Monthly Archives: January 2011

Great Expectations

In 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 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 63 days, mocking me 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 each and 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 (and still are!) 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 M&Ms, still rested upon my tabletops, whispering without end, “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 Barbie’s horses and sharing a corral, and the snowmen, warmly adopted by a family of Lego people. I even discovered a few sparkly ornaments dangling precariously from the rooftops of doll houses. 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 10 am 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-wares. 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 Barbie powwows, 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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Filed under We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Snow Blows

“I remember well that January day back in 1987…”

The forecast was for a light dusting. At the most, three inches of the fluffy white stuff would fall. Like any sensible Northeasterner who had been transplanted to our nation’s capital, I listened intently as the monotone little man inside my radio told how this winter event, innocuous as it first appeared, would likely affect the metro area.

Even as a relatively inexperienced driver fresh out of college, I knew what to expect—or at least I thought I did. Having been raised in the rural hills of North Central Pennsylvania, I had spent the better part of an eon watching my parents navigate treacherous roadways and had logged bazillions of hours at the helm myself—spinning and skidding all over that infamous learning curve (i.e. it wasn’t pretty, but I managed). Who knew the D.C. area would be my proving ground less than a decade later.

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Barely a flake was in sight as I made my usual trek to work that morning; however, the crazies were out in earnest (i.e. those adversely affected by the so-called Snow Craze). Just about everyone I encountered had that characteristic white-knuckle-death-grip-hunched-over-the-steering-wheel look I knew so well. Faces were ashen and strained as if bracing for the worst. Same story, different chapter in the elevator. Anxiety hung in the air, thick and unyielding. Urbanites clad in high heels and snappy suits were in a virtual panic over the forecast, clutching their beloved briefcases and cappuccinos as if they promised protection from impending doom. Paranoia had officially arrived, never mind the actual storm.

“How LUDICROUS,” I thought. “Snow is falling, not the fucking sky.”

Upon reaching my floor and department, I went about my normal morning routine which included organizing my memo-littered cubicle, gazing out the wall of windows at the tiny speck-like people below, skimming through the USA Today and downing an ice-cold Pepsi—my less-than-nutritious, caffeine vice. Who knew it would serve as my entire caloric intake for the day?

Not long after I had settled in, a voice bellowed from our office intercom, “DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER, ALL EMPLOYEES ARE HEREBY ADVISED TO LEAVE THE COMPLEX IMMEDIATELY. ALL FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OFFICES HAVE BEEN DISMISSED. DELAYS MAY BE EXPECTED.” It was as if someone had announced a two-for-one wrap special in the deli. People delirious with panic bolted for the doors, still clutching those precious briefcases and clicking those three-inch heels. Naturally, I joined the mass exodus—sans Stilettos.

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Humongous flakes, the ones my kids revel in catching on their tongues and eyelashes, were falling hard and heavy now at the rate of several inches an hour. By the time I hiked to my car, everything was completely shrouded in white. Roads were beyond slick and fast approaching perilous. Just getting onto the highway was an adventure in and of itself. Droves of frenzied people, no doubt anxious to leave the city, careened through the streets as if tuned to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. Never before had I witnessed such pandemonium—not even during a blizzard back home. All because of a simple, little four-letter word—snow.

Great multitudes of vehicles were lined up bumper to bumper, snaking westward like a giant convoy of snails. The complex maze of roadways leading into and out of the capital had morphed hideously—into a tangled, slippery mess choked to the extreme with cars and trucks. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to escape the lunacy—not only instantaneously, but simultaneously—which was a recipe for disaster.

Ironically, an hour later I could still eyeball the building where I worked in my rearview mirror. So much for the mad dash to avoid the crowds. And so much for listening to that stupid little man in my radio. Blasted liar. Those measly three inches he estimated wound up being a foot. Worse yet, a second storm pounded the region just two days later, bringing the monstrous total to 20+ inches. It may as well have been 10 feet. No one appeared to know what to do with it or how to drive in it.

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As I inched along Route 50, snow crunched beneath my wheels and silently blanketed my windshield. I felt like a prisoner in my own mobile igloo—barely mobile, I might add. Every half hour or so, I was forced to get out and brush away the growing heaps that my wipers couldn’t reach on a bet. From there I gazed at an endless procession of cars hopelessly immersed within a sea of snow and decided there was but one befitting word to describe the ordeal: PATHETIC. Better yet, four befitting words: UTTERLY AND INCOMPREHENSIBLY PATHETIC.

Periodically everyone was standing outside, smack dab in the middle of the highway (which was more like the suggestion of a highway, really), sweeping piles upon piles of snow from atop their cars and off their windows. I felt like part of an enormous pit crew. We were family in a sense—in it together for the long haul. A unified bunch of derelicts with a common goal—getting home. No gallery was present, however, to cheer us on to the checkered flag; but plenty of those in attendance chipped in by filling the air with colorful language galore. As if cursing at the stormy skies or at each other would improve the situation.

Creative driving was in full force as well. People attempted to circumvent traffic snarls by using ENTRANCE ramps to EXIT the highway. Not surprisingly, most of those particular idiots got buried half-way up or down the ramps, which infuriated all the other drivers who had followed.

Stupid pills had apparently been the drug of choice that day.

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Ridiculous as it might sound, the scene itself was almost circus-like. The only thing missing: A ringmaster. Nervous Nellies and Neds putzed along at a painfully slow rate—and got stuck. Fools raced around like a bunch of deranged squirrels at an acorn festival—and got stuck. Tank commanders, who believed their 4×4 wonder machines could orbit the earth—also, got stuck. Competency, it seemed, was nowhere to be found. Common sense had unfortunately taken a hike as well.

Soon massive piles of snow clogged the roadway and the shoulder vanished completely. Route 50 became a narrow channel through which we were herded westward like cattle bound for the slaughterhouse. No one could enter. And no one could leave. Our only alternative: To continue rolling ahead millimeter by millimeter, hour after hour like the mindless drones that we truly epitomized. Gas stations, shopping plazas and convenience stores lined the route, but sadly, were out of reach. They served merely to taunt us with their warmth and coziness, hot coffee and clean restrooms. Never mind THOSE amenities. I wanted a one-way ticket to the Bahamas.

Or snowshoes, size nine.

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Abandoned cars cropped up left and right—planted like trees in the center of the lane. Cautiously, I made my way around them and peered inside the fogged over windows as if passing the deceased at a wake (saddened and stunned by the loss, but at the same time, thrilled that it wasn’t me). Perhaps those who had vacated were in search of snowshoe bargains nearby or for those tickets to the Bahamas. Both possibilities were entirely viable.

Apparently, people had been running out of gas and couldn’t pull over to fill up. So they just got out and walked away from it all, leaving behind their beloved yuppiemobiles. Damned quitters. I sat behind one such snow-covered vehicle for 15 minutes before deciding that maybe I should check inside it. Nobody home. Naturally, I felt like a blithering idiot as I stared at the empty seat, but quickly reminded myself that I still had plenty of fuel and front-wheel drive. What’s more, I had snow boots. Probably could have sold them for a grand that day. Maybe two.

By now our marathon driving session had stretched to several hours. Tempers had begun to flare, patience had all but disappeared and everyone’s bladder (including mine) had surpassed its natural limit. But what to do? Each of us could certainly employ a few anger management techniques picked up here or there and we could all try being a little more patient or perhaps even search for the hilarity in the whole wretched experience. But there was no arguing with urinary urgency.

I only wished I had skipped my morning Pepsi—just this once.

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Longingly, I gazed at the multitude of gas station restrooms I passed by, even the ones with less-than-desirable facilities. I wouldn’t have cared if mold were growing on the toilet seat and a BEWARE OF DOG sign hung on the doorknob. I needed to go. The dog would just have to fend for itself.

Eventually, I had to act. I was desperate, and desperate times often call for less-than-intelligent measures. So I threw my car into park, turned off the engine, got out and began trudging through the knee-deep snow toward what appeared to be a church. Of course, my bold move failed to go unnoticed. People angrily honked their horns, yelled out their windows and shook their fists at me, demanding that I get back in and “Drive, stupid!” I decided it would have been pointless to try and explain my dilemma to this very long line of irate folks. So with my face buried deep inside my coat and my teeth beyond the buoyancy stage, I plodded on toward the refuge I hoped would welcome me, ignoring the adamant requests that trailed behind me.

After circling the entire building and testing each and every door to no avail, I mulled over the alternatives. I could circle again and continue to bang on the doors, trusting that someone would eventually hear me. I could wade through the toe-numbing snow to another deserted building and try my luck there. Or I could return to my car—defeated. None of these options promised immediate relief.

Cautiously, I eyed some rather large shrubbery that framed an entranceway at the back of the church and thought, “Hey, what do I have to lose?” No one from the road would be able to see, the houses behind the building were fairly distant and not one solitary soul was in sight. Clearly, the benefits outweighed the costs and the risk of being caught was minimal—unless, of course, the Fairfax County police were busy citing people for yellowing the snow that afternoon. I banked on that being highly unlikely.

So I went about my business, safely tucked between the building’s brick wall and an enormous, shoulder-high hedge that was buried under nearly a foot of snow. Beneath it, however, not one flake had fallen. It was the most perfect makeshift outhouse I had ever seen. Then my glorious plan fell apart at the seams. Apparently my persistent knocking and rattling had paid off. Someone had heard me. And that someone was now less than three feet away. I listened intently as keys jangled together, a metal padlock snapped open and heavy chains slipped through the door handles, cascading to the floor in a thunderous heap.

Shortly thereafter, the door swung open and my heart sank. Surely, I’d die of embarrassment if not hypothermia. I didn’t dare move a muscle and could scarcely breathe. I prayed and prayed that whoever was standing there would simply go away, never having noticed me—or my pants, bunched at my ankles. The seconds that passed before he spoke seemed like an eternity, but I just couldn’t bear to turn around and face him—it was too humiliating.

Finally, I heard a deep voice, “Oh.” And it wasn’t the, “Oh!” of surprise (although I’m sure he was); it was more the “Oh, now I get it.” He may as well have said, “I got here as fast as I could ma’am, but I see you done solved it yerself. I’ll just mosey on back to work, then.” Sight unseen, he could have passed for James Earl Jones with a southern drawl. I wanted to disappear into a snow bank somewhere or crawl under a rock and die.

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At last, “James Earl” did go away. The heavy door clanged shut and I heard him walk down the hallway that I had been longing to enter just moments before. Now was my chance to gather my wits, regain my composure and escape with the mere shreds of dignity that remained.

Despite the mounding snow, the hike back to my car was remarkably short. No doubt, I was eager to put the past behind me. Besides, there was no sense lingering to hear peals of laughter echo throughout the church. I had suffered enough humiliation already.

As I neared my car (which amazingly enough, no one had smashed out of spite), I noticed that the irate folks who demanded I stay had been replaced by other irate folks. Joy. I had no time to be bothered by that, however. The sun had begun to set and soon it would be dark—making a bad situation worse. At this point, I was about six hours into the commute from hell—tired, cold and hungry—just like everyone else that day. My 20-mile jaunt had mutated into something utterly hideous—something virtually unimaginable—an urban Iditarod for the soon-to-be certifiable. “Next time,” I vowed, “I’ll sleep in my sillyass cubicle and eat computer chips before I’ll subject myself to this lunacy!”

For the life of me, I simply couldn’t comprehend the crippling nature of this storm. Never before had I remembered a foot of snow wreaking such havoc. Then it dawned on me; I had yet to see a single solitary snowplow. Not even so much as a cinder or salt truck had appeared since I had begun driving that morning—at least none that I had seen. What in God’s name had they been doing—waiting for a formal invitation?!

Snowplows or not, however, I persevered. So into my car I clambered one last time, hopeful that the plows had somehow managed to find the parking lot of my apartment complex—so I could end this nightmare. After plodding along for another hour or so, I did, in fact, reach my long-awaited destination. Surprisingly enough, those plows had been there and without question, I could have kissed one of the drivers (had I seen one). Instead, I settled for kissing the snow-covered earth beneath my feet—no longer a slave to my vehicle, my home-away-from-home, for what seemed an eternity.

Undeniably, I had learned plenty that day—particularly, about assumptions. Never again would I bank on what that monotone little man inside my radio prattles on about with regard to weather. Nor would I assume that each and every driver on the planet possesses a modicum of common sense or a reasonable degree of competency behind the wheel. Furthermore, I now realize there is at least one more reason not to drink and drive.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Rantings & Ravings

It’s the Little Things That Make Life Sweeter

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and I can’t help but be reminded of how sweet life truly is on February 14th as well as every other day on the calendar—with or without the chocolate-covered delectables, mawkish cards and heart shaped hoo-ha. Case in point, my husband used to pack little baggies of food for me each day before he left for work, filling them tenderly with freshly peeled carrots, bunches of grapes or a handful of pretzel bites or cashews. Most days there was a half a turkey-on-rye waiting in the wings for me, too, abundantly dressed with lettuce, tomato and provolone. Its mate could likely be found on the same refrigerator shelf, neatly sliced and ready for instant retrieval.

However, it wasn’t a job for the thin-skinned. There were standards to be met. My slightly specific and less-than-succinct criteria: each conveniently bagged delight had to be flavorful (yet devoid of gassiness), it couldn’t be the least bit drippy or crumbly or, Heaven forbid, unwieldy if food can be described as such. Most importantly, I had to be able to consume it using just one hand—often on the fly or holed up in a chair for God-knows-how-long nursing a grexy baby. Or two.

Needless to say, great care and consideration went into preparing such sustenance for me and I was eternally grateful—both for the man’s diligence and for his abiding tolerance of my changeable mood. After all, it was the finger food that served as my salvation during that interminable stage of parenthood (i.e. the maddening era home-alone-with-newborn-twins, when I would have given almost anything for a hot shower or a real sit-down meal with something as fancy as a fork or idle conversation). But the bundles of nourishment he so thoughtfully provided, though short on style, surely delivered that which I needed most: the feeling of being cared for and remembered each day. It was a little thing that made my life that much sweeter.

I’d daresay the majority of what enriches my world could be categorized by most as something seemingly insignificant or ordinary at best. Something perhaps unremarkable to the masses, but dear to me. Like the little notes and drawings my kids stuff inside my pockets and tape to my computer, knowing that later I’ll stumble upon them and smile. Or that my oldest—beyond all logic and understanding—still confides in me and seeks my counsel. Or at the close of an especially trying day in the trenches of Parentville, when I feel like the most horrible mother on earth because I dumped someone’s special potion down the drain or because I forgot to tell the yard crew not to haul away “…our eagle’s nest, Mom!” or because I screamed at them over nothing or because I failed to listen yet again—I get this amazing and completely undeserved gift in the form of a breathy secret whispered in my ear at bedtime, “Mommy, I wouldn’t trade you foranything. Not even for a worm.”

Stuff like that makes me melt. And I’m that much surer it’s the little things in life that matter most. Like the twitter of songbirds after a long, hard winter. A handwritten letter amidst a sea of emails. A yellow moon on the rise. The brackish breeze, the cries of seagulls and the soothing sound of the ocean after driving forever to get there. The way my kids’ eyelashes curl and the thicket of sun-bleached hairs on the napes of their necks. The way my grandmother traced my ears to coax me to sleep. My grandfather’s firm belief that I was “big enough” to help him feed the cows, steer the tractor and hay the fields. Clunking around a farm in real barn boots. The warm muzzle of a horse. The company of a cat. The affection of a dog. The lullaby of crickets. The tang of autumn. The whisper of pines. The crisp scent of a novel, yet to be consumed. Fresh newsprint. Thistledown. Snowflakes. The smell of rain. Holding hands.

I often stumble upon small wonders, too, in unlikely places—like the special stones on someone’s dresser, harvested from Grandma’s house “…to help me remember her, Mom.” And crumbs in someone’s pocket—the remains of a bit of bread “…I saved for Taylor from my lunch today at school. It got all crumbly when we shared it, Mom.” And heartfelt notes of apology—painstakingly folded and carefully wedged between the pages of a favorite book. “Sorry Sadie. I really love you a lot. You’re the best sister ever!”

Of course, there was the strange but wonderful vine, curiously twisted into the shape of a heart, one of my dandies found while foraging in the garage last week. “Here, Mom; it’s for you.” But it couldn’t hold a candle to the cookie she shared with my husband and me recently—the one she cleverly gnawed upon until it, too, resembled a heart.

Indeed, it’s the little things that make life sweeter on Valentine’s Day and every day.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and continue to devour again and again It’s the Little Things, by Craig Wilson, USA Today columnist and friend).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Know Thyself, Hamster Mom

Several weeks ago, I made a solemn vow not to tread anywhere near the swirl of controversy surrounding Amy Chua and her latest contribution to the literary world, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Given the satirical flavor of my headline, however, it should be apparent to all that I fell short on that particular endeavor. Color me weak, yet again; having failed to resist said mother-of-all temptations (hangs head in shame).

For those unfamiliar with the highly publicized title and the wave of discontent it spawned among parents, journalists and bloggers virtually everywhere, Tiger Mom is a so-called memoir penned by a woman eager to share the secrets of raising hyper-successful children, warts and all. Children who weren’t allowed to attend sleepovers, to watch TV, to be in a school play, to get any grade less than an A, or to play any instrument other than the piano or violin. Children upon whom unreasonable—and some would argue, cruel—demands were placed relative to their studies and music lessons. Children reduced to nothingness during their formative years with hurtful words like “garbage,” “lazy” and “pathetic.” Children who have excelled beyond all imagining in the realm of academia and music because of, or perhaps, in spite of their harsh upbringing (i.e. At 11, Chua’s youngest daughter auditioned for the pre-college program at Juilliard School while at 14, her eldest daughter performed at Carnegie Hall).

Impressive, no?

Having read a fair number of slightly appalling excerpts from the book, various editorials and reviews (as well as Chua’s Wall Street Journal piece itself, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior), I’m not at all surprised by the uproar created in its wake. Who wouldn’t generate a frenzy of buzz with statements like “…Westerners seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly,” and “…the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”

That said, Chua, a Yale law professor and mother of two, does not disappoint in the name of fueling the fires of dissent—nor does she fail to recognize that in the almighty book industry there is no such thing as “bad” buzz. No one said the woman was stupid—she just has a “different” parenting style, although I use the term “different” loosely here.

Given that I typify a “Western” parent, a term she claims to have used loosely to describe the lax methods that many Americans utilize in child rearing, I can’t help but dwell on how completely divergent our views are. It’s likely that my laissez-faire approach to raising a family would make her cringe—followed shortly thereafter by an overwhelming compulsion to light me on fire. Hypothetically speaking, if Tiger Mom herself were to step into my pathetic little corner of the world (which would never ever happen in reality because my ineptitude and proclivity toward namby-pamby-ism might then seep into her pores, rendering her tyrannical nature grossly and hopelessly impaired). But if she were to darken my door, I suppose I’d have to own up to who I am. To “KNOW THYSELF,” as the adage so boldly states.

Indeed, I’m no Tiger Mom. In actuality, I’m more of a Hamster Mom—fond of delicious wedges of sleep and given to cuddling (and likely coddling) my brood in lieu of demanding perfection from them 24/7. What’s more, I spend a large portion of my waking hours spinning my wheels and bouncing from task to task at a frenetic pace—never mind the often directionless and unproductive nature of such activities. Further, I’ve been known to shower my progenies with “feel-good” blurbages regarding both their extraordinary accomplishments and mediocre attempts to produce. And unlike Chua, I do concern myself with the nurturance of their psyches—when a certain someone’s clarinet squeaks and while another wrestles with long division. Perhaps, especially then.

Likewise, I let my children do a fair amount of that-which-is-deemed-enjoyable, to include climbing trees and whatnot (BEFORE) they complete their dreaded schoolwork. On occasion, I have even allowed them to skip (gasp!) portions of their homework because a) it was obscenely time-consuming b) my children were scheduled to participate in eleventy-seven other things that evening to include sporting events and play practices or c) the academic endeavor itself qualified as a bona fide project-from-hell and necessitated the summoning of a small team of marriage counselors in order to manage our collective frustration. What’s more, I permit my charges to attend sleepovers (with the very real possibility of encountering unmannerly children), to wile away the hours on Photo Booth (performing perfectly ridiculous skits), to become engrossed in the idiocy that is iCarly and Pokémon (even though I loathe both more than words can adequately express) and to play (oh, the horror!) kazoos.

It’s rumored I let them giggle, too.

No doubt, Tiger Lady would feel a niggling desire to rid me from the earth, likely branding me as a reprehensible creature that doesn’t deserve the opportunity to raise a child, let alone three.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (embracing my inner Hamster Mom).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Hang ’em High

Anyone who has frequented my home knows a thing or two about me. Firstly, I expect guests to stand in front of my refrigerator and ogle the multitude of photos that grace its shiny surface—because, of course, that is the very best way to become acquainted with the odd ducks who live here. That’s code for: I will be offended if said mammoth-sized shrine-to-the-family-snapshot is dismissed as a clever ruse for disguising a hideous-looking refrigerator. Never mind that that is completely true.

Secondly, the shameful coating of dust with which my furniture is often festooned doesn’t particularly bother me; although the abomination of clutter contained within my household makes me want to launch things into the yard while shrieking wholly cathartic strings of vileness regarding the aforementioned items. Not surprisingly, I’ve done just that on occasion—to the horror of many.

Thirdly, it is plain to see that I have a debilitating obsession with projects—the remnants of which lay like carnage throughout my humble abode. Heaps of I’m-planning-to-do-this and stacks of I-aspire-to-do-that patiently await me, punctuated, of course, by a deluge of I’m-in-the-middle-of-these-eleventy-seven-things that promise to exasperate me in some form or fashion before I am through. Never mind the swell of boxes that routinely topples to the floor in my dining room, mocking my inability to fulfill a promise I made to my progenies centuries ago—one that would involve actually opening the stupid boxes and conducting the certain-to-be-dazzling science experiments contained within. To be a good parent if only for the time it takes to mix and stir tiny pools of repulsiveness in a plastic cup or the ever-practical, authentic-looking petri dish provided for my convenience.

As one might expect, I re-stack the boxes when they fall and carefully place the nuggets of newly acquired science project-y whateverness atop the growing mound, vowing to follow through one day soon. If nothing else, I am well-intended.

Only recently have I come to the realization that my dear projects (even the ones within which I am completely immersed) are decidedly part of the problem (i.e. projects = clutter = the bane of my existence). Indeed, it seems I am surrounded by that which seeks to suck the joy from my world, one clump of hobby-related nonsense at a time.

Fortunately for me, however, my desire to act upon several of my New Year’s resolutions has resulted in a nesting-like flurry of activity. Translation: In the past 19 days I have finished more projects, organized more hopelessly disordered spaces and disposed of more schlock than I previously considered humanly possible. That said, one bay of my garage currently houses a dilapidated monstrosity-of-a-couch, a three-ton cabinet, a nonfunctional television set, boxes upon boxes of obsolescence I don’t even remember purchasing and a wheelbarrow teeming with artwork that my charges (gasp!) no longer deem worthy of praise. It’s like a colossal staging area for an operation to rid my world of dead weight. Naturally, I will see to it that the more purposeful items find suitable homes—which will undoubtedly gladden my heart, not only because providing for others gives me a healthy dose of the warm fuzzies, but because it is likely I will then be able to wedge at least one vehicle in our garage. Life is good.

Moreover, since the gods are clearly smiling upon me of late, I somehow convinced my better half to join me in my maddening quest for order. More specifically, I commissioned him to move large and unwieldy objects, to lug heavy boxes hither and yon and to offer suggestions as to what to do with the vast array of mystery items I harvested from forgotten corners and whatnot. Of course, his duties also included hanging massive quantities of pictures—as the man possesses an uncanny knack for doing so coupled with the fact that I possess a comparative dearth of picture-hanging abilities.

At any rate, he willingly and expertly contributed to the aforementioned picture-hanging event/circus, impressing me even further with his strange and wonderful capacity for manipulating fractions in his head and wielding the big and scary tape measure thingie like only a real fix-it guy could. What’s more, he feigned patience and understanding whenever I demanded that a certain wall hanging be repositioned an inch to the left or a smidgen to the right. Or when I argued vehemently that this piece or that piece would truly sing if only it could be nudged a bit higher, a tad lower, or perhaps “…moved over there by the lamp, instead.”

Spackling compound became his fast friend.

Indeed, I am making considerable progress on my New Year’s resolutions—thanks to my able-bodied assistant and his beloved can of Spackle.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (issuing orders to hang ‘em high…or low, maybe).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Refrigerator Art

Sweet Dreams

Putting a child to bed at a reasonable hour has never been my forte. Okay, it’s at the bottom of the list, hovering slightly above ice sculpting and changing a flat tire. Admittedly, I am pitiful when it comes to the bedtime routine thing. Clearly it represents for me yet another mommy arena in desperate need of improvement. That, and remembering to dab sunscreen on that little spot on the tops of their heads.

I suppose it’s the chore-like feel of the whole rigmarole that gets to me. And the fact that I have to bark those tired old orders each and every night like some sort of tyrant: “Brush your teeth!” “Get your jammies on!” “Go to the bathroom!” “Don’t drink so much water!” “Shut off that blasted television!” and “Quit fooling around in there and GO TO SLEEP!”

Quite frankly, I’m spent at that hour and I can’t stand having to “work” when I’m already maxed-out on the exhaustion scale myself. But then again, mommies don’t punch a time clock. Their shifts never truly end. And downtime is nothing but a myth—unless, of course, you count the smidgen of time spent alone in the shower or those precious moments locked within the solitude of a closet, where the din cannot follow and where the world can wait until we’re reunited with our marbles—yet again.

So it is nothing short of remarkable when the nightly “change” finally occurs—that indescribable transformation within me that takes place shortly after books are read, tuck-ins are complete and the sandman officially arrives. Gone is the sense of urgency and frustration. Erased is the tension that once filled the air. Dulled and diluted is my shameful volatility, hissing like the air that leaves a balloon.

None of it matters now. My tiny bundles of energy and neediness are lost in the land of dreams. Sweet ones, I hope. No matter what the hour…no matter how sapped the day has made me…no matter how vehemently irked I am about the stringy clumps of Silly Putty forever welded to the carpet, or the pinkish yogurt drippings, still clinging like sap to the edge of the coffee table—I feel compelled to watch them as they sleep. Silent and still, at long last.

I tousle their hair, study their tender hands, now supple and yielding as they lay in mine, and soak up the trace of lavender bubble bath, lingering in those sun-streaked locks. Our breaths mingle intimately as I draw nearer to steal yet another good-night kiss, awed by the peace washed over their faces and rugged little bodies. Even their pea-shaped toes are finally at rest, tucked snugly under their bottoms which rise and fall with each restorative breath.

For me, each night’s agenda is nearly the same: To try and commit to memory every minute detail imaginable—to freeze the moment in time, so that I might return to it at will decades from now. The curve of their lips, their smallish frames, the feel of their skin, the warmth of their tiny fingers, and the way their eyelashes lay like petals against their cheeks—these are the things I want to remember. Not how their endless chatter, unbearable bickering matches and miles of raucous galloping over hill and dale drove me berserk the day before. And certainly not my ogre-ish bedtime routine. I’d like to erase that altogether—or perhaps amend it.

Watching closely, I can’t help but be reminded of how they used to be; and for a wistful moment I wish they were back—needier than ever, scooching around the place, babbling on about whatever it is that babies babble on about. But I’m a realist at heart. I know I can’t go back.

As a rule, I also push the rewind button to review the day’s events—trying to recall our special conversations and to remember the highlights: What we did, who we saw and where we went (if we happened to do or see or go anywhere, that is). And of course, I dwell on the mistakes I made as a parent and vow to be a better mommy tomorrow.

It’s a promise worth keeping.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Mushy Stuff

You Can’t Take it with You

I love idioms—especially when kids interpret them in the most literal sense imaginable. Needless to say, I am thoroughly (and often shamelessly) entertained by the manner in which my children assign meaning to this or that age-old expression. So as a matter of course, I inject said blurbages into as many conversations as humanly possible. Case in point, not long ago I asked one of my nine-year-old charges to take a stab at the intended meaning of the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.” Of course, having recently experienced the insanity that is airport security she summed it up thusly: “It’s like this, Mom. If you have an elephant and you want to get on an airplane…someone’s definitely going to say, ‘You can’t take it with you.’” She then added with her patented macabre flair, “Or, if your head falls off and rolls away, you can’t take it with you.”

Feeling at once amused and defeated as the Explainer-of-All-Things-Inexplicable, I tried to remember that the smallish beings in question can be painfully loyal to words. But like a fool, I broached the subject yet again, attempting to make clear the muddied waters. “No, no, no. It means that we should enjoy life, enjoy what we have and stop worrying about not having enough money, because when we die, we can’t take it with us anyway. It’s like spending the whole day at the beach, building the most amazing sandcastle you’ve ever imagined—digging moats, carving tunnels and gathering all sorts of twigs and shells and clumps of seaweed to make it really special. And it’s terrific fun—this sandcastle-y stuff. Then it’s time to go and we have to leave it there, knowing that the tide will later wash it into the sea no matter how much we love it.”

For my efforts, I received nothing but a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders—as if I had tried to simplify for her the theory of relativity. Apparently, the merit of idioms having any sort of “deeper meaning” was completely lost on her. So I gave up, resigning myself to the notion that some things are impossible to convey to those gleefully immersed in a world of literalness.

But it got me thinking—about the basic premise of the idiom itself. Money, power and worldly possessions will be of no use in Heaven. In a lot of circles, that’s pretty much a given. And aside from the obvious longing to “take with me” the people and pets I have loved in my lifetime, I really shouldn’t concern myself with other wants or desires. But I find such a concept wholly inconceivable. Intolerable almost. Quite frankly, there is stuff (for lack of a better term) that I can’t imagine leaving behind.

Like my refrigerator. Not its contents so much, but its surface—the one that is entirely blanketed with favorite photos, prized artwork and treasured keepsakes that chronicle our life together as a family. Seemingly every square inch represents a tiny window through which an unforgettable slice of time can be viewed. For all intents and purposes, it is a giant mosaic that depicts in glorious detail all that is meaningful and memorable to me—serving as a daily reminder that life has been good. I have trouble envisioning being separated from such a wondrous thing.

Nor am I fond of the idea of parting with my iPod. Or my beloved camera. Or my inordinately addictive cell phone—not that I anticipate feeling the need to call or text anyone, but because I’m quite certain I will long to listen to the voicemail messages contained within. Like the pictures, they are moments frozen in time, a bundle of words that carry special meaning for me.

Equally precious is my work space—not because of the vast array of self-absorbed writings stored on any computer there or the siren song of the Blogosphere, but because of the sea of photos, the abundance of heartfelt notes and the ever-expanding mass of rocks and drawings my kids have insisted I display in the vicinity of said device “…to help you remember me while you work, Mom.” Without question, I can’t bear the thought of parting with the stash of handcrafted “Hug Tickets” one of my progenies recently bestowed upon me either. Besides, the words “Usable at Any Time or Place” are inscribed therein—so why not Heaven, I ask.

And what about sandals? And delicious books? And pockets to put things in? You never know when you might need a dog treat or a place to store pretty pebbles. Heaven ought to allow such necessities to pass over the transom. Further, I cannot fathom leaving behind my wealth of childhood memories—or the ones I’ve harvested since becoming a wife and mother. Indeed, it would be a cruel twist of fate not to be able to instantly recall the way my children’s eyelashes curl while they sleep and the soft, warm kisses only the man I love can deliver.

And there had better be snowflakes in that place of eternal rest. And raindrops and sunshine and moonbeams and birds—great flocks of them that move as one, dipping and diving together, a massive collection of tiny, black specks that dot the skies in the distance and make great whooshing sounds as they pass directly overhead. Mark my words; I’m coming back if the aforementioned “stuff” isn’t there and I’ll be putting a note in God’s Suggestion Box, ever the discontented disciple.

Idiom or no idiom, I want to take it with me.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (still chortling over my friend Trish’s twist on the ever-popular idiom: “We drop the ball in this household so often…it’s a Frisbee.”)

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Mushy Stuff