Monthly Archives: August 2012

Dear Departed Summer

www.melindawentzel.comI am a poster child for parenting ineptitude. And at no time does it become more painfully apparent than during the first few weeks of school—when I look back over the vast expanse of the summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. In spite of having the best of intentions in mid-June—with a host of events cleverly sandwiched between swim lessons, haircuts and camps galore—by the tail end of July I found myself desperately trying to cram every ounce of family fun and spontaneity into what was left of summer. The fun I promised we’d have before sliding headlong into September.

Inexcusably, it is the epitome of who I am and what I do when it comes down to the wire—when a finite number of squares remain on the calendar during which anything and everything deemed truly memorable and drool-worthy to a nine-year-old can, ostensibly, be orchestrated. In a perfect world, that is. So like a madwoman I schedule sleepovers and movie nights, plan picnics and pencil in parades, visit ball parks and theme parks and, of course, stumble over myself to accept gracious invitations to friends’ homes and pools and lakeside cottages oozing with wonderfulness.

Conversely, I’ve tolerated a tent in my back yard for 23 days running—one that promises to leave a hideous, yellow square where a lovely patch of green grass used to grow. A smallish tent in which I spent an interminable night embracing all that roughing it entails, from mosquito bites and cramped quarters to a lumpy earthen mattress and a less-than-endearing quality of dankness I feared would cling to me forevermore.

Eau de Musty Tent, methinks.

I suppose, however, that it was better than a) dealing with the monstrosity-of-a-teepee that monopolized my lawn last summer b) disappointing my progenies who insisted that I camp out with them and c) the insufferable conditions that my husband (aka: Father of the Year) endured while attempting to sleep on an impossibly narrow and horribly unyielding lounge chair parked squarely in front of the zippered door. As luck would have it, he was uniquely situated and perfectly qualified to shepherd those who felt compelled to visit the loo in the dead of night. Good thing. My only lament: failing to photograph him in all his glory—mouth agape, flashlight in hand, his body entombed within a sleeping bag, his head, poking out the top, completely enshrouded within a camouflage mask I had never before seen, arms entirely enveloped by a giant mesh sack he apparently dragged from the bowels of the garage in a moment of great inspiration (aka: makeshift mosquito netting).

That said, I think it’s safe to say that as parents we at least showed up for our kids this summer. Some of the time anyway. We took them places and did things together. We tolerated their abiding love of toads, their penchant for trading Pokémon cards, their overwhelming desire to share the infamous Cheese Touch and their inexplicable fascination with roadkill. Furthermore, we tried not to trouble our silly heads over the health and well-being of our lawn as well as the health and well-being of those who spent much of August snowboarding down our grassy front terrace. Nor did we dwell on the wanton fearlessness with which they careened hither and yon on their scooters. Barefooted, no less. (Gasp!) So we can feel slightly good, I guess—having directly or indirectly contributed to the wellspring of memories gathered over the fleeting, albeit delicious, chunk of summer.

Looking back I now see why it was likely a success—not because of the fancy-schmanciness of this or that celebrated event, but because the extraordinary lives deep within the ordinary. It’s not the double play in the bottom of the ninth they’ll remember, it’s the delicious medley of peanuts and popcorn wafting through the air, the distinctive shade of blue on the tongues of all who drank Slushies on that sweltering summer night and the tinny clang that echoed throughout the stadium as cheering fans beat upon the aluminum bleachers like drums. Similarly, it’s not the glorified picnic with throngs of people, platters of deviled eggs and eleventeen varieties of potato salad that necessarily makes a lasting impression, it’s the novelty, and perhaps spontaneity, of having cucumber sandwiches and slices of watermelon on a wobbly card table in the midst of summer fun. “Thanks, Mom, now we don’t have to stop playing!”

Moreover, I’d daresay that fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. That a symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. That a hammock is very nearly medicinal, as is the buttery succulence of sweet corn, the shade of an oak tree and the canopy of fog at sunrise as it hangs in the valley—silent and still.

Dear Departed Summer, it’s likely I’ll miss your fireflies most—and the barefoot children who give chase, drinking in the moment, alive with pleasure, racing across your cool, slick grasses without end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and desperately searching for the rewind button). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Endless Summer, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Vacation Schmacation

I didn’t even want to go on a stupid cruise. People get seasick on cruises. Agoraphobic. Claustrophobic. Aquaphobic. Lilapsophobic. At times, they suffer the unmerciful wrath of foodborne illnesses, they become preoccupied with rogue sharks and ill-mannered pirates and they often lament a dearth of trees. At least I did. Miss the trees, that is. Worse yet, seafarers fall victim to that special brand of withdrawal—the one associated with not being able to send text messages obsessively or to check one’s email ad nauseam without shelling out obscene sums for Internet connectivity. Never mind the very real possibility of hitting an iceberg while sailing the ocean blue or, God forbid, capsizing in waters that are disturbingly deep.

Of course, we know the waters are disturbingly deep because the nifty little televisions in everyone’s impossibly small staterooms conveniently display the current depth (measured in thousands of feet!) in a continuous loop, along with a relief map of the western hemisphere illustrating how godawful far from land said ship is presently situated. After Day Two of our eight-night Bahamian cruise, I simply stopped dwelling upon such foolishness and tried to imagine Sponge Bob reposing in his pineapple under the sea, poised to save me lest I fall overboard. Naturally, I was convinced that someone in our party of six would fall overboard during the course of our epic journey to the tropics, or that my directionally-challenged children would at some point vanish inside the 14-story, 964 ft. vessel or that my husband would fall for an insanely gorgeous redhead with little or no neurotic tendencies. Who could blame him?

Aside from the voyage itself, I had no idea how involved preparing for a cruise could be. There were on-shore excursions to plan well in advance of the trip, most of which I stupidly accomplished in the wee hours of a hellacious night, a mere handful of days before we left. There was also the matter of transporting our motley crew (to include my parents, our youngest children and an embarrassment of luggage) through the uber-congested Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan’s 88th pier, a place where Conestoga wagons and horse manure would surely be frowned upon.

This, of course, led my dear husband to the pure genius of renting a 15-passenger van, heretofore known as our $832 carcass on wheels, the dilapidated nature of which cannot be overstated. As I recall, three of us might have been properly belted in, there was a mere suggestion of shock absorption present for the teeth-jarring journey and a repulsive pair of safety glasses beckoned to my brood from the backseat. Gak! But because the gods were smiling upon us, the air conditioner functioned flawlessly and each time we skittered across an exit ramp, we somehow failed to collide with a guardrail. And while the circus-like event of obtaining passports and the tirade-infused meltdown associated with my packing frenzy on the eve of our departure very nearly necessitated a small team of marriage counselors, my husband and I remain very much in love.

It’s true; I didn’t want any part of the cruise my parents so graciously bestowed upon us Christmas Day 2011. But somewhere, between the lazy catamaran ride to our dolphin encounter on Blue Lagoon Island and lolling in the pristine waters of the Caribbean at Castaway Cay with my family, I surrendered to the notion of leisure. No longer would my irrational fears about our summer vacation consume me. From that moment on, I refrained from inviting worry and dread into my otherwise harried world. Instead I let the warm embrace and gentle caress of the surf erase every trace of anxiety I had harbored since we boarded the Disney Magic in New York.

Granted, some of us did, indeed, become lost on that behemoth-sized boat. Reading glasses and hearing aids were misplaced, too (the latter of which were recovered), a tooth was broken at dinner, a seagull wreaked havoc at the beach and a rollercoaster at Disney went on the blink. But for the most part, our time together was imbued with goodness and punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances—many of which involve being pampered beyond all imagining.

I miss the chocolates on my pillow each night, the towel origami and crisp linens that awaited us as we returned from a myriad of daily exploits, the live entertainment, indescribably attentive servers and meals that qualified as delectable if not superb, the inimitable wedge of time I spent with my family that I will treasure forever and ever.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a wonderful vacation.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (channeling Sponge Bob). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Road Trip, Vacation Schmacation

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

I don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night Yankees games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of Converse All-Stars. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded 11-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we pilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of Wiffle ball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no iPads in existence and not a single app involving demonic monkeys or angry birds had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer