Great Expectations

www.melindawentzel.comIn the dark of predawn I lay in bed, tucked snugly beneath my downy comforter, sleet pinging against the windowpanes in soft yet fitful waves. Against all odds associated with parenthood, no one under the age of eight burst into the room to announce that the sky was falling. Translation: My husband and I had had the presence of mind to skip setting the kids’ alarm clocks the night before, in anticipation of inclement weather almost certain to arrive by daybreak. So for a time, all was silent in this good house—except for the ticking of clocks and the tiny taps at the window.

As the not-so-surprising news of yet another school cancellation reached my ears in the wee hours that day, I was filled impossibly with hope. Hope that I would enjoy a morning devoid of the madness I had known all too well since September. Hope for a day abundant with hot cocoa, kindness and good cheer. Hope that I might finally summon the strength and ambition to take down the blasted Christmas tree. The one that has been standing very nearly straight in my living room for the past sixty-three days, mocking me on Inauguration Day as I addressed my cache of shamefully belated holiday cards.

The tree had to come down. It would come down. It was January 28th for Pete’s sake. Besides, I was tired of its condescending glare, as if it were looking down its boughs at me, judging my every deficiency. Shaming my inadequate core.

Moreover, with my army of helpers that would likely be at my disposal ALL DAY (since no one wanted to frolic in the freezing rain), I banked on being able to pack up and stow away every jingle bell, snowman, Santa likeness and string of garland-y foolishness in the entire house. To reclaim my space. At least until Easter.

Needless to say, lots of people here agreed that it was high time. “Mom, you know we’re going to get arrested, don’t you?”

“Arrested? For what?!”

“Because January’s almost over and we don’t even have our Christmas tree down yet! We’ll all be thrown in jail!”

“Whaaaaat?! Who’s going to throw us in jail?”

“The Holiday Police.”

“The Holiday Who?!”

“The Holiday Police. They arrest people who don’t do stuff right—like taking Christmas trees down BEFORE Groundhog Day. Helloooooooooo.”

She had a point.

All I had to do was glance at the calendar and then at the muddled mess surrounding me. Remnants of the holiday season were everywhere. The Christmas lights were completely shrouded with ice and fused impossibly to the trees and shrubs outside. The stockings were still hung—and shockingly, still laden with beloved items that had been tragically forgotten since Santa’s celebrated arrival. Gifts of every size, shape and hideous stage of disarray lay like carnage throughout the house and under the aforementioned evergreen, gloriously bedecked with enough ornament-age for a forest. Legions upon legions of festive-looking dishes, alarmingly bare except for the smarmy trail of cashews and the red and green fleckage of holiday candies, still rested upon my tabletops, whispering without end, “Pleeeease cleeeean meeeee.” Santa’s cookie plate begged to be returned to the cupboard, the crèche longed to be back in the attic and quite frankly, the mistletoe was tired of hanging around.

What’s more, I noted that the kids had been swiping stuff from the tree for weeks—like the reindeer, now chummy with their toy horses and sharing a corral, and the snowmen, warmly adopted by a family of teddy bears. I even discovered a few sparkly ornaments dangling precariously from the rooftops of dollhouses. Icicles maybe?

That said, it was way past time to begin the arduous process of un-decorating. Clearly, the snow day that had been bestowed upon us was a window of opportunity and perhaps the spark that would ignite my drive and determination to succeed in spite of myself. At least that was the plan.

But it was not to be. My great expectations for the day were shot by ten a.m. and my hopes for a tidier living room were all but dashed. For all intents and purposes, the thorny pine had become rooted there, a glaring reminder of my ineptitude as a putter-away-of-holiday-hoo-ha. Instead, we frittered away the time, putting six puzzles together, littering the house with Barbie dolls and dresses, devouring books, stuffing ourselves with chocolate-chip pancakes and lounging in our pajamas till it was almost evening—at which time I sent my brood outdoors to play in the snow that had FINALLY begun to fall in big, feathery flakes. A consolation prize for my efforts.

Then again, maybe my reward was the delicious chunk of time I spent fishing for puzzle pieces with my kids, eavesdropping on their conversations with their dolls, listening to the ice hit the windows—safe and sound in this good house.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and where the Holiday Police are destined to arrive).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Beauty of Mismanagement

1743_447180688691683_570931486_nAs I type this, it’s two-thirty in the afternoon on a weekday and everyone in my household is still wearing pajamas. No one has brushed his or her teeth, not one hair upon one solitary head has been coifed and thus far, exactly zero sit-down meals have been served. All concerned parties have opted to graze through the day like cattle, raiding the fridge and cupboards at will. Myself included. That being said, dishevelment abounds and lethargy has rained down upon ups like a scourge.

Indeed, the Supernanny would be horrified. And because I recognize the magnitude of my deplorableness, I can envision her disapproving glare—the way she’d scowl and shake her head at me. Like a taskmaster, she’d stand amidst my chaos with a big, fat marker in hand, fervently filling a white board with a host of solutions for dealing with the disorder and mismanagement that permeate my world. It’s likely that a complete overhaul of my parenting system and skills (or lack thereof) would be recommended if not demanded, necessitating the summoning of nanny reinforcements. Legions of them, quite possibly.

Naturally, we’d invite them in for imaginary tea—to be served within the confines of the not-so-imaginary blanket fort now consuming my living room. The one I allowed to be constructed. The one littered with cracker crumbs. The one from whence we viewed the antics of Tom & Jerry because I simply couldn’t bear to hear one more syllable emanating from Rush Limbaugh.

Granted, there is no school today, so the death of structure (which I condoned and perhaps orchestrated to my benefit) could, in fact, be deemed appropriate. Maybe even welcomed in some circles. Okay, tiny circles. Few in number. But quantifiable circles nonetheless. Even still, I ought to be ashamed of the sorry state of my domestic affairs. My ducks are undeniably in disarray. And that cannot be good.

I suppose it’s no secret that I don’t run a very tight ship. Admittedly, I pilot the Titanic most days—struggling to avoid the icebergs that pepper my hectic mornings. The women in the school office could attest to that fact. The ones who see me traipsing in to deliver forgotten lunchboxes and misplaced jackets—telling indicators of my ineptitude as a parent. Helen knows the score, too. She drives the big, yellow bus that we race to meet each morning—backpacks bouncing, shoelaces flapping and bellies sloshing with breakfast as we dash through the wet grass, my mind flying through the anxiety-driven Mom Checklist at warp speed: Is everyone wearing shoes and clean underwear…did they brush their teeth…did they actually EAT something…did I remember to pack their snacks…their library books…their homework…and so on.

The high schoolers sitting at the back of the bus know the awful truth, too. The ones who’ve forever peered through the clouded panes and watched me schlepping around the same silly book, The Tale of Despereaux—a wonderful story, I’m sure, but one I’ve failed to finish reading aloud since Christmas. I planned to share this literary gem with my brood at the bus stop, where we’d sit together on the curb and devour page after page as the gray morning skies surrender to the sun. I suppose I lug it there because I’m holding out hope that somehow we’ll find time to move past Chapter Three.

For whatever reason, I think I managed mornings better when my charges were kindergarteners. Back then we actually finished books together and even had time to discuss colorful characters—proof that my time management skills were at least reasonable and my mornings, less hectic. I hardly ever had to deliver a lunchbox or a coat because someone forgot it and I honestly don’t remember racing across the lawn to catch the bus—ever.

Then again, my memories of blanket forts and lazy days in pajamas are a bit fuzzy. It’s possible I embraced the notion of disorder back then more than I’d care to admit. Perhaps that’s the beauty of mismanagement—we conveniently forget the less-than-perfect-looking stuff of parenthood, yet savor every delicious moment while we’re living it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Words Matter

IMG_1638Today marks the 16th anniversary of my brother’s suicide. Seems like yesterday….

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a ninety-nine-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of greeting cards separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around a store with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another kid-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Fitness for Dummies

It has been said that dogs are the best brand of exercise equipment on the market. Given my penchant for failure as it relates to fitness, I guess I’m glad I own a dog. However, this leads me to question the wisdom behind a lot of my past purchases. Lately I’ve been wrestling with the notion of parting with my beloved treadmill—the one that has lived in my home for an eternity. And before that, in a shoebox-of-an-apartment I shared with my brother. And before that, in a house I shared with my first husband. Needless to say, the treadmill in question was far more impressive than the aforementioned apartment could’ve ever hoped to be. It also outlasted the abovementioned marriage and, in fact, wooed me enough to demand that it become part of my divorce settlement—so great was its ability to convince me that I couldn’t possibly function without it.

More often than not, said nugget of wonderfulness was situated near a window. A practical move based upon my perfectly undocumented belief that a view of the great outdoors would somehow inspire me to exercise with more fervor and regularity. Never mind that I can’t readily recall when I last used it. Or that my brood masterfully adorned it with a makeshift tightrope, time and again—designating it as a staging area for death defying trapeze acts with their dolls, as well as for storing an embarrassment of toys. Maybe that’s why I find it so completely endearing even now. It holds a wealth of memories—albeit ones that remind me of my inundated-with-kids’-stuff way of life. Or maybe it’s because I became enamored with the idea that the embodiment of fitness, both attainable and discreet, could be neatly tucked into a corner of my home—affording me at least some semblance of control over my vastly disordered environment and scheduled-to-the-hilt sort of existence.

Proving that I had learned next to nothing about myself as it related to ambition (or the lack thereof), years later I whined for yet another piece of fitness equipment—a recumbent bicycle. My current husband, dutiful and sweet that he is, ordered me one. A fancy-schmancy, mondo-programmable, ergonomically designed, totally unaffordable slice of heaven. A bike that promised I would look like a Greek goddess in six minutes or less—all in the comfort and convenience of my home. Or maybe it was six weeks of grueling workouts I’d have to endure in order to achieve such a feat. I can’t be sure.

Shortly before it arrived, however, I remember relishing the thought that it would soon be MINE—to pore over and ogle to the point of delirium, to pedal and program with unbridled enthusiasm, to become hopelessly fixated with its profusion of bells and whistles which, of course, included an adjustable fan, a nifty little pair of transport wheels and comfort-fit handlebars. What’s more, there was a reading rack gizmo and an ideally positioned nook for stowing one’s remote control and/or wine goblet—so thoughtful and intuitive were the makers of my latest and greatest obsession.

As one might expect, we plunked said glorious piece of machinery near a window and angled it to face the television—lest I become bored while peering at the tired lawn and less-than-inspiring shrubbery outside. Sadly, tedium rained down like a scourge and the bike has since joined the ranks of every other hunk of fitness-related hype with which I allowed myself to become shamelessly infatuated (i.e. the legions of dumbbells now gathering dust beneath my couch, the gym membership I failed to use—EVER, the perfectly coiled yoga mats currently housed in a closet, unceremoniously sandwiched between someone’s snow boots and a forgotten bowling ball, the aerobics DVDs).

Despite all logic and understanding, however, part of me holds out hope that one day I’ll redeem myself by becoming consumed with the notion that the abovementioned items can, indeed, be resurrected. Even by someone who fails spectacularly to will herself to do much of anything—aside from walk the cussed dog.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably walking the dog).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Merry and Bright

IMG_0148I love indoor Christmas lights. Tiny white ones, more specifically—the sort that cast a soft glow at dusk, filling a darkened room with ambient warmth, reminding me that it was totally worth risking life and limb to hang them atop windows and French doors as I foolishly balanced on a step stool, the meaty arm of a sofa and once, even upon a tall stack of pillows that were strategically placed upon said sofa. Yep. Totally worth it.

My husband, by contrast, adores such festive trappings, but is less than enamored with the idea of wrestling with them for more than twenty-seven minutes—the average time it takes to retrieve the tangled masses from the attic, arrange them in clumps on the floor and then wrap them around a Christmas tree in a manner that is both geometrically and aesthetically pleasing. What’s more, he can’t stand it when he makes the inevitable discovery in the thick of decorating madness (i.e. lights that won’t light, bulbs that are broken or flicker with the slightest bit of movement and entire strands of lights that are sporadically lit at best, a far cry from merry and bright).

Of course, these are the very same lights that functioned perfectly last year—the ones we tested before boxing them up and shoving them into the deep recesses of the attic. I’m convinced that something criminal happens in there between New Year’s and Thanksgiving. Something that can probably be traced to Elf on a Shelf, or an equally reprehensible little creature inclined to tamper with our trimmings. However, we don’t own any of the aforementioned elves, nor would I feel compelled to put them on a shelf or anywhere else because they creep the cranberries out of me. Nevertheless, it’s clear that something goes on in that attic that would explain our less-than-functional lights.

Yes, it’s possible they’re just chintzy, and that we’re too cheap to care.

At any rate, we are then faced with a dilemma—the one my husband and I experience each and every year. Do we ditch the strands of lights that refuse to cooperate completely, effectively ridding ourselves of the headache that is defined by tightening and checking ALL of the bulbs individually? Or do we stuff the dysfunctional segments of strands into the tree, where we hope no one will notice and subsequently judge our character?

And let us not forget the problem of what to do with the strands that won’t light at all. If you’re anything like my husband, you’ll keep plugging them into the wall socket and jiggling the wires, repeating the idiocy that is wrapped in denial. Admittedly, I am slightly amused by his antics, so I encourage him to continue trying. Again. And again. Eventually, though, he decides to part with the wretched strands, leaving them for dead. Meanwhile, I cram yard upon yard of half-functioning light strings into the tree, doing my level best to disguise the ones we’ve determined to be misfits this Christmas—because a) I’m too lazy to go to the store to buy more and b) I’m too stubborn to unravel what I worked so hard to position on the boughs in the first place.

“It’s fine,” I rationalize. “We’ll manage with the ones that DO work and no one will be the wiser.”

I have to wonder, as I cruise around town at dusk, peering into yellow squares of windows at fir trees and mantles aglow with twinkly, white lights—do rogue trimmings plague their households with the same ferocity as ours? Maybe we’re an anomaly. Or maybe the universe hates us. Or maybe, just maybe, our Christmas spirit is being tested. I suppose it stands to reason that we continue to pass since we rise to the occasion each year, making our home merry and bright in spite of the intolerable struggle that has become familiar if nothing else.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably messing with Christmas lights.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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