Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Remains of Summer

With a mere whisper of July remaining, I cannot help but flip through the calendar feeling as if I’ve failed spectacularly yet again. Alright, maybe it’s simply a profound measure of disappointment and/or a mild case of mommy angst that I’m feeling and not failure per se. At any rate, there was so much more that I wanted to accomplish in the 47 days since the school year ended. Things that would make the summer exceedingly memorable for my children. Remembrances that would gather in the corners of their minds for decades to come. Happenings that would surely find their way into the mother-of-all writing assignments come September (i.e. the celebrated back-to-school narrative that practically every student has ever faced): My Summer Vacation was Special Because….

Granted, Thing One and Thing Two have had immeasurable fun thus far in the season of suntans and sweet corn, however if I hope to achieve the brand of joy and the volume of memories I had envisioned cultivating before the thrum of crickets finally dies, I’ll need to hasten my step. It’s people like Beth Hendrickson, creator (and curator) of “A Summer Bucket List,” who inspire me to do so. That said, I’ve compiled a fairly impossible (yet impressive) list of that which I hope to do with my family during the fleeting time that remains—thirty-four days and counting.

For starters, we must seize an enormous cardboard box, one that begs to be transformed into a house of sorts—complete with doors, an abundance of windows and skylights, a child-sized escape hatch and a mail slot that promises to give new meaning and purpose to the junk mail I loathe so completely. We should also spend at least one endless afternoon wielding chunks of sidewalk chalk, together giving rise to a bustling city upon our favorite concrete slab—the one that doubles as a canvas every summer. And when the rains threaten to destroy our self-proclaimed masterpiece, we ought to head inside to construct a behemoth-sized blanket fort that will envelop the entire living room for days on end. Just because. And once we’ve burrowed deep within the confines of either the cardboard cottage or the haven of blankets, we should then read books together—beginning, of course, with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.

Furthermore, it’s imperative that we invite a forever friend to stay for a delicious wedge of time, rekindling the past and erasing the miles that now separate us. More importantly, we should do something completely outlandish (like pitch an 18×10 ft. tent in the living room) so as to make his stay wholly unforgettable. We should visit the ocean, too, pausing as its waves give chase and our lungs become filled with the unmistakably brackish scent of the sea. We need to bury each other in the sand, as well, and gather shells by the bushel, and build sandcastles of epic proportions, and walk on the beach at dawn—as there is nothing else on earth quite like it. We ought to visit a handful of historic places, too, and wonder aloud how it must have felt to live during such an era. Feeding our intellect and stirring our minds at a museum is a good idea, too—as is catching a drive-in movie on a whim and camping out at Grandma and Grandpa’s in the aforementioned monstrosity of a tent—as promised.

What’s more, painting something together made my summer bucket list, not to mention teaching my brood the fine art of skipping stones, reading (and folding!) an actual map and catching a Frisbee behind one’s back. Oh, and cursive writing, too—a skill that the Department of Education apparently no longer deems worthy of inclusion in its curriculum—a decision that defies all logic and understanding.

And although it’s exceedingly difficult, I will try my level best to unplug from my dear computer for a time. (Apparently, radio makes people happier anyway according to a recent Huffington Post article). Likewise, it is essential that my family spends a goodly portion of the coming weeks devouring fresh garden tomato and cucumber sandwiches. Lots of them. Spontaneous picnics involving said sandwiches are of paramount importance for August, too, as is playing badminton until we can no longer see, except for the intermittent flashes of fireflies as the dark of night slowly swallows the yard, the thickets and trees in the distance and, eventually, what remains of summer.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and knowing all too well that we’ll be plunked on the shores of September long before we are ready). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer

The Pretenders

It’s mid-July and already there is talk of the horrors of middle school. Mind you, neither of my 10-year-old progenies will enter the sixth grade this coming fall, however the inescapable seeds of dread have apparently been sown. Chief among their concerns (aside from being stuffed inside a locker and/or trampled by a herd of eighth graders) is the notion that one’s imagination tragically dies upon leaving elementary school—a date which, incidentally, will occur exactly 325 days from now. Not that anyone’s counting, although I’d be lying if I denied my woeful lament regarding the finite quality of childhood. Indeed, it saddens me greatly to think of the fleeting years during which we embrace the fanciful worlds that children create. Worlds into which I am occasionally welcomed and sometimes thrust—even still. (i.e. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Snobs from London, and I’ll be needing your lipstick and heels straightaway. Is that alright, Mum?”)

That said, the Land of Make Believe is a very real place where kids spend a delicious portion of their lives, both emotionally invested and purposefully engaged in the important business of play. And no matter how many times I see it—a child wholly immersed within the depths of his or her imagination—I am awestruck by its palpable nature and the pure catharsis it engenders. Translation: For whatever reason, it seems that children need to pretend much like they need to breathe. At least mine do. I’ve watched it a thousand times; the here and now melts away, time is suspended indefinitely and the gateway to another dimension yawns invitingly.

That’s how it happens here anyway. Legions of Barbies beckon, some of whom wear sequined gowns or soft, cottony dresses—ones that have been cleverly fashioned with Kleenexes and obscene quantities of Scotch tape. Still others gallivant about the place wearing nothing at all, completely unabashed by their nakedness and entirely unaffected by their tenuously attached heads. Never mind the dolls with mismatched earrings and severed limbs (i.e. let us not forget my charges’ enthrallment with one-legged Ken and Headless Hildegard). Ironically, what seems problematic to me is of little consequence to those thoroughly engrossed within an ever-emerging narrative—one that typically involves hordes of plastic people with perfect teeth and painted-on smiles.

Likewise, throngs of endearing little dogs, miniature ponies and Pokémon collectibles speak to my brood—

as do the massive herds of hideous-looking (and disturbingly pointy) dinosaurs I’ve grown accustomed tofinding with my feet in the dead of night. It’s a small price to pay, though, given that I get to witness all manner of drama unfold before me as I eavesdrop on the disjointed conversations that the aforementioned beasts evidently have. (i.e. “My dear, you’ve already had THREE stegosauruses today, which is entirely shameful. I’m afraid you’ve become a glutton—so there will be NO PIE for you this evening.”) That is, of course, if I remain quiet and still for the duration of said performances—invisible almost—to a select pair of pretenders who are, at times, embarrassed to be pretending.

There are stuffed animals here, too—ones that fairly transcend the bounds of meaning for my children. As one might expect, they’re threadbare from years of love and being dragged, hauled and/or carted virtually everywhere. Of course, they belong to our family now, having adopted a certain humanness that, oddly enough, even my husband and I recognize. Surely it makes sense to buckle them in when we travel, to kiss them good night at bedtime and to include them as we hold hands during grace. They are the very same creatures for whom search and rescue missions are orchestrated and vigils are held when, inevitably, they are lost…the ones that my daughters feel compelled to dress in doll clothes and toddler underwear…the ones with whom secrets are shared and frustrations are voiced…the ones who listen, comfort and understand unconditionally…the ones who may well journey to a faraway place one day—like college or perhaps a first apartment.

…which is okay by me.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping that my children’s imagination never truly dies). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home for Wayward Toys, Kid-Speak

It’s a Jeep Thing

The stuff over which my husband and I argue has reached an unprecedented level of absurdity in recent weeks. It used to be that such idiocy revolved primarily around domestic issues—like the cubic circumference of the vegetable chunks in our meatloaf, how one restores order (or doesn’t) to the Sunday newspaper and whether or not bed linens ought to be tucked beneath one’s mattress. Never mind becoming embroiled over small potatoes at home; evidently, we can’t even find accord within the confines of our cussed cars. More specifically, the contentious matter of windows up vs. windows down reared its ugly head for the first time in a long while—which is sort of surprising given that we own several vehicles equipped with windows and that we’ve been inclined to ride in the aforementioned vehicles together.

That said, I prefer having the stupid windows down when it’s roughly 8,000 degrees outside—the torrid wind whipping my hair and the sun baking my skin to a fine bronze hue, warming me to the pithy core of my soul. My counterpart, on the other hand, prefers to be encapsulated within a climate controlled sanctuary (read: a tundra-like holding-cell-on-wheels) for those who, apparently, are averse to fresh air and the freedom it embodies. Needless to say, this robs me of a brief, yet delicious, pleasure—because, of course, we can’t have it both ways. I can only imagine the sort of arguments we’d have if either of our Jeeps had roofs that could be removed altogether. Oy.

All things considered, it’s likely that I’m related to my dog who, given the opportunity (and opposable thumbs), would strap himself to the hood so that he might enjoy an even BREEZIER ride. It’s also entirely likely that I was the sort of kid who would foolishly shove her head outside a school bus window come June, delirious with joy over the prospect of summer. It’s also quite possible that I like roller coasters. And scooters. And those tomb-like boxes at the mall that produce hurricane force winds. But I digress.Of course, I can’t be sure from whence my affinity for traveling alfresco came, although I’d surmise that it has something to do with my childhood and the delectable summertime hours spent riding in the back of pickup trucks and boats, as well as atop my grandfather’s tractor across his 87-acre farm. And although I understand the reasoning behind the legislature that put an end to the era of transporting children in this manner (namely by means of pickup trucks), it saddens me to think of the generations upon generations who won’t get a chance to harvest fond memories like mine. Not to mention, it may breed colonies who, like my dear husband, worship and glorify air conditioning in cars. Ugh.

Much to my chagrin, it appears that my brood already identifies to some extent with the windows up mentality described above in horrific detail. That said, Thing One is fairly convinced that Frank, her beloved armadillo, will somehow sail out the window when we reach the expressway, while Thing Two has made it known to one and all that she completely loathes how the wind “wrecks” her hair and makes her cold. Good grief.

Making converts out of them now will be a supreme challenge and I may have to resort to a fiendish plan wherein I inform our children that their father once owned a Jeep CJ-7 Renegade AND LOVED IT, or better still—one involving the arrangement of a joy ride in a certain friend’s soft-top Jeep Wrangler. Not to worry, all interested parties will have ponytails if need be, sunscreen most definitely and the assurance that no disaster will befall their dear Frank, who will be buckled safely in the seat between them.

If the plan does, indeed, come to fruition, Mister I-Prefer-Air-Conditioning-and-Being-Comfortably-Numb will either have to overcome his disdain for touring in the open-air, or perhaps forego what promises to be an unspeakably enjoyable event—a Jeep Thing, as it were.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (tooling along on the road of life with my windows down and sunroof agape). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Road Trip, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Mommie Dearest

cropped-blue-faced-doll-31.jpgAlways and forever, I am blown away by the seemingly trivial things my kids remember about their lives. The stuff that apparently pools and coagulates in the corners of their minds, having made some sort of lasting impression upon them for whatever reason–good or bad.

“…like the time I was sick and stayed home from school and you hurt your knee chasing Jack (aka: the damn dog) around and around the living room. Remember, Mom!? He had a piece of CAT POOP in his mouth and he wouldn’t let you take it! We laughed and laughed so hard!”

“…like the time I ran really fast down our front hill, tripped over the curb and got pebbles stuck in my hand. They stayed in there for FIVE WHOLE DAYS! Remember, Mom?!” (Read: the time I wanted to hurl because of the sickening thud your body made when it hit the pavement, never mind the torrent of queasiness that washed over me when I realized THOSE WERE ROCKS EMBEDDED IN YOUR FRICKING HAND!)

What’s more, I am completely fogged by the way my charges can recite verbatim the vat of horribleness I’ve delivered on more than one occasion (most of which have involved orange juice spillages, bath tub deluges and missed school buses). More specifically, the shameful string of words that pour unremittingly from my stupid mouth despite KNOWING how infinitely wrong and hurtful they are (i.e. the parenting tirades from hell during which the wheels fly off and Mommie Dearest rears her ugly head).

I’m also floored by my kids’ uncanny ability to remember virtually everything about the legions of stuffed animals they possess. The cushiness of this one, the plumpness of that one. How completely cuddlesome and decidedly irreplaceable the lot of them are (despite any number of deformities that may exist–to include missing eyes, gaping “wounds” and mysterious aromas).

Good God.

Further, they can readily recall specific times and circumstances under which said gotta-have-it-or-I’ll-die items were originally acquired. “Yeah, Mom. I got Mister Big Head Dog at the Dollar Store as a prize when I was seven. Doncha’ remember taking me there and I took like 15 minutes (translation: fucking forever) to decide?”

“And I won this fuzzy-eared rabbit (read: dilapidated piece of schlock) at the Fair one time when I threw some darts at balloons. Except I wasn’t very good at it, so I didn’t pop any. But the nice man (likely, the one sporting a mullet and the suggestion of teeth) gave me a bunny anyway.”

Me: (Fair? What Fair? Did I actually take you someplace where cows and pigs WERE the main attraction?!)

“And how ’bout the time Daddy tried to drown me in the shower at the Adirondacks?” (i.e. a date which will live in infamy during which he slathered said child’s filthy face with soap, mistakenly assuming she’d have enough SENSE to rinse it off, as opposed to inhaling voluminous quantities of water and/or soap suds).

Likewise, I am baffled by the intimacy my brood shares with their beloved rocks–OH, MY HELL, THE ROCKS! Thewww.melindawentzel.com ones that adorn their dressers and windowsills. The ones that spill from my Jeep’s nooks and crannies. The ones now housed in my garage (forever and ever, amen). The ones for which a special affinity has grown to a frightening degree. That said, my heathens know from whence each stone came and, perhaps, more disturbingly, why each particular nugget of earthy wonderfulness was harvested and hauled home in the first place, “…because my friend gave it to me and said I should keep it forever,” “…because it spoke to me and I just had to add it to my collection. Each rock is a memory, you know. Why do you always want to take my memories away, Mommy?”

As if that blurbage wasn’t enough to ensure that I will, in fact, die a slow, horrible, guilt-induced death, I recently learned of another cardinal sin for which I will pay dearly.

Child: “I ate a napkin once, Mommy.”

Me: “You ate a what?! A NAPKIN?!”

Child: “Yep. A napkin. I sort of nibbled and nibbled it till it was gone.” (touches fingertips to lips, pretending to gently gnaw imaginary napkin so that I might then know what a “nibble” looks like)

Me: “You ATE AN ENTIRE NAPKIN?! When, where and why on earth would you do such a crazy thing?! People don’t eat napkins (for Crissakes)!” (hands on hips, appalled by the notion)

Child: “Well I did. Back in kindergarten. At snack time. Besides, my friend ate a tag right off her shirt one time ’cause it was bothering her. I saw her do it. People DO eat paper-ish stuff sometimes, Mom.”

Me: DEAD SILENCE coupled with a look that likely suggested I had gone off the deep end (shock does this to people I’m told)

Child: CONTINUES WATCHING SPONGE BOB, ENTIRELY ENGROSSED IN SAID OCEAN-INSPIRED IDIOCY, UNAFFECTED BY MY HORRIFIED EXPRESSION

Me: “But WHY?! What possessed you to do such a thing?!” thinking, of course, this HAD to have been the result of some kind of twisted dare that five-year-olds routinely engage in.

Child: “I was hungry,” she said plainly.

Me: “You were hungry?!” (clutches heart, gasps)

Child: “Yep. You didn’t pack enough in my snack and I was still hungry; so I ate my napkin,” she stated simply, as if telling me I had forgotten to fill her squirt gun, so she commissioned some other schmuck to do it.

At this, of course, I cringed–deeply ashamed of the atrocity I had unknowingly committed, wanting ever so desperately to crawl beneath a rock and die.

…a slow, horrible guilt-induced sort of death. One entirely befitting of Mommie Dearest (i.e. she- who-would-deny-her-child-adequate-Goldfishy-sustenance).

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an abundance of tasty napkins and an unbearable burden of guilt). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "S" is for Shame, Mushy Stuff

A Family Affair

I’m quite sure I’ve attended plenty of social gatherings that have fueled MORE anxiety within me than the five-generation brand of reunion my husband’s family hosts each June, only I can think of none at the moment. In a word, said get-together is a behemoth-sized affair during which minutes are read, motions are made, budgetary concerns are discussed and officers are elected. Yes, elected—ostensibly, over three-bean salad and barbecued chicken. It sounds absurd. I know; especially if you hail from a small clan like mine—one that would be hard-pressed to polish off the deviled eggs and blueberry pie. Never mind come to a consensus on anything.

However my husband’s crew (to include his seven aunts and uncles and more first, second, third and fourth cousins than I can readily wrap my mind around) is a different story altogether—one that features in excess of 30 picnic tables, a monstrosity of a salad bar lined with buckets and buckets of ice and a table that houses sinful quantities of steamed foods. And let us not forget the grill that is roughly the size of a well-nourished water buffalo and the hydraulic lift called upon to hoist the beast at will. That said, his family views the whole let’s-get-together-and-have-a-picnic seriously.

As one might expect, fliers are mailed out months in advance of the occasion, urging everyone’s participation and a supply of pertinent updates so that the database (yes, the database) can accurately reflect any changes that may have taken place in a year’s time. Needless to say, the aforementioned lineage can, indeed, be graphically represented with a roots-trunk-and-branches sort of family tree—as long as it’s a sequoia.

Confession: I dread my husband’s family reunions because, of course, I am a social misfit who has great difficulty interacting with throngs of people—people I cannot remember to save myself. Nor can I recall who is related to whom, from whence they came and of what they speak. Translation: I struggle to interpret much of the convoluted speech patterns thick Pennsylvania Dutch that pervades the airspace beneath our larger-than-life-sized pavilion. Granted, the event described above smacks of a small convention in a large tree-lined field, one that is perhaps capable of unnerving many a dutiful wife with kids in tow—especially one who is fairly preoccupied with the notion of keeping her brood out of poison ivy patches and away from the cussed cornfield that is likely teeming with ticks. But I digress.

That said, I’ve learned to embrace the experience by dividing it into three basic stages, each of which lasts for an undetermined, yet finite, period of time. Initially, I clamber out of our Jeep-turned-oasis and make my way to the celebrated pavilion, mindful of the wretched plants and blood-sucking vermin that collectively seek to ruin my day. I then receive a warm welcome from swarms of people who converge upon me like a small, yet suffocating, army. I can only guess that this is what a panic-stricken amnesiac must feel like, surrounded by a sea of friendly faces, not one of which is readily recognizable. Lord only knows why they tolerate a lout like me.

My husband, being the gregarious creature that he is, immediately begins to mix and mingle with one and all, taking great pains to re-introduce me to everyone I ought to know but have sadly forgotten. I, of course, smile and nod, resisting the overwhelming desire to whip out a big, fat marker and scrawl everyone’s name on his or her brow. Heaven help me if there’s a quiz.

After the swell recedes I relax a bit, reveling in the knowledge that EXACTLY NO ONE within my husband’s entire family mistook me for the first wife. For that alone, I love them dearly. True to my less-than-gregarious/socially-inept self, I then attempt to fade into the woodwork by finding a table, filling my kids’ plates and hoping like crazy they didn’t stuff themselves silly with snacks en route to this feast to end all feasts. My charges and I then toss a Frisbee around in the field that encircles the picnic area, because it would be decidedly gauche to graze ALL damn day.

Once we’ve become thoroughly exhausted (and rightly retreat to the lemonade-infused refuge of the pavilion), that is the point at which I usually stumble across someone I actually know. Not surprisingly, I barnacle-ize myself to said buoy-like individual, refusing to let him or her leave my side until we’ve talked about practically everything from the Boston Red Sox to the brownies that were slightly addictive. Eventually, though, the crowd begins to disperse, wending their way through the grassy field—dishes and Frisbees in hand, smiles and hugs all around.

I can only hope I continue to be a part of such a wonderful (albeit, freakishly large) family—one that really knows how to host a reunion, 80 years and counting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping to guess the weight of next year’s watermelon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Normal is Relative