Monthly Archives: April 2010

Bare-naked Ladies

Walk through any home where children reside and you’ll find them.

Naked Barbie dolls, that is. Ken, too.

Piled haphazardly, standing at perfect attention or stuffed inside a Barbie Dream House with nothing but bare feet and legs protruding from the dormer windows—that’s where they’ll be. They have but one thing in common—nakedness.

I find this observable fact rather amusing—and curious. Why do they do it? Why do our children strip them completely bare with not so much as a pair of pink, plastic stilettos to dignify them? Even G.I. Joe’s dog tags often wind up missing in action. Our kids beg and plead for those prized accessories, but when it comes to serious make-believe, they clearly play second fiddle.

How do we know this?

The moment we leave the store, our impetuous charges tear into the packages, rip off the clothing and begin the important ritual of inspection, as if every rubbery, synthetic toe and ear lobe must be accounted for. At home, the scrutiny only intensifies. In a less-than-gentle manner, they twist, bend and contort the latest Barbie clan member as if it must pass some sort of torturous muster.

Then the real drama begins.

It’s time to make them talk—to each other, of course. Or to themselves—a rudimentary soliloquy of sorts. I have to admit, listening to such “conversations” is one of my favorite things about being a parent. It’s like spying, but legal in all 50 states. And it’s true; kids do say the damnedest things. Many of which occur during Barbie powwows.

As if the issue of nudity isn’t enough, in our household the existing toyscape is even more bizarre. Not only are the dolls here naked as jaybirds, some are also missing limbs and a couple have no heads. Granted, this does lend itself to highly animated doctor play since these particular Barbies are in dire need of medical attention.

Or a trauma unit.

It’s amazing to me how children can be mesmerized by toys that are rife with imperfections—like blatantly obvious deficiencies in the appendage department. I suppose it’s no different today than during my own childhood though. My fascination never waned even though many of my little green army men (my brother’s, actually) had been gnawed beyond recognition by our dog.

Clearly, active combat was to blame.

Even at that age, I knew all was fair in love and war—even savagely cruel helmet nibbling. It went with the territory.

Apparently, naked Barbie dolls serve a similar purpose. They are part and parcel of nearly every child’s active imagination.

The jury is still out, however, on the missing head/limb variety.

Planet Mom. It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Kid-Speak, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Creatures of Habit

I have a favorite pair of sweatpants that I’ve owned since the Precambrian period. They’re a tired shade of gray, with barely a suggestion of the navy lettering that once graced its cottony surface. American Eagle Athletic Department, I think, is stamped there—even still.

Of course, they’re shamefully dilapidated, torn and tattered beyond all repair. My mother-in-law, master seamstress and sock darner extraordinaire, dug deeply into her repertoire of needle-and-thread-ish miracles time and again to patch them up and to make them whole—or at least presentable. Sometimes she succeeded. Sometimes not. Mostly she just shook her head; dismayed by my stubbornness and astonished by my inability to recognize when something had long since passed its prime.

Then again, I have trouble in the produce aisle.

I must admit, most would be embarrassed to be seen with me, clad in such disgraceful toggery, kneecaps naked to the world. What am I saying? MY DOG is embarrassed to be seen with me. But the stupid things have charm. They have character. And they possess that deliciously intangible quality of familiarity. Slipping into said fleeciness in the dead of winter or even during a cool summer’s eve feels comfortable and oh-so-right—like the warmth of a lover’s arms, the refuge of a mother’s embrace, the company of an old friend. And on those rare occasions, when I entertain the notion of trading them in for something shiny and new, I feel nothing less than the shame of betrayal. The ignominy of sin.

Simply put, I cannot bear the thought of parting with my cherished garb; although my rational left-brained self knows better. The wretched things need to be ditched. Out with the old. In with the new.

I suppose I’m no better or worse than anyone else who has ever been mired in denial, inextricably attached to that-which-is-worn-and-weary. We all have issues of a similar sort. Some are just more debilitating than others. That being said, my husband refuses to chuck any of his shabby, old T-shirts, which are perhaps some of the most pathetic examples of apparel on the face of the earth (second only to my sweatpants). Indeed, he lovingly deems those prized entities as something far from archaic. “They’re seasoned,” he defends. “Broken-in like a good leather ball glove.” He won’t dispose of his stinking water shoes either, which now sport portholes through which his toes protrude freely—a hideous sight to behold. Oddly enough, the man owns another pair. Brand spanking new ones with nary a defect. He bought them because he knew it was time for a change, only he couldn’t follow through.

Needless to say, dysfunction doesn’t fall far from our family tree. Eccentricity flourishes under this roof and there is rarely a day without someone hoarding something that ought not to. Ratty toothbrushes, wadded-up Band-Aids (Oh, the horror!), rocks of all shapes and sizes, discarded scraps of paper, foolish tripe harvested from the floor of the school bus or from any number of classrooms. And the list goes on; but whenever I attempt to rid my world of such idiocy, my brood shrieks in protest, “Why do you want to take away our memories, Mom?! That stuff is special to us!”

And the stockpiling circus continues. But the most bizarre item yet to be

squirreled away and vehemently defended has been a brown paper sack for which a certain eight-year-old developed a crippling affinity. The bag itself was quite ordinary with regard to its form and function, however when its tour of duty surpassed the bounds of reasonableness (a month, maybe?), that’s when I hit the ENOUGH ALREADY button. “I can’t keep patching these damn holes with tape!” I muttered to no one. “I’m not running a fricking triage center!” (Read: I have taped tape on top of tape, AND IF I HAVE TO TAPE ANYMORE, I’m going to light myself on fire).

Of course, we own roughly a bazillion perfectly wonderful bags WITHOUT CAVERNOUS HOLES that have been at my daughter’s disposal since early September. Bags begging to be toted to school…eager to be personalized with her scribbles and scratches…hankering for the opportunity (tedious though it might be) to house THE EXACT SAME SNACK each and every day from now till eternity. Grok!

“But I like my bag. And my teacher likes my bag. She thinks the doggies I drew on it are pretty. I’m keeping it for-ever and EVER! And the little holes are cool, too, because they let me peek inside to see what I have for my snack.” Are you forgetting, my dear child, that you ask for the VERY SAME THING every damn day?! For the love of God, you already KNOW what’s inside!

Not surprisingly, she forbid me from applying duct tape to the massive and multiple tears (tempting though it might have been), because that would negate the whole peeking-at-the-stupid-snack dealie. She then insisted that I use see-through mailing tape to repair it.

And made me promise not to trash her beloved bag. Ever.

And because I’m nothing but a pansy, that’s exactly what I did. I perished the thought of using duct tape and I vowed to never dispose of her ridiculous sack—so as not to hoist my Horrible Mommy flag any higher.

Likewise, I keep the wailing and gnashing of teeth at bay by letting said disturbingly-obsessed-with-sameness creature kiss her toenails “goodbye” before I trim them. Seriously. She does this. A la Scarlett O’Hara-inspired drama, this strange child of mine delivers a teary-eyed farewell to each and every nail as if sending them off to war or to the gallows or something equally horrible.

What a weirdo.

She’ll probably wind up darning socks for a living and sharing a shack with 37 cats, 12 dogs and an ill-mannered parakeet—imprisoned, of course, by the mounds of rubbish she could never bear to throw away.

It’s also likely I’ll be buried in my sweatpants.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with my infinitely eccentric brood).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Kid-Speak, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

“It’s Joe the Plumber. I’ve Come to Fix the Sink.”

I love the fact that my kids have graduated to that stage where they can (and will) venture outside to blow the stink off them. Without me. Hence, I can vegetate here, blissfully tapping away at the keyboard, poised to share all the meaningless drivel I can possibly generate. And I will…I promise, all the while watching my dear heathens cavort and climb and twirl and whatever else it is that kids do to entertain themselves in the great outdoors—to include “squishing only the bad bugs, Mom.”

So now to the task of sharing meaningless drivel. Perhaps I should tell you about my most recent (and mildly immobilizing) preoccupation—that of being utterly convinced that the plumbers “…who came to fix the sink” (neither of whom was named Joe, incidentally) had every opportunity to rig up one of those hidden camera gizmos in our shower. Geez Louise, they trudged up and down our staircase and into and out of our master bath at least 60 bazillion times! Unsupervised! What in God’s name was I thinking?!!

Logically it follows that they did, in fact, install something sinister. Something unspeakably evil. Something horribly intrusive. The whole thing just creeps me out—in a Sharon Stone Sliver sort of way.

Of course, this proves I am completely insane (never mind riddled with paranoia), which makes perfect sense. Because this is how my mind works. Or doesn’t. I get something entirely absurd (like said bit of ridiculousness) wedged in my pea brain and I simply cannot let it go. I’m shampooing and lathering and warbling (at best) some silly ass song while in the shower—the one that those wonderful plumbers so expertly repaired—while secretly wondering, “How do I look? Is this stupid thing recording in color or Psycho inspired black and white? Have the idiots been kind enough to put tape over my eyes and make it look as if I’ve shaved my legs in the last century? Sweet Jesus, I hope so.”

Paranoia is a strange and crippling thing, methinks. Perhaps I need shower therapy.

But I won’t be calling the plumber.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (not so lucid at times).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Smother May I?

My oldest will turn 22 tomorrow. That said, I feel slightly older than dirt or rocks or something decidedly ancient. Ugh.

Someone hand me a machete. Some scissors. Nail clippers. Anything! Puuuuleeeeez! I am in desperate need of said sharp-ish devices so that I might finally, and for all eternity, sever the apron strings that bind me inextricably to my eldest daughter, now 21.

To be clear, she is not to blame. It is I. I am the foolish one—the insanely overprotective, nurture-obsessed fusspot-of-a-mother who simply won’t let go of her woman-ish child to save herself. It is entirely possible that I need therapy. Admittedly, I have issues. Serious issues with mothering. Or more correctly, smothering.

Just last week, in fact, I gave the poor kid some money and asked her to run some errands for me, ones that would involve d-r-i-v-i-n-g somewhere, p-a-y-i-n-g for things and actually i-n-t-e-r-a-c-t-i-n-g with people. Imagine that. At any rate, from the moment she left until she returned a short time later, I was filled completely with a host of irrational fears, some of which involved the very real possibility of being abducted by aliens, being whisked away by a man in a monkey suit and, of course, being suddenly stricken with dementia—in which case she’d wander the earth interminably searching for that which she couldn’t remember anyway.

Naturally (and as expected), I also obsessed over dreadful car crashes she might have, navigational nightmares she could experience and the legions of unsavory characters with bad teeth and mismatched socks she was sure to encounter during said perilous journey to town. Never mind all the road trips to urban destinations she’s made without the benefit of mapish entities (i.e. the countless times she’s made me DERANGED WITH PANIC for not having enough sense to take along a fricking MAP of metro D.C.). Grok!

Further, I became gravely concerned that she might not remember to pick up the book I so desperately needed for comic relief that day (Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay), she would forget to count the change to make sure it was right and by some strange twist of fate, her ability to string coherent sentences together like, “My Mom ordered this book. I’m here to pick it up,” would be lost forever, leaving her at the mercy of bookstore employees who would then send her packing with an obscenely pitiful piece of literature just to clear the aisles of derelicts and whatnot.

Needless to say, none of the above mentioned horrors came to fruition. But that is not to say they couldn’t have. Because they could have.

I’m just saying….

To be sure, I sent my dear child out into the big, bad world armed with that which I deemed necessary for survival: a Ziploc baggie with enough cash, a detailed list of the stops I had planned for her (complete with street addresses and suggestions for where to park), coins for the meter and a reminder that she should call with the least little question or concern—like forgetting how to breathe, for instance. It’s a wonder I didn’t hand her milk money and tell her to look both ways before crossing the street—something my husband swears I whispered in her ear on the day she left for college.

I did no such thing. At least not that I can readily recall.

It’s true. I have issues with letting go and must fight the urge each and every day to position a safety net beneath her wherever she might venture. She’s not two anymore, despite how vividly I remember that period in time. The way she twisted and twirled her hair (or mine) when she grew tired and longed to be rocked. Her well worn thumb planted securely between those pouty lips. Those blue-gray eyes, framed by a thicket of lashes—lashes that lay like petals on her sweet face only yesterday.

Indeed, only yesterday.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (feeling wistful these days).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel


Filed under Leaving the Nest, Love and Loss, Me Myself and I, Mushy Stuff, The Woman-Child

And the Deadline Looms…

It has become painfully apparent that someone didn’t want me to meet my writing deadlines last week, nor was I afforded ample time for the most basic of necessities: blog lurking. Oh, the horror!

Well, it certainly seemed that way—with every wretched creature or thing in this household serving as a colossal distraction. There were those with an unquenchable thirst for adult conversation, those who became obsessed with humming and singing some inane little jingle, those who crawled onto my lap to punch the keyboard with glee, those who needed help fishing nuggets of soggy cereal out of their orange juice and those who had fevers and sore throats and the urge to hurl into a big bucket every 10 minutes.

Further, whenever a window of peace and quiet happened upon me, the damn dog whimpered, demanding to be walked or fed. Worse yet, our newish hermit crabs felt compelled to seize each and every precious sliver of silence I witnessed, scuttling about like spiders, dragging their fiendish little bodies hither and yon and making my skin crawl with every scrape and scratch that emanated from that loathsome, stench-filled tank. Gak!

To top it off, I had to deal with a flooded bathroom one morning—which stemmed from owning a stupid pipe that decided to dissociate from its stupid tank—resulting in a stupid deluge that lapped at my heels until I wised up enough to throw down some stupid towels. Curious onlookers took impeccable notes of the tirade which ensued. Thankfully, no one could reach or operate the video camera.

Perhaps it’s just that I have issues with being distracted. Maybe it’s all in my silly head and I simply need to learn how to focus more effectively. Yeah. I’ll bet that’s it. Deadlines or no deadlines. Learn to focus.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in a highly distracted state).

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Everyone is Beautiful

Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago (as was the case with the Bright Side of Disaster), but this is a newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her second novel once more. On a side note, Get Lucky, Center’s third novel, hit stores just last week!

As I type these very words, I am hopelessly mired in a grievous state of mourning. My head is hung, my drapes are drawn and the sad reality that comes with turning the last page of an engaging and truly palpable read has settled deep within my soul. I may as well drag my sorry self into a corner and sulk while I wait for Katherine Center’s third novel to be released.

That said, Everyone is Beautiful is utterly fabulous in an I-can’t-put-it-down-to-save-my-life sort of way. And as was the case with The Bright Side of Disaster, Center’s first novel, I devoured its pages multiple times, hoping to sink again and again into the tangible existence she so vividly painted.

Not surprisingly, Center’s cast of characters and the remarkable web of relationships she crafted are as colorful as they are complex. And the crux of the narrative she serves up provides a meaty and satisfying meal for those fortunate enough to partake. Her depictions of parenthood, involving poop and Play-Doh and the glorious sacrifices we make for our children each and every day, are spot-on, making the tale that much more believable. Further, she skillfully employs a series of heartwarming flashbacks, giving readers a glimpse into the past and helping us piece together the whys and wherefores of everyone’s actions—especially relevant to the logic of love, if there is such an animal.

But what I found utterly delicious about this literary gem was the fact that I could identify with much of what Lanie, the main character, felt about motherhood. About marriage. About choices. About body image. About longing to reclaim and reconnect with the self I once knew—before the onslaught of life and love and the wonderful mess said “fork-in-the-road” journey so inevitably engendered. Now and forever.

As a mother of young children, I, too, felt almost driven to throw myself into something—anything—that I alone could own and tap into as a source of sustenance and salvation. To consume that which promised to define me (in some sense) as something other than a mother, gulp after glorious gulp.

For some, the garden calls. For others, it’s the kitchen or the gym. Still others are drawn to journaling or scrapbooking or knitting. Nevertheless, all serve as nourishment for the soul. For me, it was pencil sketching, then pastels and finally, photography. Naturally, the irresistible desire to write struck at that time as well—a compulsion that is perhaps as fervent today as it was on Day One of motherhood. Looking back, I’d surmise that such diversions helped to shape me and perhaps strengthened my ability to handle all that was on my plate—which is a good thing, I think. All moms should have something that shouts, “This is me!”

Center, of course, gets that and reminds us throughout the novel of the inherent worth and meaning we possess as parents, the deluge of precious gifts we receive as a result and of the beauty contained within each and every human being.

In the end, she is right—everyone is beautiful—much like the lovely gentleman I met in the grocery store who asked if I might read aloud a Mother’s Day card for him. He wanted to be sure the words intended for his wife possessed that perfect blend of romance and undying gratitude for all that she is and has been in years past. He could have selected just any old card in that section and hoped for the best with regard to its message, but instead swallowed his pride and approached me, banking on my ability to manage fine print.

Of course, I was happy to oblige and after stumbling upon “the” card, he thanked me profusely, smiled and turned to walk away, content with the symphony of poetry and prose contained within. Indeed, a beautiful thing.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (anxious to lock myself in a closet with Center’s third and destined-for-fame novel, Get Lucky).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Bright Side of Disaster

Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago…but hey, this is a relatively newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her first novel once more. Plus, her latest, Get Lucky, hits stores today!

Confession: I am a despicable creature. Despicable in the sense that I failed to fulfill a promise to Random House—the folks who believed I could, at the very least, string a few coherent sentences together in support of Katherine Center’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, within a timeframe that one would reasonably expect a one-armed Capuchin monkey to accomplish the same.

Let the flogging begin.

Needless to say, I’ve had said bookish wonder in my possession for 229 days (Gasp!) and until now have yet to utter so much as a syllable never mind an entire post regarding the worthiness of this extraordinary book.

Perhaps the monkey would have been a better bet.

Of course, I’ve been extremely busy harvesting all sorts of lame excuses to explain away my shameful behavior. The muse left me. Someone hid my thesaurus. The dog needed to be walked—some 700 times (a conservative estimate). I needed to buy some blue swirly stuff for the toilets (which I shall use one day soon). The children needed to be ferried to camp…to soccer…to dance…to swim lessons…to McDonald’s. Furthermore, 87 sidewalk chalk villages, 43 blanket forts and roughly a dozen worm cakes needed to be created.

You get the idea.

In any event, you need to buy this book. Immediately or sooner. Abandon your beloved computer this very instant, sprint to your local bookstore and demand that Center’s debut novel be placed within your hot little hands at once—lest you die not having savored this 225-page nugget of remarkableness. It is a positively scrumptious read, in every palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible sense of the word. Indeed, I was smitten from Paragraph One till the bitter end and completely wooed for a host of reasons: I was charmed to death by its cast of characters, intrigued by the narrative’s wealth of unpredictability and awed by Center’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales.

Perhaps more importantly, for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments solitude was mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world faded to black as I sank deeper and deeper into the pages of this literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before my house began to stir, and in the quiet of night when day was done, I dissolved into the woodwork of life—having been transported beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. I’d like to think I emerged as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Truth be told, I was physically incapable of putting the silly thing down once I started, although I had to lock myself in a closet a few times in order to fend off the barrage of distractions (i.e. needy children and pets) that periodically rain down on me like a scourge. Hence, the delay in providing the blurbages here before you. Confession: I read Bright Side two sinfully indulgent times. Okay three. It was that good.

At the risk of sounding completely cliché, I felt as though I knew the fictional people that Center created. I could hear them saying whatever it was they said. I could imagine them doing the sorts of things she had them doing and by all accounts, the trip to Breastfeeding Hell she so vividly described made my toes curl. By the same token, her portrayal of the warm and wonderful kisses her knight-in-shining-armor so passionately planted made me melt. Okay, I was a puddle upon the floor. A veritable pile of mush incapable of rational thought.

Jenny, the central figure in Bright Side, was a wholesome and impossibly optimistic creature, yet at her very core a womanchild whose raw and perilous journey to the banks of motherhood made all who have ever ventured there both pity her plight and celebrate her triumphs and joys. I loved her unconditionally and wanted so desperately to whisper some advice into her ear. By contrast, Dean, that slothful, smarmy bit-of-slime that Center painted as her match-made-in-hell, made my blood boil. Like Jenny, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to light him on fire. Many times over. But of course, she made us peek through our fingers to see the good in him, the part that she fell in love with, the part that helped her picture the family unit they would ostensibly become. Later, I came to understand she had merely fallen in love with the idea of being in love. Dean was convenient, but a fucking train wreck nonetheless. Reading Chapter Five was like buying a first class ticket to that train wreck.

Then in Chapter Seven, she introduced us to Dean’s mother, that feculent and oh-so-haughty beast filled to the very brim with evil. I wanted so badly to choke her. To death. Or very near death, but perhaps not so close that she couldn’t crawl away to a far corner of the earth. Where she would rot.

And then there was Gardner. Earthy. Solid. Nurturing. Downright edible. If a movie is ever spun from this tale, Hugh Jackman must play his role—and he positively must wield a deck of playing cards and a beloved dog like Herman. Likewise, someone Mel Gibson-ish ought to be in the running for Jenny’s dad. In my less-than-professional opinion, it all makes perfect sense.

Needless to say, Center did a marvelous job letting us get to know all the colorful characters woven throughout her story. Jenny’s stylish yet sensible mother, her adoring and infinitely charming father, her thick-and-thin friend, Meredith, her sounding board, Claudia, her nemesis, Tara, the entire cast and crew of her Mommy Group, Dr. Hale, Herman, Dr. Blandon and, of course, Maxie.

Not surprisingly, I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness like the aforementioned in one sitting. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating. I can now add Katherine Center’s material to my list of that which makes me drunk with joy. Then again, chocolate is equally redeeming.

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

Perhaps the bright side of disaster here (pun intended) is that I’ve redeemed myself somewhat in the eyes of Random House. There’s a modicum of hope anyway that they will be kind and compassionate enough to overlook my ineptitude as a blogger and zip me a copy of Center’s soon-to-be-released second novel, Everyone is Beautiful.

Hint. Hint.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (sometimes hiding from my children deep within the bowels of a closet, devouring books, of course).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

P.S. Dear Random House Folks: For the record, you’ve already zipped me a copy of Everyone is Beautiful and I’ll likely re-post my review of that as well. Thanks again!

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