiled and tried one on anyway. Sure enough, it fit pretty good. The man looked at Mario and started laughing. “Well, you proved me wrong, son. Your head is bigger than I thought!”

We bought that fedora up in no time as we chatted it up with the gregarious seller. We then headed over to the succulent plant stand and bought me a couple of succulents. Mario encouraged me to stop when I hesitated in the walkway telling him I really didn’t need one. “Come on mom, they are cheap and they make you happy.”

After the market, we headed to the Underground Railroad Museum. What a powerful place. Mario walked around with me reading about historical slavery, reading about the abolitionists, and reading about modern slavery. He had so many questions around the modern slavery exhibit as it relates to sweat shops in Third World countries and human trafficking. I was brutally honest with him and we had a good conversation outside on the balcony.

After the museum, we had about an hour before we had to head to the bookstore. Sarah invited us to go to their hotel pool. Mario begged me to do it. Of course, I would allow him, I just did not want to go in myself. But he suckered me into it and so we sat in the hot tub and swam in the pool together before the bookstore.

He was a gem at the bookstore, taking care of his cousins and talking with my family members. He enjoyed hanging out with his boy cousins who always roughhouse with him. He also got to see Rod’s new red Corvette. He found a couple of books that looked interesting, and asked if I would get them. My Aunt Julie, the teacher, had a gift card for the bookstore and gave it to me in order to buy his books. What a doll. On the way home, I made him read a few pages from his new book. Then, I allowed him to watch his YouTube videos while we ate Wendy’s burgers driving up I-71.

Connection

I have been feeling under the weather for the last two weeks. Poor Mario begs to wrestle with me every night and I have to decline or engage in some lame, half-baked wrestling moves, which only frustrates him. I have learned it is better to just say no to his pleading. A year ago, he would have gotten mad and stormed up to his room.

But lately, he has processed the decline much more maturely. He doesn’t stomp as much. He’s willing to engage with me and consider other things to do. And if he only wants to do the activity I refuse, he lets it go more quickly and doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He has also taken on more care and concern for Jon and me. He worries that Jon is not getting enough exercise for his heart and continually lectures him about taking walks. With me, he is weirded out to see me sick and not able to jump around with him like I always do. He has taken on this matronly approach asking if I’m ok all the time. I was in a meeting the other day and he called after school. I answered the phone and spoke quietly to him to avoid interrupting the meeting. I got off the phone with him and he called back 20 seconds later. I answered again with a hushed voice as I stood to leave the room worried something was wrong. He sounded concerned as he spoke.

“Mom, I’m just calling you back because you do not sound good. I want to make sure you are ok.”

Seriously? A 10-year-old boy being so thoughtful. Maybe my expectations are way low for him but I was completely blown away by his attention. I think there were little Mario-hearts swimming around my head during the rest of my meeting.

Maria has pushed me away over the last month. She talks to Jon about updates at school or sports but rarely me. I heard from many a parent, and know from personal experience, that Ri would start to move away from me as she headed into teenage hood. It still doesn’t make it easier. I miss her asking me to watch a show or play cards. I miss her enthusiasm in trying to get Mario to play with us. Now, it’s Mario asking where Ri is and when she will be home.

On the other hand, Mario wants to do more things with me, which soothes the Maria sting a bit. He was all into Jon for a while but he has turned to me lately. I guess that’s the universe’s way of patting my head and telling me to hang in – one child drifts away but another drifts in. Ebb and flow. Mario and I have found a rhythm – we converse about basketball, school, rap music, you tube videos, and we crack each other up. I have some vivid memories over the past few weeks of us laughing until we nearly cried. He’s got my sense of humor.

I feel grateful to have that connection with Mario as my connection with Ri loosens a bit to give her the space to explore.

Mother/son dance

So, Maria had her seventh grade dance a couple of weeks ago. It was time for Mario to have to participate in a dance as well. I am sure he would’ve been fine if it was a boy/girl dance like Maria had but instead it was a dance where you had to take your mom! Yuck! All the boys acted like they could not stand the thought of having to attend this event even though I think deep down inside, they were more comfortable going with their moms then going with girls.

A mom of one of Mario’s friends was offered a limo ride from one of her neighborhood friends. She invited A bunch of her sons friends, including Mario. I knew Mario would think it was a fun idea and be in for it, but I was a bit on the brink. What were we setting our sons up for? They get a limo for their fourth grade dance? Will it be a jet for their high school prom?!

The weeks before the dance were very different than the weeks before Maria’s dance. There was no scouring the Internet to try to find the perfect suit for the dance. There was no running to Target and five other stores to find the best shoes possible. It basically went down like this: we had to be at DK Diner at 5:30. At 5:00, I stopped vacuuming the house and told Mario I was taking a shower. Mario continued to play his video game. At 5:20, I yelled for Mario to come upstairs and get dressed. He tried on a pair of jeans and the only button-down shirt he had. He looked ridiculous. He and I are meant to live in sweatpants and T-shirts. He tried to get comfortable in the attire but after a few minutes of trying to jump around and pretend like he was throwing a dodgeball, he commented that there was no way he would be able to stay in those clothes for two hours and play. I completely understood. He changed back into Adidas sweatpants and a “nice “sports shirt. I bit the bullet and wore a pair of nice shoes with my jeans and tank top. I think I’m going to start up a mother/son event where everybody must wear gym shoes, lounge pants, and T-shirts or else you cannot get in. We got to DK a few minutes late but he grabbed a seat with all of his buddies and took down a cheeseburger and fries while I chatted it up with the moms.

We left a half hour later to head down to Mario’s friend’s house. The limo came shortly after we arrived and all of the boys went running up to it like there was a celebrity waiting inside. The boys oooohhh’d and ahhhh’d for ten minutes, and then we all settled in and began our ride around Grandview. A few of the moms brought some champagne. I played some jams. We kept asking the boys what songs they wanted to listen to but no one would chime in. Therefore, they got to hear some good 80s and 90s jams. After about 20 minutes of driving around, the boys were ready to jump out and head to the dance. They were gone as soon as the limo slowed down and all of the moms were left barreling out of the limo and walking into the dance by ourselves. And that was pretty much how the night was spent. The boys went off and played dodgeball or football games and the moms stood around and caught up (actually, it was a lot like Maria’s dance that way:)).

Mario was ready to leave after half of an hour. He just wanted to head home and watch a show on the couch with me. Precious. I was right there with him but we had promised the other moms and sons a long night so we hung in there. Eventually, Mario ended up finding things to do and running around until 8:30 when the limousine picked us back up. We headed to the chocolate café for some malts and brownies, and then the sugar-infested kids danced in the limo for the next 20 minutes. The moms, by this time, were ready to head home and put on their pjs.

Mario and I thanked his friends mom for the limousine service and hopped in our little ball though to head home. I watched him play his video game for an hour when we got home, and then he asked me to carry him to bed. Yes, I can still pick him up and carry him up the stairs for bed. I think that was my favorite part of the evening (that, and doing the chicken dance with him in the gym!).

Ping pong 

Seriously? I have been running around all evening buying last-minute gifts, stocking up on cinnamon rolls and bacon for Christmas breakfast, returning clothes that didn’t fit and buying ones that hopefully will…. After two trips from the car to the house with arms-full of groceries, Mario comes from around the corner to beg me to sword fight with him using card board tubes from the wrapping paper. 

“Dude, you have to give me a second. I just brought all these groceries in and have to put them away and I still have to wrap things.”

“Just a minute, mom. Come on.”

I put down the pie crust and go in the family room to fight. We dance around the room until he jabs me in the chest. My tube breaks in half.

“It’s ok, mom. You can use two halves and I will just cut mine and use one.”

We play again and then I tell him I have to put groceries away. He asks if we can play again after I put them away.  I keep reiterating the mantra “he will not want to play like this one day, take it in…” but the competing mantra is yelling “you have 7 presents to wrap and cookies to make – get on it!”

We play again, several times. It’s 11:30 pm and I can’t function any longer. I decide to wrap in the morning. I turn off the lights in the other rooms and hear Mario ask “where’s my Mountain Dew?” I answer that it fell over in the fridge and so I tossed it. Mario proceeds to throw his arms up and dart back and forth in anger. “Seriously, mom, that was from St. Nick. I had been waiting to drink it!” (And yes, sadly, St. Nick brings out family soda). 

I tell him he doesn’t need Mountain Dew at 11:30 anyway. He stomps past me and upstairs. I stand there looking down the hall where he had just been begging me to play with him. How does that work? How can I put aside everything to be with him and then he is able to get so angry at me to just end the night by brushing by me? Ugh, so irritating. 

And then I have to be the bigger person and forgive him when he says sorry while laying with Jon (who undoubtedly told him to say it). I just want to say “whatever” like a sullen teenager. But I acknowledge him and jump in bed beside him tickling his sides. When I stop, he begs for more. All is good again. It’s like a ping-pong game when they are at this age. Here’s to more pings than pongs. 

Mario heads off to camp

Mario went on his first three-night camp adventure two weeks ago. He heard Maria talking excitedly about the camp last year and wanted to go this year. It was the first year that he was eligible since you have to be going into fourth grade. I signed him up late; he was waitlisted at about number 50 when I checked on it in late May. The topic came up at the dinner table one night and I let him know that I was not sure he would be able to get into the camp. This fact led to many tears and anger and sadness, which led me to many phone calls and pleading and begging. I found out two other mothers were in my boat and had switched their sons to a different time – over the July 4 holiday. There were not a lot of kids signed up so I was able to get Mario in. I told him that I had worked some magic, and he was so excited.

As the time I got near, Mario seemed to have a bit of trepidation about the trip. He was not so much concerned about spending the night at the camp, but about his two buddies and how he would fit in. His two buddies are very close, and he was worried that they would partner up the entire time and he would be left with no one. I tried to explain to him that the reason for camp is to make new friends and that he would make new friends in his cabin. His response “I can’t make new friends because I will never see them again after we leave camp.” I told him that we could easily drive around Columbus to have a play date with a new friend. He looked at me like I was crazy. We let it be at that. I didn’t really mention anything more about the trip and he didn’t either prior to it arriving on a Friday morning. 

The night before he was to leave, he and I packed up his things. Actually, I should say I packed up his things while he shot baskets in his room. Yeah, another moment when I should have made him help me out but I was enjoying him in his element making slam dunks and trying to impress me. He found a flashlight, which was really the only item he was concerned about being packed.  I kept hugging him through the evening and teasing him that I did not want him to leave me.

I came home from work early on Friday and took Mario to camp. As we drove over together, he kept asking me if I wanted him to stay. I think it was his way of being nervous but putting it on me. I told him that he would be just fine at camp as long as he let himself have a good time and not worry about who was hanging with who. The drop off seemed easier with Maria – maybe because more of her girlfriends were going – but I think also because Maria just tends to have a different attitude with these things. She’s more able to go and make new friends or just find fun herself. Mario needs to know his buddies are there and worries more about being cool and wanting to impress. 

On a side note, Mario also gets freaked out when it is dark outside (because we have let him watch way too many horror films). He always needs me to come upstairs with him in the evening so I was a bit concerned that he may freak out in the cabin once night hit, and everyone would make fun of him.

When we arrived at our destination he grabbed his sleeping bag and slung his mesh bag over his shoulders. Two teenage boys greeted us under a tent. One of the kids’ names was Mario. Mario told him his name and the high school Mario didn’t react. I thought “come on, at least give him a high-five or something to make him feel more at ease.” My mama antennae were shooting up. We moved inside to the nurse’s line next and one of the high school boys saw Mario’s name tag. He put out his fist to Mario and said “I’m one of your counselors, Matt.” Mario fist bumped him and I felt better. 

We found Mario’s two buddies and they hung out looking all cool while us moms talked about how we thought they’d do at camp. Mario seemed to be relaxed and they were all talking together so I felt good. 


Then we started to see people walk out the front door. We grabbed the boys and told them we thought it was time for the departure. They moved outside with us still looking pretty cool. We made them take an obligatory photo for us. 


Then we moved them towards the buses. They still remained calm and collected, even giving me a wave when I told them to look back at me. 


They finally got on their bus; I saw Mario’s two friends sit together. My heart dropped. I saw Mario slide into the seat across from them. Dammit.

Then, I saw Mario jump up and lean over the two boys out their window. He yelled “bye mom” and waved to me. Thank goodness. He sat back down and chatted with his buddies across the aisle. The two other moms left but I waited until the bus took off. I moved to the side of the bus where Mario sat. I waited for him to look out the window at me but he was busy talking with his friends. So when I saw some buses ahead starting to move, I yelled “bye Mario, I love you.” He looked out the window at me and for the first time I saw a bit of trepidation in his eyes. He yelled back “bye mom, I love you too!” He usually would be embarrassed to say such a thing but I think the nervousness got to him and he wanted to let me know that he loved me before I left. And then he was off.


I only checked the camp website every 45 seconds to see if a picture was posted of him. Thank goodness there was the first night – he was smiling and running to the lake. Ahhhh.

There were more in the following days – not as many as I would have liked – but enough to make me feel at ease that he was alive and having a good time. 


Jon picked Mario up from camp three days later and brought him and Ri to my work for lunch. We peppered him with questions about his time at camp and we got one or two word responses. He talked about the soap slide and the lake and the hike. He thought the food was ok. He liked most boys in his cabin. It wasn’t until me and Jon were playing cards this weekend that we truly had some insight into what he did at camp.

“What are you guys playing?”

We told him we were playing Gin Rummy.

“How about we all play some blackjack?” 

Jon and I looked at him with mouths agape. 

“My counselors taught me how to play at camp. We would play for food each night. We can play for money if you want.”

And so there you go – no need for me to worry about him having a good time at camp.

Mario time

Last weekend, Maria and Alana went to Grandma Patty’s house, which left Jon and I alone with our boy. We had such a fabulous weekend hanging out with him. It’s nice to  only have one of your children for a day or two because it allows you to give your full concentration to that child and not be pulled in different directions. When the both of them are together you don’t get that intimate conversation that you do with just one. Not as though Mario was too intimate with Jon and I about his every day activities but we were able to get some information out of him. For example, I learned that he really likes a girl in his class because she’s “super cool and funny and always nice to him.” I also learned that he always talks in front of classes during his leadership session because his co-leader is too nervous to do so. That’s my boy.

On Saturday morning, I went on my run. I promised Mario I’d be back within two hours so he and I could take Rocco to the woods. He left with Jon and they did their car ride together where they get Starbucks and breakfast. Mario was ready to go when I got home. We bundled up and got Rocco ready. We ran to the woods, and Mario decided to look for Pokémon. He spotted one but it was through the trees across the tracks and over a busy road. We decided to go for it. I kept Rocco on the leash and we traveled through the trees, across the tracks, through more trees, and over to the main strip. It was exhilarating! Mario thought it was super cool to go the Illegal” way (yes, a bit disturbing). By the time we reached the strip, the Pokémon disappeared. We both just laughed about it because the thrill was in in the journey. As we headed back to the woods, we saw a train – yet another cool moment for Mario. Rack two up for mom.

When we got home, Jon was ready to take Mario to the archery/fishing store on the south side of Columbus. I was ready to clean the house and relax a bit. But Mario wanted all of us to go to the store together. After a bit of cajoling, I agreed to head down with the boys. I am so glad I did. What an experience to watch Mario in his element. He was so excited to show me how he shot his bow. The guys at the shop were mighty impressed with his archery skills. We went back-and-forth three times to adjust the tension level on his bow – I think he just wanted to adjust it each time so that it would give him another time to practice his shot in the store. I would typically be antsy but I loved to see him having such a great time. I would’ve stayed in the store all day with him just to see the joy on that face of his as he pointed out different things. He absolutely had a blast.


When we got home, we made sandwiches and hung out until I decided to get a 15 minute neck massage at Yi’s . Mario agreed I could leave for that time. But he made me promise when I got home we’d see the new Kong movie. 

Holy crap movie prices have skyrocketed! Granted, the boys only wanted to see Kong in IMAX 3-D, so the ticket prices were a bit higher because of that. It cost nearly $50 for the three of us to go see a movie and then another $25 just for a large popcorn and drinks. Insanity! I’m just going to ask for a movie gift cards for Christmas next year. But being together and watching that movie was worth it. Mario was so excited to have us by his side. At every scary scene, he would tell me that I could hold his hand and squeeze it if I got scared. Precious. And after the movie, we went home and chilled out together: watching a few YouTube videos, drawing a little, and watching some TV before bed. All things that make Mario very happy.


Leave it to the boys in my life to get me to relax a bit and enjoy the simple pleasures of life – ya know, like shooting a bow, looking at fishing gear, watching a Kong movie, and eating buttery popcorn. Loved this day with all my heart.