Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sometimes the Sidelines Are Best

www.melindawentzel.comTwo years ago my kids swam like stones. Stones both dense and unwieldy in nature. Stones destined for the bottoms of lakes and ponds and pools. And yet, there was an uncanny barnacle-ness about them as well (i.e. they desperately clung to whatever floatation device or seemingly tallish torso that happened to be handy—namely my husband’s or mine). Said buoyancy-challenged individuals were largely comfortable in swimming pools, so long as we stayed in the shallow end and refrained from making any sort of unreasonable requests—like suggesting they loosen their death grip around our necks. Heaven forbid I tuck my hand beneath their bellies and let them kick and flop around in the water like everyone else on the planet with a penchant for becoming guppified.

That said, I’m not entirely sure my kids even wanted to learn to swim—like guppies or anything else equipped with fins and gills. Life was perfectly perfect coiled inextricably around someone’s head, neck and shoulders, their smallish bodies submerged just enough to enjoy a taste of refreshing coolness, while a goodly portion remained above the water’s surface, safe and sound from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad abyss that surely sought to harm them.

For a time (read: an obscenely large chunk of their lives), we allowed such an idiotic practice to continue, doing our level best to enable our children and to accept the Island of Dependency we had inadvertently become. Of course, we fully expected a miracle to befall us. A miracle that would effectively save us from ourselves. Out of the blue, our charges would suddenly abandon their fears and start swimming like fish or, more correctly, like porpoises, plunging headlong into the murky depths in search of silvery prizes and whatever else they felt inclined to fetch from the deck of the Titanic. Through osmosis, our aquatic wonders would absorb every speck of knowledge and skill I had acquired as a lifeguard, and then some. They’d even be strangely adept at twirling whistles around their fingers and hauling greased watermelons across vast stretches of open water—talents that smack of impressiveness but have yet to be deemed useful.

But it was not to be. Eventually my husband and I faced the cold, hard truth. Hopes and dreams didn’t make good swimmers. Lessons did. Lessons involving a lot of hard work, a boatload of skilled instructors from whom praise flowed endlessly and a vat of courage—mostly of the parental variety. That said, it takes superhuman strength and nerves of steel to sit back idly and watch one’s beloved progeny flap and flounder as he or she goes about the important business of learning how to swim. It’s true: Kids panic. Kids swallow a disturbing amount of water. Kids stare at you from the deep end with horrified expressions of “How COULD you?!” and “Are you really my mother?!”

Not surprisingly, parents twist and turn uncomfortably in their seats, wearing nervous smiles and attempting to chat casually. Yet deep inside—awash with guilt and filled with doubt—they harbor pure and unadulterated torment. Or maybe that was just me, squirming in my lawn chair in a futile attempt to silence the voices in my head that relentlessly screamed, “Your child is DROWNING for Crissakes! And all you can do is swat flies and admire your tanned toes?! What kind of parent are you anyway?! You font of wickedness!” More than anything I felt helpless—almost beside myself with the idea of being on the sidelines.

And yet, that was where I needed to be. The place where I was, in fact, most effective. I needed to have faith in the process. Faith in the instructors. Faith in my children’s ability to succeed—in spite of the dearth of achievement I had witnessed thus far. And succeed they did. They’ve ditched the semblance of stones and barnacles for good and have since transformed into more guppy-ish creatures, completely thrilled with their newfound ability to swim, “…even in the deep end, Mom!”

Aside from seeing actual results in the pool, I know this much is true because we’ve progressed from comments like, “I hope you know this is PURE TORTURE, Mom!” to “Can’t you just LEAVE ME HERE so I could swim ALL DAY, EVERYDAY?!”

Yep. Sometimes the sidelines are best.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (mostly on the sidelines). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Rogue Backpack

It was an interminable shopping excursion—a brutally exhausting back-to-school event that involved far too many fitting rooms with the suggestion of ventilation and, as one might expect, legions upon legions of petulant children, ones who were clearly more interested in setting off a medley of motion detectors and in being swallowed up by great forests of clothing racks than in trying on the armloads of garmentage that spoke to their parents unremittingly. Oddly enough, my dear progeny, a soon-to-be fifth grader completely thrilled with the prospect of buying that-which-is-tight-and-trendy, was uncharacteristically well-mannered throughout the entire ordeal. Go figure.

Naturally, I invited said fact to the forefront of my mind throughout the day so that I might be inspired to forge ahead despite the laborious nature of the task at hand. Translation: I needed something to psyche myself up in order to gather yet another armload of gotta-have-it-or-I’ll-surely-die Hello Kitty apparel, which I would then haul to the dressing room ad nauseam.

But I would do well to remember that there were lots of things that made the experience wholly tolerable—aside from the fact that my child actually wanted to be there. Firstly, my Mom not only orchestrated every minute detail of the aforementioned marathon event (to include clipping coupons, perusing last-minute newspaper advertisements and considering the alignment of the planets so that obscene savings would, indeed, be assured), she also convinced me to take just one daughter at a time—which was a slightly brilliant move. Okay, it was pure genius.

Admittedly, I can’t even take credit for the method employed by my brood to determine who earned the privilege of shopping first. True to form, Thing One and Thing Two settled the matter in a classic rock-paper-scissors fashion, the latter having emerged victorious. I merely served as a witness and as the official hander-outer of the consolation prize—the promise of an equally interminable joyous shopping excursion to the Land of Skinny Jeans and Profoundly Sarcastic T-Shirts, followed shortly thereafter by an epic quest for Converse All-Stars. Pepto Bismol-pink, of course.

The day was memorable if nothing else. Strangely enough, it became even more memorable, punctuated by the discovery of that which rendered me unable to move or speak, except for the tiny gasp that I’m fairly certain I emitted as I stood there, perfectly transfixed by what I saw. Truth be told, my daughter initially made the horrifying discovery and felt compelled to share it with me.

“Mom! Look at THIS!” she shrieked as if a mannequin had been juggling live kittens in the shoe department—which would have been a disturbing yet fascinating sight to behold. “You have to see this! There’s a backpack here for ONE HUNDRED TWENTY BUCKS!” Of course, I made her repeat the aforementioned string of heinousness as if she had uttered an obscenity and I needed to be sure it was, in reality, as impossibly foul as I had understood it to be. And it was.

To be clear, the rogue book bag in question was on sale, but that was beside the point. I couldn’t get past the egregious nature of its original ticketed price. The beauty of shock value had, indeed, been demonstrated as I gawked at the tag in stunned silence. Given to curiosity, I then studied it up close, tugging at its kryptonite-inspired zippers, spinning its endearing little wheels and peering within a multitude of hidden pouches and expandable compartments—frantically searching for that which justified its hideous expense.

Needless to say, I didn’t find it; but I fully expected to unearth a clone of the most remarkable teacher on the planet—one who lived inside that smallish space 24/7, crawling out on command. A pint-sized instructor capable of conveying a deep understanding of the Pythagorean theorem to my dog (never mind less-than-cooperative children). An educator extraordinaire, brimming with enough enthusiasm and patience for six people (and a collapsible Smart Board with tons of pretty markers, too).

Color me delusional, yet again (but not stupid enough to pay $120 for a damn backpack).

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (thoroughly consumed by back-to-school madness). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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