Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Hieroglyphics of Family

The unthinkable has happened. I’ve become one of those women who puts stick figure people on her car. You know—to broadcast procreative talents in a manner that even cavemen could readily grasp (or perhaps mock, because said portrayal is so embarrassingly unoriginal, not to mention self-absorbed).

At any rate, it was inevitable that I would succumb to the mass marketed, frippery-inspired family car sticker craze, especially given my penchant for oversharing. Indeed, the huddled mass of people and pets now emblazoned upon my rear window qualifies as such—a telling distillation of my life, rendered plainly and simply, as if by a child, with what appears to be sidewalk chalk. I’m not entirely sure what drove me to acquire such foolishness, though I suspect it was my fascination with the notion that an entity as complex and hopelessly entwined as a family unit could be readily reduced to something that seems almost entirely manageable. An abbreviated version of one’s motley crew, as it were, all neat and tidy, smiling for the camera, not an angsty adolescent or overtaxed adult in the bunch.

The frazzled and woefully imperfect parent within me, of course, had to have it—even if it smacked of impossibility, painting what could only be described as “the delicious illusion of order” upon the canvas of my disordered world. But I digress.

I threw the silly thing in my cart, delusions and all, and went home a happy woman. Naturally, on the first sunny day following my purchase, I made the joyous trek to my car—stick figures in one hand and Windex in the other. And because I couldn’t bear to discard a single sticker included in the set, I used them all, plastering an entire corner of glass with a parade of modern day hieroglyphics.

That said, each twig-like personage is now depicted with some sort of accessory that seemingly defines them (i.e. the trappings of life without which we would surely wither and die). Shopping bags and sports gear. Backpacks and briefcases. Sadly, and despite a great deal of rummaging through the lot, I failed to find a graphic representation of a computer, a jigsaw puzzle or anything remotely suggestive of chocolate, all of which epitomize the essence of my being. Instead, I settled for a golf club and a whiskered cat at my side.

And although my charges were quite satisfied with the soccer ball and the tiny tennis racquet I outfitted them with, a tower of books and a much-adored iPod Touch would’ve made far more sense (for Thing One and Thing Two respectively). Likewise, my husband would have been thrilled to be pictured with the big, hairy dog I will probably never agree to adopt, although the baseball gear (he assures me) “is just fine” and the neurotic little dog we actually own is “just fine, too,” both of which appear in the same crowded corner of glass. Yet our sticker-fied family dynamic is still left wanting.

More specifically, my search for a woman-child/college student stick figure proved fruitless and I cannot begin to express my disappointment. Thank you very little, gods of inane car stickers.

Okay, maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Or perhaps I should have added my own pitifully rendered stick figure with Wite-Out, so that all three of my progenies could have appeared there as a cohesive whole. I suppose I could have sketched our dear lizards and wee hamster, too, at the insistence of a certain couple of somebodies. Instead, I addressed the perceived injustices by caving to their demands that I include two stick figure boys. Boys who have taken part in our pets’ funeral services and Beyblade battles. Boys who have been bandaged and fed here more than a few times. Boys who are practically family anyway, and rightly belong with our so-called sticker family.

Here’s hoping they’re okay with that.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (joining the ranks of stick figure people everywhere). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

From There to Here

Just a moment ago, my children were kindergarteners—spindly creatures with wee arms, knobby knees and tinny voices. I remember well our maiden voyage to the school’s Open House one afternoon late in August—to the shores of Mrs. Morehart’s classroom, a warm and welcoming place at the end of the hall where my husband and I, like everyone else, crammed our oversized frames into impossibly small chairs eager to consume all that a parent of a kindergartener could possibly need to know about the year ahead. There was talk of cubbies and snow boots, art smocks and mittens. Bus schedules. Lunch lines. Recess and snacks.

Together, with our knees awkwardly pressed to our chests and our irrational fears lurking just beneath the surface, we learned about the magical nature of story time, the Puppet Lady who would come to call, the wealth of educational experiences our children were slated to have and, of course, the vastly important assurance of bathroom proximity. God knows how dearly we valued that. In any event, our concerns were adequately addressed as a collective sigh of relief wafted over the cozy grove of Lilliputian-inspired tables that filled the room and the brightly colored whateverness with which said room was adorned.

Indeed, Mrs. Morehart was a woman with whom we became enamored almost instantly. Her classroom promised to be a venue where impressionable minds would be nourished, creativity and curiosity would be duly celebrated and respect for others, as well as oneself, would be cultivated above all else. What’s more, surnames and bus numbers would be indelibly imprinted upon the forehead of each and every five-year-old and the aforementioned godsend-of-an-educator would refrain from passing judgment on those who were wholly incapable of enforcing bedtimes as well as those who might be inclined to serve dinner in the bathtub on a school night (to, of course, remedy the not-getting-the-kids-to-bed-at-a-reasonable-hour problem).

In truth, no one’s forehead was defiled in the plan to distinguish students or to ensure that the right child got on the right bus at dismissal. In any event, the curators of our precious cargo did, indeed, coordinate the logistics of transportation (and practically every other aspect of child management) seamlessly and with great aplomb. That said, the Land of Kindergarten was a place we parents could feel genuinely good about leaving our charges.

Never mind the wave of apprehension that literally consumed me the following week, when that big, yellow beast-of-a-school-bus groaned to a halt in my street and a certain couple of somebodies were expected to board and then traverse the uncertain path that would come to define their lives as kindergarteners—without me. Needless to say, a great deal of time has passed since then—despite the fact that it feels like mere seconds ago that I sat in one of those tiny plastic chairs, a red one I think, fretting over the exceedingly remote possibility that my children would be trampled by a herd of Converse-wearing, backpack-toting third graders or, tragically, mauled by a rogue pencil sharpener.

Thing One and Thing Two are worldly fifth graders now—not-so-spindly creatures who positively thrive on the thrum of activity present in their school day. No longer are they overwhelmed by long lines in the cafeteria, the deafening roar of eco-friendly electric hand dryers in the restrooms or an oncoming herd of third graders for that matter. They know practically every nook and cranny of their beloved school—where favorite library books can be found, which teachers have a debilitating affinity for chocolate chip cookies and, not surprisingly, how to efficiently navigate to the nurse’s office from virtually anywhere in the building. What’s more, they’ve learned how to deal with unwieldy band instruments, lost book fair money and, occasionally, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

In that respect—yet ever so reluctantly—I acknowledge the vast chasm that exists between then and now, there and here, even though it has felt so completely fleeting.

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

1 Comment

Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool

The Road Less Traveled

www.melindawentzel.comI remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment—the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilization it seemed. The place where a large and delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts—one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, swallowed whole by its quiet grandeur, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees that lapped at its fringes. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer—untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows, too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road and its deep, frozen furrows of mud, we’d barrel down the gully—half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks—eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there—foraging through the woods, hiding out in our ramshackle forts and letting our dog run free—were ravenously consumed, chapters of our lives that I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time almost seven years—the ones that have felt like seven minutes—I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late—a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift—only the leaves back then had long since burst with color, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favorite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to cleanly snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the road less traveled, and recognizing that it has made all the difference). Visit me there at www.melindawentzel.com and www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

2 Comments

Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Love and Loss

It Takes a Hurricane to Raise a Village

As I piece this column together on the cusp of Election Day, the fate of our presidential race has yet to be decided. Granted, over the past several weeks multitudes of early votes have been cast, absentee ballots from near and far have been duly harvested and an embarrassment of straw polling has dominated the news cycle to the point of intolerableness. Never mind the ever-present spin of so-called pundits, the glut of ugly ad campaigns and the pervasive climate of divisiveness that that sort of milieu begets.

Even so, it is impossible for me to know which candidate emerged victorious.

Oddly enough, I don’t especially care anymore. It’s not that the issues are any less important to me, or that I’ve grown disinterested in the direction this country may or may not be headed. It’s just that the tragic nature of Superstorm Sandy was and continues to be so much larger than any political event could ever hope to be. Perhaps more importantly, the outpouring of empathy for those affected—regardless of party affiliation—coupled with coordinated relief efforts in response to such an epic scale of devastation have been nothing short of remarkable. The silver lining, as it were, in these darkest of times.

Day after day, as I tuned in to witness unprecedented ruination up and down our nation’s eastern shoreline (as well as further inland) and listened hard as people from all walks of life shared their stories of loss and unparalleled upheaval, I was taken by the virtual nonexistence of politics. It was as if the tumult of impassioned citizens, ones who were thoroughly obsessed with the notion of voicing support for this or that candidate only a short while ago, had been silenced. Instead, voices of compassion, solidarity and true grit prevailed—as floodwaters rose, as fires raged and as an ungodly number of homes and livelihoods were swallowed by the sea. By and large, people set aside their differences in the wake of a monster storm to do what was right and to do what was necessary in order to help those in need. In the process, they became more human.

Aside from restoring my faith in the idea that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things, Hurricane Sandy has also plagued me with guilt. While the storm ravaged neighborhoods, cities and towns across more than a dozen states, Canada and the Caribbean, my greatest source of angst revolved around the question of how we’d keep our bearded dragons warm in the event of a lengthy power failure. Of course, my husband almost bought a generator, so we were fairly certain that we (along with our dear lizards) would almost stay warm. There was also the dire matter of keeping our pajama-clad, home-from-school-again kids entertained for godknowshowlong. Naturally, I fed them a steady diet of electronics prior to Sandy’s arrival, banking on the notion that we wouldn’t be afforded that luxury for very long.

But I was wrong. We never did lose our electricity, or the extravagance of hot showers, or access to fully functioning toilets or even a modicum of heat throughout the entire ordeal. We also had a roof over our heads, warm beds each night and safe drinking water. To say we were fortunate doesn’t begin to describe our lot—even if the kids did wear their pajamas for two solid days. Never mind the wind that roared outside like a freight train, or that I sent my husband on a battery-procurement-mission-from-hell, or that I prepared enough food for a small country and did roughly 37 loads of laundry in preparation (i.e. engaged in some sort of deranged hurricane-induced nesting behavior).

At any rate, I can’t shake the shame. Nor can I wrap my mind around the devastation so many people faced as a result of this superstorm. That said, elections may come and go, but the tangible, almost village-like sense of community cultivated by this inherently nightmarish event may endure—which is a beautiful thing. Likewise, altruism is an equally beautiful thing, as evidenced by organized efforts to garner aid for those impacted by the storm. To learn more, visit CNN.com and search for an informative piece (dated November 1) entitled “How to help after the superstorm,” an article which details at least eight ways people can become involved and offer assistance to those in need.

Also, be sure to visit www.zazzle.com/PlanetMom to aid Hurricane Sandy victims. I plan to donate 100% of my profits to the American Red Cross for the entire month of November.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (at times, inspired by humanity). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

Comments Off on It Takes a Hurricane to Raise a Village

Filed under "S" is for Shame, Political Poop, Rock Me Like a Hurricane