Monthly Archives: August 2022

The Sum of Summer

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddI’m fairly certain that my children hate me—mostly because of their workbooks. The ones that I insisted they complete this past summer, come hell or high water. And although there were vast stretches of time during which reprieves were granted from the toilsome task in question (because of vacations, because of friends who came to call, because I was plagued unmercifully with guilt), I still managed to clinch the Mommie Dearest nomination. That said, whenever I needed a reminder as to where I fit on the Tyrant Scale, I simply opened the aforementioned workbooks and read some of the asides my dear charges had scribbled in the margins (i.e. “I’m dying!” “This is horribly annoying and boring!” and “Once upon a time, two innocent children were forced to do big, stupid, unpleasant workbooks which were eternally evil. The end.”)

Naturally, this brand of condemnation called into question the wisdom behind my decision to sully the summer by thrusting academics upon individuals who clearly weren’t interested in the inherent beauty of word problems or in the quiet joy of crafting short stories. Looking back, I now see that it really didn’t matter—that making my brood exceedingly miserable for far too many days in June, July and August (no matter how fleeting or insignificant the time seemed to me), was of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Evidently, my heathens would have acquired a boatload of knowledge with or without the wretched workbooks. Real world knowledge that probably has more practical merit anyway. Indeed, my entire family benefited from that which summer seemed more than eager to impart. Together, the following pearls of wisdom represent our harvest.

Despite what may seem perfectly sensible to a child, snow boots don’t function particularly well in the rain. Nor do playing cards or peanut butter sandwiches. On a similar note, science experiments gone awry don’t belong on anyone’s kitchen counters, cicada carcasses have no business sitting on anyone’s sweater (Look, Mom! It’s a brooch!) and favorite stuffed animals should never, ever linger in the vicinity of an unoccupied, uncovered toilet.

Considering the coefficient of friction and the gravitational pull of the Earth, sleeping bags are ideally suited for sliding down carpeted staircases. Scooters, by contrast, are not. Furthermore, objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless and until they collide with solid matter—like oak trees, unsuspecting craniums and steel-clad doors, for instance.

In related field studies, Frick and Frack discovered that hamsters do not enjoy dental examinations—nor are they especially fond of massages. They will, however, tolerate being placed within the confines of a tiny plastic car. Frogs, on the other hand, will have no part of such foolishness. Dogs, conversely, have no shame and will therefore concede to virtually anything a ten-year-old might be inclined to dream up—to include video cameos and fanciful excursions to exotic places like the Canine Islands.

Some other summertime observations I made: Apparently those who wear bandages festooned with cutesy pictures are no longer cool. Who knew? Badminton and Frisbee injuries (of the parental variety) don’t garner nearly the sympathy that they deserve. However, kids are fairly obsessed with their hodgepodge of injuries and insist that parents become equally fascinated for the duration of the healing process.

Furthermore, Captain Vacation found that it’s easier to locate one’s lodgings if he actually remembers to jot down the name and address of the hotel where reservations have been made. I learned that the brackish scent of the sea, while deliciously intoxicating at the shore, isn’t nearly as pleasant when it fuses to clothing, resulting in a lovely eau de dead fish that will likely trigger fond memories of the beach coupled with an overwhelming desire to retch. Together, we ascertained that hotel shampoo smells better than it tastes, that some kids simply won’t share their shovels despite a deluge of diplomacy and that the warm sands of the shore are soothing beneath one’s feet, yet wholly unforgiving when wedged in one’s swimsuit. Moreover, seagulls are hostile creatures with a penchant for fresh pastries and fries—a point I duly noted for future reference.

Curiously, none of the abovementioned lessons of summer had anything to do with a workbook. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (summing up summer).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Augustember

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddAs August wanes and September draws ever nearer, I can’t help but dwell on the notion of my freedom—and how utterly delicious it will soon be. But by the same token, I am also reminded of how horribly unprepared I am for all that heading back to school entails. My charges are no more equipped for the first day of second grade than I was for the first hour of motherhood. It’s shameful, really. To date, I have amassed next to nothing in the realm of kid gear and gotta-have-it-garmentage for that special square on our calendar. The square now gloriously bedecked with stickers and messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another thirty-day chunk of time would be added to the year, smartly sandwiched between the eighth and ninth months. Say, “Augustember,” or “Pause” (which would be more of a directive than anything). We march into spring; why not pause before forging headlong into fall? Such a godsend would give people like me time to breathe, time to warm up to the idea of letting summer go, time to rummage around for the soccer cleats that by now probably don’t fit anyone anyway.

I’ve never been one to embrace change. More often than not (and if all is well), I like things just the way they are—the same. It’s simply too much work to adapt to something slathered with newness. That being said, I abhor drastic transformations. Dead asleep to total wakefulness. The mildness of spring to the oppressiveness of summer. At the lake. Inthe lake. Not pregnant. Pregnant. I need generous windows of transition for such things. Time to adjust. Time to switch gears. Time to brace myself for the tsunami-sized wave of change sure to thrust me forward—ready or not.

While it’s true we are on the cusp of yet another promising school year with its sharpened pencils, bright yellow buses and characteristic swirl of excitement enveloping virtually everything and everyone in its path, part of my joy is swallowed up because of what and whom I must become as a result. The bedtime enforcer. The tyrant of tuck-ins. It’s a brutal role of parenthood and one that I hate with a passion.

I much prefer gathering my wily charges in from the great outdoors long after the brilliant clouds of pink, orange and crimson have faded to plum, gray and eventually an inky blue-black. There is much to relish between dusk and darkness, when the moon hangs clear and bright, begging to be plucked from the sky and the stars greet the earth one by one, gradually painting the heavens with a milky glow.

At once, the night air is filled with a symphony of crickets, peepers and barefoot children whacking at Wiffle balls, racing and chasing each other through the cool grass, already laden with dew. Shouts of “Marco…Polo! Marco…Polo!” emanate endlessly from the pool next door along with the muffled thwunks of cannonballs, instantly taking me back to my own youth—the one where Frisbees were thrown until no one could see, where nails were hammered in forts till the woods grew thick with darkness and alive with mosquitoes, where lemonade flowed freely, the pool beckoned and the rules for tag were rewritten more than once.

And all was well—much like this good night.

Fireflies are everywhere now, hugging the trees and the darkest spots in the lawn, blinking here…and a moment later, there—signaling would-be mates and captivating all who give chase with mayonnaise jars in hand. Add the crackle of a campfire, the sweet aroma of toasted marshmallows and the thrill of eavesdropping on children in the midst of any number of conversations and I’m perfectly content. It pains me to put an end to their fun. To rain on their parade. To say goodnight to the Big Dipper and to our constant companions—the lightening bugs.

Naturally, my popularity wanes. Sleep, they must.

But in the end, all is forgiven. Tomorrow is a new day. And there will be more Augusts to savor and a lifetime of moments to give pause.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Beautiful Mess

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324Sometimes the stuff we need to hear from our children is muddled or falls to the ground, silent as snowflakes. Other times, those gems of communiqué are deafening, delivering messages that are both unfiltered and unapologetic. Still other times, the meat of the message is sandwiched in-between layers of fluff, artfully disguised as something unimportant. As a stunningly imperfect parent, I’ve been on the receiving end of each of these, although the sandwich-y variety is especially popular with my motley crew.

“Mom, please don’t sing in the car. You’re ruining Ed Sheeran for me. And by the way, I had a horrible day at school. Don’t even ask. Now you’re ruining Adele. Please stop.”

Occasionally, I’m thrown off course by such commentary (i.e. harsh critiques of my musical abilities, or the lack thereof) and, consequently, fail to attend to the nugget of truth nestled within the statement: “I had a bad day, ergo I will pummel anything and everything in my path to relieve my pain and angst.”

Thankfully though, messages of that ilk usually snake their way through the tangle of thoughts crowding my mind and I actually address what’s bothering the daughter in question. It’s only taken me 27 years of parenting to figure that out.

If I’ve learned anything at this post, however, it’s that the learning never ends. And that more often than not, the most valuable lessons are the ones taught by the children I’m attempting to raise.

Case in point: Not long ago, at the close of a very long day, I was in the thick of admonishing one of my teenagers for the disgraceful state of her bedroom—which is more like a burrow than anything. Over the past few years, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping her door shut in order to avoid a rage-induced tirade, since it’s a battle I’d rather not have.

That said, her clothes are nearly always strewn like carnage, the dirty ones rarely making it to the hamper, the clean ones arranged in tired heaps on the floor, almost never finding the drawers or closet because that would make entirely too much sense. In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time her bed was made, nor can I accurately recall what the top of her dresser looks like without the hodgepodge of stuff piled on it—an avalanche in the making.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been known to unearth remnants beneath her bed such as discarded bowls, Starbucks cups and the earbuds that had been MIA forever. Admittedly, and on occasion, I break down and mate the socks I stumble across and pair the shoes that I might have hurled into the aforementioned hovel because I simply can’t stand that they aren’t together, let alone in their rightful place in the universe.

So when I discovered her rain soaked hoodie, balled up in the corner of the dining room AGAIN, I began to seethe, marching upstairs to deliver it in person. And since she was standing in the doorway of her lair-turned-shrine-to-epic-disorder I couldn’t resist the urge to chide her about that, too.

“Your room is a DISASTER,” I spat, completely fed up with having to have the same conversation. Again.

“Yes, but I’m not,” she answered as she looked me straight in the eye—then hugged me tight and headed off to bed for the night.

It’s what I needed to hear—a tiny reminder that the really important things in life aren’t disastrous, one of whom was standing squarely before me, growing into a remarkable human being, one who is loving and kind, joyful and generous, hopeful and bright. It was a message both loud and clear that helped me remember that the ultimate goal (mine anyway) is to embrace parenthood and to recognize it as the beautiful mess that it is.

One day, not long from now, she’ll leave that room behind, box up her favorite treasures and cart them someplace new. And I’ll help her pack—sure to salvage a lone sock or something to remind me of the days that were filled with chaos but with joy as well.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, mastering the art of defective parenting. Spectacularly. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on television, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that one of those celebrity cooks went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults, I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would, indeed, make me smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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