Category Archives: Family Affair

The Great Sock Abyss

Some time ago my daughter cleaned her bedroom, and in so doing resurrected an embarrassment of items that she had ostensibly given up for dead. Things that she hadn’t seen in such a long period of time that she forgot about them almost entirely. There was a pair of iPhone earbuds that had been MIA forever, more than a year’s worth of allowance and at least nine Starbucks cups, one of which still contained what could only be described as a fermented atrocity.

Lovely. Just lovely.

Most notably, she unearthed an ungodly number of socks. Tall ones. Short ones. Socks with stripes. Socks with dots. Socks that will never again be suggestive of clean and socks imprinted with teensy-tiny foxes. My personal favorite.

Admittedly, on more than one occasion I felt compelled to rummage around in her hovel, intent upon gathering all the lone socks in order to pair them appropriately—because it makes me insane to know that the socks in question are, for lack of a better term, estranged. Never mind wadded up, inside out and appearing as though they had been shot from a cannon.

How hard could it be? I remember thinking. You just look around, find the right patterns and put them together. It’s not rocket science. Truth be told, I found such an endeavor to be virtually impossible each time I tried—and subsequently failed—to locate matching pairs. It was as if her room had transformed into the Great Sock Abyss—the place where perfectly wonderful socks go to die, or, perhaps more tragically, become separated forevermore.

Like a fool, I had to ask my daughter the obvious question: WHERE DO THEY GO?

“I have no idea where the lost socks go, Mom. No clue.”

At any rate, when she cleaned her room (see paragraph one) I was patently euphoric over the news of her sock discovery, since their mates had been hanging on a rack in the laundry room since the dawn of time, in hopes of being reunited at long last. Imagine my surprise (read: PROFOUND GLEE) when she produced a dozen or more of the missing socks. It was categorically off the charts and almost as joyous an occasion as the time she found her favorite pair of dilapidated sneakers. Sneakers so pathetic, and yet so dear, she more affectionately refers to them as dead—as if the term “dead” were somehow a good thing. Technically speaking (she’s quick to remind me), they’re still functional. Sort of.

That said, in the past I’ve questioned her dead sneakers as well as the bizarre logic that would support a decision to NOT keep socks and their mates together. Who does that? And why on earth does it happen month after month?

“I don’t know, Mom. I guess I take them off and tell myself that I’ll put them together later, and then I don’t. Honestly, it’s just too much work.”

At that, I shook my head in disbelief and perhaps disappointment. Then I began to wonder if I had driven my mom crazy in much the same way. I couldn’t reliably recall my specific behavior as it relates to the pairing of socks, although all signs pointed to having been a neat freak, so they were probably ridiculously ordered. Perfectly aligned in neat and tidy little rows when clean. Turned right side out and paired properly when dirty.

Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that I drove my mother to distraction by spending an inordinate chunk of my teenage years organizing my closet and drawers. It’s also likely that my obsession with rearranging my bedroom furniture by myself at all hours made her nearly certifiable on occasion. In fact, I moved my dressers and bed around so often that their spindly legs were on the verge of snapping—something that would make any parent implode.

So maybe I should consider myself fortunate, only having to deal with lone socks for a decade or two. Not the annihilation of furniture. As an added bonus, my daughter’s bedroom gets cleaned. Occasionally.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably looking for missing socks. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville

Words Matter

Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday. He would have been 53.

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

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

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Family Affair, Love and Loss, The Write Stuff

Season’s Greetings

Sending out Christmas cards is an exercise in futility for me—mostly because I’m a poor tool. When it comes to choosing a family picture to include on one of those trendy postcards created online with favorite snapshots and heartfelt messages, I fall down on the job every time. Never mind that I’m the mom and supposed to have my shit together. Clearly, I don’t. Each year it seems to be a supreme challenge to find a recent photo in which everyone is smiling appropriately, having a good hair day and happens to be facing the camera. And since my husband is notorious for blinking in practically every picture we take, the struggle is undeniably real.

“Open your eyes!” I shout after the eleventy-seventh failed attempt to capture the moment.

“My eyes are open!” my husband invariably defends.

Then, of course, I’m forced to thrust my iPhone beneath his nose in order to prove that his eyes were indeed shut. The four of us then rearrange ourselves to fit within the frame of the camera once more and repeat the insanity until the kids flatly refuse to humor me by posing at all. They’re teenagers, so that goes with the territory, I suppose. But they’re also uniquely gifted in the selfie department. Me, not so much. So when they max out on the exasperation scale and thereby abandon the cause, the opportunity for preserving a treasured Kodak Moment dies yet again.

Thanks to Tish O’Connor and her incredible photographic talents, however, I was able to include some beautiful senior pictures of our daughters on our Christmas card. There were literally hundreds to choose from. I somehow managed to take a decent snapshot of our dog and included that, too. But, of course, I was reminded of my shortcomings, having forgotten to add our cat to the mix. A cardinal sin.

“How could you forget Binx, Mom?! He’s family.”

I honestly have no clue how I could have possibly forgotten the cat, given that he’s constantly underfoot or demanding that I share my Cheetos with him. Go figure.

And because the universe apparently hates me, only half my head shows in the photo I decided to use of our family this year. Confession: I did it last year, too. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to edit the stupid thing to perfectly fit within the constraints of the aforementioned trendy online greeting card company. I had one job—to adjust our photo appropriately so that each individual would be entirely contained within an eight sq. inch rectangle. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. What’s more, I failed to recognize that envelopes weren’t included in my order. So in a desperate attempt to remedy the situation and make it look as though I knew what I was doing all along, I purchased NINE boxes of holiday cards—ones that will house the photo card in question (with any luck).

No one ever said I was gifted, just crafty.

On the bright side, Elton John is pictured photobombing us. Well, he’s not actually photobombing us. His picture was plastered on the side of a truck that we happened to be standing in front of while attending one of his concerts this past fall. A good time was had by all so I felt it necessary to gather the whole crew together for a family snapshot to commemorate the event.

I’m not sure how Elton would feel about being on our holiday greeting card, but I’m guessing he’d be pleased—especially since I didn’t cut his head off with my pitiful editing skills.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably addressing Christmas cards. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Family Affair, Holiday Hokum, motherhood, Ode to Embarrassment

The Family Curse

Some families are afflicted with flat feet, male pattern baldness or an inability to dance. Our family curse, apparently, involves getting stuck in public restrooms. It all began when I was three years old, according to a story my mom liked to tell so that I might recall a time in my life when I was very small yet capable of causing a great deal of inconvenience—much to her amusement, at least in this instance.

Evidently I wasn’t fond of visiting the doctor’s office and upon my arrival I let it be known that I didn’t want to be there by promptly locking myself inside a tiny bathroom and refusing to come out. The office was actually an old house, so the bathroom in question had a wooden door with a metal lock that even a three-year-old could easily turn. Looking back, I suppose my situation could have wavered somewhat between being a deliberate act and an unintended circumstance—at once a defiant child and a prisoner of my own making.

At any rate, after a great deal of coaxing and a fair amount of instructing, my mother and the doctor together decided the only viable solution was to remove the door from its hinges. While I have no idea how much of an annoyance this must have been for all parties concerned, I can certainly imagine.

Although I can’t possibly quantify the number of times my twin daughters have been stuck inside a bathroom stall (and happily crawled beneath the door to escape), it’s clear they have continued the tradition of being jinxed. One of the pair, who was quite young at the time, managed to trap herself in yet another public restroom, this time at a hotel swimming pool where the heavy, metal door had become jammed. With all the commotion and noise that emanated from the pool (i.e. dozens of kids screaming and splashing), no one heard her shouting for help or banging on the door in an attempt to get someone’s attention. Eventually, my husband and I noticed a dull thud coming from across the room, one that had become louder and more frantic as time went on. So we got up to investigate and upon discovering that she had been stuck inside for God-knows-how-long, we were ashamed to have been so oblivious. I think she has since forgiven us, but probably still harbors a degree of resentment regarding the bathroom issues that have plagued our family forever.

True to form and later in life, I once again demonstrated my ineptitude as it relates to using public facilities. This time, however, I managed not to imprison myself within the confines of a lavatory stall, but rather I somehow dropped my cell phone in the toilet. Almost immediately I thought of how stupid I had to be in order for my phone to wind up there, immersed in all manner of filth. To make matters worse, I have a tendency to freak out about germs so this particular faux pas was considerably more than I could handle. Of course, I dashed to the sink and doused it with soap and water, hoping against hope that the blasted thing would work again. Amazingly enough, it did.

Public restrooms have apparently been the bane of my husband’s existence as well. Just recently while we were touring a university he called me from the men’s room to inform me that he was stuck inside a stall and needed me to fetch someone from maintenance to get him out. I wish I were kidding.

Not surprisingly, he spent an embarrassment of time jiggling the latch and banging on the door, to no avail. He then shook the entire metal frame that housed the door, but stopped for fear of tearing it off the wall. He also tried muscling the lock itself until it spun freely (never a good sign). Not once did he consider crawling beneath the door. That was out of the question.

As luck would have it, eventually the door simply fell open, mocking his efforts to escape. At least he didn’t suffer the added humiliation of having someone show up with a toolbox to save the day.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably rescuing someone from a bathroom stall). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Normal is Relative, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Happy Camper

The kids are away at camp this week, which might explain the glorious silence in our home. The week BEFORE camp, however, qualified as pandemonium. There were monumental outbursts over the issue of procrastination and epic battles over the sovereignty of the laundry room. We argued about what to pack and when we should leave, about the practicality of making a detailed list of what to bring and about the fruitless nature of stressing about the weather. At one point, bug spray was the subject of heated debate. I wish I were kidding.

Sadly, the contention didn’t end there. Once we arrived at camp, there were conflicts over whether or not I would be permitted to help make a certain someone’s bed. I was not. I was also chided about the helpful suggestions I offered regarding unpacking and the logical placement of a bath towel. What’s more, I mentioned there was no soap in the bathroom and hinted that that might be something to look into in the near future. And with that, I quickly realized I had made a grave error in judgment, overstepping my boundaries as a parent yet again.

However, that didn’t stop me from attempting to micromanage practically every move my kids made upon arrival at their respective camps. In that particular capacity, I’m an overachiever after all. So it nearly killed me to watch from afar as my daughter dumped the entirety of her bag into a single drawer, without so much as the veneer of order or reason. At one point, I had to physically restrain myself from intervening. I wanted so badly to put the socks and underwear in a drawer separate from the rest of her clothing. Of course, my husband coached me from the sidelines, reminding me to keep my head.

My mom probably did the same, cringing as I attempted to “adult” for weeks on end. However, it’s likely she delivered mountains of advice about packing rain gear, sunscreen and anything else that might be deemed practical hundreds of miles from home. It’s also likely that I dismissed said advice, preferring instead to own my decisions—both good and bad. Needless to say, I’m extraordinarily grateful that she refrained from saying I TOLD YOU SO with regard to packing Fels-Naptha soap after I ended up at the infirmary one summer with a horrible case of poison ivy. I’m guessing that life will teach my kids in a similar manner this week, although I hope none of the lessons involve insufferable rashes.

As for me, it’s already apparent that I’ve learned some lessons of my own. For starters, I’ve recognized that my progenies can get along quite well without my constant meddling. They even remember to breathe on their own and tie their shoes on occasion. I’ve also learned to trust that they’ll make good decisions in my absence, which is tough, but I’ve persevered. And despite being drunk with joy over the solitude I’ve enjoyed these past several days, I’ve discovered that I miss my kids terribly—almost incomprehensibly so. I know it sounds strange, but I long for the constant noise that is part and parcel of living with teenagers—especially teenagers immersed in music. For entirely too long, this space has been devoid of the sounds I had grown accustomed to hearing almost daily. More specifically, the ones that routinely emanate from their beloved instruments—the French horn and mellophone, the ukulele and piano. Even worse, no one here has been singing in the shower. I even miss the bickering and teen angst—a little.

Most of all, I miss our conversations and being included in their special brand of humor. I was reminded of that just the other night when I opened my drawer to find a life-sized, plastic lizard wedged in with my underwear—a hideous toy that was placed there specifically to scare the bejesus out of me. It worked. I suppose I deserved it since I had hidden the very same lizard in my daughter’s bedroom weeks ago—and before that, in the shower. It only made sense for her to retaliate.

Evidently, she wanted to be sure I wouldn’t forget her while she was away at camp.

Not a chance.

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

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, Family Affair, Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville