Category Archives: Growing Pains

Juneuary

Seems like only yesterday that my brood was finishing up grade school, poised to devour the summer months…

I love this time of the school year, as we straddle the delectable months of May and June—quite literally on the cusp of summer. Translation: The celebrated death of structure is nigh and I can almost taste the deliverance from order and obligation—especially as it relates to parenting a pair of wily fifth graders. Far and away, it’s my favorite wedge of weeks on the academic calendar; although September’s nice, too, with its bustling fleets of bright, yellow school buses, towers of textbooks and freshly sharpened pencils. Trendy backpacks and lunchboxes abound, too. Everything, it seems, is awash with newness come September, just as it was so very long ago when I headed back to grade school with the swarming masses (and a newfangled Scooby-Doo thermos).

But the present chunk of time is downright edible—a delicious string of days that meld together like the final pages of a good book. Needless to say, the sundrenched afternoons and scrumptious evenings filled with Frisbees and the ever-present thrum of crickets woo me into thinking that nothing on earth could possibly be better—except maybe a moratorium on homework, which is pretty much what we’ve been granted of late. That said, there is no substitute for this season’s splendor—and the fireflies we are eager to chase at dusk. Nor is there any match for the grand finale my kids revere more than life itself (i.e. the culmination of school, with its patented swirl of delirium-inducing celebrations and jammed-to-capacity schedule of events). Indeed, it is a frenzied cluster of weeks that threatens to claim my sanity, but it passes all too quickly and I find myself pining for more.

If I had my druthers, another 30-day chunk of time would be sandwiched between the fifth and sixth months, infusing the school calendar with that which is righteous and good (namely, science projects that don’t necessitate the summoning of a marriage counselor, sports schedules that are very nearly practicable and weather forecasts that typically include blue skies and balmy temperatures). Juneuary, I’d call it. Of course, it would contain a perfectly frivolous holiday during which people would pause for three consecutive days to pay homage to squirt guns. Or toads. Possibly both. You’re welcome, said the maniacal visionary and curator of whimsy.

Alas, there is no Juneuary, and a mere handful of days remain in my children’s school calendar—a woeful reality that is, of course, punctuated by the fact that this week will officially end their grade school years. That said, my brood is poised to enter middle school in the fall—where the likelihood of being trampled by a herd of 8th graders is nearly equivalent to that of being stuffed inside a locker (incidentally, a locker that no one will figure out how to reliably lock and unlock without divine intervention and/or the acquisition of at least one superpower).

Never mind the inevitability that I will fail to locate their classrooms on Back to School Night, at which time I will surely forego the opportunity to meet their new teachers because I’ll be too busy wandering aimlessly through the labyrinth of hallways that appear disturbingly similar. Make that COMPLETELY INDISTINGUISHABLE, except for the smallish numbers printed near the doors that I may or may not fully discern, given the addled state I expect to be in at that time.

Maybe I should just stow my kids somewhere in the bowels of the elementary school for the summer, so they might stay a bit longer, tethered to the people and things they know best. A place where an embarrassment of items were lost and subsequently found (read: library books, lunch money, a certain someone’s clarinet, eleventy-seven sweatshirts, a beloved Pokémon card and an errantly placed baby tooth). A place where scrapes were tended to, psyches were nurtured and curiosities were fed since the early days of kindergarten. A soft spot to land these past six years—a refuge that has made all the difference this June.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (searching desperately for the pause button). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, Love and Other Drugs, School Schmool

The Graduates

Seems like only yesterday that they were graduating from third grade…

As a parent, I love this particular wedge of time—the infinitely delicious weeks of May during which I savor the end of the school year because I’ve finally gotten the hang of the wretched routine and have come to grips with the academic expectations—even those involving the dreaded partial-products algorithm that made me feel woefully inadequate. For me (this year especially), it’s been a perfectly scrumptious segment of the calendar, nestled comfortably between the Land of Third Grade, during which fond memories have been gathered like seashells since the early part of September, and the celebrated Death of Structure (i.e. the warmth and wonderfulness that is summer). We’re on the cusp of something grand and glorious after all, and in the name of preparing for the season of suntans and sweet corn, things have loosened up considerably—or maybe it’s just me.

Come Memorial Day, I feel like less of a tyrant and more like someone who takes the inordinately-asinine-compulsion-to-stress-over-homework mantra and sets it on a shelf for a time, allowing her brood to linger outside long after the sun has set and the crickets have begun their nightly serenade. Bedtimes have been stretched to a shameful degree for weeks on end and an embarrassment of S’mores have already been consumed while crouched on the deck around a crackling fire. The only thing missing is the intermittent flashes of fireflies along the thickets and darkish places in the lawn.

Indeed, June is calling—and the long-awaited season of graduation is nigh. Time for looking forward to what the next chapter might bring. Time to reflect upon the wealth of knowledge and skill acquired while leading up to said monumental event. Time to swell with pride over the many and varied accomplishments that have been realized throughout the journey to fruition.

By the same token, ourresident “graduates” have embraced the very same notion, boldly stepping into the realm of that which is decidedly new and different—although it has nothing whatsoever to do with progressing to the fourth grade. Oddly enough, it involves bathing—or, more correctly, showering. Because that’s what they do now. They shower, “…like big kids, Mom,” having renounced completely the less-than-appealing, wholly contemptible idea of washing up in anything suggestive of a tub. “Baths are for babies, Mom. Don’t you know anything?!”

Ironically, their collective sentiment has failed to fill me with a sense of gratification, joy or the heady rush of deliverance I fully expected. I thought I’d be beside myself with glee, having no more deluges with which to deal (read: a profusion of ungainly elbows paired with WAY too many water-filled cups and saucers and bottle-like vessels poised to fall upon ill fated floors—despite the delivery of impassioned lectures on such topics). I assumed I’d be thrilled, having been relieved of the loathsome duty of fishing the remnants of broken balloons and gobs of Barbie hair from the drain. What’s more, I was fairly certain there would no longer be a need to curb tub-related hostilities among the aforementioned warring factions—which would have made me slightly euphoric on any other day.

Although on this day I find myself lamenting the change. Wishing things were as they used to be. Mourning the passage of time and the birth of independence as it relates to that inexorable desire to be grown. Stupidly, I miss the rubber duckies. And the obscene quantities of suds. And the mermaids with their lithesome tails. And the gnarly dinosaurs, frozen hideously in mid-pose, their mouths agape, now languishing next to a half-empty bottle of lavender-scented whateverness. I long for a chance to eavesdrop as they sail ships hither and yon and sip tea with lizards and lions, completely engrossed in another world. Part of me regrets that I ever grew tired of washing their tangled manes and scrubbing their soiled bodies. That said, I wish I could lather their bushy heads once more—shaping and molding foamy peaks and Washingtonian-inspired dos. “Soon, they’ll want to return to the bath,” I reasoned. “The boats and bubbles and fish that squirt will call to them unremittingly.”

But that day never came. Smitten are they with the almighty shower—the shower that from the very start promised to be a dreadful mistake (said the optimist).

I worried first about the water—as any good fusspot would. Were my children capable of remembering (and applying!) the 643 crucial bits of information I had given them about the big, scary on/off knob, adjusting the temperature (Gasp!) and shutting the damn door so as not to flood the place? Had they fully comprehended the horribleness of getting water up one’s nose or soap in one’s eyes? WOULD THEY EVEN KNOW HOW TO BREATHE BENEATH SAID TORRENTS?! And what of the hazards of slipping and choking on water droplets and being swallowed up by the soul-sucking monstrosity-of-a-drain?! Had any of my sage advice (and crazed thoughts) resonated?!

In hindsight, there were other things with which I should have concerned myself. Namely: Showers that would never end, showers that involved sinful quantities of soap (upon floors and walls and every inch of the fools in question), showers during which people would forget to wash, showers that included doodles and notes and high-fives upon glass doors, showers that became tandem in the name of saving the planet, showers that incorporated spirited games of soap hockey (don’t ask), showers that featured tiny wads of toilet tissue that became fused to the ceiling forevermore.

Indeed, they’ve graduated. Ugh.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the passage of time).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood

Hurry Up and Wait

My youngest kids are high school seniors, which, by extension, means that my husband and I have been tasked with the thankless job of hauling them hither and yon over the past two years so that they might ultimately find a college campus that “speaks to them.” Needless to say, we’ve spent countless hours on the road and in hotels as well as scheduling auditions, meeting with various professors and arranging shadowing dates ad infinitum. And let us not forget the days spent crawling over hill and dale, tolerating both the rain and snow of fall/winter and the searing heat of summer, in order to better determine the merit and overall appeal of each campus.

While I recognize the gravity of the decisions that face them, I’m sure I’ve muttered, “For the love of God, pick one already,” more than once in what has seemed like an eternal span of time. When all is said and done, I know they’ll make the right choices, but in the meantime my husband and I are losing our collective minds. I honestly don’t remember agonizing over schools the way they do. Who knows? Maybe things were simpler back then and it came down to whether or not the cafeteria food was decent.

I, for one, thought that was relatively important.

At any rate, aside from coordinating virtually every detail of each visit and tolerating a maze of parking garages in the process, we’ve been saddled with the issue of how to kill time while our progenies attend classes, etc. It’s the infamous hurry-up-and-wait syndrome. So far we’ve traipsed through courtyards peppered with trees, explored enormous and impressive facilities, took pictures of various mascots, used Google Maps to find the nearest Starbucks, made multiple trips to the car because we forgot something of vital importance and talked to umpteen college students and staff members about why they chose XYZ University. And because there is never a dull moment in our lives, one afternoon a fire drill went off at one of the aforementioned universities and another time my husband got stuck in a bathroom stall, where he frantically texted me for help. Eventually he got out on his own, but not before I was able to tweet about it to the amusement of many.

But mostly, the waiting involved hanging out in the libraries of each school. And by hanging out I mean we found a couple of comfy chairs and spent upwards of eight hours playing solitaire on our phones, surfing the Internet, snacking, watching students filter in and out, eavesdropping on their conversations, perusing daily newspapers and, of course, napping indiscriminately. Thank God we were smart enough to bring along a favorite book or two. I devoured several patently hilarious titles by David Sedaris and Jim Gaffigan while my husband read about politics and the Vietnam War. We wanted to at least appear productive and engaged.

Quite frankly, I don’t know how I would have survived even one of the ordeals without something substantial to read. Granted, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are entertaining, but I doubt I could spend hours doing that alone. For me, books made the time pass and allowed me to almost forget that I was stuck in a library surrounded by herds of 18 to 20-somethings. In a very real sense, books preserved what was left of my sanity.

Speaking of books, this Friday, February 8th will be my very first bookiversary (book anniversary)! Please order Deliverance: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins for just $8.99 on Amazon or pick up a signed copy at Otto Bookstore, the oldest independent bookstore in America. Keep in mind, you don’t need to be a parent of twins to appreciate the hilarity packed within every chapter. I promise. As an added bonus, having Deliverance on hand means you’ll never be without reading material if you happen to find yourself stuck somewhere—waiting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably holed up in another college library with my husband. But at least we’ll always have great books to read and we’re no longer enduring the misery of FAFSA forms. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2019 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Leaving the Nest

All Hallows Eve…The End is Near

I’ve been informed it’s over—my brood’s love of trick-or-treating, that is. I knew it would happen eventually. I just wasn’t expecting it now, seemingly minutes before Halloween. It’s possible I’ll need weeks of therapy to cope with such tragic news. Please send candy.

I guess I was kidding myself to think my kids’ enthusiasm for harvesting gobs of chocolate and fistfuls of candy corn would last forever. I probably missed some important signs last October when they disguised themselves to the hilt, but dragged their feet when it came to traipsing over the neighborhood, treat bags in hand. Admittedly, I pushed it out of my mind.

Denial, as it were.

As the stages of grief are classically defined, I haven’t progressed much. I still reject the idea that the fun is over, defending that “…even adults like to dress up in ridiculous outfits and solicit candy. Who wouldn’t?”

Needless to say, I was enlightened as to how “done with that” they were.

“We just want to stay home, answer the door and scare little kids to death.”

Egads. I wasn’t prepared for that response. I just want to hold on to the past a little longer. I liked it when my twin daughters were babies—mostly. They were pumpkins their first Halloween, kittens their second, and burly lumberjacks their third year. I remember dotting their cheeks with dark eyeliner, giving their faces the suggestion of stubble. Good times.

For the first several years, my husband and I lugged them around the neighborhood in their red wagon, using blankets to prop them up and cushion the bumpy ride. Hats and mittens were a must, cleverly incorporated into the ensemble. At each house we visited, friends would crowd around to see how adorable our children looked, each year’s costume topping the last.

As they grew older they were able to walk with us, tightly gripping our hands and clutching their coveted treat bag. Each year we journeyed further, eventually canvassing the entire neighborhood in one night—which was no small feat.

More recently, they’ve met up with friends on All Hallows Eve, eager to wander the streets of our close-knit community, a herd of mask-toting teens and tweens in the dark of night, some carrying flashlights, some entirely too cool to carry a flashlight, their raucous laughter filling the autumn air. By evening’s end, they return home, sweaty and spent, usually hauling their costumes—either because they were too hot or they broke along the way. Treat bags bursting with candy. Smiles all around.

This year will be different. No more ambling from house to house. No more bags of loot to dump on the floor. No more little red wagon or mittens. At least they’ll still wear costumes, however. So there’s that. I guess I’ll have to embrace a new and different Halloween tradition—scary as that might be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the end of All Hallows Eve. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Growing Pains, motherhood

No Parking

I hate to parallel park, so I avoid it at all costs. Sometimes that means I attempt to maneuver my car into what appears to be a ridiculously small space and shortly thereafter, drive away, defeated. Other times I opt for a traditional parking lot and convince myself that that’s not cheating—even when I pull through instead of backing in. And occasionally I choose to circle the block like a fool until I find two or more adjacent open spaces so I can simply drive in and park, headfirst. I realize that that, in effect, is a cop-out and makes me a namby-pamby by definition, but I don’t care. My cars understand, and I’m quite sure they appreciate the extra measures I take to protect them—from me.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m capable of parallel parking—when I’m desperate. But, of course, there are parameters that must first be met. The space in question has to be generous enough to accommodate an oversized woolly mammoth, there can be no traffic in either direction for miles and no one on the planet can witness my pitiful attempts to accomplish the impossible. Not even a dog lounging on a nearby porch can look on with disdain. Admittedly, it is performance anxiety gone awry. Oddly enough, I am deeply disappointed whenever I happen to successfully park my car between two others—because, of course, no one is there to shower me with praise or hand me a medal, thereby validating such a monumental achievement.

That said, I can’t even begin to describe my feelings of inadequacy as it relates to teaching my teenagers to parallel park. The word “hypocrite” comes to mind, although “fraud” might be more accurate. Maybe I feel like such a failure in this particular realm because I can’t effectively put my actions into words. Just as it’s hard to describe how to properly peel a hard-boiled egg without destroying it, it’s tough to convey how to wedge a 2-ton hunk of metal between two others without incident.

Confession: While we’re practicing said skill and attempting not to bump those ugly, orange barrels or gnome-inspired cones, I often feel compelled to grab the wheel so that we don’t smash into the curb or scrape the passenger-side door inadvertently. And no matter how hard I try not to shout directives at my daughters or frantically wave my arms in the process, never mind curse, I can’t help myself. Nor can I refrain from sighing in exasperation after the 17th failed attempt.

Teen: “Mom, you’re mad, aren’t you?”

Me: “No, I just wish your father were doing this. I hate to admit it, but he’s better at it than I am.”

T: “But he yells more.”

M: “He’s just more intense.”

T: “He YELLS more.”

M: “Okay, you have a point.”

Eventually I suggest that we give up and drive home, reminding myself to refrain from taking my blood pressure reading anytime soon. Tomorrow’s a new day after all, and represents yet another opportunity to fail miserably as a parent to experience glowing success. With any luck, my kids won’t need too much therapy down the road. Pun intended.

Despite my shortcomings with respect to parallel parking and my husband’s so-called intensity, both of our progenies passed their driver’s test on their very first attempt and are now flying solo. Translation: The gods were smiling upon my little corner of the world when we made the decision to enroll both kids in a local driver education course. Needless to say, we’ll be forever grateful to J.C. and Vince for their limitless expertise and undying patience this summer.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably circling the block. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Life is a Highway, Road Trip

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

A Tree is Nice

We have a half-dead tree in our yard. Make that FIVE half-dead trees. A pine, an ash and three fruit-bearing ones, although they haven’t produced much of anything in a very long while. Hence, the time has come to take them down, which by almost anyone’s standards makes perfect sense. It’ll be safer, since the risk of toppling over during a windstorm will be reduced to zero. We’ll also likely get some ample firewood out of the deal and we’ll free up a sizeable portion of the lawn for Frisbee in the process.

Everything about the felling of said trees is good. Except that it isn’t. The sad part of it is that there are memories attached to the trees in question—especially the peach tree, whose blossoms burst forth each spring in a glorious explosion of pink. Likewise, in winter its snow-covered boughs make me want to fetch the camera to freeze the moment in time. I just know I’ll look out my window weeks from now and lament that we ever made the decision to cut it down and dig up its roots, erasing from my mind the notion that it ever existed.

For more than 20 years we’ve been harvesting peaches from that tree. My husband was the designated proper-upper of craggy branches, assigned with the task of placing boards beneath its heavy limbs, laden with bushels of ripened fruit. Together we picked them, sampled them and then hauled bucket after bucket into the garage—a staging area for figuring out what to do with them next. Fruit flies be damned.

I wish I could claim that I baked an impressive number of pies with what we reaped over the years, but that would be a lie. Many of my neighbors, however, probably did, as we were inclined to give away scads of the fuzzy fruit each September, knowing we’d never consume all that we had gathered.

Likewise, I’m sure I’ll recollect a time when I watched my twin toddlers from the very same window, perched upon their dad’s lap as he circled the peach, the apple and the pear tree with the riding lawn mower. Round and round they would go, ducking beneath the limbs, smiling in the sun. One year they even built a teepee of sorts by leaning leafy branches we had trimmed from other trees against it. For days on end that summer, it was the most wonderful fortress in all the land, providing a haven of shade and camouflage for all who were so fortunate to crawl inside.

The aforementioned peach tree was one of their first climbing trees, too, its mossy branches low to the ground, inviting gangly children to develop and hone their scaling skills. I remember hoisting them up, assuring them it was perfectly safe and that it would be worth the effort because of the view it afforded them. After they had mastered the peach tree, it was on to taller and more daring venues, like the maple in the back yard, and the massive oak out front.

It’s possible I’ll miss the dear trees we plan to chop down, as well as any others we might lose in the years to come, because they remind me so much of my childhood—a time during which I practically lived in the woods behind my house, building a plethora of forts and climbing to the tops of trees all summer long, carving my initials there as a way of marking territory and perhaps time. I often wonder if my carvings remain, or even if the trees are still standing straight and tall. Far above the ground, swaying in the breeze was one of my favorite places to be, enveloped by a canopy of verdant leaves, summer after delicious summer. From my lofty perch, time was suspended, after all, and all was right with the world.

I can only hope that my progenies have had enough time in their special trees to make memories that will last.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the fact that our peach tree will soon be history. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff