Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Sum of Summer

www.melindawentzel.comI’m fairly certain that my children hate me—mostly because of their workbooks. The ones that I insisted they complete this past summer, come hell or high water. And although there were vast stretches of time during which reprieves were granted from the toilsome task in question (because of vacations, because of friends who came to call, because I was plagued unmercifully with guilt), I still managed to clinch the Mommie Dearest nomination. That said, whenever I needed a reminder as to where I fit on the Tyrant Scale, I simply opened the aforementioned workbooks and read some of the asides my dear charges had scribbled in the margins (i.e. “I’m dying!” “This is horribly annoying and boring!” and “Once upon a time, two innocent children were forced to do big, stupid, unpleasant workbooks which were eternally evil. THE END.”)

Naturally, this brand of condemnation called into question the wisdom behind my decision to sully the summer by thrusting academics upon individuals who clearly weren’t interested in the inherent beauty of word problems or in the quiet joy of crafting short stories. Looking back, I now see that it really didn’t matter—that making my brood exceedingly miserable for far too many days in June, July and August (no matter how fleeting or insignificant the time seemed to me), was of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Evidently, my heathens would have acquired a boatload of knowledge with or without the wretched workbooks. Real world knowledge that probably has more practical merit anyway. Indeed, my entire family benefited from that which summer seemed more than eager to impart. Together, the following pearls of wisdom represent our harvest.

Despite what may seem perfectly sensible to a child, snow boots don’t function particularly well in the rain. Nor do Pokémon cards or peanut butter sandwiches. On a similar note, science experiments gone awry don’t belong on anyone’s kitchen counters, cicada carcasses have no business sitting on anyone’s sweater (Look, Mom! It’s a broach!) and favorite stuffed animals should never, ever linger in the vicinity of an unoccupied, uncovered toilet.

Considering the coefficient of friction and the gravitational pull of the Earth, sleeping bags are ideally suited for sliding down carpeted staircases. Scooters, by contrast, are not. Furthermore, objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless and until they collide with solid matter—like oak trees, unsuspecting craniums and steel-clad doors, for instance.

In related field studies, Frick and Frack discovered that hamsters do not enjoy dental examinations—nor are they especially fond of massages. They will, however, tolerate being placed within the confines of a tiny plastic car if and when it qualifies as a bona fide Kodak moment. Frogs, on the other hand, will have no part of such foolishness. Dogs, conversely, have no shame and will therefore concede to virtually anything a 10-year-old might be inclined to dream up—to include Photo Booth cameos and fanciful excursions to exotic places like the Canine Islands.

Some other summertime observations I made: Apparently those who wear Band-aids festooned with cutesy pictures are no longer cool. Who knew? Badminton and Frisbee injuries (of the parental variety) don’t garner nearly the sympathy that they deserve. Kids are fairly obsessed with their hodgepodge of injuries and insist that parents become equally fascinated for the duration of the healing process. Gak.

Furthermore, Captain Vacation found that it’s easier to locate one’s lodgings if he actually remembers to jot down the name and address of the hotel where reservations have been made. I learned that the brackish scent of the sea, while deliciously intoxicating at the shore, isn’t nearly as pleasant when it fuses to clothing, resulting in a lovely eau de dead fish that will likely trigger fond memories of the beach coupled with an overwhelming desire to retch. Together, we ascertained that hotel shampoo smells better than it tastes, that some kids simply won’t share their shovels despite a deluge of diplomacy and that the warm sands of the shore are soothing beneath one’s feet, yet wholly unforgiving when wedged in one’s swimsuit. Moreover, seagulls are hostile creatures with a penchant for fresh pastries and fries—a point I duly noted for future reference.

Curiously, none of the abovementioned lessons of summer had anything to do with a workbook. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (summing up summer). Visit me there at

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel


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www.melindawentzel.comAs August wanes and September draws ever near, I can’t help but dwell on the notion of my freedom—and how utterly delicious it will soon be. But by the same token, I am also reminded of how horribly unprepared I am for all that heading back to school entails. My charges are no more equipped for the first day of fifth grade than I was for the first hour of motherhood. It’s shameful really. To date, I have amassed next to nothing in the realm of kid gear and gotta-have-it-garmentage for that special square on our calendar. The square now gloriously bedecked with stickers and giddified messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another 30-day chunk of time would be added to the year, smartly sandwiched between the eighth and ninth months. Say, “Augustember,” or “Pause” (which would be more of a directive than anything). We march into spring; why not pause before forging headlong into fall? Such a godsend would give people like me time to breathe, time to warm up to the idea of letting summer go, time to rummage around for the soccer cleats that by now probably don’t fit anyone anyway.

I’ve never been one to embrace change. More often than not (and if all is well), I like things just the way they are—the same. It’s simply too much work to adapt to something slathered with newness. That being said, I abhor drastic transformations. Dead asleep to total wakefulness. The mildness of spring to the oppressiveness of summer. At the lake. In the lake. Not pregnant. Pregnant. I need generous windows of transition for such things. Time to adjust. Time to switch gears. Time to brace myself for the tsunami-sized wave of change sure to thrust me forward—ready or not.

While it’s true we are on the cusp of yet another promising school year with its sharpened pencils, bright yellow buses and characteristic swirl of excitement enveloping virtually everything and everyone in its path, part of my joy is swallowed up because of what and whom I must become as a result. The bedtime enforcer. The tyrant of tuck-ins. It’s a brutal role of parenthood and one I hate with a passion.

I much prefer gathering my wily charges in from the great outdoors long after the brilliant clouds of pink, orange and crimson have faded to plum, gray and eventually an inky blue-black. There is much to relish between dusk and darkness, when the moon hangs clear and bright, begging to be plucked from the sky and the stars greet the earth one by one, gradually painting the heavens with a milky glow.

At once, the night air is filled with a symphony of crickets, peepers and barefoot children whacking at waffle balls, racing and chasing each other through the cool grass, already laden with dew. Shouts of “Marco…Polo! Marco…Polo!” emanate endlessly from the pool next door along with the muffled thwunks of cannonballs, instantly taking me back to my own youth—the one where Frisbees were thrown until no one could see, where nails were hammered in forts till the woods grew thick with darkness and alive with mosquitoes, where Kool-aid flowed freely, the pool beckoned and the rules for tag were rewritten more than once.

And all was well—much like this good night.

Fireflies are everywhere now, hugging the trees and the darkest spots in the lawn, blinking here…and a moment later, there—signaling would-be mates and captivating all who give chase with Hellmann’s jars in hand. Add the crackle of a campfire, the sweet aroma of toasted marshmallows and the thrill of eavesdropping on children in the midst of any number of conversations and I’m perfectly content. It pains me to put an end to their fun. To rain on their parade. To say goodnight to the Big Dipper and to our constant companions—the lightening bugs.

Naturally, my popularity wanes. Sleep, they must.

But in the end, all is forgiven. Tomorrow is a new day. And there will be more Augusts to savor and a lifetime of moments to give pause.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Lessons from the Road

So much of parenthood is impossibly edifying—not the least of which involves taking interminable road trips with one’s brood. That said, I harvested volumes of information in the first ten days of August while traveling over hill and dale (read: EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTY-SEVEN MILES) through four states and the District of Columbia with kids in tow. If nothing else, the event was memorable—and, as I might have mentioned, wholly instructive.

What follows is an assemblage of cynical keen observations I made as we wended our way to and from various points of interest—the main purpose of which was to ravenously consume all manner of fascinating information in museums and whatnot, to relax on the shores of the Atlantic for a time and to reconnect as a family. Never mind that I felt the overwhelming desire to climb atop the roof of our hideously overloaded Jeep (which promised both solitude and serenity) more times than I’d care to admit. But I digress.

Lesson #1:  Occasionally the man I married (heretofore known as the Keeper of All Things Unnecessary and/or Captain Vacation) is actually right. Not only does he possess an uncanny knack for cramming more suitcases, sand buckets and breakfast cereal within the confines of a seven-passenger SUV than I previously considered possible, he also, apparently, can produce a fairly impressive number of essentials upon demand—things that I, stupidly, assumed we’d never need. Like bricks of jack cheese and a behemoth-sized jar of creamy peanut butter, a vat of aloe vera and the cushiest toilet paper in all the world. What’s more, he cleverly stowed away a functional nightlight, enough batteries for six people and legions upon legions of anti-boredom devices for Thing One and Thing Two. As if ennui would rear its ugly head on vacation. That’s just crazy talk.

Lesson #2:  Children will retain for future reference each and every snippet of colorful language (i.e. the entirety of shameless tirades, wholly inspired by road rage and the prevalence of idiot drivers), no matter how short-lived, inadvertent or completely warranted said utterances happen to have been. And despite a parent’s Herculean efforts to retrieve from the atmosphere what he or she shouldn’t have said, the point is largely moot. Fortunately, kids can and will dispense astonishingly sage advice in such instances: “Dad, it’s in the past now…it’s history. Move on.”

Lesson #3: Unless the gods are smiling, accord will not be reached with respect to radio stations for the duration of one’s trip. Youths will, however, become delirious with joy when they discover that a Michael Jackson CD has been purchased specifically for the occasion and clandestinely loaded into the player. After a dozen titles we continued to hear, “Wow, Dad! It must be Michael Jackson Day!! This station keeps playing his songs!!” Lesson #3A: Contrary to popular belief, parents don’t actually implode upon listening to Thriller 17 times in succession. Lesson #3B: Children don’t actually implode upon listening to their dads sing.

Lesson #4:  The number of pit stops a typical family of four will make on an excursion of the sort depicted above is directly proportional to the number of times someone demands to know if we’re there yet. Additionally, the license plate game, when played ad infinitum, can and will lead to threats of bodily harm. (i.e. “I’m going to make a HOOD ORNAMENT out of you if you even think of mentioning another cussed state…”) Furthermore, the frequency with which marital discord will erupt over frenzied searches for toll booth coinage and/or edible food is equivalent to the number of wrong turns lovely detours on any given journey.

Lesson #5:  Children will be completely mesmerized by that which they witness—to include goat sightings, roadkill (in various stages of decomposition), exceedingly inappropriate bumper stickers (which they will then feel compelled to read aloud) and a host of billboards that, among other things, inspire people to eat pickles. Seriously.

Lesson #6:  GPS navigation devices (i.e. the lady in the little box who talks to Dad and tells him where to go) will likely terrify children who stare at the screen in horror as the road appears to have been completely swallowed by water (i.e. as we pass through the largest bridge-tunnel in the world—one that spans 17 miles across the Chesapeake Bay). Distractions are golden in such instances: “Let’s estimate how many dolphins are pooping right now!”

Lesson #7:  Kids are duly fascinated by the notion that “GPS Lady knows exactly where we are!”, eventually morphing into Navigation Police—calling attention to the disturbing frequency with which “she” was right over the course of one’s vacation. Oy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (glad to be back in Billtown). Visit me there at

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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An Affair to Remember: A Passion for All-Things-Digital

Checkout lines depress me lately. Not only because a goodly share of today’s merchandise seems exorbitantly priced and fairly superficial, but because I’m hard pressed to remember the last time someone actually counted back my measly change—placing the bills and proper coinage into my ungrateful little hands in a piecemeal fashion. Which is sort of pathetic. It seems that clerks can punch keys and bag wares with great fervor and efficiency (some with the suggestion of a smile even), but when it comes to making change in the aforementioned manner (which would imply both humanness and intellect), many are sorely lacking. Instead, they routinely shove a wad of cash in my direction, eager to inspire my swift departure, completely insensitive to my need for order and convention.

Perhaps I would do well to step outside myself, though—to view the matter from a cashier’s perspective. I mean, why bother learning the menial task when a machine can spit out the correct sum instantaneously? To make throwbacks like me happy. That’s why. I happen to like the notion of reliance on someone’s mind as opposed to someone’s software.

Call me crazy.

That said, I fear we’re creating a generation of individuals who can neither think nor do for themselves. Despite the best of intentions, technology appears to be making us both deplorably unimaginative and woefully dependent. Indeed, it seems odd that the best and brightest of our time—the independent thinkers who can be credited with some of the most awe-inspiring inventions designed to improve life—have enabled society to slide, perhaps unwittingly, into the abyss of perpetual neediness. How ironic.

Heaven forbid we attempt to function without our beloved gadgetry—the stuff we’ve allowed to seep into our pores like a drug, rendering us wholly incapable of resisting its allure. Our Smart Phones and Google TV. Our eReaders and Internet Tablets. Our iPods and iPads. Digital this and digital that. And let us not forget our dear TomToms and Garmins, the insanely addictive devices designed to guide us to the familiar and to the frighteningly obscure, because, of course, no one can read a fricking map anymore. Gone are the days of marking desired routes with a big, yellow highlighter and tallying mileage to derive ETA’s—which, oddly enough, always left me with a gratifying sense of accomplishment. That’s code for: I was able to adequately address the infamous “Are we there yet?” queries by handing my brood said marked-up map and suggesting they put their heads together and figure it out.

By the same token, it would appear that kids are no longer able to entertain themselves (given the techno-laden wish lists to which I’ve been privy, and the vast amount of time my heathens spend on PhotoBooth). In any event, the message being delivered to our impressionable youth via the media is slightly disturbing: BE VERY AFRAID OF BOREDOM. ELECTRONIC DEVICES PROMISE A NEVERENDING STREAM OF AMUSEMENT AND COMPANIONSHIP. Thank you very little, Nintendo, XBox and Wii. My children now think it’s uncool to play with Barbies, to climb trees and to devour books. What’s more, they’re fairly enraged because I won’t let them have cell phones. Gasp! So they crafted their own. Complete with penciled-on keypads and cameras. Oy.

Moreover, I’m troubled by this new age of texts and tweets—the one in which pithiness is not only embraced, but celebrated. I worry about future generations and their collective ability to compose thoughts—never mind complete sentences and properly spelled words. Quite frankly, the whole “short message system” makes a mockery of self-expression. It urges us to cut corners, to mutilate words, to discount grammar, to stop short of saying what needs to be said, TO THINK IN 160 CHARACTER BURSTS—which is wrong on so many levels I can’t begin to express my displeasure. Granted, I’m hopelessly addicted to both texts and tweets, however I have standards and an abiding allegiance to the written word. Translation: My tweets are long and rambling and my texts are veritable tomes that make the geeks at Verizon cringe.

Call me a rebel.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Summer’s Educational Feast

A plethora of reputable entities, educational and otherwise, have spent a good chunk of time and money prattling on about the serious nature of academic regression and whatnot, convincing great masses of parents that “the summer slide” does, in fact, exist and should be feared above all else. All seriousness aside, I’m here to proclaim otherwise. There was no slide that I could discern during the glorious months of June, July and August. Moreover, I’d daresay the summer epitomized an educational feast for my brood, as a host of new and exciting information was thrust upon us virtually every minute of every day.

Indeed, we were enlightened thusly:

Matter can, in fact, be destroyed (or at least it can come frighteningly close to doing so) when lawn mower blades make impact with errantly placed Whiffle balls and flip-flops. Physicists should take note of such remarkable findings.

Considering the coefficient of friction and the gravitational pull of the Earth, Crocs are not ideally suited for tree climbing. Likewise, and in the true spirit of experimentation, cell phones can neither swim, nor float.

With respect to Venn diagrams, not all amusement park employees are amused to be there day in and day out, collecting tickets, helping kids climb onto rides and advising patrons to keep their “hands and feet inside at all times!” In fact, most of the joy-bringers we encountered this summer fell squarely into the category of cantankerous—only to be eclipsed by the group of dolts who were disturbingly stoic. Of course, I felt the urge to slap them senseless for failing to at least ACT THE PART of being cheery and pleasant “for the good of the children.” But that would have been redundant.

Concerning the topic of animal behavior, I discovered that cats, dogs and even guinea pigs can be taught to type on a computer. Needless to say, I was duly impressed having witnessed said groundbreaking research conducted in the field.

As far as mathematical correlations go, I learned that the later kids stay up at a sleepover party, the earlier they will rise—demanding pancakes and bacon. What’s more, the average third grader will catapult out of bed ten times faster for an unplanned and unmercifully early visit from a friend who wants to ride bikes than for the regularly scheduled arrival of a school bus.

Regarding the subject of psychology, I was reminded that children can and will defy all logic and understanding. Case in point: when they emphatically reveal that the best part of a fun-filled day at an amusement park (read: a marathon-inspired excursion involving an obscene number of rides and French fries) was purchasing a $3 inflatable elephant named Bob. Similarly, the most memorable thing from attending a week’s worth of basketball camp might just have been “…drinking a whole can of Orange Crush soda so I could burp really LOUD, Mom!”

Furthermore, while field testing a variety of hypotheses recently, I learned that it is possible to become more sodden while riding the Merry Mixer during a torrential downpour than it is to opt for the Sklooosh on a dry day. Additionally, I found that it takes roughly three days for sandals to dry out after said rain. None of this, mind you, is especially troubling to the husband or to the children who insist that we “…just go on more rides!”

Some related summertime observations I made: When playing miniature golf, the probability of visiting an emergency room (and/or the dentist’s office) increases exponentially as the number of eight-year-old participants increases. Further, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to ensure that moon roofs and windows are closed overnight. Rain happens. It’s also prudent to periodically check on youngsters who might do the unthinkable (i.e. blow up ants with a magnifying glass “…because they sizzle in the sun, Mom, and then they POP!” and/or hoist the dog into the top bunk “…so he can SEE stuff up there.”) Stupidity happens. Moreover, it’s wise to inspect the hot tub for curiously abandoned thongs upon returning from vacation. Audaciousness happens.

Some interesting facts I gathered these past few months: Kids are more likely to retain Pokemon-related information than the sight words from kindergarten. Kids could watch a continuous loop of Sponge Bob for an eternity—never once pausing to engage in meaningful conversation with a parent. Kids can get by with one bath a week if they frequent a chlorinated swimming pool. Kids positively DON’T CARE how fricking cold the water from the hose is when it’s connected to a Slip n’ Slide. Kids will eat S’Mores till they EXPLODE. Kids will kiss worms, frogs and taste the dog—just because.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (summing up the summer). Visit me there at

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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