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.

A weekend to remember

I remember waking up at five in the morning every weekend. Jon and I would hear the wrestling in the other room and know that our early bird torturer had awaken. We would hold our breath with the hopes that she would fall back to sleep but alas, within seconds, she would start yelling for us. We would each whine to the other about having gotten up with her last until one of us finally gave in and kicked the covers off our bodies heading to get the child. Whichever one of us grabbed her did not matter. We both headed back to the bed with her. She sat up between us like a new, crisp book between two worn book ends. One of us sleepily turned on the tv and there she sat between us for an hour, sometimes two, watching episode after episode of Dora the Explorer. Dora was our volunteer babysitter while we “slept in” until the late hour of 7 AM. I’d begin to feel guilty after the fourth episode so we would slowly ooze out of bed like slime moving from one hand to the other. As we got dressed and Ri jumped on the bed, the same question ran through our heads: “when will we be able to sleep in and not have to spend every waking moment with this child?!”

Flash forward. The kids still aren’t late sleepers but they are able to get up on their own, make breakfast, and chill in the house until Jon and I wake up. It used to be that once we woke up, we were planning out the day together – going to the Conservatory, hitting the indoor pool, going to the park. But now, that is beginning to change, too. Maria wants to go to the mall and be with her friends or head to clay café to make pottery. Mario wants to go to the skate park with his boys or hang out and play video games. It is a much greater effort to find something that we can all do together. When did this happen? How were those days so long in the past and now they run so short?

I want the precious memories of those days from the past back again Without the early wake up time and the constant attention. When I would lift Maria out of her crib and she would wrap her arms around my neck. Or when I would gather Mario and put him in the snugglie for a 2 mile walk around town. He would hold onto my index finger with his little hand and just be as content as can be.

This past weekend, nobody had games or play practice on the schedule for Sunday. More importantly, the kids had been wanting a new couch for the basement. Therefore, they were willing to hang with Jon and me for the afternoon. We all jumped in the truck and headed to IKEA.

Maria and Mario tested every single futon and couch three times over. We battled a bit with Mario who was dead set on getting some furniture for his room as well as the basement even though we had said 20 times before that we were just going to find a sofa for the basement. Maria then got a bit stressed because she wanted all of us to focus on the sofa and the color scheme of the basement. We finally landed on a couch we all liked an hour later. But then we had to go find it in the self service warehouse, put the boxes on a cart, and take it to check out (because there was no way that I was paying $35 for IKEA to do it). Then, after we checked out, we were required to walk it over to delivery and assembly so they could tag it and give us a delivery date. We were all starving by the time we had simply loaded the boxes on the cart. The checkout line was 6 people deep. Ugh. We would have to have that daggone annoying virtue, patience. We all tapped our fingers as we waited in line, and listened to Mario complain about how he was absolutely starving (it doesn’t help that IKEA has a Cinnabon shoppe at the end of the checkout line). We did have some entertainment when a guy who was in front of us moved out of our line to a new line, and then, 5 minutes later, returned to our line butting his cart in front of us without even saying a word. Jon asked what he was doing, and he had the nerve to be a complete ass. The kids enjoyed watching Jon and him have a little chat….Whatever it takes to divert our attention from hunger. We finally made it out of there two hours later. We were supposed to go to the mall to look for a dress for Maria’s dance but even she had no desire to do it once we left IKEA. We are not the shopping family by any means.

Rather, we are the food family. We went straight to Steak & Shake. I had not been to that restaurant in forever – Jon and Mario go fairly often together after basketball. Their shakes were pretty darn good. And, most importantly, they had a super-ball dispensing machine at the front of the store! How exciting! Unfortunately, it wasn’t working so we ended up with a gigantic jaw-breaker to eat on the way home.

As we approached home, Ri saw our beloved bald eagle perched on top of the branch right off the highway. We have two bald eagles that live about a mile away from our house. Jon has been keeping an eye on them for the last few weeks but the rest of us have not gotten to see them. Jon took us to the spot where he watches them. We spent 20 minutes trying to zoom in on it with our binoculars. We got back in the car to find a closer spot.

We were all able to see it!

Was I really that excited?! Yes I was. I was back to the days when the kids would be jumping on a plastic tarp of piano keys and singing a song for us. I was planted back to the times when we would sit around the table and play Yahtzee. I had the best of all worlds – time with my kids with the knowledge that once we got home we could all migrate our separate directions and have some alone time.

Sledding!

Sledding promotes good health. You get it all – you work out your heart by climbing up the hill, you work out your mind by trying to figure out where best to place your sled, and you work out your abs by laughing your butt off as you fly down the hill on your sled.

However, as much fun as it ends up being, it is a pain in the butt to get ready to sled. You have to throw on three layers of clothes (when it’s 5 degrees like it was for us), you can barely move around, and it’s impossible to pull on your boots without being able to bend at your waist. Then, there is pulling the sled out of the garage and hauling it to the car in the freezing cold. But the pay-off is huge.

Look at the smiles.



We haven’t gotten good sled riding in for a few years. We hardly got any snow last year, and the year before that the little bit of snow that we got came when both kids were out of town. I was scared half to death the first time we went down. I sat on a tiny circular plastic sled with Maria who is not shy about taking up almost all the space on it. My butt was barely in it when we took off. I just kept praying that we would not hit any rocks or ramps because I knew that my tailbone would hurt for days. The things you think about when you’re an adult. I would’ve been looking for that ramp when I was 10 years old.

We laughed so hard together as each one of us took some crazy fall or turn on the hill. I love all of us being together like that – being outdoors, being active, it’s my ideal day. And the one good thing about it being freezing cold all weekend was that the snow did not melt from the hill. Therefore, we were able to go sledding with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jack through the weekend.

Elena had no fear going down the hill as long as somebody went with her. Sarah went on a little sled with Maria. She screamed as loud as I did when I went down with her.


Sarah and I even took a sledding trip together – both on a tiny little plastic sled. Thank God Sarah has no booty. Jack was a good sport as well. He went down with Maria a couple of times and watched each time the kids yelled “Uncle Jack, watch me!” They also had to impress their Uncle Jack by going down the abandoned hill that has all of the trees interspersed on either side. It scared me half to death but, live and learn, right!?


After sledding, I got cocky that we could build a snowman as well. The snow did not pack well at all for such a task but the kids still humored me and came outside. They shook their heads as I tried to pack down the airy snow. But they saw my strong desire, and decided they would help as much as they could. In the end it looked more like a snowman jabba the hut but it was something. How boring is a normal snowman anyway?

DC

The kids get a fall break every year, usually the third week of October. They only get Thursday and Friday off during the week but a lot of families take off a couple of days before, and use the week as a fall vacation. We have never done that. This year, I had extra vacation accrued that I would lose if I did not take by October 31. Therefore, I decided it was high time that we take a Fall trip. That was the easy part. Now where to go?

I immediately thought of Hocking Hills because it wa supposed to be warm and I love to hike. But then I thought about my lovely children and his hiking doesn’t tank as a vacation to them….  I asked my girlfriend (who tends to agree that hiking is not vacation) where she would go and she mentioned Chicago. I took a walk with Maria that evening and asked her what she thought about heading to Chi-Town. She freaked out. “Seriously mom, we could go to Chicago!?” Her enthusiasm sealed the deal for me. We arrived home and asked Jon to check on hotels. We mentioned the trip to Mario, and he was just as excited. And as life goes, we were quickly disappointed. The Chicago cubs were playing in the playoffs during the week we were going to go. The hotel prices were outrageous. 

Never ones to wallow in our tears, Ri and I thought of a back-up city. Washington DC. I had been wanting to take the kids to DC for a year or so because it is fairly close and they are at the age now where they’ve learned about politics, seen pictures of monuments in DC, read about the Declaration of Independence, and so on. 

Jon was able to find a hotel near the White House, and we were able to get flights for cheap. It was a done deal. We left on Tuesday night and returned on Friday night. Half of the fun for the kids is pulling their suitcases around the airport and flying on a plane. Our flight to DC was not even half full. The kids each got a row to themselves, which they loved. 


We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which the kids loved almost as much as flying. They had not been in a taxi before. Mario wanted me to tip the driver $100. He is very generous with my money.  Another small thing that thrills the kids is arriving at the hotel and getting the keys to the room. They inevitably engage in a power struggle over who gets the key to open the room. The compromise of late is that someone gets to use it to go up the elevator and another gets to use it on the room.  They fell in love with the room as soon as we walked into it. They opened up the curtains and gawked at the bustling outdoors. They loved that each of them had separate beds; they immediately relegated me to the sleeper sofa. I think not….

After reviewing the room, we traveled downstairs to the fitness room and pool. The kids loved the fact that they could lift weights and get on the treadmill with me. I was getting excited that we would have morning workouts but that never really came to fruition. They simply appreciated the fact that they could jump on the treadmill for a minute and then get off. We hit the hot tub and the pool that evening. There was a ceramic divider between the hot tub and the pool so we use that to be our imaginary net for pool volleyball. I predicted that game would end in a few tiffs, and I was right. But in hindsight, it was good fun.  The kids also had epic battles with some random foam noodles. Maria slammed Mario many more times then he got her and I swore that he would have welts all over his back. When I cringed and told them to stop, they swore that they were having fun doing it.


We are at District Taco Tuesday evening. It was only a few blocks from the hotel. Chips and guac hit the spot. After that dinner, we needed a walk so we headed over to the White House. The kids thought it looked tiny compared to how they pictured it. We all had a few words with the occupants of the White House before we departed…

 

On Wednesday morning, the kids woke up and asked to hit the gym. Woo-hoo!  They actually walked/ran on the treadmill for about 10 minutes, which was longer than I thought they’d last. Ri even lifted a few weights while Mario pedaled the stationary bike. It wasn’t long before they were asking to leave; I was excited we got 20 minutes in. We made a Starbucks run and then shot down to the Museum of African-American history. Unfortunately, you needed passes to get into the museum, which I may have known about if I would have read up beforehand. Whatever, better to wing it. We decided to go to the Museum of American History instead. We stayed there for an hour or so. The kids weren’t too interested. Mario thought an old car was cool and Maria liked looking at Ella Fitzgerald’s dress. We found a room for kids where they could experiment and create things. Mario found a way to get fruit from the top of a platform down into a basket, and Maria made a corn hole set to add to a play farm. 


We walked from the museum to the Capitol building for our 12:20 tour. I knew it was a bit of a walk but I was determined to get a good walk in on such a nice day. The kids didn’t complain too much…. Mario, consistently throughout the trip, begged for a taxi – no matter if our destination was one block away or 10 blocks away. Maria was good about walking – she knows how to please her mother.


We made it for our capital tour on time (I was mad that I had to discard all of the snacks in my book bag – I tried to hide them behind a pole much to the kids’ chagrin – Maria eventually grabbed the bag of goodies and forced me to throw it in the garbage can. Mario complained that he was hungry before the tour so he got a bit pissy in the beginning. But then he came around and he and Maria asked a ton of questions of the tour guide. 


After the tour, the guide mentioned that we could go across the street to our senator’s or house of representative’s office and ask them for passes to sit in the spectator seats in the Senate and House. Maria wanted to do it so badly (which I would have never guessed) but Mario was begging to just go to lunch. I told Mario that we would simply try to get into the Senate by asking the person if we could get in without tickets. We walked over and asked. We had no luck – she directed us to go across the street. This led to a breakdown by both kids – Mario pleading to leave and Ri pleading to go across the street.  I was trying to manage the bickering as we walked down the hall when all of a sudden a man dressed in a suit and holding a legal file stopped us. 

“I would like to help you get into the Senate. I have tickets that you can have so that you don’t have to go across the street.” 

We looked at one another in disbelief. Was he serious? He pulled out three green Senate passes and told us to walk around the building with him so the lady manning the Senate would not know that he gave them to us. We walked around the building with him and he pointed out different things to us. He then had us drop our phones and bookbag off prior to heading up to the Senate. He walked us to the elevator and asked if we wanted to meet up with him after lunch to see the House in session. The kids frantically nodded yes but I was still a bit skeptical…. Mario nudged me after he left and commented that he was trying to pick me up. Ri looked at him in disgrace. How could anyone want to pick up her mom?! We saw three senators speak in the Senate session: a senator from West Virginia who talked about economic needs, a senator from Wyoming, and a senator from North Carolina. They were basically talking to the air since nobody else was in the room but hey, we got to see a few reps in action. We left there and traveled to the cafeteria for lunch. It totally reminded me of the times I would visit my mom at Deaconess Hospital. The plastic trays, the cafeteria hamburger and fries, the soda fountain, the individual plates of cakes. We had a bit of fun right before dessert. The lights went off in the cafeteria and security was scrambling around talking into their headsets. Maria was truly frightened; Mario was ready to tag along with security and track things down. I frankly was a bit nervous, and thought maybe we should leave and not meet back up with our new friend. We debated, watched everybody walking around, and finally asked a front desk person if she thought everything was safe. She said that we were probably most safe inside the capital. So, we decided to stay, and for the next two hours we got to see parts of the Capitol where only the Senators and House of Representatives and their staff can go. We got to go on the floor of the House of Representatives. The kids got to walk down the aisle that the president walks down when he meets with members of the house. We even got a history lesson and learned about a shooting in the House of Representatives back in the 1950s. They were intrigued with the bullet hole in the wooden table in the middle of the room. The kids were good about asking questions and seemed genuinely interested in everything our friend said (we later learned that “our friend” was known for being generous to families who were visiting the Capitol, although Mario still thought he liked me:). We didn’t leave the Capitol building until 5 PM. 

We walked down to the Metro and took it directly to Georgetown where we met Aunt Ann for dinner. We got there a bit early so we decided to look at a card shop and get a few cupcakes from Sprinkles. Maria was on cloud nine because she had seen Sprinkles on one of her cupcake shows. The cupcakes did not disappoint. Anne treated us to an Italian dinner at Flavio. The kids talked up a storm with her – she kept turning her head from Maria back to Mario back to Maria back to Mario. I don’t think she’s used to the constant jabber of kids. But she did great keeping up and they loved having her attention. By the time we all ate our carb loaded meals, we were exhausted. The day has hit us hard. We gave Aunt Ann a big hug goodbye and I succumbed to the kids’ pressure to get a taxi to the Metro. How sad is that? We arrived back in the hotel and Maria was asleep within 10 minutes. I laid in bed with Mario watching some goofy show until he finally fell asleep. 


We woke Thursday to Maria searching her phone for a breakfast place for us. One of her favorite things about trips is eating out at new places.  Mario and I could’ve grabbed a Starbucks every morning but she likes to relax, have a good meal, talk, and then start the day. She chose a French café – I think it was because it was only a block away. They had different types of breakfast – nothing traditional – so Mario was completely appalled by it. Luckily, they did have chocolate chip muffins so he lessened his irritation a bit. Maria got an apple turnover and we were set. We sat at a high table near the entrance and reviewed what we had done the day before. 


We left for the monuments after breakfast. We saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the MLK Memorial. The kids were amazed at the Lincoln Memorial, and stood in awe with me at the MLK Memorial. We read all the quotes at MLK. 

We met our friend again at the Capitol and he gave us a tour of the legislators’ private subway system. He also led us through the hall the president walks down on his way out to the inauguration ceremony (and showed us pictures from this past inauguration). After the Capitol, we decided to hit the Newseum. I had heard that it was a cool museum, and the kids had heard there was an exhibit where you could be a news anchor. When we first got there, we were a bit disappointed. It was interesting to me because of my First Amendment work but the kids were rather bored with the incessant writing on the wall without much interaction. But then we found the area where kids could act like newscasters and watch themselves. They loved it. We ended up spending nearly two hours just doing that. Maria was precise and poised; Mario was hyped and comedic in his presentation. The area also had a virtual reality station where you had to escape the Berlin wall. The minimum age was 13 but we figured we would fib and get Mario in. The boy that’s Mr. Cool all the time lost his cool when he went up to the girl and she told him he had to be 13 to do it. He just ran away instead of saying he was 13. So he was all pissed off that he couldn’t do the virtual reality game. Of course, Maria gets upset that they won’t let him so she boycotts it herself. But after another few times as a newscaster, she got bored and went back over because there was no line to do the game. I scammed with Mario that I would walk in the line with him and tell the lady that he was going to be 13 at the end of the month. She caved and let him play. Am I the best mom or what!? They both loved it, and did it two times in a row. 


Even though there were six floors of information, the virtual reality and newscaster spots are the only ones that we reviewed. Lovely. By the time we left the Newseum, it was 5 PM. We slowly made it back to the hotel and rested for a few minutes. On our way back, Maria asked if she could hold Mario’s stuffed animal koala when they got back to the hotel. Mario said no way, and Maria was upset. I told her that we would go to a store near the hotel and see if we could find her a stuffed animal. Mario agreed to go because he wanted to see if they had any cool phone cases. We had some excitement on the walk there in the dark. Mario tried to leap over a garbage can and something came running out of it. We assumed it was a rat or a mouse – it led to 15 minutes of us trying to see if we could find it. Good times. We found Ri a stuffed animal puppy that you could also microwave to heat up. Gotta love what they come up with anymore. Maria was happy. Mario also found a phone case, which made him happy. And I was happy because they were happy, and it was a beautiful night to walk around DC with my two babes. They really wanted room service at the hotel so we ordered that and watched Hidden Figures on HBO. 


On Friday, I tried to get the kids to go down and work out with me. Maria refused and was adamant that we needed to have a big breakfast at a restaurant before we left DC. We found a breakfast place called Founding Farmers, and it did not disappoint. There was a 30 minute wait which caused some hesitation in staying (we are not a patient bunch), but it was well worth the wait when we got the food. Maria got vanilla cream French toast, Mario got chocolate chip pancakes, and I got eggs and bacon. Each dish was amazing. Even Mario liked it, which says a lot. 


After breakfast, we walked to Madame Tussaud‘s. They had been wanting to go there since we arrived in DC. I was hesitant – it cost a boat load  of money and it was … Madame Tussaud‘s. What happened to us going to culturally relevant museums? In my dreams, the kids would spend hours asking questions as they looked at exhibits and gained knowledge about our history. In reality, they wanted to stand next to Taylor Swift and the Rock. But, it actually ended up being a lot of fun because the kids absolutely adored it. There was a special room that had the White House desk and the press podium – that was a trip. They also had a room where are you could make wax hands. The kids were intrigued with the process – Maria got right in and wanted to do it but Mario was more hesitant. You had to put your hand in ice cold water for 30 seconds then dip it into burning water then back into cold and back into burning water several times in order for the wax to form. Mario kept looking at Maria‘s face as she did it and kept wondering whether it was a good idea. But in the end when he saw how cool Maria‘s hand looked he decided to try it himself. His face was hilarious as he held his hand in the water. 


After Madame Tussaud‘s, we had about two hours before we needed to head to the airport. The kids were ready to just head back to the hotel and sit around but I refused. We were going to get in one last museum if it killed us. I made them walk down to the National Archives so that we could see the Declaration of Independence. When we arrived, the line was all the way around the street. The kids laughed at me, but little did they know I would make them walk farther. I got out our map and decided that we would go to the Natural History Museum instead. The line was not too bad there – we waited for about 10 minutes and got in. We were able to see the Hope Diamond, which the kids wanted to see because Jon has talked about it before. We also saw the skeleton remains  of a number of animals, including the gecko (now we know what Buddy’s skeleton looks like). Mario got mad about something before we left the museum – I think Maria made fun of him – so he took off and Maria took off after him. I lost track of them, and they ended up waiting for me outside of the museum doors. However, I was looking all over for them inside before I went out to find them. This resulted in me ripping them a new one, and Mario walking ahead of us down the street. I was in the midst of trying to get us all to make up and have a good rest of the afternoon when Mario accidentally knocked over one of the ropes lining a museum. I heard someone from behind me scream harshly “pick that up!” I saw Mario walk back and begin to pick up what he had knocked over. I turned around and told the man who yelled at Mario that he could have asked more politely. He responded back with anger. This resulted in us going back-and-forth together before we each went our merry way. I was astounded at the exchange. What a way to end our time in DC! Maria told us that she was getting ready to flip him off if he kept yelling at me. Mario talked about how dad would have really given him a piece of his mind if he was there. Ahh, a family that vents together, stays together….

We got back to the hotel into our last DC taxi at 4:30 for our 7:30 flight. We had been told that we better take off that early because of DC traffic. Don’t you know that we got to the airport at 4:50 so we had 2 1/2 hours to kill! Ugh. We spent them sitting on a bench outside of customs and engaging in writing contests. Ri gave us a prompt and we had 10 minutes to write whatever we wanted. My kids are quite talented writers. I could not believe what they came up with. They made fun of all of my stories, of course. We also engaged in drawing contests, which always makes them laugh. I readily admit I have no skills in this area.

With 45 minutes left before boarding, Maria got herself a huge slice of pizza and Mario got himself a book. He wanted to buy a scary one but I told him I was sick of walking him to his room in the broad daylight so he needed a non-scary one.  Then we had a freak attack over the loss of Maria’s phone. She came running up to Mario and I as we searched for a book and said that she lost her phone. Mario and I walked back to where we had been drawing and didn’t see it there. Maria frantically searched her bag and couldn’t find it. I was so irritated; I went up to a security guard and asked if anybody had found it. Nope. He took me to another security guard and in the meantime, I received a call from Maria‘s phone. Maria was laughing and told me that she had accidentally put it down near the books when she was helping Mario try to find one. My goodness – how do parents survive all of this drama?! Our flight home was uneventful, thank god. Maria wrote some more and Mario stared out the window. 


Jon was waiting for us when we got off the plane – ready to take us home. We spent an hour laying in bed – the four of us – listening to the kids recall stories from the trip. 

Back to school

How the heck do Jon and I have a 7th grader and a 4th grader? Wasn’t Ri just laying on Jon’s forearm like a baby sloth and Mario bopping on my chest in the Snugli? How many times during those first years of life did Jon and I stare at each other in our sleep-deprived states and think “when will they grow up and be able to do things on their own?!”  

I remember heading back to work, tired as all get out from being up all night. A colleague walked into my office and laughed. She had kids that were grown and in college. 

“Up all night?” She asked already knowing the answer. 

I looked across the room at her and gave her a sneer. “When does all of the joy of having a kid come?” 

I was only half kidding. Of course, there were many amazing and joyful times when the kids were very young but it was such hard work. Both kids loved to be held every second and they were not good sleepers at all. It’s amazing how parents can get by on two hours of full sleep a night. We did it for over a year with each kid.

My colleague shook her head and smiled. “Before you know it, they will be grown up and you will miss these days.” 

I smiled thinking of my two babes who had hugged me so tightly when I dropped them off at day care that morning. I missed them as we spoke but couldn’t quite grasp how I would miss these days and nights of non-stop baby work. 

And here I am years later remembering that conversation with my colleague and understanding every word she said. I look at Maria and Mario and it’s hard to remember those days when they were just little nuggets. I miss being able to pick them up whenever I wanted to and love all over them. I miss putting them on my back and carrying them around the neighborhood to point out the different trees and to find as many squirrels as we could find in one block. I miss having them on my lap and reading picture books. I completely forget how tired I was all the time.

The morning of the first day of school, the kids woke up rarin’ to go. I made chocolate chip pancakes and eggs to celebrate the beginning of a new year where both kids go to the same school! Mario has been psyched all summer to be able to walk to school. They had their new bookbags all together, lunches packed, and hair brushed. They indulged my first day of school pictures on the porch and then headed off together to school. They wanted to walk together the first day, which warmed my heart. 


They came home after their first day of school and reported all went well. The next day, they got up late, threw on some random clothes and shuffled out the door after quickly downing a bowl of cereal. They were already out of the back to school honeymoon. When I asked for a hug goodbye, they both walked over to me and hugged me. They even told me “I love you” without any prompting. Yes, indeed, they are still my nuggets, just a little taller. 

Wait until tonight when I make them read with me before bed:)

Doctor

I love when I come home from work and the kids don’t have anything going on for the evening. We can sit down together and eat dinner, review our days’ activities, and go out for a bike ride or a rollerskating adventure before we settle down for the night. It’s like a bright red bow on a shiny silver box. 

It never fails that the kids do something to crack us up. Thank God Jon and I have them in our lives to keep us grounded when we get stressed with work or bills or other nonsense. Last night, Maria decided to roller blade and Mario decided to bike. Mario was taking forever while Maria, Jon and I waited out front for him. We kept yelling back “Mario, what are you doing?” He’d answer “just a second, be right there” and we’d wait another minute before we yelled back to him again.

Finally he biked down the driveway with a backpack on his back. He pulled up to Maria and I, and stopped his bike.

“I made sure I had all of the things we may need during our trip.”

He began to pull out numerous items: bubble gum, washcloth, band aids, water bottle, and a knee guard. He explained his concern for Maria being on roller blades since she usually only used roller skates. He was ready to help if she fell. He really does have a heart. Maria gave him a hard Maria hug and was taken aback with his kindness in thinking about her safety. 


We started off on our two block adventure. Mario stopped every 100 feet to ask if we needed water. Maria answered affirmatively each time because she thought it was so precious. 

We were rounding the second block and heading towards home when Maria faked a fall in order to have Mario play doctor. Mario had no clue she had faked the fall so when Maria yelled out “Doctor Doctor” he came speeding on his bike from around the corner. 

“What happened Ri” he asked as he pulled out the washcloth. She described how she twisted her ankle on the rollerblade and fell onto the pavement. Mario examined her ankle and her knee. Maria confirmed that it was her knee that hurt most of all. Mario poured water on it to start off with, and then he sopped up the water with his washcloth. He poked around the kneecap and wiggled it to see if that hurt. Maria screamed in pain and then winked up st me to show me she wasn’t really hurt. Mario got out the knee brace and strapped it on to her knee. He told us that we would have to wait a few minutes to see if her pain calmed down before we moved. Maria kept looking up at me slyly and smiling. She loves this kind of play with her brother, and he rarely engages in it with her so she had to absorb every minute. After some more consoling and a full check of the limbs, I told Maria that I thought she could make it home. Mario asked her if she was sure she was ok, and after Maria saw my “you better get up” face, she knew she better confirm that she was fine.


Of course, I knew she would take the opportunity to fall at least one more time before we got home because she so loved this time with Mario. And so two driveways before our house, she fell onto the curb and acted like she hit her head. Mario again came to her rescue throwing down his helmet and his bike and tending to her ails.  After her treatment, she begged Mario to give her a hug to make her feel better. He was in rare form because he readily agreed. These are the nights I dream of.

Wrapping up Summer

So if the beginning of Sumner was all baseball fields and intense competition, the end of summer was all fun and games. A list of the activities we crammed in prior to an August 16 back to school date:

1. A dunk tank party – we hosted an end of the season dunk tank party for Ri’s softball team complete with lobster and steak (as promised by Jon and Stephen). Mario got to invite some of his buddies, too. However, the boys stayed away from the tank and engaged in Nerf battles for most of the night while the girls dunked each other non-stop. When the girls finally tired of the tank and decided to play barbies, the boys entered the picture and enjoyed the tank. Ri and the girls got their wish to dunk their coaches – I welcomed the water on the hot summer day but it is quite the jolt to drop down. My body cannot handle those quick motions anymore.


2. Akita! Ri headed off for her second year of Akita camp in Logan, Ohio. She loves this camp (compared to Camp “sucky” Laumann). They have a soap slide and a lake and crafts. She loves the counselors and has a group of local buddies she bunks with for five days. I wrote her a letter for each day she was there so that she’d have something to read each night (I’m sure she will remember that sweet gesture at some point when she’s a mother…).  She has absolutely no qualms with leaving for five whole days and being away from home. Good thing or terrifying?!


Ri also loved the fact that she got a big ol’ hug from Mario (and she snuck in a kiss) before she left on her adventure. 


Only after the fact did I learn that our sitter had ordered Mario to hug Ri before she left. Makes it a bit less sentimental but….

3. The Ohio State Fair! While Ri was off on her camp adventure, Mario and I hit the Fair. He was so excited to go with me. He had gone the day before with his friend and loved it (mainly because of the rides). He kept telling me about the pig races and how much I’d love them. The night before we were heading there, he came in the bathroom while I washed my face.

“Mom, are you excited to go to the Fair tomorrow?”

His blue eyes stared up at me. I knew he wanted me to be excited. I toweled off the water from my face and leaned down to him.

“I cannot wait to go with you, and I can’t wait to see those pigs!”

He beamed. 

We took off at 11:15 am. We didn’t return until 6 pm – in time for a sleepover party at his friend’s house at 6:30. He had us walking all around the rides’ area. We went on the Ferris wheel a few times much to my dismay. I still dislike that ride from my childhood horrific experience (stuck on top in a thinderstorm). 

Plus I hate heights. But I love Mario. 


The giant slide was much more up my alley.


I was doing ok ride-wise until we hit the scrambler. You sit in a two-person seat and buckle in. Then the cart goes zipping in all different directions at warp speed for what seems like a year. I cannot believe I was able to hold back my puke. I got off of it and could barely walk to the exit. Mario couldn’t understand why I felt so sick because “the ride was so awesome!” I had to lie on the concrete while fair-goers passed me, and try to get a grip. Holy heaven. I had even survived the Alien Spaceship where you stand against a wall and get thrown up and down with the magnetic force keeping you on your standing pad. That one through me for a loop when we stopped but I recovered after a few minutes. There was no recovering from the scrambler. Mario, on the other hand went back a half dozen more times. 


We hit the games like noone’s business. I brought extra cash because I knew he’d want to play and I knew I’d be suckered into playing – takes me back to my childhood at King’s Island when Beth and I would spend 50 cents over and over to win a stuffed animal. Except now it’s $5 a try. Mario was infatuated with the stuffed animal poop emoji (or the “terd” as I call it). His friend had won it the night before and he had his heart set on it. I think in the end we spent $50 for his terd. Lovely.


He also won a weinerman. Yes, “weinerman”is stitched on the belly of this stuffed animal. 

I loved one of the games at the fair: wipeout. It was a mini wipeout course where you had to jump over a rotating arm and duck under another. I took Mario on in it and beat him! Yea, I still got it…


Mario had to buy a spray paint cap to be a true fair-goer. He chose a “Team Mystic” hat because that’s his Pokemon Go team name (although he never plays anymore). He looked smooth.


But the best part of the day was, you guessed it, the pig races. We hit the tail end of one and they announced they had one more left – the pot-bellied pig race. The announcer looked for three volunteers in the crowd who had pot bellies. Two men were selected so he had to pick a lady, he said. I stuck my belly out and Mario and I cheered and I got chosen to represent Pig No. 3. 


Don’t you know my sweet No. 3 won the race?! I screamed with joy and Mario hugged me. You would think we both won a trip to Paris. But even better, I won a stuffed animal pig. It sits on my nightstand to this day.


I was sweaty, exhausted and stinky when we returned home but Mario and I had some awesome memories from the day that outweighed any stink (and a stuffed animal piggie)!

4. Grandma Ionno time. Both of the kids got to spend some time with Grandma Ionno and their cousins for a week. Mario is in seventh heaven when he stays with Patty because she makes cinnamon rolls and has mini donuts. She watches his you tube clips non-stop. She rubs his back all night long. He gets to stay up late playing with Gio. She lets them build forts and battle. 

Ri loves Patty’s spaghetti and meatballs. She loves playing water volleyball with Patty and her friends and chatting it up with all of them. She and Alana play barbies and roller skate and play on their phones. 

I am convinced Patty has super powers – how she can handle these kids for days straight without needing a break is beyond me. And it’s not as though she sits around and they play by themselves. She is running around with them, swimming with them, listening to all their stories, racing them down the street. They are lucky to have her in their lives, and have the opportunity to hang out together for days in a row.


5. Strength class. I signed the kids up for two months of strength class at my gym. I wanted them both to learn good form when lifting weights and running. They enjoyed it for the most part – they told me it’s hard to be motivated at 9 am on a Summer morning – but it woke them up and it was only two days a week. They missed quite a few since they were at camp and grandma’s house. But Mario accomplished his goal of rope climbing and deadlifting and Ri accomplished a 45 second plank. 


It was hilarious to see them squat and lift weights. Little bodybuilders in training. 

6. Elena time! Ri headed out to Pittsburgh with Sarah for a couple of days and then I met her out there on a Saturday. She learned how difficult and tiring it was to take care of a toddler. And I remembered how difficult and tiring it was when I got out there…! But it’s also a lot of fun to hang with the little muncho and listen to her talk and watch her act. She’s getting closer to her Aunt Mary and cousin Ri. She will be spending the night in no time.

We played with play-doh non-stop. I brought a baby doll for Elena when I came on Saturday and she squeezed that doll to death when we took it out of the package. We all sat around cooing over how cute she was with her doll as she cradled it and laid it on the ground, hovered over it and kissed it over and over.  We left the doll to take a bath and when we got back to play with the doll – all cleaned up – Elena took a different approach to care for the baby. She tossed the baby to the floor over and over and cracked up. Ri did, too. The cooing was replaced with some concern…! I have heard she’s back to loving the baby at times (but still chucking it at other times)!

7. Park of the Roses. Mario had quite a few sleepovers with his buddy Zach this summer. I like Zach because he’s always up for an adventure. We decided we’d hit Park of the Roses with Rocco one Sunday afternoon. The boys wanted to find crawdads. While we didn’t find crawdads, we did find an owl. The owl was perched on a branch above the creek staring at us with those huge wise eyes. I spotted him but the owl flew away before the boys caught a glimpse. Luckily, it didn’t fly far and the boys were able to run over and see it on another branch. It stared at us the entire time we stood before it. 


It was a hot day so the boys decided to take off their shirts and dive into a pool of water in the creek. They sprung up after going under head first yelling about how cold it felt. But they did it again and again. Rocco joined them. 


We ended the walk finding a snake skin that impressed the boys, and one happy pup soaked from his jaunts in the water. 

8. Celebrated Rocco’s 3rd birthday! We took advantage of having Lou around to celebrate Rocco’s 3rd birthday. The kids bought two birthday cookies and a few extra treats for Rocco and Lou to celebrate. We sang happy birthday to the birthday pup and he went to town on his cookie. He’s such a good boy – he didn’t even go after Lou’s treat when we set down a treat in front of him.. He’s so mature at three:)!


So there you have it! Summer break is officially over and the kiddos are back in school for another year. I’ve been waiting for this for the last couple of weeks – feeling like we needed structure back in our lives again. But now that we have it, I miss the spontaneity and casualness of Summer. I take refuge in the coziness of Autumn, however, and evenings sipping hot chocolate and playing board games.