A Walk to Remember

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I remember the walk with my mom as if it were yesterday. The towering pines stretched with all their might into the vast expanse of blue above, touching what had to be the floor of heaven itself. The half-foot of snow that had fallen the night before glistened in the afternoon sun and crunched beneath our feet as we wended our way to my brother’s grave.
It was a good day to say “hello” to him, our faces warm and ruddy from the trek, and our spirits buoyed by what was surely a whisper of spring in those boughs of evergreen.
I can still see her merrily trudging along, nearly swallowed by her red, winter coat and hood, a tinier version of the woman I remember as a child since cancer had begun its dreaded course of consumption. Nevertheless, she wore a smile and the most striking hue of lipstick…red, of course, echoing the beauty that emanated from within. The mom I knew and loved was still here, walking and talking with me, soaking up the sun, drinking in the sky, which was impossibly blue, eager to seize the day.
I don’t recall exactly what we talked about on that wintry jaunt, but I remember being genuinely happy and inordinately grateful, thinking, quite simply, “This is one of those moments in life where everything is perfect, despite life’s inherent imperfection and the unbearable nature of loss that no one can escape, because I get to spend this delicious wedge of time with my mom.”
Copyright 2014 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss

V is for Valentine

www.melindawentzel.comV is for the valiant deeds you do as a matter of course—like traipsing through our home in the dead of night in your underwear to find the source of a sound I’ve tried (and failed miserably) to adequately describe, except to say that it is “most definitely not a normal ‘house sound.’” Moreover, you’ve rushed to my aid on countless occasions to thwart the spillage of veritable pools of repulsiveness, unstopping the loo with remarkable aplomb, never once pausing to judge the ridiculous nature of my fear and loathing.

A is for your appreciative nature and for your inclination to express said appreciation in the form of chocolate. And almonds. Perhaps dark chocolate-covered almonds, if I were asked to more accurately define the essence of your appreciative ilk, my dear Romeo.

L is for loveable, given the endearing creature that you are. That said, you’re kind and compassionate, thoughtful and engaging, generous to a fault and more romantic than you’ll ever know. I never have to question your love for me or your ability to make me laugh even when the bottom falls out and the wheels fly off (think: projectile vomiting and flooded basements). You know just what to say and when to say it, reading me as well as any book you’ve ever held in your hands. Even your foibles (which, by many standards, should’ve made me certifiably insane by now) are marginally unobjectionable—something I never thought humanly possible.

E is for the enthusiasm with which you approach life—even in the face of my less-than-enthusiastic view toward tedious chores like cleaning the garage, weatherproofing the deck and planning the totality of every summer vacation we’ve ever been so fortunate to take. Furthermore, the restraint you demonstrated for the duration of my Orlando-inspired tirade (i.e. the one involving shameful histrionics in which I accused Disney characters of being creepy and a certain airline of being patently tyrannical) was most admirable. For that alone, I love you dearly.

N is for your nonjudgmental nature. You don’t care that I sometimes forget to cook. Or dust. Or shop. Or water plants. You accept me for who I am, unconditionally, and know that a lot of plants will likely die in my care.

T is for the tolerance you exhibit each and every day. Admittedly, I’m difficult to live with. I’m needy, erratic and I have a crippling aversion to spiders. I swill milk straight from the jug, my showers are of an interminable length and I’ve been known to mock your shortcomings with merciless precision (i.e. “Can’t you at least pretend to be organized?”) What’s more, I am physically incapable of getting anywhere in a timely fashion, which I’m certain rankles you to the core. You’ll never know how grateful I am for your tolerance in the abovementioned arenas.

I is for the ingenuity you routinely display when you’re called upon to delve into our brood’s unwieldy school projects—the ones that ought to warn parents of the perils of working with way too much glue and far too little direction. So clever and resourceful are you, utilizing an unlikely arsenal of duct tape, crusty pizza boxes and errant screws. You’re perfectly selfless, too, embracing the celebrated and often untimely excursion to Jo-Ann Fabrics without the slightest objection or hint of frustration. After all, you reason, it gives you a chance to bond with other parents who have made the very same trek—to gather paint, to compare the circumference of various styrofoam balls and to suffer the ill effects of pipe cleaner envy.

N is for the novelty you employ practically every time you pack someone’s lunch, adding a touch of love and creativity to an otherwise banal event. Never mind that you’ve replaced me as the Sandwich Captain and Scrawler of Lunchbox Notes. Of course, I was envious at first, harboring a visceral brand of resentment for a time. But I’ve come to realize that you’ve taken on the task to lighten my load. What’s more, I genuinely appreciate your flair for catering to creatures who are, at best, a challenge to nourish.

E is for your emboldening ways. In a word, you’re my biggest advocate in this life—silencing my doubts, offering definitive proof that my cup runneth over much of the time and always, always providing a soft spot to land when I fall. Valentine, I love you more than words could ever say.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (spelling it out for my special valentine). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, Love and Other Drugs, Romance for Dummies

Color Me Enlightened: Ten Things Parenthood Has Taught Me

www.melindawentzel.comI’ve been a parent for some 9,389 days. A stunningly imperfect parent, I hasten to add. During that period of time I learned more about sleep deprivation, sibling rivalry and teen angst than I previously considered humanly possible. However, the past twelve years have proven to be particularly edifying. Indeed, Thing One and Thing Two have provided me with a veritable feast of enlightenment. So, in the spirit of welcoming the new year and the vat of enlightenment sure to come, I thought it might be fitting to recap what the last dozen years have taught me—at least from the perspective of a stunningly imperfect parent.

1)    Beauty is likely in the kitchen. Translation: Most of the masterpieces I’ve collected thus far in my parenting journey are proudly displayed upon my refrigerator, where I suspect they will remain for a very long time to come. That iswww.melindawentzel.com not to say the face of the fridge is the only canvas upon which said prized artwork hangs in all its faded glory. My home is quite literally inundated with the fledgling, Picasso-esque efforts of my brood, serving as a constant reminder of their boundless generosity and artsy flair. As it should be, I suppose.

2)    The word “sleepover” is a misnomer. No one actually sleeps at a sleepover—including the pitiable adults charged with the impossible duty of entertaining the gaggle of impressionable youths in attendance. Furthermore, the later slumber party-goers appear to crash, the earlier they will rise, demanding bacon and eggs. Moreover, it is inevitable that someone’s personal effects (i.e. an unclaimed pair of underpants, a lone sweat sock, an irreplaceable stuffed animal) will be tragically lost—only to show up months later in the oddest of places.

3)    When taken out of context, that-which-parents-say-and-do is often appalling. Case in point: “Stop licking the dog.” “If you’re going to ride your scooter in the house, wear a damn helmet.” “Fight nice.” In a similar vein, I’ve fed my charges dinner and dessert in a bathtub more times than I’d care to admit, I’ve used a shameful quantity of saliva to clean smudges off faces, I’ve suggested a broad range of inappropriate responses to being bullied and I consider the unabashed bribe to be one of my most effective parenting tools.

4)    A captive audience is the very best sort of audience. That said, some of the most enlightening conversations between parent and child occur when the likelihood of escape is at a minimum (i.e. at the dinner table, in a church pew, en route to the umpteenth sporting event/practice session/music lesson, within the confines of the ever-popular ER).

5)    On average, we parents spend an ungodly amount of time reading aloud books that we find unbearably tedious. We say unforgivably vile things about the so-called “new math” and, as a matter of course, we become unhinged by science projects and whatnot—especially those that require mad dashes to the basement and/or the craft store at all hours of the day and night in search of more paint, more modeling clay and perhaps a small team of marriage counselors.

6)    Forget wedding day jitters, the parent/teacher conference is among the most stressful experiences in life—not to be confused with the anxiety-infused telephone call from the school nurse and that interminable lapse of time wedged between not knowing what’s wrong with one’s child and finding out.

7)    Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, the child-with-a-camera is undoubtedly the most fearsome—although the child-with-Facetime-capabilities is equally clever and decidedly terrifying as well. More specifically, the aforementioned entities possess an uncanny knack for digitally preserving our less-than-flattering moments. Joy. What’s more, they have a certain weakness for documenting freakishly large or (gasp!) green-hued poo, which I’m told is bizarrely linked to the consumption of blue Slushies. Color me enlightened, yet again.

8)    Kids are hard-wired to harvest every syllable of that-which-their-parents-shouldn’t-have-said so that they might liberally share those choice phrases in the most humiliating venue and manner imaginable (i.e. during show-and-tell, at Sunday school, in a crowded elevator, while sitting upon Santa’s lap, at the precise moment the guests arrive).

9)    The discovery of a teensy-tiny wad of paper—one that has been painstakingly folded and carefully tucked within a pocket, wedged beneath a pillow or hidden inside dresser drawer—is akin to being granted psychic powers. Everything a www.melindawentzel.comparent needs to know about their child will likely be scrawled upon said scrap of paper.

10)  Unanswerable questions never die—they simply migrate to more fertile regions of our homes where they mutate into hideous manifestations of their original forms, leaving us wringing our hands and damning our inadequate selves.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (getting schooled as we speak). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, In the Trenches of Parentville, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Countdown to Christmas

www.melindawentzel.comIt was painful to stand there and simply watch. To idly witness, that is, a little boy, no more than three, seized by a desperate longing to ride on the horse-drawn wagon that had circled the park more times than we could readily count in the hour or so that we waited. Again and again the team of Belgians passed us in the frigid night, pausing ever so briefly along its winding path to load and unload hoards of people who had come to this festive event—to soak in some Christmas cheer, to perhaps get a glimpse of Santa in his red, velvety suit and to feast their eyes upon the spectacle of lights that blanketed the grounds, casting a warm glow upon the darkness that sought to swallow us whole.

The boy’s frustration was decidedly palpable as he wailed in vain to his mother and to the starry sky above, arching his back and clenching his tiny fists in indignation—hot, angry tears streaming down his baby face. Inconsolable, as it were. Aside from diverting his attention from this sorrowful reality (i.e. that he was NOT sitting in the aforementioned wagon, lulled by the gentle rhythm of the horses’ gait and the muted sound of their hooves as they hit the pavement), there wasn’t much anyone could do to comfort him.

So many times I’ve watched my own children suffer through the misery of waiting for that which promises to remedy all ills, to satisfy all desires and to deliver instantaneous joy. The interminable wait for Space Mountain at Disney World. The intolerable chasm between ordering a Happy Meal and wrapping one’s pudgy fingers around the cheap plastic toy contained within said Happy Meal. The insufferable gulf that exists between falling hard on the gritty sidewalk and being swooped up into a parent’s arms, where soothing assurances await.

And though they’ve grown immeasurably since that time, my children loathe the process of waiting even still—especially during this celebrated month of December, on the veritable cusp of Christmas. Over the years it has become tradition, shortly after Thanksgiving and perhaps before any other bit of holiday décor emerges from the depths of the attic, to haul out the handcrafted, Santa-inspired DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS thingy—the one that is cleverly outfitted with removable wooden blocks upon which numbers have been handily painted. We do this,www.melindawentzel.com of course, because we cannot find our Advent Calendar—the endearing square of felt-like fabric filled to capacity with a crop of tiny pockets and tethered to a small, cottony fir tree intended to mark the days until the 25th. Needless to say, I had a deep and abiding love for that calendar, but sadly it disappeared—along with my girlish figure, every intact set of tumblers I once owned and the stain-free carpeting I once enjoyed.

At any rate, Thing One and Thing Two are patently delirious over all that the Yuletide embodies, so thickly immersed are they in the important business of crafting gifts for friends and family, taking part in a good number of caroling excursions through school and church and (much to my dismay) quoting the lyrics of The 12 Pains of Christmas far too often. They’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time composing wish lists that appear to change with the wind, instilling me with a fair amount of panic as we inch ever nearer to Christmas Day. Indeed, the ratcheting effect of the official countdown has begun in earnest. “EIGHT DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS!” the wooden blocks seem to shout—reminding me of both the joy this season brings and of my glaring ineptitude as it relates to the enormity of the task ahead.

Cleansing breaths and great volumes of prayer are in order at such times, which, with any luck, will serve to ground me and to give me pause—especially during this grand and glorious season of hopeful expectation.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Growing Pains, Holiday Hokum

Jingle All the Way

www.melindawentzel.comIt’s possible that I might be slightly smitten with jingle bells—more specifically, with the completely delicious and decidedly hypnotic sound they emit. A feast for the ears. A balm for the soul. A window into the past for people like me, who’ve harvested decades-old memories that involve horses, snow-covered cornfields and wintry afternoons spent on my grandfather’s farm. As a result, I am fairly incapable of resisting the allure of a store bin filled to capacity with sleigh bells. That said, I cannot walk by without reaching in to sample each and every melodic wonder. To pluck great hordes from the array, one after another, appraising each with regard to its heft, luster and, of course, the inherent splendor of its sound. Call it a weakness if you will. Perhaps even a debilitating fixation. I have no shame.

Needless to say, there is a profusion of jingle bells in this household—both brass and silver, embossed and etched—many of which adorn our tree, several that rest near our beloved crèche, all of which are patently adored. Additionally, at least two clusters of bells, ones that are tenuously affixed to braided strands of crimson and gold, dangle freely from doorknobs so that our comings and goings, as well as those of friends and family who visit, are joyfully announced. What’s more, there are bell necklaces and bell bracelets, bells on stockings and bells on sleighs. Even a pair of plump snowmen COMPOSED ENTIRELY OF BELLS are poised to welcome www.melindawentzel.comChristmas Day—as are the hand-painted variety that a favorite student teacher recently bestowed upon my brood.

As one might expect, I spend an inordinate amount of time each December perfectly enthralled by the chorus of ringing the aforementioned bells are capable of producing (i.e. I move from room to room, gently waggling each bell in succession, holding it to my ear so that I might savor the sound as it lingers deliciously). Some offer a mere tinkling and the suggestion of an echo, as if a tiny man were inside striking the walls with a hammer, while others resonate seemingly forever a sound so rich and so pure it can almost be tangibly held in one’s hands.

The latter is my favorite and the special sort that we resurrected from my mother-in-law’s estate several years ago, along with a host of ceramic centerpieces she crafted herself and a handful of wooden blocks that spell out MERRY CHRISTMAS when properly arranged. Not surprisingly, I’m drawn to the sleigh bell—a silver-plated, baseball-sized genuine collectible manufactured by Wallace more than 30 years ago. Naturally, it makes a distinctive sound. And whenever I want to revisit a time when my husband’s mother was here (which is often, since there are so many conversations Iwww.melindawentzel.com wish we could have), I pick up the bell—which, I suppose, is not unlike the days I find myself wandering around in search of the Carter’s slippers my children wore so many years ago. The ones with tiny jingle bells housed inside their wooly dog exteriors, triggering fond remembrances of a pair of pajama-clad, bedtime-story-toting toddlers at will. In an instant, I can see them shuffling about, their rounded bellies protruding ever so slightly, their smallish hands clutching a toy of some sort.

Come January, as I take down the tree and unceremoniously stow away the remnants of Christmas cheer, I simply cannot bring myself to box up the bells, banishing them to the attic for an entire year. Not yet anyway. I’m not ready to say goodbye. Long after the Moravian star is removed from its lofty perch, the garland is gathered and legions of ornaments are shrouded in newsprint for safekeeping, the sleigh bells remain. Perhaps in defiance of society’s urgings that the Yuletide is over. Perhaps in spite of my longing to restore order to my hopelessly disordered world. Perhaps because of the warmth they engender, during this holiest of seasons and always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (anxiously awaiting the sound of sleigh bells). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Holiday Hokum

Ten Ways to Say “Thank you,” Mom

www.melindawentzel.comThanksgiving Day is almost upon us. Time for family, feasting and a well deserved respite from the impossible demands and harried pace of life. Time for bribing my kids to wear dress clothes, for hiding the abomination of clutter that exists within my home and for treating the reluctant gravy stains that will inevitably occur. Time for bickering about football, politics and the absurdity of reality TV. Time for snapping wishbones, smoothing tablecloths and clinking fancy silverware. Together.

It’s time for pies, pictures and parades, too, as we reconnect with loved ones, near and far. Mostly, though, it’s time to gather and to give thanks for harvest and health, just as it was at Plymouth in 1621. Indeed, it is time to give thanks for the many people and things deemed instrumental in our lives.

I for one recognize the wealth of goodness with which my life has been blessed. But on this particular Thanksgiving, my thoughts rest on my mother—perhaps because her world came crashing down just three short years ago, perhaps because of the battle she’s now fighting, perhaps because she’s always been there for me—even still. So thank you, Mom, for so many things…

…for being a good listener in spite of the vat of foolishness I’m sure to have delivered over the years…for reminding me that you can never have too many friends or woolen blazers…for emphasizing the importance of pausing when a child speaks, allowing the void to be filled with what’s really on their minds.

…for letting me do stupid (yet exceedingly edifying!) things—like putting all kinds of time and energy into a less-than-seaworthy raft, like chewing gum in bed, quitting band, forgoing French and studying till 3am for a physics test…like getting a disastrous perm, allowing gossip to consume me and dating boys with long hair and fast motorcycles.

…for tolerating my imprudence and forgiving my mistakes—like burning our water pump, which transformed our swimming pool into a pond overnight…like tormenting our sitters unmercifully, forgetting your birthday and breaking God-knows-how-many windows and flower vases…like betraying your trust by filling our house with teens and booze while you and Dad vacationed in Florida.

…for encouraging me and inspiring a sense of belief in myself, teaching me to accept what I have and to handle disappointment when it visits…for helping me recognize the inherent value in power naps, mental health days and a good, long cry.www.melindawentzel.com

…for letting me go…on the mother of all road trips with eleventy-seven of my closest friends…to the lake with the aforementioned motley crew…to an insanely large university where I would surely be swallowed up in lieu of finding my path in life…for biting your tongue when I quit my job in the city and when I married the wrong man.

…for introducing me to the almighty crock pot, to the concept of saving money and to the notion of waiting for the real prize instead of grasping desperately for the veneer of gratification.

…for underscoring the importance of writing thank you notes, of spending time with my grandparents, of talking to babies and of liking myself—even when I’m least likeable.

…for teaching me how to sort laundry, to deal with a loathsome roommate, to make a mean pot of chicken soup, to soothe a grexy baby, to contend with a rebellious teenager, to find a great pair of black flats…to appreciate the patina of a genuine antique and the untold merits of a good iron…to instinctively know when to opt for eggshell (as opposed to ecru)…to own my decisions, to list pros and cons and to always weigh my options carefully.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for instilling me with the impetus to seek solace within the pages of a good book and nurturance within the arms of a good man.

…for letting me be there for you and Dad these past three years—likely fouling up your checkbook and misplacing things in your kitchen forevermore, but being there nevertheless.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Holiday Hokum, Leaving the Nest

November’s Sweet Indulgence

www.melindawentzel.comI’m not particularly fond of November—that dreary block of time wedged between the fullness of fall and the magic of winter. As calendars go, it is the Dead Zone for me. Except for evergreens, the landscape will soon grow barren and its naked forests and fields will be nearly devoid of life. The arrival of spring seems all but impossible in the doom and gloom of November.

Not surprisingly, as the skies gray, the chill of winter looms large and wayward leaves of oak and maple gather en masse outside my doorstep, I find myself drawn to the warmth of a good book. Simply put, if it’s a solidly written work of nonfiction and a topic worthy of my time, I’m smitten from word one till the bitter end. Think: USA Today’s columnist, Craig Wilson (It’s the Little Things) and Betsy Lerner (The Forest for the Trees). A novel, however—especially one that is palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible—is a different animal altogether, tending to woo me for a host of reasons. Think: Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster).BrightSideofDisasterBookCover

Maybe I’m charmed to death by a particular narrative’s cast of characters, intrigued by its wealth of unpredictability or awed by the author’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales. Perhaps the language itself sings to me or more often than not, its message hits me squarely where I live.

Or maybe, just maybe, my passion for all-things-bookish stems plainly from this: for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments, solitude is mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world fades to black as I sink deeper and deeper into the pages of a literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before the house begins to stir, and in the quiet of night when day is done, I refuel and recondition, sipping the honeyed words of giants like Anna Quindlen, Mitch Albom and Anne Lamott. Indulgence like that is sinfully satisfying—yet in a good-for-me sort of way. After devouring as little as a passage or a page (never mind something as grand as an entire chapter) I often feel a tinge of guilt—as if I’ve stolen a nap or a head-clearing walk amidst the falling leaves and crisp air, thick with the scent of autumn—a walk completely devoid of meandering tricycles, tangled dog leashes and less-than-attentive-to-traffic children.

Better still, books transport me beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. Upon my return I’m refreshed, restored and genuinely grateful for having been granted a slice of time to collect my thoughts, to reflect on someone else’s or to simply dissolve into the woodwork of life. I’d like to think I emerge as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Admittedly, I savor the chunks of time spent in lounges and waiting rooms, even those littered with chintzy toys, wailing children and a hodgepodge of germ-ridden magazines. But only if I’ve remembered my own scrumptious reading material. Likewise, I’m happy to be huddled (half frozen) on a playground bench or stuffed behind my steering wheel at a soggy soccer field if armed with one of many delectable titles I have yet to complete (twenty-three and counting). Confession: I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness in one sitting. Not surprisingly, I’ve lingered more than once in the aforementioned venues, yielding to the power of a page-turner. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating.Wally_Lamb_I_Know_This_Much_Is_True

In sum, books are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled…during my less-than-favorite month of November, or anytime.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where both books and Halloween candy beckon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville, Me Time