Rules of Engagement for Thanksgiving Dinner–Post-Election

img_0055_editedNo matter one’s political affiliation, I trust we can all agree that the presidential election of 2016 was epic in terms of its awfulness. It has forced us to acknowledge the deep rifts that exist within our society, exposing the shameful underbelly of America in the process. In light of that, I think it’s prudent to establish some ground rules as we gather together on Thanksgiving Day to feast with our family and friends—and hopefully not stab each other with Grandma’s finest cutlery. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for how to act:

  • Banish politics from your dinner table conversation, including but not limited to: contentious discussions of Access Hollywood bus tapes, the Clinton Foundation, Chief Jackwagon appointee, Steve Bannon, WikiLeaks, taco trucks, the KKK, Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton’s damn emails, and, for the love of God, don’t quote Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Ever.
  • Refrain from wearing apparel festooned with the phrase, “Nasty Woman” or “Drain the Swamp.” Likewise, don’t wear a pantsuit or that godawful MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat. It’s tacky and it makes you look like a buffoon.
  • As much as it pains you, fight the urge to chant: “Lock her up!” or “Build a wall!” By the same token, don’t define for the innocent children sitting at the kiddie table the words: bigot, fraud, misogynist, homophobe, xenophobe, narcissist, erratic, hostile, deranged or delusional. When they get curious enough, they’ll find a dictionary.
  • At all costs, avoid disputes over which Saturday Night Live actor, Alec Baldwin or Kate McKinnon, did a better job of portraying Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively. Simply agree that they brought much needed levity to what many describe as a fucking train wreck. Good thing.
  • No matter how delicious (or not) the meal is, don’t rate it on a scale of one to ten. Better still, don’t rate anything on a scale of one to ten—least of all the turkey breast or legs. Just don’t.
  • Likewise, don’t refer to the dinner rolls as a “basket of deplorables” or to the pumpkin pie as a “Trumpish” shade of orange. Trust me, it won’t go well.
  • As tempting as it might be, stay far, far away from topics like climate change, women’s reproductive rights, health care reform and gun control, if you value the relationship you share with your relatives. Be forewarned; it could get ugly.
  • Refrain from calling anyone a Nazi, a fascist or a socialist—no matter how fitting such descriptors might be. Also, fight the urge to invent Broadway musical titles that you think Mike Pence would enjoy such as: “The Lyin’ King” or “Guys and Guys.”
  • As suitable as it might be, don’t use the word “jackassery” to describe Donald Trump’s cabinet picks or engage in a shouting match to defend your position. Everyone knows that “jackassery” isn’t a real word and if you use it, you’ll just be showing off because it follows the rules of grammar and it’s fun to say besides.
  • In a moment of great weakness, if someone at the table goes on a tirade, railing against either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, resist the urge to whip out your cell phone to fact-check the data and/or post a video on Facebook. The world will thank you.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, preparing to feast, and hopefully not feud. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlantMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Holiday Hokum, Political Poop

Life is Good…Mostly

IMG_7997I own a handful of trendy t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: LIFE IS GOOD. I wear them because they’re ridiculously soft, they feature stick figures with infectious smiles and, quite frankly, because I like the upbeat message they send to the big, bad world. Often times, people will stop me in the grocery store or post office, point at my shirt and nod in agreement: “Yeah, life is good, isn’t it!” which is great, because sometimes I’m the one that needs a reminder.

That said, sometimes life is downright ugly—like right now, as the wheels fly off this crazed election and increasingly hateful rhetoric spews from otherwise civilized and compassionate people. I am no exception. Life is not only ugly, it’s also heartbreaking and undeniably unjust because senseless violence continues to ravage the globe, hurricanes, floods and fires strike unmercifully and so many people I love grapple with cancer, or Alzheimer’s or any number of other devastating diseases. Neighbors move away. Parents and beloved pets die. Friends endure unspeakable adversity—including, but not limited to financial ruin, crippling addictions or, heaven forbid, having to bury a child. What’s more, marriages fail, suicides happen and people I care about become broken for a host of reasons.

I suppose that loss—sometimes more than people can bear—comes with the territory, an unwelcome side effect of this thing called life. Strangely enough, the more sorrow I experience, the more difficult it seems to manage on a personal level, each event affecting me more deeply than the last. You’d think that by now coping with it would be a walk in the park for me—something distinctly unpleasant, yet easy to accept because, if nothing else, it’s familiar. Admittedly, I sometimes stay in bed and hide from the world—especially on days when sadness and negativity threaten to consume me, convinced that by avoiding reality somehow it will cease to exist.

Of course, avoidance is only temporary. It does nothing to change what is real. So I shake my fist at God, infuriated by the fact that bad things happen to good people each and every day—despite denial, despite rage and despite prayers.

And then, as the sun rises, a funny thing happens. My dog ambles over to my bedside and shoves his head and warm muzzle into my hand, demanding to be petted, acknowledged, and eventually, fed since it’s time for breakfast. I then crawl on the floor and spend a few moments rubbing his impossibly soft ears and talking with him about all the important things in his life—the walk we’ll take later, his renowned affinity for squirrels and how great his scrambled eggs will taste. Yes, my dog eats scrambled eggs. Don’t judge.IMG_6206

At any rate, somewhere between hugging him and caressing the leathery pads on his feet my mind is flooded with what can only be described as gratitude. Indeed, I can’t imagine life without the rescue dog my family and I decided to adopt more than two years ago—our black lab-mix with the grizzled face and unsteady gait. Nor can I take for granted the other loveable beasts that reside here, never mind that our curly-haired, pint-sized yapper is decidedly neurotic and that our cat gives him plenty to be neurotic about.

From there, it mushrooms into recognizing all the good that has come into my life—all the people for whom I am thankful and all the experiences I’m glad to have had. I think of my husband, a man who has been my best friend for more than 20 years, the love of my life and my soft spot to land when the universe spirals out of control. I think of my three children who are talented, bright and most importantly, kind—ever so grateful that I get to be their mom. I think of all the people who touch their lives daily and I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of indebtedness. I think of my treasured friends, my church family and how fortunate I am to have the lot of them in my life.

Of course, I’m happy to have a roof overhead, food in my pantry and the sweet refuge of music and books, too. But mainly it’s the people that remind me that life is, indeed, good…mostly.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wearing a LIFE IS GOOD t-shirt). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Depraved New World, Gratitude, Love and Loss

Summer’s Hot Mess

www.melindawentzel.comNever once have I fantasized about the dead of winter—until the summer became intolerable, that is. Time and again, I found myself yearning for the brutal cold of the Arctic, a frostbitten appendage or, at the very least, vicariously catapulting myself forward to the misery of January in Pennsylvania, snow shovel in hand. Usually such asinine ideas struck me first thing in the morning, when I left my beloved ceiling fan behind and stepped from an air conditioned haven into the soupy atmosphere that described much of June, July and August. To my mind, visiting the great outdoors this summer was like taking an extended vacation to the tropics, minus the margaritas or anything remotely fun.

That said, the suffocating heat that plagued the Northeast for what seemed like an eternity made me seriously consider relocating to the far reaches of Saskatchewan. The fact that I’d be a world away from the current political circus made the idea of moving to Canada even more appealing than avoiding the inevitability of heatstroke.

I could come back to the States when the climate and the country, collectively, returned to its senses. In all likelihood.

Aside from pipe dreams that involved vacating the region, on more than one occasion in the past 100 or more days I actually entertained the notion of crawling inside my freezer, where I could comfortably nestle within the confines of the ice cube bin or perhaps curl up next to the frozen Delmonicos—anything to avoid sweating like a beast 24/7. As I recall, just standing outside doing absolutely nothing (except trying to draw breath) was unbearable, let alone attempting to mow the lawn or lug the trash to the curb. Forget the scorching sun on my skin as I walked around the block with my dogs—their meaty tongues limp, their pitiful feet dragging in protest. Even standing beneath shade trees, venting to the neighbors about the godawful weather, was insufferable. Perhaps even more unnerving was my inability to tell whether I was feeling a wave of heat rising from the asphalt or just another hot flash.

Menopause is GREAT, and so is this summer—said no middle-aged woman in the northern hemisphere.

And the PURE AGONY that crawling inside a hot car at midday brought me—I can’t begin to describe that fresh hell, except to say that baking to my core inside a kiln might have been a more pleasurable experience. Nor can I adequately express how uncomfortable it was to wilt in a church pew or crowded stadium, surrounded by people desperately fanning themselves and doing everything in their power to avoid touching anyone else—because, of course, touching someone else would lead to spontaneous combustion. Probably.

In all honesty, I can’t remember a summer so horrendous. We had bona fide heat waves that lasted for a few weeks when I was a kid. And they were downright brutal—especially without any air conditioning ANYWHERE. It’s true. But month after month of feeling as if I were a mile from the sun—day into night, night into day? Not so much. No stretch of weather back then made me wish I could spend all afternoon making snow angels in the tundra. My brother and I wiled away the hours at the creek or poolside, riding bikes or in the bed of a pickup truck, the sun on our faces and wind in our hair. Or better still, we planted ourselves in front of a raspy box fan, perfectly entranced by its ability to distort our voices into something decidedly alien.

Back then, summer was fun—not something to be endured or wished away. With any luck, next summer will be like those of my youth—one to remember with a smile.

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

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, Rantings & Ravings

Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on the Food Network, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that Giada went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with Ghirardelli chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would indeed make me smile.

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

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes

“M” is for Motherhood

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324While it’s true the term “motherhood” is a simple collection of ten letters, specifically arranged for ease of pronunciation, it is suggestive of so much more. In sum, I regard it as a wholly intangible, behemoth-like affair that effectively upended all that I thought I knew about life as a decidedly callow twenty-something. Needless to say, the experience continues to shape and mold me, schooling me day and night in the curious ways and means of children, wowing me with the inherent remarkableness of the aforementioned creatures and rendering me forever changed as an individual. As it should be, I suppose. That said, here’s how I spell motherhood.

M Motherhood is a messy beast-of-a-thing—with its suffocating mass of sippy cups and sidewalk chalk, Legos and lunch boxes, bicycles and Band-Aids. Never mind the ubiquitous nature of stuffed animals and the profusion of refrigerator-worthy masterpieces that inhabit our homes, marking time as our progenies progress along the winding path of childhood. And let us not forget all the lovely shades of gray with which we must contend: the tangled complexities of teens, the relentless questioning of toddlers and the soft underbelly of the headstrong child—the one we try desperately to govern without stifling. Indeed, motherhood is a messy business.

O Motherhood is overwhelming to be sure—a seemingly insufferable, plate’s-too-full collection of moments that, when taken together or viewed within the prism of the unattainable ideal, beat us into submission, the thrum of parental failure ringing in our ears. That said, there’s nothing quite like comparing oneself to the façade of perfection—holding our harried selves up against those who appear to be getting it right, the moms who keep all the plates spinning as if flawless extensions of themselves.

T Motherhood is timeless—an eternal post to which we are assigned, willing or not. From the moment our writhing infants, ruddy-faced and wrinkled, are placed upon our chests, motherhood begins in earnest. And although our parent/child relationships shift and season over time, they remain inextricably woven within the fabric of our lives. Not even death can end the appointed role, as a mother’s counsel is sought long after she has been eulogized.

H Motherhood is a humbling experience. Ask anyone who has ever faced the stinging truth as it relates to intolerance and hypocrisy—delivered by a six-year-old, no less, soundly putting those who ought to know better in their respective places. So often kids eclipse our academic abilities, too, reminding us how important it is to embrace change. Never mind that every fiber of our being screams in protest. Moreover, becoming a parent means a humbling loss of identity to some extent, punctuating the uncertain nature of our so-called significance in certain circles. We are simply So-and-So’s mom now—maker of sandwiches, applier of sunscreen, gracious recipient of dandelions. But somehow the title feels right, as does finding a pretty vase for the dandelions.www.melindawentzel.com

E Motherhood is edifying in that literally every day we learn something new—most of which is harvested from conversations at the dinner table or at bedtime, from diaries that beckon unremittingly or from tiny notes we discover wadded up in someone’s pants pocket. We spend a lot of time watching, too, realizing that our mothers were right all along. Children will, indeed, cut their own hair, shove peas up their noses and breach late night curfews to test both boundaries and our resolve. Arguably, the lessons of motherhood never truly end.

R Motherhood is real. Good, bad or indifferent, it is palpable, inimitable and exceedingly enlivening. It is the stuff from which memories are made and so much purpose is derived.

H Motherhood delivers nothing less than a heady rush—an intoxicating dose of awe wrapped in the sheer rapture of having had a hand in creating life, not to mention having been called upon to shape one or more future citizens of this world. Mothers are, without question, difference-makers.

O Motherhood makes us swell with omnipotence now and again—a grand and glorious surge of I’M THE MOM, THAT’S WHY sort of sway that leaves us feeling all-powerful, if only fleetingly. But nothing makes us puff up more than hearing censure as priceless as, “Dad, did you get Mom’s permission to do that? She’s the Rule Captain, you know.”

O With motherhood comes obsession. And spiraling panic. And unfounded fear. And, of course, debilitating worry over that which will probably never occur anyway. In sum, we fret about bumps and bruises, unexplained rashes and fevers that strike in the dead of night…about report cards and recklessness, friends we cannot hope to choose and fast cars that will whisper to our charges, inevitably luring them within, despite our best efforts to forbid such foolishness.

D Motherhood is delicious—a profoundly gratifying slice of life we would do well to savor. Never mind its patented swirl of disorder and wealth of doubts, fears and impossible demands. Indeed, motherhood threatens to swallow us whole, while at the same time allowing us to drink in its goodness, gulp by gulp.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (reflecting on the many facets of motherhood). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, In the Trenches of Parentville, Mushy Stuff

The Cardboard Box: A Primal Refuge

www.melindawentzel.comSome days I just want to crawl inside a cardboard box fort and hide from the rest of the world—like I did when I was nine or ten. Prince and David Bowie are dead. Harper Lee and Alan Rickman, too. Also disturbing, at least on some level: Donald Trump is running for president and McDonald’s chocolate chip frappés are officially extinct. These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures—like curling up in the fetal position within the comfort and safety of a cardboard-walled fortress, effectively separated and insulated from the madness outside that might otherwise devour us. At least that’s what I feel compelled to do when times get tough—revisit the glorious cocoon of my youth.

Back then, the only thing that came close to the impressive nature of a fort crafted from a discarded cardboard box was a fort whose roof was built with an embarrassment of blankets—a sprawling haven that encompassed an entire room, incorporating clothespins, stacks of books, heavy ashtrays and every available piece of furniture that would further the effort—that of making it somehow more expansive, inspired largely by a Manifest Destiny of sorts. But I digress.

I remember the birth of many a cardboard refuge as if it were yesterday. Once in a great while, there would be a sizeable purchase in our household, like a new refrigerator, washer or dryer. Naturally, this produced as a side benefit a most enormous box—a gift from the gods to my brother and me. Somehow said box made its way down the narrow staircase and into the middle of our basement rec room. Like maniacal hunters we circled the beast—scrutinizing every inch of its carcass, celebrating our good fortune and anticipating the ritualistic carving that would soon take place.

This, of course, meant that our mother would allow us to use steak knives to transform the aforementioned box into a masterpiece, making us drunk with joy while effectively violating one of the prime tenets of parenthood—the one involving sharp objects and underdeveloped motor skills. Inherently she understood that using a table knife was decidedly futile, and that scissors were pretty much worthless as a tool for such an undertaking. So we’d hack and saw through the cardboard with glee, inch-by-inch, completely unsupervised—the ever-present element of danger adding exponentially to our collective delight.

Not surprisingly, we were fatigued by the enormity of the task yet thrilled to be making progress toward our shared vision. Never mind that blisters formed on our fingers, cardboard dust particles filled the air and jagged scraps littered the floor. It was a small price to pay in the name of creating something larger than ourselves. There in the musty cellar, whiling away the hours, we carved windows of every shape and size, escape hatches and skylights galore, doors that would actually swing open and shut and at least one rectangular slot for assorted mail and other important deliveries—like Mister Salty pretzel sticks and wads of Monopoly money. Also essential, a pathetic-looking doorbell we sketched with a big, fat Magic Marker.

Adding to the nest-like quality of our creation, we sometimes hauled blankets and pillows inside or fashioned curtains out of dishcloths we swiped from the kitchen. Likewise, a slew of books and LOOK Magazines would find their way to the interior, dropping to the floor one by one, having been shoved through the mail slot in rapid succession.

Indeed, our fort was a beautiful thing and there was as much joy in constructing it as there was in playing with it—especially when pets were coaxed within. Much like the mountain of dirt in our backyard—the one that occupied my brother and me for the better part of our summers, inundated with more plastic Army men and Matchbox cars than we could reliably count—our cardboard box forts were semi-permanent fixtures that would live in our memories forever.

Looking back, I can’t imagine surviving childhood without either.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, tempted to resurrect the cardboard box fort of my youth. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, In the Trenches of Parentville

Say Yes to the Dress. Maybe.

www.melindawentzel.comI have not-so-fond memories of my high school prom, most of which stem from having worn a dress that felt as if it were lined with burlap. It was a white, floor-length eyelet gown, cinched unmercifully at the waist, making the thought of dancing almost unbearable. Never mind walking, talking and breathing. However, not going to the dance was out of the question. I went because all my friends would be there. I went because the hype leading up to the event was intoxicating. I went because prom night was a rite of passage—apparently, so was wearing obscenely uncomfortable shoes and stuffing myself in a dress that was two sizes too small.

Cutoffs and Converse sneakers were more my speed. If only I could have convinced the Prom Committee to allow everyone to dress as if they were going to a backyard barbecue, not a stodgy affair where herds of adolescents would spend much of the evening shuffling around in stiff formalwear, feeling both awkward and insecure. Or maybe that was just me.

The only thing less enjoyable than the prom itself was the gown-shopping marathon my mom and I endured beforehand, my angst superseded only by my negativity. I remember thinking I would never find the perfect dress, because it didn’t exist. Designers, it seemed, didn’t have flat-chested prom-goers in mind when they created styles for the masses. Instead, the racks were spilling over with plunging necklines and slinky, strapless numbers I couldn’t wear on a bet—not without hours of alterations and/or divine intervention. Lo and behold, we stumbled upon a gown that would work. Besides, I reasoned, I only had to endure it for a few hours. Then I could ditch it for jeans and a t-shirt—my garb of choice. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what I did.

So when my youngest daughter announced that she would need a prom dress this year I was speechless, my mind swimming with enough pessimism for six people. But, I reminded myself, she is a different kind of creature—a fun-loving free spirit, one who thrives on adventure and feels comfortable in her own skin, worlds away from me. That much I know.

That said, virtually everything about our shopping excursion was unlike my own of decades ago. For starters, we found heels long before we looked for a gown and she systematically broke them in over a period of weeks. On the day we finally set out to find a dress, my daughter brought the aforementioned shoes along so she could put them on to see how they looked with each gown she tried. Brilliant.

We then proceeded to haul massive amounts of silky, sequined whateverness into the dressing room, banking on the premise that more was better. Itchy tags and tangled hangers be damned. Despite the fact that we both fell in love with the very first gown (in which she looked stunning), she soldiered on—just in case she would discover something even more irresistible. There were black ones and red ones. Dresses without straps. Dresses without backs. Each one distinctively elegant. Each one with its own special charm, making the decision-making process fairly impossible.

After what seemed like forever, we were able to narrow it down to two favorites. And when I say “we” I mean my daughter and myself, an exceedingly helpful sales woman, a handful of patrons who happened to be in the vicinity and hordes of my daughter’s friends who offered instantaneous feedback via social media. Who knew that shopping for a prom dress would necessitate input from one’s Snapchat tribe, which apparently was present in the dressing room? I kid you not.

Needless to say, it’s a different world than it was some 30 odd years ago. Stranger still, we actually had fun searching for the perfect dress—so much fun, that we bought BOTH of her favorites. And because the gods were smiling, they were remarkably affordable, surprisingly comfortable and oh-so-beautiful.

Already it’s looking as if she won’t need decades of prom-related therapy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, gearing up for Prom Night. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Spring Fling