Monthly Archives: October 2012

Still is the Night

Shortly after the big, yellow school bus groaned to a halt and deposited Planet Mom’s brood at the curb, the skies grew angry and the winds began to whip, swirling all manner of leaves and debris about the place. The heavens rumbled in the distance and massive clouds moved swiftly as she and her children hurried up the grassy knoll to the safety and comfort of their home. Together they sat, perched at the northernmost bank of windows, and watched with amazement as a monstrous wall of gray swallowed the September sun as if it were a mere lemon drop. A raging storm was indeed very nearly upon them.

A sudden shroud of darkness then descended upon the land whilst towering pines swayed in the yard and lawn chairs skittered like spiders across the wooden deck, tumbling into the bushes and startling the children and their curly-haired dog. Shortly thereafter, lightning lit the skies and thunder shook the house unmercifully, causing the dog to cower in a corner—its springy, white tail hidden between its legs. Lights flickered ON and OFF and ON again while rain began to pelt the roof in fitful waves, thwarting all efforts to keep the smallish creatures in question focused on their homework. It was a school night after all.

“Are the lights going to GO OFF and STAY OFF, Mom?” one of the pair asked, a hint of apprehension in her voice. “What’ll we do then?”

Their mother, not being particularly gifted in the realm of meteorological topics, shrugged her shoulders and tried desperately to think of something that might divert her daughters’ attention away from the impending doom that seemed all but certain to strike.

“Get back to your schoolwork,” she instructed, all the while pretending to ignore the deafening cracks of thunder and the sirens that wailed in the distance. “It’s just a thunderstorm.”

“But how will we see to do our homework if the lights STAY OFF?” the wisp of a child probed further.

“Yeah,” her infinitely inquisitive counterpart added. “And how will we watch TV tonight?”

“I’ll think of something,” the mother asserted and then silently lamented the notion of being without television (and the computer and the microwave andso on) for what would surely seem an eternity.

Lo and behold, at some point during the ferocity of the storm, the power did, in fact, fail and legions of flashlights (many without functional batteries) were summoned from beneath beds and forgotten drawers. Cleverly, the woman lit scented candles; however it was soon determined that her progenies had mysteriously developed an incapacitating aversion to being near an open flame—despite having enjoyed countless marshmallow toasting events during the summer involving (gasp!) campfires and whatnot. “My homework will catch on fire, Mom!” So out the candles went directly, along with any bit of cinnamon-y goodness that might have emanated from said waxen devices.

Dozens of minutes elapsed and darkness fell. Soon the woman’s mate returned from work and joined the anxious bunch, eager to instill calm and assurance where fear had begun to creep. Savory snacks and a multitude of shadow puppets were instantly produced to the delight of many. Needless to say, the man’s offspring were mightily impressed with his skills and mesmerized by the uncommon and authentic nature of the railroad lanterns he managed to unearth from their pitifully disordered garage. His wife was equally impressed with the aforementioned feats and in return promised never to divulge the number of times he flicked light switches like a fool—because she, too, stupidly flicked switches.

Eventually, the punishing storm passed and the winds subsided, although the power outage continued. Nevertheless, an abundance of laughs were shared as were stories of parental hardship involving crippling snow storms and great floods during which both heat and electricity were lost for days on end. “Wow! That must have been horrible, Dad!” (Translation: “How did you survive without the Disney Channel, Dad?!”) More importantly, the family reconnected in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. Everyone took turns recounting the day’s ordinary and not-so-ordinary events. The dog’s ears were gently stroked and beloved books were read within the soft glow of the lanterns as the children nestled upon their mother’s lap.

At the close of each chapter, just before she began reading the next, she paused ever-so-slightly—and that was the moment during which a strange and wonderful thing befell them. All was perfectly still—aside from the crickets outside calling to would-be mates, the dozing dog and the breathy whispers of children completely engrossed in the deliciousness of literature. As it should be. No ever-present drone of the air conditioner could be heard. No television blared in the background. Not even the familiar hum of the refrigerator or a solitary screen saver could be detected. The sacred wedge of silence was magical, entrancing and wholly alien to those huddled upon the floor and sofa.

Just then the power returned—an abrupt and unwelcome guest. The household whirred and lurched back to life, removing all but the vestiges of ambiance and intimacy. The children blinked as if snapping out of a trance. Their squinty-eyed mother closed the book and used it to shield herself from the brightness, now everywhere. Her mate sat up suddenly, forcing himself to process the transformation. The dog awoke with a start. Shortly thereafter, everyone went their separate ways—back to the tired and the familiar. The spell had been broken, irreparably so. Or had it?

“We should do this again, Mom! We should have a fake power outage everyweek!” the children insisted at breakfast the next morning, smiles all around.

And so it was. Fake Power Outage Night was thereby established as a new family tradition and it was duly noted that batteries should be abundantly stockpiled.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (paying tribute to the ever-masterful Garrett Rice, aka Neanderdad, and his patented writing style). Be sure to visit Planet Mom on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Love and Other Drugs, Rock Me Like a Hurricane

The Unsung Heroes of Halloween

Halloween is fast approaching, an event that thrills me beyond all compare. Always has. Maybe it’s the candy corn spilling from caldron-like bowls and the tiny bat-shaped pretzels that woo me each October, though I find the former sickeningly sweet and the latter far too endearing to consume. Perhaps it’s the ubiquitous nature of pumpkins, the deranged sort of joy I derive from carving them or my curious obsession with corn mazes that makes the holiday so completely wonderful. Or maybe it’s simply because it qualifies as one of the few times I win popularity with my brood—by, of course, encouraging them to play with knives and to saturate every molecule of their being with pumpkin gloppage in so doing.

At any rate, I greatly enjoy Halloween, especially its huddled masses of trick-or-treaters come nightfall, the ones who traipse around my neighborhood in packs wearing a hodgepodge of disguises, embracing all that is truly terrifying, indescribably bizarre or exceedingly hilarious. And the dogs. Oh, how I adore the dressed-up dogs and the whole let’s-turn-our-Chihuahua-into-a-tiny-pirate craze. Never mind how inherently disturbing that may be. But I digress. It’s the innovative costumes that truly wow me—the works of pure genius cobbled together with found objects, discarded cardboard and gobs upon gobs of creativity. Duct tape, too, on occasion.

Case in point: The large and decidedly hideous “pile of poo” I once witnessed at a Halloween party (i.e. a mocha-hued shell of dung-inspired horror, expertly fashioned from an abundance of papier mâché and delicately infused with real kernels of corn, worn by a man who appeared to be surrounded by a cluster of flies that seemingly hung in the air and followed him as he moved from place to place). I kid you not. It was priceless and I cannot begin to imagine how much time and effort it had taken to create such a masterpiece. To top it off, the aforementioned gentleman was flanked by his toddler, aka “Little Shit,” who was similarly outfitted and equally comical. If nothing else, it was memorable and demonstrated, yet again, the ingenuity that Halloween can, indeed, inspire.

Likewise, I cannot erase from my mind the “human microwave” I encountered some time ago—a two-legged, cardboard-esque creature with a cleverly concealed treat bowl buried deep within its cavernous “belly,” one that was situated behind a makeshift door that conveniently opened and closed for easy access.  It was a positively ingenious contrivance, and the brainchild of a boy who would go on to study engineering. I certainly hope he includes achievements such as this (read: thinking outside the box) on his résumé in the future (even though, technically speaking, he was inside a box). I know I would.

That said, I’ll be equally entertained by a comparable level of brilliance this year when and if someone crafts (and actually wears!) a giant 3-ring binder—of Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” fame, a topic that trended on Twitter for quite some time following the second presidential debate. More specifically, I’ve pictured a crop of mannequin-like legs wearing fishnet stockings and stilettos, spilling from an oversized loose-leaf binder, reminiscent of the candidate’s recent gaffe. I can only hope to stumble upon such foolishness on Halloween—with camera in hand.

It’s likely I’ll be snapping pictures of my kids that night as well—to celebrate the fact that they will have finally settled upon costumes. Oh. My. Hell. To say that our recent excursion to a certain Halloween-themed establishment was a grueling affair cannot be overstated. Nor can its interminable nature. In sum, after combing the aisles for schlock we apparently had to have, we spent roughly three days ogling rubber masks. Of course, we tried on 4,387 of them. Then there was the matter of finding a mirror, so that said masks could be admired and subsequently placed in the KEEP, DITCH or MAYBE pile. In so doing, we effectively blocked the path of multitudes of patrons (i.e. perfectly normal people who weren’t incapacitated by the urge to try on every cussed mask).

Likewise, each and every wig, helmet and/or machete-like device (including the one that sounded like the stabbing scene from Psycho), had to be thoroughly examined and evaluated. Joy.

If only I could interest my charges in actually making a costume from the mountains of schlock we currently own, harvesting untold volumes from our garage and closets, I’d be getting somewhere. Oh well. Even still, I love Halloween.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (looking forward to stumbling into trick-or-treaters who think outside the box). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

www.melindawentzel.comI’ve often thought that the art of raising children is a lot like carving a pumpkin. In both instances, I brought home a rotund little bundle of neediness, fumbling and stumbling over myself just to get it out of the car and safely inside. I then set it down, took a step back and stared—marveling at its inherent uniqueness and at its wealth of complexities, most of which I had yet to discover. A “Now what?” comment fell from my lips shortly thereafter as I contemplated my next move. Anxiously I paced the floor, studying this newish thing from every angle imaginable—careful not to overlook so much as a dimple or a distinctive feature upon its ruddy face. I then wrestled endlessly with self-doubt and indecision, fully and completely acknowledging the challenges that lay ahead.

At once, I also considered the endless potential this wonder of wonders possessed, pondering the remarkable role I would undoubtedly play in the days to come. I prayed for insight and wisdom, and for the ability to make its spirit glow and its face shine brighter than bright. I loved and nurtured it unconditionally, shaped and molded it tenderly yet purposefully, pouring forth every single ounce of knowledge, creativity and patience I could muster, in hopes that one day my little pumpkin would stand on my doorstep straight and tall, illuminating my world forevermore. A beacon in the night for all who would pass.

But no one ever told me there would be muck in the middle—a slippery, slimy mass of gloppage with which I have had to contend, time and again, in order to move forward. My hands don’t lie. They’ve been mired deep within this monstrous task for an eternity. And it shows. I am worn and weary, doused with sticky remnants of the chore. There have been a multitude of tricky corners to navigate with precision and grace, and unforeseen lumps and bumps to address along this winding path of growth and development. Countless hours have been spent scooping out and whittling away that which is undesirable and stubbornly rooted—the gunk which would surely detract from inner beauty.

Desperately, I have sought the counsel of others. I’ve searched long and hard for guidance—for some sort of pattern to follow so that I could avoid a minefield of mistakes and make the right impression in the end. Heaven forbid I mismanage so much as a solitary stroke of my efforts.

What I find both completely frustrating and strangely wonderful about the whole process, however, is that despite the planning and the commitment and the intensity with which I have approached it all, the end result is virtually unknown until I lay down my tools, step back from my work and light the flame within. Only then will I learn how well I’ve done my job—when my pumpkinish creation stands before me, glowing on its own amidst a sea of ink. Mere glimpses of what will be are all I have been afforded along the way. But glimpses, nonetheless.

Happy Halloween to all those makers of little jack-o’-lanterns, whose work is truly a labor of love and whose efforts are worthy of high praise—regardless of the outcome.

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

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, Love and Other Drugs, Mushy Stuff

Home Alone

It’s rumored that I need to have a little more faith in my children as autonomous creatures—at least when it comes to being levelheaded, resourceful and not remotely interested in summoning the fire department unnecessarily. Although, maybe it’s just that the opportunity has yet to fully present itself. I can’t be sure.

At any rate, for a very long time now, and almost reflexively, I have viewed my brood’s emergent ability to handle situations completely on their own as largely deficient, characterizing their fledgling methodology for dealing with life’s inevitable difficulties as irreparably flawed. Shame on me for not believing in them more and criticizing less—for dooming them to failure even before they can imagine success.

Everything from tying shoelaces and crossing the street to shepherding expensive instruments and irreplaceable flash drives to and from school has been met with unwarranted skepticism and/or a healthy dose of catastrophizing, which I’ve pretty much perfected at this juncture in my parenting career. Never mind entrusting them with tasks like walking our neurotic little dog (the one inclined to hurl his smallish body into the path of oncoming cars) or remembering to snugly latch the lids of hamster cages, lest the wily beasts escape. Suffice it to say, I have issues with control, punctuated by a host of irrational fears and an unwillingness to fully embrace my children’s ever-increasing level of maturity. As a result, I’ve doled out independence in embarrassingly small chunks.

So when it came time to broach the subject of staying home alone, with nary the suggestion of parental supervision, I became consumed with a quiet sense of dread. My dear progenies, who have longed for freedom seemingly forever, couldn’t possibly function without me hovering over them, issuing a barrage of directives for the duration: “Keep the doors locked. Don’t let anyone inside under any circumstances. Answer the phone, but don’t suggest that you’re HOME ALONE. Find a pen and actually take a message. Write legibly. On something besides your hand. Furthermore, don’t even THINK about cooking anything. Or shampooing the dog. Or Face-timing your friends who are probably home alone, too, toying with the notion of climbing onto the roof because that seems like a perfectly rational thing to do. Yes, I climbed onto my roof as a kid. That doesn’t mean you should. Also, the security system will be armed, so don’t go outside.”

Despite my reluctance on the matter, I recently caved and allowed Frick and Frack to hold down the fort. Alone. For several consecutive hours. Oddly enough, no one died or had been abducted by aliens. The dog bore no visible signs of trauma, the house was fairly intact and there were no bicycles on the roof. However, upon entering, I noted that our newfangled security system had been curiously disarmed. Naturally, this led to a discussion, one that unfolded thusly:

Me: “So why isn’t this thingy (read: the hi-tech-alarm-gizmo-I-don’t-pretend-to-understand) beeping?”

Frick: “I disarmed it.”

Me: “Why on earth would you do that?!”

Frick: “Because it was beeping. Annoyingly. Plus, I knew the police and fire department would show up any minute if I didn’t.”

Me: “Oh, right. And why was it beeping?”

Frick: “Because Sadie went outside.”

Me: “I thought I told you guys NOT to go outside…or to even open the door.”

Frick: “Yeah well, she did. She thought she heard your car.”

Me: “Okay, why is this (key holder) box empty?”

Frack: “Because I lost the key.”

Me: “You lost the key. Terrific. Why would you even NEED the stupid key?!”

Frack: “Because Taylor wouldn’t let me in.”

Me: “Why wouldn’t you let your sister back in the house?!”

Frick: “You told me not to let anyone inside, under any circumstances. But I had to. She kept banging on the door and it was really annoying.”

At this point, I had no words. Nothing I had conjured in my deranged little mind had prepared me for what apparently had transpired. In any event, I found comfort in the knowledge that my brood had, indeed, demonstrated responsible behavior. Sort of.

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

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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