Category Archives: Family Affair

If the Sock Fits, Marry It

IMG_0175I’ve been married some 27 years, 19 of which to the same wonderful man. In that span of time I’ve come to the conclusion that a successful marriage doesn’t have as much to do with an abiding love as it does with an ability to tolerate a disordered sock drawer.

That said, my husband’s socks are in a pitiful state of disarray much of the time. Again and again, I’ve tried to bring a sense of order and uniformity to the unruly heaps in his dresser by employing a variety of tactics (i.e. ditching the socks with holes, pairing those without mates and grouping them according to style or color), to no avail. Somehow the huddled masses return in a less-than-tidy fashion, yearning to breathe free. And because I’ve grown to understand the psyche of the disordered male, egregiously flawed as he might be, I’ve become a more compassionate mate.

By the same token, my husband accepts my flaws, and the fact that my sock drawer is a ridiculously organized space—complete with separate compartments for sweat socks, woolen socks and dress socks, nary a rogue in the bunch. The only thing it lacks is a coordinated cataloguing system inspired by Dewey Decimal. Needless to say, I recognize how difficult this must be for him, coming to grips with the sad reality that he lives with a closet neat freak. Of course, no one knows I’m a neat freak because there are no outward signs, unless you happened to be present on the day I purged our linen closet, hurling a disturbing number of blankets, towels and obscenities into the yard during a brief yet memorable fit of rage. Most of the time, however, I suffer in silence, allowing the tide of paraphernalia that comes with marriage and a family to consume me.

Admittedly, since the advent of children I’ve drifted from my well-ordered life and neatnik tendencies, much like growing apart from the distant relatives we stumble across at a funeral, decades later, squinting hard to try and remember who they are and how they once fit into our lives.

That said, everything in my world used to be neat and tidy. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place. Even my food was logically aligned, tallest to smallest, labels facing out. To this day a tiny part of me dies whenever I peer inside our supersized refrigerator, the contents of which rest on shelves indiscriminately, as if they had been violently launched from a cannon across the room. But I digress.

Getting married and having kids changed everything. After years in the field, I’ve determined that about 90% of parenthood involves finding lone socks in obscure places. Plus there are even more sock drawers to deal with. Indeed, there is more stuff in general—stuff that is piled in our attic and garage, beneath beds and atop closet shelves, in cedar cabinets and the musty basement. Stuff that has no business being stuffed where it gets stuffed. Apparently appliance garages aren’t just for blenders anymore. They’re for lunchboxes and dog vitamins, too, leftover popcorn and tubs of butter that may or may not be encrusted with the remnants of a week’s worth of toast. And let us not forget the crumbs that gather there en masse. The ones that no one wants to clean.

What’s more, it’s been so long since we could park two cars in our garage I’ve forgotten what that even feels like. I suspect it would feel wonderful, much like it would to put china and only china in my china cabinet. Instead it houses prized artwork from my kids’ grade school experience and a decade’s worth of snapshots. Likewise, my refrigerator holds newspaper clippings, report cards and pictures of my favorite people and pets in the world. It holds vacation keepsakes and magnets with phrases I find particularly meaningful, too. Because that’s what families do—they fill their homes with tangible reminders of the love that lives there. And they tolerate the disorder, sock drawers included.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, with way too many socks. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Family Affair, Home for Wayward Toys, In the Trenches of Parentville, Love and Other Drugs, Normal is Relative, Rantings & Ravings, The Chicken Man, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

The Dog That Came to Stay

IMG_6064It was his eyes that got me. Deep pools of espresso dappled with specks that reminded me of caramel. I hadn’t even reached through the cage to caress his indescribably soft ears yet, a practice I would come to revere more than practically anything since it brought as much calm to me as it did to him. Never mind his sleek, black coat and grizzled eyebrows—the ones he could move independently, effectively conveying his mood, which was almost always agreeable.

The plan was to adopt a rescue dog for my dad, one that would serve as a loving companion for him as he grappled with Alzheimer’s disease. Something that would ground him as his world fell apart. The trouble was that I needed grounding, too.

Needless to say, I didn’t intend to fall in love with such a dog. Nor did I think I would be incapable of delivering on a promise I had made to my dad.

“I’ll find you the perfect dog. Just give me a little more time. I think you’ll love the one we end up with, but we have to be sure it meets all the criteria first.”

Unfortunately, none of the candidates we considered passed muster for a variety of reasons: Too lively, not lively enough, too disinterested in people, too apt to jump on people, too aggressive and so on. It seemed as though we were doomed to fail.

Then Jasper appeared as my husband and I meandered through the SPCA for the umteenth time, peering into cages in search of an answer to our prayers. Our eyes locked with the aforementioned black lab mix and the rest was history. Originally, he was supposed to stay with our family only until we felt he was ready to transition to my dad’s home. “We’ll keep him for a week or so—long enough to adjust to life outside a kennel,” I told my kids. “He’s old and needs some TLC,” I reasoned to myself.IMG_6206

Weeks stretched into a solid month and by then I was hopelessly smitten. Jasper had quietly wheedled his way into our family and had become a part of our lives we didn’t even know was missing. Indeed, there was no mistaking the bond that had formed between us and there simply was no turning back. That said, he stepped with ease into our crazed schedule and house filled with teenage drama, noise and angst, despite his dog years and inability to recognize his own name—the one the Rescue had fittingly assigned him.

Against all odds, he learned to love our yappy, 14-pound Bichon and in the process made the latter less prone to anxiety attacks and barking seizures involving delivery trucks and unsuspecting joggers. At every turn, he modeled good behavior for our not-so-compliant, curly-haired pooch—the one we thought was beyond hope for ever acting like a normal dog. Almost daily they now play together, tossing their sock monkey into the air and racing around the house like a couple of deranged squirrels—something that makes my heart smile. Every. Single. Time.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I discovered how comforting it was to have a big-ish dog place his head or warm muzzle in my hand as I awaken each morning. Or the soothing effect he has on all of us as he wedges his box-like body next to ours on the couch at the close of a long day, somehow sensing our need to decompress. By contrast, he embraces our clamor and chaos—celebrating both the disorder and the abundance of joy that resides within our home.IMG_7997

Needless to say, there’s something extraordinary about having this dog, in particular, around—and by “around” I mean that he has become my shadow, following me everywhere but into the shower. What’s more, he reluctantly bids me farewell when I have to leave and greets me in the doorway when I return, tail wagging wildly, reminding me that all dogs are inclined to smile. You just have to look for it.

As a result, I never feel unappreciated or truly alone no matter how empty my house happens to be—the kids running in 17 different directions and their dad expertly manning the taxi or holed up at his office. Looking back, I think it’s during those quiet times when I value his presence the most. He’s there for me day in and day out, keeping me from dwelling on the sadness that lies beneath the surface of every joy—the ever-present sorrow related to having lost my dad not in the physical sense, but by every other definition.

Somehow, I know my dog understands. It’s in his eyes.

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

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Family Affair, Gratitude, Love and Other Drugs, Sandwich Generation

Still is the Night: The Beauty of Unplugging

www.melindawentzel.comShortly after the big, yellow school bus groaned to a halt and deposited Planet Mom’s brood at the curb, the skies grew angry and the winds began to whip, swirling all manner of leaves and debris about the place. The heavens rumbled in the distance and massive clouds moved swiftly as she and her children hurried up the grassy knoll to the safety and comfort of their home. Together they sat, perched at the northernmost bank of windows, and watched with amazement as a monstrous wall of gray swallowed the September sun as if it were a mere lemon drop. A raging storm was indeed very nearly upon them.

A sudden shroud of darkness then descended upon the land whilst towering pines swayed in the yard and lawn chairs skittered like spiders across the wooden deck, tumbling into the bushes and startling the children and their curly-haired dog. Shortly thereafter, lightning lit the skies and thunder shook the house unmercifully, causing the dog to cower in a corner—its springy, white tail hidden between its legs. Lights flickered ON and OFF and ON again while rain began to pelt the roof in fitful waves, thwarting all efforts to keep the smallish creatures in question focused on their homework. It was a school night after all.

“Are the lights going to GO OFF and STAY OFF, Mom?” one of the pair asked, a hint of apprehension in her voice. “What’ll we do then?”

Their mother, not being particularly gifted in the realm of meteorological topics, shrugged her shoulders and tried desperately to think of something that might divert her daughters’ attention away from the impending doom that seemed all but certain to strike.

“Get back to your schoolwork,” she instructed, all the while pretending to ignore the deafening cracks of thunder and the sirens that wailed in the distance. “It’s just a thunderstorm.”

“But how will we see to do our homework if the lights STAY OFF?” the wisp of a child probed further.

“Yeah,” her infinitely inquisitive counterpart added. “And how will we watch TV tonight?”

“I’ll think of something,” the mother asserted and then silently lamented the notion of being without television (and the computer and the microwave and so on) for what would surely seem an eternity.

Lo and behold, at some point during the ferocity of the storm, the power did, in fact, fail and legions of flashlights (many without functional batteries) were summoned from beneath beds and forgotten drawers. Cleverly, the woman lit scented candles; however it was soon determined that her progenies had mysteriously developed an incapacitating aversion to being near an open flame—despite having enjoyed countless marshmallow toasting events during the summer involving (gasp!) campfires and whatnot. “My homework will catch on fire, Mom!” So out the candles went directly, along with any bit of cinnamon-y goodness that might have emanated from said waxen devices.

Dozens of minutes elapsed and darkness fell. Soon the woman’s mate returned from work and joined the anxious bunch, eager to instill calm and assurance where fear had begun to creep. Savory snacks and a multitude of shadow puppets were instantly produced to the delight of many. Needless to say, the man’s offspring were mightily impressed with his skills and mesmerized by the uncommon and authentic nature of the railroad lanterns he managed to unearth from their pitifully disordered garage. His wife was equally impressed with the aforementioned feats and in return promised never to divulge the number of times he flicked light switches like a fool—because she, too, stupidly flicked switches.

Eventually, the punishing storm passed and the winds subsided, although the power outage continued. Nevertheless, an abundance of laughs were shared as were stories of parental hardship involving crippling snow storms and great floods during which both heat and electricity were lost for days on end. “Wow! That must have been horrible, Dad!” (Translation: “How did you survive without the Disney Channel, Dad?!”) More importantly, the family reconnected in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. Everyone took turns recounting the day’s ordinary and not-so-ordinary events. The dog’s ears were gently stroked and beloved books were read within the soft glow of the lanterns as the children nestled upon their mother’s lap.

At the close of each chapter, just before she began reading the next, she paused ever-so-slightly—and that was the moment during which a strange and wonderful thing befell them. All was perfectly still—aside from the crickets outside calling to would-be mates, the dozing dog and the breathy whispers of children completely engrossed in the deliciousness of literature. As it should be. No ever-present drone of the air conditioner could be heard. No television blared in the background. Not even the familiar hum of the refrigerator or a solitary screen saver could be detected. The sacred wedge of silence was magical, entrancing and wholly alien to those huddled upon the floor and sofa.

Just then the power returned—an abrupt and unwelcome guest. The household whirred and lurched back to life, removing all but the vestiges of ambiance and intimacy. The children blinked as if snapping out of a trance. Their squinty-eyed mother closed the book and used it to shield herself from the brightness, now everywhere. Her mate sat up suddenly, forcing himself to process the transformation. The dog awoke with a start. Shortly thereafter, everyone went their separate ways—back to the tired and the familiar. The spell had been broken, irreparably so. Or had it?

“We should do this again, Mom! We should have a fake power outage every week!” the children insisted at breakfast the next morning, smiles all around.

And so it was. Fake Power Outage Night was thereby established as a new family tradition and it was duly noted that batteries should be abundantly stockpiled.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (paying tribute to the ever-masterful Garrett Rice, aka Neanderdad, and his patented writing style). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Family Affair, Unplugged

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

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

Still is the Night

Shortly after the big, yellow school bus groaned to a halt and deposited Planet Mom’s brood at the curb, the skies grew angry and the winds began to whip, swirling all manner of leaves and debris about the place. The heavens rumbled in the distance and massive clouds moved swiftly as she and her children hurried up the grassy knoll to the safety and comfort of their home. Together they sat, perched at the northernmost bank of windows, and watched with amazement as a monstrous wall of gray swallowed the September sun as if it were a mere lemon drop. A raging storm was indeed very nearly upon them.

A sudden shroud of darkness then descended upon the land whilst towering pines swayed in the yard and lawn chairs skittered like spiders across the wooden deck, tumbling into the bushes and startling the children and their curly-haired dog. Shortly thereafter, lightning lit the skies and thunder shook the house unmercifully, causing the dog to cower in a corner—its springy, white tail hidden between its legs. Lights flickered ON and OFF and ON again while rain began to pelt the roof in fitful waves, thwarting all efforts to keep the smallish creatures in question focused on their homework. It was a school night after all.

“Are the lights going to GO OFF and STAY OFF, Mom?” one of the pair asked, a hint of apprehension in her voice. “What’ll we do then?”

Their mother, not being particularly gifted in the realm of meteorological topics, shrugged her shoulders and tried desperately to think of something that might divert her daughters’ attention away from the impending doom that seemed all but certain to strike.

“Get back to your schoolwork,” she instructed, all the while pretending to ignore the deafening cracks of thunder and the sirens that wailed in the distance. “It’s just a thunderstorm.”

“But how will we see to do our homework if the lights STAY OFF?” the wisp of a child probed further.

“Yeah,” her infinitely inquisitive counterpart added. “And how will we watch TV tonight?”

“I’ll think of something,” the mother asserted and then silently lamented the notion of being without television (and the computer and the microwave andso on) for what would surely seem an eternity.

Lo and behold, at some point during the ferocity of the storm, the power did, in fact, fail and legions of flashlights (many without functional batteries) were summoned from beneath beds and forgotten drawers. Cleverly, the woman lit scented candles; however it was soon determined that her progenies had mysteriously developed an incapacitating aversion to being near an open flame—despite having enjoyed countless marshmallow toasting events during the summer involving (gasp!) campfires and whatnot. “My homework will catch on fire, Mom!” So out the candles went directly, along with any bit of cinnamon-y goodness that might have emanated from said waxen devices.

Dozens of minutes elapsed and darkness fell. Soon the woman’s mate returned from work and joined the anxious bunch, eager to instill calm and assurance where fear had begun to creep. Savory snacks and a multitude of shadow puppets were instantly produced to the delight of many. Needless to say, the man’s offspring were mightily impressed with his skills and mesmerized by the uncommon and authentic nature of the railroad lanterns he managed to unearth from their pitifully disordered garage. His wife was equally impressed with the aforementioned feats and in return promised never to divulge the number of times he flicked light switches like a fool—because she, too, stupidly flicked switches.

Eventually, the punishing storm passed and the winds subsided, although the power outage continued. Nevertheless, an abundance of laughs were shared as were stories of parental hardship involving crippling snow storms and great floods during which both heat and electricity were lost for days on end. “Wow! That must have been horrible, Dad!” (Translation: “How did you survive without the Disney Channel, Dad?!”) More importantly, the family reconnected in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. Everyone took turns recounting the day’s ordinary and not-so-ordinary events. The dog’s ears were gently stroked and beloved books were read within the soft glow of the lanterns as the children nestled upon their mother’s lap.

At the close of each chapter, just before she began reading the next, she paused ever-so-slightly—and that was the moment during which a strange and wonderful thing befell them. All was perfectly still—aside from the crickets outside calling to would-be mates, the dozing dog and the breathy whispers of children completely engrossed in the deliciousness of literature. As it should be. No ever-present drone of the air conditioner could be heard. No television blared in the background. Not even the familiar hum of the refrigerator or a solitary screen saver could be detected. The sacred wedge of silence was magical, entrancing and wholly alien to those huddled upon the floor and sofa.

Just then the power returned—an abrupt and unwelcome guest. The household whirred and lurched back to life, removing all but the vestiges of ambiance and intimacy. The children blinked as if snapping out of a trance. Their squinty-eyed mother closed the book and used it to shield herself from the brightness, now everywhere. Her mate sat up suddenly, forcing himself to process the transformation. The dog awoke with a start. Shortly thereafter, everyone went their separate ways—back to the tired and the familiar. The spell had been broken, irreparably so. Or had it?

“We should do this again, Mom! We should have a fake power outage everyweek!” the children insisted at breakfast the next morning, smiles all around.

And so it was. Fake Power Outage Night was thereby established as a new family tradition and it was duly noted that batteries should be abundantly stockpiled.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (paying tribute to the ever-masterful Garrett Rice, aka Neanderdad, and his patented writing style). Be sure to visit Planet Mom on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Love and Other Drugs, Rock Me Like a Hurricane

Vacation Schmacation

I didn’t even want to go on a stupid cruise. People get seasick on cruises. Agoraphobic. Claustrophobic. Aquaphobic. Lilapsophobic. At times, they suffer the unmerciful wrath of foodborne illnesses, they become preoccupied with rogue sharks and ill-mannered pirates and they often lament a dearth of trees. At least I did. Miss the trees, that is. Worse yet, seafarers fall victim to that special brand of withdrawal—the one associated with not being able to send text messages obsessively or to check one’s email ad nauseam without shelling out obscene sums for Internet connectivity. Never mind the very real possibility of hitting an iceberg while sailing the ocean blue or, God forbid, capsizing in waters that are disturbingly deep.

Of course, we know the waters are disturbingly deep because the nifty little televisions in everyone’s impossibly small staterooms conveniently display the current depth (measured in thousands of feet!) in a continuous loop, along with a relief map of the western hemisphere illustrating how godawful far from land said ship is presently situated. After Day Two of our eight-night Bahamian cruise, I simply stopped dwelling upon such foolishness and tried to imagine Sponge Bob reposing in his pineapple under the sea, poised to save me lest I fall overboard. Naturally, I was convinced that someone in our party of six would fall overboard during the course of our epic journey to the tropics, or that my directionally-challenged children would at some point vanish inside the 14-story, 964 ft. vessel or that my husband would fall for an insanely gorgeous redhead with little or no neurotic tendencies. Who could blame him?

Aside from the voyage itself, I had no idea how involved preparing for a cruise could be. There were on-shore excursions to plan well in advance of the trip, most of which I stupidly accomplished in the wee hours of a hellacious night, a mere handful of days before we left. There was also the matter of transporting our motley crew (to include my parents, our youngest children and an embarrassment of luggage) through the uber-congested Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan’s 88th pier, a place where Conestoga wagons and horse manure would surely be frowned upon.

This, of course, led my dear husband to the pure genius of renting a 15-passenger van, heretofore known as our $832 carcass on wheels, the dilapidated nature of which cannot be overstated. As I recall, three of us might have been properly belted in, there was a mere suggestion of shock absorption present for the teeth-jarring journey and a repulsive pair of safety glasses beckoned to my brood from the backseat. Gak! But because the gods were smiling upon us, the air conditioner functioned flawlessly and each time we skittered across an exit ramp, we somehow failed to collide with a guardrail. And while the circus-like event of obtaining passports and the tirade-infused meltdown associated with my packing frenzy on the eve of our departure very nearly necessitated a small team of marriage counselors, my husband and I remain very much in love.

It’s true; I didn’t want any part of the cruise my parents so graciously bestowed upon us Christmas Day 2011. But somewhere, between the lazy catamaran ride to our dolphin encounter on Blue Lagoon Island and lolling in the pristine waters of the Caribbean at Castaway Cay with my family, I surrendered to the notion of leisure. No longer would my irrational fears about our summer vacation consume me. From that moment on, I refrained from inviting worry and dread into my otherwise harried world. Instead I let the warm embrace and gentle caress of the surf erase every trace of anxiety I had harbored since we boarded the Disney Magic in New York.

Granted, some of us did, indeed, become lost on that behemoth-sized boat. Reading glasses and hearing aids were misplaced, too (the latter of which were recovered), a tooth was broken at dinner, a seagull wreaked havoc at the beach and a rollercoaster at Disney went on the blink. But for the most part, our time together was imbued with goodness and punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances—many of which involve being pampered beyond all imagining.

I miss the chocolates on my pillow each night, the towel origami and crisp linens that awaited us as we returned from a myriad of daily exploits, the live entertainment, indescribably attentive servers and meals that qualified as delectable if not superb, the inimitable wedge of time I spent with my family that I will treasure forever and ever.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a wonderful vacation.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (channeling Sponge Bob). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Road Trip, Vacation Schmacation

A Family Affair

I’m quite sure I’ve attended plenty of social gatherings that have fueled MORE anxiety within me than the five-generation brand of reunion my husband’s family hosts each June, only I can think of none at the moment. In a word, said get-together is a behemoth-sized affair during which minutes are read, motions are made, budgetary concerns are discussed and officers are elected. Yes, elected—ostensibly, over three-bean salad and barbecued chicken. It sounds absurd. I know; especially if you hail from a small clan like mine—one that would be hard-pressed to polish off the deviled eggs and blueberry pie. Never mind come to a consensus on anything.

However my husband’s crew (to include his seven aunts and uncles and more first, second, third and fourth cousins than I can readily wrap my mind around) is a different story altogether—one that features in excess of 30 picnic tables, a monstrosity of a salad bar lined with buckets and buckets of ice and a table that houses sinful quantities of steamed foods. And let us not forget the grill that is roughly the size of a well-nourished water buffalo and the hydraulic lift called upon to hoist the beast at will. That said, his family views the whole let’s-get-together-and-have-a-picnic seriously.

As one might expect, fliers are mailed out months in advance of the occasion, urging everyone’s participation and a supply of pertinent updates so that the database (yes, the database) can accurately reflect any changes that may have taken place in a year’s time. Needless to say, the aforementioned lineage can, indeed, be graphically represented with a roots-trunk-and-branches sort of family tree—as long as it’s a sequoia.

Confession: I dread my husband’s family reunions because, of course, I am a social misfit who has great difficulty interacting with throngs of people—people I cannot remember to save myself. Nor can I recall who is related to whom, from whence they came and of what they speak. Translation: I struggle to interpret much of the convoluted speech patterns thick Pennsylvania Dutch that pervades the airspace beneath our larger-than-life-sized pavilion. Granted, the event described above smacks of a small convention in a large tree-lined field, one that is perhaps capable of unnerving many a dutiful wife with kids in tow—especially one who is fairly preoccupied with the notion of keeping her brood out of poison ivy patches and away from the cussed cornfield that is likely teeming with ticks. But I digress.

That said, I’ve learned to embrace the experience by dividing it into three basic stages, each of which lasts for an undetermined, yet finite, period of time. Initially, I clamber out of our Jeep-turned-oasis and make my way to the celebrated pavilion, mindful of the wretched plants and blood-sucking vermin that collectively seek to ruin my day. I then receive a warm welcome from swarms of people who converge upon me like a small, yet suffocating, army. I can only guess that this is what a panic-stricken amnesiac must feel like, surrounded by a sea of friendly faces, not one of which is readily recognizable. Lord only knows why they tolerate a lout like me.

My husband, being the gregarious creature that he is, immediately begins to mix and mingle with one and all, taking great pains to re-introduce me to everyone I ought to know but have sadly forgotten. I, of course, smile and nod, resisting the overwhelming desire to whip out a big, fat marker and scrawl everyone’s name on his or her brow. Heaven help me if there’s a quiz.

After the swell recedes I relax a bit, reveling in the knowledge that EXACTLY NO ONE within my husband’s entire family mistook me for the first wife. For that alone, I love them dearly. True to my less-than-gregarious/socially-inept self, I then attempt to fade into the woodwork by finding a table, filling my kids’ plates and hoping like crazy they didn’t stuff themselves silly with snacks en route to this feast to end all feasts. My charges and I then toss a Frisbee around in the field that encircles the picnic area, because it would be decidedly gauche to graze ALL damn day.

Once we’ve become thoroughly exhausted (and rightly retreat to the lemonade-infused refuge of the pavilion), that is the point at which I usually stumble across someone I actually know. Not surprisingly, I barnacle-ize myself to said buoy-like individual, refusing to let him or her leave my side until we’ve talked about practically everything from the Boston Red Sox to the brownies that were slightly addictive. Eventually, though, the crowd begins to disperse, wending their way through the grassy field—dishes and Frisbees in hand, smiles and hugs all around.

I can only hope I continue to be a part of such a wonderful (albeit, freakishly large) family—one that really knows how to host a reunion, 80 years and counting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping to guess the weight of next year’s watermelon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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