Dear Departed Summer

Seems like only 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 www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. 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 A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Gratitude

Fridge Fiasco

We have an old refrigerator in our garage—one that migrated there when we remodeled our kitchen some time ago and it was no longer deemed efficient, never mind fashionable. Granted, it’s an oversized beast whose shelves are a tad unstable and whose exterior was all the rage in 1989, but because the universe sometimes smiles upon us, it’s been humming along just fine, thank you.

Needless to say, it has served us well in its new location, wedged comfortably between the tall, wooden shelves that house a hodgepodge of our must-have tools and garage-y tripe. For the most part, we stock our side-by-side with food that we don’t need immediately and drinks that can’t possibly fit in our new fridge despite the undying efforts of many. The overflow, if you will. What’s more, it’s a great place to store extra loaves of bread, an embarrassment of prepackaged snacks and a ginormous lemon pie from Rosencrans’ Bakery that my husband simply couldn’t resist.

It’s also the perfect place to chill wine and bottled beer. The only problem (that I unfortunately discovered one evening not so long ago) was that I had apparently overloaded the shelves in the door with said wine and beer. Of course, for the past several months everything had been just fine, the Michelob Ultra mingling nicely with the Korbel and Moscato. But on the night in question, things were not so fine. Translation: It was a train wreck.

Eager to retrieve a cookie that was chilled to perfection, I yanked open the door and in so doing, four shelves filled to capacity with the aforementioned beverages crashed to the floor, collapsing in a heap, stacked one on top of the next—a disastrous chain event. And although some time has passed, the sound of breaking glass and the resultant shards that laid everywhere torment me even still. Oddly enough, one of the bottles lost its metal cap but refused to break, instead spraying its contents straight up into the air, making a mockery of my attempt to grasp what had happened. For what seemed like an eternity, I stared at the carnage at the foot of our dear refrigerator, hoping what I had witnessed had only been a dream—something horribly imagined.

As luck would have it, and in accordance with Murphy’s Law, booze had spilled on nearly every shelf and all over the garage floor, slowly seeping beneath the lawnmower as well as the fridge itself. Like a fool, I stood there and watched it creep across the concrete, unable to respond like a rational person might by sopping up the mess with paper towels and throwing them in the trash. Upon further inspection, I learned that liquid had also pooled in the well below the bottom set of drawers, along with fragments of broken glass, too numerous to count. As the stench of beer filled our garage and the clatter of bottles still rang in my ears, all I could focus on was the tragic fact that alcohol had, indeed, been lost—sacrificed to the gods that govern stupidity. Even a soggy Oreo had paid the ultimate price, which is heartbreaking if nothing else.

Eventually I snapped out of my stupor and started cleaning the mess, but not without enlisting the help of my teenagers who were, of course, thrilled to be of assistance. Not so much. Nevertheless, they wore a path to the sink, washing everything I handed them while I dealt with the shattered glass and ever-expanding puddles of beer. Thankfully, the dog didn’t come running to inspect the awfulness that had befallen our happy home.

I’m also grateful that I somehow managed to NOT cut myself, and that a number of bottles had been spared, allowing me to have a cold one after such a fiasco.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably visiting the fridge in my garage and  (hopefully) remembering to open its door more GENTLY. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Ode to Embarrassment, Welcome to My Disordered World

No Parking

I hate to parallel park, so I avoid it at all costs. Sometimes that means I attempt to maneuver my car into what appears to be a ridiculously small space and shortly thereafter, drive away, defeated. Other times I opt for a traditional parking lot and convince myself that that’s not cheating—even when I pull through instead of backing in. And occasionally I choose to circle the block like a fool until I find two or more adjacent open spaces so I can simply drive in and park, headfirst. I realize that that, in effect, is a cop-out and makes me a namby-pamby by definition, but I don’t care. My cars understand, and I’m quite sure they appreciate the extra measures I take to protect them—from me.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m capable of parallel parking—when I’m desperate. But, of course, there are parameters that must first be met. The space in question has to be generous enough to accommodate an oversized woolly mammoth, there can be no traffic in either direction for miles and no one on the planet can witness my pitiful attempts to accomplish the impossible. Not even a dog lounging on a nearby porch can look on with disdain. Admittedly, it is performance anxiety gone awry. Oddly enough, I am deeply disappointed whenever I happen to successfully park my car between two others—because, of course, no one is there to shower me with praise or hand me a medal, thereby validating such a monumental achievement.

That said, I can’t even begin to describe my feelings of inadequacy as it relates to teaching my teenagers to parallel park. The word “hypocrite” comes to mind, although “fraud” might be more accurate. Maybe I feel like such a failure in this particular realm because I can’t effectively put my actions into words. Just as it’s hard to describe how to properly peel a hard-boiled egg without destroying it, it’s tough to convey how to wedge a 2-ton hunk of metal between two others without incident.

Confession: While we’re practicing said skill and attempting not to bump those ugly, orange barrels or gnome-inspired cones, I often feel compelled to grab the wheel so that we don’t smash into the curb or scrape the passenger-side door inadvertently. And no matter how hard I try not to shout directives at my daughters or frantically wave my arms in the process, never mind curse, I can’t help myself. Nor can I refrain from sighing in exasperation after the 17th failed attempt.

Teen: “Mom, you’re mad, aren’t you?”

Me: “No, I just wish your father were doing this. I hate to admit it, but he’s better at it than I am.”

T: “But he yells more.”

M: “He’s just more intense.”

T: “He YELLS more.”

M: “Okay, you have a point.”

Eventually I suggest that we give up and drive home, reminding myself to refrain from taking my blood pressure reading anytime soon. Tomorrow’s a new day after all, and represents yet another opportunity to fail miserably as a parent to experience glowing success. With any luck, my kids won’t need too much therapy down the road. Pun intended.

Despite my shortcomings with respect to parallel parking and my husband’s so-called intensity, both of our progenies passed their driver’s test on their very first attempt and are now flying solo. Translation: The gods were smiling upon my little corner of the world when we made the decision to enroll both kids in a local driver education course. Needless to say, we’ll be forever grateful to J.C. and Vince for their limitless expertise and undying patience this summer.

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

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Life is a Highway, Road Trip

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

I 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 pilfered 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 www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer

The Laundry Blues

It’s possible I made a horrible mistake when I decided to make my kids responsible for their own laundry. In theory, it was a wonderful idea as it relieved me of the dreaded chore and saved me from spending countless hours in what may be the smallest and most depressing room on earth. What’s more, I thought it would help prepare them for college and eventually adulthood, giving them the tools necessary to ruin their own stupid laundry. Let’s face it. It’s just a matter of time before someone combines lights with darks or shrinks a favorite pair of jeans beyond all repair. I figured they might as well get started on the path to one of life’s crippling disappointments—ahead of the curve, so to speak.

The problem with my plan is that it backfired. Ever since delegating said task, my charges have monopolized every square inch of the laundry room, compromising my ability to so much as enter without tripping over a tangled mass of bras or heaps of socks, turned inside out—naturally. Never mind their hampers that overflow and practically vomit clothing onto the floor, effectively blocking the door and keeping me from hauling my own hamper inside. Further, the detergent, stain removers and dryer sheets never get returned to the cabinets “correctly” and the drying racks are almost always filled to capacity, leaving no room for anyone else’s clothing. Forget trying to do the rest of the family’s laundry. That’s virtually impossible.

I guess I should be happy that they’re doing laundry at all. I just wish they’d REMEMBER that they’re doing laundry and actually finish the job. For days on end their clean clothing hangs on the drying racks while their dirty laundry waits patiently nearby, at times, stacked more than three feet high. Related: I’ve watched them pluck a number of items from their hampers as well as the racks so they could wear them immediately, skipping crucial steps in the laundry process. And let us not overlook the crumpled masses of sweatshirts, etc. in the dryer, all but forgotten. On occasion, I also make horrifying discoveries—wads of partially dried, yet decidedly damp clothing INSIDE the washer. Gak. The longer the abandonment, the more foul the odor.

As one might expect, I often cave by rewashing the aforementioned items, folding their clean clothes and carrying the towering piles all the way upstairs—something they promised they’d have no trouble doing. Sadly, after this happens the cycle begins again and my window of opportunity for completing any of MY laundry is gone. To say that this is frustrating is an understatement.

I suppose it goes with the territory of being a parent, however. I’m quite sure my mom was fairly exasperated when I came home from college during a semester break or an occasional weekend, hauling with me an embarrassment of dirty laundry. Giant garbage bags worked best as I recall, because I could stuff them beyond the point that a reasonable person would, deeming those particular trash bags as overachievers forevermore.

At any rate, I spent an eternity doing my laundry at home. Marathon sessions as I recall—especially after Thanksgiving and Christmas. No doubt, I enlisted the help of my mother, who probably felt a little sorry for me since I had obviously lost my way to the campus laundry facility and had almost no clean clothes left by the end of the semester. Looking back, it’s more than a little likely that I failed to return the detergent et al. to its proper place in our basement and I probably exploited the washer and dryer for a period of time that was unbearable to my mother, never once considering that she might want to use them, too.

With any luck, we’ll get the kinks worked out before my kids head off to college. Lord knows I’ve let them know what a terrible idea it would be to boycott doing laundry FOR AN ENTIRE SEMESTER. Then again, my mom probably made the very same speech.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, suffering from the laundry blues. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, In the Trenches of Parentville, Leaving the Nest, Rantings & Ravings

Oh, Shuttlecock!

My husband and I have a badminton net in our backyard currently, which is terrific, except that it required two master’s degrees, a fair amount of duct tape and an afternoon of misery to set it up. Confession: We probably could have used a marriage counselor or two, but none were available at the time. Truth be told, the net that is now up is a new one we purchased because we gave up on the possibility of ever successfully assembling the old one—last year’s model, dredged from the depths of our pitifully disordered garage.

Naturally, we didn’t accept defeat immediately upon learning that things weren’t going well. No one ever said we were gifted. Instead, we soldiered on, struggling in the heat for what seemed like an eternity, wrestling with a tangled mass of string and a net that was evidently too heavy for our flimsy poles. Never mind our pathetic arsenal of metal stakes—the ones that warped irreparably as we attempted to hammer them into the impenetrable ground. But because the gods were smiling ever so slightly, no one smashed a finger. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

After a time, it became apparent that we would fail in our quest to set up the wretched net. I’m not sure if it was our collective realization that the plastic poles would continue to bow and eventually snap no matter how hard we tried to prevent that from happening or if it was the way the net kept sliding to the ground despite our best efforts to tie the aforementioned string into knots at the top of each post. Hence, our ill-conceived need for duct tape. Note to self: It’s always a bad sign when, in desperation, one resorts to using duct tape. When all was said and done, perhaps we acknowledged that our labors would ultimately fail when we discovered the ends of the segmented poles were damaged beyond repair after having hit them several dozen times with a 5-pound mallet. Again, I can’t emphasize the degree of idiocy that was on display that day. In a word, it was epic.

As our hope began to fade and our bodies literally baked in the sun on that fateful afternoon, I began to wonder just how many neighbors were witnessing our exercise in futility as it unfolded there in the lawn in all its glory. It had to be comical to watch, much like a circus governed by Murphy’s Law—only there was a lot less skill and far more cursing. I’m quite sure a number of people chuckled at our profound stupidity as we darted back and forth between the poles like fools, eventually throwing the mangled stakes and jumble of string to the ground in disgust.

I never remember my dad having such issues, although it’s likely he did given that he wasn’t especially mechanical and often relied on a hammer to fix just about everything. As a kid I suppose I didn’t worry much about how the badminton net would be set up—only that it would be set up. Magically, it seemed, the net would appear in the lawn each summer. And it didn’t matter to me that it might have been crooked or drooping in the middle, although I can’t reliably recall that bit of detail. I only remember being immersed in the game for hours on end, whacking at shuttlecocks with my brother as night fell, fireflies blinking all around us, the cool grass beneath our bare feet. It was our summertime ritual.

Every kid needs a summertime ritual like that—even if it requires parents to lose their collective minds in the process. Looking back, I can fully appreciate the sacrifice my parents must have made, as well as my husband’s since he not only toiled in the yard, but also spent an entire afternoon in search of a reasonably priced replacement for our misfit-of-a-badminton-set. Seventeen phone calls, four stores and one meltdown later, he succeeded.

But it was so worth it.

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

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

In Praise of Newsprint

I love newspapers. Books and magazines, too. I like the way they smell, the way they feel in my hands, the sound of pages turning and the delicious moment of folding a book’s cover back upon itself—making it forever mine. There is a special joy in creasing newspapers and glossies, too, enabling me the freedom to frame articles worthy of my time and attention. If I tried such foolishness with an iPad, the moon would likely fall from the sky in protest. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea; don’t tamper with technology as it may anger the gods.

Quite frankly, I cannot imagine a world without the aforementioned entities, despite what proponents of the digital age may opine. Computer screens and e-readers are a far cry from that which is tangible and real. In my mind, curling up with an electronic device is an offense to the sensibilities, akin to hugging a slab of flagstone or something equally devoid of life. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I never read virtual newspapers or occasionally partake of something Kindle-ish, but on the whole I find that those experiences pale in comparison to my preferred method of absorbing content (i.e. reading words—not on some manifestation of paper, but on actual paper). Call me crazy.

But beyond the obvious bit of wonderfulness that print offers the world at large, I can think of almost a dozen reasons for keeping newspapers around long after the day’s headlines have been devoured.

  • How will any decent criminal effectively craft a ransom note—one that is cleverly cobbled together using a host of unique fonts that now live on the pages of our dear dailies? Using one’s printer seems so completely uninspired.
  • How will scenes in whodunit movies involving the stowage of loot and/or weapons within the folds of one’s newspaper (or in the box itself) ever hope to be carried out? I shudder to think.
  • Horror of horrors, how will anyone carve a pumpkin or decorate an Easter egg without first blanketing the kitchen table with an embarrassment of newspaper?
  • In a similar vein, school or art projects involving a profusion of glitter, glue, paint and/or modeling clay necessitate the absorptive qualities of newsprint. There is no substitute, quite frankly. And what better way to get kids to peruse headlines? Somehow the errant drips and blots add a dimension of charm, drawing even the most reluctant of readers to the page.
  • How on earth could anyone utter the phrase, “You’ll eat those words!” with a modicum of believability unless one could actually wad up a scrap of paper containing said words and literally consume them? I fear such a phrase will be lost forever from the annals of speech.
  • No matter how hard I try, I cannot wrap my mind around a world without paper mache. Such a tragedy would likely produce generations of children compelled to mummify ripened fruit and unsuspecting pets with lasagna noodles dipped in a vat of paste. And could anyone blame them? I think not.
  • Perhaps even more dreadful, would be to endure childhood without the joy derived from pressing a fistful of Silly Putty upon the inky genius of fresh newsprint culled from the comics. It pains me to even entertain such a notion.
  • Furthermore, what about the legions of children who have yet to experience the thrill of crafting a pointy hat or a seaworthy vessel from the sports section?
  • Need I even mention the sense of panic I feel when I consider the impossibility of enshrouding my Christmas ornaments (and virtually every other fragile thing I own) within newsprint’s protective embrace? And how will I be able to reminisce without the yellowed pages before me? Tissue paper is so entirely pedestrian by comparison.
  • And lastly, what kind of sorry place would this be without witnessing our cats shredding newspapers and/or climbing into our laps while we’re trying desperately to read? A sorry place, indeed.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably reading something printed on paper). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2013 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Gratitude, The Write Stuff