Monthly Archives: January 2021

A Sacrilege of Sorts



Seems like just yesterday I was reading aloud to my kids…

There are but two kinds of people in this world—those who brazenly read the endings of books before the endings are actually reached and those who would never dream of a crime so heinous. I myself fall with the masses into the latter category, always mindful of the tenets we must uphold: Thou shalt not spoil the endings of good books no matter how dire the circumstance or how great the temptation.

Of course I’ve been so bold as to glance at the last page while contemplating a purchase in the aisle of a bookstore, allowing my eyes to sweep across the fuzziness of passages, to graze but not actually rest on hallowed words, erasing all hope of ever being rewarded for my ability to resist said allure. If nothing else, I can be proud of that.

However it wasn’t until I was deeply immersed in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Chapter Seven of this scrumptious read-aloud, more specifically) that I became painfully aware of a terrible truth: my children would (and, in fact, had) flipped ahead 20 chapters in said prized piece of literature, to the very last page (gasp!) “…because I wanted to know what would happen to Edward, Mom. I was worried about him. He lives, you know.”

Of course, I was horrified. And profoundly disappointed. I had higher hopes for my progenies—hopes that they would grow to become upstanding citizens, embodying all-that-is-righteous-and-good. Principled people who knew better than to commit sacrilege. Instead, it appears, my wayward bunch has embraced the dark side of life. Even my oldest daughter has admitted to that which is a sheer disgrace—she reads the very last sentence of every novel—as a rule. Needless to say, such a divulgence rendered me dumbfounded.

“Why?! Why would you do such a thing?!” I had to ask finally, eyes fixed upon the creature I thought I knew.

“I don’t know. To pique my interest I guess.”

To pique your interest?!” I shrieked, shaking my head in disbelief. “Good grief! Where’s the mystery in that?! Where’s the long-awaited pleasure that a grand culmination promises?! The delicious sense of satisfaction derived from having journeyed far and wide across the vast and uncertain terrain of a narrative gem?!” I demanded to know.

She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “What’s the big deal, Mom? It’s just a book.”

Of course, this was wrong on so many levels that I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around the unspeakable atrociousness of which it reeked. Nor could I forgive the other two ratfinks for having stolen my joy. I wanted to discover for myself Edward Tulane’s fate—to continue devouring the book, page after succulent page, and eventually, to drink in the magnificence of the grand finale that surely awaited me.

But it was not to be. Those unmerciful beasts continued to fill my ears with details of the story, doling out bite sized blurbages just to watch me writhe in pain. “No! NO! Don’t tell me a syllable more!” I pleaded, wondering from whence this penchant had come. I don’t remember anyone bursting at the seams to tell me about Goldilocks or Little Red Riding Hood. Back then it was a non-issue. The end was something that would be revealed in due time upon turning the last page. As it should be.

I’d almost rather my heathens wantonly fling caterpillars across the living room and stuff them inside their backpacks (oh wait, they’ve done that!), saturate thirsty bath rugs at will (done that, too!), or festoon the dog with lipstick “…because we wanted to give him purple-ish lips, Mom!” than to rob themselves of the parting gift of a fine book.

Sadly, this represents yet one more area of life I cannot control. I must come to grips with the fact that my children will choose friends, careers and eventually mates—almost entirely devoid of my (infinitely sagacious) input. And ultimately they will decide whether to continue as card-carrying members of the Flip-Ahead-to-the-Last-Page Club. Oy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (beside myself with indignation). 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 "S" is for Shame, Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville

Big Brother

I have a confession to make. I stalk my children. I stalk my husband, too. I don’t know why I do it, actually. It’s a sickness, I guess—an unhealthy obsession with knowing exactly where my loved ones are at practically every moment of every day. Thanks to the fine people at Apple and my friend, Drew, some time ago I downloaded the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and immediately began tracking the whereabouts of the aforementioned people.

The trouble is, they’re not particularly fond of it. Translation: They despise it.

“Mom, quit stalking us. It’s creepy.”

Creepy or not, however, apparently I get some peace of mind out of knowing what my kids are up to 24/7. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. The same goes for my husband, except that it’s more about convenience to know where he is at a given time. That way, for instance, I can “see” that he’s in the grocery store and know that it makes perfect sense to call him and tell him that we’re out of Cheetos. I don’t like to be out of Cheetos, ergo I feel compelled to inform him of such a dire situation.

The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “What aisle are you in? We need Cheetos.”

My husband: “What? How’d you know I’m in a store? Oh, that’s right; you have that blasted thing on your phone and you’re watching me like Big Brother. Remind me to SHUT IT OFF so you can’t monitor my every move.”

Me: “Wait. What? No. I like being able to see where you are, then I can call and give you helpful information that you might need—like the fact that WE’RE OUT OF CHEETOS. How would you know otherwise? You’re welcome.”

The conversations we have while he’s in the liquor store are strikingly similar except that they usually involve a dwindling supply of wine.

At any rate, I find the app to be remarkable in that I can even tell in which part of a particular building my kids happen to be situated at any given moment. Rest assured, if they’re supposed to be in chemistry class and they’re in chemistry class, my heart is happy.

Me: “So I noticed you went to Denny’s during the break between finals today. Was it fun? What did you order?”

Child: “Mom, that absolutely weirds me out. Why do you do that? It’s just not normal.”

Me: “I don’t know. I guess I like to see what you’re doing throughout your day and it gives me more stuff to talk about with you.”

Child: “Why not just ask me where I went and I’ll tell you?”

Me: “Yeah, but isn’t it more impressive that I already know where you went and we can skip ahead to other parts of the discussion?”

Child: “No. Not really. It’s just creepy and you should stop doing it.”

Unfortunately, I can’t stop doing it. At this late stage in the game, I have become hopelessly addicted to tracking my people and there is no turning back. There is something strangely comforting about looking at that tiny screen and seeing those familiar icons pop up, reassuring me that the people I care about are where they’re supposed to be—even if they’re worlds away for weeks at a time.

In an instant, I can gather a wealth of information—like which door to pick up someone at school and whether or not my progenies are still on the marching band bus, coming home from a late night competition or football game. Almost instantaneously, I can verify that all is right in my little corner of the world.

Strangely enough, looking at the map and those smiling faces within the teensy, tiny circles on my phone warms my heart—no matter how far apart they happen to be. It’s like holding my family in real time in the palm of my hand.

Of course, they would likely beg to differ, suggesting that they’re all under my thumb. Literally.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably poring over my Find My Friends app. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Love and Other Drugs, Techno Tripe, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Fitness for Dummies

It has been said that dogs are the best brand of exercise equipment on the market. Given my penchant for failure as it relates to fitness, I guess I’m glad I own a dog. However, this leads me to question the wisdom behind a lot of my past purchases. Lately I’ve been wrestling with the notion of parting with my beloved treadmill—the one that has lived in my home for an eternity. And before that, in a shoebox-of-an-apartment I shared with my brother. And before that, in a house I shared with my first husband. Needless to say, the treadmill in question was far more impressive than the aforementioned apartment could’ve ever hoped to be. It also outlasted the abovementioned marriage and, in fact, wooed me enough to demand that it become part of my divorce settlement—so great was its ability to convince me that I couldn’t possibly function without it.

More often than not, said nugget of wonderfulness was situated near a window. A practical move based upon my perfectly undocumented belief that a view of the great outdoors would somehow inspire me to exercise with more fervor and regularity. Never mind that I can’t readily recall when I last used it. Or that my brood masterfully adorned it with a makeshift tightrope, time and again—designating it as a staging area for death defying Barbie trapeze acts, as well as for storing an embarrassment of toys. Maybe that’s why I find it so completely endearing even now. It holds a wealth of memories—albeit ones that remind me of my inundated-with-Legos way of life. Or maybe it’s because I became enamored with the idea that the embodiment of fitness, both attainable and discreet, could be neatly tucked into a corner of my home—affording me at least some semblance of control over my vastly disordered environment and scheduled-to-the-hilt sort of existence.

Proving that I had learned next to nothing about myself as it related to ambition (or the lack thereof), years later I whined for yet another piece of fitness equipment—a recumbent bicycle. My current husband, dutiful and sweet that he is, ordered me one. A fancy-schmancy, mondo-programmable, ergonomically designed, totally unaffordable slice of Schwinn heaven. A bike that promised I would look like a Greek goddess in six minutes or less—all in the comfort and convenience of my home. Or maybe it was six weeks of grueling workouts I’d have to endure in order to achieve such a feat. I can’t be sure.

Shortly before it arrived, however, I remember relishing the thought that it would soon be MINE—to pore over and ogle to the point of delirium, to pedal and program with unbridled enthusiasm, to become hopelessly fixated with its profusion of bells and whistles which, of course, included an adjustable fan, a nifty little pair of transport wheels and comfort-fit handlebars. What’s more, there was a reading rack gizmo and an ideally positioned nook for stowing one’s remote control and/or wine goblet—so thoughtful and intuitive were the makers of my latest and greatest obsession.

As one might expect, we plunked said glorious piece of machinery near a window and angled it to face the television—lest I become bored while peering at the tired lawn and less-than-inspiring shrubbery outside. Sadly, tedium rained down like a scourge and the bike has since joined the ranks of every other hunk of fitness-related hype with which I allowed myself to become shamelessly infatuated (i.e. the legions of dumbbells now gathering dust beneath my couch, the gym membership I failed to use—EVER, the perfectly coiled yoga mats currently housed in a closet, unceremoniously sandwiched between someone’s snow boots and a forgotten bowling ball, the Tae Bo tapes).

Despite all logic and understanding, however, part of me holds out hope that one day I’ll redeem myself by becoming consumed with the notion that the abovementioned items can, indeed, be resurrected. Even by someone who fails spectacularly to will herself to do much of anything—aside from walk the cussed dog.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably walking the dog). 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 Home for Wayward Toys, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood

If Only You Had Known

Today I can’t help but be reminded of that awful chapter in my life…and in the lives of so many who were affected my my brother’s passing 15 years ago this very hour.

Part of me wants to believe that your death was preventable. That something someone said or did could have kept you from making that horribly irreversible decision to end your life six years ago today. Perhaps if circumstances had been different, you too would be poised to usher in the warmth and sweetness of springtime in a few short months and together we’d be putting winter’s chill behind us.

But another part of me realizes that it couldn’t be so. Too many hardships had come your way and the weight of your world had simply become unbearable. No, I’m not making excuses for what you did. I’m merely slipping into your shoes for a while so that I might come to grips with how ill-fitting they actually were—to shoulder your burden for a time, if only to acknowledge its oppressiveness.

I still long to understand and to “feel” the reality that was yours.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t find the “what-if-ing” game pleasurable in the least. The pain and sadness I feel as a result of thinking things might be different if this or that had happened is inconceivable. Yet, I persist. And without question, the events immediately following your death led me even further down that path of certain uncertainty—because it revealed to me, for perhaps the very first time, the profoundness of your impact on this world. I just can’t stop wondering if all this could have been avoided if only you had known the true measure of your worth….

Nothing could be clearer in hindsight.

For starters, over the span of the two-day event, more than 1,000 people (YES, ONE-THOUSAND PEOPLE!!!) came to pay their respects, to say goodbye, to offer oceans of comfort—and to share with us how you had touched their lives forever. It soon became very apparent that you had done just that. The endless line of callers, both young and old, snaked its way through the door and all the way out to the street, continuously—for five full hours. That steady stream of mourners endured both the cold and eventually the darkness just to be near you and to deliver those all-important words—that you MATTERED to them. You had made a difference in their lives and would never be forgotten.

Of course, friends and family already knew you mattered. Or at least we thought we had a handle on how greatly you had influenced others. But I doubt anyone could have ever envisioned such an outpouring of love and support—such a tremendous tribute to you as a person. I think it stunned us all. Naturally, I felt proud of the man you had become; but at the same time, ashamed that I hadn’t recognized it myself. I regret not giving you the praise you surely deserved.

Your students were the toughest to console. It was pure agony to look into those sorrowful faces—so young, so innocent and so completely devastated by their loss—and ours. You were their guide, their inspiration and their rock in many cases. Some wore broad smiles and bore the gifts of tales that indelibly touched our hearts—of time you had spent…of lessons you had taught…of hope you had instilled. Others arrived teary-eyed and spent, with loads of baggage and intolerable grief at their sides. Still others carried anger and resentment in their hearts and truckloads of questions on their lips. Tell me, won’t you, how were we to explain the inexplicable? To assign meaning to that which seems completely senseless? To order their disordered worlds—along with our own? It was an impossible task to say the least.

Parents, counselors and staff members were there too—as much for the kids as for themselves. Together we tried to assure them that “things would be okay,” that you “would always be watching over them,” and that they “should continue to try and make you proud.” High schoolers are tough sells, however. No surprise there. They wanted you—not a bunch of words. And a rewind button—not the ugliness that had become reality. It killed me to see so much disappointment and so many broken spirits. I can only hope they’re faring better now.

Needless to say, hugs were plentiful that night as were the tears.

Still more profound…scores of individuals have visited your gravesite, now bursting with the scent of pine and new fallen snow. A multitude of lovely mementos have since joined the dozens upon dozens of sweet-smelling roses that dressed your casket in a blanket of red on the day of your burial.

More recently, I learned that many have driven to the canyon itself—to quietly lay bouquets at its very edge, the site where you willfully and tragically ended it all. No doubt, some felt it more fitting to toss their floral offerings into the cavernous abyss below, so that they might somehow reach what remains of your spirit, now mingling amidst the soft and silent snowflakes.

Some of your students not only left flowers but also carved initials and heartfelt messages into that infamous Grand Canyon railing you breached. Perhaps, to them, it will offer some comforting assurance that their words of farewell will never be forgotten. Nor will the bonds you shared be erased.

More evidence still of your apparent worth on this planet was the bizarre, yet moving turn of events on the morning of your funeral. Oddly enough, a bomb threat, rumored to be in your honor, was made that day. As a result, school was canceled and more people were able to attend your services. Standing room only, as I recall. I have to think this would have made you smile (despite the felony charges that could have been levied against someone who apparently ignored the risk that day).

I truly do wonder…that had you only known how many people would be affected by your absence (and how greatly those same individuals would suffer), you might have decided not to take your own life. But then again, perhaps it was inevitable.

Sadly, we’ll probably never know.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Loss