Monthly Archives: May 2011

Worms Fail Me

www.melindawentzel.comThere is a routine by which my children leave the house each school day. It is a fairly logical succession of events that usually culminates with a mad dash to the bus stop, backpacks and jackets flapping as they run, their unruly manes trailing behind them. Of all the memories of motherhood I am sure to harvest, the one that features their early morning race across the lawn, a blur of gangly legs and unbridled enthusiasm, will be a favorite. It is likely, too, that I will remember the many times they paused in the street, still blackened and slick from the unending rains of spring, to rescue untold numbers of earthworms from what would appear to be certain death (i.e. either from being drowned right there on the pavement or crushed by the bus that would soon round the bend).

Quickly, yet gingerly, they scoop them up and place them where it is safe, pleased to have made a difference in a small yet meaningful way. And as I witness this determined albeit futile effort to “…rescue them all, Mom,” morning after morning I am moved, inspired almost, to join in their worthy deeds. Of course, it would be cruel to utter the obvious truth: “You can’t possibly save them all.” So instead I bite my tongue and agree that worms, too, have a purpose. “They aerate and enrich the soil, Mom.” Again I am reminded of the exuberance of youth and of the remarkable capacity children have for storing data sure to wow me. A decade from now, if either of them announces a plan to become somehow involved in a lifelong pursuit to save beached whales, I will not be surprised. Nor will I be disappointed.

At any rate, it goes without saying that worms lack the ability to communicate their needs and desires—no matter how compelling or dire they might be. Granted, they couldn’t deliver any sort of message that anyone could ever hope to interpret. Crazy as it sounds, there are times that I can relate to such hapless creatures—especially as I struggle to connect with my brood via meaningful discourse. Indeed, sometimes words fail me—when weighty subjects arise, when unanswerable questions surface, when reflective listening falls flat, when my children’s growing allegiance to privacy begins to rear its ugly head. But since June is Effective Communications Month, I am determined to improve the way in which we connect over the stuff that matters—as well as the stuff that doesn’t particularly.

For starters (and as completely simplistic as it sounds), I’ve made a solemn pledge to find time on a daily basis to engage each of my daughters in conversation—to stop whatever it is I happen to be doing and tune in to their respective worlds. To find out who has a crush on whom, which item on the lunch menu is to die for these days and just how many Pokémon cards it truly takes to be complete. (The jury is still out on that one). For my oldest, my curiosities would be more akin to: which D.C. restaurant is her new fave, what, exactly, does one do with a graphic design degree anyway and when (oh when!) will the boyfriend be getting a haircut. And although I make light of it here, I understand how important it is to have these conversations with my children. Somehow over the last decade or so I’ve allowed life’s harried pace to take precedence over bonding in this manner—even over the seemingly insignificant happenings of life. That is precisely what I wish to change.

So aside from vowing to carve out more one-on-one “face time” with my co-ed daughter (who is still away at college), I plan to call more, and TEXT more, which the people at Verizon will undoubtedly be delighted to hear. Strangely enough, I suspect I’ll even utilize Facebook’s messaging system on a more regular basis—a concept I never once imagined myself embracing.

As for my two youngest charges, I’ve taken a big step forward on the path to opening the lines of communication by purchasing each of them Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Mothers by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs (Chronicle Books). So in addition to the aforementioned “face time,” we now have this wonderfully interactive, perfectly confidential, writing prompt-infused means of communicating with one another—a tool that encourages us to “talk” about everything from boys and bands to wishes and worries, all within the confines of a tangible journal that we conveniently pass back and forth. Of course, it doesn’t replace or devalue our customary method of conversing, but instead offers another, perhaps deeper, layer of connecting—which is a good thing, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where worms, I mean words sometimes fail me). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Clutter is the Bane of My Existence

Recently, I experienced one of those deliciously thrilling EUREKA moments in which I discovered the root of my debilitating problem with clutter. Archimedes would be proud. Needless to say, I was duly impressed with myself as well and have since celebrated by arranging to meet with the legendary Fly Lady herself, author of Sink Reflections www.flylady.net. Not really, but I’d like to think that that domestic goddess would be mildly astounded by my important findings and most certainly abuzz about the implications for all of mankind. Naturally, such a noteworthy accomplishment required that I take a long, hard look at myself, at my shamefully counterproductive housekeeping habits and at the dysfunction with which I am surrounded.

Firstly, I am married to someone who is physically incapable of throwing anything away—hence, the scourge of clutter currently sucking the life out of me. Always and forever, it seems, the Keeper of All Things Unnecessary defends his position: “But what if we NEED (insert virtually any tool-ish device of which we own three, documents that date back to the Paleozoic Era or a less-than-functional yet slightly adored heirloom harvested from the bowels of someone’s attic) in the next century?!” Making matters worse (read: FAR WORSE), our brood manifests many of the very same neurotic hang-ups irksome tendencies with respect to the concept of purging beloved treasures like ratty toothbrushes, chintzy toys and rubbish gleefully retrieved from beneath bleachers and whatnot. Woe is me.

Secondly, I keep buying stuff (i.e. obscenely frivolous crap that beckons to me from afar). That said, I am weak, I have voluminous quantities of time to fritter away in stores and I have plastic. WAY more plastic than someone with my far-from-frugal penchant ought to have. Mind you, such fiscally juvenile behavior continues to take place despite being painfully aware of the dearth of available storage space in my home and of the disturbing nature of my problem.

Thirdly, I cannot (for whatever reason) will my pathetic self to put anything away (for Crissakes) at the precise moment in time that it SHOULD be put away. Nor can I deal with whatever begs to be dealt with in a timely manner—namely, bank statements, muddied soccer cleats, folded laundry and anything even remotely related to the WRETCHED MAIL. As a result, hideous-looking piles of this and that lie about like carnage. And yet, I lamely argue the point that said stuff is simply en route to its rightful place in the Universe.

It’s in limbo, as it were; a twisted sort of purgatory for household goods. It’s a sinful reality here in these parts—a reality that is entirely imprudent and completely preventable. “But,” I insist to anyone fool enough to listen, “I have, shall we say, some slight ‘issues’ with follow though. Besides, it’s perfectly normal to paw through one’s laundry basket for clean socks, to trip over heaps of that-which-is-destined-for-the-recycling-bin and to race to the bus stop while yanking the tags off new clothes that have yet to see the inside of anyone’s closet. Perfectly normal.”

June Cleaver would be horrified.

But it’s not as if I’m a complete failure. Even June would have to admit that a modicum of what I do smacks of success. More specifically, it’s the baby steps I take on that eternal quest for order that truly matter. The successive approximations (a la B.F. Skinner) that I realize over time. Little by little, I shift and shuttle things to where they belong, knowing that EVENTUALLY clutter will leave me.

So there’s that, at least—the promise of order. Here’s hoping I’m not senile by the time said order arrives.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (forever ferrying stuff hither and yon, to its rightful place in the Universe). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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In Praise of Potato Salad

Memorial Day is fast approaching. Five days and counting. A time to reflect upon the collective sacrifice made by countless servicemen and women throughout the history of this great nation. A time to recognize our past and present soldiers for their valiant efforts in wars here and abroad. A day reserved for flags, parades and formal remembrances.

However (and shameless as it sounds), I can think of nothing but potato salad right now, and how it has been an integral part of nearly every Memorial Day celebration in my life. As a kid, I remember sitting on a sun-drenched curb in the center of town, waving one of those tiny flags on a stick as my hometown marching band, dressed in spats and scratchy woolen suits, passed by, their irksome hats slipping ever so slightly over their faces—the ones reddened by both the morning sun and the furious pace. There were gleaming fleets of fire trucks, too, in all their glory, and massive floats that inched by, their crepe paper skirts flowing in the breeze—floats from which an obscene quantity of candy was ceremoniously launched, sending kids scurrying into the street to gather it by the fistful.

Indeed, the parades of my youth always seemed grand, but they were nothing compared to the annual picnic that would follow. In my mind, of course, it was all about the potato salad. The rest was just fluff—perfunctory trimmings that merely served to round out the meal on that special Monday in May. I knew what truly mattered. It was the potato-y goodness contained within my summertime favorite. So what if summer had yet to officially arrive. It was the consummate medley of onion, celery and carrots—perfectly infused with mustard and mayonnaise, pepper and eggs. Mom’s specialty. Now mine.

For the most part, I’ve adapted to the role, however, it has not come to this household without fits of passionate debate. That said, a select few (who will remain nameless, to protect and preserve their flawed views) believe that the aforementioned vegetables ought to be diced into chunks so impossibly small as to be rendered invisible. Naturally, one might question how effectively the flavors could then be enjoyed; never mind the nearly negated crunch factor. There are certain individuals, too, who would dare suggest that Miracle Whip is somehow comparable to Hellmann’s—the thought of which I find purely sacrilegious. Still others refuse to partake at all if it is rumored that a solitary Spanish olive has touched a morsel of the mix, insisting, instead, that I include sweet pickle relish—an unconscionable act in my mind. As a result (and to appease the whimsical nature of the crowd), I often get strapped with the tedious task of making SEVERAL ENTIRELY DIFFERENT POTATO SALADS. Ugh.

But I digress.

It’s almost Memorial Day and I couldn’t be happier to be on the cusp of summer, poised to embark upon a season of picnics and the endless pursuit of fireflies. Of course, anyone can make potato salad at any time of year. Even in January for Pete’s sake. But who would want to? It flies in the face of tradition and would likely anger the Gods of Outdoor Feasts. I, for one, rarely tempt fate in that manner—content, instead, to stick with that which is customary and perhaps unobjectionable to the masses.

Aside from the great anticipation with which I approach the coming holiday (since I am certain it will involve the deliciousness of potato salad made to my liking), I recently discovered TWO MORE reasons to celebrate the culinary goodness of summertime.

Firstly, May is National Hamburger Month, which of course fills me with the irresistible desire to race straight to Tony’s Deli, where the best burgers on the planet assemble en masse. Seriously. There is a succulent quality about them that is almost beyond description. Secondly, May is also National Salsa Month, which quite possibly explains all the trips to Ozzie and Mae’s Hacienda these past few weeks, where I’ve felt compelled to gorge on homemade salsa and tortilla chips. Olé! All in all, May is shaping up to be a positively delectable month, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of potato salad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum, Meat & Potatoes

Let’s Panic About Babies!

Don’t know what to give that special friend or relative who just found out she’s pregnant? Or the one who thinks she might be pregnant, but isn’t really sure? Or the knocked-up coworker two cubicles down with the really nice dieffenbachia plant? You know the one. The unassuming waif who is decidedly in a state of panic over the news. The one consumed by a myriad of irrational fears revolving around the hideous changes her body is currently experiencing. The one who will drive you fairly berserk in her quest to fire inane pregnancy questions at you till doomsday—which, apparently, is tomorrow.

At any rate, you need to purchase a slightly perfect gift for the baby shower that will inevitably occur in the coming months. Let’s Panic About Babies! (a rollicking, unabashed tome about the wonderment of being with child) is, indeed, that perfect gift. That said, it offers sage advice (translation: it offers none), intriguing accounts from the field (translation: practically everything chronicled in the book is made-up) and compelling data (translation: the statistics contained within are completely fabricated and anyone who quotes them is a moron). Plus, it provides hours and hours of blissful entertainment as it relates to the misery that is pregnancy (translation: that part is entirely true as it is a sinfully delicious read and likely to cause you to choke on your Skittles and whatnot).

Furthermore, this book, which was written by the insanely talented duo of Alice Bradley (aka Finslippy) and Eden M. Kennedy (aka Mrs. Kennedy), is equally valuable to those who’ve already had children and happen to be pregnant—again. Oh the horror! The seasoned-woman-with-child will certainly appreciate every syllable upon its 262 gloriously illustrated pages, praising its irreverence throughout all three trimesters—and beyond. There’s even a chapter that speaks to men!

In sum, Let’s Panic is a priceless body of work that reminds us how important it is not to take ourselves too seriously as parents and parents-to-be. Pick up a copy today. You know you want to.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the days of being as big as a house). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.com where I implore you to share your in-the-trenches-parenting-moments.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff

Building a Reader

There are letters, phonetic elements and, of course, words to which a vast array of meaning has been assigned over the course of history. Building blocks we parents turn to as we go about the important business of raising a reader. We tap our well of instructional instincts, consider our own path to literacy and look to the experts who willingly share all that we’ll ever need to know about teaching a child to read. Furthermore, we immerse our charges in literature, expose them to robust vocabulary, swear by the tried-and-true merits of repetition and, of course, read to them from the moment they become implanted within the uterine wall. Intuitively, we assume these ingredients help form a solid foundation upon which layers of understanding will take root and a lifelong love of reading will flourish. Theoretically, this is all well and good. Enter: The unpredictable and highly diverse nature of children.

That said, for the better part of my oldest daughter’s childhood, she had what can only be described as a visceral hatred of books. In sum, she gave new meaning to the term “reluctant reader.” From the early days of Dr. Seuss through her interminable high school career/slightly disturbing Sylvia Plath phase, literature—even good literature, it seemed—was the bane of her existence.

Naturally, I was completely convinced that whatever I had or hadn’t done as a parent somehow led to this sorry state of affairs. Pages, upon which writers had built a rich tapestry of words, did little to woo her within. Ergo, I had failed at one of the most important assignments of motherhood—to nurture a love of books. However, I suppose her abhorrence could have stemmed from something far more simplistic—perhaps she found books to be pitifully uninspiring…or had yet to discover an author that spoke to her…or maybe she considered reading itself to be a horrendously taxing affair (with all that page turning and whatnot). And no matter how I tried (to reward her efforts, to involve her in summer literacy camp, to make the words on a given page come to life by reading aloud till I felt compelled to light myself on fire), it was all for naught—until she went away to college, that is. It was there that her passion for books finally blossomed. Better late than never, methinks.

In a similar vein, my youngest child was and continues to be a challenge in the truest sense of the word. For the longest time, she refused to tackle anything unless its plot involved a horse that could talk, a dog overcome by some ridiculous misfortune or a hackneyed mystery soused with exceedingly dull dialogue. And I don’t know why, exactly, that sort of thing bothered me—except that I was largely responsible for reading the cussed things aloud after dinner, that is until my head lolled around as if it were tethered not to a neck, but to a spindly rubber hose. Needless to say, I remained dead asleep until my brood poked my eyelids with indiscriminate fingers, demanding to know what the stupid horse (or godforsaken dog or pint-sized super sleuth) had said. Oy.

Thankfully, the aforementioned reader-of-that-which-is-dreadfully-banal has progressed to more thought-provoking content in the titles she chooses nowadays. Better still, I have been relieved of my duties at the kitchen table. Translation: My neck no longer suffers from the ill effects of a droopy cranium.

In stark contrast (and as evidence that God does, indeed, smile upon me occasionally), my middle child has a deep and abiding love of books that I did almost nothing to cultivate. In a word, she disappears into the page and is swallowed whole by the story. Always has. At times, I lament the fact that her sisters didn’t come to reading in the same manner and with the same ferocity. Ultimately, though, I suppose what matters is that each of my children has a special relationship with books—a relationship that is as unique and individual as they are, one that will serve them well as they wend their way forward, a bond, I hope, that will enrich their lives and forever challenge their thinking. In the end, maybe that’s all we can effectively do, in addition to our level best as curators of impressionable youth.

But when opportunity knocks (like it did for me recently during the First Friday Signing Event at Otto’s Bookstore), we would do well to expose our charges to inspiring individuals like Jodi Moore, children’s author of When a Dragon Moves In (an Indie Next Kids’ Pick for this summer, Flashlight Press, illustrated by Howard McWilliam). Needless to say, my progenies were perfectly enthralled with her as she shared the creative process from start to finish, inviting them to step inside the fascinating world of literature—a good place to be, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (celebrating May, National Get Caught Reading Month). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff

Small Potatoes

My husband and I argue over some of the most inane things on the planet—like the cubic circumference of vegetable chunks I add to meatloaf. Like whether or not ketchup ruins said meatloaf. Like whether to twirl or cut (Gasp!) linguini. How to open an envelope. Seriously. To tuck (or not tuck) sheets. How the bills ought to be arranged in one’s wallet. Whether one should carry a wallet at all. How the lawn ought to be mowed. The laundry, folded. The driveway, shoveled. Whether it’s eggshell or ecru. Let or leave.

It’s small potatoes really. All of it. So is the idiocy at the very core of our latest and greatest debate—the matter of dealing with poo. More specifically, dog poo. Round and round we go each day—wrangling over the wisdom of carrying a trusty Ziploc bag, a wad of Kleenexes and a teensy-weensy bottle of Purell on our jaunts with Jack, “just in case” he makes a deposit where he ought not to make a deposit (i.e. in someone’s lawn, driveway or smack in the middle of our heavily-trodden street).

I, for one, think it’s ludicrous to lug said poopie paraphernalia around. It’s entirely unnecessary, completely assumptive and downright spineless to plan for the disaster that may, in fact, never occur. The Boy Scout I married, however, begs to differ. Mister Preparedforanythingandeverything insists that traveling with hand sanitizer and a sandwich baggie (turned inside-out for added convenience) is one of the most sensible and socially responsible things a dog owner can do. So much for living on the edge, throwing caution to the wind and prudence under the bus. And never mind the off chance that Mister Fuzzypants could indeed do his business right where we want him to—making the whole blasted issue a nonissue.

Unlike the man who could likely produce anything in an instant (from biodegradable camouflage toilet paper to a fingernail file), I’d like to think I identify more closely with the rebels of the world—like the cool jocks in tenth grade who never wore coats, brown-bagged it or carried an extra pencil to class. They traveled light to and from their celebrated lockers. So do I—at least when I walk the dang dog. No namby-pamby foolishness encumbers me. Nope. What’s more, I refuse to be hampered by a pooper-scooper device (i.e. a glorified burger flipper in which the “gift” can be both housed and transported efficiently). Besides, I’m resourceful—some would even argue eco-friendly—when it comes to dealing with poo, and I don’t need some fancy-schmancy gizmo to master the mess my dog makes. Not when perfectly good oak and maple leaves are at my disposal.

At least that’s what I used to think—before disaster rained down on me like a scourge during one of those merry excursions around the block late last fall. As luck would have it, Jack felt compelled to unload in someone’s immaculately manicured lawn; and despite my insistence that that was not an especially good idea, the little miscreant did it anyway. I was then faced with a supreme challenge: to somehow scoop it up (with leaves that were nowhere to be found), move it across the street (careful not to drop it or the leash which was tethered to the dog, now wild with delirium over his recent doo-doo success) and fling it deep into the brush—where no one, ostensibly, would trod upon it. It was a tall order, indeed. And although I doubt there was an audience, the scene had to have been indescribably amusing as it unfolded frame by humiliating frame.

Frantically I searched the vicinity for the leaves that were EVERYWHERE just days before, settling for what I could find—some pathetic-looking scraps of leafy matter with which I planned to wrap those nuggets of repulsiveness, still warm and disgustingly steamy. Of course, nothing went smoothly. The foul matter in question refused to cooperate, hideously fusing itself to the grass and failing to remain intact as I gathered and scraped in vain. Naturally, this necessitated that I shuffle across the road not once, but SEVERAL times, hunched over my stench-ridden prize as if it were the last lit candle on earth.

All the while, my silly dog danced and pranced alongside me, hopelessly entwining my legs with the leash, thoroughly convinced that I was playing some sort of twisted version of Keep-Away. Needless to say, pieces of poo kept dropping onto the pavement behind me—a Hansel and Gretel trail of repugnance that mocked my efforts, sorely lacking though they were. I had no choice but to painstakingly pick them up and hurl them into oblivion along with the rest of the gunk—all the while preventing the dog from snatching them out of my hand or chasing them into the brush. Eventually, the deed was done. There was but a tiny reminder of the episode lingering on my fingertips and aside from the humiliation I suffered, I had escaped relatively unscathed.

Indeed, small potatoes.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds

Dear Mirena

Firstly, as a mother of three, I’d like to thank you for sprinkling a little amusement atop my harried-with-children sort of world. The television commercial for the birth control product you market is hilarious, depicting with remarkable accuracy the inexorable chaos that is parenting. That said, the grocery store scene was classic, wherein you nailed the idea that kids are kids are kids, and inherent within each smallish being is the irrepressible desire to poke and prod fresh produce until it topples to the floor. The watermelon was a superb choice, incidentally.

However, your writers crossed some sort of line between that which is refreshingly funny and that which has led to a profusion of child-generated questions for which I have no answers. Shame on you for that, my dear Mirena.

__________________________________________________

Imagine, if you will, my husband, our twin daughters (Seek and Destroy, who are soon-to-be fourth graders) and myself plunked upon our couch watching television one afternoon while an ad for your lovely product aired. Of course, we were greatly amused by the aforementioned supermarket circus as well as the other just-shoot-me-if-I-so-much-as-THINK-about-getting-pregnant-again portrayals.However a seemingly innocuous snippet of speech (i.e. “…you can try to get pregnant right away…or not…”) apparently piqued the interest of a certain nine-year-old, causing her to launch one of the most feared inquiries known to the parenting world.

“So how do you try to have a baby anyway?”

Stupidly, my husband and I sat there in stunned silence, slack mouthed and pitifully unprepared to respond with any semblance of coherent thought.

Again with the question–only louder and more insistent this time, “SO HOW DO YOU TRY TO HAVE A BABY?”

 

We glanced at each other with a look that shouted, “It’s your turn to field this one,” shifting uncomfortably in our seats and wishing like crazy the awkwardness would dissolve into our less-than-pristine-looking cushions. But it didn’t. If anything, it intensified. Like fools, we simply sat there and waited for a nugget of wisdom to fall from the sky–much like the time we expected the Difficult Question Fairy to swoop down from the clouds and address our child’s very real concerns (i.e. the much-heralded demand to know if daddy’s vasectomy involved removing all or part of his brain). Seriously. One of our dear charges actually asked this.

“Hey, guys!” I shouted, tripping over my pitiful inability to change the subject, “Look at the cardboard boxes! They’re MOVING! Doesn’t that look like fun?! Maybe we should scrounge around in the garage for some big boxes, and then we could cut windows and doors in them like we used to!”

Our less-than-delighted progenies promptly rolled their eyes and attempted to redirect the discussion, “Did you guys try to have us?”

“Yes, yes we did, in fact,” my husband offered, hoping to steer the conversation into the realm of that which was answerable. “We even went to a special group of doctors (Translation: we trekked to a faraway fertility clinic each and every time your mother so much as whispered the words, “Honey, I might be ovulating…”) and they were enormously helpful–those doctors–enormously helpful. So yes, yes, we DID try to have you and we couldn’t be happier about it!”

“Why’d you do that? Were you guys bored or something?”

Needless to say, the Difficult Question Fairy was nowhere to be found and nothing seemed to be falling from the sky–least of all wisdom. Ugh.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Ode to Embarrassment, The Natives are Decidedly Restless