Taking the time to mindset pre-vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading to basketball camp (overnight, yikes)!

It was a piece of cake to drop him off.

But then the evening hit and he called.

I tossed and turned all night long.

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

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

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

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

Are you kidding?

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

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

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

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

“Hi mom!”

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

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

That being said, I slept all night that evening.

Temporary only child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:)

Summer angst 

Every summer I tell myself that I am going to hire a sitter who will come up with a huge game plan for the kids during the summer. I interview college kids and tell them my expectations. They all respond with positive affirmations like “that sounds wonderful “or “I love that idea “or “I have done that in the past and it works well”. But then the summer begins and the new sitter comes over and nothing falls into place in the way I expected it to weeks before. 

This year, both kids fell in love with the same sitter. In the past, they have had to bargain together because one of them liked one sitter and the other liked another sitter. They would go back-and-forth on the benefits and detriments of both of their choices and eventually land on one for the summer (typically Maria’s choose with some bribery on her part).. So this year, I was excited that they both selected the same girl. She seemed very nice and grounded during our telephone interview, and she seemed upbeat and chill  when she came over to the house. She studied Chinese and finance in college, and was getting ready for a full-time job starting in September. Her references stated that she was one of the nicest people they had met. The only issue they had with her is that she was “too nice.” Their kids loved her because she would let them do anything they wanted. So there lies my dilemma. This would probably be the last year that we have a full-time summer sitter. Jon and I had been seriously contemplating letting the kids be on their own next summer and just putting them in numerous camps, etc. So as much as I dreamed of a sitter who would have detailed plans for the week and get them to do 2 hours of homework a day, I also dreamed of a sitter that would have fun with the kids and who both kids enjoyed. Hence, why I decided to go with the girl both kids liked. 

And so far, it has gone well with our current sitter this summer, as far as the kids and her  getting along. However, I have gone a bit nuts through this summer with the lack of itinerary planned for the kids. The sitter quite enjoys watching TV with the kids and caves as soon as they start begging for anything. The upside is that if I tell her certain things must be done, then she will get them done. But that means that I have to spend time in the evening or in the morning writing down all of the things I want done. This would not seem to be a huge task but when I’m dealing with work, cleaning the house, tending to the kids and to the hubby, walking the dog, working out, that one more thing may just put me over the edge. 

I had dreams of the kids waking up in the morning and taking a walk with the dog, coming home and doing some workbook pages, engaging in a cool project together, hitting the pool, coming back to a siesta and reading their books for an hour, putting a book report together of what they read, starting a nonprofit to help needy children in the world, learning Spanish fluently…. ok, a bit much but a mom can dream.

A few weeks ago, I about lost my mind over   what the kids were doing (actually not doing) through the day. I called the house and heard the TV in the background. I asked my sitter how long they had been watching it. She responded that they had only watched a few shows. Only watched a few shows, I thought?! Are you kidding me? It is 80° outside and sunny and they are in there watching tv shows for hours on end? I came home that night, ignored the dishes and clutter, and wrote down a list of things the kids needed to do the next morning – dust, water the flowers, do workbook pages, read…. The next day those things were done, and I was happy. The following day I had no time to write anything down but I was still happy from the previous day’s accomplishments. Who knows what the kids did throughout the day. I began to fret about it but then I thought about my summers. I don’t recall my parents worrying about the amount of reading I was doing or buying me any workbooks during the summer. Rather, I recall watching Famoly Feud and Three’s Company and Family Ties.  I recall jumping on my bike and trying to find a friend to play with in the morning. I recall walking down to the carry out to get snacks with my girlfriend. I recall arranging and rearranging my stuffed animals in my bedroom. One thing I don’t recall – learning multiplication or reading 300 page novel. And now look at me. I’m not a Nobel laureate but I turned out ok. My kids will do the same. 

And since I’ve let go of my angst and worry about summer activities for the kids, I am able to appreciate all they’ve done.

1. Created their own lunches and made videos of the preparation.


2. Thought about activities they could do to earn money (babysitting, dog-walking and dog-sitting).

3. Started a backpack drive to get backpacks for kids in need. 

4. Went to play practice Tuesday through Thursday each week.



5. Dusted the house.

6. Watered the flowers. 

7. Completed workbook pages.

8. Read their books.

9. Started reading a book with me in the evenings (The Giver).

10. Babysat their cousin.



11. Cleaned their rooms.

12. Played with friends.



13. Swam and dove at the pool.


14. Visited the pet shelter and gave kittens love.


15. Coached a K-6 soccer camp with high school girls (Maria).

16. Got tutored (Maria).

17. Played in a basketball league (Mario).

18. Completed swim team (Maria).



19. Played in GBSA baseball and fast-pitch softball.


20. Went to basketball and football camp (Mario).

21. Went to Akita camp.


22. Visited their grandmas.


23. Watched a deer play with Rocco.


24. Learned how to fake fight each other. 


25. Played Clue and Monopoly.

26. Hit a neighbor’s pool party and Ri baked a killer 4th of July cake.


27. Watched fireworks in the car.


28. Played with cousins.


29. Biked to Tim Horton’s for donuts.


30. Drank lots of Starbucks.


31. Went to a church festival.


32. Tried out modeling (Ri).


33. Fell in love with Jake Paul (Mario).

34. Enjoyed Jeni’s.


35. Visited The Wilds and became mesmerized with an ostrich. 

36. Visited my work and played at the Barnes & Noble. 


37. Visited the Boathouse in Marietta on the River and ate ribs and pulled pork.

38. Ate at Skyline (one too many times)!


39. Rocked some heels at Robert’s lakeside wedding.


40. Learmed how to play Balckjack (his counselors taught him at camp)!


41. Hit The Beach water park and braved the slides and zip line with Ri.


42. Partied together at Lia’s wedding.

43. Ate s’mores and held baby chicks at the farm.


44. Made family meals together and ate on the patio.


45. Held family meetings to discuss the week ahead.

Not bad, and we still have a month to go. The kids are hoping we can add Kings Island to our list; I’m hoping we can add two more completed books:).

Mario heads off to camp

Mario went on his first three-night camp adventure two weeks ago. He heard Maria talking excitedly about the camp last year and wanted to go this year. It was the first year that he was eligible since you have to be going into fourth grade. I signed him up late; he was waitlisted at about number 50 when I checked on it in late May. The topic came up at the dinner table one night and I let him know that I was not sure he would be able to get into the camp. This fact led to many tears and anger and sadness, which led me to many phone calls and pleading and begging. I found out two other mothers were in my boat and had switched their sons to a different time – over the July 4 holiday. There were not a lot of kids signed up so I was able to get Mario in. I told him that I had worked some magic, and he was so excited.

As the time I got near, Mario seemed to have a bit of trepidation about the trip. He was not so much concerned about spending the night at the camp, but about his two buddies and how he would fit in. His two buddies are very close, and he was worried that they would partner up the entire time and he would be left with no one. I tried to explain to him that the reason for camp is to make new friends and that he would make new friends in his cabin. His response “I can’t make new friends because I will never see them again after we leave camp.” I told him that we could easily drive around Columbus to have a play date with a new friend. He looked at me like I was crazy. We let it be at that. I didn’t really mention anything more about the trip and he didn’t either prior to it arriving on a Friday morning. 

The night before he was to leave, he and I packed up his things. Actually, I should say I packed up his things while he shot baskets in his room. Yeah, another moment when I should have made him help me out but I was enjoying him in his element making slam dunks and trying to impress me. He found a flashlight, which was really the only item he was concerned about being packed.  I kept hugging him through the evening and teasing him that I did not want him to leave me.

I came home from work early on Friday and took Mario to camp. As we drove over together, he kept asking me if I wanted him to stay. I think it was his way of being nervous but putting it on me. I told him that he would be just fine at camp as long as he let himself have a good time and not worry about who was hanging with who. The drop off seemed easier with Maria – maybe because more of her girlfriends were going – but I think also because Maria just tends to have a different attitude with these things. She’s more able to go and make new friends or just find fun herself. Mario needs to know his buddies are there and worries more about being cool and wanting to impress. 

On a side note, Mario also gets freaked out when it is dark outside (because we have let him watch way too many horror films). He always needs me to come upstairs with him in the evening so I was a bit concerned that he may freak out in the cabin once night hit, and everyone would make fun of him.

When we arrived at our destination he grabbed his sleeping bag and slung his mesh bag over his shoulders. Two teenage boys greeted us under a tent. One of the kids’ names was Mario. Mario told him his name and the high school Mario didn’t react. I thought “come on, at least give him a high-five or something to make him feel more at ease.” My mama antennae were shooting up. We moved inside to the nurse’s line next and one of the high school boys saw Mario’s name tag. He put out his fist to Mario and said “I’m one of your counselors, Matt.” Mario fist bumped him and I felt better. 

We found Mario’s two buddies and they hung out looking all cool while us moms talked about how we thought they’d do at camp. Mario seemed to be relaxed and they were all talking together so I felt good. 


Then we started to see people walk out the front door. We grabbed the boys and told them we thought it was time for the departure. They moved outside with us still looking pretty cool. We made them take an obligatory photo for us. 


Then we moved them towards the buses. They still remained calm and collected, even giving me a wave when I told them to look back at me. 


They finally got on their bus; I saw Mario’s two friends sit together. My heart dropped. I saw Mario slide into the seat across from them. Dammit.

Then, I saw Mario jump up and lean over the two boys out their window. He yelled “bye mom” and waved to me. Thank goodness. He sat back down and chatted with his buddies across the aisle. The two other moms left but I waited until the bus took off. I moved to the side of the bus where Mario sat. I waited for him to look out the window at me but he was busy talking with his friends. So when I saw some buses ahead starting to move, I yelled “bye Mario, I love you.” He looked out the window at me and for the first time I saw a bit of trepidation in his eyes. He yelled back “bye mom, I love you too!” He usually would be embarrassed to say such a thing but I think the nervousness got to him and he wanted to let me know that he loved me before I left. And then he was off.


I only checked the camp website every 45 seconds to see if a picture was posted of him. Thank goodness there was the first night – he was smiling and running to the lake. Ahhhh.

There were more in the following days – not as many as I would have liked – but enough to make me feel at ease that he was alive and having a good time. 


Jon picked Mario up from camp three days later and brought him and Ri to my work for lunch. We peppered him with questions about his time at camp and we got one or two word responses. He talked about the soap slide and the lake and the hike. He thought the food was ok. He liked most boys in his cabin. It wasn’t until me and Jon were playing cards this weekend that we truly had some insight into what he did at camp.

“What are you guys playing?”

We told him we were playing Gin Rummy.

“How about we all play some blackjack?” 

Jon and I looked at him with mouths agape. 

“My counselors taught me how to play at camp. We would play for food each night. We can play for money if you want.”

And so there you go – no need for me to worry about him having a good time at camp.

Softball/baseball Wrap Up!

We officially hit the end of baseball and softball season last night. Four weeks straight of pretty much a game every evening, if not two. Four weeks straight of hot dogs, chips, famous Amos cookies, and orange pop. Four weeks straight of up and down moods based on how much sleep the night before, how much activity the day of, how much irritation at the thought of homework the following day.

Maria ended with a bang. Who would’ve thought that this ragtag group of girls would make it to the championship game? I was busy just getting them to talk to one another and cheer for each other during the game. But something clicked midway through the season and I heard girls that I had never heard before rooting for their teammates. I had girls that had never caught a ball catching flies in the outfield. It was amazing. Maria rocked out pitching for us this year – I basically had her and a fifth grader to get us through the season. She stepped up. She also got her bat around well this year. And last but not least, she was the voice of the team, as always. I think that’s why the shy, quiet girls on the team finally began to speak – they were worried of the wrath of Maria! Ri possesses the ability to get people to smile and to engage and maybe get out of their comfort zone for a while. That is because she can so easily act silly and goofy and wild without a care about what anyone thinks. 

She riled up the girls for the semi championship game, which led to a decisive win over the opposing team. The girls were so excited. 


However, me and my assistant coach were a bit less excited just because we were playing a team that can bring a bit of drama to the game. I learned a great deal about my personality over the two day period between winning the semi-championship and playing in the championship. I could not believe how sick to my stomach I was in that 48 hour period – second-guessing myself, worrying I hurt people’s feelings, concerned that people may be upset with me. Just throw me back to my childhood because that’s where all this crap began. I had at least 50 come to Jesus talks with myself over that short time period but it wasn’t until after the game that I began to feel less stressed. A huge lesson for me for the future – I am allowed to take a stance and I am allowed to have people be upset by it. Not all of my viewpoints are going to be loved. 

We ended up losing the championship game. I was surprisingly relieved after all the tension leading up to it. I would usually be madly disappointed but I wasn’t this year because of all the angst prior to the game and because I was mindful of my group of girls who gained experience and skill and had a most wonderful season together. They knew how to have fun. You would have thought we won the championship by the way they were laughing and playing and goofing around. 


Mario’s team got to the championships, too. They played a nail-biter of a game against the number one team in the league to win the semi-championship. Mario played his heart along with the rest of the kids. He had a killer nab at shortstop with a bullet of a throw to first. He also pitched like a rock star. I was so proud of him and so happy for him and his teammates. They were on cloud 9. 


They did not catch a break in the championship game; they hit line drives but they went straight to an opposing player. The other team hit line drives on the gaps in the field. There was nothing to do about that; it’s simply a matter of luck. Mario was upset as were his teammates. There were tears. There was anger. But they still got second place trophies and within twenty minutes were all feeling better and ready to move on. I told Mario over and over that no matter if he won or lost, he’d forget about it twenty minutes later. I think there’s a study that confirms you bask in your glory for about 15 minutes and then you are back to usual. 


We had Gio with us that night so I told the boys we could take a bike ride to Jeni’s and Mario was fine. 

What will I do next year now that Maria will play for the middle school team and I can’t coach her? Watch out Mario…:)