Monthly Archives: July 2012

Ban on Boredom

There is a curious bit of art that sits upon my friend’s kitchen windowsill, poised, I assume, to oversee the rinsing of casserole dishes and the occasional filling of a vase for wildflowers that were simply too beautiful not to be plucked from the earth and brought indoors. The art in question, a tiny square of paper featuring the word BORED rendered variously in ink roughly 197 times, was never intended as such. Instead, it served as a perfectly respectable outlet for my child’s not-so-respectable rage that stemmed from having to endure that which she deemed tiresome if not intolerable.

Naturally, I shared this quietly defiant act with my friend. Because that’s what friends do; they spread the joy that can only be appreciated by those who have worn similar shoes. Confession: On occasion, I am summarily amused when my children wrestle with frustration—like when the lid on the pickle jar won’t budge, the dog refuses to relinquish Barbie doll whateverness from his insatiable maw, the 437th dive into the pool is still a cussed bellyflop. Of course, I know it’s wrong to laugh at the expense of my brood, but I have no shame. The endearing allegiance to the misery of boredom that now rests upon the aforementioned windowsill—a beacon of impassioned self-expression, as it were—is no exception.

What makes the story more compelling, however, is the fact that the child who created said homage to indignation is almost never bored, let alone angry about being bored. Indeed, her wrath was such a rarity, I desperately sought to preserve it—with a perfectly ornate little frame. One for my friend. One for myself. So that I might revisit that anomaly-of-a-moment during which my dear progeny succumbed to the evils of ennui, lashing out at the universe, or at anyone who might be inclined to glance over her shoulder as she stewed in silence, wielding a poison pen. Thankfully, said resentment was short-lived. Soon she was back to her old self again, unearthing fun and fascination at every turn.

Even still, I can appreciate the sentiment shared by so many of our impressionable youth—their collective and decidedly whiny mantra forever emblazoned upon their minds if not upon their lips. However, I identify more closely with what that means for moms and dads in the trenches. “I’m bored” is perhaps one of the most dreaded phrases a parent can encounter in the thick of July, or anytime for that matter, inviting panic into an otherwise delicious wedge of life.

So I suppose I should consider myself fortunate, as my charges rarely utter the phrase. I credit my ability to convince all three daughters, early on, that “bored” was a bad word. In fact, using it in a sentence was expressly forbidden in our household for a very long time. As a result, Thing One and Thing Two are currently devouring their eleventh summer, as if every waking moment was imbued with rainbow sprinkles (with the exception of time spent on their math workbooks—the ones my uber-parent psyche demanded they complete by September).

At any rate, the thrum of midsummer now rings in our ears. Squirt guns and sprinklers. Fireflies and Frisbees. Hammocks and hot dogs.

Boredom-schmoredom.

Never mind the ever-present nature of barefoot children, lemonade and laughter. Treks to Grandma’s house, too—the place where we ditch our electronics and discover the simple joy of checkers, the allure of sundrenched decks and sleepy porches, not to mention the inherent beauty of being still, if only for a time.

That said, a recent trip to our friends’ lake house epitomized July’s ban on boredom. The kids in question had at their disposal a wealth of toys and sailing opportunities, but instead chose to frolic around in the lake, dig in the sand and harvest more freshwater clams than I’ve ever seen, completely absorbed in their own little world, long after darkness fell and the embers of the fire turned to ash.

Much to my delight, boredom never once reared its ugly head.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (devouring every scrumptious bit of July, National Anti-Boredom Month). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Parents

In honor of the late Stephen Covey…

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 insure 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. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

The Remains of Summer

www.melindawentzel.comA wistful look at the summer of 2011…surmising I’ll revisit those sentiments again very soon…

With a mere whisper of July remaining, I cannot help but flip through the calendar feeling as if I’ve failed spectacularly yet again. Alright, maybe it’s simply a profound measure of disappointment and/or a mild case of mommy angst that I’m feeling and not failure per se. At any rate, there was so much more that I wanted to accomplish in the 47 days since the school year ended. Things that would make the summer exceedingly memorable for my children. Remembrances that would gather in the corners of their minds for decades to come. Happenings that would surely find their way into the mother-of-all writing assignments come September (i.e. the celebrated back-to-school narrative that practically every student has ever faced): My Summer Vacation was Special Because….

Granted, Thing One and Thing Two have had immeasurable fun thus far in the season of suntans and sweet corn, however if I hope to achieve the brand of joy and the volume of memories I had envisioned cultivating before the thrum of crickets finally dies, I’ll need to hasten my step. It’s people like Beth Hendrickson, creator (and curator) of “A Summer Bucket List,” who inspire me to do so. That said, I’ve compiled a fairly impossible (yet impressive) list of that which I hope to do with my family during the fleeting time that remains—thirty-four days and counting.

For starters, we must seize an enormous cardboard box, one that begs to be transformed into a house of sorts—complete with doors, an abundance of windows and skylights, a child-sized escape hatch and a mail slot that promises to give new meaning and purpose to the junk mail I loathe so completely. We should also spend at least one endless afternoon wielding chunks of sidewalk chalk, together giving rise to a bustling city upon our favorite concrete slab—the one that doubles as a canvas every summer. And when the rains threaten to destroy our self-proclaimed masterpiece, we ought to head inside to construct a behemoth-sized blanket fort that will envelop the entire living room for days on end. Just because. And once we’ve burrowed deep within the confines of either the cardboard cottage or the haven of blankets, we should then read books together—beginning, of course, with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.

Furthermore, it’s imperative that we invite a forever friend to stay for a delicious wedge of time, rekindling the past and erasing the miles that now separate us. More importantly, we should do something completely outlandish (like pitch an 18×10 ft. tent in the living room) so as to make his stay wholly unforgettable. We should visit the ocean, too, pausing as its waves give chase and our lungs become filled with the unmistakably brackish scent of the sea. We need to bury each other in the sand, as well, and gather shells by the bushel, and build sandcastles of epic proportions, and walk on the beach at dawn—as there is nothing else on earth quite like it. We ought to visit a handful of historic places, too, and wonder aloud how it must have felt to live during such an era. Feeding our intellect and stirring our minds at a museum is a good idea, too—as is catching a drive-in movie on a whim and camping out at Grandma and Grandpa’s in the aforementioned monstrosity of a tent—as promised.

What’s more, painting something together made my summer bucket list, not to mention teaching my brood the fine art of skipping stones, reading (and folding!) an actual map and catching a Frisbee behind one’s back. Oh, and cursive writing, too—a skill that the Department of Education apparently no longer deems worthy of inclusion in its curriculum—a decision that defies all logic and understanding.

And although it’s exceedingly difficult, I will try my level best to unplug from my dear computer for a time. (Apparently, radio makes people happier anyway according to a recent Huffington Post article). Likewise, it is essential that my family spends a goodly portion of the coming weeks devouring fresh garden tomato and cucumber sandwiches. Lots of them. Spontaneous picnics involving said sandwiches are of paramount importance for August, too, as is playing badminton until we can no longer see, except for the intermittent flashes of fireflies as the dark of night slowly swallows the yard, the thickets and trees in the distance and, eventually, what remains of summer.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and knowing all too well that we’ll be plunked on the shores of September long before we are ready). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, Love and Other Drugs

P.S. I Still Hate My Summer Workbook

It has become abundantly clear that I should have shipped my kids off to summer camp. Weeks ago. Granted, I would have then been the unhappy recipient of an ungodly number of letters filled with angst, indignation and the desperate longings of two very homesick children. Ones who would likely remind me that I forgot to pack enough underwear and Hello Kitty Band-Aids. Never mind stamps and fancy schmancy stationery—so they could, of course, send more letters spelling out what a horrible mother I am imploring me to come and rescue them from some unnamed mosquito-infested forest as soon as possible.

Much like Diane Falanga’s heartfelt yet hilarious collection: P.S. I Hate It Here and the sequel to her 2010 book, P.S. I Still Hate It Here! More Kids’ Letters From Camp, I’m fairly certain my brood would craft the sort of plea that would appeal to her wicked sense of humor. It’s only natural to expect that I would find such supplications uproariously amusing as well. That said, sending Thing One and Thing Two to summer camp probably would have been at the very least an entertaining venture—not to mention preferable to what I’ve endured of late. More specifically, the insufferable barrage of grousing I’ve tolerated as it relates to handing my charges their “eternally evil” math workbooks (or so they affectionately refer to them).

Who was I to think my progenies would embrace the tedium that is long division, or the horror that is tethered so completely to large and unwieldy fractions and/or word problems involving planes and trains racing to some godforsaken place? ESPECIALLY DURING THE DELICIOUSNESS OF SUMMER!? An idiot, apparently.

My first clue should’ve been the time my dear children hid the cussed things in their big sister’s closet, hoping against hope that I would suffer death, dismemberment or, at the very least, some sort of memory lapse resulting in a reprieve from the toilsome task. Their incessant whining as it ostensibly relates to terrible, horrible, no good, very bad pencils and less-than-endearing erasers should have tipped me off, too. Please note: I have provided an embarrassment of perfectly wonderful pencils and erasers to the aforementioned heathens, much to their chagrin. And let us not forget the vociferous rant that graced the margins of a similar set of workbooks last summer—ones that disturbingly depicted tiny bookish entities with sinister-looking eyebrows and a penchant for consuming children’s brains.

I wish I were kidding. Likewise, I wish I could petition Diane Falanga to harvest notes of that ilk from the throngs of indignant youth that undoubtedly exist in this world of hyper-parenting. But I digress. Summer camp would’ve been fun for my kids. Notes or no notes.

Then again, I would have foregone countless days filled with the sort of hilarity that promises to cling to the corners of my mind for a very long time to come. Hilarity that involved painted-on mustaches that threatened to become permanent, deranged goat-inspired skits (don’t ask),errantly placed lizard poo (seriously, don’t ask) and the assorted vermin my dear husband stupidly encouraged our daughters to “adopt,” if only fleetingly. (Visit www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom to meet Phil and Perry, the groundhog and opossum that have since been returned to the wild—completely unscathed, I might add, except for the emotional scarring duly associated with listening to a couple of 11-year-olds toy with the notion of dressing them up in doll clothes).

Likewise, I would have missed the insanely funny lullaby (i.e. the Soft Kitty song) they sang with afriend in his parents’ hot tub late one night, and the golden opportunity to witness that which made me chortle more than anything: Thing One and Thing Two (an unlikely pair of rappers clad in two of the most ridiculous-looking swim caps and goggles) performing on Photo Booth. Thankfully, it has been digitally preserved for all time, however it pales in comparison to the live version I so enjoyed.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (curiously pleased that I didn’t ship my kids off to summer camp). 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, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless