Summer’s Hot Mess

Never 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 and July. 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 "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Rantings & Ravings, Vacation Schmacation

In Cars

God apparently has a terrific sense of humor. I know this to be true because my husband and I are currently embroiled in one of the most intense parenting rites of passage known to man—teaching not one, but TWO teenagers to drive AT THE SAME TIME. Granted, Thing One and Thing Two didn’t get their permits on precisely the same day, but the point is moot since they’re both logging hours behind the wheel practically every waking moment. And because we’re horrible parents, we don’t let them use our pricey vehicles to log those hours. Instead we’ve insisted that they learn on a beater car—a 13-year-old Jeep that lacks both GPS and air-cooled seats. It doesn’t have a back-up camera either. Like I said, we’re horrible parents.

Truth be told, we chose this vehicle because it was the only one we could envision careening into a curb or grazing foliage without cringing. Confession: We’ve done a fair amount of cringing. Okay, a lot of cringing. And grabbing the wheel. And shoving our feet through the floorboards. And gripping the dashboard. And shouting indiscriminately. Despite having been down this path before with our oldest daughter, we’ve been thoroughly taxed by this particular event—perhaps because everything is multiplied by two. At any rate, I now know what my parents must have felt like when I reached the legal age to drive—equal parts panic and pride with a touch of exasperation thrown in for good measure. But in all fairness, our progenies have made marked progress in the months that have passed since they received their permits. Translation: It’s a lot less terrifying than it once was.

That is not to say that either teen has a death wish behind the wheel; it’s just that it appears as such whenever they back out of a driveway in the dark or attempt to merge into traffic on an expressway. On more than one occasion, we’ve used rock-paper-scissors to settle the issue of which one of us gets to ride shotgun and which one of us sits at home with crippling anxiety over the fate of our fledgling drivers on a road trip. The jury is still out on which experience is more unnerving. In my opinion, it’s a toss-up.

Admittedly, my husband is not one to worry himself to death or to fill his mind with thoughts of impending doom while one or both kids go driving with me. I, on the other hand, am a basket case since catastrophizing is what I do best. I imagine all that could go tragically wrong and then convince myself that it will indeed happen. So I’m always amazed when they pull in the driveway, completely unscathed. Of course, I try not to think about how it will be when they actually get their licenses and head out on the road alone. Thankfully, I can stalk them by using the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and at least “see” which ditch they’re in.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll continue to tolerate all the angst (mine) and the steep learning curve (theirs), keying on the fact that we’ll get through this somehow. That said, one of the most frustrating byproducts of the whole thing is the voluminous quantity of criticism our charges have spewed forth relative to OUR driving skills, or the lack thereof. Apparently we can’t do anything right—and even less than that ever since they’ve been enrolled in a Driver Training Course and know all there is to know about driving. What’s more, it has been suggested that they prefer driving with their instructor.

Evidently, we could yell less and praise more.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably nagging my kids about braking sooner, not crowding the centerline, yielding properly and/or checking that cussed blind spot we all know and loathe. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, Road Trip, Twins

So Long, Farewell

I heard the trucks rumbling in the street this morning, groaning to a halt as I peeked through the blinds to see. The movers were here, preparing to load the wares of two families in my neighborhood who are off to faraway places—one to the Delaware shoreline and the other to the mountains of Colorado. To say that they will be missed is an understatement. They were the salt of the earth type of people, always there when we needed them, whether it was in the form of kind words or kind actions. And their kids, OH MY, their kids were absolute gems. They, too, will leave an impossible-to-fill void.

Now that these particular families are starting a new chapter in their lives after living here for decades, I’m reminded of the importance of not taking good neighbors for granted. And although we’re surrounded by other terrific neighbors and I’m sure we’ll welcome with open arms the new families who will move in, the neighborhood will never be the same without the people who forged such lasting relationships with us. Lord knows, the experiences we’ve shared cannot possibly be replicated—especially those we’ve had with the family whose back lawn merged seamlessly with ours.

Who else could tolerate our errant Frisbees…or help conduct important research on the mysterious appearance of a blue thong in one’s hot tub while away on vacation…or lend a hand by installing an ungodly number of outdoor lights on an unbearably hot summer day…or offer to clear the snow in our driveway because our snowblower was on the fritz…or loan us a hand truck/dolly so that we might spare ourselves the agony of lugging heavy furniture, etc. from Point A to Point B? What’s more, WHO WILL I LIST AS AN EMERGENCY CONTACT ON THE SCHOOL FORMS THAT WILL ARRIVE IN SEPTEMBER? Beth and Shaun have always been the ones I trust with my children—and my dog, for that matter. WHO WILL TAKE MY DOG OUT WHEN I’M STUCK IN TRAFFIC MILES AWAY FROM HOME? Better still, who will tolerate his quirky behavior (i.e. spinning around in circles roughly 47 times before he poops)?

And although I’ve tried, I can’t begin to quantify the number of memorable get-togethers we’ve had over the years. The clambakes, New Year’s Eve parties, fireworks, picnics, nights spent by the firepit, or just sitting around our kitchen tables sharing the remains of the day have been virtually incalculable, and more importantly, cathartic—particularly the gatherings that have included an embarrassment of wine or collectively hoisting a 24-foot ladder up to a rooftop during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night to discover why there was a leak. Those were good times I won’t soon forget.

Needless to say, our kids grew up together right before our eyes, spending quality time playing in sandboxes and on swing sets, dribbling on our basketball court and learning to swim in their pool, pitching tents in the backyard, together welcoming new pets and mourning the losses of old ones. And let us not forget the exciting sled rides down our icy driveway in the thick of winter or the holiday lawn-decorating contests for which Clark Griswold (i.e. Shaun) lived.

There was something comforting about seeing their windows all lit at night while I walked the dog, the yellow squares spilling their light onto the lawn and into the inky black woods. Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of the people inside clearing the dishes from the dinner table—people I cared about, never once imagining they wouldn’t be there, occupying that space. I can’t even estimate the number of times I admired the trumpeting angel they had on display above the landing of their staircase. It could easily be viewed through the gaping front window and seemed to welcome all who had come to call—suiting their family perfectly.

The moving trucks are gone now, and the windows dark. Of course, we wish them well in their new homes, grateful that fate allowed our lives to have intersected so meaningfully.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting our friends’ faraway moves… Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss, Won't You Be My Neighbor

A Tree is Nice

We have a half-dead tree in our yard. Make that FIVE half-dead trees. A pine, an ash and three fruit-bearing ones, although they haven’t produced much of anything in a very long while. Hence, the time has come to take them down, which by almost anyone’s standards makes perfect sense. It’ll be safer, since the risk of toppling over during a windstorm will be reduced to zero. We’ll also likely get some ample firewood out of the deal and we’ll free up a sizeable portion of the lawn for Frisbee in the process.

Everything about the felling of said trees is good. Except that it isn’t. The sad part of it is that there are memories attached to the trees in question—especially the peach tree, whose blossoms burst forth each spring in a glorious explosion of pink. Likewise, in winter its snow-covered boughs make me want to fetch the camera to freeze the moment in time. I just know I’ll look out my window weeks from now and lament that we ever made the decision to cut it down and dig up its roots, erasing from my mind the notion that it ever existed.

For more than 20 years we’ve been harvesting peaches from that tree. My husband was the designated proper-upper of craggy branches, assigned with the task of placing boards beneath its heavy limbs, laden with bushels of ripened fruit. Together we picked them, sampled them and then hauled bucket after bucket into the garage—a staging area for figuring out what to do with them next. Fruit flies be damned.

I wish I could claim that I baked an impressive number of pies with what we reaped over the years, but that would be a lie. Many of my neighbors, however, probably did, as we were inclined to give away scads of the fuzzy fruit each September, knowing we’d never consume all that we had gathered.

Likewise, I’m sure I’ll recollect a time when I watched my twin toddlers from the very same window, perched upon their dad’s lap as he circled the peach, the apple and the pear tree with the riding lawn mower. Round and round they would go, ducking beneath the limbs, smiling in the sun. One year they even built a teepee of sorts by leaning leafy branches we had trimmed from other trees against it. For days on end that summer, it was the most wonderful fortress in all the land, providing a haven of shade and camouflage for all who were so fortunate to crawl inside.

The aforementioned peach tree was one of their first climbing trees, too, its mossy branches low to the ground, inviting gangly children to develop and hone their scaling skills. I remember hoisting them up, assuring them it was perfectly safe and that it would be worth the effort because of the view it afforded them. After they had mastered the peach tree, it was on to taller and more daring venues, like the maple in the back yard, and the massive oak out front.

It’s possible I’ll miss the dear trees we plan to chop down, as well as any others we might lose in the years to come, because they remind me so much of my childhood—a time during which I practically lived in the woods behind my house, building a plethora of forts and climbing to the tops of trees all summer long, carving my initials there as a way of marking territory and perhaps time. I often wonder if my carvings remain, or even if the trees are still standing straight and tall. Far above the ground, swaying in the breeze was one of my favorite places to be, enveloped by a canopy of verdant leaves, summer after delicious summer. From my lofty perch, time was suspended, after all, and all was right with the world.

I can only hope that my progenies have had enough time in their special trees to make memories that will last.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the fact that our peach tree will soon be history. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff

Half-Baked

I love clams. To the point of being dysfunctional, most might say. Those warm and wonderful nuggets of fleshy goodness have been the object of my affection for longer than I’d care to admit. But here I am, telling all.

They’re best bathed in butter. Plucked hot and steamy from a monstrous pot on the stove or from a metal garbage can resting atop a wood-fired pit—which is how my friends from Canton used to cook them each summer. It was tradition to gather there amidst friends and mosquitoes in their sprawling backyard, whacking at Whiffle balls, tossing Frisbees and crowding around that glorious can, the one that also housed corn-on-the-cob, foil-wrapped potatoes and other picnic-y items that didn’t matter much when clams were on the menu. In my mind, clams defined the menu.

Everything else was peripheral—an afterthought designed to woo non-serious clam eaters, or to serve as cover for people like me who planned to gorge exclusively on those brackish bits of joy with wild abandon. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easy to mask such gluttonous behavior. A carefully placed wedge of watermelon or scoop of potato salad can hide a mountain of shame. Bouncing around from table to table with a fresh plate throws off the casual observer, too, especially when coupled with idle chitchat. Gluttony becomes all too conspicuous, however, if you wear a path to the same spot to indulge, pausing only to breathe and to mop the embarrassment of schmutz from your chin. Apparently, I am not alone.

My friend Pat has admitted to consuming 22 dozen little neck clams in one sitting and estimates his lifetime consumption as “incalculable.” Some other friends have been known to fast until the big event in order to arrive primed for epic feasting of all-things-clam-ish. Of course, I admire these folks and recognize that I simply don’t possess that level of commitment. Not yet anyway. But there’s always hope. And always another clambake to pencil in on my calendar.

My husband said he once saw a guy eat 32 dozen. Throngs of people gathered around as if he were a sideshow freak. It’s no wonder as the man recklessly scooped them out of their shells, dumped them by the dozen into a Styrofoam cup brimming with melted butter and chugged them down like a beast. I don’t get it. Where’s the joy in that? The romance? To my mind, that sort of behavior qualifies as rash, dispassionate and superficial. Moreover, it smacks of casual dining.

Admittedly, I’ve been engrossed while eating the silly things. The world simply melts away and I become weak with pleasure, enabling me to block out the maddening blares of my clothes dryer and to silence the persistent demands and relentless bickering of my brood. What’s more, I’ve nearly perfected the art of appearing interested in discussions that float over the dinner table, nodding my head and contributing appropriately to conversations without ever really being present mentally. Of course, this frees all my senses for more important matters—like savoring my beloved clams.

One time I just stood at the counter, blissfully inhaling the freshly steamed batch my husband had so lovingly prepared for me, never once giving a thought to moving to a table like a more civilized individual might be inclined to do. Nor did I share, except maybe one or two. I can’t remember such details. Fifty or sixty clams later I came up for air and slipped back into the here and now. Back into being a mom and wife.

Apparently, the appeal of clams is not a new thing. A CNN.com article I once read adds credence and validation to my obsession. An archeological find in South Africa revealed evidence suggesting that humans living 164,000 years ago harvested seafood (including clams), cooked them over hot rocks and then perhaps gathered together to eat them. News like this makes my heart glad.

As does learning that we’ll be having clams for dinner. I get giddy just thinking about it.

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

Copyright 2013 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Endless Summer, Meat & Potatoes, Normal is Relative

Ten Ways to Say Thank You, Dad

Remembering the first man I ever loved… Miss you, Dad…

Fathers 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 www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss

Big Brother

I have a confession to make. I stalk my children. I stalk my husband, too. I don’t know why I do it, actually. It’s a sickness, I guess—an unhealthy obsession with knowing exactly where my loved ones are at practically every moment of every day. Thanks to the fine people at Apple and my friend, Drew, some time ago I downloaded the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and immediately began tracking the whereabouts of the aforementioned people.

The trouble is, they’re not particularly fond of it. Translation: They despise it.

“Mom, quit stalking us. It’s creepy.”

Creepy or not, however, apparently I get some peace of mind out of knowing what my kids are up to 24/7. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. The same goes for my husband, except that it’s more about convenience to know where he is at a given time. That way, for instance, I can “see” that he’s in the grocery store and know that it makes perfect sense to call him and tell him that we’re out of Cheetos. I don’t like to be out of Cheetos, ergo I feel compelled to inform him of such a dire situation.

The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “What aisle are you in? We need Cheetos.”

My husband: “What? How’d you know I’m in a store? Oh, that’s right; you have that blasted thing on your phone and you’re watching me like Big Brother. Remind me to SHUT IT OFF so you can’t monitor my every move.”

Me: “Wait. What? No. I like being able to see where you are, then I can call and give you helpful information that you might need—like the fact that WE’RE OUT OF CHEETOS. How would you know otherwise? You’re welcome.”

The conversations we have while he’s in the liquor store are strikingly similar except that they usually involve a dwindling supply of wine.

At any rate, I find the app to be remarkable in that I can even tell in which part of a particular building my kids happen to be situated at any given moment. Rest assured, if they’re supposed to be in chemistry class and they’re in chemistry class, my heart is happy.

Me: “So I noticed you went to Denny’s during the break between finals today. Was it fun? What did you order?”

Child: “Mom, that absolutely weirds me out. Why do you do that? It’s just not normal.”

Me: “I don’t know. I guess I like to see what you’re doing throughout your day and it gives me more stuff to talk about with you.”

Child: “Why not just ask me where I went and I’ll tell you?”

Me: “Yeah, but isn’t it more impressive that I already know where you went and we can skip ahead to other parts of the discussion?”

Child: “No. Not really. It’s just creepy and you should stop doing it.”

Unfortunately, I can’t stop doing it. At this late stage in the game, I have become hopelessly addicted to tracking my people and there is no turning back. There is something strangely comforting about looking at that tiny screen and seeing those familiar icons pop up, reassuring me that the people I care about are where they’re supposed to be—even if they’re worlds away for weeks at a time.

In an instant, I can gather a wealth of information—like which door to pick up someone at school and whether or not my progenies are still on the marching band bus, coming home from a late night competition or football game. Almost instantaneously, I can verify that all is right in my little corner of the world.

Strangely enough, looking at the map and those smiling faces within the teensy, tiny circles on my phone warms my heart—no matter how far apart they happen to be. It’s like holding my family in real time in the palm of my hand.

Of course, they would likely beg to differ, suggesting that they’re all under my thumb. Literally.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably poring over my Find My Friends app. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Love and Other Drugs, Techno Tripe, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction