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 ❤️ 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!

Bringing that superhero to life

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page the other night. I love it. I have engaged that superhero on a few occasions this week. And that imaginary friend of mine has been most helpful in allowing me to stick with the word “no “and not beat myself up for it every five minutes. It is a crazy thing that we can feel so confident – ready to take on the world – be an amazing being – and then a second later doubt who we are and what we are doing this with this one, crazy life of ours.

Nonetheless, I can see myself maturing around these thoughts and emotions. The other day, I went to Maria’s soccer game. She started the first half and I cheered her on while sitting with the other moms. The ball got close to her but she didn’t move towards it quickly. I have learned to keep my mouth shut during these games and not yell “come on Maria!” Or “get to that ball!” However, just because I am not yelling it does not mean I am not thinking it. She had a couple of balls hit near her and she just did not have the oopmh to go and grab them. When she got subbed out I went down to her bench to see if her feet were hurting her. She caught me coming and waved me away briskly.

“Mom, no parents are allowed down here!”

I translated that to mean I’m not allowed down there. I could not help myself. I started to turn around but quickly chirped over my shoulder “run after that ball when you get back in there!”

I walked back up the stone steps to sit with the moms. I watched Maria on the bench. She sat with her arm wrapped around one of her soccer friends. And when one of her good friends scored a goal a few minutes later, she jumped up from the bench and cheered her on. She was jumping up-and-down and yelling “great job Lucia!” I thought to myself about how I would react when I was her age. I would have been the one on the bench secretly upset that I did not score the goal. I probably would have given a half cheer, if anything. Yet, here was my daughter, cheering wildly for one of her friends. She has her own personality and her own reasons for playing the sport. She doesn’t necessarily play to be the number one scorer on the team. She enjoys being a good partner on the team and rooting on everybody. Hence why she’s a captain. It is not about her – it is about the team. I thought about this my entire way home. I decided that when Maria walked through the door I was going to apologize. I wanted her to know that my competitiveness got in my way, and that the game was for her – not me. I told her she should play the way she wants to play. God love her that she can be so enthusiastic and sincere for her teammates’ scores. It made me realize, too, how much I thrived for recognition as a kid, which is why it was so hard for me to congratulate others because it took it off of me. Woo, a lot of thinking going into a few words to my daughter but that’s how it gets as I get older. Constantly questioning and trying to understand.

And trying like hell to make sure that superhero is by my side.

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.