Why I wrestle

Lately, I have been so excited to head home from work. Ok, you are thinking, who isn’t happy to leave the workplace behind? It is more than just calling it a day from meetings, memos, conference calls, however. It is the thrill of knowing I get to spend time with the kiddos – take a walk with them, throw the ball, watch their game. My time with them in this place is limited. I can imagine in a few years that Ri is not going to ask me to go roller skating on the hills with her and Mario is not going to beg me to watch Modern Family with him. A girlfriend posted this blog on Facebook; I saw it as I took my afternoon power walk around campus. I usually save such posts for another time (which typically doesn’t come – 50 “saves” waiting for me) and continue to scroll looking at posts from friends playing at the beach or hiking the mountains. Keep my mind busy with busy pictures. 

But I chose to open her post and read it. I was transported back to yesterday morning as I poured Maria’s Crispix and Mario’s Krave in separate blue bowls. I stopped the Krave mid-way rather than three-fourths of the way up the bowl because Mario complains if I give him too much cereal. I poured a bit of sugar on Ri’s Crispix and heated up her hot tea and honey to calm her sore throat. They both kept their eyes fixated on the tv as I handed them their cereal, shifting their outreached arms to find the bowl in front of them. I watch Ri bring spoon to mouth mesmerized by the girl talking on the tv. I watched Mario continue to stare at the picture and not begin to eat. I get on him like I do every morning.

“Mario, you have to eat breakfast.”

I repeat this two more times and he finally takes a bite. He will later leave one-fourth of the cereal sopping in the bowl and complain the cereal was too soggy. I repeat for the hundredth time that he needs to eat faster and then he won’t have that problem but he isn’t listening. 

I leave the house for work and I wish I was home with them. And then I’m home with them and sometimes wish I was at work. I’m sure they feel the same at times – want me there but also wish I’d leave so they could go into their reclusive worlds and play Sims or watch You Tube. That distance for a few hours hurls me back into their arms and wanting more of them. Eat their faces, squeeze their middles, kiss their shoulders. I’ve been doing a much better job over the years of soaking in that overt adoration and affection that only kids can give and take. 

We go upstairs to get ready for bed. I’ve called Ri five different times to come upstairs as she watches a final episode of Dance Moms. I’ve given two M&M yogurts to Mario who is starving because he only ate two bites of dinner.  They wrestle on the kitchen floor and swing each other around as I put Rocco in his kennel with a broken off piece of dog biscuit. I laugh at them and bark “come on” at least three times before Ri darts upstairs and Mario jumps on me to be carried to his room. They jump on the bed, beg me to wrestle. I tell them is it too late to wrestle. They beg me again. I say no again. They beg one more time. I give in…but put my foot down to  “only five minutes.”

I give in most of the time. I used to beat myself up about it and think “you have got to lay down the rules and be done.” But the blog post this morning reminded me of why I give in. They will be gone shortly. They will be living their lives outside of our family home. Hopefully, I will see them on a regular basis. But I may not. 

That is why I wrestle. 

Summer of sports

Isn’t summer supposed to bring rest and relaxation? If not for parents who are working year round, at least for kids? I feel like Jon and I and the kids have been running around like chickens with our heads cut off more so in the last few weeks since school has been let out then throughout the entire school year. 

Mario shot straight into basketball camp a week after school was out. He went there from 9 AM until noon every day, came home and ate lunch, and headed to the pool for a few hours with his buddies. Then, he would return home to eat a sandwich and head off to the baseball field for a game. The entire family has been living on hot dogs, KitKats and Gatorade through the month of June. 

Mario is pitching this year; all last year, he could not wait to move out of coach pitch and into player pitch. He had Jon and I out back with him every night catching his pitches. He’s got a nice throw on him. His first game he struck out quite a few batters. He ran into the dugout after he pitched with a serious, intense look on his face not showing any emotion relating to his performance. He was super cool. Although, Jon and I both knew his heart was thumping and he was pumped. 


He’s been getting his bat around, too. He had a beauty of a hit to right field one game but the only player that can catch from the other team was playing right that night. He loves baseball; Jon and I agree that may be his long-term sport. 


He’s off to football camp this week from 9 am to noon again. This week is a scorcher with temps in the 90s. I made him wear sunscreen this morning and he was less than happy. 

“Nobody wears the stuff, mom. That is how I have my bronzed look.”

This comment was made after he gelled his hair into a perfect wave on his head. 


Meanwhile, our other child barely manages to gather her thick, tussled hair in a ponytail for her practices. Maria decided to do swim team this summer. I still don’t know the real reason why. I have begged her to join swim team for the last four years and she always declined. And when I say “declined”, I mean she was adamant that she had no desire to join swim team. But her friend Evelyn seemed to convince her this winter while they were playing basketball (another sport she always refused to play until recently) that she should come out to swim team. She talked about how much fun it was with the other girls and how they all just played around and had a great time together. Something that Ev said resonated with Maria and she informed me in late winter that she wanted to sign up. I didn’t hesitate; I went to the Gators website and signed her up. I thought it would be good for her to get up early in the summer and start her day. I think she romanticized about how nice it would be to do the same. As of late last week, I think she was second guessing her decision. When I went to wake her up at 6:50 AM, she kicked the covers off of her nearly kickinh me in the thigh and huffed and puffed around her room as she looked for her bathing suit.  

There is a whole other blog post waiting to be written about how proud I am of Maria going out for swim team. Most tweens, I believe, would never try out for a team where they have never practiced in that sport before and knew that they would be far behind other kids. But that did not deter Maria, who is in it for the comraderie and for the laughs. However, Maria is not superhuman and she did suffer a bit of anxiety and nerves prior to her first meet. She was unable to dive off the diving board because she was concerned about hitting her head in the water. The concussion she got in soccer last spring still messes with her at times. She also was concerned about not being fast at all and losing to a bunch of third-graders. Luckily, my girlfriend was at one of our softball games and talked with her about how these meets were all about beating your personal time and not worrying about whether you beat the person in the next lane. I also reiterated that Jon and I did not expect her to win at any meet – swim team was more of a conditioning to get her ready for soccer and to make her a better swimmer. I was up all night wondering whether I should give her an out and let her get off the team, wondering if I had put too much on her this Summer. I decided to have her do the one meet and see how it went. 

When I arrived at the pool for the meet, she had “eat my bubbles” written on her back and came running up to me with a couple of her friends smiling. I was relieved. She made it across the pool and back for each of her swims, and I was proud as heck of her. She has now gotten to the point of wanting to beat her time from the last meet – she does have her mom’s competitive spirit in her! 


Maria is also playing softball. She is in the same boat as Mario – coming home from swim, doing homework, playing with a friend, making slime, choking down some pasta, and then warming up with me prior to heading to her game. 

I decided to coach one more year since Maria will be on the middle school team next year. I think overall Maria enjoys me being her coach although there are many a times when we get on each other’s last nerve. She refuses to allow me to root for her when she is up to bat. She is doing great with her pitching – thank god – because she is one of only two pitcher for our team this year. I think she embraces that responsibility and has taken it on herself to be a leader for the girls, which means she yells at them to cheer and talk in the field! She is a mini-me in that way. 

So there we have it; evidence as to why there have been a lack of posts in June – busy, busy, busy!

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.



 

Never slow down

I can’t help it. It comes naturally. My dad can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before thinking of the next place to go or task to complete. My mom gets antsy when she’s sitting around too long and takes the dog out for another walk. My aunt Julie does housework if she’s got a spare moment rather than relaxing with a book. So, I blame my constant motion on genetics.  And I have certainly passed it on to Ri and Mario. 

We spent our Saturday moving from one activity to the other – in constant motion and flow. We decided to hit Cincinnati on Saturday since we had not visited my mom in a while. I came home from my morning workout to Ri and Mario eating delicate plates of French toast. Ri whipped up her signature dish using hot dog buns and strawberries for a twist. I need to enter her in a kids’ chef competition.


After I showered, I found them outside – Ri on her skates and Mario thinking up an obstacle course. We spent 30 minutes running through several different courses made up by both kids. When one was doing the course, the other was playing the mean coach role pushing the other to squat down lower and jump higher. Ahhh, I’ve trained them well. 

After they had enough obstacle fun, they turned to me and said “let’s head to Cincy!” They grabbed blankets to use as sleds for grandma’s stairs and snacks to eat along the way (yep, like I said, I trained them well). We loaded up their play scripts and The Last Unicorn DVD and we were off. We didn’t even make it through the movie before we arrived at my mom’s house. She lives so close now. 

The kids jumped out of the truck and ran inside to say hi to grandma and grandpa and Lou. After the initial greeting, they ran straight up the steps for their stair sledding. Ri rocked it on her first try flying down each step. Mario, not so much. He could not get the swing of it and kept stopping at every step. Of course, he took it with stride and just kept trying. 

Not. 

He got more and more frustrated to the point of nearly giving up. But Ri remained patient and caring and continued to try new positions that may help him fly. She finally nailed a position and off he went!

She, of course, continued to engage in all sorts of crazy poses since she had the speed down pat.


My mom had sent a picture of herself in a steam tent she bought during the holidays. Maria has been obsessed with this steam tent since she saw the picture. She was so excited to try it out. I didn’t think Mario would have an interest at all. However, I think Maria’s excitement seeped through Mario’s skin and he begged to try it, too. My mom got them towels and we headed to the basement. Ri went in first. 

“Ahh, this is so relaxing. I could meditate in here.”


I knew she’d love it. We made her get out after a few minutes because the steam is taxing. She looked like a lobster as she climbed out. Mario didn’t waste a second and hopped in after her. He loved it. When he climbed out, he touched all over his face.

“All my pimples are gone and my skin is so smooth.”

It’s all about looks for him. The kids also tried mom’s facial steamer. Again, Mario did it over and over because he believed it was curing the “pimples” on his face (the boy has the clearest skin ever). 

After the kids were all steamed up, we headed to the Whipdee Doo. It reminded me of the Dairy Whip we used to go to in Reading with my grandma and aunts. There were two little windows to order and a bunch of picnic tables out back. They had every topping available. Ri and I thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Waffle cone sundaes with cookie dough and hot fudge and Reese pieces….


After devouring our ice cream, and the kids scaring Grandma by telling her they were going to rearrange the letters on the Whipdee Doo sign to spell “poop”, we took off to the bike trail. Ri had her skates and Mario had his bike. The trail was magical. The river flowed to our left and pastures of bright yellow flowers undulated in the distance. We stopped at a creek and the kids played on the rocks and on the bridge.


As if it couldn’t be any more idyllic, my mom called out that deer were crossing the bike path. We scurried up the creek bed and caught a glimpse of one of the deer crossing. The kids quietly skipped down the river bank to get a closer look. 
We let them roam around in the pasture, all the while wondering whether deer can be aggressive when confronted. Oh well, if they can, the kids will learn….
After the deer viewing, the kids wanted to head back for another round of steaming. Addicted. And after the steaming came more stair sledding. They kept trying to create funnier slo-mo videos with each slide. 

We ended the day with a mini Easter egg hunt in my mom’s backyard. In typical mom-like fashion, she wanted to make sure the kids got a $5 egg if they didn’t come down for Easter. 


One more slide down the steps and we were off to Columbus. The kids were able to read a few of their lines before darkness hit and we only had the flourescent, towering highway lights to lead our way home. 

A Blink of an Eye

The other day, I was standing outside of Stauf’s talking to an older woman while Mario petted and loved on her puggle (half pug/half beagle). The woman’s 20-something son walked out of Stauf’s and she looked at him and then at Mario.

“Enjoy your time with your son because pretty soon he will look like my son. The years go by with a blink of the eye.”

If I’ve gained any wisdom in these parenting years, it is too more fully take in and appreciate these days with my young kids. They are at the perfect ages: smart and inquisitive and able to engage in full conversations but still wanting hugs and to hold hands as you walk down the street. 

The last two weekends, I have gotten full-on M&M time, and it has put me in such a good mood for back-to-work Mondays. They are both hilarious in their own right with their completely unique senses of humor and takes on life. And they get along pretty daggone well most of the time. 

Last weekend, we took a walk with Rocco to  Edison Park. He flipped out with the kids on the swings. He bites at their ankles as if he doesn’t understand they are part of their bodies. We were relegated to the jungle gym and non-swing activities so he’d stay calm. Ri came up with an obstacle course thanks to her Coach Amy, who had created a similar course for Ri’s soccer team during practice. Ri and Mario had me time them each time they ran it – each one wanting to beat the other’s newest time. 


After the park, we drove to the garden shop to buy flowers for our front door planters and seeds for the kids to plant flowers of their choosing. Mario found a Venus fly trap plant and was totally enamored with it. Ri found a dainty cactus in a pink artistic pot. It was a perfect day for gardening. I let the kids off on their own to plant their seeds while I mowed for the first time in 2017. God only knows if the kids planted the seeds far enough in the ground or far enough a part. We will find out in May, I guess. I promised them a pedicure if they helped me garden so when they were done, they begged me to go. I asked them for 20 more minutes so they decided to have a water fight in the meantime. The first water fight of the year, too!


We had to hit the doggie day spa after the water fight because Rocco rubbed his entire drenched body through the dirt lining our flower beds. 


After cleaning up the two kids and the dog, we finally made it to the salon. On the way there, Mario told me I need a new car (he tells me this every time we get in the car). I explained to him that my car is perfectly fine. He then informed me he’s getting a Lamborghini when he is 16. Yea, ok. Maria tries to talk sense into him, too, but it’s no use. He swears he’s gonna have the best of everything. I told him he better invent something that gives him millions or get in the NBA. He looks at me like “duh, not a problem. I got it.” 

Of course, with his love of luxury, he thoroughly enjoyed his pedicure. Ri and I kept looking over at him cracking up because he was fully relaxed in his massage chair reading his magazine and enjoying the foot scrub. He went for gold nail polish as well (which totally reminded me of Dennis Rodman), but he quickly asked the woman to remove it after she put it on. 


After the pedicure, we went home to roller skate and roller blade down the hills. Ri was smooth as always while Mario jerked and fell on his blades. But he kept trying. He loved the hills once he could take off his blades and use his electric scooter. He’d fly down the hill and then watch for cars so Ri could skate down. She flew, too, but I had a bit fewer heart palpitations after the Pittsburgh hill craziness. 



We wrapped up the evening watching a couple of episodes of blackish, and called it a night. 

Yesterday, it was much colder than last Saturday. Therefore, no gardening was in order. However, we did get another trip to Edison in with Rocco.


 Then we decided on a trip to Worthington pool. I used to take the kids there when they were toddlers. The memories came flooding in as we entered the pool area and I saw the baby slide. Mario was always nervous to go down it. Now, he was Mr. Cool unable to remember ever being scared of that slide. He and Ri went on the big slide and we all braved the cyclone pool where they used to get sucked in and it would take all my might to pull them out. Now, they handled it with ease and didn’t need my assistance. Although they still wanted me by their side to experience it with them. I remember when they were younger and they’d pull on me every second in the pool. They wanted me to constantly play with them or watch them or catch them. Exhausting. I’d think about how great it would be when they’d play in their own. But yesterday, I let myself enjoy their constant need for my presence. I soaked up every breakdance Mario asked me to watch. I waved at Ri and clapped as she did her trick off the slide. As Ri states, I was being mind-ful rather than mind-full. 

After some Air Hockey and Sun Chips, we left for home. 


We all needed to shower before going to the Escape Room that Ri recommended for our evening adventure. I was hesitant about it and was hoping they may want to do it without me. But they wanted us all to enjoy. I had no idea what to expect – I was picturing the zombie-type escape room where you are scared too death constantly. Thank god it was nothing like that. It was a 1920’s set-up in a Speakeasy, and we had to find all the clues to get out before the police arrived. We had a blast. We were in the room with four others – early 20 somethings – who were great with Ri and Mario. 

We had 60 minutes to try and escape. We got three hints. It was intense. Every time we’d get exhausted, someone would pull through and find a clue to help us progress. We were so close to escaping – probably needed 3 more minutes. Mario was bummed we didn’t escape but felt better when the owner said a majority of folks don’t escape. 


We were pretty beat after that escapade so we decided on Subway and home to watch The Middle. Ri was nearly passed out by the end of the show and Mario and I weren’t far behind. 

And with a blink of an eye, I woke up to Rocco jumping on the bed and Ri yelling “time to get up and get to Stauf’s!” Another blink, and she will be driving to Stauf’s from her own apartment and Mario will be pulling up to the curb in his Lamborghini. 

I’m soaking it all in now before I blink again.

It’s fun to be crazy!

Maria wanted to go to Disney world for spring break this year. Mario wanted to go to Hollywood. Both of them did not get their wishes because Jon and I decided to stay low-key for spring break and do something big over the summer. As soon as Maria learned we were not going to Disney World, she immediately begged for us to go to Pittsburgh. Elena should be happy to know that she only ranks second to Disney World!

Mario decided to stay home with Jon for the four days we went to Pittsburgh. He knew that he would be able to do whatever he wanted with his dad, i.e., no mandatory reading, watching movies at anytime of day, going outside and shooting his bow in the backyard…. Maria persuaded him not to go to Pittsburgh by simply informing him that Aunt Sarah does not own a tv (Ri likes her alone time with her cousin). 

We left for Pittsburgh after Maria’s game on Saturday. She sprinted off the field and grabbed my arm.

“Come on mom, we have to get to Pittsburgh. I promised Aunt Sarah we would be there by 5:30 tonight.”

We hopped in the car and did not stop until we hit Pittsburgh traffic. Maria proceeded to tell me how the traffic was not as bad as it could he on a Saturday afternoon. It’s as though she’s been driving in Pittsburgh for years. Gotta love this girl.

As soon as we arrived, Maria jumped out of the car while I was still parking it. She ran up to the house and knocked on the door. Aunt Sarah answered with Elena by her side. Elena hugged Maria and immediately took her up to her room to play. I was quickly beckoned by the both of them to play, also. We started on a barnyard puzzle and within three minutes moved to the art table, and within four minutes moved to Elena’s bed to play airplane. She had to get all of her animals in the bed with us, including a live animal, Sarah’s dog, Little Dude. We acted like we were flying in the sky. She has such an imagination. At one point, she looked at Maria and me, and pointed her finger out the window yelling “there’s a woodpecker!” And this is how we spent many an hour over the next four days in Pittsburgh.

I forgot how draining it can be to watch a toddler all day long. It took me back to weekends with Maria at age 3 and Mario at age one. Jon and I would look at each other at 9 am, after being up for 3 hours, and wonder how it was not 5 pm. It was so conflicting – at once, you are overcome with amazement at how this toddler can find joy in an ant crawling along the sidewalk but you are also overcome with frustration at how slow this toddler is moving. You need coffee! 

However, since going through that conflict with Ri and Mario, and growing in my mindfulness practice, I am better able to appreciate the 20 minute venture with the ant. Or maybe it’s the realization that the 20 minute venture with the ant will be over in three days and I will be back to having my own time when I want it. Kinda like the grandma thing. You spoil the heck out of the grandchildren because you can send them back home at the end of the day. 

But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s draining – nothing else can be said about it. Pure drainage of energy. But would you have it any other way? It makes you strong, like you weathered a toddler war and survived intact. You got a notch on the parenting belt. And you recall those trying moments when the kid did something so sweet or hilarious or daring.  

Ri and I got plenty of those moments with Elena. Like putting together the barnyard puzzle. Maria found the head of acow that   matched the bottom of the cow piece Elena was holding. She was so excited to put the two pieces together. She exclaimed: “look Meemaw, we have a cow!” The thrill she felt in putting a puzzle together automatically translated into a thrill for Maria and me. You can’t help but smile and feel good when you are around her. Everything is amazing; everything is new; everything is worthy of attention.

Maria and I got into a routine every morning. We would hear Elena wake up, usually at 7 am, and ask Sarah “where is Aunt Mary? Where is Meemaw?” She would open the door to the guest room and climb into bed with us. No snuggling time though; instead, it was straight to jumping. Ri and I pulled ourselves up out of the covers and watched her jump and land on her butt. She’d yell “I landed on my butt!” 


Then she would direct us to jump with her. Meemaw would hem and haw but Elena would not back down (when we were driving to Pittsburgh, Maria was comparing Elena to recent dictators and confirming those dictators were weak compared to her cousin). After jumping, we’d move on to Elena’s room to play airplane and draw. Maria gave her about 15 minutes of play time in the am before Ri would push her to head to Starbucks with us. Maria needed her morning treat and I needed my coffee. Elena was happy to join us because she got treated to a tiny vanilla bean scone, which became her staple breakfast item (in addition to the spinach wrap Sarah made sure I fed her).

Elena loved Meemaw’s Strawberry Acai drink. She kept staring at her with those chestnut eyes and giving her that shy grin, and Meemaw couldn’t resist. You know you are loved by Meemaw if she shares her drink with you. 


After our Starbucks’ adventure, we’d head to Frick Park. The first day kicked our butts; Ri and I are not used to those hills! I am a former Cincinnati girl so I should be able to handle it, but I was pooped. We always had a good time at Frick. Maria loves the concrete slide. She found card board in one of the trash cans before we even got to the park. It was a tiny piece of board but she was able to still fly down the slide. She even got Elena to slide down with her.
But Elena enjoyed the ropes most of all. Sarah told me she had never really gone on the ropes before we took her. She did an amazing job maneuvering in and out of them, and was so proud of herself. She must’ve stayed on those ropes for 45 minutes one morning. She would counsel Meemaw and I as we climbed to the top of the rope tower. 

“Be careful to not knock your head”, she’d yell up to us. 



Elena especially loved tricking Meemaw on the slide. Ri would sit at the end and pronounce “I hope no one runs into me on this slide. I’m trying to sleep!” Elena would giggle up the steps and run across the bridge to slide into Ri. She laughed hysterically. Then she’d promise not to do it again and run up to do it again. Meemaw has much patience.


We also engaged in Operation Bunny Watch each time we went for a walk. We were determined to find a bunny. We never did. Of course, as soon as Maria and I returned to Columbus, we spotted a bunny. Next time we head to Pittsburgh, they better be out. 

After an hour or two at the park, we’d head home to have some lunch and to draw. Meemaw and I would get a little break to eat some soup and sandwich and Elena would get to see her mama. But, after about an hour, we’d hit the road again. We went to the Science Museum on Sunday afternoon and spent about four hours there.  I was thrilled to see Elena so happy with us. In the past, she has missed her mama but not this time. Finally! She loved looking around and watching Meemaw climb the space station. 


We went over to the Sports Center, and almost had her on one of the bars that you hold onto and get lifted up. She watched other kids and waited in line but when it was her turn, she backed out. Ri took her turn. Then Ri led us to a little bullet. You sit in the bullet and you get taken through the entire body. It shakes when you go through the stomach and gets really dark when you get into the intestines. However we don’t know anything more than that because Elena started screaming at the top of her lungs pretty much as soon as the ride began. I was ready to strangle Maria since my aunt intuition told me that Elena would probably not like the ride. I started banging on the door with the hopes that the attendant would open up the bullet. After banging for what seemed like minutes, he finally opened it up. The family of three sitting behind us were still holding their ears when we exited. Lovely.

Elena’s favorite part of our Science Museum trip was the submarine. She loved moving through the “holes.” These were the tiny doors that we had to go through during our trip down the submarine. She thought it was so fun to get picked up and put through the door to Meemaw, and then to run through the submarine to the next door. She could have cared less about the dining or sleeping areas or even all the gadgets. She just wanted holes!

But even more than the sub’s holes, she loved the M&M’s we bought her at the end of our tour.  I swear I felt like my 80-year old grandma throughout the trip because Elena knew that her aunt Mary would always get her chocolate – just like my grandma would always give me chocolate when I came to her house. 

Sarah and Jorge took us to a crazy good hamburger joint Sunday night. The joint also had amazing milkshakes. Maria could not wait to order hers after our meal, and Sarah accidentally ordered one for Elena as well. That girl was in seventh heaven (as was Maria!). 


On Monday, we hit our Starbucks and the park. We laughed hysterically at Starbucks because we got subjected to the “Elena poop time.” This is where Elena goes to a corner of the room and squats and pushes out a poop in her diaper. If that’s not good enough, while she is squatting, she yells out “Get away! I’m pooping!” Men and women would walk by her and squat down to say hello. She would turn her head and demand that they go away because “I’m pooping!” How precious. 

After we changed a massively poop-filled diaper, we left for the park. Elena made Maria so happy by going down the slide with her.


Elena also learned to jump off the swing since Meemaw did it. Her face lit up when she realized she accomplished it. We had to book it home that morning because Elena had a gymnastics session at 11 am. Whoa, that took me back to watching Maria and Mario at Wendy’s Gymnastics. Those little feet and little fingers grabbing the bars and tumbling over. So cute! I was so mad that I forgot my camera because I would’ve taken 100 pictures. 

We came home to broccoli soup and pork sandwiches. After our hour of rest, we decided to go to the children’s museum. Maria loves this museum with all of her heart, especially the art room. We got in another full afternoon at the museum with our muncho. Last time we went to the museum, Elana was scared to death to climb in the climbing area. But this time, she was a pro with Maria. She likes her space, however, so when a kid came up to try to crawl with her, she started to cry. Maria handled it beautifully – being her bodyguard – and telling the kid to shoo away. 


Elena was hilarious in the art room. Maria wanted to stay in the silk screen station to make a collage for Elena’s room so she was parked there for 45 minutes. Elena sat there for the entire time making newspaper bracelets for me. She would tape a piece of newspaper around my wrist, draw on it, and then cut it off. This process was repeated several times over but with the same glee as the first time.

Maria moved over to the painting station next. I thought this would be a lot of fun for Elenda. It was at first, but then she dripped a dot of paint on her shoes. She looked down at them and then back up at me, and began to cry. By this time, Maria and I were experts at how to calm her down. I whipped her shoe off and told her that I would wash the paint off. She calmed down and began painting again. Meemaw and she created masterpieces together. 


Next, we went up to the water play area. Maria was so excited to get in her bathing suit with Elena. At first, Elena was hesitant to go into the sprinklers with Maria but then she warmed up to it and began to allow Maria to run through the sprinklers holding her. Maria allowed Elena to dump a bucket of water on her head. The more water she can pour on herself, the better. Elena hung in with the water-loving Ri for a while but then went from loving the water play to “let’s go home!” We had a trying time getting dry because we didn’t bring towels. We may have killed a couple of trees in the process of drying off. 


We cranked out some more art to warm us up after the water play. Elena cut out circles, triangles and squares for her silk screen. The girl is so smart for her age, and picks up on everything. She definitely takes after her aunt Mary….


We headed home to get in some roller skating and bike riding down the hill n at Sarah’s house. Maria loved the hill. She about gave me a coronary arrest her first time on it because she let go of my arm and went flying down the hill by herself. She was either hitting the guard rail and flipping down a hill of brush to the highway or she was veering right to even out on a flat surface. I ran after her as hard as I could when she let go – about ripped both hamstrings – but she was way too fast. I just stood and prayed to whoever or whatever would listen. She veered right and I fell to the ground and nearly cried. She rolled back up towards me in pure exhilaration. 

“That was great!”

Yea, I’m gonna be popping anti-anxiety pills during her teen years.  Elena joined up with us riding her red bicycle. The two of them looked hysterical together. 

We sat up in the evening with Sarah and Jorge talking politics, school, living arrangements (Ri wants them to move to Columbus so badly), publishing, Oaxaca. I enjoyed downloading from the day and spending a couple of hours just talking about random things before bed. Back at home, I always feel pressure to get some work done, fold the laundry, dishes washed, and by the time all of that is done there’s no time to talk. 

We hit Starbucks and Frick Park again on Tuesday morning. Elena gave those irrisistable eyes to Ri again and got many sips of her refresher drink. We walked our normal path to the park and spotted our two balloons flying from a gate post. There was a yellow one and a blue one. However, the yellow one had burst. Elena kept questioning why the yellow one was little,  and not like the blue one. I explained that it burst, which she found hysterical. She had to examine it before we moved on to the park. Another moment where us adults look at a burst balloon as nothing more than a piece of garbage hanging off a fence post but this little munch sees it as a fascinating question to be solved. 

We spent nearly two hours at the park sliding and playing on the ropes. Ri and I are convinced she’s going to climb the Alps.

We had our afternoon planned out with an exciting trip to the Aviary and then to the children’s museum if we had time. We stole Sarah’s license so that we could get in free to the museum. Ri took my hair out of my ponytail and tried to give me bangs and glasses so that I could look like Sarah. Elena freaked. I quickly put my hair back up in a pony and she calmed down. It was no hope anyway – Sarah looks 15 in her picture and I’m lucky to look 40! 

We parked near the Aviary and hopped our way over to it (Elena’s new favorite move is to hold our hands and hop between us). We walked up to the doors of the Aviary and saw a sign that announced the Aviary was closed for the day. Are you kidding? Of all days….Well, if Peepaw taught us anything, it’s to make lemonade out of lemons. We trekked over to the museum and got in without a glitch. I was lamenting on the way over about missing out on the Aviary and Ri reminded me that it was a “first world problem” and “who cares, we get a second day at the museum!”

It was as if we’d never gone to the museum. They both played at all the same displays and had a blast. More newspaper bracelets, more ball throwing, more clay houses, more meditating in the egg chair. 


And what did we do with the extra time by not hitting the Aviary? We walked to Mike’s Ice Cream and got giant scoops of ice cream for $2! The owner informed us he was retiring soon so we were lucky to get the last bit of ice cream. It was delicious, especially eating it under the big oak tree.


We made one last stop before heading home on Tuesday since we knew we were leaving the next day. We had to go out with a blast! We stopped at Schendley Park and took a mini hike to the creek. Elena asked me to find rocks for her and then she’d chuck them into the stream. Hilarious. She let Meemaw hug all over her, which made Meemaw’s day. 


We arrived home a bit exhausted but proud of our day full of adventures! And god love Elena – we dragged her in the car 20 minutes away for a fancy dinner. She hit the wall as soon as we ordered and Sarah took her out to nurse her. She immediately crashed but woke up when Sarah carried her back in the restaurant. We were going to get our food to go but Jorge convinced us to wait and see how she did. And don’t you know the girl rebounded and hung in there with us throughout our entire dinner? As we were leaving, she looked at Sarah and pleaded “can we go home and play all night?” She has the partying gene in her, for sure.

We came home and jumped off the back of the couch for a bit, played puzzle, and took an airplane ride before Sarah called it a night on behalf of Elena. 


Sarah, Jorge, Ri and I played Bananagrams after Elena fell asleep. Sarah whooped on us but I got her the last game! Jorge let Ri join her team and they were cracking us up with their word choices and dialogue back and forth. 

We stayed up too late and 6:50 am came real quick…. Jorge laughed at us later in the day and said he knew Ri and I broke that morning because we could barely keep up with Elena when she pulled us out of bed. The other mornings we were energized and raring to go! I actually think it was just sadness, knowing that we had to leave. After all, as Elena stated at one point during our stay “it’s fun to be crazy!” We had crazy fun and with this girl for three straight days, and it was pure magic. 

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.