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!

Ditch Snapchat for your story

It is f’ing hard to let go of your kids. I stood at a local festival with my mother-in-law for over two hours watching my kids’ traverse the park.

“Is that Maria over there with the boy she likes?”

“Why isn’t Mario playing with his friends?”

“Maria never hangs out with that girl – are her friends ignoring her?”

“Mario walked right by Owen and did not say a word. Why?”

The questions, over and over again. The concern. The worry.

My head keeps attempting to prevail. “They are kids; let them find what they love and who they enjoy being with and how they want to act.” I know intuitively that I cannot control those things.  They aren’t two years old anymore. I can’t manage their playdates, and manage what they say in response to a question asked of them. I can’t whisper in their ear to demand they say “thank you” or steer them over to the blue slide because I know how much fun it will be.

But my heart prevails nearly every time. I want them to feel love and surround themselves with people they love and who love them back. I want them to be kind to others and generous, and carefree.  When I see Ri staring at the ground or standing off to the side of the crowd, I want to burst through the crowd and push her into the middle proclaiming “she is the coolest kid ever!”  While Mario’s friends are gathered at the ring toss barely saying two words to each other, and Mario is over at the basketball game not paying them any attention, I want to drag him over to his friends and make him play with them.

As Patty and I stood on the grass next to the dunking station and the floating ducks, she laughed at the thought of her mother doing what she and I were doing. “She would have never been worried about who I was with or how I was getting along.” I think back to my parents; I can’t recall a single time my mom or dad asked me how things were going with friends or whether I wanted to have a sleepover with certain girls. They just let it roll with who I selected.  No interference.

Why is that so hard for me to do with my kiddos? I think it is because I always want them to be happy.

Happy. Happy.

But what will they truly gain from constant happiness in the shadow of their doting mother? Nothing. They will fall flat. They may not have to climb the hill of despair or sadness but they also won’t feel the exhilaration of tumbling down the hill of joy and exuberance. Disappointment and hurt and questioning feeds the soul and produces grit and character. How boring it would be if everything came easy and routine. The people who I have fallen in awe of throughout my life are the ones that have stories. Deep, complicated stories. The people I have wanted to throw out of my path are the ones that have lived staid, boring, easy lives. The ones that have not tried to understand others; who have taken their privileged lives for granted; who strive for more stuff rather than more experiences.

I want my kids to grow up to tell their stories. To have rich, deep experiences and dreams of what they want out of this life.  To strive.

I realize tonight that I am focusing my energy on the wrong things. I am so worried about whether my kids have friends and who they hang with that I have completely ignored whether they are creating their stories. Whether they are paying attention to who they are and what they love. Whether they are limiting their views of snapchat and youtube, and creating their own worlds and dreams.

I texted them both tonight as they drove home with Patty and their cousins.  They had a two hour drive from Columbus, and I could see the light from all of their phones creating a fluorescent aura as Patty pulled out of her parking space. I asked them to tell me their stories – as they see them at age 11 and 13.  I am sure they had little idea of what the heck I meant.  Maria texted me back; Mario ignored me. Then I texted them that I wanted them to be cognizant of all the youtube and snapchat they were indulging in and to try to branch out and read articles or research something that interests them.  Again, Maria responded with an “Ok, Mom!” She knows the characters and symbols to use to make me feel that she gets me….

I know now that I cannot head down to the local festival without a gang of friends to keep me occupied. I cannot put my energy into watching my kids to see who they will talk to or how they will act in a certain situation.  I have put my blood, sweat and tears in them for the last 13 and 11 years, and I have to hope that I have given them the building blocks to be good, kind, strong humans.  I have a new job now as they move into the social media world, into the popularity contest world, into the self-doubt world – I have to give them building blocks to think critically, to care about more than the latest snapchat post or youtube vine. I have to help them dig deep and create their stories. Their deep, complicated, rich, amazing stories.

Taking the time to mindset pre-vacation

My stress level had nearly hit the top rung. It was mid-July and we had gone through nearly 2 months of summer without a babysitter. It is the first summer we decided to go without a sitter. Jon would be able to work from home so we figured he could at least have some oversight of the kids. Now, my “oversight of the kids” is quite different then Jon’s “oversight of the kids.” My oversight: I ask to see their homework even when they say they have done it; I make them a sandwich when they say they are hungry and make sure they get some strawberries with that PB&J; I help them clean their rooms while we jam to music. Jon’s oversight: he tells them to grab lunch if they are hungry; he asks them if they’ve done their homework and trusts when they say yes; he tells them they need to clean their room and assumes they will do so while he does his own thing.

With my type A personality, Jon’s oversight can lead to a bit of stress. But even if Jon’s oversight did not stress me, my own crazy worry would do the trick. One week I think that the kids are going to go back to school and be behind all the other kids for not having read six books during the summer or completed their math workbook. Other weeks I am concerned that they are not getting outside as much as they should. And yet other weeks I think they are going to be diagnosed diabetic since all they’ve eaten is crap.

And then there is my general worry about finances, my job, Jon’s job, kids’ college. You name it.

So, needless to say, when we were a few days away from leaving for Michigan, Jon sat me down and reinforced in me that we were going to let all the stress and worry go, and make this a good vacation. He demanded that I not worry about the cost of lunch, or whether the kids read for an hour on the trip, or what the kids selected when we stopped at the gas station to get a snack. “Just let it go” he told me, and “enjoy yourself.”

His advice sank into my bones. I was struggling with trying to let go of work and worry and school and tasks, and his words sank into my bones allowing my concerns to drift off. Our clan had been broken up throughout the summer – either Maria was gone for a couple of weeks or Mario. I had worked long hours some days and not been home when both kids were there. So, I needed this trip to ground me back to what’s important and what matters. In the end, no matter the circumstances – catastrophe or minor setback or huge fortune – family and community and connection drive me.

I breathed in all of the wonder of my small clan as we drove up north. We stayed in a small cottage that I found on VRBO. It was not quite as plush as I thought it may be, but, as with most things, my initial reaction of mediocrity flipped to quaint and charming after the first night of getting accustomed to it.

The hilarious part of the trip was the fact that there was only an air-conditioned unit on the top floor. The top floor was one bedroom with a queen size bed and a twin bunk bed. Jon and I planned on sleeping downstairs and letting the kids have the upstairs. However once Jon found out that the AC was only in the upstairs bedroom, he refused to sleep downstairs. The kids refused to sleep downstairs because they were scared with us being upstairs. Therefore, we all got to sleep together in the same bedroom … like Little House on the Prairie! (“I whispered “good night Mary, good night Laura, good night John Boy” as went to sleep). I ended up on the floor on a futon the rest of the night because Jon and I do not fit in a queen sized bed. One of the kids slept with me each night – I preferred Mario because he does not kick. Jon got the queen bed all to himself (except for one night when he agreed to let Maria sleep with him but regretted it all night as she kicked him every hour).

We woke up most mornings and went straight out to the lake for some paddle boarding or kayaking. We would come back inside and play a game of Monopoly before deciding what the plans were for the day. The kids still like to please their mama so they agreed to a hike most days. It would take us about 40 minutes to get to the dunes so we would make a day out of it and do something around Glen Arbor. What a cute little town. Jon and I have been saying for years that we don’t know what we will do when we retire because we have different locale tastes. He could be on a farm the rest of his life and I could be in the mountains the rest of mine. But we both agreed that Glen Arbor would be a locale we could settle.

It was surreal to climb the dunes with Maria and Mario when I had climbed the exact dunes as a kid with my dad and Meg. Bits of my childhood experiences would pop into my head as we walked on a trail or leaped through the dune sand. Life is strange. They had a love-hate relationship with the dunes and trails like I did as a kid. Part of them just wants to sit back at the cottage and watch You Tube but another part of them enjoys the thrill of climbing up a steep dune and running back down it. When I was their age, part of me just wanted to be back in the city with my friends but another part of me loved conquering those dunes with my family.

They also reminded me of how I would act when they bitched and moaned about how long the hike lasted. They were lucky – when I was a kid, my dad would take us on 3 or 5 mile hikes. I was easy on them with 1 or 2 milers.

One of their favorite places to eat in Glen Arbor was Dune Dogs. It is a little shack that sells hotdogs with all sorts of toppings. Maria, Jon and I also enjoyed the Cherry Hut. Their cherry pies are no joke. Mario, not a fan of cherries, did not find it amazing. But we made him smile with a superman ice cream cone from across the street.

We got our obligatory vacation putt-putt games in as well. The boys won the first game and the girls came back to win the second. We were going to have a playoff game on the last night we were there but the line was ridiculous to play. Mario was so bummed that we could not do it because he was ready to get revenge. We also got to do a ropes course at the putt-putt location. Mario and I had never done one before and Maria was adamant that we try it. She, of course, was fearless. Mario was a bit hesitant but then did great. I was surprised at how nervous I was because it was not ridiculously high. But, I kept my composure and did not scream throughout the climb. A win for everyone.

Oh, and we saw a black bear! Unfortunately, it was a dead one. It was lying on the side of the road behind a maintenance truck. It must have just been killed before we passed it. Poor baby.

Once back at the cottage, nobody wanted to leave. A couple of nights we ran out to grab some dinner (one night we traveled to 5 different spots for a nice Italian dinner only to find carry-out pizza joints so we ended up at KFC enjoying crispy chicken legs and mashed potatoes!). The other nights we made dinner at the cottage and then went out for a night swim. Maria was always ready for a swim and a jump off the dock. Mario, not so much. He had this irrational fear of fish biting his toes. But in contradiction to that fear, he liked standing in the water up to his ankles and watching the tiny minnows nibble at his dead skin. I could not stand it. Maria enjoyed it as well. And Jon. Freaks.

One of the ways I was able to get Mario to jump off the dock and into the lake was to play a game. He, I and Maria would hold hands and have to yell out a certain response to a question while we jumped in the water. I found that one of the questions he loved was to name a basketball player. Ri and I must have jumped off the dock with him 10 times before he realized where he was and feared the fish. The most exciting time for the kids in the lake was when Jon made one trip out to the deck and proceeded to chuck the kids off each time they got near him. They absolutely loved it (and went flying into the water).

Mario did a little bit of fishing but not as much as I thought he would. There were not a lot of fish right by the dock, but he did manage to catch two fish at one time on our first day. Ri tried to fish as well, but we were a bit concerned with her because she is so wild with her casting. She casted her lure right into Jon’s chest at one point.

I thought we would light campfires every night and make s’mores. Not so much. The Ionno family has a real problem with starting fires, which I guess is a good thing in the end. We could not start one in West Virginia and we had no better luck in Michigan. We got a very small one started but it kept dying out. We were able to make some half-baked s’mores but then called it a night due to the massive amount of bugs eating at us. There was no campfire after that first night. We opted for plain old Hershey bars and marshmallows.

I got some alone time with each of the kids, too. Mario and I would swim out to the dock together, and I would play the name game to keep him out there with me for a bit. He also liked playing in the sand with me (competitive castle building). Maria and I paddle boarded together and tried yoga on the boards. We never were able steady ourselves but it was fun to fall in together.

I loved this vacation so much. It was by far my favorite one with the kids. I think a big reason for my enjoyment was because I made a conscious effort to relax and let the stress go prior to heading out. I continuously thought about letting it all go for a few days before our departure. I have failed to take that step and consciously get in that mindset for past vacations. I let go of any expectation that the kids would sit on the deck and read books for two hours or any expectation that I should get up and exercise. We just all did what we wanted to do, which ended up being perfect. The kids didn’t want to play on their phones all the time. They came out and played in the sand and paddle boated with me. I had no desire to go out for a 5 mile run. Rather, I enjoyed walking out in the lake with the kids and sitting on the dock with Jon while they fished.

Another reason I enjoyed it so much was because the kids are older. They were able to do things on their own and engage with us about books, news, movies. On past vacations, when the kids were younger, it was a lot of running after them and long days of sitting in the pool as they said “mom, watch this somersault or “mom, time me while I go under water!”

The number one indicator that I loved this vacation so much was that I still remember it like it happened yesterday. With other vacations, I have come home and within 24 hours forgotten about any fun we had. I immediately got consumed back at work, with school, with errands. But this time, my carefree mindset stayed with me as we passed back into Ohio. Granted, a bit of stress and worry came here and there but it was a lot less intense and I could re-adjust my mind to take me back to what is important in this life. And it surely is not whether I please my boss, get promoted, fail to get my kids to read 6 books in the summer, or feed them Oreo’s for dinner. It is community and my clan and sending love and kindness out into the world.

Temporary only child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama’s day quiet

I vacillate between saying Mother’s Day is a Hallmark holiday and ridiculous, and feeling like I should be treated like a queen. This is the first year that I did not have my mom or stepmom or mother-in-law over for the day or have the kids hanging with me all day Long. I felt guilty. A bit sad. Glad to have time to take a walk. Lost. This motherhood thing can be an emotional roller coaster.

Really, I should be happy with how the day ended up. I got alone time with Maria. She took a two-mile walk with me and Rocco. Not only that – she actually conversed with me along the way. I thought on numerous occasions during our stroll about how happy I was in the moment – being with her and listening to her words. We didn’t get into any deep conversation about the meaning of life – we talked mostly about the puppies she was going to visit later in the day and about a book we had contemplated months ago about Rocco. I have got to get off my romantic notion that she and I will spend long afternoons talking about the state of this world or friendships or dreams for the future. Right now, I need to be satisfied with puppy talk. The most important thing is that we are together and talking. Later on in the day, we played cards and ate salsa and chips. She also biked to the library with me before seeing the puppies. This was more activity with her than I have had in months. Grateful.

Mario and Jon returned at 7 pm from hunting and fishing – just in time for Jon and I’s kickball game. Mario walked in the door and headed straight towards me for a giant embrace. “Happy Mom’s Day, mom” he said as he held me tight. Grateful. He also scribbled a quick poem to me after overhearing me tell Jon that I was a bit bummed to not get any cards from the kids. This was the first year I didn’t get a fabulous drawing or poem. As we were about to head out for our game, he stopped to tell me about a Langston Hughes poem that he wanted to print off for me. He thought I’d love it. He knows his mama’s taste.

And what about my duties as a daughter? Once kids turn 18, do you know longer have an obligation to give a poem? I talked with my mom, my stepmom, and my mother-in-law throughout the day to wish them a wonderful day. It seems we were all pretty good with time alone; in fact, that may be the best gift we could give each other.

My baby turns 13!

How is it that my little pumpkin girl is turning 13? It seems just a breath away that I was walking down the street calling Jon to announce our pregnancy. I was at the corner of Grandview and Third when Jon answered his cell phone.

He had traveled out of town that weekend to hang with his best friend, Paul. He answered the phone and I think we made chit chat for a minute. I can’t recall exactly how I brought up the pregnancy but I do recall the reaction, pure silence.

There were a lot of “oh my gosh” statements after the silence – a symbol of both joy and fear. We were having a baby! What the heck would happen once we had a baby? We are pregnant! How the heck were we going to handle a newborn?

I recall the first three months of morning sickness. I sat at my desk at Carlile Patchen, and stared into my computer screen hoping that the nausea would subside. I craved giant-sized hamburgers. I longed for chocolate and pickles. The thought of toothpaste made me want to throw up. It was so strange to have all of these sensations. My belly did not start to expand until about the fifth month of pregnancy. It was only then that I could show off my little baby bump. I would rub that bump as if the more rubbing I did, the healthier you would be.

It was around that time that Jon and I found out the sex of our little nugget. I swore I would have a boy. I have always been a tomboy, always been aggressive, loved my sports, and hated dresses. I was positive the universe would deliver a boy to me. I also figured Jon would want a boy even though he kept saying the cliche-ish line “I don’t care what sex it is as long as it is healthy. ” I laid on the table while the nurse pressed the wand hard against my belly. She moved it around and around and finally asked us if we were ready to learn the sex.

YES!

“You have a girl. ”

How was that possible?! How could my testosterone-laden body produce a girl? Whereas I was in shock, Jon was not. He took it all in stride – happy as a peach to have a baby girl. I, however, had major trepidation. That would mean we would have a mother/daughter relationship. Heaven help me. I had past experience with a mother/daughter relationship and it was a struggle. I remember calling my mom to announce that we were having a girl. Her reaction: “oh.” We both must have still harbored a bit of PTSD from my teenage years.

It took a while to get used to the thought of having a girl. I remember walking Cy, our dog at the time, and thinking “how will I ever love a human being as much as I love my loyal pup?” What was my problem?! Yet, although those thoughts went through my head, I still spent countless hours rubbing my expanding belly and listening to Free To Be on any car trip I took.

And then the day came. I went into the doctor’s office for my 9 AM appointment after I had taken a 3 mile run and lifted weights earlier that morning. My doctor performed her weekly exam. While she felt around, she poked her head up.

“You are going to have a baby today.”

What?! I was not having any contractions; I did not feel weird at all. Wasn’t there supposed to be some big revelation that I felt the baby was coming? I called Jon on my way home and told him that we were having a baby. His reaction was the same as mine had been. I arrived home and told Jon I was going to take Cy on a quick walk. He thought I was crazy, but he allowed me to do it (he knows me all too well). We got to the hospital around 11 AM; by that time, I was starting to feel some contractions. They felt like mild cramps, nothing to worrisome. The doctor checked me out around noon, and asked if I wanted to break my water to speed up the process. By that time, my mom had arrived from Cincinnati. We decided to go for it. It was not 20 minutes later that I was sitting on my green yoga ball pushing myself back-and-forth from the hospital bed. The contractions were getting worse. Breathe, Breathe. Breathe. That is all I could hear. It began to hurt worse and worse. But I was in it for the long run with you, baby girl. I wanted to feel every single ache. And boy, did I. There was a period of time where I was on my hands and knees rocking back-and-forth and feeling like I would not be able to survive another minute. Then the contractions would calm down a bit and I’d be able to breathe. But then they would start right back up and I would want to cry. Jon and my mom championed me through it right by my side. Finally, the nurses told me I could turn over and start pushing. What a relief. I pushed so hard, so quickly that I busted all of the blood vessels in my face. I wanted you out! I got to see the top of your head in the mirror and I could not believe it. There you were. All of that belly rubbing produced this little pipsqueak. I pushed one final push and before I knew it, I was holding your little 7 pound body in my arms. What a day.

The politically correct thing to say next is I fell completely and totally in love with you in that moment. Not so much. It took a while to absorb that intense bond between mother and child. At first, as I stared at you while she slept, I felt too many emotions to feel that deep connection. Would I do alright as a mom? Would you love me back? Were you getting all your nutrients? Craziness. And the questions running through my head! Why weren’t you taking my milk? Why didn’t you want to snuggle on my chest rather than move all around in every direction? Why did you have to get up every hour?!

As I became more confident in my role as a mother and you clocked in a greater amount of time on this earth, the connection clicked. My heart exploded with love and adoration for my baby girl, and I swallowed up all of you. And then, there was no turning back. I loved seeing you round, buddha face in the morning (even when you kept me up all night). I could not wait to get out of work and pick you up. I loved taking you on long walks, and having you touch the bark of different trees or smell the scent of different flowers. I couldn’t wait to walk up to Stauf’s with you on the weekend, and have everyone fawn over how cute you were.

I would read the book, Someday, to you nearly every night. The mother in the book watches her daughter grow up, and expresses has hopes and dreams for her daughter along the way. I would tear up every time I read it. One night when you were in preschool, I finished reading it and had those tears in my eyes. You looked up at me as you sat on my lap in that yellow rocking chair. You had tears down your little buddha face.

How biased I was to assume I would have a boy because I had so much testosterone and hated dresses? Sure enough, you were known as “the muscle” at preschool because you would defend some of the timid kids when kids were picking on them. Don’t mess with my girl; she will put you on her place. Heck, you are able to pick up your mom without a problem (there is no doubt your physical dominance is directly from your mom and dad).

You continue to want to be a daredevil. One of the presents you asked for your 13th birthday is a hot air balloon ride. You also asked to skydive (you know your mother will not agree to that) and bungee jump (no way). You will try anything. We love your intrepid spirit.

You continue to forge friendships with a wide array of people. Girls that love sports; girls that love boys; girls that love video games; and even boys. You get along with anybody and everybody that crosses your path.

You love to hug people. You sometimes even ask to hug a family friend you just met. You have no fear of jumping into any conversation. We love your willingness to embrace.

You are the goofiest, dork of a girl at times. You are not scared to make fun of yourself. You are not scared to act like a total fool around people. We absolutely love this about you. The more self-assured you are, the better it will be as you get older. Keep that goofiness about you and do not care what other people think.

You love school this year, as always. You love broadcasting in the mornings, hanging out with your friends, and going to your sporting events and practices. You loved your softball season with the bus rides to and from softball games. You are easy-going and spirited.

Quite simply, Ri, you are a great kid. Dad and I hit the jackpot with you as our first born. You have given us immense joy, and we know that you are going to knock this world out as you continue to get older.

Happy 13th, love!

Mom and Dad

Pittsburgh!

Who wants to go to Florida when you have Pittsburgh for spring break?

We again failed to plan a week-long spring break adventure with the kids. We were so on the ball when the kids were little and didn’t even know that they had a spring break – we went to Florida several years in a row. Now that they’re older and want to go places, Jon and I continue to drop the break ball and procrastinate. I did give them the DC trip for fall break though, so I don’t feel as bad.

We decided we’d hit Pittsburgh to visit sweet Elena and hang out with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days. Patty had invited the kids to Marietta at the end of the week to be with their cousins and celebrate Easter so Pittsburgh provided the perfect getaway spot for a few days. Maria wanted to leave at 6 AM on Sunday morning in order to get there by 9 AM. Mario and I talked get into leaving at 8:30 am. Mario told her he needed to play a little bit of his fortnight game before we left since he’d have no access to Xbox in Pittsburgh. I needed to walk the pup a couple of miles since I knew he would be staying inside with Jon while we were gone (although he loves it because he gets truck rides and pupucinos). We ended up out of the door by 9 AM, which I thought was pretty good.

I allowed the kids to stop at Starbucks and buy their pink drinks and a sandwich treat for the road. They had their blankets and phones, and were all snuggled in for the trek. Little did they know that I remembered to bring their books so that they could read a bit in the car. We had amazing driving weather – no clouds in the sky and a soft sun pressing on the windows. It made for a quick jaunt to Pittsburgh. We called Sarah when we were about an hour away to let her know we were close. She announced that there was an egg hunt at the Aviary. We told her we would head straight there and take Elena on the hunt.

The kids were excited at the thought of an Easter egg. They knew that they were going to miss out on the Grandview one we do every year since they would be with Patty during that time. We scooped up Elena from Sarah a few minutes after we arrived at the Aviary. We walked through the entranceway to find the Easter egg hunt. The kids were cracking up because it was just a small five foot patch of grass with a few eggs interspersed. Kids were told what type of egg to find (robin’s egg, bluebird’s egg, etc.). When a kid found the egg, he picked a plastic egg out of a big basket and opened it up to see what color ticket you got. A blue ticket got you a starburst; a green ticket got you a snickers bar. A bit different than what the kids had imagined. But they hung in there and made it fun. Elena thought it was awesome. We ended up planting ourselves there for a good two hours.

The kids got to fly a simulated flying machine. They were scared when they dipped down between tall buildings. It was hilarious to watch. They played in the penguin area with Elena. We went to storytime, which cracked us up due to the very animated older lady who read the book to us. We fed chickens after the book (the kids were pros due to MamaMeg and Peepaw’s house). We walked around to see the different birds, which Elena helped us identify. We ate lunch; the start of our fabulous eating routine. Here is Sarah and Jorge with all of their organics and granola, and here we are getting carry out pizza and chicken nuggets everywhere we go.

After the aviary, we unloaded all of our bags for a quick stop at Sarah and Jorge’s house. The quick stop included painting Easter eggs. Yet another activity that we typically do at the house before Easter but have been too busy to fit it in. I was happy that Sarah had went out and bought some supplies. After the egg coloring, we hopped back in the car and headed to Frick park. This did not go over as well as planned because we had worn sweet Elena out at the aviary. She proceeded to bawl her eyes out when Mario and I decided to play a little basketball together. But sweet Mario stopped playing in order to hold Elena on his lap and calm her down. Throughout this trip, I was amazed at his nurturing skills. Maria has always amazed me with her empathy and nurturing skills but those skills were not at the top of Mario’s list in the past so it was good to see him be able to go nurture his skills. We obeyed Sarah’s directive to have Elena back by 7 pm to put her to bed.

Maria and Mario got the joy of reading her a couple of books and trying to get her to sleep. About 30 minutes later, Mario quietly descended the stairs and proclaimed that he gives up. “She just won’t go to sleep.” He left the job to Maria. And don’t you know, she eventually got the job done. Of course, she ended up falling asleep as well. But she did rise an hour later in order to chat with us and devour some pizza we bought. She knows she’s got to get to bed at a decent hour because the little one will be up at 6:30 am ready to go. And sure enough, you could hear her asking where Meemaw and Mario were before the sun rose. We got up, brushed teeth, put on some clothes, and got E in the stroller to head to Starbucks. We ate our sandwiches and headed off to Frick with the hopes it brought more joy after a full night of sleep. The slide was still a bit wet from the earlier rain but the kids still enjoyed it. We hung on the jungle gym and Elena loved having Meemaw and Mario sweep under her arms and glide her across the playground like she was a bird.

Monday with the only nice day predicted for the week so we decided to hit the Pittsburgh zoo. The joke while we were there was how many times we went by an animal habitat and there was no animal present. The kids had wanted to hit IKEA on Monday but I refused because it was going to be nice out, and I wanted us to get outside at least one day in Pittsburgh. Hence, they loved to find no animals in their habitats and rib me about it. Although there were less than the optimal number of animals out, the most important one was out: the monkey. That is the only animal Elena wanted to see. We also got to see a giraffe, elephants, and lots of pretty fish. I don’t know what Lanae enjoyed more – the monkeys or eating animal crackers at lunch. Of course Meemaw would not let Elena eat the crackers until she finished her grapes and peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Mario enjoyed laying down the rules as well. I think the lack of rules that Jon and I have instilled has made the kids want to enforce some (but only on others)! Heaven help their children…. Mario was dead tired by the time we left, which cracks me up, because the boy can play basketball for hours or wrestle for days. But you have him walking around the zoo and he complains that his thighs are killing him.

After the zoo, we headed to Whole Foods to get ingredients for dinner. Earlier that morning, Sarah had told us that we were on our own for the day and evening because she had to work and Jorge was in Philadelphia. Maria loved that. She was so excited about “playing house.”

I could not believe the prices at Whole Foods. We bought three zucchinis and they cost nine dollars – outrageous! As I was lamenting the cost, Mario grabbed a little chocolate pretzel out of one of the bulk bins. Elena caught him. She begged for him to get one with her. They both thoroughly enjoyed engaging in some sneaky maneuvers in order to get Elena a pretzel.

As soon as we arrived home and walked in the door, Maria was ready to cook. She told me to leave and take a walk – she had the house, and kids, handled (as if she was 20 years old). And sure enough, she and Mario handled everything perfectly. She made some kick butt zucchini muffins and started dinner while Mario played with Elena. I got to unwind with a walk in the park. Maria made a yummy pasta and spinach dinner for us, which warranted her a trip to Millie’s – her favorite Pittsburgh ice cream spot. It did not disappoint.

When we returned home, I had to jump on a call. When I walked into the living room, this is what I found….

To their credit, this only lasted for about 10 minutes, and then they were up and running around and playing “pioneers” together.

Mario called it quits for trying to put Elena to bed. However, Maria stood strong and succeeded in putting her to sleep a second night in a row. Rock star. The kids played Gin Rummy while I gave Sarah a massage. The next morning, it poured rain. I tried my hardest to get us to walk to Starbucks but I could not convince the kids. Once we started driving there, I was glad that they won. Rain was coming down in buckets. We sat in Starbucks and ate blueberry muffins and oatmeal.

The kids could not wait for our Tuesday adventure. We were finally heading to IKEA! You would think that Ikea was an amusement park the way they were acting. I had read on-line that they were hosting spring break activities at the store but that ended up being a coloring table for toddlers. But that was OK; the store itself provided entertainment. Besides, Maria and Elena really just came for the Swedish meatballs.

After IKEA, we hit to the Children’s Museum because it’s not a Menkedick trip unless you go non-stop for ten hours straight. I had debated on bringing bathing suits for the kids because I knew Elena would want to play in the water play area. But, alas, I had forgotten them. I figured Elena could still splash around in the area without getting too wet. Wrong. She wanted to go fill on under the sprinklers. You know Ri was right there with her caring less that her clothes were soaked. The surprise was with Mario who typically cannot stand getting one inch of his clothing wet. He not only ran under the sprinklers but he allowed Maria and Elena to dump water on his head (but not hear his shoes). to see him because you need to pack everything and it’s tight as possible! He did it all for Elena.

Mario also ended up enjoying the art area. He pooh-poohed it at first when Ri tried to get him to sit with her. He and I and Elena ended up at a table playing blocks for a while. But then he saw kids running their artwork through a drying machine and that intrigued him. I showed him one of Maria’s creations where she traced her initials and that sealed the deal. He ended up in the area for 45 minutes making three separate creations – one with his initials, one with the word “HI”, and one in tribute to his favorite basketball player, James Harden. It warmed my heart watching him and Ri. Elena was simply concerned about getting to the ice cream store. We had promised her ice cream after the museum.

The sendoff was bittersweet, as always. We bounced the ball with Elena out back for a while – she’s got some mad basketball dribbling skills. When we went inside to gather our belongings, she found a birthday invitation from her friend. It was the cutest thing ever. She danced around proclaiming that she’d been invited to a birthday party and then she asked all of us if we wanted to go with her. Darling girl. We did several group hugs and then took off squeezed in the Volvo. The ride home was long; we were all tired, It didn’t help that we filled our bellies with gas station food.

Once we got home, we felt a mixture of relief in being in our own beds but also sadness in missing our little munch. It’s like a tornado ripped through our lives for three days but it was a tornado filled with stardust and glitter and ballerina twirls.