Monthly Archives: September 2011

Ode to Oblivion

I envy my dog at times. I suppose it’s because he seems perpetually happy—aside from the instances during which his neurotic little soul is seized by that which triggers a barking frenzy (i.e. when he encounters joggers with or without headbands, school buses and garbage trucks, people who ostensibly smell funny and practically every sound of undetermined origin). For the most part, however, his days are filled with the quiet contentment of gnawing on Barbie dolls and plastic dinosaurs, hauling underwear and sweat socks into the kitchen with glee and, of course, whizzing indiscriminately. In a word, he doesn’t worry his fuzzy little head over much of anything—even as newscasters here and abroad deliver disturbing bulletins day in and day out as a matter of course.

Indeed, my dear dog is blissfully unaware of all the horrible things that have happened across the globe (or that may occur) on any given day. That said, he is largely unaffected by reports of natural disasters, financial ruin, personal tragedies, heinous crimes, political upheaval and societal unrest. Never mind the special brand of awful that occasionally befalls our happy home. Simply put, his pea brain is incapable of processing such information; ergo he lacks the ability to catastrophize events like I do. And by catastrophize I mean to paint every picture with the worst-case scenario brush and to become deeply consumed with worry and dread over that which will probably never happen anyway.

Granted there are plenty of things in my life that represent legitimate causes for concern—my parents’ health, my daughter having recently totaled her car and the uncertain nature of my roof and refrigerator, circa the Paleozoic Era. Need I even mention my dog’s crippling affinity for hamsters, coupled with an eagerness to sample the wee furry beasts—or my husband’s beloved cell phone, which has been MIA for 22 days running? Not that anyone’s been counting. Alright we’ve been counting. And pacing. And wringing our hands in exasperation.

However the vast majority of stressing I do is patently absurd. I worry about becoming discombobulated in public, about our pet frogs reproducing to an unprecedented and unmanageable degree, about the prospect of our obscenely overloaded garage harboring some sort of immune-resistant virus involving fetid soccer cleats, about the frightening odds of our children marrying Republicans. I also trouble myself with the notion that my husband will one day wise up and leave me, opting for the greener pastures of normalcy. What’s more, I fret about the contents of my kids’ backpacks and whether or not they remembered to pack library books and snacks. I obsess over the color of their socks, the integrity of their bike helmets and the current state of their toenails. Coughs bother me, too. As do unexplained rashes and nosebleeds.

Admittedly, I am a fusspot-of-a-mother and I spend way too much time in a not-so-quiet state of panic over decidedly remote possibilities—like pandemics spread by way of earwax, apocalyptic wars over the fate of the new (and purportedly improved) Facebook and world domination by creatures (think: giant spiders!) whose hideousness has yet to be fully imagined. For the record, I won’t be seeing Contagion anytime soon and I was all but convinced that a bus-sized chunk of space debris that was destined to fall from the sky last week would land squarely on our home. Indeed, I have issues.

Clearly I would do well to refrain from inviting fear and worry into my world. To stop thinking about all the thinking I do. To spend a moment inside my dog’s carefree little mind, basking in the glory of oblivion. But perhaps what I need more than anything, as my friend Sally recently suggested, are stabilizers—the sort that steady ships in rough seas, providing a goodly measure of stability and assurance for all concerned. Yep. Stabilizers—for every neurotic corner of my life.

Then again, the Land of Oblivion carries a certain appeal, too.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (envying my dog). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Normal is Relative

The $64,000 Question…and Then Some

We’re barely into the new school year and already I’ve failed spectacularly. It seems I’m a poor tool when it comes to providing the proper balance of parental guidance and just enough of the laissez-faire approach to encourage independent thinking—followed shortly thereafter by independent action.

It all became so painfully clear last week as I attempted to help Thing One and Thing Two tackle a multifaceted fifth grade math project—one that would likely involve and/or require a fair amount of fact-gathering, a smattering of organizational skill and, quite possibly, some flexible wire and a shoebox. And although I found the aforementioned assignment wholly intriguing (not to mention, decidedly fun), a tiny voice inside me screamed because I know myself all too well.

After decades at the helm (overseeing a plethora of term papers and some of the most endearing dioramas on the planet), I recognize how completely unhinged I become when commissioned as the Grand Taskmaster of individuals who are patently unaffected and/or oblivious to the sense of urgency I feel and the palpable wave of panic that consumes me upon learning that THIS hideously large nugget of whateverness has to be done by THAT rapidly approaching due date. Or at least such directives seem like entirely unmanageable edicts.

In truth, the volume of work (and corresponding time frame for completion) is perfectly reasonable—or so my rational-minded husband assures me. However my brood’s collective indifference, evidenced by their vacant stares and an unconcerned blink now and again, fairly exasperates me. And no amount of flailing my arms, shrieking like a banshee or pointing animatedly at the calendar upon our refrigerator makes any difference.

Predictably, the abovementioned math assignment was met with a similar sort of blitheness. “It’s no biggie, Mom. We have it all under control.” If nothing else, it felt familiar. However, the assignment at hand was far more complex than it appeared at first blush. In addition to several exercises that would cleverly test one’s mastery of place value, it posed a unique question: “If you had one million dollars to spend, what would you buy?” encouraging students to explore the possibility (ostensibly, the good fortune) of having an obscene quantity of cash to expend and/or fritter away.

To be fair, it was optional. Students could elect to address it if they felt so inclined. Or not. Naturally, my heathens jumped at the chance to compile a grand and glorious list of that which they’d snatch from store shelves immediately or sooner, no holds barred. “It’ll be a piece of cake, Mom. And FUN! Seriously, you worry too much.” So as I helped them choose which activities they’d prefer to complete, I echoed their enthusiasm and dove headlong into the endeavor, silencing the little voice that invited apprehension and doubt.

But as we began to explore (and painstakingly list) the items of their affection, we soon learned that a million dollars is a ridiculous—almost surreal—sum of money. Granted, we could have simply “bought” a baseball team, a van Gogh masterpiece or a tropical island. But thankfully, and in the true spirit of educational merit, my charges didn’t think of that. Instead, they chose immaculate houses, luxurious cars and outrageously expensive whateverness with which to equip their dream homes. Their lists grew and grew, filling each page to its very borders, capturing the fanciful essence of “what if” indescribably well.

Curiously, and perhaps refreshingly, they began to question not only the incalculable nature of such a sum, but also the frivolity of their desires. The word charity was discussed at length, as was the practicality of adopting eleventy-seven pets from the SPCA. There was even talk of scrapping the whole thing (Oy!) and starting over with a more altruistic mindset.

In the end, the assignment breached the bounds of difficulty, perhaps by design; but it made us all a little wiser in the process—leaving me with the hope that I might not have failed as spectacularly as I once thought.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wrestling with someone’s 5th grade math). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Morning Schmorning

I’m not a morning person. Not even close. Just ask my husband, or my children. Even the mailman knows I’d never be mistaken for an early riser. I think he’s seen me a grand total of two times since we moved here—groggily shuffling to the mailbox with mismatched shoes and a bad case of bed-head. I must have been expecting something important on the days I managed to drag myself outside early enough to see him zip by in his nifty little car.

I’d bet the house he’s a morning person. Good thing. I’d be about as well-suited for that job as I would for that of a taxi driver (I’m directionally impaired and my time management abilities are patently laughable). Once again, ask my family. They know the score.

In all honesty, I’m relieved to know there are people out there—scads of them, apparently—who thrive on getting things done before sunrise. I’m just not one of them. It must be nothing short of remarkable to experience that satisfaction, that fulfillment, that true sense of accomplishment each and every day—around noontime, I would guess. Clearly, I appreciate the merits of such individuals and recognize that in large part, they are responsible for making the world tick. They’re society’s early birds—and they always get the worm.

I never really cared much for worms.

To summarize, my philosophy on the matter at hand: I hate rushing—especially in the morning. Lingering is more my style–in the true spirit of slothfulness, I might add. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the most cherished block of time for repose exists between the hours of five and seven a.m. If it happens to be raining or snowing, double the pleasure. From my perspective, little else compares to such sheer and unadulterated bliss. Exact change at the checkout counter, coupled with a competent and cordial clerk, perhaps comes close.

Coherent thought patterns, at such an ungodly hour, simply do not exist for me—as I assume they do for most morning people. At that time of day, my brain functions about as efficiently as a head of cabbage. Anything that would involve major decision-making (beyond suggesting what color socks my husband should wear that day) is out of the question. Telephone conversations are virtually impossible too—just ask the countless fools who have tried to dial me up then. They might as well have been talking to a disinterested turnip.

Thankfully, I’m a realist and have fully accepted the fact that it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever join the ranks of early risers. Historically speaking, I never showed much promise in that realm anyway. At times, however, I’ve been known to adopt some of their practices—at least temporarily—for the sake of holding down a job, attending a mandatory meeting or because I feared my family would LEAVE FOR THE BEACH WITHOUT ME (Gasp!). The likelihood of embracing such a concept altogether, however, is next to nil, and any discussion that would imply otherwise is just crazy talk.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably sleeping in). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom to share your in-the-trenches parenting moments. You know you want to.

Copyright 2005 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Me Myself and I

From There to Here

Just a moment ago, my children were kindergarteners—spindly creatures with wee arms, knobby knees and tinny voices. I remember well our maiden voyage to the school’s Open House one afternoon late in August—to the shores of Mrs. Morehart’s classroom, a warm and welcoming place at the end of the hall where my husband and I, like everyone else, crammed our oversized frames into impossibly small chairs eager to consume all that a parent of a kindergartener could possibly need to know about the year ahead. There was talk of cubbies and snow boots, art smocks and mittens. Bus schedules. Lunch lines. Recess and snacks.

Together, with our knees awkwardly pressed to our chests and our irrational fears lurking just beneath the surface, we learned about the magical nature of story time, the Puppet Lady who would come to call, the wealth of educational experiences our children were slated to have and, of course, the vastly important assurance of bathroom proximity. God knows how dearly we valued that. In any event, our concerns were adequately addressed as a collective sigh of relief wafted over the cozy grove of Lilliputian-inspired tables that filled the room and the brightly colored whateverness with which said room was adorned.

Indeed, Mrs. Morehart was a woman with whom we became enamored almost instantly. Her classroom promised to be a venue where impressionable minds would be nourished, creativity and curiosity would be duly celebrated and respect for others, as well as oneself, would be cultivated above all else. What’s more, surnames and bus numbers would be indelibly imprinted upon the forehead of each and every five-year-old and the aforementioned godsend-of-an-educator would refrain from passing judgment on those who were wholly incapable of enforcing bedtimes as well as those who might be inclined to serve dinner in the bathtub on a school night (to, of course, remedy the not-getting-the-kids-to-bed-at-a-reasonable-hour problem).

In truth, no one’s forehead was defiled in the plan to distinguish students or to ensure that the right child got on the right bus at dismissal. In any event, the curators of our precious cargo did, indeed, coordinate the logistics of transportation (and practically every other aspect of child management) seamlessly and with great aplomb. That said, the Land of Kindergarten was a place we parents could feel genuinely good about leaving our charges.

Never mind the wave of apprehension that literally consumed me the following week, when that big, yellow beast-of-a-school-bus groaned to a halt in my street and a certain couple of somebodies were expected to board and then traverse the uncertain path that would come to define their lives as kindergarteners—without me. Needless to say, a great deal of time has passed since then—despite the fact that it feels like mere seconds ago that I sat in one of those tiny plastic chairs, a red one I think, fretting over the exceedingly remote possibility that my children would be trampled by a herd of Converse-wearing, backpack-toting third graders or, tragically, mauled by a rogue pencil sharpener.

Thing One and Thing Two are worldly fifth graders now—not-so-spindly creatures who positively thrive on the thrum of activity present in their school day. No longer are they overwhelmed by long lines in the cafeteria, the deafening roar of eco-friendly electric hand dryers in the restrooms or an oncoming herd of third graders for that matter. They know practically every nook and cranny of their beloved school—where favorite library books can be found, which teachers have a debilitating affinity for chocolate chip cookies and, not surprisingly, how to efficiently navigate to the nurse’s office from virtually anywhere in the building. What’s more, they’ve learned how to deal with unwieldy band instruments, lost book fair money and, occasionally, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

In that respect—yet ever so reluctantly—I acknowledge the vast chasm that exists between then and now, there and here, even though it has felt so completely fleeting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom to share your in-the-trenches parenting moments.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Other Drugs, School Schmool

Of Mutts and Men

Dear lovers of dogs and appreciators of humorous prose (i.e. prospective buyers of Wade Rouse’s celebrated collection of dog essays, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship):

I am a dog. Planet Mom’s dog to be exact. My name is Jack, although on occasion I’ve been referred to as Jackwagon, Jackass, Jackshit and even Jackcheese. Of course, my ridiculously small brain doesn’t allow me to process words in excess of one syllable, so I have yet to assign any real meaning to the aforementioned utterances; however I suspect they are largely derogatory in nature. Mostly because when Planet Mom uses them, she’s either a) gritting her teeth, b) hurling things at my wee head or c) shrieking in a belligerent manner while waving her arms about frantically—all of which I find inordinately amusing.

In any event, you may call me Jack or Mister Fuzzy Pants if you prefer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll come when you call. That’s just how it works. Dogs own people, which is the underlying message of Rouse’s new book released by Penguin Books just yesterday. Naturally, this makes me delirious with joy because finally, FINALLY, someone acknowledges the very real circumstance by which dog and human relationships are governed. In a word, this 255-page literary gem is pee worthy. God knows how I feel uniquely compelled to pee whenever anything really exciting happens—or perhaps run around in circles like a deranged squirrel. But I digress.

In sum, its pages are filled with cleverly written essays by some of the world’s most renowned humorists (i.e. Alice Bradley, Jen Lancaster, W. Bruce Cameron, Sarah Pekkanen, Jill Conner Browne, Jenny Gardiner, Jane Green, Alec Mapa, Stephanie Klein and lots, lots more). There’s also a riveting foreword by a dog named Chunk (read: Chelsea Handler) and an obscenely funny introductory tome by none other than Wade Rouse. No surprise there.

Thankfully, I was afforded an abundance of time to peruse said book, since I don’t actually have all that much to concern myself with anyway—aside from gnawing on Barbie dolls and plastic dinosaurs, devouring chew toys and cat poop at will, hauling dirty underwear and sweat socks into the kitchen with glee and, of course, whizzing indiscriminately. Oh, and let us not forget those daily strolls on my leash wherein I go apeshit for no apparent reason, unable to pull my sorry self from the depths of despair (i.e. my barking frenzies of indeterminate length and intensity involving joggers, people who smell funny and, occasionally, a freakishly large and decidedly hostile trashcan). It’s all so completely unnerving some days. Good thing I’ve had Wade Rouse’s new book to help me reconnect with my inner dog and get back to being a more loveable beast.

All things considered, I’d recommend Not the Biggest Bitch with every fiber of my neurotic little soul (read: all 14 pounds of cottony, touchably soft fluff).

Sincerely,

Jack

P.S. Wade Rouse plans to donate 10% of the royalties he earns from sales of Not the Biggest Bitch to the Humane Society of the United States, which makes me smile with all my teeth (FYI: lots of dogs smile when they’re happy), not to be confused with the instance wherein I (remarkably, I might add) pooped a smile. I shit you not (see picture). Furthermore, such terrific news fills me with the irresistible desire to piddle upon this lovely floor yet again. An unavoidable circumstance of being a dog, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with Mister Jackwagon himself). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Doggie Diamonds, Vat of Complete Irreverence

Bittersweet

Just completed a survey on grief, which, of course, triggered a deluge of grief all over again–inspiring me to re-post this…

www.melindawentzel.comThey say something good always comes from the bad. I heard that a lot in the weeks and months following my brother’s death. And for a long time I found the cliché positively detestable. I hated hearing what I believed was a lie. As if well-meaning friends and family didn’t know what to say, so they just slapped on something that appeared fitting for the occasion, filling the void with words that not only fell flat, but stung each time I heard them.

How were they to know such statements would do more harm than good? Surely none of it was intended. Maybe they figured the more I heard it, the closer I’d be to believing it. Perhaps they thought I’d be comforted in the knowledge that someday, somehow, someway—something good would come about as a result of losing someone so dear to me. Robotically I nodded my appreciation and understanding and put on a perfunctory smile, but down deep I harbored a sea of doubt.

The sweet scent of his cologne, as I leaned in to kiss him one last time, still lingered in the corners of my mind. The haunting memory of his pale hands, cold and lifeless under the warmth of mine, was as fresh as the marmalade skies last evening—only more indelibly cemented. Thoughts of standing there next to his rose-draped casket and running my hand along its silky oak finish—as if my touch could protect him and keep him near me forever—were still too vivid and too painful to believe something good would ever be a byproduct. The hollow clang of the church bell, singing its sorrowful song, rang ever clear in my ears as did the soloist’s heartfelt rendition of Our Father. I knew then and there that life would never be the same, so to listen to everyone’s spiel on how this would eventually turn into something good seemed to me an asinine thing to do.

Suffice it to say, there was little anyone could say to convince me otherwise. Strangely enough, it was my youngest children who first opened my eyes to the possibility that, in fact, something wonderful could arise from a circumstance so indescribably horrible. All I had to do was drink in the magic of their innocence and undeniable wisdom as it unfolded before me.

Ironically, one of the initial glimmers of hope arrived on the morning of the funeral—although I didn’t view it as such then. My husband graciously shared with me something one of our twins had answered while dressing for the occasion. “Come on, Hon,” he coaxed, thinking it might be a struggle to get one or both to the church in time. “We need to go and send Uncle Jeff to Heaven now.”

“But Daddy, he’s already there,” she stated with an air of assurance far beyond her years, literally stopping my husband in his tracks just long enough to wipe his eyes and marvel at the gravity of her words. “Wow,” was all I could manage in response.

The girls drew special pictures to include as parting gifts for their uncle—ones we promised to tie up with pretty pink ribbons and carefully place next to him, amidst the river of satiny folds lining his casket. “Uncle Jeff’s gonna put ‘em on his refrigerator I’ll bet,” chirped our curly-haired wonder to her blue-eyed counterpart.

“Hey, God doesn’t have just ONE refrigerator, silly; He has LOTS and LOTS! Maybe even 100!” she fired back, prompting a discussion I had never myself imagined having—but they did.

“No He doesn’t; He has MILLIONS!” the other corrected. And so it continued; but not once was it suggested that refrigerators DIDN’T exist there in that special place, or that God hadn’t thought it would be important for uncles to display the artwork of favorite nieces. Maybe that’s precisely what my husband and I needed at that moment—to learn that hope and faith and unwavering belief dwell within beings barely old enough to tie their own shoes. It happened again when they penned letters and expected us to mail them to Heaven. Of course, we did just that—using two “Heaven stamps,” in lieu of tying them to balloons—the preferred method.

Something good had indeed arisen, albeit bittersweet. But sweet nonetheless.

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

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Loss