Tender Mario moves

I woke up the other morning to a horrible cough. This happens to me more often as I get older. I can’t catch my breath and as I try to take a deep inhale, I cough worse. Anyway, my coughing woke Mario up from his sleep (he had had a nightmare earlier in the evening and we allowed him to sleep in our bed). It was a good thing it did because it was 7 AM and a school day. Mario jumped out of bed to head into our bathroom to take a shower. I heard him turn on the water faucet, and opened one eye when I felt him standing next to me a second later. He whispered “here mom, take a drink.” It was such a tender gesture from him. I grabbed the cup and watched him head back into the bathroom.

I came home from work a few days ago and Mario popped up from the downstairs. He gave me a big hug and told me he did the dishes. I looked in the sink and sure enough, they were all washed and placed haphazardly in the plastic drainer on the left side of the sink. After Mario washes bowls, he places them right side up so the water remains in them. It drives me crazy but I won’t complain since he took the initiative to do the dishes in the first place.

We finally got to Dick’s Sporting Goods this weekend to get Mario a new pair of gym shoes. He is definitely his mother’s child when it comes to his love for gym shoes. His Adidas were completely worn down with a hole in the toe and huge rip in the heel lining. He eyed quite a few basketball shoes before he chose his black and gold LeBrons (he knew I could not say no to anything LeBron-related). After he got his shoes from the salesman, he led me over to the women’s running shoe area. He was set on getting me a pair as well. I told him that I was good to go and we were just there to get him shoes. But, he was adamant that he wanted me to be able to experience the joy of getting a new pair of shoes as well.

On Saturday morning, I was lifting weights at the gym when I saw Mario’s number pop up. I answered the phone and he asked where I was. I told him I was at the gym, and he told me that he would walk to Stauf’s with me when I got home. The offer to walk to Stauf’s with me is equivalent to an offer to give me $25K. I would take the walk and time at Stauf’s over cash any day.

Mario and I walked to school together last week. I dropped him off to the basketball game. We talked about his favorite songs and about his plan to watch a movie a week this Summer with his buddies. As we talked and walked, he reached for my hand and held as we continued our stroll down the street. No big gesture on his part – just a gentle embrace of his left hand with my right as he continued his conversation with me.

We were eating dinner the other night – Jon and Mario and I (Maria was at dance club) – and out of nowhere Mario blurted out “I have the best mom – she plays basketball with me and always has fun.” Then he continued to eat his pasta and talk about roller skating in gym class.

Dancing and basketball

Maria had her eighth-grade dance on Friday night. We hit the jackpot with the first online dress we bought. She loved it, it looked spectacular on her, and I did not need to go into a shopping mall. Win all around! Being on student council, she had the task of coming up with the theme of the dance and decorating for it. They decided on a Hollywood awards theme and she ended up winning “most likely to become a millionaire” (and take care of her parents). The boy who also won it is the boy she has had a crush on for quite a while. Hilarious. I heard from her friends that some of the girls danced but the boys basically sat against the wall. Nothing has changed from the 1980s.

Jon and I realized that we had tickets to see John Cusack on Friday night. We realized this on Wednesday evening while talking with Jon’s brother and sister-in-law at the house. They stopped by late in the evening as they were heading to Colorado. The conversation turned to Christmas gifts and Jon’s brother asked him what he got. We both looked at each other in concern. Had we forgotten to go to our John Cusack event? I had bought Jon the tickets for his Christmas gift and we had forgotten all about it. Luckily, we had not missed it; however, it was two days away. We found someone for Mario to hang with because he gets scared being at the house by himself.

Maria wanted a bunch of her girlfriends to come back for a sleepover after the dance, which we allowed. What were we thinking? We came back to the looks of a sorority house at 4 AM. The kitchen was trashed with empty chip bags, cake mix and batter all over the counters and floor, and random freezer pop plastic tubes with remaining Popsicle juice everywhere. The girls were pumped up on sugar and laughing hysterically in the basement. Jon and I hit the sack at midnight and could hear them loud and clear for some time. We keep saying that this is just our insurance for when we get older and the kids need to watch over us. They better come to our side after we allowed all this!

Jon was a saint and took all of the girls to the eighth grade boys basketball game in Whitehall at 9:30 AM the next morning. They got to see their opposite sex classmates win the championship, and then Jon took them out to lunch afterwards. He is a sucker. Maria got home and headed right back out the door for a Girl Scout campout from Saturday night until Sunday. She loves these types of weekends – filled with friends.

Mario was charged up that Jon and I had something to do on Friday because he got to spend the night with his buddy. His buddy’s mom took them to Target to and they ended up riding bikes around the store. I guess the teenagers who were managing the area didn’t care. Gotta love them. He also managed to buy a whole pack of Oreos that he chowed down through the night. I took him to his basketball lesson on Saturday morning, and he felt good about his shooting for the tournament game that evening. He wanted to come home and show me all of the moves he learned. After he did that, I told him he had to help me fold laundry. He agreed but on one condition – that we watch the most famous dunks on Netflix while we folded laundry.

Peepaw came in on Saturday evening to watch him in Marysville. He got treated to a blowout with Mario making over 10 points. Grandma Ionno came in on Sunday morning for the 9 AM game and got treated to another blowout with Mario making quite a few points as well. But then the noon game came – and the team could not make shots to save their life. I could see Mario’s frustration from a mile away. The team he was put with for this tournament are good kids but a few of them lack the passion and drive that Mario has for the sport. That, in addition to Mario not getting his shots in, caused him to look very flustered on the court. I kept trying to yell for him to get out of his head but he was tuning us all out. Jon finally took him out in the last minute because he was complaining so much. He has got to learn to be a team player and to not blame others or the refs (even if they may be at fault). He’s gotta recognize his own flaws as well. But, a lecture right after the loss was not going to go anywhere. He had calmed down within 15 minutes and even managed to say “love you” when we left him to watch his buddies play another game.

Time together

Christmas was on a Tuesday this year, which meant I got to torture the kids with my presence for four days straight. It made me feel totally loved when we woke up on Friday morning (the kids first day off), and Maria’s first question to me as I headed downstairs was “don’t you have to work today?” The inflection in her voice made it clear she was not asking, she was hoping. The kiddos know when I’m home there will be some walking involved with the day. And some reading. And maybe even a household task. There will also be game playing and frivolity but they focus on the former activities much more.

Maria got what she wanted – I did head to work – but not before I got a walk in with her beforehand:) She and I and Rocco took a walk to the woods. She shot some good pictures of the bare trees and little white mushrooms growing on dead branches. As much as she complains about the walk, I think she secretly likes to get out. Not for long, for sure, but 15 minutes does her well. And, 15 minutes for me with her or Mario makes my day. It’s grounds me and puts me in an upbeat mood as I head off to make the bacon.

Over the four day’s before Christmas, the kids humored me with my requests for walks to the woods. They even talked with me during our walks. I make it hard not to talk to me by coming up with new games to play or asking questions that I know will interest them (Maria – what’s new with Blake Shelton; Mario – how are the Rockets doing). I think if I had one last wish before I passed on, it would be to take a walk with my kids. I love having them near me and listening to their banter even if it’s about the Kardashians or Fortnite, My spirit is full after time with them.

We also got our fill of boardgames. I crushed the kids at Family Feud. To be fair, they don’t have years of experience like I do of watching the show from the ages of 9 to 14. I innately know what “the survey says.” I amazed my kids with my knowledge of “name six items a man thinks he can fix but usually can’t” (I think I got that answer correct due to being with Jon all these years versus my years of playing). We also got a brand new deck of “beat the parents” cards. Jon and I agreed to go against Ri and Mario, and got on a correct answer streak to win the game. Jon stood up and pointed his fingers at them and yelled “in your face”! (I wonder where they get their competitive nature)?! Of course, I was standing right behind him cheering him on.

We also made cookies and the kids decorated. gingerbread house (we got two but the first crumbled after Ri tried to glue it together rather than use icing). As I sat on the kitchen floor wrapping presents, I looked up at them consumed in decorating their gingerbread house – Ri with her tongue out pasting a Starburst on the house and Mario with lips sealed tight working on a row of Dot candies along the roof. Those moments are a sort of prayer for me. I am consumed with love and comfort.

We played mini-hoop basketball in Mario’s room. Mario loves to play mini hoop when it gets cold outside. We have about three steps to move before we hit the hoop but he doesn’t care. He likes to ram past me and make slamdunks. Maria begged to take him on, and he finally acquiesced. She simply pushed him with one hand until she reached the hoop and then gently placed the ball into it. She finally agreed to try some new moves, which led to a few pounces and bruises, but they ended the match shaking hands.

Christmas arrived on Tuesday and the kids were scattered around their cousins and other family members. There was no morning walk or mad game of Family Feud. But there was those few moments – when Ri came from behind to give me a bear hug, and Mario beamed when he talked about going to the UC Bearcat game with me, and both kids stared with those bold blue eyes into my camera as I flashed a holiday picture – when I felt at complete peace and as though nothing at all could be better.

Ri does basketball

Maria decided to go out for basketball. Her eighth grade team needed a couple more players so she volunteered to join. She has become good friends with a girl on the team, Maggie, who I think acted as a big influence in her decision.

Maria loves to hang with a large group of girls. She seems to have most fun around a group of gals versus one on one. She likes a big party! I think this is a big reason why she loves to play sports. It is not necessarily the love of the game but rather, a love of friendships and camaraderie. She roots her teammates on fiercely. My personality is so different than hers; I am the one who wants to be on the field and be the star. People should root me on. I am not looking to cheer on other’s accomplishments without having some of my own. But not this girl of mine. She is happy to play a bit and then sit on the bench and cheer on her friends. And damn she does that well. She claps and cheers when a friend makes a play. She gives hugs and high fives when her friends come out of the game. She’s a mama hen. If someone gets hurt, she is the first one to get ice and help out. If someone is sad about how they played, she wraps them in a hug and makes them laugh.

I am amazed at her because it is so foreign to me. I think it’s a wonderful trait to have – this lack of concern about being a star and this joy in just being a part of the team. It’s this plain and simple – she’s a happy, happy kid. She enjoys life. She feels comfortable around all sorts of people. She enjoys conversations with others.

If you would have told me a year ago that Ri would be playing basketball and hanging out with the handful of gals that she is hanging with, I would have been skeptical. She’s really blossomed this year; it’s been a strong year for her. She is planting her roots and coming into her own, and man, it is exciting to watch.

Ri ❤️ DC

Maria loved her eighth-grade trip to DC. She loved it so much that when she walked through the back door (after Jon picked her up from the school bus at 10 pm), she was bawling. I thought something had happened to her and glanced back at Jon to get some insight. He gave me a little smile and shook his head. Then Maria fumbled some words out amidst sobs:

“I will never have that trip with my friends again. I didn’t want to see it end. I want to be back in DC.”

This girl. She loves these types of gatherings – big groups of family or big groups of friends hanging out and talking. Meg and I had just been talking about this the other day. She was talking about how she tends to like being with one other person and not a big crowd. Jon is like that as well. I can really go either direction but tend to be more spirited when more people are around. There is no doubt about our girl though. Her joie de vivre is in direct correlation with the number of people around her. So, this trip to DC with 80 of her closest friends smashed together on a few buses infused her heart with joy. She absolutely had a blast.

When she finally settled down after heading upstairs has washing her face and getting on pjs, she came into our bedroom and laid next to Jon. She could have probably talked for the next two hours about everything they did. She gave us a brief snapshot of going to Gettysburg, going to the mall and eating with her friends, hanging out on the bus and eating their snacks. She had the widest smile in all the pictures we saw of her on Instagram.

As I put her to bed that night, I told her that she had quite a gift. She felt deeply – to the core – and that meant she could feel immense joy and love in her bones. I told her that some people don’t ever get to experience that. I also told her that because she felt deeply, she would also have to accept that she may feel negative emotions deeply, also, like the sadness she felt as she entered the house crying. I stated I’d much rather feel it all then not.

Mario and I tried to cheer her up the next morning by making her eggs, bacon and toast and playing a game with her. She gets cheered up around a big group of people; I get cheered up having just a little bit of time alone with my two babes. The moments are far and few between anymore with as much as they have going on and as many things as they want to do … with their friends. Maria was so dejected from having to come home that she didn’t even have the energy to object to a walk to the woods with me and Mario. She eventually began to come back to life only after she realized that she still has another six months as an eighth grader to hang out with all of the friends who went to DC with her.

She was so excited about the thought of going to the farm over the weekend because Meg and Dad we’re having a throng of family out to celebrate Jack returning home from Sweden. Sure enough, when I arrived, I saw her playing with a couple of the young kids in the corner. Her smile was nearly as wide as it was in the DC picture.

The struggle is real

I continue to struggle.

My weekends used to be filled with trying to find one hour for myself. Now they are filled with trying to find one hour for me and the kids to have together.

Maria and Mario were supposed to head to the farm with me this weekend to watch their cousin. Maria would normally never miss a chance to do this but soccer and friends got in the way. Mario, on the other hand, would not have been keen to babysit his cousin but would have liked the thought of hanging out with his mom. However, he too, decided that sticking around his friends would be a better idea.

I am getting more and more comfortable with the notion that Maria is becoming more interested in nurturing friendships than hanging with family. It is natural, and I think a positive step to see her wanting to do more things with friends and be away from the homestead. I would be concerned if she always wanted to be around me or Jon and never hung out with friends. Why is it, though, that we can never have a middle ground? Why can’t she want to hang with us at least a little bit? This year she catapulted from one extreme to the next. But again, I am glad that she’s finding camaraderie with a group of girls who I think are a good bunch.

Mario is not so much into nurturing friendships as he is into just having a good time with his buddies. He will sit on Fortnite for three hours, if possible, chatting it up with his friends online. He’s also been better about going to the park with some of his buddies and hanging out. I took a group of them to the woods the other day and they were hilarious banging bats against trees and smashing little fruits that had fallen off of trees. Destructive creatures, they are. But sure enough, when they heard some rustling in the woods, they came running to me to protect them.

It seems that I get to see Maria only when I see her with her friends. On Friday night, she met up with her girlfriends and they played in the band for football Friday night. She absolutely loves being with her friends and being at school. She actually started crying the other night with the thought that in four years they will be seniors and have to go off to different schools.

I was amazed on Saturday night when we were over at a friend’s house for the Buckeye game, and Mario asked if we could go apple picking the next morning with his friend and his friend’s parents. Seriously? Mario would typically not want to get up and spend Sunday morning that way so I agreed to do it even though I had been looking forward to sleeping in that day (after having a full day with Miss Elena at the farm).

Mario woke me up at 7:30 am and told me that we would be leaving in an hour. I took the dog for a quick walk and came home to play a little one on one with Mario. The friend and his parents arrived as I was getting whooped, and we took off to the Apple farm. It was the same farm I went to with Mario when he was in first grade. As we drove out there, I told him how I had met him out here for his school trip when he was in first grade. He actually remembered bits and pieces of it. I talked about how he held my hand through the orchard and was so excited to have me with him. He smiled. He doesn’t get to embarrassed at those stories yet. And sure enough, he held my hand again here and there as we went through the orchard to gather apples.

We competed to see who could jump the farthest from one apple tree to the next and bit into red apples and yellow apples to see which one tasted the best. We hit the market, as well, and found a candy cigar for him to act like he was smoking (I figure the less taboo I make it the less he will want to do it). We grabbed some cider and gummy bears as well. But what he really wanted to do was hit the corn maze. We drove over to it and only found a lake kids maze. We went through it in about three minutes. However, there was a big bouncy house right by the maze so we paid five dollars to go in it. I, of course, could not sit there and watch him and his friend have bounce house fun; I went in it as well. We competed to see who could get through it the quickest. The first few times we all bolted through, and did not mess with one another. But then we got aggressive and started pulling and pushing each other as we ran through the obstacles. At one point, I was climbing up the wall to slide down the slide. Mario was at the top and he was trying to push me down. I kept telling him that he needed to stop or else we would both fall down. He didn’t. We fell. We both laid on the rubber house aching in pain. I had gotten burned and he complained about his little toe.

“It’s broken. It hurts!”

I told him that he was fine and he needed to get up. He started crying that he was not fine. And it went downhill from there. He had a football game in a few hours and I knew Jon would be so irritated with me for having played around in the bounce house with Mario right before his game. So, I kept telling Mario to suck it up and to walk on it, he was just fine. Mario kept telling me that he was not just fine and it hurt. By the time we got to my friend’s car, we were not speaking to each other. Beautiful.

How can our lovely morning turn so quickly?!

When we got home, I gave him ice to put on his foot and told him to rest. I ran to Kroger’s to get food for the week with the hopes I would come back and he would be miraculously cured. Not so much. He could barely put his socks on or his football cleats. I took him to the field and told him that he needed to play hard and Jon called me about 10 minutes after I dropped him off questioning what the heck I did to him as he limped over to him on the field.

Great.

He ended up not playing at all in the football game because he told his coach that he hurt his toe and he would “try” to run as best as he could. His coaches did not seem to like the word “try “so he ended up sitting out. I think this was just fine for him but it irritated the heck out of Jon and me. We felt that he was nursing this injury so he would not have to get out and play. Was he? Who knows. When we got home, I took off his socks and looked at his toe. There was a bruise about the size of my pinky fingernail on his pinky toe but really not a lot of swelling. So, I would say that Jon and I were likely correct but whatever, we weren’t going to dwell on it. However, if I wrestle him next weekend two hours before the game, I’m in trouble.

Maria worked the concession at football all day Sunday, and then came home for two minutes to grab her book bag just to turn around and head over to her friend’s house “to study”. She arrived home at 7:30 PM and asked if we could go and find tutus for her and her friends since they had crazy day at school on Monday. I was so tired and had no desire to go out and try to find tutus. However, I had not had any alone time with my girl all weekend. So, I agreed to take her. I was tempted to drive for 45 minutes to the farthest store possible just so I could spend more time talking with her. However, as soon as we walked to the car, she asked if we could go somewhere close because she had to get to bed in order to get up early and get ready. Of course. So, we went to a store 15 minutes away – but at least I got a chance to talk with her for 30 minutes on the round-trip.

And her tutu ended up being absolutely adorable!

Mario turns 11!

How is my youngest baby turning 11 years old? It is just not right. I still have vivid memories of lying on the hospital bed and feeling the most intense pain of my lifetime. Whereas Maria entered the world after a rather melodic string of breathing and pushing, Mario entered the world with one Big Bang. I think I may have had one good grunt before the final push where I bared down and he jetted out of me like a bullet. It hurt like holy hell but the pain was well worth it. Seconds later I held his perfect self next to me and loved everything before me.

The kids and I were taking a bike ride yesterday and Maria recalled how sad she was that she couldn’t go to the hospital to see her baby brother be born. However, she was excited to get Timbits and bring them to the hospital room. We were laughing and surmising that if Mario had the ability, he would have grabbed one of those Timbits with his tiny one-day old hand and gobbled it up. He has always loved his donuts.

I strolled him up to Giant Eagle nearly every weekend from the age of one to seven, and he would use that little hand to grab a chocolate long john donut from the case (and sometimes a second if he begged and begged me). I conditioned the donut on me reading to him while we strolled home. We would also play the “can you spot the animal” game where we would see how many birds or squirrels or rabbits we could spot before we made it to the store. He always won.

He has always loved to wrestle. Even when he was younger, he was as strong as a bull and would knock me over when he charged at me. Now, it is comical. I try to wrestle him while I am on my knees but he can take me down if he gets the right angle. I think this is the year that that he will win against me more than he loses.

He continues to be the comedian of the family. He tries out all sorts of new lines on us. I typically laugh because I like to see him feel good. He calls me out on it chiding me that I am fake laughing. But, I must say, the majority of the time, I truly find him funny. I can totally see him doing stand-up comedy when he gets older.

He fell In love with basketball this year. He adores James Harden. We were at each other’s throats for the NBA playoffs between LeBron and Harden. My LeBron won out, which made me happy but I felt for Mario who was devastated for his Rockets. For a while there, we did not know whether we could get him to play any other sports. He wanted to focus solely on basketball. He would beg me to go outside and shoot hoops with him every night. I would oblige him but then tell him he needed to work on shooting by himself 20 minutes a day. He did it every once in a while but didn’t yet quite have the drive to make himself get out there on his own and practice. He must just love being with his mom too much:)

I agreed to coach his baseball team this year. At first I agreed to it just so that he would play another sport besides basketball but I ended up really enjoying it. We had a blast together. Of course, there were times that I was ready to strangle him for slacking off or he was ready to strangle me for saying something embarrassing to him. But for the most part we had fun together driving to practices and games and hanging with one another. And we won the championship! Now I have my work cut out for me when I coach him again next year….

He got his first musical instrument this year for fifth grade. He ended up with the trombone. Surprisingly, he could belt out some notes right from the beginning. He loved on that damn trombone for about two days but now I have to fight with him to bring it home once a week to practice.

He fell in love this year. With an on-line game. Fortnight. It became a phenom this year; all the parents joke about how ridiculous it is to get their kids off the tv (“joke” equates to “whine and complain”). They would literally sit playing this game for 24 hours straight if allowed. I keep justifying the amount of time that I allow him to play by the fact that he is talking and playing with friends. Yes, pretty lame justification since they are all talking and playing but in their separate homes. Nevertheless, during moments when I am slammed at work and need to get some emails out, I appreciate Fortnight.

He spent quite a few weekends this year with Jon at big Mario’s house. They would target shoot and fish, and get fed amazing Italian meals. He loves that time with his dad and his Italian family (recall, since he was little, he maintained he was “full Italian” and not “any German”). He and I had a few fun trips together out to the farm. One of our favorite places we hit on our way to the farm was Salt Fork State Park. We jumped off a large boulder into the lake. We also had quite a few trips to the running shoe store. We both have a gym shoe fetish. We cannot get enough of them. So, one of our favorite activities is going to the running store and trying on all of the new hot shoes.

He got to head to DC, Pittsburgh, and Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan this year. He is a great companion to have on trips. You can always count on him to bring out a one-liner that cracks you up. There were a few elbow jabs I would have to give him to make him take hikes in Michigan with me but overall he is typically game for new adventures.

He also got to spend quite a bit of time in Marietta with his grandma. He loves hanging out with her and his cousin. They go to the mall, play video games, and hit the skate park. I think back to my times with my grandmas and the fun I had at their houses that were the quintessential “homes away from home.” I know Mario will look back at these visits and cherish his times with Patty.

As this pumpkin seed boy turns 11, I hope he sees what an amazing human he is and loves himself. He used to berate himself when he was younger if he made a mistake. He’d call himself “stupid” or “idiot.” Jon and I would scold him to not call himself those names and to just see the episode for what it was – a mistake to learn from. He has not berated himself for a long time (so maybe we had a parenting win:)). God knows he knows how to talk himself up and love on himself (“tell me one sport I’m bad at mom… I know, you can’t…”). I’d rather him over-believe in himself than the opposite. I have never been an 11 year old boy but I imagine he goes through times of poor self-esteem or self-doubt or confusion about friends and relationships. I put a heck of a lot of effort into Maria at this age knowing what I knew about being an 11-year-old girl. I am set on doing the same for this boy, and I know he will turn out just fine. Actually, just excellent.

He’s coming into his own more and more. I can’t wait to see what 11 brings this year. All I know a few days into his 11th year is that he remains a sweetheart. He is gentle and playful with little kids, he pets every pup he sees on our walks, he gives outrageously strong hugs, he spots bunny rabbits for his mama, he helps his dad with dishes, and he even kisses his sister’s cheek when she pleads for it after a rough day.

From the moment he jetted out of me, I knew he was a perfect addition to our family. He’s proved it over and over again with each new year.

Love you Mario!