Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

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

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

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

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

Are you kidding?

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

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

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

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

“Hi mom!”

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

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

That being said, I slept all night that evening.

Temporary only child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 10th birthday, Mario!

I can’t believe you are 10, Mario Joseph. With the way you act and what you know, I swear you are 18. This was evident when I went out shopping for your birthday gift. When I typed in 10 year old boy gifts on Amazon, I got a barrage of Lego sets, superhero masks, Nerf guns, and Pokémon cards. This show of gifts was a complete disconnect from what you had been asking for in the last few months. Your thinking was around an iPhone 7, a superb headset to use for vlogging, a pair of Uzzs or whatever those high-priced rapper sneakers are. You love the bling, that is for sure.

This year, you got into Jake Paul and rap music (a boy after his mama’s heart). I would find you in your room with your ear buds in jamming out. You even started to rap a bit after watching a lot of Jake Paul videos. I would try to teach you a few rap tricks while riding in the car, but all you would do was laugh at me and shake your head disapprovingly. 

You also got into YouTube big time. You love to watch videos on it but you also created your own YouTube channel. Your dream is to get 1 million subscribers. You started a giveaway in order to try to increase your subscribership. The first thing you gave away was a wallet in the mold of $100 bill. Dad and I watched your clip, and we were so proud of you! Actually, we were in awe that you had even created such a video – we have some homework to do to make sure you are staying within the bounds of a 10-year-old. But what are those bounds? We are still trying to test them out – we want you to be able to have the freedom to express yourself but we also want to make sure you are not engaging in activity that could end up harming you or us. Little did I think that I would have these issues when you arrived 10 years ago.

You continue to assert your independence. Ever since you were six, you felt as though you could walk or bike places all by yourself. Even places that were miles away. You were so excited for school this year because you are able to walk by yourself. Actually, you have chosen to walk with several of your guy friends but you love the thought of not having dad or I have to take you to school. You loved going to the pool by yourself this year and meeting up with friends. Of course, you depended on me and dad to give you $5 to spend while you were at the pool but that’s as close as we got to you there. You also enjoyed hitting the library by yourself. I think you may actually read a book up there but for the most part I think you just enjoy hanging with friends or playing on the Wii. 

You have also gotten into gym shoes this year. And not just any old gym shoes, but the best of the best. Kyrie basketball shoes, Jordans, and  expensive Saucony running shoes. Of course, you know your mom’s weakness. I cannot say no to a sweet pair of gym shoes. You and I have found I love in going to the running store and trying on 10 different pairs of shoes (we only walk out with one or two pairs each though:)). 

As much as you like receiving nice things, you also exercised your giving muscles this year. You attended Feed the Streets with me and you went to the shelter to help pack food during the summer. You also collected backpacks for homeless kids going back to school, and talked up a storm to the YMCA coordinators when we delivered them to the shelter. You enjoy giving to people, both in donations and in laughter. You had the coordinators cracking up and amazed at how confident you were at your age.

You and your cousin have gotten into scootering. You love to watch tricks being performed online by skaters, and then trying them out yourself. You have been trying to master some flip turns at the skate park. You love heading to your grandma’s house because she takes you and your cousin to the skate park everyday. 

You talk about moving to LA every other day, and buying a Lamborghini or a Bugatti. You dream of hosting a killer YouTube channel and having millions of fans. Somehow, dad and I can picture this dream coming true for you based on your personality. 

You still love chocolate and sugar just like your mom – you will chow down a chocolate long john donut at any time of the day or night. You love a good action or comedy film – the days of watching Pixar movies with you are over – you want PG-13 everything, if not R…. You would drop everything to go fishing or hunting with your dad. The only activity I engage in with you where I get that reaction is wrestling. You still love to wrestle with me (it’s getting harder and harder with your increased strength).  You fight with your sis at times but in the end, you always have her back. If you see her getting messed with, you move right to her side. You are still an emotional thing and very sensitive. You get really upset when someone interrupts you and you get sullen when someone says something that hurts your feelings. You want respect (but you have to remember to give it, too). You have gotten better at expressing your frustrations more calmly since you have gotten closer to the double digits. We are working now on letting go of comments that may hurt your feelings and enveloping a greater sense of worth about yourself and your abilities. 

When I asked you what 10 would bring, you told me you wanted to learn more scooter tricks. When I asked about school, you said you wanted to read faster. When I asked what you wanted to do with your mom, you stated that you wanted to do more for the homeless (you knew the right answer!). When I asked what you wanted to do with your dad, your immediately chirped back that you wanted to go hunting, and lots of it. 

Dad and I are so lucky to have you in our lives. You bring much laughter to the household and beyond. You also remind us to play hard and let go of chores and work. Jump on the bed and wrestle. Head out back and play basketball. Watch the skater on Xbox take a head dive. It’s all cool, just like you. Happy 10th birthday, my darlin’. We love you!

Happy 9th birthday, Mario!

Mario turned nine yesterday. At least, he turned nine in biological years. In Mario years, he’s 21. 


If he could break free from the confines of his parent’s house, he’d do it in a heart beat. If he could head to the bar and drink a cold one, he’d be off. If he could head to the coffee shoppe and get an espresso, he would walk there in a second. If he could bike to campus to hang out with millennials, he’d grab his helmet and take off. 

This is not to say that he doesn’t still ask me to get him water or rub his back at night. It’s not to say that when he’s chillin’ on the couch he doesn’t ask me to sit next to him and snuggle. He even still let’s me squeeze and kiss him in private (he’d die if I did it around friends). 

But he has definitely hit an independence streak. I think he may deal with us until age 16 and then pack his bags for California and take off to hang with the surfer dudes and make vlogs. But he loves  money so much that if he did move out, he’d be one of those young, hip entrepreneurs who drops out of high school but makes millions.

So, how to sum up Mario’s eighth year of life? He loves you tube. He loves watching music videos. He loves playing video games with his buddies. He loves going to football games and playing on the hill with his friends and talking with the older kids. He loves wrestling and jumping all around the house. He loves sports. He enjoys biking by himself to the library or down to school. He still craves chocolate everything. He will drop all plans to go fishing. He remains a total character. He is compassionate and sweet, and loves to make people laugh.

Some highlights from his eighth year:

1. Football games with his buddies and sideline passes with his dad.


2. Halloween trick-or-treating with his two friends (and mom not standing too close to them as they went house to house)…and a boatload of candy!


3. Serving Thanksgiving meal to homeless men at the Y and chatting it up with them.


4. Christmas morning opening presents – oh, the drama and anticipation!

5. A broken arm! At 11:20 pm on NYE, you ran into my friend’s dining room  holding your arm and crying that it was broken. Your friend had fell down on it as you were playing. Sure enough, it was. We sat at the hospital as the New Year was brought in laughing at you in your “high” state from the pain meds. 


6. You took care of Grandpa Ionno’s grave in Marietta.

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7. You went to Feed the Streets with me and walked a mile passing out water and lunches to people in need.

8. You went hunting with your dad and “had the best day of your life!”


9. You watched OSU hockey with your buddies in a suite with tons of cookies, and met Brutus!


10. You got all dressed up for Easter and killed it on the volleyball court.


11. You went on Spring Break with the Webers and Muellers to Hocking Hills. You went fishing and hiked. I met you there two days into break and we explored together. You loved taking risks and climbing steep rock climbs.


12. You cranked baseball this year – one of the strongest players!


13. You fed a baby calf and named it after a girl at school (romantic, just like your dad).

14. You starred in your first talent show singing “We will rock you!”

15. You became enamored with ball pythons.

16. You started sporting sweet Panama Jack hats.


17. You won Elena’s heart by making her laugh with your silly antics.


18.You kayaked and fished on Lake Erie.


19. You went white-water rafting, zip lined, and completed a mud obstacle course in West Virginia!


20. You blobbed your sister!

21. You swam in the creek at Park of the Roses with your pup!

22. You won a poop emoji at the Ohio State Fair!


23. You started third grade – your last year at RLS!


24. You celebrated your birthday with a bunch of friends at Get Air and a sleepover!


Happy birthday our sweet Mario. I hope this year brings you lots of learning experiences and lots of adventures. And guess what?

We love you (you weren’t here to say it before me:)!).

Lunch with my boy

  Right as we were getting ready to head to school yesterday, Mario asked me to take him to lunch. He’s been asking me to do that here and there over the last month. I saw that I had a break on my calendar from 11:30-1:30 so I told him I could do it. A huge smile swept his face. 

I picked him up at 11:40. He was sitting in the office reading a book and waiting for me. The principal asked him where he was going for lunch and he responded “Marshall’s.” I am thankful for a restaurant across the street from his school since I biked to meet him. 

We took a look at the fish as we entered Marshall’s. They have some big ol’ goldfish swimming in a pool of water. Mario loves to watch them. Mario chose a table and we skimmed the menu. He had already decided that he wanted chocolate chip pancakes. 

I asked him about his day and told him about mine. I told him I had asked a question to my colleagues to start my morning meeting and the question was “what would you do for a living if you weren’t a lawyer.” He was intrigued. He asked what people answered. I started to tell him and after about the third answer I gave him, he said “what was the most dangerous job that someone wanted to do?”

Of course. I had to be more exciting! So I told him about the guy that wanted to work on a safari and be around lions and elephants. That intrigued him a bit. Then we talked about Perkins pancakes and how much I loved waitressing there throughout my late teens and twenties. 

I enjoyed having time with just him. Typically, when Jon or I have alone time with a kid it is paired as dad/Mario and Mom/Ri so it was all the sweeter to have some quality time with just Mario. He’s such a good kid with a sense of humor and a desire to learn and ask questions. He also loves to hear about his past. We spent a good chunk of time talking about his growth development from the time he was an infant until now. We went to the doctor’s office this week and learned that he was in the 50th percentile for height and 83rd persontile for weight. I told him he used to be in the 20th percentile for weight and height. He was charged to learn that he shot up so high in height and weight. It also was used as an argument by him that he did not need to eat any more of his eggs.   

His friends were right outside the restaurant window as we were eating. I asked if he wanted to go play with them at recess but he chose to hang with me. Yes, that is one for the memory banks. I will bring that back to light when he is older and begging to go hang with friends at the park. 

We headed back to his school with five minutes to spare. He asked me to go to his classroom. I gladly obliged. He showed me a game they play with a globe. All the kids rushed in shortly thereafter and it was time for me to head out. I knew better to hug Mario so I just whispered bye and he waved bye to me. As I walked out, Mario’s teacher stopped me and quietly told me “Mario was so excited to go to lunch with you.” Little did he know that the feeling was mutual.

Chili contest 

Last Friday, one of my colleagues announced that we needed more people to enter the chili cook-off the following Monday. I have never participated in the cook-off. Why? Real simple. I don’t cook.

As Maria and Mario attest “dad is a good cook with the grill and mom is a good cook with the microwave.”

I agreed that I’d submit a chili because I figured I could make extra to feed the family for a couple of days. On Sunday, I dropped Ri off at basketball. Mario and I hopped in the car to head to Kroger’s to purchase a gift card for Mario’s friend’s birthday. 

“I volunteered to make chili for a cook-off at work, Mario. We need to get some ingredients when we are at Kroger’s.”

“What’s a cook off, mom?”

I explained to him that three OSU football players come in and taste all the chilis and choose a winner. The winner gets a football (I embellished the story a bit – it’s two former players and an athletics outreach director and the football stays in the office, but hey, I had to capture his attention). 

“Mom, we have to win!”

He asked for my phone and typed in “world’s greatest chili recipe ever.” He handed me my phone with the first recipe that came up. I made him help me get all the ingredients, which he merrily did. 

“We are gonna win, mom.”

I made the chili later in the evening while Mario was at his party. He came home and saw the skillet and smelled the goodness. I gave him a bite and he smiled. “That’s gonna win.”

And sure enough, Stan Jefferson and the two young men he brought with him chose our chili as the winner. I squealed when they called out my chili as the winner like I had won a trip to the Bahamas. I was so excited to tell Mario (it had to be the salsa addition to the chili mix). 

  
I walked in the door with the football in my book bag. Mario was looking at his iPad. I whipped out the football and broke the news. Mario jumped up and fist bumped me. I knew we’d win, mom!”

It helped that I used two pounds of ground beef – double the amount called for – knowing my audience would appreciate that call. But I believe it was Mario’s optimism that ultimately pushed us to victory. He tasted victory all along.