Monthly Archives: April 2011

Welcome to My Dysfunctional World

I have a confession to make. I suffer from a completely debilitating and utterly incurable fixation—with my kitchen counters. More specifically, with keeping them clean day and night.  Maybe it stems from my well documented germ phobia, perhaps from my fanatical loathing of clutter or quite possibly it could somehow be traced to my never-ending desire to control my environment. There’s always the off chance I do it to mark territory, too—to send a clear message to those who would dare smear peanut butter, dribble jelly or toss junk mail upon that which is sacred.

Or maybe it’s simply because this particular space represents the last bastion of order that exists in my entire world (aside from my sock drawer) and I feel compelled to protect and preserve it with every ounce of my being. A bit theatrical, I agree. Dysfunctional, no doubt. But wouldn’t life be dreadfully dull without a touch of drama and dysfunction sprinkled here or there? That’s my motto. Welcome to my world.

What’s funny is that my obsession with cleaning pretty much ends there. In the kitchen. On the counters. And nowhere else. I just don’t seem to experience those overwhelming urges to dust and scrub and disinfect anywhere else. Not in the living room. Not in the den. Not even in the car or bathrooms. Nope. Genuine motivation (like knowing that guests will soon make landfall) must strike in those instances. Relentless nagging works too.

But my kitchen is a different story. I’m sure most would take one look and classify me as “thoroughly possessed” when it comes to the counter arena. It has that pristine no-one-really-lives-here look, like it had been snatched from the pages of Good Housekeeping under the featured article: Fabulous Kitchen Spaces for the Cleaning Fanatic in Your Home. Admittedly, I qualify as the fanatic in this family—at least as far as the kitchen counters go.

Once the cooking is finished I am literally driven to remove every trace of food, drip of water or dirtied dish instantaneously. To restore everything to its proper place in the universe in what many would deem record time; like it’s an Olympic event or something. Albeit an odd one. Beyond the basics of tidying up, the canisters and pasta jars have to be angled just so, fake fruit arranged perfectly in its bowl and the larger-than-necessary cluster of wooden spoons must somehow resemble a bouquet of freshly picked daisies. Maybe the term “odd” doesn’t adequately describe my dysfunction here.

I probably need therapy.

Strangely enough, those powerful impulses to clean and clear often hit me WHILE I’m actually cooking (not to worry, I don’t cook all that much). So in effect, the two rather diverse tasks become nearly simultaneous events—which for some reason drives my husband absolutely berserk. Perhaps it’s because he has a different approach to the fine art of preparing meals. I have affectionately termed his primary objective, “put-every-blasted-ingredient-dish-and-utensil-under-the-sun-on-the-countertops-and-leave-them-there-indefinitely-so-as-to-annoy-the-wife.” I find his habit of sprinkling flour hither and yon to be equally irksome. Maybe he’s the one marking territory. Not surprisingly, this master chef also subscribes to the theory: The bigger the mess, the better the meal. Needless to say, he has prepared a number of very fine meals over the years.

I suppose, though, I’ll continue to endure, as the payoff is decidedly delicious; and besides it’s not nearly as distressing as I found the insufferable Baby Bottle Era. Oy. At that time, our counters served as a veritable purgatory for plastic whateverness (i.e. drip-drying fucking forever). Sippy cups, teething rings, pacifiers, bottles, lids and those dastardly little valve-like components I never quite mastered blanketed our countertops night and day. I distinctly recall fantasizing about the disappearance of said ugliness.

Like I said, I have this fixation….

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2005 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home is Where the Weirdness Lives

I Believe in the Easter Bunny

One of my favorite holidays is just around the corner—Easter. Maybe it’s the egg decorating that gets me, with the pungent scent of vinegar wafting through the air, Styrofoam cups steaming and sloshing with the most glorious shades of dye and layer upon layer of newsprint draped over our kitchen table. The smell alone takes me back—decades.

Or perhaps this holiday tops my list because I love drinking in the moment, as my children become completely absorbed in their exhaustive search for eggs—lifting every leaf, turning every stone and standing on tippy toes to reach the unreachable. Never mind the fact that the “prize” happens to be a cheap, plastic egg held together with tape (to keep jellybeans and M&M’s from falling out in the mud). In their eyes, the treasure is as precious as gold—they gather and guard their bounty as if their very lives depended upon egg hunting success.

Maybe it’s the fact that I enjoy seeing everyone dressed in their Sunday best on Easter. I get an especially big kick out of watching parents’ futile attempts to keep their broods out of mud puddles, inviting birdbaths and grassy temptations—at least until church is over. While growing up, I spent so little time in “dress clothes” myself it’s no wonder my mom made a mad dash for the Polaroid whenever I gave in to her wishes. I even went so far as to clean the dirt from my fingernails and scrub the grass-stains from my knees. White gloves and a frilly Easter hat were thrown in for good measure. Ugh.

I might also especially prefer this season because receiving a palm serves to strengthen me throughout the year. Easter is a time for newness, awakening, celebration and most of all hope. (Lent is over, too! Pass the chocolate!) Or maybe I favor it because it brings to mind countless return trips from church, pestering my brother with the tip of my palm leaf. Back then my parents served as judge, jury and executioner—always siding with he who held the shortest palm leaf.

Most of all, I think Easter has become one of my top choices because, traditionally, it has been based upon the concept of “believing.” Of course, this is America, and we are free to believe in whatever or whomever we choose. I, for one, believe wholeheartedly in the Easter Bunny—right along with the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Great Pumpkin. Who am I to knock tradition? This floppy-eared, buck-toothed bearer of solid chocolate bunnies and yellow peeps has been hoppin’ down the bunny trail for centuries now.

All this talk of “believing” has caused me to ponder the great depths of my personal belief system—especially as it relates to parenthood. In fact, I have created a list (soon to be carved in Play-Doh) of the monumental beliefs I hold. Hopefully, they will echo the sentiments of parents everywhere.

I BELIEVE IN…

…long, uninterrupted naps from which I awaken to find neither my glasses in a tangled mess, my house a wreck or a face full of stickers.

…real sit-down dinners with my family during which no bickering matches between siblings erupt, no arguments with teenagers ensue, no food becomes airborne and especially—no one phones to ask that I donate money to build a Wal-Mart on the planet Mars. I’m not ready to fork over cash to my college alma maters either. I have yet to see evidence of my success.

…romantic weekend getaways and candlelit dinners for two which are totally devoid of children—namely, mine.

…truly enjoyable family vacations that don’t break the bank, destroy our faith in weather forecasting or leave us wondering what on earth made us think we could endure seven solid days of togetherness.

…forgiveness and flexibility—because without those things, none of the aforementioned would be remotely possible, even with the Easter Bunny’s help.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2005 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Holiday Hokum

A Desk of One’s Own

There are few things on earth that can make a first grader giddier than being treated like a big kid in the classroom, or so my charges have stated time and again. And nothing but nothing even comes close to creating more joy within and among said creatures than conferring upon them their own special school space—a desk. The sort with a cavernous interior for squirreling away all-that-is-precious and good—treasures worthy of eternal possession. The sort with a smooth and spacious writing surface that sparkles and shimmers in the light. The sort that smells of wood and polish, although neither may, in fact, be present. The sort that stands solid and sturdy among the masses and boasts that all-important name tag on its face—one that proudly proclaims to the world, “This is MINE! I live here!”

I can certainly relate to experiencing such joy as I was once a first grader—with a shiny big kid desk I could call my very own. I had graduated from the rainbow of carpet squares upon which we kindergarteners napped, and from those oversized, odd-shaped tables that seemed better suited for a business conference than for learning. Needless to say, I was more than thrilled to move on to bigger and better things down the hall in Mrs. Davis’ first grade classroom, where there were spaces in our togetherness.

But independence didn’t come without cost. Duty tagged along. Our desks were our responsibility and keeping them neat and tidy (or at least tolerably so) was of utmost importance. Thankfully my neat freak tendencies (read: my ridiculous obsession with ordering my world) had already surfaced, so the task at hand was barely a challenge for me. Everything had its place and I liked it that way. But I remember others who struggled mightily with the chore.

You know the ones—the kids who couldn’t find anything to save themselves. The ones who never took anything home and who crammed an ungodly pile of papers, projects and pencils inside their desks, impossibly, as if stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey. Scissors and paste. Crayons and coins. Wadded masses of homework, at various stages of completion, and those lovely little Pink Pearl erasers. All of it came tumbling down like a landslide on occasion—especially if the delicate balance holding the contents in place was somehow upset. A sneeze was often to blame. A seemingly simple and innocuous event that sent everything crashing to the floor at once. Then the cavalry was sent in to rescue the sorry soul from himself (i.e. a lucky classmate was instructed to “Help so-and-so get his desk organized, would you, please?”). Sheez, I’d forego recess for such good fortune.

Even then I found it liberating to bring order to chaos. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my chaos per se. It was someone’s and it begged to be restored. However, at that juncture in my life the task was far more manageable, and it did little to prepare me for the insanely disordered existence I now face as a parent. But success is relative. I consider it a major accomplishment that most of the people living under this roof have matching socks, some of which are clean. Never mind that our garage is roughly three sleds, two bicycles and a kiddie pool away from being a home for wayward toys. Our socks match. Mostly.

The day I received my first grade desk, along with a host of other meaningful events on the path to independence, may have long since passed for me but my children serve to remind me just how wonderful the experience truly was. And although they now have cubbies and backpacks (glorified means in which to house their beloved school possessions), I doubt any will be as memorable or as significant as having a desk of one’s own.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, School Schmool

Training Wheels

My oldest daughter, more affectionately known as the woman-child, recently adopted a hamster—which is all well and good I suppose. She’s away at college so, theoretically speaking, the whiskered beast won’t add appreciably to the chaos that lives and breathes here. To date, we house a pampered dog, a self-absorbed cat and, ironically, five smelly hamsters—which is plenty, given that a number of children and house plants also reside here, making demands and a profusion of noise as a matter of course.

Well, not the plants so much.

At any rate, the aforementioned co-ed is a fairly responsible twenty-something who has waited a very long time to welcome a pet of her own—to feed and water said creature without fail, to scrub away stench and eradicate poo with glee, to know the horrors and complexities of cage assembly and the sheer panic of “misplacing” the dear rodent in question. But, in all fairness, she couldn’t be happier or more eager to embrace the notion that such a tiny (and admittedly adorable) being is now entirely dependent upon her ability to perform such tasks. There’s something to be said for delayed gratification, methinks.

However it has come to my attention that a certain couple of somebodies (namely Heckle and Jeckle) have a problem with their big sister’s new role as a bona fide pet owner. It seems that someone’s panties are officially in a bunch over the matter of obtaining (or not) parental consent for the purchase of the abovementioned hamster.

Once the news broke (i.e. the furry beast was deposited upon the coffee table for one and all to behold), the vociferous rant conversation unfolded thusly: “Does MOM know you got this!?” one of my soon-to-be-ten-year-olds shouted with indignation. “Yeah! You can’t just walk into a store and BUY A HAMSTER without Mom’s permission! She’ll freak! She’ll absolutely FREAK when she finds out!” my other soon-to-be-ten-year-old barked, visibly outraged by her sister’s alleged failure to follow family protocol.

“Hellooooo, I’m 22. Okay, almost twenty-THREE and Mom will be perfectly fine with this. You’ll see,” my oldest defended, almost comically.

Indeed, I was perfectly fine with it; but I was then faced with a thorny task—that of explaining to my fourth graders the

particulars that encompass perhaps the grayest of parenting areas: when, how and under what circumstances should we relinquish authority—great or small—to our children, especially to those on the cusp of adulthood. In doing so, I found myself wrestling with the intangible nature of age as it relates to maturity, struggling mightily to define the indefinable and ham-handedly muddling through the whys and wherefores that drive nearly every decision that ultimately leads to the conferral of independence.

Somehow (perhaps because the gods were smiling upon me that day) I managed to field the barrage of unanswerables to a satisfactory degree. That said, Heckle and Jeckle seemed reasonably content with the outcome of the Great Hamster Debate, and with my rudimentary manner of defining what constitutes the fringe of adulthood. Translation: They were slightly enthralled to learn that one day (albeit not particularly soon) they’ll likely be carrying iPhones and able to adopt a herd of llamas, with

or without my blessing.

However, this exercise in frustration got me thinking about the process itself, about the supreme challenge of knowing when and how much to surrender in the way of sovereignty, about what an inexact science it truly is—as if we, as parents, needed one more reason to second guess ourselves. It’s not enough that our grasp on the vestiges of control is tenuous at best; we must also deal with the uncertain nature of when to give it up. Naturally, the training wheels are the first to go, then it’s our presence they no longer require as they careen around the block, oblivious to the fear we routinely invite. Finally, it’s out into the world they rush, headlong, eager to make their own way and to cast aside the likes of training wheels.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think I’m on the right track, no matter how inordinately awkward I feel at times, doling out freedom in embarrassingly small chunks, gauging success one child and one liberating event at a time. It’s like loosening the reins or fishing in a sense; only the goal is not to reel in the prize, but to gradually—in fits and starts—release more line, enabling said prize to strengthen and to govern its own path in the waters of life. Inconceivably, we are then called upon to snip the line and watch in wonder from afar, which is perhaps the most difficult task of all.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of childhood).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under The Natives are Decidedly Restless, The Woman-Child

It’s All Relative

Tomorrow is Reconciliation Day–a special square on the calendar set aside to celebrate the fine art of patching up relationships. A day to make amends and to rekindle the bonds we share with family and friends.

So it’s only fitting that you march to your local book store and pick up a copy of Wade Rouse’s latest memoir, It’s All Relative, a brazenly amusing collection of essays cleverly arranged around 34 holidays (some of which border on the bizarre) and, of course, family (which, for most of us, is DECIDEDLY bizarre). Indeed, an inspiring read just in time for this strange and wonderful holiday.

That said, Rouse has an uncanny knack for sharing that-which-is-obscenely-funny, deeply personal and refreshingly genuine all in the same breath. Time and again, he embraces irreverence, pokes fun at his beloved clan and sprinkles a wealth of self-deprecating humor on nearly every page.

I, for one, will never view Secretary’s Day in the same way, having read the 16-page romp in which Rouse masterfully recounts his very first JOB FROM HELL. Nor will I wander the aisles of Home Depot on or around Arbor Day without conjuring an image of the priceless tree-drama he described so well. Furthermore, I’m quite certain that I will develop a debilitating obsession with Pez dispensers in the very near future. Oy.

But woven deep within the fabric of his tales lies something far greater than his patented wit and delicious delivery–a profound and inordinately palpable sense of his humanness, his hopes and fears, loves and losses, joys and regrets. It’s all there in black and white, catching us unawares on the fringe of literary brilliance. Perhaps most notably, Rouse not only makes us laugh uproariously, he also tackles topics that are far-from-neat-and-tidy. Ones that break our hearts and make us think about what matters most–family.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (enjoying It’s All Relative once more).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Normal is Relative, The Write Stuff