Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Parents

Sarcasm aside, Stephen Covey should have written a book with the abovementioned title. Not that he failed spectacularly as a father, but because people tend to more readily grasp what doesn’t work, as opposed to what does. Like tightrope walking, for instance—without a net. In a practical sense, Seven Habits would’ve been an invaluable guide for parents, highlighting the antithesis of good advice as it relates to the uncertain nature of raising children. Countless individuals, myself included, could’ve then avoided seven of the biggest pitfalls of child rearing—all of which I’ve shamelessly embraced since the advent of motherhood. So in the true spirit of generosity and irreverence, I’ve compiled a list of that which you would do well to eschew.

1)   STOCKPILE EXACTLY NOTHING IN YOUR DISCIPLINARY ARSENAL, rendering you categorically ineffective (read: utterly deplorable) when it comes to dealing with ill-mannered children and/or defiant teens. A sign that you’re on the right track in this regard can be clearly demonstrated if you lack any discernable ability to assign logical consequences to a wayward grocery cart, let alone an unruly child. Moreover, if you think “positive reinforcement” is just a bunch of psychobabble and you have absolutely no idea what will happen if and when you actually reach the count of three (i.e. at the climax of your hackneyed threat: “One…two…two-and-a-half…two-and-three-quarters…two-and-seven-eighths…”), you’re well on your way to becoming a highly defective parent. However, you’ve truly arrived in said capacity when you scream at your brood, “Stop screaming!” and it actually works.

2)   DO EVERYTHING FOR YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN, lest they become discouraged, frustrated or palpably incensed as a result of their futile attempts to do for themselves. Heaven forbid you let them fail. At anything. Nor should your dear progenies be held accountable in this life. For anything. Never mind their longings for independence and ownership as they grow. Continue on the path to martyrdom by picking up their shoes, making their beds and triple-checking their homework day after day, right through college and into grad school. Fight their battles for them, too, paving the way on every imaginable front. In this manner, you can ensure their dependency (and your sense of purpose as a slack-picker-upper) for a lifetime.

3)   SAY “YES” TO YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN FAR TOO OFTEN, even if it spells emotional/financial ruin for you, or reckless endangerment for them. A happy upbringing is all about instant gratification and leniency, after all—not to mention, keeping the peace. Indulge them daily—hourly if need be, so that you might satisfy their every whim. Translation: Let your charges pitch a monstrosity-of-a-tent in the living room for weeks on end, perilously slide down staircases in sleeping bags and adopt more pets than the Animal Control Board thinks you can readily accommodate. Note: If your house doesn’t smell like hamsters or wet dog, you’re not trying hard enough.

4)   COMPARE YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN TO OTHERS at every opportunity (especially those involving hyper-successful peers, siblings and well-mannered house plants)—a practice that serves to solidify feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Kids simply adore being held to an unattainable ideal, relishing the notion of not-measuring-up in all avenues of life.

5)   MODEL IMPROPRIETY AT EVERY TURN. Launch tirades, throw shoes and by all means, refuse to share your sand shovel. Additionally, hold grudges, damn politicians and say incredibly vile things about the Everyday Math you’ve been expected to embrace since your oldest entered kindergarten. Better still, demonstrate the beauty of white lies, offer your brood an abundance of inappropriate ways to deal with bullies and hang up on a telemarketer at least as often as Rush Limbaugh says something stupid.

6)   ALWAYS SPEAK BEFORE YOU THINK. Enough said.

7)   INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT OF PANIC TO YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN BY ROUTINELY INVITING FEAR AND WORRY INTO YOUR COLLECTIVE CORNER OF THE WORLD. The more irrational the fear/worry the better. Histrionics are good, too, especially as they relate to obscure maladies involving parasites native to Tasmania, the horror of being struck by a sofa-sized chunk of space debris and, of course, the Mayan apocalypse.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in all my defective glory). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Worms Fail Me

www.melindawentzel.comThere is a routine by which my children leave the house each school day. It’s a fairly logical succession of events that usually culminates with a mad dash to the bus stop, backpacks and jackets flapping as they run, their unruly manes trailing behind them. Of all the memories of motherhood I’m sure to harvest, the one that features their early morning race across the lawn, a blur of gangly legs and unbridled enthusiasm, will be a favorite. It’s likely, too, that I’ll remember the many times they paused in the street, still blackened and slick from the unending rains of spring, to rescue untold numbers of earthworms from what would appear to be certain death.

Quickly, yet gingerly, they scoop them up and place them where it is safe, pleased to have made a difference in a small yet meaningful way. And as I witness this determined albeit futile effort to “…rescue them all, Mom,” morning after morning I am moved, inspired almost, to join in their worthy deeds. Of course, it would be cruel to utter the obvious truth: “You can’t possibly save them all.” So instead I bite my tongue and agree that worms, too, have a purpose. “They aerate and enrich the soil, Mom.” Again I am reminded of the exuberance of youth and of the remarkable capacity children have for storing data sure to wow me.

At any rate, it goes without saying that worms lack the ability to communicate their needs and desires—no matter how compelling or dire they might be. Granted, they couldn’t deliver any sort of message that anyone could ever hope to interpret. Crazy as it sounds, there are times that I can relate to such hapless creatures—especially as I struggle to connect with my brood via meaningful discourse. Indeed, sometimes words fail me—when weighty subjects arise, when reflective listening falls flat, when my children’s growing allegiance to privacy rears its ugly head. But I am determined to improve the way in which we connect over the stuff that matters—as well as the stuff that doesn’t particularly.

For starters, I’ve made a solemn pledge to engage my daughters in conversation each day—to stop whatever it is I happen to be doing and tune in to their respective worlds. To find out who has a crush on whom, which item on the lunch menu is to die for these days and just how many Pokémon cards it truly takes to be complete. For my oldest, my curiosities are more akin to: which D.C. restaurant is her new fave, what, exactly, does one do with a graphic design degree anyway and when (oh when!) will the boyfriend be getting a haircut. And although I make light of it here, I understand how important it is to have these conversations. Somehow over the past decade I’ve allowed life’s harried pace to take precedence over bonding in this manner—even over the seemingly insignificant happenings of life, which is precisely what I wish to change.

So aside from vowing to carve out more one-on-one “face time” with my co-ed daughter (who is still away at college), I plan to call more, and text more and I suspect I’ll even utilize Facebook’s messaging system on a more regular basis—a concept I never once imagined myself embracing.

As for my two youngest charges, I’ve taken a big step forward on the path to opening the lines of communication by purchasing each of them Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Mothers by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs (Chronicle Books). So in addition to the aforementioned “face time,” we now have this wonderfully interactive, perfectly confidential, writing prompt-infused means of communicating with one another—a tool that encourages us to “talk” about everything from boys and bands to wishes and worries, all within the confines of a tangible journal that we conveniently pass back and forth. Of course, it doesn’t replace or devalue our customary method of conversing, but instead offers another, perhaps deeper, layer of connecting. A good thing methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Kid-Speak

Let’s Panic About Babies!

Don’t know what to give that special friend or relative who just found out she’s pregnant? Or the one who thinks she might be pregnant, but isn’t really sure? Or the knocked-up coworker two cubicles down with the really nice dieffenbachia plant? You know the one. The unassuming waif who is decidedly in a state of panic over the news. The one consumed by a myriad of irrational fears revolving around the hideous changes her body is currently experiencing. The one who will drive you fairly berserk in her quest to fire inane pregnancy questions at you till doomsday—which, apparently, came and went.

At any rate, you need to purchase a slightly perfect gift for the baby shower that will inevitably occur in the coming months. Let’s Panic About Babies! (a rollicking, unabashed tome about the wonderment of being with child) is, indeed, that perfect gift. That said, it offers sage advice (translation: it offers none), intriguing accounts from the field (translation: practically everything chronicled in the book is made-up) and compelling data (translation: the statistics contained within are completely fabricated and anyone who quotes them is a moron). Plus, it provides hours and hours of blissful entertainment as it relates to the misery that is pregnancy (translation: that part is entirely true as it is a sinfully delicious read and likely to cause you to choke on your Skittles and whatnot).

Furthermore, this book, which was written by the insanely talented duo of Alice Bradley (aka Finslippy) and Eden M. Kennedy (aka Mrs. Kennedy), is equally valuable to those who’ve already had children and happen to be pregnant—again. Oh the horror! The seasoned-woman-with-child will certainly appreciate every syllable upon its 262 gloriously illustrated pages, praising its irreverence throughout all three trimesters—and beyond. There’s even a chapter that speaks to men!

In sum, Let’s Panic is a priceless body of work that reminds us how important it is not to take ourselves too seriously as parents and parents-to-be. Pick up a copy today. You know you want to.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the days of being as big as a house). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.com where I implore you to share your in-the-trenches-parenting-moments.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Dear Diary

Four years ago, when my youngest daughters turned seven, I gave them each a diary—a scrumptious chunk of blank space within which they would reveal their innermost hopes, fears and desires—to the world, or to no one. A place where thoughts could be poured onto paper without hesitation or shame. A 234-page sentinel-of-secrets, complete with its own tiny lock and key (a decidedly priceless feature I am told). A canvas upon which Thing One and Thing Two could portray Mommie Dearest in horrific detail.

Of course, I bought said diaries because I so greatly enjoy being maligned because I am perfectly incapable of resisting that which is certain to thrill my brood beyond all imagining. Translation: Anything thought to celebrate the notion of secrecy makes my kids drunk with joy. Further, I was shamed into buying them. That said, the silly things beckoned to me from the shelf where they sat, insisting that I act immediately—lest my dear progenies be robbed of happiness forever.

“Isn’t it about time you encouraged a little self-expression in your children?” whispered a diary infused with a beautiful medley of blue hues (Thing One’s favorite). As I wended my way through the stationary aisle, fumbling with calendars and whatnot, I heard more of the same—only a bit louder this time, seemingly emanating from an adorable little log that boasted a delicious shade of bubblegum-pink (Thing Two’s favorite). “Have you not thought about cultivating more introspection among your impressionable charges?” it probed with an air of haughtiness.

“Have you not felt the need to nurture your kids’ inner-Thoreau?!” both diaries chided in unison.

Slack mouthed and dumbfounded I just stood there, feeling slightly horrible about having deprived my children—staring back at the bookish entities that spoke the undeniable truth.

“Thoreau? Sweet Jesus, who’s Thoreau?” I muttered to myself.

“Put us in the stupid cart, you simpleton,” they ordered. And so I did. The medley of blue and bubblegum-pink. One for each child to voice all-that-is-deliciously-personal. One for each girl to revere more than Hello Kitty herself.

“This is so awesome! I get to keep secret stuff in here that no one else can see—even you, Mom,” I’ve been reminded again and again.

Indeed, everyone needs some sort of venue for chronicling life’s events, for reflecting upon everyday occurrences, for delving deep into the most intimate of affairs—like ensuring there’s a tangible record of current love interests as well as obscenely detailed accounts of classmates’ exceedingly annoying habits involving one’s nose (not that I’ve been privy to such information). It’s also a marvelous place to grouse about perceived injustices, to gather expletives by the bushel and to put into words how completely dreadful it is to be filled with angst. Even for grade schoolers. Perhaps especially for grade schoolers.

But said journal-ific wonders are also capable of capturing the essence of goodness—through sketches and prose filled with happiness, pride and gratitude for all that is right in one’s world. Keepers of diaries would be wise to dog-ear such pages and refer to them often. Even grade schoolers. Perhaps especially grade schoolers.

I, too, worshiped and glorified the notion of privacy, having stuffed a diary beneath my bed as a third grader and beyond. Better still, I had a top-secret clubhouse in the basement, a multitude of forts nestled deep in the woods and a cat with whom I shared classified information on a daily basis. Strange, but true. I hid notes in hollows, carved stuff in trees and scrawled upon rocks—although I’d be hard pressed to say whose initials were paired with mine and which particular grade school tragedy was spelled out in horrific detail on page 73 of my dear diary.

I suppose, it’s neither here nor there at this late date. The essential thing was having some sort of space within which I could voice what mattered to me at the time. As it should be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (wondering where I hid my damn diary—even still). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Have You Hugged a Book Today?

www.melindawentzel.comWe have a library in our house, which sounds slightly more impressive than it actually is. The area in question is far from a sprawling expanse littered with overstuffed chairs and an abundance of narrative gems. More correctly, our so-called library occupies a modest corner of our home—a place where a blue-checkered playpen once stood seemingly forever. Nevertheless, it is a space devoted to all-things-bookish. A small yet infinitely important enclave that exists for the sole purpose of fueling my children’s passion for reading. As it should be—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Almost a decade has passed since we began gathering a hodgepodge of titles and piling them into some semblance of order there upon the floor of our living room. Tallest to smallest. Favorites within easy reach. A perfect mélange of new and not-so-new tales—thanks to having traversed this parenting path once before.

Naturally, said books would spill out into the room after a certain couple of somebodies (read: Toddler One and Toddler Two) raided the cache, leaving a trail of literary goodness in their collective wake. Never mind that only yesterday pillows and great herds of stuffed animals were dragged there and commissioned for the purpose of building reading “nests” and whatnot. Only recently have we been able to place the prized entities elsewhere (i.e. upon the honey-colored bookshelf that now inhabits the aforementioned corner—the one that boasts a cavernous window through which the morning sun pours almost without fail).

It is perhaps a bit more special given that the shelf itself was one that my husband had designed and built back in 1969. It was the high school shop project that seemed destined never to be finished. Lo and behold, the four-tiered wonder was completed and for some 40 years it lived in his childhood home. That’s where I first ogled its glossy, maple finish—along with a handful of teakwood carvings that sat upon its top shelf. A one-humped camel and an Asian elephant with a missing tusk. Keepsakes that hailed from afar. Treasures with which my children were enamored each and every time we visited Grandma.

I guess I never really thought about the notion of my mother-in-law not being there to witness their growing curiosity. Nor did I entertain the possibility of adopting her wooden bookshelf when she died—complete with the coveted carvings. Of course, they still sit atop the shelf, nodding approval with each book selection my charges make. Grandma would be pleased, I’m sure.

Likewise, I think she’d be pleased to learn of the strides her granddaughters have made since kindergarten, and how their love of books has flourished during that same wedge of time. No longer do they reach for bedtime favorites like Goodnight Moon, the brilliantly penned Where the Wild Things Are, the infinitely tender Guess How Much I Love You and the exceedingly palpable Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Even Dr. Seuss has fallen out of favor.

Indeed, the pure and simple joy of picture books has been replaced by the all-consuming nature of chapter books—ones that invite my progenies to dwell for a time, deliciously entangled within the words on a given page. Needless to say, their tastes have grown more sophisticated, as has their command of vocabulary. That said, Thing One is completely smitten with mysteries, all-things-Harry-Potter and that which is disturbingly terrifying while Thing Two is fond of cookbooks and craft books, although she went through an interminable phase during which she would read nothing unless its plot somehow involved a godforsaken dog, a horse blessed with the ability to speak or a wretched hamster. Of course, they both feast voraciously upon the celebrated Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, practically anything ever written by Roald Dahl, Barbara Park or Kate DiCamillo, and sadly, the idiocy that is Captain Underpants.

All things considered, I deem my children’s journey as emerging readers to have been nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t help but feel indebted to those who’ve helped cultivate their enduring love of books—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an abundance of books worthy of hugging…and barely able to breathe ever since a request was made for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Great Expectations

www.melindawentzel.comIn the dark of predawn I lay in bed, tucked snugly beneath my downy comforter, sleet pinging against the windowpanes in soft yet fitful waves. Against all odds associated with parenthood, no one under the age of eight burst into the room to announce that the sky was falling. Translation: my husband and I had had the presence of mind to skip setting the kids’ alarm the night before, in anticipation of inclement weather almost certain to arrive by daybreak. So for a time, all was silent in this good house—except for the ticking of clocks and the tiny taps at the window.

As the not-so-surprising news of yet another school cancellation reached my ears in the wee hours that day, I was filled impossibly with hope. Hope that I would enjoy a morning devoid of the madness I had known all too well since September. Hope for a day abundant with hot cocoa, kindness and good cheer. Hope that I might finally summon the strength and ambition to take down the blasted Christmas tree. The one that had been standing very nearly straight in my living room for 63 days, mocking me as I addressed my cache of shamefully belated holiday cards.

The tree had to come down. It would come down. It was January 28th for Pete’s sake. Besides, I was tired of its condescending glare, as if it were looking down its boughs at me, judging my every deficiency. Shaming my inadequate core.

Moreover, with my army of helpers that would likely be at my disposal ALL DAY (since no one wanted to frolic in the freezing rain), I banked on being able to pack up and stow away each and every jingle bell, snowman, Santa likeness and string of garland-y foolishness in the entire house. To reclaim my space. At least until Easter.

Needless to say, lots of people here agreed that it was high time. “Mom, you know we’re going to get arrested, don’t you?”

“Arrested? For what?!”

“Because January’s almost over and we don’t even have our Christmas tree down yet! We’ll all be thrown in jail!”

“Whaaaaat?! Who’s going to throw us in jail?”

“The Holiday Police.”

“The Holiday Who?!”

“The Holiday Police. They arrest people who don’t do stuff right—like taking Christmas trees down BEFORE Groundhog Day. Helloooooooooo.”

She had a point.

All I had to do was glance at the calendar and then at the muddled mess surrounding me. Remnants of the holiday season were everywhere. The Christmas lights were completely shrouded with ice and fused impossibly to the trees and shrubs outside. The stockings were still hung—and shockingly, still laden with beloved items that had been tragically forgotten since Santa’s celebrated arrival. Gifts of every size, shape and hideous stage of disarray lay like carnage throughout the house and under the aforementioned evergreen, gloriously bedecked with enough ornament-age for a forest. Legions upon legions of festive-looking dishes, alarmingly bare except for the smarmy trail of cashews and the red and green fleckage of holiday M&Ms, still rested upon my tabletops, whispering without end, “Cleeeean meeeee.” Santa’s cookie plate begged to be returned to the cupboard, the crèche longed to be back in the attic and quite frankly, the mistletoe was tired of hanging around.

What’s more, I noted that the kids had been swiping stuff from the tree for weeks—like the reindeer, now chummy with Barbie’s horses and sharing a corral, and the snowmen, warmly adopted by a family of Lego people. I even discovered a few sparkly ornaments dangling precariously from the rooftops of doll houses. Icicles maybe?

That said, it was way past time to begin the arduous process of un-decorating. Clearly, the snow day that had been bestowed upon us was a window of opportunity and perhaps the spark that would ignite my drive and determination to succeed in spite of myself. At least that was the plan.

But it was not to be. My great expectations for the day were shot by 10 am and my hopes for a tidier living room were all but dashed. For all intents and purposes, the thorny pine had become rooted there, a glaring reminder of my ineptitude as a putter-away-of-holiday-wares. Instead we frittered away the time, putting six puzzles together, littering the house with Barbie dolls and dresses, devouring books, stuffing ourselves with chocolate-chip pancakes and lounging in our pajamas till it was almost evening—at which time I sent my brood outdoors to play in the snow that had FINALLY begun to fall in big, feathery flakes. A consolation prize for my efforts.

Then again, maybe my reward was the delicious chunk of time I spent fishing for puzzle pieces with my kids, eavesdropping on their Barbie powwows, listening to the ice hit the windows—safe and sound in this good house.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and where the Holiday Police routinely arrive each year).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Other Drugs, Ode to Embarrassment, The Natives are Decidedly Restless