Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Decade of Enlightenment: Ten Things Parenthood Has Taught Me

I’ve been a parent for some 8,286 days. A stunningly imperfect parent, I hasten to add. During that period of time I learned more about sleep deprivation, sibling rivalry and teen angst than I previously considered humanly possible. However, the past decade has proven to be particularly edifying. Indeed, Thing One and Thing Two have provided me with a veritable feast of enlightenment. So, in the spirit of welcoming the new decade and the vat of enlightenment sure to come, I thought it might be fitting to recap what the last 10 years have taught me—at least from the perspective of a stunningly imperfect parent.

1)    Beauty is likely in the kitchen. Translation: Most of the masterpieces I’ve collected thus far in my parenting journey are proudly displayed upon my refrigerator, where I suspect they will remain for a very long time to come. That is not to say the face of the fridge is the only canvas upon which said prized artwork hangs in all its faded glory. My home is quite literally inundated with the fledgling, Picasso-esque efforts of my brood, serving as a constant reminder of their boundless generosity and artsy flair. As it should be, I suppose.

2)    The word “sleepover” is a misnomer. No one actually sleeps at a sleepover—including the pitiable adults charged with the impossible duty of entertaining the gaggle of impressionable youths in attendance. Furthermore, the later slumber party-goers appear to crash, the earlier they will rise, demanding bacon and eggs. Moreover, it is inevitable that someone’s personal effects (i.e. an unclaimed pair of underpants, a lone sweat sock, an irreplaceable stuffed animal) will be tragically lost—only to show up months later in the oddest of places.

3)    When taken out of context, that-which-parents-say-and-do is often appalling. Case in point: “Stop licking the dog.” “If you’re going to ride your scooter in the house, wear a damn helmet.” “Fight nice.” In a similar vein, I’ve fed my charges dinner and dessert in a bathtub more times than I’d care to admit, I’ve used a shameful quantity of saliva to clean smudges off faces, I’ve suggested a broad range of inappropriate responses to being bullied and I consider the unabashed bribe to be one of my most effective parenting tools.

4)    A captive audience is the very best sort of audience. That said, some of the most enlightening conversations between parent and child occur when the likelihood of escape is at a minimum (i.e. at the dinner table, in a church pew, en route to the umpteenth sporting event/practice session/music lesson, within the confines of the ever-popular ER).

5)    On average, we parents spend an ungodly amount of time reading aloud books that we find unbearably tedious. We say unforgivably vile things about the so-called “new math” and, as a matter of course, we become unhinged by science projects and

whatnot—especially those that require mad dashes to the basement and/or the craft store at all hours of the day and night in search of more paint, more modeling clay and perhaps a small team of marriage counselors.

6)    Forget wedding day jitters, the parent/teacher conference is among the most stressful experiences in life—not to be confused with the anxiety-infused telephone call from the school nurse and that interminable lapse of time wedged between not knowing what’s wrong with one’s child and finding out.

7)    Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, the child-with-a-camera is undoubtedly the most fearsome—although the child-with-webcam-knowledge is equally clever and decidedly terrifying as well. More specifically, the aforementioned entities possess an uncanny knack for digitally preserving our less-than-flattering moments. Joy. What’s more, they have a certain weakness for documenting freakishly large or (gasp!) green-hued poo, which I’m told is bizarrely linked to the consumption of blue Slushies. Color me enlightened, yet again.

8)    Kids are hard-wired to harvest every syllable of that-which-their-parents-shouldn’t-have-said so that they might liberally share those choice phrases in the most humiliating venue and manner imaginable (i.e. during show-and-tell, at Sunday school, in a crowded elevator, while sitting upon Santa’s lap, at the precise moment the guests arrive).

9)    The discovery of a teensy-tiny wad of paper—one that has been painstakingly folded and carefully tucked within a pocket, wedged beneath a pillow or hidden inside a dresser drawer—is akin to being granted psychic powers. Everything a parent needs to know about their child will likely be scrawled upon said scrap of paper.

10) Unanswerable questions never die—they simply migrate to more fertile regions of our homes where they mutate into hideous manifestations of their original forms, leaving us wringing our hands and damning our inadequate selves.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (getting schooled as we speak).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

The Week before Christmas

An oldie, but a goodie…

‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the land

Not a shopper was idle, the stores were all jammed.

The carts were all taken, the traffic—a bear,

We hoped that a parking place still would be there.

The children were whining from dawn until dusk,

“You must spoil us rotten!” they grumbled and fussed.

With MasterCard, Visa, Discover and Saks,

The plastic was certain to work to its max.

When out in the shrubs there arose such a clatter,

I tossed up the bills to see what was the matter.

Away to the bushes I ran like a deer,

“The ladder’s so tipsy; he’s fallen, I fear!”

The cursing and shouting that came from his lips,

Ranked higher than ALL of his Freudian slips.

When, what to my wondering eyes should be found,

But a tangle of lights and my spouse on the ground!

He had twisted and twirled our new lights ‘round his head,

His ankles, an arm—so mad he was red.

More wrath than the Grinch and the Scrooge put together,

He stomped and he thrashed in the cold, snowy weather.

“Now tangles! Now snarls! Be gone in a jiffy!”

“Stop blinking! Stop flashing! Light right now! Look spiffy!”

“To the top of the hedge, to the top of the pine,

Now, light away! Light away! Give us a sign!”

As I helped him untangle himself from the mess,

We spoke of the folks who would soon be our guests.

My brother! His sister! Oh how the list grew!

My parents! His mother! Just WHAT would we do?!

I had not one inkling, how we would endure—

A day so immersed with our kinfolk, for sure.

“There are carrots to peel, and beds to be made!

This floor must be scrubbed! I’m beginning to FADE!”

“The gifts should be wrapped, the tree trimmed just right,

I wonder why I thought my plan was so bright!”

“It’s a bungled up mess!” my husband exclaimed.

“And I know exactly, WHO should be blamed.”

His brow—how it wrinkled! His manner—how wary!

Like the day that America failed to pick Kerry.

The smile he once wore there, oh where did it go?

I searched high and low, there. I just didn’t know.

“So why all the fussing? What IS your big beef?”

“You’d think that Osama was coming! GOOD GRIEF!”

“Your mother—she’ll cook, and my brother—he’ll scrub.”

“When things get too stressful, we’ll all hit the pub.”

“Your sister will wrap all the gifts up with glee!”

“And all will contribute to trimming the tree!”

Then a wink of his eye and something he said,

Soon made me recall, just why we were wed.

“There’s no doubt that our mottled clans have their own quirks.

But stranger than fiction, it actually works.

Like everyone’s crew, we all share some woes.

Each life has some oddness; that’s just how it goes.”

So I hugged him and thanked him for telling me so,

How fitting it was, to be near mistletoe.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2004 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Captain Quirk, Holiday Hokum, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

As with so many things in life, marriage has certain protocols—most of which involve toilet seats and child rearing. That said, my husband and I abide by an unspoken rule with respect to fielding the torrent of thorny questions our nine-year-old charges generate on a daily basis. In the name of fairness and nuptial accord, we share the responsibility and make a concerted effort to take turns, but by and large, proximity usually dictates who answers that-which-is-decidedly-unanswerable.

So when the mother-of-all-unanswerables fell from the sky last week and landed smack in my husband’s lap, I was fairly euphoric.

Apparently, the dreaded “Existence of Santa Claus” topic surfaced—as one might expect at this juncture in our parenting journey. As kid topics go, it certainly qualified as a Behemoth—and an unwieldy one at that. So by my calculations, the next 40 GAZILLION gnarly questions will automatically revert to me, which, in the grand scheme of things, is an equitable arrangement, I suppose. Rest assured, for a very long time to come the aforementioned man will conveniently remind me of the impressive nature and quality of his response to a question that was clearly off the difficulty scale.

Needless to say, I find our progenies’ collective curiosity to be slightly maddening, surpassed only by their penchant for the verdant path of danger as it relates to scooters and whatnot. To be sure, I am grateful to have been unavailable when Thing One and Thing Two broached the Santa subject. Otherwise, I would have had to tell them the irrefutable truth—that he is, indeed, very real and very much alive in the hearts and minds of those who believe.

My patented “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” spiel would have required a great investment of time and energy on my part, since I would likely feel compelled to cite a host of testimonials gathered from individuals near and far (to include Francis P. Church, author of the storied editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” first published in the New York Sun in 1897, the panel of experts slated to discuss the matter on the TODAY Show on December 22nd, Ryan Gosling’s mother, as recently quoted in People Magazine, a slew of friends and neighbors who can and will produce eyewitness accounts of Santa sightings on demand, and so on).

What’s more, I’d summon from my childhood vivid recollections of sleigh bells in the dead of night and hoof prints upon snow-covered lawns and rooftops come morning—not to mention what I believed to be reindeer droppings and the distinctive remnants of gnawed-upon carrots there in the new fallen snow. Could there BE a more valid explanation for these remarkable findings? I think not. Furthermore, the treats we leave Santa are ALWAYS gone by Christmas morning and, invariably, we discover a curious note upon which the great giver-of-gifts scrawls a message—one that reminds us all to be kind and caring of one another and, of course, grateful for every bit of goodness that will befall us throughout the coming year. Who else would deliver such sage advice, sprinkled abundantly with errant cookie crumbs? For a sleigh full of reasons, I can think of no one except the bearded guy in the snappy, red suit.

Moreover, according to CNN.com the government’s air defense system tracks Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve and the United States Postal Service accepts great multitudes of letters addressed to the North Pole, some of which I, personally, have helped craft. By all accounts, the preponderance of evidence in support of Saint Nick’s existence flies in the face of naysayers everywhere.

So yes, my dears, Santa is real—as surely as the spirit of Christmas lives and breathes in each of you, just as your father explained it so very well. Faith isn’t driven by what we can see with our eyes, but by what we hold in our hearts.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and believe—even still).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum

Countdown to Ho-Hum: Ringing in the New Year

Here’s hoping my New Year’s Eve won’t be frighteningly similar to that of 2008 (i.e. described below in horrific detail). Oh well…such is parenthood.

Romantically speaking, I lead an extraordinarily dull life. At no time does this particular truth become more self-evident than on New Year’s Eve. Painfully so, I might add. Tonight throngs of revelers—lovers, chief among them—will gather in venues all over the globe; near the Opera House in Sydney, along the River Thames in London and in Times Square, New York among other locales gloriously abuzz with the excitement and anticipation of ringing in the New Year.

At the stroke of midnight, surging masses of disgustingly happy people will join together in song (likely, a crude rendition of Auld Lang Syne). They’ll cheer uproariously, embrace lovingly and perhaps throw caution (and confetti) to the wind. It’s rumored that proposals of marriage, affirmations of everlasting love and wildly passionate kisses will abound as well.

All of this my husband and I will witness from our living room couch, our kids sandwiched impossibly between us, eyes fixated on the television screen, all parties concerned eagerly awaiting the grand event by which the night has come to be defined—the countdown to 2009. Of course, the ball will ceremoniously descend from that infamous flagpole atop One Times Square and we’ll discuss its unbounded remarkableness. Thing One and Thing Two will indeed be stunned and amazed as each infinitely interesting tidbit of information tumbles forth from my lips: said 12-foot kaleidoscopic wonder (which happens to be double the size of previous geodesic spheres) is covered with 2,668 Waterford Crystals, is powered by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, is capable of displaying 16 million vibrant colors and weighs in at an astonishing 11,875 pounds!

“I Googled it; therefore, it must be so,” I’ll state with assurance and pride. Pride for having sacrificed (read: frittered away) a sizeable chunk of time on the computer for a worthy cause: to impress the troops. In all likelihood, oohs and aahs will then rain down on me and my heart will be glad. With any luck, such praise and adulation will purge from my mind completely the sad reality of our pathetic-looking woulda-coulda-shoulda-hired-a-sitter date night. But since neither of us (at this time of year especially!) possesses enough energy or enthusiasm even to entertain the notion of going out on the town for the evening, it simply doesn’t happen. No parties. No fancy-schmancy restaurants. No fine French cuisine. No kids tucked snugly in bed by eight. Nada. So we sit on the couch and lament. Or at least I lament about our sorry state of affairs as Dan Fogelberg’s bittersweet New Year’s Eve tune wafts unremittingly inside my head.

Yet, truth be told, our situation isn’t entirely devoid of good cheer. Indeed, there are bright spots in the deep, dark trenches of parenthood—woefully housebound with our giddified crew of pixies. Like when we raise our glasses to each other, to the memory of loved ones we’ve lost and to life itself. Warts and all. When we reflect upon all that we have to be grateful for—to include 2008’s string of ordinary days that weren’t so ordinary after all. When we filter out the noise and madness of our world long enough to enjoy our kids’ collective font of hilarity: “Mom, this champagne makes my nose all fizzly!” (Inglenook’s non-alcoholic bubbly, mind you). When we open the front door to hear the distant echoes of merriment and fireworks in town. When we hold hands, warmly gaze at each other and comfortably fall into one another’s arms, it gives me pause—at least until demands for a group hug are made.

And something tells me I’m right where I’m supposed to be, nestled together in our PJ’s, awash in the glow of that special moment, ushering in what we hope will be a year filled with great promise and joy. Naturally, I whisper a small prayer as well—for the strength to face the challenges that will surely find us and for the wisdom to recognize what merit lies within all that is seemingly ordinary. As it should be.

Happy New Year.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, Romance for Dummies, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

In the Eye of the Beholder

Contrary to what I’ve alluded to in the past, my kids are not monsters. And although I might have actually used that term on occasion to describe them, they’re not the unruly beasts I’ve made them out to be. They don’t howl at the moon, froth at the mouth or frantically paw the refrigerator when I forget to feed them.

Nor do they growl, unless provoked.

But apparently I know not of which I speak. Evidently some high and mighty prude who has seen my act begs to differ regarding the matter of my having or not having fiendish little children. Further, she’d likely argue the point if given the opportunity. Vehemently, I might add. All I’d have to do is invite Her Haughtiness to return to that happy place where she witnessed (i.e. heard, but could only imagine the scene that unfolded behind the flimsy partition that separated us) the mayhem with which I had to deal just four days before Christmas, crammed and jammed impossibly inside a restroom stall which was clearly ill-equipped to accommodate a mom and two cranky six-year-olds itching for Happy Meals.

I have no doubt the woman in question would be more than willing to sprinkle me with her wealth of sagacity, to dazzle me with her bells and whistles regarding behavior management and child rearing, to enlighten me with a report of everything I’ve done wrong as a parent thus far in my thankless journey—to spell it out for me on the terracotta tiles with French fries: YOUR PARENTING SKILLS SUCK AND YOU’D BE BETTER OFF RAISING CHICKENS, YOU DUMB CLUCK!

She might have a legitimate point. But probably not enough fries to say so.

Everyone knows that McDonald’s isn’t the ideal place to change clothes. Nor is it wise to instruct ungainly children to do so there—demanding from them a degree of perfection that is at best, unachievable. But there I was—parading my little waifs through the joint like some transient-sorry-excuse-for-a-mother, en route to the bathroom to supervise (oh-so-incompetently) the changing-out-of-pajamas-and-into-real-clothes gig. Make that abundantly muddied PJs. “I fell down on the playground today, but I didn’t get hurt, Mom—the mud was FUN!”

“Lovely. Just lovely,” I thought. “We now appear even MORE pathetic than I previously considered conceivable.”

Granted, it had been Pajama Day at school and it made perfect sense for my kids to be dressed as such (as well as still jacked from all the sugar they had consumed during the pre-holiday festivities). But no one else knew that. Most of the patrons I passed probably pegged me as someone who lives in squalor and who makes a habit of hauling her brood there to wash up and whatnot. In reality, however, we were simply using the loo as a staging area for a meltdown, which qualified as a performance of a lifetime as I recall. Prude Lady could testify to that at least.

Incessantly, it seemed, we bickered about who would get to stand where, who would go first, who would hold coats and bags and sneakers, who would get to flush (and when said flushing would take place), what did or didn’t happen during the Polar Express movie and whether or not a certain someone blew a kiss to a boy earlier in the day (“…because that’s not allowed, Mom; only hugs are okay!”).

Ostensibly, this meddlesome witch witnessed the entire routine, likely pressing her ear to the wall so as not to miss a single syllable. As expected, the debate continued within that tiny theater and escalated until it became a pushing and shoving match, spiraling out of control with each combatant furiously shrieking “YOU!!” while shoving a finger in the other’s face.

“She LICKED my finger, Mom!”

“She called me ‘YOU’ first!”

And so the battle raged. Throughout the ordeal, I was painfully aware of a disapproving audience hovering just inches away, and I felt the familiar sting of humiliation and frustration. All the while I snapped and snarled through clenched teeth, “Get your sleeve off the stinking floor!” “Don’t drop that into the toilet!” “Stop hitting your sister!” “Hurry up already with those pajamas and keep your socks ON YOUR FEET!” “Your father’s waiting, you know!”

How could I possibly explain myself, justify my children’s behavior or even show my face once I stepped outside the stall that had become my personal shield from the world? Miss Holier-Than-Thou would be waiting there for me, wagging her finger. Demanding answers. Chiding. Judging.

“Little monsters,” she’d also likely spit.

Oddly enough though, she had few (albeit barbed) words for me when I finally braved it. “GOOD LUCK!” she huffed condescendingly, as I hoisted my heathens to the sink to wash—their anger all but diffused and differences long since forgotten.

I couldn’t help but think she doesn’t get it. She only saw a tiny slice of my day and a mere shadow of the relationship I share with my children. She thinks my kids hate each other and that I must completely loathe my lot in life as their mom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s important to take time to view the picture in its entirety. Snapshots don’t always tell the whole story.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Holiday Hokum, Kid-Speak, Normal is Relative, Ode to Embarrassment, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, Vat of Complete Irreverence, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction