Category Archives: Gratitude

So Long, Farewell

I heard the trucks rumbling in the street this morning, groaning to a halt as I peeked through the blinds to see. The movers were here, preparing to load the wares of two families in my neighborhood who are off to faraway places—one to the Delaware shoreline and the other to the mountains of Colorado. To say that they will be missed is an understatement. They were the salt of the earth type of people, always there when we needed them, whether it was in the form of kind words or kind actions. And their kids, OH MY, their kids were absolute gems. They, too, will leave an impossible-to-fill void.

Now that these particular families are starting a new chapter in their lives after living here for decades, I’m reminded of the importance of not taking good neighbors for granted. And although we’re surrounded by other terrific neighbors and I’m sure we’ll welcome with open arms the new families who will move in, the neighborhood will never be the same without the people who forged such lasting relationships with us. Lord knows, the experiences we’ve shared cannot possibly be replicated—especially those we’ve had with the family whose back lawn merged seamlessly with ours.

Who else could tolerate our errant Frisbees…or help conduct important research on the mysterious appearance of a blue thong in one’s hot tub while away on vacation…or lend a hand by installing an ungodly number of outdoor lights on an unbearably hot summer day…or offer to clear the snow in our driveway because our snowblower was on the fritz…or loan us a hand truck/dolly so that we might spare ourselves the agony of lugging heavy furniture, etc. from Point A to Point B? What’s more, WHO WILL I LIST AS AN EMERGENCY CONTACT ON THE SCHOOL FORMS THAT WILL ARRIVE IN SEPTEMBER? Beth and Shaun have always been the ones I trust with my children—and my dog, for that matter. WHO WILL TAKE MY DOG OUT WHEN I’M STUCK IN TRAFFIC MILES AWAY FROM HOME? Better still, who will tolerate his quirky behavior (i.e. spinning around in circles roughly 47 times before he poops)?

And although I’ve tried, I can’t begin to quantify the number of memorable get-togethers we’ve had over the years. The clambakes, New Year’s Eve parties, fireworks, picnics, nights spent by the firepit, or just sitting around our kitchen tables sharing the remains of the day have been virtually incalculable, and more importantly, cathartic—particularly the gatherings that have included an embarrassment of wine or collectively hoisting a 24-foot ladder up to a rooftop during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night to discover why there was a leak. Those were good times I won’t soon forget.

Needless to say, our kids grew up together right before our eyes, spending quality time playing in sandboxes and on swing sets, dribbling on our basketball court and learning to swim in their pool, pitching tents in the backyard, together welcoming new pets and mourning the losses of old ones. And let us not forget the exciting sled rides down our icy driveway in the thick of winter or the holiday lawn-decorating contests for which Clark Griswold (i.e. Shaun) lived.

There was something comforting about seeing their windows all lit at night while I walked the dog, the yellow squares spilling their light onto the lawn and into the inky black woods. Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of the people inside clearing the dishes from the dinner table—people I cared about, never once imagining they wouldn’t be there, occupying that space. I can’t even estimate the number of times I admired the trumpeting angel they had on display above the landing of their staircase. It could easily be viewed through the gaping front window and seemed to welcome all who had come to call—suiting their family perfectly.

The moving trucks are gone now, and the windows dark. Of course, we wish them well in their new homes, grateful that fate allowed our lives to have intersected so meaningfully.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting our friends’ faraway moves… Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss, Won't You Be My Neighbor

Ten Ways to Say Thank You, Dad

Remembering the first man I ever loved… Miss you, Dad…

Fathers come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and talents. On the whole, I’d daresay they are a thankless lot—often underappreciated, largely misunderstood—an entire populace of men rarely acknowledged for the many and varied ways in which they contribute as parents. Mothers, deservedly or not, garner the lion’s share of recognition when it comes to the important business of raising a family. But Father’s Day, with its prominently marketed golf wares, grilling must-haves and sea of manly fragrances, forces us to shift our collective sentiment and pay homage to dear, old Dad.

And as I wander the aisles in search of the perfect greeting card for my father—one that I believe captures the essence of our relationship, keys on our shared allegiance to witticism and adequately gives thanks for the sacrifices he’s made and the wisdom he’s imparted, I find myself settling for that which falls disappointingly short. Hallmark, it seems, hasn’t stumbled upon the right assemblage of words just yet. Somehow their writers have missed the mark, along with all the other clever wordsmiths who’ve failed to deliver the sort of message my father needs to receive—the one that perhaps all fathers need to receive. So thank you, Dad, for so many things…

…for encouraging me to forge my own path instead of assuming that the paths of others would necessarily be right for me…for letting me climb to the tops of trees and to skateboard with wild abandon…for ferrying me to the ER when necessary.

…for teaching me how to throw a fastball, wield a mean golf club and sink a jump shot on command…for being my biggest advocate (even still) and for believing in me even before I believed in myself.

…for being oh-so-generous with your time…for listening intently to my wishes and worries…for considering me a worthy companion as we jogged over the back roads of town, watched doubleheaders into the wee hours and sat in scratchy lawn chairs together, completely mesmerized by the thunderstorms that rolled across the skies in the midst of July’s unbearable heat, summer after endless summer.

…for letting me date boys with mustaches and muscle cars…for traipsing around the kitchen in your underwear late at night, when said boys needed reminding that it was time to go home (an infinitely mortifying experience then, but absolutely hilarious now)…for walking me down the aisle—twice—and never once saying I told you so.

…for introducing me to the concept of balancing a checkbook, as well as finding balance in my life…for teaching me to accept failure when it comes to call and to learn from my missteps…to appreciate having grandparents, a roof overhead and acres of woods all around.

…for tolerating my teenage years (Oy!), for trusting me with your beloved cars even though the voices inside your head must have screamed, “Noooo!” and for resisting the overwhelming desire to share with my High School Yearbook Committee that hideous photo of me with the mumps. For that alone, I love you dearly.

…for navigating so many road trips—to distant airports, to a good number of college campuses I considered calling home, to my very first job interview in the city. Never mind that we got horribly lost in the process; but getting a glimpse of the White House at rush hour surely was grand.

…for inspiring me to be a responsible individual, to work hard and to strive to do good in this world…for illustrating the power of forgiveness, the refuge of one’s church and the necessary nature of grieving our losses…for reminding me that things usually work out in the end—even when they look entirely hopeless at the start.

…for underscoring the importance of finding time for one’s children, time for one’s marriage and time for oneself…for helping me recognize the inherent value of ice cream sundaes, the versatility of duct tape and the irreplaceable nature of a good friend.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for showing me the beauty of marrying one’s best friend.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks for my dad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss

Motherhood Anew

When I first became a mother, it felt as though time stood still, my days and nights never-ending, woven together into an unfamiliar tapestry that defined my upended world. I remember thinking the infant stage would endure forever and that I would surely be driven mad in the process. Sleep was a commodity I craved with fervor beyond all imagining, as were hot showers without the constant worry of being responsible for a tiny human 24/7.

My mother, of course, assured me that the sleepless nights, inconsolable crying and umbilical cord awfulness would eventually abate. Things would get better and my life could be reclaimed to a degree. A new normal would emerge in due time, largely contingent upon my child developing some level of independence. Turns out, she was right.

Granted, as my oldest daughter grew, my days were still filled to capacity and mostly blurred at the edges, although at the core they were remarkable and good, making me grateful to be a mother. Again and again this happened as another child joined the fold and I reminded myself that the inaugural stages only felt like a train wreck. I would muddle through, somehow. Motherhood would not consume me.

Eventually there would be sand castles and building blocks, baby dolls and baking cookies, blanket forts and, of course, endless summers in pursuit of the yellow-green flashes of fireflies. Days would be spent creating entire villages with sidewalk chalk and devouring favorite books together nestled on the couch—hours of being present with my children, moments that I now struggle to remember in perfect detail. If I sift through old photos and squint hard, however, I can often return to what was—tethered to a time and place when I was a different kind of mother.

At the time, I never imagined longing for those things, assuming they’d always be there—the books, the sandbox, the fireflies and so on. I hadn’t considered that a day would come when my children no longer crawled into my lap for a story or begged me to build a teetering tower with blocks or allowed me to rock them to sleep. Back then it almost seemed a bit inconvenient, having to stop what I was doing and be present with my daughters, never mindful that eventually there would be “a last time” for engaging with them in that way.

I often wonder which book was the last to be read aloud. I have no way of knowing, but I suspect it happened at the bus stop, a place where we turned hundreds of pages together as we sat on the curb waiting for the school bus to groan to a halt. And when did we last chase fireflies, our bare feet skimming the cool grass at dusk, mayonnaise jars in hand? I can’t reliably recall, although it might have been the same year I helped them climb trees or build a snow fort in the backyard.

By design I suppose, childhood has a season—an indeterminate yet finite number of days we get to watch our progenies move through the stages of development. If we’re lucky, we remember to etch upon our minds the moments of pure perfection immersed within the tumult, when time is suspended and we can drink in the joy we happen to experience. So many ordinary moments as a parent wind up being extraordinary because we remembered to actually live them—to savor the goodness in the midst of madness.

If nothing else, this is the advice I’d like to impart to my children—especially to my oldest, who just became a mother. And although she struggles to get enough sleep and spends far too much time doubting herself, I know she feels a wealth of gratitude and has embraced the concept of unconditional love, as has everyone who has ever nurtured something.

Needless to say, I am beyond grateful that I’ll get to relive so many of the moments that make motherhood special—even if I’m called Grandma.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, revisiting motherhood as a newly minted grandmother. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Gratitude, Leaving the Nest, motherhood

Filling the Void with Remembrances

He had the softest ears of any dog I’ve ever known. That said, I almost never passed up an opportunity to caress them. Nor could I deny how I loved snuggling with him on the couch, his box-like body curled up and wedged next to mine—safe and warm. No matter what the day had thrown at me, I knew I could always count on him to erase the tension and to reconnect me with the here and now, almost the instant I stroked his fur and scratched behind his ears.

He had a penchant for chasing crows, for stovetop popcorn and for following me from room to room as if we were tethered together, a girl and her dog. I swear I can still hear his toenails clicking on the tile floor behind me, never mind the jangle of his collar every time he shook his head or sneezed—which he was inclined to do whenever he was happy. Of that, I am sure.

His name was Jasper and he was the most wonderful rescue pet anyone could ask for—the epitome of a “good dog.” But we lost him—three days after Christmas, no less, his aged body too tired to continue another day. Like so many dogs, he left us bit by bit as he declined over a period of months—his daily jaunts around the block becoming slower and shorter, eventually ending altogether when we had to carry him to the backyard. We tried hand feeding him to keep up his strength, to no avail. We covered him with a blanket and kept a vigil where he lay on the couch to give him some measure of comfort. We put him between us in our bed on his last night on this earth, to let him know he was loved—unconditionally.

Although it’s been almost five months now, I can’t seem to accept the fact that he’s gone. His ashes and plaster paw print came home from the vet’s shortly after his death. But I still listen for his rhythmic breathing in the quiet of night. I stare at his bed, now empty, yet lined with traces of black fur—an unwelcome reminder of what was. Against all logic and understanding, I can’t bear to remove his food dish from the kitchen. Not yet anyway. What’s more, there isn’t a room in the house where he didn’t have a favorite spot to lie, and that’s exactly where my eyes fall the minute I step through each doorway. I can’t help but visualize him in those places, his head resting comfortably on his paws, his caramel-colored eyes watching me with hopeful expectation, since there was always the possibility I’d suggest that we go for a walk and chase the godawful crows together. Heaven knows he wouldn’t want to miss a signal.

Strangely enough, I miss tripping over him. Well, maybe not so much, since that was beyond exasperating—especially in the kitchen when I cooked his meals—scrambled eggs, ground beef and rice. Truth be told, what I miss the most is kneeling down on the floor to hug him—gently wrapping my arms around his warm frame and placing my head against his, something the people at the SPCA taught me how to do appropriately. Who knew there was a proper way to hug a dog? At any rate, I followed their advice and it seemed to engender a remarkable sense of calm—in both of us. Sadly, hugging my tiny, yappy dog in a similar manner doesn’t produce the same result. Maybe it’s because he’s not as tolerant of my foolishness. Maybe it’s because he’s incredibly small. Maybe hugs just aren’t his thing.

One thing I know for sure is that he misses his forever friend, too. There are days he pads around the house in search of him, wondering why he’s no longer here to toss favorite toys in the air and growl at each other—just for fun. Other days he just seems sad—something with which I am all too familiar.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (missing my dog). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Gratitude, Love and Loss

Life is Good…Mostly

IMG_7997I own a handful of trendy t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: LIFE IS GOOD. I wear them because they’re ridiculously soft, they feature stick figures with infectious smiles and, quite frankly, because I like the upbeat message they send to the big, bad world. Often times, people will stop me in the grocery store or post office, point at my shirt and nod in agreement: “Yeah, life is good, isn’t it!” which is great, because sometimes I’m the one that needs a reminder.

That said, sometimes life is downright ugly—like right now, as the wheels fly off this crazed election and increasingly hateful rhetoric spews from otherwise civilized and compassionate people. I am no exception. Life is not only ugly, it’s also heartbreaking and undeniably unjust because senseless violence continues to ravage the globe, hurricanes, floods and fires strike unmercifully and so many people I love grapple with cancer, or Alzheimer’s or any number of other devastating diseases. Neighbors move away. Parents and beloved pets die. Friends endure unspeakable adversity—including, but not limited to financial ruin, crippling addictions or, heaven forbid, having to bury a child. What’s more, marriages fail, suicides happen and people I care about become broken for a host of reasons.

I suppose that loss—sometimes more than people can bear—comes with the territory, an unwelcome side effect of this thing called life. Strangely enough, the more sorrow I experience, the more difficult it seems to manage on a personal level, each event affecting me more deeply than the last. You’d think that by now coping with it would be a walk in the park for me—something distinctly unpleasant, yet easy to accept because, if nothing else, it’s familiar. Admittedly, I sometimes stay in bed and hide from the world—especially on days when sadness and negativity threaten to consume me, convinced that by avoiding reality somehow it will cease to exist.

Of course, avoidance is only temporary. It does nothing to change what is real. So I shake my fist at God, infuriated by the fact that bad things happen to good people each and every day—despite denial, despite rage and despite prayers.

And then, as the sun rises, a funny thing happens. My dog ambles over to my bedside and shoves his head and warm muzzle into my hand, demanding to be petted, acknowledged, and eventually, fed since it’s time for breakfast. I then crawl on the floor and spend a few moments rubbing his impossibly soft ears and talking with him about all the important things in his life—the walk we’ll take later, his renowned affinity for squirrels and how great his scrambled eggs will taste. Yes, my dog eats scrambled eggs. Don’t judge.IMG_6206

At any rate, somewhere between hugging him and caressing the leathery pads on his feet my mind is flooded with what can only be described as gratitude. Indeed, I can’t imagine life without the rescue dog my family and I decided to adopt more than two years ago—our black lab-mix with the grizzled face and unsteady gait. Nor can I take for granted the other loveable beasts that reside here, never mind that our curly-haired, pint-sized yapper is decidedly neurotic and that our cat gives him plenty to be neurotic about.

From there, it mushrooms into recognizing all the good that has come into my life—all the people for whom I am thankful and all the experiences I’m glad to have had. I think of my husband, a man who has been my best friend for more than 20 years, the love of my life and my soft spot to land when the universe spirals out of control. I think of my three children who are talented, bright and most importantly, kind—ever so grateful that I get to be their mom. I think of all the people who touch their lives daily and I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of indebtedness. I think of my treasured friends, my church family and how fortunate I am to have the lot of them in my life.

Of course, I’m happy to have a roof overhead, food in my pantry and the sweet refuge of music and books, too. But mainly it’s the people that remind me that life is, indeed, good…mostly.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wearing a LIFE IS GOOD t-shirt). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Depraved New World, Gratitude, Love and Loss

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 the Food Network, 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 Giada 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 Ghirardelli 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. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes

“M” is for Motherhood

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324While it’s true the term “motherhood” is a simple collection of ten letters, specifically arranged for ease of pronunciation, it is suggestive of so much more. In sum, I regard it as a wholly intangible, behemoth-like affair that effectively upended all that I thought I knew about life as a decidedly callow twenty-something. Needless to say, the experience continues to shape and mold me, schooling me day and night in the curious ways and means of children, wowing me with the inherent remarkableness of the aforementioned creatures and rendering me forever changed as an individual. As it should be, I suppose. That said, here’s how I spell motherhood.

M Motherhood is a messy beast-of-a-thing—with its suffocating mass of sippy cups and sidewalk chalk, Legos and lunch boxes, bicycles and Band-Aids. Never mind the ubiquitous nature of stuffed animals and the profusion of refrigerator-worthy masterpieces that inhabit our homes, marking time as our progenies progress along the winding path of childhood. And let us not forget all the lovely shades of gray with which we must contend: the tangled complexities of teens, the relentless questioning of toddlers and the soft underbelly of the headstrong child—the one we try desperately to govern without stifling. Indeed, motherhood is a messy business.

O Motherhood is overwhelming to be sure—a seemingly insufferable, plate’s-too-full collection of moments that, when taken together or viewed within the prism of the unattainable ideal, beat us into submission, the thrum of parental failure ringing in our ears. That said, there’s nothing quite like comparing oneself to the façade of perfection—holding our harried selves up against those who appear to be getting it right, the moms who keep all the plates spinning as if flawless extensions of themselves.

T Motherhood is timeless—an eternal post to which we are assigned, willing or not. From the moment our writhing infants, ruddy-faced and wrinkled, are placed upon our chests, motherhood begins in earnest. And although our parent/child relationships shift and season over time, they remain inextricably woven within the fabric of our lives. Not even death can end the appointed role, as a mother’s counsel is sought long after she has been eulogized.

H Motherhood is a humbling experience. Ask anyone who has ever faced the stinging truth as it relates to intolerance and hypocrisy—delivered by a six-year-old, no less, soundly putting those who ought to know better in their respective places. So often kids eclipse our academic abilities, too, reminding us how important it is to embrace change. Never mind that every fiber of our being screams in protest. Moreover, becoming a parent means a humbling loss of identity to some extent, punctuating the uncertain nature of our so-called significance in certain circles. We are simply So-and-So’s mom now—maker of sandwiches, applier of sunscreen, gracious recipient of dandelions. But somehow the title feels right, as does finding a pretty vase for the dandelions.www.melindawentzel.com

E Motherhood is edifying in that literally every day we learn something new—most of which is harvested from conversations at the dinner table or at bedtime, from diaries that beckon unremittingly or from tiny notes we discover wadded up in someone’s pants pocket. We spend a lot of time watching, too, realizing that our mothers were right all along. Children will, indeed, cut their own hair, shove peas up their noses and breach late night curfews to test both boundaries and our resolve. Arguably, the lessons of motherhood never truly end.

R Motherhood is real. Good, bad or indifferent, it is palpable, inimitable and exceedingly enlivening. It is the stuff from which memories are made and so much purpose is derived.

H Motherhood delivers nothing less than a heady rush—an intoxicating dose of awe wrapped in the sheer rapture of having had a hand in creating life, not to mention having been called upon to shape one or more future citizens of this world. Mothers are, without question, difference-makers.

O Motherhood makes us swell with omnipotence now and again—a grand and glorious surge of I’M THE MOM, THAT’S WHY sort of sway that leaves us feeling all-powerful, if only fleetingly. But nothing makes us puff up more than hearing censure as priceless as, “Dad, did you get Mom’s permission to do that? She’s the Rule Captain, you know.”

O With motherhood comes obsession. And spiraling panic. And unfounded fear. And, of course, debilitating worry over that which will probably never occur anyway. In sum, we fret about bumps and bruises, unexplained rashes and fevers that strike in the dead of night…about report cards and recklessness, friends we cannot hope to choose and fast cars that will whisper to our charges, inevitably luring them within, despite our best efforts to forbid such foolishness.

D Motherhood is delicious—a profoundly gratifying slice of life we would do well to savor. Never mind its patented swirl of disorder and wealth of doubts, fears and impossible demands. Indeed, motherhood threatens to swallow us whole, while at the same time allowing us to drink in its goodness, gulp by gulp.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (reflecting on the many facets of motherhood). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, In the Trenches of Parentville, Mushy Stuff