Category Archives: Family Affair

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

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

An Island of Misery

My kitchen island is a glorious beast—a massive, 34 square foot, 1,200-pound slab of quartz-y wonderfulness that seats six comfortably and houses a wealth of wares within its spacious cabinetry and drawers. It is all I dreamt of and more as our kitchen was renovated for months on end—the mother of all home improvement projects. But because the gods apparently hate me, its surface has been defiled in the years that have passed since its conception. I’m fairly certain that the man who built it (Tim Rosati) and the man who installed it (Ed Gair) would weep if they knew the awful truth—that it has become a home for wayward schlock that my family refuses to take care of and it’s entirely possible that I will die of disappointment.

On my headstone it will read: HERE LIES A WOMAN WHO APPRECIATED THE INHERENT BEAUTY OF A KITCHEN ISLAND WHOSE SURFACE SPARKLES IN THE SUN—A SPACE COMPLETELY DEVOID OF THE TRAPPINGS OF LIFE—A TESTAMENT TO ALL THAT IS UNSULLIED AND GOOD. LET IT BE KNOWN THAT SHE DIED TRYING TO RESTORE SAID ISLAND TO ITS ORIGINAL GLORY, A NOBLE AND WORTHY CAUSE INDEED.

At any rate, I have wasted precious time imploring my family to stop using my beautiful island as a dumping ground and I’ve made myself crazy attempting to return their stuff to its rightful place in the universe—like the cussed garage, or a dresser drawer, or a closet for Pete’s sake. Almost instantaneously, the wretched piles return, only larger and more offensive to my sensibilities. To illustrate, this is a partial listing of the items I found there today:

Party favors, props and programs from various musicals, phone chargers, checkbooks, out-of-date ticket stubs, gift cards, a dog leash and treats, someone’s watch (that may or may not keep accurate time), a hodgepodge of jewelry, a handful of cough drops, a half-eaten Rice Krispie treat, thank you notes (yet to be written), six jumbo paper clips, someone’s library card, a prescription drug box, PILES UPON PILES of mail in a sorry state of disarray, newspapers, the trappings of school, an honor roll clipping, tiny wads of unclaimed money, sweaters and sweatshirts, a discarded purse, marching band paraphernalia, field trip permission slips, as many as five coats hanging on the backs of chairs and eight pairs of shoes lying in a huddled mass at the foot of said chairs, a winter scarf, Bubble wrap and Judy Bernly’s bobby pins.

By all accounts, what I’ve described is tragic and I can’t begin to express how disheartened it makes me. It isn’t as if we haven’t had discussions as a family about the problem. Loud discussions, as I recall. Each time I argue my case, the logic I offer fails to inspire the parties in question to take lasting action. More specifically, to not only remove stuff from the island, but to KEEP IT FROM FINDING ITS WAY BACK. It’s almost as if my husband and kids are marking territory. Like dogs. Although I suspect that dogs know better.

To make matters worse, it appears as though the scourge is spreading—much like the plague. That said, the disordered mass has moved beyond the boundaries of the aforementioned island and currently affects a sizeable portion of a countertop and much of our dining room table. Sadly, the former has become a staging area for jewelry repair, featuring an embarrassment of ridiculously small tools, and the latter now functions as a place to pile things that have no business being piled there. Naturally, my husband argues they are things he is “working on.” If the past is any indication, he’ll be “working on” that stuff till doomsday. Maybe longer.

In order to deal with such a demoralizing set of circumstances, I suppose I’ll just have to ignore the surface and know that deep within beats the heart of my beloved island. Or I could ask for the unthinkable—that it be cleaned for Mother’s Day.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably standing in my kitchen, lamenting the sorry state of my island. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville, Rantings & Ravings, Welcome to My Disordered World

Rules of Engagement for Thanksgiving Dinner–Post-Election

img_0055_editedNo matter one’s political affiliation, I trust we can all agree that the presidential election of 2016 was epic in terms of its awfulness. It has forced us to acknowledge the deep rifts that exist within our society, exposing the shameful underbelly of America in the process. In light of that, I think it’s prudent to establish some ground rules as we gather together on Thanksgiving Day to feast with our family and friends—and hopefully not stab each other with Grandma’s finest cutlery. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for how to act:

  • Banish politics from your dinner table conversation, including but not limited to: contentious discussions of Access Hollywood bus tapes, the Clinton Foundation, Chief Jackwagon appointee, Steve Bannon, WikiLeaks, taco trucks, the KKK, Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton’s damn emails, and, for the love of God, don’t quote Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Ever.
  • Refrain from wearing apparel festooned with the phrase, “Nasty Woman” or “Drain the Swamp.” Likewise, don’t wear a pantsuit or that godawful MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat. It’s tacky and it makes you look like a buffoon.
  • As much as it pains you, fight the urge to chant: “Lock her up!” or “Build a wall!” By the same token, don’t define for the innocent children sitting at the kiddie table the words: bigot, fraud, misogynist, homophobe, xenophobe, narcissist, erratic, hostile, deranged or delusional. When they get curious enough, they’ll find a dictionary.
  • At all costs, avoid disputes over which Saturday Night Live actor, Alec Baldwin or Kate McKinnon, did a better job of portraying Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively. Simply agree that they brought much needed levity to what many describe as a fucking train wreck. Good thing.
  • No matter how delicious (or not) the meal is, don’t rate it on a scale of one to ten. Better still, don’t rate anything on a scale of one to ten—least of all the turkey breast or legs. Just don’t.
  • Likewise, don’t refer to the dinner rolls as a “basket of deplorables” or to the pumpkin pie as a “Trumpish” shade of orange. Trust me, it won’t go well.
  • As tempting as it might be, stay far, far away from topics like climate change, women’s reproductive rights, health care reform and gun control, if you value the relationship you share with your relatives. Be forewarned; it could get ugly.
  • Refrain from calling anyone a Nazi, a fascist or a socialist—no matter how fitting such descriptors might be. Also, fight the urge to invent Broadway musical titles that you think Mike Pence would enjoy such as: “The Lyin’ King” or “Guys and Guys.”
  • As suitable as it might be, don’t use the word “jackassery” to describe Donald Trump’s cabinet picks or engage in a shouting match to defend your position. Everyone knows that “jackassery” isn’t a real word and if you use it, you’ll just be showing off because it follows the rules of grammar and it’s fun to say besides.
  • In a moment of great weakness, if someone at the table goes on a tirade, railing against either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, resist the urge to whip out your cell phone to fact-check the data and/or post a video on Facebook. The world will thank you.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, preparing to feast, and hopefully not feud. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlantMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Holiday Hokum, Political Poop