Monthly Archives: February 2012

Necessity is the Mother of Clean Closets and Tidy Drawers

I used to be obsessed with neatness—a strange sort of child who, completely unprompted, would devote an entire Saturday to the rearrangement of my bedroom furniture, organizing drawers and eradicating dust with wild abandon. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I’d lug large and unwieldy dressers across the floor in fits and starts, nonplussed by the unremarkable nature of my progress, the uncooperative penchant of my carpeting and the very real possibility that the dozen or more wooden legs involved would weaken and eventually snap like Mom and Dad had warned so many times. But I was driven (read: impulsive), filled with an overwhelming desire to bring order to my world and a fresh, new look to my 10×10 foot haven of personal space—a canary yellow cube I called my very own.

What’s more, there was something deliciously liberating—perhaps, even cathartic—about wrestling with a chest of drawers that sought to undermine my every effort to muscle it, ever so deliberately and in embarrassingly small increments, without a bit of assistance. I was ambitious (read: daft) if nothing else.

Needless to say, untold hours were spent drafting floor plans and analyzing my decisions—as if the placement of each and every souvenir-inspired trinket, shoebox stuffed with collectibles and cumbersome piece of furniture mattered. Because it did. Never mind that I knew next to nothing about feng shui or its inherent wonderfulness. Apparently, I was born with an innate appreciation for the spatial relevance of objects that surrounded me. Or maybe my curious obsession with moving furniture and shuffling the contents of drawers in a quiet state of panic was fueled by an intolerable degree of boredom and/or a desire to avoid stubbing my toe on the way to the bathroom in the dead of night. I don’t pretend to know what spurred my impassioned efforts; however, I am wholly convinced that that industrious soul is nowhere to be found today.

Decades of amassing that which I clearly couldn’t live without (to include an irreplaceable, yet hoard-happy, family) has resulted in a hideously cluttered existence. That said, virtually every corner of my home has been sullied to some extent—a byproduct of living with people who are physically incapable of returning anything to its rightful place in the universe, much less, throwing it away. Lego villages, like clumps of crabgrass, creep into crevices and occupy tabletops for weeks on end as do legions of Barbie dolls that lie about the place, shamelessly nude. And let us not forget the shoes (oh, my hell, the SHOES!) and the train-wreck-of-a-dresser that a certain someone has refused to purge since kindergarten. Not to be outdone, my husband marks territory with coats and hats and, of course, the trappings of projects in various stages of completion, all of which I find patently unforgivable. Furthermore, the unsightly mass atop his dresser is only slightly less offensive than the one detailed above. I wish I were making this up.

No longer do my Saturdays involve frenzied cleaning missions, the reordering of an otherwise obscure set of drawers, or a compulsion to move my coffee table somewhere else…just because. I simply don’t have that kind of luxury, never mind the initiative required to act upon it. Instead, my days are rife with failed attempts to keep all the plates spinning (i.e. the psyches nurtured, the homework vanquished, the inexorable bickering at bay). That is not to say that tiny bursts of inspiration never occur; but my domestic priorities have shifted markedly since the advent of motherhood and my tolerance for household squalor has risen to an unprecedented (read: disturbing) level.

Basically I clean, purge and/or organize for three reasons: When someone spills something and that something is categorically vile, when the laws of nature regarding storage capacity have been irreparably breached, or when the arrival of guests is imminent. Indeed, necessity is the mother of clean closets and tidy drawers, while shame is the mother of purged refrigerators. It’s a far cry from my neatnik days, but for the most part, practicable.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably not cleaning my refrigerator). Visit me there at

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel


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V is for Valentine

V is for the valiant deeds you do as a matter of course—like traipsing through our home in the dead of night in your underwear to find the source of a sound I’ve tried (and failed miserably) to adequately describe, except to say that it is “most definitely not a normal ‘house sound.’” Moreover, you’ve rushed to my aid on countless occasions to thwart the spillage of veritable pools of repulsiveness, unstopping the loo with remarkable aplomb, never once pausing to judge the ridiculous nature of my fear and loathing.

A is for your appreciative nature and for your inclination to express said appreciation in the form of chocolate. And almonds. Perhaps dark chocolate-covered almonds, if I were asked to more accurately define the essence of your appreciative ilk, my dear Romeo.

L is for loveable, given the endearing creature that you are. That said, you’re kind and compassionate, thoughtful and engaging, generous to a fault and more romantic than you’ll ever know. I never have to question your love for me or your ability to make me laugh even when the bottom falls out and the wheels fly off (think: projectile vomiting and flooded basements). You know just what to say and when to say it, reading me as well as any book you’ve ever held in your hands. Even your foibles (which, by many standards, should’ve made me certifiably insane by now) are marginally unobjectionable—something I never thought humanly possible.

E is for the enthusiasm with which you approach life—even in the face of my less-than-enthusiastic view toward tedious chores like cleaning the garage, weatherproofing the deck and planning the totality of every summer vacation we’ve ever been so fortunate to take. Furthermore, the restraint you demonstrated for the duration of my Orlando-inspired tirade (i.e. the one involving shameful histrionics in which I accused Disney characters of being creepy and a certain airline of being patently tyrannical) was most admirable. For that alone, I love you dearly.

N is for your nonjudgmental nature. You don’t care that I sometimes forget to cook. Or dust. Or shop. Or water plants. You accept me for who I am, unconditionally, and know that a lot of plants will likely die in my care.

T is for the tolerance you exhibit each and every day. Admittedly, I’m difficult to live with. I’m needy, erratic and I have a crippling aversion to spiders. I swill milk straight from the jug, my showers are of an interminable length and I’ve been known to mock your shortcomings with merciless precision (i.e. “Can’t you at least pretend to be organized?”) What’s more, I am physically incapable of getting anywhere in a timely fashion, which I’m certain rankles you to the core. You’ll never know how grateful I am for your tolerance in the abovementioned arenas.

I is for the ingenuity you routinely display when you’re called upon to delve into our brood’s unwieldy school projects—the ones that ought to warn parents of the perils of working with way too much glue and far too little direction. So clever and resourceful are you, utilizing an unlikely arsenal of duct tape, crusty pizza boxes and errant screws. You’re perfectly selfless, too, embracing the celebrated and often untimely excursion to Jo-Ann Fabrics without the slightest objection or hint of frustration. After all, you reason, it gives you a chance to bond with other parents who have made the very same trek—to gather paint, to compare the circumference of various styrofoam balls and to suffer the ill effects of pipe cleaner envy.

N is for the novelty you employ practically every time you pack someone’s lunch, adding a touch of love and creativity to an otherwise banal event. Never mind that you’ve replaced me as the Sandwich Captain and Scrawler of Lunchbox Notes. Of course, I was envious at first, harboring a visceral brand of resentment for a time. But I’ve come to realize that you’ve taken on the task to lighten my load. What’s more, I genuinely appreciate your flair for catering to creatures who are, at best, a challenge to nourish.

E is for your emboldening ways. In a word, you’re my biggest advocate in this life—silencing my doubts, offering definitive proof that my cup runneth over much of the time and always, always providing a soft spot to land when I fall. Valentine, I love you more than words could ever say.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (spelling it out for my special valentine). Visit me there at

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel (Also seen on The Huffington Post!)

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Captain Underpants

As I type, I’m envisioning the disjointed discussion likely taking place in my brood’s fifth-grade classroom right about now, spawned, of course, by the events surrounding Saturday’s cleaning fest at our home. Like most frenzied attempts to rid my world of filth, this one involved airborne food, uninspired decor and a shameless violation of child labor laws. I’m guessing the conversation unfolded thusly:

Thing One: “My Mom made us dust the whole living room this weekend WITH A PAIR OF MY DAD’S UNDERWEAR and it was entirely horrible.”

Teacher: (rendered speechless, except for the chortles she probably choked back in an effort to appear genuinely empathetic and professional in the midst of unadulterated hilarity)

Thing One: “Yeah, she was running the vacuum like ALL DAY, which she almost NEVER does, because we had to move the couch…because there was a big mustard stain on the carpet she was trying to hide (with said couch) and because my sister and I were standing around doing nothing except eating the old M&Ms we found under the couch, Mom made us pick up Dad’s underwear and dust (likely scarring the aforementioned youth for life).”

Teacher: “Oh. Dusting. With your Dad’s underwear. I see.”

Thing Two: “I spilled the mustard last week. And my beef barbecue sandwich on Saturday morning, when I jumped into Mom’s favorite chair. She went ballistic, like she always does. So we ended up helping her clean, only we didn’t do it right because she found little pieces of my sandwich underneath the cushion and on the carpet EVEN AFTER we scrubbed. Well, actually THE DOG found little pieces of my sandwich and I knew it wasn’t going to be a very good day. So she handed us Dad’s underwear and told us to dust. I thought I was going to hurl.”

Teacher: “Mustard. Beef barbecue. Underwear. Urge to hurl. Uh huh. But the underwear was just a dust cloth, right? One she’s washed a gazillion times?”

Thing One: “That’s what she told us, but I don’t believe it. She was probably SO mad about the carpet and the chair that she wanted to punish us by grossing us out. Well it worked. When I grow up and get my own house, I’m never going to make my kids dust with anyone’s underwear. That’s just plain wrong.”

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (amusing teachers everywhere). Visit me there at

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting

The Value of Permanence

Lots of things in this world are disturbing to me. Greed, poverty and heinous crime. The demise of the planet and the pervasiveness of mediocrity. Mismatched socks and the death of Gilligan’s Island. Oddly enough, I include technology on that list, too—or more correctly, the alarming pace at which technological devices are mass produced, marketed to the public and propelled into the great abyss of planned obsolescence. It’s as if we’re cultivating a generation of people who care less and less about the enduring nature of things and more about the latest nugget of innovation that promises to improve society in some novel way. That said, I fear that my kids will grow to devalue the permanence of things—despite the fact that on this particular day the notion seems wholly inconceivable.

As I’ve described so many times before (occasionally in horrific detail) the hoarding tendencies of Thing One and Thing Two are beyond all comprehension—as is their love of sameness. Ostensibly, their mission in life is to avoid change at all possible costs and to amass virtually every molecule of that which is deemed worthy of collecting—heaping it upon dressers, shoving it beneath beds and stowing it into forgotten corners of our pitifully disordered garage. Of course, they’ve come by this trait honestly. Captain Clutter could, at any given time, produce the following: a receipt for a television we no longer own, a tool I have never once seen in my life, an impressive array of his artwork from the fifth grade, a prized stash of his baby teeth. Yes, baby teeth. I wish I were joking.

At any rate, the hoarding gene seems inextricably present within my brood, although to some extent this gives me comfort because it implies there is hope that my daughters will feel compelled to hold on to the remnants of life that truly matter—the tangible stuff that will trigger memories long after I’m gone, serving to moor them to their childhood.

Like any good cynic, I’m skeptical that an electronic record could preserve the past on par with that which I can hold in my hands. Further, bits and bytes seem inordinately complex and elusive to me. Ethereal almost. Not to mention, data stored in this fashion is far from safe in my charge, having managed to delete countless items to my utter dismay. My husband, too, has mourned the loss of infinitely dear morsels of remembrances, having inadvertently erased a snippet of speech from his cell phone not long ago—one that was placed there by a certain six-year-old who breathlessly told of some robins who had apparently “…lost their way, Daddy!” Her voice, filled impossibly with the exuberance of youth on that memorable January day, cannot be replicated.

Indeed, lapses in judgment happen. Computers crash. Files become corrupt or irretrievable. That which is irreplaceable can be woefully distorted or lost entirely. What’s more, the digital wonders of the 21st century, although truly wonderful, somehow lack the essential element of palpability in my mind—especially as keepsakes go. Pictures and even video clips of my family at the shore simply cannot compare with the sack full of shells we gathered together and hauled back to Pennsylvania because someone insisted that we “…take the beach home, Mom. It’ll help us remember.” Even still, the briny scent of the sea hits me squarely when I open the bag to finger our bounty once more and to poke at the grains of sand that have settled to the bottom. In an instant I am back at the beach, feeling the warmth beneath my feet and hearing the gulls shriek over the waves that pound without end.

Likewise, an email doesn’t possess near the charm that a handwritten letter does—especially if doodles have been scrawled in the margins or a violet has been carefully tucked within the folds of the paper. Nor can a digital photograph compete with the inherent brilliance of a grainy, black and white 35 mm print. Moreover, a text message is not remotely related to a lunchbox note, or one that awaits beneath a bed pillow at day’s end.

Color me old-fashioned, resistant-to-change—a dinosaur even. That aside, I feel connected to what’s real and right for me.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (tethered forever to that which is tangible). Visit me there at

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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