Mighty girl

  
I saw this “footprint” taped to the wall outside of Maria’s classroom. If my body mimicked my heart, I would have done backflips down the hallway. 

I have read hundreds of articles since Ri was born trying to learn how to best empower my daughter as she grew into a young girl, a teen, a woman. 

Ask her questions about her day.”

“Don’t focus on her looks or her weight.”

“Listen to her.”

“Get her involved in sports.”

“Make sure she sees hard work pays off.”

And scores of other pieces of advice for the inquisitive mama. Inevitably, I went through periods of doubt about whether I was doing  “it” right. Does Ri feel self-confident? Does she believe she is smart? Is she worried about how she looks?

So when I saw this footprint on the wall, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I love that she just started soccer last year (and dreaded the thought of playing prior to that) but includes a soccer ball to describe herself. And the adjectives she used to describe herself are even better:

Energetic 

Bright

Fearless 

Hard Working

Funny

I couldn’t agree more with her choices. And I love that I didn’t see “cute” or “nice” or “polite.” Not that those aren’t fine qualities but I’d much rather have her see herself as fearless than as polite. Politeness has its attributes when you hold the door for the elderly person struggling to enter the room. I would hope Ri would do that without thinking about it. But fearless has its attributes when she rock climbs, runs for school council, and stands up for herself and others. 

Here’s to Ri’s footprint expanding with even more amazing adjectives describing herself. And here’s to us considering our own footprints and how we see ourselves.

Time to run

I signed Ri and I up for a 5K run/walk in support of research to cure Batten Disease. One of Ri’s friends has a twin brother and sister who are both battling the disease. The twins attended nearly all of the girls’ soccer games this Fall so a bunch of parents and girls signed up in support of the family. 

Ri was not excited about the event at all. I told her about a week in advance and nearly every night, she’d confirm “we don’t have to run the entire race, do we?” She still has PTSD from the Girls on the Run 5K where she nearly keeled over in exhaustion from running so long and hard. She is just not into running for running’s sake. And I’ve accepted it … for the most part….  

But as much as Ri dislikes running, she adores helping people. And I knew she’d go along with me to the race without a huge cry because she knew we were helping out her friend’s sister and brother. She has a monstrous heart. 

We arrived to lots of other girlfriends playing at Audubon Park and moms and dads registering for the race. Ri ran over to talk to her girlfriends while I signed us up. It was uplifting to see so many Grandview moms and dads with their kids coming out to support the cause. I can’t remember who the guest was on Krista Tippett’s show “On Being” but the guest opined that we all want to feel connected. That gives us purpose and joy. I thought of that guest’s words as I stood with my group of girlfriends and stretched my not-quite-awake-yet legs and watched Ri laugh with her friends. Others smiled at me as they walked to the start of the race. I saw Ri help a little boy off the bars. Connection. 

  
They had the siblings of the children inflicted with Batten Disease countdown for the start of the race. We stood together waiting to take off. And 3-2-1…we were off. Ri and a few girlfriends ran in front of me talking and smiling together. I was excited to see the girls running and laughing and I yelled “You got this girls!” Within a few seconds of my shout, I witnessed Ri stumble and fall to the gravel path. Blood, cuts, tears. 

I moved her over to the grass and sat down with her. She had a scraped knee and torn-up arm. Blood slowly oozed out. I could tell she was both shocked at the quick fall and stinging from the gravel cuts. I held her head into my chest. Slowly, I got her back up and told her we should walk it off and see how we felt after a bit. She was hesitant at first asking if she’d have to run. I told her we could walk the entire way and turn back if she hurt too much. 

We walked up to the bike path. She looked over at me and then at her friend, Evelyn. 

“Let’s try to run to the telephone pole ahead and then we will stop and walk a bit.” Evelyn agreed. And so we ran to the pole. Then walked. We caught up with other friends and walked with them. And ran. And before we knew it, we were at the finish line and all the girls formed a circle to talk. Some ran hard, others jogged with parents, others ran and walked and others simply walked and talked. No judgment, no pressure. 

  
I was so proud of Ri for plugging away to finish the race. I knew she was uncomfortable and the cuts stung. But she forced her mind to think of something else – friends, curing the disease, finding water, getting Mark Pi sesame chicken for lunch….whatever. She is one amazingly tough mama chica.

After the race, you could buy raffle tickets for the numerous gift baskets on the tables. I let Ri buy $5 worth of tickets. She gave me one ticket and she took four. She put them all in one canister for a wildlife basket. It had a bear hat, stuffed animal, zoo passes and gift cards to a pizzeria in it. All she wanted was the bear hat. 

We left before they drew names of the winners. They never called the rest of the day so Ri and I figured someone else won. On Monday, however, I received a call from one of the sponsors that Maria had won the wildlife basket. It was as though I’d been told we won 1 million dollars. I couldn’t wait to tell her that she had won. And for a few minutes after that call, I basked in the glory of that daughter of mine – her strength, her courage, her positivity, and her luck!

  

Put it in perspective 

So I think I’ve written previously about how I believe Ri was my mom in a past life. Actually, I’m not a believer or non-believer in reincarnation – who knows what’s in store for us at the end of this crazy life. But I remember reading Shirley MacLaine’s book and her writing that she believed her daughter was her mother in a past life (at least I think that’s what she said after all these years). That passage stuck with me when I read it and it feels relevant on so many occasions with Ri. I sometimes wonder if I’m teaching her half of what she is teaching me.

She had picture day this morning. She was up all night coughing and hacking with the ugly virus that the rest of us have had this month. When she woke up, her nose was Rudolph red and her eyes were swollen. Nonetheless, she got dressed and turned on her flat iron for me to straighten her hair. She never complained about how she looked or felt. To the contrary, after she found an outfit to wear, she smiled and commented “I really like this on me.”

As I did her hair and brushed some powder on her face to try to tone down the redness, I told her I was sorry she felt bad. She shrugged her shoulders and looked in the mirror. She gave me the smile she’d give for pictures. Beautiful. Then she blew her nose hard into the tissue laying on the sink and went down for breakfast.

Lesson taught: put it in perspective. It’s just class pictures. She’s healthy, got a cute outfit, biking to school rather than walking, and gets Cocoa Krispies for breakfast. Others may be freaking out (I think back to me at that age and I’m quite sure a meltdown may have occurred) but she goes with the flow. 

And as work explodes through the day, I will think of her and put it in perspective. I’ve got a good lunch waiting for me, I got to bike to work, I got a shower this morning, and I have two incredible kids who keep me aware of what matters. 

  

Cape Cod wedding

Our family Cape Cod trip was sliced in half. Jon’s upper respiratory infection had him coughing so violently that he had no voice. He hadn’t slept for nights because every time his head laid on the pillow, he sprung back up with a barking cough. There was no way he’d make it through a weekend away; much less, there was no way we could stay in one hotel room together and get any sleep. Mario decided he needed to stay home with his dad to make sure he could take care of him if anything happened. Oh, and he also got to spend the night with Grandma Ionno to let dad get some rest. 

So, it was a girls’ weekend. Ri and I took our first airplane trip together alone. She had to endure sitting in coach seats; every other trip she has gotten First Class due to her dad. She’s a natural at traveling – she had her shoes off and her jacket in a plastic bin before I could tell her she needed to do that prior to going through security. Is it bad that I would look at her in line and see a 25-something, somewhat anxious, executive waiting in line to get to her work destination?  It’s so easy to imagine that with Ri because she acts so much older than her years. I recall Grandma Meg telling me a story about Ri commenting about her couch pillows and how nice they looked and felt. Grandma Meg felt as though she was having a conversation with a 50 year-old woman. 

We bought two bagels and sat at our gate. She looked at Facebook. I looked around. When it looked like the ticket agent was ready to board, Ri gathered up our things and scurried me along. “Mom, hurry, we want to get on the plane before the others.”

On the plane, she nestled into her seat with her iPad and earphones. Cupcake Wars began to play and she zoned out. The attendant came around eventually and we got waters and pretzels to eat (we each asked for an extra bag, of course). When we landed, Ri was the first to stand up and prepare for departure. She was excited to be in Boston. I was excited, too. So excited that we exited the terminal to get our bags not realizing that once we exited we couldn’t get back in to eat! We had two and a half hours to wait for Melanie and Stephen who were driving us to the hotel. 

But we figured out an alternative plan that ended up being much more fun. We took the Silver Line bus to South Station  where we got to eat come good Cajun chicken and people watch. Ri wanted to take a subway and this was the next best thing. We had to buy a card to go back into the station and catch our bus, which was something new and exciting for Ri. A man was playing the guitar on our way back right along two yuppies who were holding briefcases and chatting. You get to see a wide range of folks here, Ri. She nodded as if she’d seen it all before. 

  
By the time we returned to the airport, Melanie had landed. We found Stephen (after nearly 45 minutes of roaming the parking lot!) and headed to Cape Cod in the pouring rain. Ri had her girlfriend Henley with her now and she was loving that – they laughed and acted ridiculous most of the way to Cape Cod (Ri passed out asleep about 20 minutes out). 

On Friday morning, Ri woke up ready to devour the breakfast buffet. I was right beside her! We met up with Henley and the crew. Ri was mightily disappointed that the Inn did not serve a buffet bar. She threw a bit of a pouting session (there’s my ten year old girl!) but then livened up after I took her out to talk. The rest of the day we chilled with Henley and her family and Melissa and her son (Henley and Ri love to watch over him) around the Inn and around Sandwich. We visited some stores and found a cute candy shoppe that sold those candy cigarettes I used to fake smoke as a kid. I had to buy those up. Later that night, Ri asked if we could throw them away since they were bad for you – even if they were candy. Sweet thing.

   
 We headed off to the Clambake in the evening. It was at a lake house and it was a beautiful night. The kids loved the water and the sandy shore. They couldn’t resist to roll up their pants and jump in the lake. Ri exhibited much self-control – usually she will jump in fully clothed but I warned her I would not be happy. 

   
   
Ri also tried her first lobster! She didn’t think it was bad … not particularly her favorite, either, but she gave it a shot. She was not a fan of the clams, however. The cake and cookies were killer dessert though and we both had enough for four! 

   
 The kids put on a dance show for us at the end of the night. Ri, with her meek self, approached guests and told them they better come to the basement for a killer dance show. 

Saturday was the wedding and Ri and Henley spent an hour preparing. They looked like divas. Red lipstick and all. They were so stoked about it. 

   
 Ri has known Doris and Kim her entire life and I’m grateful that they let us witness their vows. We also got to take a trolley to the wedding. Too fun! The beach couldn’t have been any more stunning with the powder blue sky and white bouncing clouds and balloons and colorful umbrella for folks to hold as they stood in the sun waiting for the brides. The ceremony was short and sweet; the kids watched the entire event deep in the moment. 

   
 Afterwards, they jumped in the ocean after slipping off their shoes. They found huge rocks to climb and stand on as Melanie and I bit our nails worried about them slipping. They had it under control.

   
    
   
The kids took the mass of balloons back in the trolley and we sang songs as we headed to the reception at the home of one of Doris and Kim’s dear friends. The kids did fairly well in the beginning. However, Ri was pretty disappointed at the fact this friend had a pool but wouldn’t let them swim in it. She got over it though as they brought out appetizer after appetizer. She and Henley tasted most everything. There was a man playing the guitar and singing and a tent up for everyone to sit under while eating and chatting. Doris and Kim were so happy and in love, which made the day all the more spectacular. 

   
 After dinner, the kids were getting tired and antsy. I told them we could go to the boardwalk. Someone had told me it was just a few blocks away. About fifteen minutes into the walk – and five minutes from the boardwalk – we got a text that the desserts were being served. Henley desperately wanted to go back. Ri didn’t. One boy didn’t, the other did. I knew Henley’s mom wanted her back so we turned around and headed back. Ri was irritated. Henley felt bad. They both pouted. I walked with Ri and explained how I always feel bad when I get mad at a friend for something trivial and end up having a horrible time because of it. We could see the boardwalk later. Ri walked back to where Henley was sauntering and said something to her that led to them walking together and talking. Ri is good about letting things go, which I hope she keeps as she gets older.

We ended up losing out on the desserts after all. We scored a few macaroons but that was it. But we got hugs from Doris and Kim – a fine alternative to the sweets. We left a bit afterwards to go change at the Inn and hit the boardwalk. The kids got bored as the adults changed and relaxed for a few minutes and they went to the gardens. Much to their surprise, the pool was open. We went down to find them jumping off the fake cliffs on the sides of the pool and having a blast. So much for the boardwalk. The Inn’s pool won the evening. 

We closed the pool down and headed up to our rooms to change for a late dinner. How we could be hungry after all we are at the reception is beyond me but we were. Grilled cheeses and pasta dishes later, we trekked up to our rooms for sleep. We all looked like zombies the next morning. We had to leave at 9:30 am for the airport. We sat at breakfast staring off into space. No one was offended. We shoveled in more food and packed ourselves in Stephen’s van to head to the airport. 

Ri held my hand as we rose up in the air on takeoff. I get super nervous and I was starting to get sick by Sunday with a cough and headache. She nursed me well as we flew through the cotton clouds on our way home to Columbus. I learned how enjoyable it is to go on a trip with Ri – she is the quintessential travel partner. No drama, low maintenance, funny, out-going, and kind. She earned the right to visit Mexico and hang with her Aunt Sarah or Sweden to visit her Uncle Jack. Oh, heck, maybe we’ll hit both. 

  

Love my girl

I was talking with a friend the other day about how hectic her mornings are with her tween daughter. 

“I have to get her up, make her get dressed and brush her teeth, fix her breakfast, and beg her to get to the bus on time.”

I shook my head and comforted her. I told her I was sure she’d get in the swing of things as school progressed. She went off to a meeting. I looked down at my phone at a picture of Ri. I couldn’t help but feel gratitude for my girl.

My girl – who I found in the kitchen this morning after my run – putting a spoon of Rice Krispies in her mouth as she dumped leftover quinoa salad into a container to take for lunch at school. She had alsomade Mario a bowl of Fruit Loops and had let Rocco outside. I’m telling you, she was my mom in a past life. Or someone’s mom. She has the routine down pat.

I sometimes take it for granted. 

“I’m biking to soccer practice, mom. See you in an hour and a half.”

“I looked up the recipe for sugar cookies and got them started.”

“I found workbooks on line for Mario and me this Summer.”

“I’m going to be late for school mom. You can’t take another picture of me!”

She might as well be 30. And her carefree, let it go, attitude about life sets a good example for all of us. Last night, she played a soccer game until 7:30. She was starving but I made her go to Kroger’s to pick up food before we ate. She pouted as she got out of the car but as soon as I kiddingly tapped her side and smiled, she livened up.

“I’m getting a crouton from the salad bar since you dragged me in here!” She skipped over to the salad bar with a mischievous smile on her face. 

I caved in and got her Chipotle afterwards. She got a burrito bowl filled with rice and beans and cheese and sour cream. With a big dollop of guacamole on top. She knows how to live. When I told her that I was gonna take 90 percent of the guac to eat with my chips, she grunted.

She carried the bowl in her right hand and a grocery bag in her left while kicking the soccer ball up the sidewalk to the house. When she got to the steps, she kicked the soccer ball super hard with the hopes that it would bypass all the steps and land near the door. Instead, it ricocheted off the second step and collided with her burrito bowl, which flew out of her hand and all over the ground. 

She looked at me. I looked at her. 

I expected either (1) tears or (2) a demand that we get her another bowl at 8:45 at night. But neither reaction occurred. 

Rather, we both cracked up. And then she bent over and scooped up the sloppy mess of cheese and beans and tossed it back in the cardboard bowl. 

“It’s all good. Besides, I get more guac now because it’s all mixed into the cheese and beans!”

I can’t love this girl anymore.

  

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!

covert cookie deal

We have almost delivered all of Maria’s Girl Scout cookies – thank god. What a task it was this year with the ridiculously cold temperatures. Ri and I were relegated to packing the boxes of cookies in my car and delivering them rather than walking them door to door. Bethany was a savior and worked with Ri for two hours sorting boxes for each house.

By the time I got home in the evening it was dark outside. We loaded up a couple of boxes, threw on a scarf and hat and gloves, and made our way over to the next street for our deliveries. No one was outside due to the cold weather. It was a pitch black winter night. The street looked ominous without any people walking and with the street lights out. I pulled up in the driveway of the first house and Ri jumped out with two boxes of Thin Mints. 

“How much do they owe you”, I asked her.

“$8!”

She scurried up to the door and knocked. A tall man opened the door and invited her in while he got his money to pay her. She slipped out into the night minutes later and rushed to my car. She handed me the money. 

I couldn’t help but feel that we had just completed a covert drug deal. Not that I have any experience with such an operation but I have seen them on tv and at the movies. I told Ri how I felt and she looked at me in horror. 

“Mom! Seriously?!”

But my girl doesn’t miss a beat. As we pulled in the driveway of the next house, I jostled the cookie boxes trying to find a Samoas and a Do Si Do. 

“Hurry up, Mom, I gotta get the deal done.” God, I love her.