Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Benefit of Boredom

As fellow columnist Scott Lowery (of Scott on Sports fame) cleverly predicted, it’s barely summer and already the dreaded words, “I’m bored,” have been uttered here. I had hoped we’d make it through a goodly portion of July before my brood succumbed to the evils of ennui. But no.

The fearsome phrase, in actuality, surfaced shortly after school let out—which is almost inconceivable given the embarrassment of activities my charges have been afforded since that time. To date, Thing One and Thing Two have engaged in roughly 37 epic squirt gun battles, 20 bazillion glee-filled runs through the sprinkler and untold face painting sessions that frequently gave birth to goatees, hideous-looking mustaches and Cesar Romero-inspired eyebrows. Oy.

They’ve also had immeasurable fun analyzing clouds and bugs, building forts and baking mud pies, launching Ken and Barbie into the stratosphere (don’t ask) and, of course, chasing the fleet of ice cream trucks that frequent our neighborhood. Frisbees, too. What’s more, they’ve logged countless hours on their beloved scooters and bikes and reveled in the company of both PhotoBooth and their Wii (i.e. the hi-tech household contrivances I have yet to fully embrace despite their collective allure). Furthermore, they’ve had the luxury of attending a multitude of wonderful camps, a handful of baseball games and picnics, a ginormous family reunion and at least one road trip during which the Alphabet Game was played till I was ready to spew forth consonants. As one might expect, they’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time holed up at friends’ houses, consumed enough S’mores for six people and disappeared within the pages of more books than I even owned at the tender age of ten.

That said, their whiny claims of “having nothing to do” are completely unfounded. Of course, this is largely due to the fact that I tried very hard to preclude tedium from ever darkening our door—filling our calendar impossibly with that-which-seemed-perfectly-feasible-at-the-time. Better still, I lived up to my tyrannical repute by filling my brood’s hands with some fairly brilliant workbooks as soon as the last school bell rang and laid down the law with respect to playing a certain French horn and clarinet.

Needless to say, my demands were less than popular with the aforementioned youths—the ones who passionately proclaimed they’d be scarred for life. “Nobody else’s mom makes their kids DO WORKBOOKS AND PRACTICE INSTRUMENTS ALL SUMMER LONG. That’s just plain mean.” At which point I named names and provided compelling data in order to prove that I wasn’t the only horrible mother on the face of the earth. Furthermore, they were in good company which became increasingly evident to one and all. Lo and behold, after weathering a brief period of time during which there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, my mandates have since been met with only the slightest of grumblings each morning.

Even still, they grouse about a so-called dearth of diversions to occupy their precious time—the time, apparently, when they are not engaged in any of the abovementioned pursuits. Such thinking doesn’t even live on the fringe of logicalness in my mind, and quite frankly, I resent being saddled with the arduous task of finding stuff for my perfectly capable progenies to do. What am I—the Entertainment Captain?! The glorified Coordinator of Fun and Unending Amusement?! Like Amy Sorrells, a Times Sentinel Columnist recently lamented in her article, “The Day I Resigned as Camp Counselor,” I, too, begrudge the thankless post.

Besides, there is a school of thought that suggests boredom is a good thing. Peter Toohey, author of Boredom: A Lively History, argues that said affective state has been an essential part of the human experience for thousands of years and is thought to be a constructive force—one that has stimulated creativity in both art and literature the world over. Geez, I’d be happy to learn that it drives idle kids to action—better still, to extract joy from that-which-was-once-deemed-dreadfully-banal.

In light of the above, perhaps I should celebrate the words, “I’m bored,” and brace myself for the deluge of inspiration sure to come.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (helping my charges leap into the great abyss of boredom—one idle moment at a time). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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A Stitch in Time

My mother-in-law once gave me a sewing kit as a gift—one whose contents she gathered herself and chose with great care. It was the size of a shoebox and was stuffed to the very brim with everything one might imagine using for the repair of clothing and whatnot. It was bulging actually, as if it might suddenly burst at the seams, spilling forth spools of colored thread and a hodgepodge of patches.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but dwell on how strange the whole thing was, given that I can’t sew to save myself. Maybe she was sending me a message. I didn’t measure up. Everyone OUGHT to know how to sew. Maybe she felt it would inspire me to delve deep into the wonderful world of thimbles and pincushions. With an arsenal of mending wares at my side, how could I POSSIBLY go wrong? Maybe she was just being nice and wanted her son and his family to have a wardrobe with something other than gaping holes about the knees and buttons that dangle perilously. Besides, who would see to it to fix things when she was gone?

Nevertheless, I resented said gift. Of course, I should have reminded myself that the woman was raised during an era in which dresses and slacks were made right at home with tissue paper patterns scattered about and the endless hum of sewing machines filling the air. Back then, people thought nothing of darning socks, of crafting their own curtains and costumes, of hemming and re-hemming pants, of resurrecting garb that might otherwise be forsaken. Indeed, it was a thoughtful—if not entirely practical—gesture to provide me with the means to remedy whatever garment-related woe might befall us.

But the whole idea of having something thrust upon me—something I have loathed since the dawn of eighth grade Home Economics—completely rankled me to the core. But I am not one to speak up in such matters. That said, I stewed in silence, dutifully fetching the sewing box whenever she visited so that she might mend what my brood had gathered since her last visit. Grandma’s To-Do Pile it was soon dubbed. The place where our favorite duds (read: hideously dilapidated things we should’ve been ashamed to wear) were resuscitated. The place where stuffed animals came to receive lifesaving (and sometimes, largely experimental) treatments—namely stitches to repair the gaping wounds through which stuffing and pellets poured. Needless to say, our dining room table served as more of a triage center than anything, with the most critically injured patients near the top of the mountainous heap that awaited Grandma and her renowned healing powers.

Amazingly enough (and as promised) she always delivered—no matter how tedious the task or how difficult the patient. There were monkeys in dire need of lips that would stay put, lizards whose tails had been all but detached, frogs with flesh wounds, snakes without tongues (forked or otherwise) and, of course, lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) with an array of serious injuries, all of which required a surgical solution. And Grandma had just the thing. What’s more, she gave play-by-play as she prepped and patched each creature, providing all interested parties and next-of-kin with gory details of the procedures performed as well as updates on vital signs and overall prognoses. Her bedside manner was stupendous to boot.

Grandma has been gone now for more than four years, leaving a void so great no one could have imagined the collective toll it would take. For a time (and against all logic and understanding), we continued to pile the clothing and wounded animals on the dining room table—a sad reminder of what was lost. Perhaps we did it out of sheer habit. Perhaps we thought it would inspire action. Perhaps it allowed us to hold on to the idea that the great and powerful repairer-of-fabric-y-things would return again, as promised.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (still mourning our loss). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Words to Live By

As a parent it sometimes seems as if there simply aren’t enough words at my disposal. Not enough to adequately address all that encompasses raising wily children anyway. And it is during the months of June, July and August that I feel most compelled to append Merriam-Webster’s somewhat meager offerings. Summertime, after all, is a language unto itself—a season bursting forth with events that beg to be defined. Translation: I need some new and exciting terms to describe life beneath this circus tent—nomenclature that has yet to earn a place in the annals of dictionaries and whatnot.

Toward that end, here are some less-than-official but oh-so-fitting words I crafted some time ago in the spirit of depicting parenthood more thoroughly. Be sure to visit me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom, click on Discussions) to share some of the words and/or phrases you’ve coined in the trenches of Parentville.

Crocophobia [krok-o-FO-bee-ya] noun: An irrational and slightly debilitating fear of permitting one’s offspring to wear Crocs pretty much anywhere on the planet. Naturally, all-that-is-entirely-horrible (specifically pertaining to the health and well being of the wily beasts who beg to wear them) can and will happen as a direct result of donning said footwear.

“Alright already. It’s true that I suffer from Crocophobia, but mark my words: You’ll fall down on the playground and knock your teeth out if you wear those stupid things!”

Note: Not to be confused with Crocomania: a disturbingly euphoric state associated with the sheer joy of wearing Crocs.

Sunscream [SON-skreem] noun: What children view as the incarnation of wickedness (i.e. schmutzy cream, lotion or spray designed to protect one’s skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays, but suggestive of unadulterated evil)—which in all likelihood will cause one to scream unmercifully when properly applied.

“Mom, don’t you know this is PURE TORTURE?! I HATE sunscream and I HATE how it tastes! Do you want me to eat it and DIE?!”

S’moreapaloosa [SMORE-a-pa-LOO-za] noun: The celebrated and seemingly endless event during which voluminous quantities of S’mores are shamelessly consumed by one and all. Typically, an assembly line type of arrangement is utilized in order to facilitate the mass production of said fare and a second or third source of income is strongly recommended to fund the project for an entire season.

Note: S’mores (the indescribably delicious summertime snack which is thought to have originated with the Girl Scouts in 1927) consists of melted chocolate and toasted marshmallows sandwiched between two graham cracker squares. You know you want one—or several hundred.

“We’re having a big cookout and then later tonight, it’s S’moreapaloosa time by the campfire! Wanna come?!”

Kidskrieg [KIDZ-kreeg] noun: The swift and sudden onslaught of frenzied children (i.e. a veritable torrent of smallish bodies) eager to examine and appraise the digital snapshot Mom or Dad may have just taken of them. Perish the thought of enlisting the support and cooperation of all parties concerned as it relates to posing for another pretty picture. The aforementioned children will be far too preoccupied with the mauling-of-Mom-or-Dad and, of course, pawing at the cussed camera—the one with the fancy-schmancy preview thingy that spawned such delirium in the first place.

“Dear God, here comes the kidskrieg!”

Brusterized [BREW-stir-ized] transitive verb: A profoundly incapacitating state of mind in which an individual or group yields to the irresistible allure of Bruster’s ice cream. Such an indulgence typically occurs while en route to the next 47 things on any given day’s calendar, often stemming from having little or no meal-planning ability, considerable confusion regarding the food pyramid and/or the desperate need to quell any and all child-related disturbances in the back seat.

“Hey Dad, we got Brusterized on the way home from swimming lessons and Mom said that counts as a real meal.”

Conflatulation [con-FLA-chu-LAY-shun] interjection: An expression of acknowledgment and/or sincere praise for having performed the most impressive (read: the loudest, longest, or smelliest) stinker in the land. Said expression is employed almost entirely by children in their everyday speech patterns and, customarily, is used in the plural.

Conflatulations! Your fart was AMAZING!!”

Grassathon [GRASS-a-thon] noun: A brutally interminable, thick-of-summer type of event in which children of all ages risk life and limb while sliding down steep, grassy slopes upon various sled and sled-like devices. Swim goggles and mosquito repellant are optional. Grass stains, assorted injuries and rashes are not.

Note: Lawns are irreparably damaged during the abovementioned event.

“Hey guys! We’re having a Grassathon in my front yard ALL DAY! Bring your sleds!”

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (quickly becoming fluent in the language of summer). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Ten Ways to Say “Thank you, Dad”

www.melindawentzel.comFathers come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and talents. On the whole, I’d daresay they are a thankless lot—often underappreciated, largely misunderstood—an entire populace of men rarely acknowledged for the many and varied ways in which they contribute as parents. Mothers, deservedly or not, garner the lion’s share of recognition when it comes to the important business of raising a family. But Father’s Day, with its prominently marketed golf wares, grilling must-haves and sea of manly fragrances, forces us to shift our collective sentiment and pay homage to dear, old Dad.

And as I wander the aisles in search of the perfect greeting card for my father—one that I believe captures the essence of our relationship, keys on our shared allegiance to witticism and adequately gives thanks for the sacrifices he’s made and the wisdom he’s imparted, I find myself settling for that which falls disappointingly short. Hallmark, it seems, hasn’t stumbled upon the right assemblage of words just yet. Somehow their writers have missed the mark, along with all the other clever wordsmiths who’ve failed to deliver the sort of message my father needs to receive—the one that perhaps all fathers need to receive. So thank you, Dad, for so many things…

…for encouraging me to forge my own path instead of assuming that the paths of others would necessarily be right for me…for letting me climb to the tops of trees and to skateboard with wild abandon…for ferrying me to the ER when necessary.

…for teaching me how to throw a fastball, wield a mean golf club and sink a jump shot on command…for being my biggest advocate (even still) and for believing in me even before I believed in myself.

…for being oh-so-generous with your time…for listening intently to my wishes and worries…for considering me a www.melindawentzel.comworthy companion as we jogged over the back roads of town, watched doubleheaders into the wee hours and sat in scratchy lawn chairs together, completely mesmerized by the thunderstorms that rolled across the skies in the midst of July’s unbearable heat, summer after endless summer.

…for letting me date boys with mustaches and muscle cars…for traipsing around the kitchen in your underwear late at night, when said boys needed reminding that it was time to go home (an infinitely mortifying experience then, but absolutely hilarious now)…for walking me down the aisle—twice—and never once saying I told you so.

…for introducing me to the concept of balancing a checkbook, as well as finding balance in my life…for teaching me to accept failure when it comes to call and to learn from my missteps…to appreciate having grandparents, a roof overhead and acres of woods all around.

…for tolerating my teenage years (Oy!), for trusting me with your beloved cars even though the voices inside your head must have screamed, “Noooo!” and for resisting the overwhelming desire to share with my High School Yearbook Committee that hideous photo of me with the mumps. For that alone, I love you dearly.

…for navigating so many road trips—to distant airports, to a good number of college campuses I considered calling home, to my very first job interview in the city. Never mind that we got horribly lost in the process; but getting awww.melindawentzel.com glimpse of the White House at rush hour surely was grand.

…for inspiring me to be a responsible individual, to work hard and to strive to do good in this world…for illustrating the power of forgiveness, the refuge of one’s church and the necessary nature of grieving our losses…for reminding me that things usually work out in the end—even when they look entirely hopeless at the start.

…for underscoring the importance of finding time for one’s children, time for one’s marriage and time for oneself…for helping me recognize the inherent value of ice cream sundaes, the versatility of duct tape and the irreplaceable nature of a good friend.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for showing me the beauty of marrying one’s best friend.www.melindawentzel.com

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks for my dad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Swan Song of School

www.melindawentzel.comI have a love-hate relationship with the end of my children’s school year (i.e. that inimitable wedge of time that is at once delicious and detestable—conveniently sandwiched between the intensity of academics and the celebrated death of structure). To most, it would seem like a fairly simple dichotomy: either one richly embraces said collection of days during the frenzied months of April, May and a goodly portion of June or, conversely, harbors maniacal thoughts of lighting that portion of the calendar on fire. But for me, it has always been a more complex matter as I am torn between the two extremes.

Indeed, part of me completely loathes the end-of-school-year insanity—especially the frenetic pace at which we parents must perform. We dutifully ferry our charges hither and yon without complaint, cram our schedules with more events than it is humanly possible to attend and go above and beyond to ensure that the infinitely numbered details of our children’s lives are perfectly coordinated and expertly managed, that is until we are lulled into the lair of summer, when and where we can finally breathe. Then again, let us not forget the onslaught of camp registration deadlines that loom large, making us slightly unnerved over the uncertain nature of our so-called master plan for the coming months.

By the same token, another part of me is entirely enraptured by this particular chapter of parenthood. That said, there is a certain zeal with which my progenies now arise to greet the day on school mornings. And the greatly anticipated demise of the Homework Era alone is enough to make all concerned parties slightly euphoric. What’s more, and against all logic and understanding, the obscene magnitude of activities slated to take place in the closing months—to include field trips and outdoor events, career days and concerts, award ceremonies and parties galore—somehow fill me with glee. Never mind the delirium-infused state my brood enjoys as a result, making it difficult for anyone and everyone in this household to get a good night’s sleep prior to that which is deemed A BIG DAY. Lord knows we’ve experienced many such days (and sleepless nights) since the advent of spring and its characteristic ratcheting of school-sponsored events. Oy.

But the Land of Fourth Grade has been a decidedly good place, and I sometimes lament the fact that Thing One and Thing Two will progress to the shores of fifth grade next fall, ostensibly to bigger and better things. Besides, I’ve grown accustomed to the routine within which my family has functioned since the early days of September. More specifically, everyone beneath this roof knows his or her role and what is expected as it relates to the business of school and learning in general. Next year, I fear, will be different and disturbingly unfamiliar, with a learning curve we have yet to even imagine.

Needless to say, there is great comfort in sameness—a predictable rhythm by which our days have been governed so very well for so very long. Part of me hates to see that disappear. Stranger still, I suspect that the laze and haze of summer will somehow deaden my children’s collective passion for learning, erasing much of the progress we’ve made thus far and undermining the efforts of all who’ve had a hand in cultivating a love of books, an appreciation of music and art as well as a solid sense of self.

And yet, the summer holds a wealth of promise—as it always does. And it will have its own rhythm and perhaps a different brand of enlightenment wrapped with the merest suggestion of routine—one with rounded edges and soft spots to land come July and August. But for now, my thoughts rest on the few days that remain on the school calendar—a swan song of sorts.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (both loving and hating the end of school). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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