Monthly Archives: September 2010

Guilty as Sin

I felt terrible. Horrible. Guilty as sin. Responsible for a wicked and truly deplorable deed. A gruesome atrocity. Perhaps one of the worst in my ill-famed toy-wrecking career.

The victim: Ken (as in Barbie’s Ken). Mr. Mattel himself. Of course, there have been others that have gone before him—abused and slaughtered in cold plastic, at the hands of a madwoman bent on “cleansing and purging” the existing toy-scape. Secretly disposed of in a horrifically callous manner; their lifeless, twisted bodies and assorted appendages wedged and crammed in among spongy tomatoes and moldy cheese. Tuesday’s trash.

I don’t know what drives me to do it—to clandestinely rid my home of dilapidated Barbie dolls and other playthings that annoy the hell out of me.

They just push my buttons, I guess—the Barbies especially—scads of them littered across my living room floor, lounging around like they own the place, mocking me with their perfect little painted-on smiles. They don’t even dress half the time.

Heathens.

Maybe I need therapy. Something to help me cope with feeling as if I am suffocating beneath a mountain of toys, many of which happen to be those blasted Barbie dolls. Perhaps I should peruse the Yellow Pages for available services (like Inundated and Lovin’ It!).

The circumstances surrounding Ken’s grave injuries were quite unlike those surrounding all the others’. There was no motive. No anger. No fit of uncontrollable rage. I didn’t even curse—except for after the fact. Honestly, I had absolutely no intention of causing good ol’ hand-me-down Kensey-poo any undue harm when late one evening I lobbed him in the vicinity of his home in the drawer—where he would sleep for the night. Good grief; he had been a part of our family since my oldest was still undressing him—six years ago! It’s obvious, however, that I had caused irreversible and unconscionable damage. I’ll be the first to admit it.

No one on earth could have been more surprised to discover the severity of Ken’s condition, following what I considered to be a modest mid-air excursion—a mere puddle-jump. It was the length of our coffee table. Not an inch more. I swear. And it was an easy, underhanded pitch, a toss really—in marked contrast to the more typical frenzy-induced toy-launchings I so enjoy.

Imagine my utter shock—the abject horror—when I learned of Ken’s fate. His entire left leg, from hips to toes, was completely DETACHED from his body. It laid there next to him. Askew on the carpet. A separate entity. I felt as though it might come to life at any moment and hop around the room on its own. Strange but true.

The guilt I felt was beyond comprehension. The girls were sleeping peacefully upstairs, likely dreaming of all the skirts and stilettos with which they’d adorn Ken the next day. (What can I say—they’re easily amused). How would they handle his dismemberment? His lifelong handicap? The depression that would surely follow?

Perhaps we could get a group rate on therapy. The girls, Ken and myself, of course.

To be continued….

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home for Wayward Toys, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Bad Mood Munchers

Forever, it seems, my children have brought me newly created pieces of wonderment to ogle—eager for both praise and encouragement for their Picasso-esque efforts. I’d like to hope that I’ve always been mindful of their feelings as they bestow upon me their most prized offerings on the planet. It could be a self-portrait destined for the refrigerator, a dachshund or a duck, lovingly wrought from a dollop of Play-Doh, or an

impressive rendering of a dinosaur, hewn from a large and unwieldy sheet of poster board.

Likewise, I’ve been called upon to admire masterpieces that are nothing short of remarkable—like the tiny box turtle one of my progenies recently fashioned from an empty Nerds box, the Rapunzel-inspired 3-D tower (with a working drawbridge!) she made from a mere sheet of paper and a bit of tape and string, or the “songbird” she ingeniously crafted from an acorn and a couple of feathers harvested from the back yard, “…because I wanted a pet bird, Mom, to live in the birdcage Grandma gave us.”

Indeed, these are delicate matters and it is imperative that I handle the psyches of my fledgling artists with the utmost of care and sensitivity. God forbid I fail to ooh

and aah appropriately—providing that much anticipated glowing review of a certain someone’s work, or that I make the colossal error of misidentifying a beloved nugget of whateverness, placed in my hands for immediate appraisal. “It’s a…….malamute with three heads, right?”

Sometimes it’s best to simply shut up and wait for my brood to inadvertently tell me what this or that mystery item is, so that screw ups are minimal. Thankfully, the bulk of what comes home from school (i.e. that which hails from Mrs. Pagano’s exceedingly wonderful art class) is readily identifiable. Good thing.

Thus far in their academic journey Thing One and Thing Two have proffered the most endearing set of polar bears imaginable, some chunky caterpillars that I adore completely, a Canada goose whose precious neck has since been repaired, a robin redbreast that surely summoned the spring, a handsome set of Italian frescos that rendered me utterly speechless and a handful of gloriously ornate vessels for storing jewelry and whatnot—etched abundantly with love.

All I ever managed to churn out as a grade-schooler was a bunch of stupid ashtrays (which, by today’s standards, would be deemed slightly appalling). Oh, and a handful of dreadfully unimaginative pot-like thingies and a deranged-looking papier-mache rabbit for which I am hard pressed—even now—to suggest a legitimate purpose. Further, there was an embarrassment of highly unremarkable, kiln-fired blobs of clay I remember hauling home to join my shrine to bad art. At least my kids’ creations possess irrefutable aesthetic value if not a preponderance of practicality. Plus, I know what the stuff is—with the exception of the Bad Mood Munchers.

That said, I reached into their backpacks not long ago expecting to discover yet another pair of entities to marvel instantaneously. Instead I found two fist-sized, lumps of hardened clay—ones that were slathered profusely with vibrant blotches of color and warped and mangled beyond all recognition—absolutely reveling in the quality of nebulousness. But as I examined each mass a bit more closely, I began to discern a face of sorts—a distorted rage-filled visage with deep-set eyes that seemed to pierce my very soul, a fearsome set of eyebrows that I couldn’t help but trace with my finger and a maw that would forever remain agape, likely for the purpose of swallowing smallish children whole. In a word, it was hideous and begged the question, “What on earth IS it?”

“It’s Angry Man, Mom. My Bad Mood Muncher. Isn’t he AWESOME?! And look, I made him a castle to live in!” Thing Two crowed with delight.

As I stood in stunned silence, her cohort informed me that her infinitely weirdish clay creation had been dubbed Steve, which stumped me perhaps more than anything.

Steve?! Who names a monstrosity like THAT ‘Steve’ for crying out loud?! What’s it for, anyway?” I felt driven to ask.

“It’s for when I get angry, Mom. I’m supposed to find some paper and write down what I’m mad about then twist the paper and try to tear it in half, which uses up A LOT of energy and helps get my anger out. If I’m still angry after I try (and fail) to tear the twisted paper, I have to open it up and calmly shred it into little pieces. Then I put the pieces in his castle thingie and he EATS them. Then my bad mood is GONE! Isn’t that entirely kewl?!”

Well after being enlightened on the subject, I had to admit the idea of defusing anger was slightly brilliant. And as art projects go, it was probably wicked fun besides. That said, I now want a Bad Mood Muncher to call my very own—one that promises to devour all that I find completely irksome on this planet.

Indeed, I’m quite sure I could feed the beast with the best of them.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (fishing bits of paper from Angry Man’s mouth—some of which was twisted unmercifully, meticulously piecing the scraps together and, stupidly, reading the wrath-filled messages contained therein).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Refrigerator Art, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to October

September’s here—and almost gone. The kids are back at school now, merrily soaking up all the bookish stuff their impressionable little craniums can possibly hold, making friends, making adjustments and making sense of this nonsensical place. And they’re eager—oh-so-eager—to share that brimming cache of newfound information, to enlighten those of us who might not otherwise know that “Infinity’s the biggest number there is, Mommy; but you can’t count that high.” I’ve also been informed that a certain lad attempts to burp at least as many times before the school bell rings. Color me enlightened yet again.

Quite honestly, the best part of my day involves listening to their exciting exploits as first graders. There is a certain richness and innocence to it, and a quality of mystery and intrigue beyond being privy to all-that-is-meaningful and newsworthy to a six-year-old. In the past several weeks, I’ve learned about new additions to the playground. New faces on the bus. Automatic “water spencers” in the restrooms. Sightings of a beloved kindergarten teacher in the hallways. The cafeteria food and its ever-frenzied mass consumption. Usually our discussions take place over something meatloafy or potatoish at the dinner table. My husband chimes in, too, adding yet another element of adventure to the mix. Life as a high school principal is far from dull, I’ve been told; although nothing thus far has topped the Sir Burps-A-Lot blurbage. I doubt that anything will before June.

The highlights of my day, however, often pale in comparison. Tales of wading through Legos and laundry, both in dire need of being restored to their rightful places in the Universe, seem dreadfully uninteresting by contrast. Sprinkle in the vast array of irksome conversations I’ve held with telemarketers, the meltdowns I’ve had over computer difficulties and the countless tirade-like soliloquies I’ve delivered to the Barbies and plastic dinosaurs that reign supreme in this household and you have a rough estimate of just how stimulating my day truly is. The mornings I wrestle with writer’s block or the notion of dusting a piece of furniture or hauling the lost but not forgotten vacuum from the bowels of a closet (many times, just for show) are particularly exhilarating. Add to that my duties as Flip-Flop Finder and it’s hard to imagine I’d ever be bored.

But amidst the tedium I have reclaimed my freedom—that priceless commodity for which I longed all summer. Yes I have. And there is something to be said for that, despite the homework, the crammed-to-capacity after-school calendars and the impossible bedtime routines each school year brings. June, July and August—home 24/7 with my needy charges—serve to remind me that I love autumn. Oh yes I do. Crisp mornings, sun-baked afternoons, soccer games (a new wrinkle this year!) and children (mine especially) boarding that bright and shiny school bus each day are wondrous events. Off they go to the glorious Land of First Grade—situated conveniently near the Land of Kindergarten, to which we all grew so fond just a short time ago.

So for all intents and purposes, I am thrilled with what has transpired in the past month. Euphoric over my current liberated state. Reunited with my marbles—yet again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to October. As I trekked that familiar path, I discovered something quite remarkable—there is bitter amidst the sweet. Indeed, I am torn between feelings of sheer joy and elation over my newly bestowed chunk of non-mommy time and abject woe over the realization that I miss my kids beyond all words and understanding. There. I said it. I’m a guilt-ridden, mawkish piece of milquetoast who ought to remind herself of the times her children drove her to the brink of lunacy and despair—one gray hair at a time. But what I ought to do and what I can do are often two entirely different things.

Truth be told, I want the best of both worlds—to have in my possession unmitigated freedom from mommy duties AND the opportunity to be a mommy to my children at the same time. Unfortunately, that’s not an option in this world. Nor is rewinding September.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Finding the Right Words

So much of raising a child involves dissemination. Of wisdom and information, of values and inspiration, of penalties and praise. And let us not forget the mother of all parental offerings: Car keys and cold, hard cash. 

Band-Aids, too. Lots of Band-Aids are meted out over the span of two decades or more.

But it seems the real challenge for parents involves finding the right words and ensuring that our messages are, in fact, delivered—especially when fate hands us the tough stuff. Death and disappointment. Failings and frustrations. Tension and turmoil. Indeed, the stormy seasons of life are when we are tested most.

And so often I feel shamefully deficient in this department—as if I can’t string a coherent sentence together when it really counts. Like when my kids are consumed by negativity, self-loathing and doubt, or when I’m riddled with a barrage of questions for which there are no answers. That is the point at which I fumble and fish for a snippet of speech that promises to soothe what is unsettled, to mend what is broken and to provide what is sorely needed. The “right words,” as it were, are elusive at best, buried beneath volumes of discourse and drivel that fail to deliver.

Case in point: One of my charges became hostile and practically imploded while tackling her homework not long ago. And alas, I was unable to pull her from the wreckage—demonstrating (yet again!) my woeful ineptitude as a parent. The outburst from hell unfolded thusly.

Evidently, my child left the Land of Composure and in a fit of rage choked the life out of her pencil while attempting to obliterate what was apparently a mistake on her homework paper. I watched in horror as she very nearly rubbed a hole in the place where a poor, defenseless math problem once lay unsullied and without fear of retribution. As her face grew redder and her utterances more guttural, I realized then and there that my parenting skills (or lack thereof) would soon be called into question. I needed the right words and I needed them fast.

I paused briefly before saying anything inordinately daft, hoping against hope that I would somehow stumble upon the perfect parental response to such belligerence. Would a bit of humor, compassion or punishment do? Perhaps ignoring her hideous behavior made more sense. Or a distraction—maybe I needed some sort of outlandish distraction in order to effectively calm the beast within. At any rate, I hadn’t a clue what would work. So I took a stab at the impossible task, wending my way through the tangle and torrent of emotions.

Me: “Hey, what’s with all the erasing? You’re going to light the place on fire if you keep that up,” I teased—all the while wondering how long it would take before her eraser neatly ate through the varnish on my table.

Child: “I’m STUPID,” she groused. “It was an ADDITION problem and I did SUBTRACTION. So now I have to erase it and start all over again. Grrrrr….”

Me: “Oh, I see,” I offered lamely. “So you messed up. Anyone can mess up,” I continued.

Child: “Yeah, but I had to borrow and trade and all this other stuff FOR NOTHING. I did ALL THAT WORK…FOR NOTHING! It was a big waste of time!” she spat, literally seething with anger.

Me: “But think of the benefit of practice!” I cheered. “You practiced your subtraction skills! Which helps you improve! So it wasn’t a waste after all!”

Child: Silence.

Me: “You practice dribbling a soccer ball, don’t you? And that makes you better. You practice gymnastics routines, and that makes you better, too, right?” I quizzed, banking on pure logic to drive home my point.

Child: Rolls eyes and gives me a dour look—one that suggests she’s thoroughly annoyed with my existence.

Me: “Tell me I’m not right,” I challenged. “Practically everything you do in this life could be classified as practice and helps you improve!” said the self-appointed Glee Club Captain.

Child: “Oh, yeah, WHAT IF I CHEWED ON MY TOES?! Is that PRACTICE, huh?! Does that make me a better TOE CHEWER or something?! Hrrrmph.”

At this I was stumped—and likely agape. I had no snappy comeback on the tip of my tongue, no nugget of wisdom lurked in my mind and there were no viable arguments that could be summoned in my defense.

Once again, the right words were nowhere to be found. So I crawled back in my box, wondering how much more PRACTICE I might need to get this parenting thing down.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (forever searching for the right words).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Rantings & Ravings, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

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Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Mo

Well, the back-to-school shopping frenzy is over for the most part and I couldn’t be more thrilled, having survived the ordeal with yet a few marbles to my name. My two kidlets have once again returned to the world of books and pencils, and the crippling sense of urgency I felt to outfit and clothe them appropriately has now passed. Amen.

No longer will I look at a rack of insanely discounted apparel and feel the need to devour it, stuffing armload upon armload of garmentage-I’ll-never-use-but-God-this-is-cheap into my cart like a maniac. Nor will I be inclined to haul my brood to 17 different stores in search of the perfect (fill in the blank with an infinite array of gotta-have-it items for the first day of school or I’ll die), pausing only to refuel, to wade through the carnage in the aisles and to visit the loo roughly 600 times in a period of 10 hours. Nope, we’re done with that foolishness. The gods have smiled upon me and my heart is glad.

But it certainly was an epic event—a shopping marathon worthy of high praise and recognition from a husband who refused to participate (except when it came to the “fun stuff” like buying soccer gear and doling out soft pretzels). That aside, I guess I expected a certain degree of pain and suffering to accompany such a woeful duty; but I never imagined the misery that would come to define our lunchbox selection process. It was pure agony. And a complicated matter at that.

More specifically, neither child appeared to be satisfied with the offerings. And by satisfied I mean COMPLETELY AND WHOLLY ENTHRALLED WITH EVERY LAST FLAP, POUCH AND ZIPPERED COMPARTMENT, TO INCLUDE SHAPE, SIZE, MOLECULAR STRUCTURE AND PICTURISH THINGIES CONTAINED WITHIN AND ON SAID LUNCHBOXES. Grok!

At one point, I felt hopelessly bound within a Dr. Seuss nightmare. Thing 1 and Thing 2 ostensibly found fault with everything lunchboxish and were virtually incapable of making a decision. (So much for the eenie-meenie-miney-mo method).

“I do not like them, Sam-I-am! Not one will suit my bread and jam. I do not like them with a fox. For lunch, I need a pinkish box. I do not like this stupid pouch. Stop rushing me; I’m not a grouch! I would not could not on this shelf. I want to pick one by myself. I do not like them in this store! Take me, take me where there are more!”

Five stores and two meltdowns later, we were still deeply immersed in the absurdity our day’s undertaking had become. I seriously toyed with the idea of offering a pony to the first child who suggested that brown-bagging it was suddenly cool.

At that point I called for reinforcements (the husband), since I was sure the madness would never end and I knew someone would need to raise the children once I had gone off the deep end. Dozens upon dozens of possibilities then lay at our feet—because our lovely charges felt it was necessary to yank them off the shelves (with glee) in order to examine them more closely (i.e. to Kid Test them and to eventually place the ones that received a passing grade in a nice, little clump on the floor—the Maybe Pile).

After a time, their tactics morphed from strange to even stranger. One child encircled the other with eight or more viable options from the heap of maybes, engaged in some sort of ritualistic rain dance and then instructed her to squat down and start spinning. Yes, spinning like a giant Spirograph around and around until one glorious lunchbox shouted out to her, “Pick me! Pick me!”

Soon, curious onlookers gathered in the aisle. Some were amazed. Others, amused. We had become a spectacle of sorts and everyone apparently wanted to be there when the final verdicts came in. I just wanted it all to end—before sunrise.

And end it did. Finally. A green ogre for one and three pink princesses for the other. It seemed simple enough on the surface, but I knew better. Choosing a lunchbox was a complicated matter after all. And sadly, the virtues of eenie-meenie-miney-mo were all but lost on my crew.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

This piece also appeared on the blog of the lovely and talented Susan Heim: (aka Susan Heim on Parenting).

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Rantings & Ravings, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Augustember

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year…at once, savoring every drop of freedom now that my children have returned to the Land of Books and Pencils, while lamenting the passage of summer and all the goodness contained therein.

As August wanes and September draws ever near, I can’t help but dwell on the notion of my freedom—and how utterly delicious it will soon be. But by the same token, I am also reminded of how horribly unprepared I am for all that heading back to school entails. My charges are no more equipped for the first day of second grade than I was for the first hour of motherhood. It’s shameful really. To date, I have amassed next to nothing in the realm of kid gear and gotta-have-it-garmentage for that special square on our calendar. The square now gloriously bedecked with stickers and giddified messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another 30-day chunk of time would be added to the year, smartly sandwiched between the eighth and ninth months. Say, “Augustember,” or “Pause” (which would be more of a directive than anything). We march into spring; why not pause before forging headlong into fall? Such a godsend would give people like me time to breathe, time to warm up to the idea of letting summer go, time to rummage around for the soccer cleats that by now probably don’t fit anyone anyway.

I’ve never been one to embrace change. More often than not (and if all is well), I like things just the way they are—the same. It’s simply too much work to adapt to something slathered with newness. That being said, I abhor drastic transformations. Dead asleep to total wakefulness. The mildness of spring to the oppressiveness of summer. At the lake. In the lake. Not pregnant. Pregnant. I need generous windows of transition for such things. Time to adjust. Time to switch gears. Time to brace myself for the tsunami-sized wave of change sure to thrust me forward—ready or not.

While it’s true we are on the cusp of yet another promising school year with its sharpened pencils, bright yellow buses and characteristic swirl of excitement enveloping virtually everything and everyone in its path, part of my joy is swallowed up because of what and whom I must become as a result. The bedtime enforcer. The tyrant of tuck-ins. It’s a brutal role of parenthood and one I hate with a passion.

I much prefer gathering my wily charges in from the great outdoors long after the brilliant clouds of pink, orange and crimson have faded to plum, gray and eventually an inky blue-black. There is much to relish between dusk and darkness, when the moon hangs clear and bright, begging to be plucked from the sky and the stars greet the earth one by one, gradually painting the heavens with a milky glow.

At once, the night air is filled with a symphony of crickets, peepers and barefoot children whacking at waffle balls, racing and chasing each other through the cool grass, already laden with dew. Shouts of “Marco…Polo! Marco…Polo!” emanate endlessly from the pool next door along with the muffled thwunks of cannonballs, instantly taking me back to my own youth—the one where Frisbees were thrown until no one could see, where nails were hammered in forts till the woods grew thick with darkness and alive with mosquitoes, where Kool-aid flowed freely, the pool beckoned and the rules for tag were rewritten more than once.

And all was well—much like this good night.

Fireflies are everywhere now, hugging the trees and the darkest spots in the lawn, blinking here…and a moment later, there—signaling would-be mates and captivating all who give chase with Hellmann’s jars in hand. Add the crackle of a campfire, the sweet aroma of toasted marshmallows and the thrill of eavesdropping on children in the midst of any number of conversations and I’m perfectly content. It pains me to put an end to their fun. To rain on their parade. To say goodnight to the Big Dipper and to our constant companions—the lightening bugs.

Naturally, my popularity wanes. Sleep, they must.

But in the end, all is forgiven. Tomorrow is a new day. And there will be more Augusts to savor and a lifetime of moments to give pause.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool