Hip Hop Nutcracker

As I scrolled through Facebook a couple of months ago, an ad for the Hip-Hop Nutcracker popped up. Since having kids, I have felt a tinge of jealousy towards families who post pictures of themselves all dressed up at the Nutcracker. Every year, I ponder the idea of dressing up and hitting that seasonal favorite. However, I never get around to it. December hits and it is a mad flurry of shopping, last-minute deadlines, parties, you name it. Besides, I did not think Mario or Maria would care for the show too much. It is long and neither of them enjoy watching ballet.

But when the Hip Hop Nutcracker ad came in view, I thought “this may be a possibility.” I have been struggling with things to do with the kids together. Mario loves movies; Maria does not. Maria loves to bake cookies; Mario does not. Neither off them ever want to take a walk with me! They have completely different interests now that they are older. But neither of them have had the chance to experience the Hip Hop Nutcracker so they couldn’t really say no to the invite in good faith. And besides, I did think Mario, at least, would enjoy it. He loves to watch old-school 80s rap videos with me and has quite a few hip-hop moves he has mastered. I wavered about whether Maria would enjoy it, on the other hand, since she was not a hip hop fan. How I gave birth to a child who loves country music is beyond me. After thinking about it some more, I decided that I would invite a few of Maria’s friends and their moms in order for Maria to have some girlfriends attend the show with her. Four other moms immediately responded that they would love to go with me.

We decided to go to Northstar for dinner before the show. I let Mario skip out on dinner with all of the women and girls and go to Subway with Jon instead. The North Star dinner was delicious, and I had a great time talking with fellow moms. Maria and her girlfriends sat at another table. They ordered smoothies and meals, and giggled most of the time. After dinner, they begged to have five dollars each to go across the street to a gourmet candy shop. Meanwhile, another mom and I stashed some giant, warm cookies to eat during the show.

After the girls spent what seemed like hours at the candy shop, we headed down to the Palace Theatre. One of the moms drove us, and somehow was able to get the very first parking spot in the parking garage. I will drive with her all the time with that luck. Mario met us at the front doors and we went up to our seats. But first, of course, I had to get the obligatory pictures.

The show began with the emcee and the DJ on the stage. The MC got the audience pumped up by rapping and playing old-school 80s jams. All of the moms stood up and hollered and danced for the first 20 minutes of the show to the embarrassment of all the teen girls in front of us. Maria and Mario kept looking at me with eyes blazing “sit down mom!” Mario tugged on me a few times but eventually they both gave up on their pleading because they knew I would not stop. As the show began, we settled down in our seats. I sat next to Mario and loved every second of it. The athleticism of the dancers was amazing. They also did a few dance moves that Mario does currently so that made us smile. Of course, when one of the dancers came out and spun on top of his head for a full 20 seconds, Mario looked at me and quipped “I could easily do that” (I did make him try it when we got home and although he could stand on his head, that was about the end of it.).

During intermission, I asked the girls how they liked it. They all smiled and said that it was good. I don’t know if they just knew that I am the one that got the event together so they did not want to disappoint me or whether they really liked it. Meanwhile, my daughter gave me the straight up truth. She did not really like the music but the show was “OK.” Mario told me that he was enjoying it. I don’t know if he truly liked it or whether he knew how excited I was about it so he did not want to burst my bubble. That kid loves to see me happy. During most of the show, he held my hand and waved it around when the emcee told us to dance. He’s my bud, for sure.

At the end, the emcee came out and let us engage in one more jam session before the end of the night. It was a blast. I think Maria and Mario may have been bored at times during the show but I think in the end when they were laying in their beds getting ready to sleep, they would say that it was a good time.

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.

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.

Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

Is this how it will be every night when he is in college? Will I not be able to sleep worried that somebody is getting into his dorm room and strangling him? How can Jon be so calm and collected and not worry at all? How can he not think of the 10 million random, unlikely events that may occur to him while he’s away? I mean seriously, he didn’t worry at all that Mario may fall into the crack between his bed and the wall and suffocate?!

Mario was ready to go at 11 AM even though registration for basketball camp did not start until noon and lasted until 2 PM. I kept telling him if we get there at noon he would be starving and they did not have dinner until 5 PM. He did not care a bit. He wanted to get there and see his dorm. We ended up arriving around 12:15. We registered him and then walked over to his dorm a block away. How strange to walk in the doors and take a right down a hallway into a common area filled with unadorned chairs and coffee tables. It reminded me of heading into my first dorm at UC. His room was tinier than I imagined after hearing about the lush sleeping quarters of college dorms. It had two twin mattresses on wood slats and two simple writing desks. However, Mario thought it was the bomb.com!

We tried to help him unpack his garbage bag of things (Jon kept asking him to use a duffel bag but he thought a garbage bag was easier) but he wanted to do it all himself. He shoved socks and underwear and shorts and shirts all in one drawer when he had six that he could use. Typical. I helped put the sheet on his bed and then he situated his blanket on top. He was stoked to have his room all to himself. The thought had been that he could take one of the mattresses and put them in his buddy’s room who had already agreed to bunk with his cousin. But when we saw the small size of the room, I doubted it would be possible. Then again, they are boys and could care less about space.

I got a call at 10 PM from him. When I saw his name light up on my phone screen, I, of course went to the awful. Something was wrong. He was hurt. He was sad. He missed us. When I answered, I heard boys laughing in the background. Mario answered with a jubilant “hi mom! “Then he proceeded to ask if me or Jon could bring potato chips and candy down to the dorm.

Are you kidding?

I was so happy to hear him happy that I was half tempted to deliver some food at 10 pm. However, I was in PJs and needed to get up early in the morning so I told him we would bring food down the next day. He hung up the phone while laughing with his friends. All was well. I went to bed. I was woken up by Jon at 11 PM. He was talking to Mario. As he had just rattled me from sleep, I again immediately went to the thought that something was wrong. Jon calmed me down and informed me that Mario just wanted to say good night. I took the phone from him and saw Mario laying in his bed FaceTiming me.

“Hi mom. I just wanted to say goodnight to you.”

I asked him if he was going to stay in the dorm room all by himself. He answered yes. I wanted to question him more about whether he was OK with that or whether he thought he might get scared. But then I thought I did not want to put those suggestions in his head if he was OK with it. So I let it go and just told him to call us in the morning when he woke up.

Then I fretted all night long. Did he have a nightlight that he could use and see around his room if he needed to get up? Did he lock his door so nobody could get in at night and hurt him? What if he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – did he know where it was? Holy shit, how your brain can work in the late hours of the night. It felt like I had just gotten to sleep when the phone rang at 6:50 AM.

“Hi mom!”

He survived the evening. He put me on hold as he got dressed. Then he jumped back on the FaceTime and told me he’d talk to me later. He had to get to breakfast. He called me two more times during the day to remind me to bring food that evening. Jon and I watched him shoot around when we arrived at 9 pm. He was joking with some boys and trying to make threes. We enjoyed watching him in his element. We met him at his dorm at 9:45 and delivered two bags of party chips and sour patch kids. He whisked the stash away and headed in to the dorm knowing he’d be loved by his camper friends.

At 11 pm, he Facetimed me. He just wanted to tell me goodnight. This time I felt a little more secure because when we dropped off the party chips to him, I made sure I asked some of the chaperone college kids if they slept in the same wing as the boys. They assured me that they had plenty of college basketball players sleeping in rooms near them if anything went wrong. I couldn’t help myself; Mario would have died if he heard me ask it.

That being said, I slept all night that evening.

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.

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

Connection

I have been feeling under the weather for the last two weeks. Poor Mario begs to wrestle with me every night and I have to decline or engage in some lame, half-baked wrestling moves, which only frustrates him. I have learned it is better to just say no to his pleading. A year ago, he would have gotten mad and stormed up to his room.

But lately, he has processed the decline much more maturely. He doesn’t stomp as much. He’s willing to engage with me and consider other things to do. And if he only wants to do the activity I refuse, he lets it go more quickly and doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He has also taken on more care and concern for Jon and me. He worries that Jon is not getting enough exercise for his heart and continually lectures him about taking walks. With me, he is weirded out to see me sick and not able to jump around with him like I always do. He has taken on this matronly approach asking if I’m ok all the time. I was in a meeting the other day and he called after school. I answered the phone and spoke quietly to him to avoid interrupting the meeting. I got off the phone with him and he called back 20 seconds later. I answered again with a hushed voice as I stood to leave the room worried something was wrong. He sounded concerned as he spoke.

“Mom, I’m just calling you back because you do not sound good. I want to make sure you are ok.”

Seriously? A 10-year-old boy being so thoughtful. Maybe my expectations are way low for him but I was completely blown away by his attention. I think there were little Mario-hearts swimming around my head during the rest of my meeting.

Maria has pushed me away over the last month. She talks to Jon about updates at school or sports but rarely me. I heard from many a parent, and know from personal experience, that Ri would start to move away from me as she headed into teenage hood. It still doesn’t make it easier. I miss her asking me to watch a show or play cards. I miss her enthusiasm in trying to get Mario to play with us. Now, it’s Mario asking where Ri is and when she will be home.

On the other hand, Mario wants to do more things with me, which soothes the Maria sting a bit. He was all into Jon for a while but he has turned to me lately. I guess that’s the universe’s way of patting my head and telling me to hang in – one child drifts away but another drifts in. Ebb and flow. Mario and I have found a rhythm – we converse about basketball, school, rap music, you tube videos, and we crack each other up. I have some vivid memories over the past few weeks of us laughing until we nearly cried. He’s got my sense of humor.

I feel grateful to have that connection with Mario as my connection with Ri loosens a bit to give her the space to explore.