The Dog That Came to Stay

IMG_6064It was his eyes that got me. Deep pools of espresso dappled with specks that reminded me of caramel. I hadn’t even reached through the cage to caress his indescribably soft ears yet, a practice I would come to revere more than practically anything since it brought as much calm to me as it did to him. Never mind his sleek, black coat and grizzled eyebrows—the ones he could move independently, effectively conveying his mood, which was almost always agreeable.

The plan was to adopt a rescue dog for my dad, one that would serve as a loving companion for him as he grappled with Alzheimer’s disease. Something that would ground him as his world fell apart. The trouble was that I needed grounding, too.

Needless to say, I didn’t intend to fall in love with such a dog. Nor did I think I would be incapable of delivering on a promise I had made to my dad.

“I’ll find you the perfect dog. Just give me a little more time. I think you’ll love the one we end up with, but we have to be sure it meets all the criteria first.”

Unfortunately, none of the candidates we considered passed muster for a variety of reasons: Too lively, not lively enough, too disinterested in people, too apt to jump on people, too aggressive and so on. It seemed as though we were doomed to fail.

Then Jasper appeared as my husband and I meandered through the SPCA for the umteenth time, peering into cages in search of an answer to our prayers. Our eyes locked with the aforementioned black lab mix and the rest was history. Originally, he was supposed to stay with our family only until we felt he was ready to transition to my dad’s home. “We’ll keep him for a week or so—long enough to adjust to life outside a kennel,” I told my kids. “He’s old and needs some TLC,” I reasoned to myself.IMG_6206

Weeks stretched into a solid month and by then I was hopelessly smitten. Jasper had quietly wheedled his way into our family and had become a part of our lives we didn’t even know was missing. Indeed, there was no mistaking the bond that had formed between us and there simply was no turning back. That said, he stepped with ease into our crazed schedule and house filled with teenage drama, noise and angst, despite his dog years and inability to recognize his own name—the one the Rescue had fittingly assigned him.

Against all odds, he learned to love our yappy, 14-pound Bichon and in the process made the latter less prone to anxiety attacks and barking seizures involving delivery trucks and unsuspecting joggers. At every turn, he modeled good behavior for our not-so-compliant, curly-haired pooch—the one we thought was beyond hope for ever acting like a normal dog. Almost daily they now play together, tossing their sock monkey into the air and racing around the house like a couple of deranged squirrels—something that makes my heart smile. Every. Single. Time.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I discovered how comforting it was to have a big-ish dog place his head or warm muzzle in my hand as I awaken each morning. Or the soothing effect he has on all of us as he wedges his box-like body next to ours on the couch at the close of a long day, somehow sensing our need to decompress. By contrast, he embraces our clamor and chaos—celebrating both the disorder and the abundance of joy that resides within our home.IMG_7997

Needless to say, there’s something extraordinary about having this dog, in particular, around—and by “around” I mean that he has become my shadow, following me everywhere but into the shower. What’s more, he reluctantly bids me farewell when I have to leave and greets me in the doorway when I return, tail wagging wildly, reminding me that all dogs are inclined to smile. You just have to look for it.

As a result, I never feel unappreciated or truly alone no matter how empty my house happens to be—the kids running in 17 different directions and their dad expertly manning the taxi or holed up at his office. Looking back, I think it’s during those quiet times when I value his presence the most. He’s there for me day in and day out, keeping me from dwelling on the sadness that lies beneath the surface of every joy—the ever-present sorrow related to having lost my dad not in the physical sense, but by every other definition.

Somehow, I know my dog understands. It’s in his eyes.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel


Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Family Affair, Gratitude, Love and Other Drugs, Sandwich Generation

Dear Departed Summer

www.melindawentzel.comSeems like just yesterday…

I am a poster child for parenting ineptitude. And at no time does it become more painfully apparent than during the first few weeks of school—when I look back over the vast expanse of summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. Despite having the best of intentions in mid-June—with a host of events cleverly sandwiched between swim lessons, haircuts and camps galore—by the tail end of July I found myself desperately trying to cram every ounce of family fun and spontaneity into what was left of summer. The fun I promised we’d have before sliding headlong into September.

Inexcusably, it is the epitome of who I am and what I do when it comes down to the wire—when a finite number of squares remain on the calendar during which anything and everything deemed truly memorable and drool-worthy to a nine-year-old can, ostensibly, be orchestrated. In a perfect world, that is. So like a madwoman I schedule sleepovers and movie nights, plan picnics and pencil in parades, visit ball parks and theme parks and stumble over myself to accept gracious invitations to friends’ homes and pools and lakeside cottages oozing with wonderfulness.

Conversely, I’ve tolerated a tent in my back yard for 23 days running—one that promises to leave a hideous, yellow square where a lovely patch of green grass used to grow. A smallish tent in which I spent an interminable night embracing all that roughing it entails, from mosquito bites and cramped quarters to a lumpy earthen mattress and a less-than-endearing quality of dankness I feared would cling to me forevermore. Eau de Musty Tent.

But it was better than disappointing my progenies. And not even related to the insufferable conditions that my husband (aka: Father of the Year) endured while attempting to sleep on an impossibly narrow and horribly unyielding lounge chair parked squarely in front of the zippered door. Sadly, I failed to photograph him in all his glory—mouth agape, flashlight in hand, his body entombed within a sleeping bag, his head, poking out the top, completely enshrouded within a camouflage mask I had never before seen, arms entirely enveloped by a giant mesh sack he apparently dragged from the bowels of the garage in a moment of great inspiration (aka: makeshift mosquito netting).

That said, I think it’s safe to say that as parents we at least showed up for our kids this summer. Some of the time anyway. We took them places and did things together. We tolerated their abiding love of toads, their penchant for trading Pokémon cards and their inexplicable fascination with roadkill. Furthermore, we tried not to trouble our silly heads over the health and well-being of our lawn as well as the health and well-being of those who spent much of August snowboarding down our grassy front terrace. Nor did we dwell on the wanton fearlessness with which they careened hither and yon on their scooters. Barefooted, no less. So we can feel slightly good, I guess—having directly or indirectly contributed to the wellspring of memories gathered over the fleeting, albeit delicious, chunk of summer.

Looking back I now see why it was likely a success—not because of the fancy-schmanciness of this or that celebrated event, but because the extraordinary lives deep within the ordinary. That said, fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. A symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. A hammock is very nearly medicinal, as is the buttery succulence of sweet corn, the shade of an oak tree and the canopy of fog at sunrise as it hangs in the valley—silent and still.

Dear Departed Summer, it’s likely I’ll miss your fireflies most—and the barefoot children who give chase, drinking in the moment, alive with pleasure, racing across your cool, slick grasses without end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and desperately searching for the rewind button). Visit me there at The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Neighborhood in Five Easy Steps

www.melindawentzel.comSTEP 1: Adopt a Home Owner’s Association and fill its board primarily with self-important individuals who are more than happy to tell you what’s wrong with your house and the people who live inside it, effectively sucking every ounce of joy from your life. Be sure to choose hardy individuals willing to martyr themselves completely, for they must possess enough stamina to police the neighborhood day and night, clipboards in hand, in search of covenant violations, petty though they might be. Heaven forbid the size, shape or molecular structure of someone’s mailbox is out of compliance with the current standards of excellence or that someone’s garden gnome is two millimeters too tall—never mind that gardens aren’t permitted in the so-called Utopia in question. Nor are tree houses or free-range cats.

STEP 2: Create an atmosphere of mistrust, miscommunication and divisiveness within the populace, pitting neighbor against neighbor all in the name of upholding the precious set of directives originally designed to protect property values and maintain order. It’s more important for people to fear each other and the long arm of the law than to be neighborly.

STEP 3: Rewrite the rules of governance to the benefit of the heavy-handed regime, crushing the souls of the little people in the process, without so much as considering the wishes of those affected by such sweeping changes. Stifle the powerless voice of reason whenever and wherever possible. Democracy be

STEP 4: Throw common sense out the window and into the front lawn for all to see and ruminate upon (i.e. cite homeowners for painting their front doors, repairing their leaky roofs and ridding their yards of overgrown shrubbery and dead trees, replacing them with perfectly wonderful substitutes). Never under any circumstances trust that proprietors might possess the ability to choose an appropriately hued shutter, let alone an entire roof of shingles. Oh, the horror! Threaten legal action at every turn, even when it’s clear that people are doing all they can to improve and revitalize their properties by adding beautiful decks, patios and pools as well as breathing new life into tired trappings.

STEP 5: Just for fun, and on occasion, send out patronizing letters that fuel collective paranoia, outlining the specifics regarding disciplinary action that will potentially take place in the event of noncompliance, reminding everyone how awful it feels to live under such tyranny. In this way, the Negativity Machine will remain well oiled, ensuring the ruination of a perfectly good neighborhood.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Rantings & Ravings, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

www.melindawentzel.comI don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night Yankees games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of Converse All-Stars. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded 11-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we www.melindawentzel.compilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of Wiffle ball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no iPads in existence and not a single app involving demonic monkeys or angry birds had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer). Visit me there at

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer

Sweet Dreams

Seems like yesterday when I penned this piece…and lived this life…

Putting a child to bed at a reasonable hour has never been my forte. Okay, it’s at the bottom of the list, hovering slightly above ice sculpting and changing a flat tire. Admittedly, I’m pitiful when it comes to the bedtime routine thing. For me it represents yet another mommy arena in desperate need of improvement. That, and remembering to dab sunscreen on that little spot on the tops of their heads.

I suppose it’s the chore-like feel of the whole rigmarole that gets to me. And the fact that I have to bark those tired orders each and every night like some sort of tyrant: “Brush your teeth!” “Put your pajamas on!” “Use the bathroom!” “Enough with the television already!” and “Quit fooling around in there and GO TO SLEEP!”

Quite frankly, I’m spent at that hour and I can’t stand having to “work” when I’m already maxed-out on the exhaustion scale myself. But then again, mommies don’t punch a time clock. Their shifts never truly end. And downtime is nothing but a myth—unless, of course, you count the smidgen of time spent alone in the shower or those precious moments locked within the solitude of a closet, where the din cannot follow and where the world can wait until we’re reunited with our marbles—yet again.

So it’s nothing short of remarkable when the nightly “change” finally occurs—that indescribable transformation within me that takes place shortly after books are read, tuck-ins are complete and the sandman officially arrives. Gone is the sense of urgency and frustration. Erased is the tension that once filled the air. Dulled and diluted is my shameful volatility, hissing like the air that leaves a balloon.

None of it matters now. My tiny bundles of energy and neediness are lost in the Land of Dreams. Sweet ones, I hope. No matter what the hour…no matter how sapped the day has made me…no matter how infuriated I am about the stringy clumps of Silly Putty forever welded to the carpet, or the pinkish yogurt drippings, still clinging like sap to the edge of the coffee table—I feel compelled to watch them as they sleep. Silent and still, at long last.

I tousle their hair, study their tender hands, now supple and yielding as they lay in mine, and soak up the trace of lavender bubble bath, lingering in those sun-streaked locks. Our breaths mingle intimately as I draw nearer to steal yet another good-night kiss, awed by the peace washed over their faces and rugged little bodies. Even their pea-shaped toes are finally at rest, tucked snugly beneath their bottoms which rise and fall with each restorative breath.

For me, each night’s agenda is nearly the same: To commit to memory every minute detail—to freeze the moment in time so that I might return to it at will decades from now. The curve of their lips, their smallish frames, the warmth of their tiny fingers, and the way their eyelashes lay like petals against their cheeks—these are the things I want to remember. Not how their endless chatter, unbearable bickering matches and miles of raucous galloping over hill and dale drove me berserk. And certainly not my ogre-ish bedtime routine. I’d like to erase that altogether—or perhaps amend it.

Watching closely, I can’t help but be reminded of how they used to be; and for a wistful moment I wish they were back—needier than ever, scooching around the place, babbling on about whatever it is that babies babble on about. But I’m a realist at heart. I know there is no going back.

So as a rule I push the rewind button to review the day’s events, thankful for having had those moments. I try to recall our special conversations and think of what we did together, who we saw and where we went. Of course, I dwell on the mistakes I made as a parent, and vow to be a better mommy tomorrow—a promise worth keeping.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Daily Chaos, In the Trenches of Parentville, Mushy Stuff

Ten Ways to Say “Thank you, Dad”

20140615-123403.jpgFathers come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and talents. On the whole, I’d daresay they are a thankless lot—often underappreciated, largely misunderstood—an entire populace of men rarely acknowledged for the many and varied ways in which they contribute as parents. Mothers, deservedly or not, garner the lion’s share of recognition when it comes to the important business of raising a family. But Father’s Day, with its prominently marketed golf wares, grilling must-haves and sea of manly fragrances, forces us to shift our collective sentiment and pay homage to dear, old Dad.

And as I wander the aisles in search of the perfect greeting card for my father—one that I believe captures the essence of our relationship, keys on our shared allegiance to witticism and adequately gives thanks for the sacrifices he’s made and the wisdom he’s imparted, I find myself settling for that which falls disappointingly short. Hallmark, it seems, hasn’t stumbled upon the right assemblage of words just yet. Somehow their writers have missed the mark, along with all the other clever wordsmiths who’ve failed to deliver the sort of message my father needs to receive—the one that perhaps all fathers need to receive. So thank you, Dad, for so many things…

…for encouraging me to forge my own path instead of assuming that the paths of others would necessarily be right for me…for letting me climb to the tops of trees and to skateboard with wild abandon…for ferrying me to the ER when necessary.

…for teaching me how to throw a fastball, wield a mean golf club and sink a jump shot on command…for being my biggest advocate (even still) and for believing in me even before I believed in myself.

…for being oh-so-generous with your time…for listening intently to my wishes and worries…for considering me a worthy companion as we jogged over the back roads of town, watched doubleheaders into the wee hours and sat in scratchy lawn chairs together, completely mesmerized by the thunderstorms that rolled across the skies in the midst of July’s unbearable heat, summer after endless summer.

…for letting me date boys with mustaches and muscle cars…for traipsing around the kitchen in your underwear late at night, when said boys needed reminding that it was time to go home (an infinitely mortifying experience then, but absolutely hilarious now)…for walking me down the aisle—twice—and never once saying I told you so.

…for introducing me to the concept of balancing a checkbook, as well as finding balance in my life…for teaching me to accept failure when it comes to call and to learn from my missteps…to appreciate having grandparents, a roof overhead and acres of woods all around.

…for tolerating my teenage years (Oy!), for trusting me with your beloved cars even though the voices inside your head must have screamed, “Noooo!” and for resisting the overwhelming desire to share with my High School Yearbook Committee that hideous photo of me with the mumps. For that alone, I love you dearly.

…for navigating so many road trips—to distant airports, to a good number of college campuses I considered calling home, to my very first job interview in the city. Never mind that we got horribly lost in the process; but getting a glimpse of the White House at rush hour surely was grand.

…for inspiring me to be a responsible individual, to work hard and to strive to do good in this world…for illustrating the power of forgiveness, the refuge of one’s church and the necessary nature of grieving our losses…for reminding me that things usually work out in the end—even when they look entirely hopeless at the start.

…for underscoring the importance of finding time for one’s children, time for one’s marriage and time for oneself…for helping me recognize the inherent value of ice cream sundaes, the versatility of duct tape and the irreplaceable nature of a good friend.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for showing me the beauty of marrying one’s best friend.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks for my dad). Visit me there at

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Other Drugs


  Now to find a home for my baby… #sweetjesushelpmefindanagent #amwriting #parenting #humor #humorwriting #twins #deliverance #greatadvicefornewparents #funread #atthecornerofirreverenceandoversharing

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville