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.

Mario’s b-ball tourney

Mario can be intense. I think he got both my competitive nature and Jon’s desire to win, which creates a firestorm of emotion when he does not do as well he likes. 

He had tournaments all weekend for basketball. When we worked at the tournament, he was outside shooting hoops. At times, he was swishing them. At other times, he couldn’t shoot a basket to save his life. Unfortunately, the latter occurred right before we were leaving for his next tournament game. We got in the car upset as could be – slamming the car door as he plopped in his seat. Jon and I were frustrated at his attitude, and then proceeded to get irritated with one another about something stupid. We all sat in the car on the way to the tournament in cold stone silence. About 15 minutes into the trip, Mario whispered “A my name is Alan, my wife’s name is Addie…” 

Whenever it’s quiet in the car or I want the kids to stop looking at their tablets, I tell them we are going to play the alphabet game. They usually roll their eyes but go along with me. I wanted to keep the frown on my face when Mario spoke up with “A my name is” but I couldn’t. I immediately smiled, and was touched that he would break free from his anger and engage with us. It was quite impressive that the nine-year old could speak up but the 45 year-olds could not….

We arrived at the tournament in good spirits. He had a possibility of three games – all one and out. We thought it was a long shot that his team would advance since they didn’t have the best record but low and behold, they won the first game! Ri recorded it for the coach while rooting on her brother. Mario had to attend her tournament games so Maria was forced to attend his.

The boys got icees after their game. They waited around for another hour before their next game, wrestling around and being insane nine-year-old boys. We all questioned again whether we’d get through the second game or not. But these boys believed in themselves, and sure enough they won. Mario played another great game getting a couple of shots and playing magnificent defense. I think my talk earlier in the morning helped. I talked with him about trying to get his head out of the game. This seems like an oxymoron but I’ve been reading a book called “The inner game of tennis.” Jackson recommended it to me and said that it helped him a lot with his music. I immediately thought of Mario when I began to read it. He gets very upset with himself when he makes a poor shot or let’s an opponent get a shot on him and then he continues to do poorly because he is so upset. The book tries to help you understand that you need to simply play the game – get your head out of the judgment of whether you are playing good or bad – and just play. It also talks about letting go of the words “good” and “bad” and just letting the experience be what it is while moving onto the next one.  

We had a two hour wait between the second game and the championship game. Of course, they played on a day that it was 60° outside and sunny. I get a mom-of-the-year award for sticking around in that dark, dank gymnasium to watch my son play instead of being outside….

And they almost pulled out the championship game. They lost by four measly points. But they were really good sports about it, even cheering for the other team when they won their awards. It helped that they also got recognized for being a runner-up in the championship game; they all got medals. I was so proud of Mario for trying so hard in each game. 

And after sitting in a gymnasium all day long, we got to sit around a restaurant for the next two hours trying to calm down nine insane boys as they got balloon animals and grilled cheeses. Ahhh, what we endure as parents.

Buddy, the leopard gecko joins the family. 

This little guy joined our family on Sunday afternoon. Mario has been begging for a gecko for months. We considered one as a Christmas present but then decided against it because Mario didn’t plead and beg for it the week before Christmas. But then Mario broke his arm on New Year’s Eve; and he had nothing better to do than to dream about getting a new pet. 

He’d been talking about killing off his two fish for a year (we had told him in the past that he didn’t need a new pet because he had pet fish). Ri finally had heard enough and adopted his fish so she didn’t have to fret for their lives any longer. Now she has four fish swimming around in her room (Jon is known to pull up a chair in her room and watch them). 

So between the broken arm, the fish adoption into Ri’s room, and Jon and mine’s inability to say “no”, we ended up at the Captive Bred Pets Store after Maria’s basketball game on Sunday. The store is tucked away off Morse Road and houses a ton of reptiles, mostly big ol’ snakes. The dude (and yes, he was all “dude”) working at the front desk got peppered by questions from Mario. 

“Where’s your leopard geckos? Do you have their supplies? How many do you have?”

The dude shook his head and mumbled “we don’t have any of those geckos right now.”

Mario was devastated and holding back the tears. Maria immediately turned to me and fought for her brother.

“We need to find another store to buy Mario’s gecko. We can’t go home until he has one.”

I, on the other hand, felt blessed. Oh well, we tried, Mario. Now let’s head home and stare at the fish and be content with Rocco…. Well, not exactly. Jon and I both looked at Mario’s sweet face and knew we’d need to go someplace else.

So we hit Petland. Others had warned us not to go there to buy a gecko. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Mario ran to the gecko aquarium and Ri got a manager to help us. Mario picked up a few of them and then landed on his favorite. He affirmed that the one he was holding so gently was the one he wanted. 

We bought all the accessories and the live crickets and mealworms (not as gross as you’d think) and we’re off to the house to introduce the gecko to Grandview. Mario still had not chosen a name when we arrived home. I had fought for Clem after my grandpa but he nixed it. Ri mentioned a few but he didn’t like hers either.

Jon had to go back to the pet store because we had gotten the wrong size heat pad. This caused severe worry with Mario who was worried that his gecko would get too cold. Maria ran around to get blankets to wrap his box in while we waited for Jon. I went downstairs to get some water and when I returned, I learned our gecko’s name was Buddy. Maria informed me that Mario kept calling it “little buddy” when he picked it up or petted it so she suggested he just call it “Buddy.” Mario liked the idea and hence Buddy was its name. 

Jon arrived home and got the heating pad under the aquarium. He and Mario prepared the sand and vermiculite and housing quarters for Buddy. When they were finished, I was beckoned to Mario’s room. There stood Mario proud as a new papa letting Buddy climb all over him.

I couldn’t get over how personable Buddy was with us. He just climbed all over Mario and then sat in Mario’s palm and let Mario pet him. Maria begged to hold him and Mario finally relented. Buddy was just as good with her. He climbed up her leg and chilled on her arm while she stroked his skin. He won over our hearts by night’s end. Jon and I find ourselves checking in on Buddy as well as the kids before we go to bed at night.

And Mario is just precious watching over him in the morning and evening. He talks to him every morning before school and gets him out to play. He runs home from school to fetch him and say hello. We had to tell him that he still needed to pay attention to Rocco who felt a bit left out last night when the kids pushed him out of Mario’s room so they could get Buddy out. But Mario quickly explained to Rocco that he loves him just as much as he always has, it’s just that “he has to welcome Buddy to our house since he’s so new.”

Rocco understood, we are sure.

Taking care

I have been taking Ri to the homeless shelter for years. It is one of the few places where you can take kids and allow them to interact and help others in need. Ri and I would go and make crafts with the kids. She did such a great job with them; she especially loved the toddlers because she could help them use scissors and help them draw. 

Now that Mario is eight, I figured it was time to get him involved, also. I had taken him with Ri and me a couple of years ago but he didn’t remember it. I also asked his football friends’ moms if they’d be interested. A lot of them were and between all of us we had a boatload of supplies and snacks for the kids.

I was a tad concerned that the boys would use this time as play time rather than help the kids. It’s hard being eight and a boy and coming to a place that has room to play tag or wrestle. Temptation creeps up.

But they all did superb. They invited the kids to sit down at their tables. They said hello and talked to them. They made crafts and instructed the kids how to make them. They were patient with the younger kids. They also created a new craft (we had given them two to work on with the kids). They created paper airplanes and made designs on them. Then they all moved to the play area and flew them together.  

At one point, Mario approached me and asked if he could read his new book to some of the kids. One of the moms at the shelter was sitting next to me. 

“Yes, you bring that book on over here, son.” One of her sons looked at her and complained that he didn’t like books. She scolded him “boy, you need to like books to be smart!”

And with that, Mario began to read. The younger boy, around five, listened intently. Mario used the same inflections I use when reading to him. My heart be still.  

Mario moolah

I went to teacher conferences for the kiddos last week. Maria got rave reviews from her teachers: “she is so sweet and generous with her classmates; she always helps out; she always participates in class…”. I think she’s hit a good stride this year and feels more confident around her classmates and teachers. 

Mario’s teacher has been a neighbor of ours the past few years. I see her and her husband walk their dog around the block and often stop to chat “dog” with them when I’m walking Rocco. She’s a down-to-earth, pleasant person who has taught for at least 20 years. 

We sat down and her first words were “Mario is a bit mature for his age, heh?” She gave an immediate example (paraphrased below):

“I asked the students to draw an object based on a shape I gave them. For example, a ball may be turned into a basketball. Mario got a square. He turned it into a house. 

I asked each kid to come to the front of the room and describe the object they made. When Mario came to the front of the room, he described his house like this: ‘my house is pretty big but the sellers are asking way too much for it. They want $600,000 and it’s barely worth $300,000 so I don’t think they are going to get as much as they want.’

All of the kids sat there looking confused but smiling at Mario.”

Gotta love that kid. She advised that if I want to give him any extra math work, I make sure to use real scenarios with him. “He understands math and money – and likes real world problems.”

Hmmmm. I immediately thought of my dad telling me the story of him and Mario building a birdhouse together. They had been working on finishing touches to the wooden birdhouse when Mario asked “how much longer do we have on this one?” My dad asked what the hurry. Mario responded “we need to get this one done so we can make a bunch more and sell them for $50 each.” 

Yep. My boy has always had a keen sense for numbers and money. And he’s much better at addition than subtraction.



It’s been quite a week. Came back from our weekend in Cape Cod with a nasty cough and headache. I worked from home on Monday and took off Tuesday because I was so miserable. I worked yesterday and felt a bit better but was so inundated with emails and tasks that I wanted to crawl into bed as soon as I got home. 

After dinner, Mario walked up to me and asked “are you still coming on my field trip tomorrow?” Ahh, the field trip. I had completely forgotten about it. I had so much work waiting for me, my head was still aching, I just wanted to sleep for 48 hours. His blue eyes sung to me. I couldn’t say no. I told him I could go for a half day but that I would have to leave at 11:30. He hugged me and said that was fine.

10 pm arrives. I am answering email. My boss’ assistant emails and asks if I can be on a call at 10 am the next morning. Immediate distress. I will be with Mario at the creek. But my boss needs me. But I rarely take days like this with Mario and he’s so excited. But my boss rarely needs me for emergency meetings.

I email the assistant and ask her if we can move the call up to 8:15 am. She can do it. I get the call the next morning on my way to the creek and am still on it as I park and walk over to Mario. He sees me and runs towards me. I hang up. 

We walk to the field full of crickets and katydids. Mario catches a female wolf spider with an egg sack. He is proud of himself. Next, we catch a colorful field cricket. Then, Mario whispers for me from a few feet away.

“Mom, come fast!”

He has spotted a katydid resting on a leaf. It took me a while to spot it because it blends in so well with the plant. He captures it after a few tries in his empty peanut butter jar and runs it over to the guide. The guide is impressed. Mario is pleased.

 We move onto the creek where the kids will get to use nets to try and find different water life. I really need to head out to get to my work meeting. Mario begs me to stay a bit longer. We listen to the guide give instructions on how to hold the net and what they may find. Mario and his buddies are excited. They endure the guide’s instructions and jump up at the end to get their net. I listen to the boy chatter as they head towards the creek:

“Dude, the water is going to be cold! Dude, did you bring other shoes? Dude, we get lunch after this.”

Mario looks for me as he climbs the hill with a net full of crawdads and silver dollars. He reaches down to pick up a crawdad and peeks up at me with those siren eyes. 

“You watching, mom?”

Yes, darlin’, I am.”