Category Archives: Homework Hell

Food for Thought

www.melindawentzel.comI’m pretty sure June Cleaver’s head would explode if she knew of my pitiful and often failed attempts to gather my brood at the dinner table for a real sit-down meal—Leave it to Beaver style. In a word, I am woefully inept when it comes to planning, preparing and placing said meal upon the table in a timely and aesthetically pleasing manner. So much so that my kids have apparently forgotten what it’s like to dine as a family within the confines of this particular circus-inspired, scheduled-to-the-max sort of establishment. Never mind that we did so for much of the summer, sweet corn having been shamelessly utilized as bait. But I digress.

“You want us to sit here? Together? And talk about our day?” my incredulous kids ask, clearly taken aback by the prospect of stopping whatever it is they’re doing to plunk themselves at the kitchen table for twenty to thirty minutes of food and not-so-idle conversation. Of course, my gentle demands are often met with a healthy dose of eye rolling coupled with I-can’t-possibly-set-the-table-if-I’m-tying-my-soccer-cleats-AND-doing-my-homework brand of snarky commentary. Par for the course in the trenches of Parentville, methinks.

Needless to say, the Gods of After School Madness rarely smile upon me and may, in fact, revel in my ineptitude, mocking my efforts to deal with the deluge of mini-crises that routinely befall our happy home at that critical juncture—that impossibly brief and patently crazed window of time wedged between the instant my charges make landfall and the race to the 437th extracurricular event of the week. As a less-than-composed parent, and seemingly without fail, this is the time when the wheels fly off and the bottom falls out.

That said, the phone typically rings just as the pots on the stove begin to boil over and shortly before godknowswho knocks at the door, sending the dog into an apoplectic barking seizure. Moments later, my dear progenies demand that I flit from the stove to hover nearby while they wrestle, by turns, with the concept of divisibility and the large and unwieldy vocabulary words that may or may not appear in a book I, stupidly, suggested. Granted, the experience itself is decidedly intolerable. Furthermore, it’s rumored that I may know next to nothing about math and even less about adverbs. However, the ceaseless petitions for my help continue—in the midst of meal preparation, listening to a certain French horn and clarinet, answering the door and phone, conducting backpack search and rescue missions (for decomposing food!) with disturbing regularity, frantically gathering whatever paraphernalia will be needed for this or that nightly venture and dealing with the occasional cat vomit surprise and/or dog-poo-on-the-bed bit of hideousness. (For the record, I’m not particularly interested in learning how the latter occurred).

At any rate, when and if I finally succeed in shepherding one and all to the celebrated table to feast on what (hopefully) will qualify as a palatable meal, I immediately remember why I went to such lengths at all.  Firstly, there’s compelling data that links sit-down meals with a child’s success, especially with respect to at-risk behaviors—so saith a team of researchers at Columbia University and Dan Harris of ABC News. Secondly, Anderson Cooper of CNN desperately wants “…to bring back the family dinner, one meal at a time” through his Sunday Supper Club and I, most assuredly, don’t want to disappoint him. Thirdly, and perhaps most notably, the discussion that takes place over peas and potatoes (or whatever I managed not to burn beyond recognition) is invaluable. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Often there is talk of “bad actors” on the bus and goose poop on the soccer field, who vomited profusely in the cafeteria and which dweeb dared to drink the “mystery brew” that a host of classmates lovingly prepared. Not to be outdone, my husband brings his own brand of bizarreness to the conversation, opening a tiny window into his day as well. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (occasionally at the dinner table with my inimitable cast and crew). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Homework Hell, Meat & Potatoes, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

We Put the “Mad” in “Mad Scientist”

It’s April—Weird Science Month, apparently. At least in this asylum it is, particularly given that my fifth-grade progenies were recently assigned a school project that was deemed categorically intoxicating. An exercise in academia devoted entirely to my brood’s abiding love of science-y type stuff. One in which inane curiosities would not only be nurtured, but patently celebrated. Hence, the ensuing delirium.

That said, Jekyll and Hyde could barely contain their enthusiasm as they shared with me the sordid details of what would prove to be both epic in scale and absurd in nature. Like a clown car, droplets of insanity kept spilling from their mouths in giddified bursts, rendering me at once fascinated and horrified by their plans to test two of the oddest hypotheses I had ever wrapped my mind around. Fascinated, of course, because the notion of reading aloud to a houseplant (to compare growth rates) and/or sniffing fetid socks among other things (to determine what makes people sneeze) is, well, fascinating. I was horrified, by contrast, because I was certain I’d be commissioned to read aloud to said plant on occasion as well as sniff the aforementioned socks. Oy.

For the record, the socks were egregiously foul and the reading-aloud-to-the-stupid-plant gig bordered on disturbing—particularly when I found myself pausing to check for understanding and apologized more than once for mispronouncing a word. To a cussed plant. I can’t begin to express how utterly wrong (read: foolish, awkward, nay, deranged) it felt to do so; but I persevered—in the name of science and in the name of making my child happy (aka the Plant Whisperer). In a similar manner, I humored her cohort by shoving that-which-was-clearly-ill-advised (read: house dust, cinnamon and obscene quantities of black pepper) up my nose—once again, to further the field and to please my child (aka the Sneeze Captain).

Granted, there’s nothing new beneath the sun. Bizarreness—especially as it relates to the many and varied experiments my children have conducted for the sake of scientific discovery—has lived and reigned here for a very long time. I suppose I should be used to it by now, unfazed by my charges’ compelling desire to marry ingredients that have no business being together, to test the limits of things that ought not to be tested and to boldly go where no man (or inquisitive child) should go—namely, within the confines of a dryer, an occupied dog crate and a certain basement crawl space. I could go on.

Admittedly, I’ve been the chief curator of a fair number of studies described above, inviting substances of undetermined origin and wide-ranging viscosity to sully my windowsills, sinks and countertops for interminable stretches of time. Never mind the Shrine to Vileness (read: insect-related captivity) housed in the garage and the noble causes I’ve adopted over the years “…because so-and-so’s Mom won’t let him experiment at his house.” Needless to say, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a home without some sort of glorified laboratory-fest going on. I’m surrounded, it seems, by creatures with a crippling affinity for that-which-is-repulsive-yet-wholly-intriguing. If nothing else, it’s familiar—and probably vital to my kids’ development.

Lord knows how important it is to test the validity of theories that involve decomposing food, fermented dandelions and the microwavable nature of Hershey’s bars. Or so I’ve been told. Likewise, the gravity of pioneering research on the half-life of whateverness currently buried in our lawn (to include Barbie doll stilettos and a beloved Hello Kitty Band-Aid box) cannot be underestimated. Nor can the monumental body of data my charges gather almost every summer, which definitively answers the question: “How many ants does it take to haul away a single Cheeto?”

With any luck, such studies may change how we view the world, possibly enhancing our understanding of community-based synergy—or perhaps enlightening mankind relative to the hazards of exploding chocolate. Which isn’t such a bad thing, methinks, during Weird Science Month and every other moment devoted to the wonderment of discovery.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (channeling Bill Nye, the Science Guy). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Homework Hell, School Schmool

As Honeymoons Go, This One’s Over

The fall marking period at my children’s school ended late last week, and with it my collective enthusiasm for their cussed projects. Make no mistake; I applaud those who give birth to assignments doused in fun and originality—ones that are purposefully designed to encourage thinking outside the box and to harness the creative energies of students. What’s more, I love hauling out the arts and crafts box that lives beneath my bed—the behemoth-sized shoebox crammed impossibly with remnants of this chaotic life. Likewise, part of me truly enjoys rummaging around the garage and yard with my brood, in search of that which would otherwise be devoid of value.

Of course, Thing One and Thing Two become decidedly consumed with the process, wild with delirium as they harvest earthy whateverness from the lawn and paw through the aforementioned hodgepodge of fabric and twine, pipe cleaners and yarn, ribbon and lace. Never mind the vat of paints and modeling clay we’ve amassed in the cellar, the profusion of shoeboxes and poster board that lurks in our attic and the legions of egg cartons, oatmeal canisters and cardboard tubes we’ve stuffed in various closets and cupboards over the years—

precluding their certain death. Hoarders with a higher purpose.

I so completely get the bell and whistles, the inherent wonderfulness of said projects, the cleverness with which a great many are conceived and the good intentions of those who assign such work to the masses; however the sheer volume is fairly suffocating. At least it is beneath this circus tent, where eight of the hands-on wonders were due last Friday. A total of four per child, spread across three major subject areas, some of which took an obscene chunk of time to finish, all of which led to heated debate at the dinner table regarding the progress (or lack thereof) a certain couple of somebodies had made toward that end. Granted, students were given an embarrassment of time to complete the vast majority of tasks and a wide variety of choices were readily available to satisfy every possible artistic whim.

Thirty-four, actually. We counted.

Sadly, my progenies failed to choose anything remotely related to that which was manageable or that possessed even the merest suggestion of prudence given the window of time we have and the initiative duly required. Instead, they selected that which inspired a pervasive state of panic and ensuing dread as it related directly to our collective inability to tackle such a Herculean task. That’s code for: my husband and I wanted to light ourselves on fire—because, of course, that would have been so much more tolerable.

Indeed, after an entire weekend devoted solely to the construction of ridiculously detailed dioramas and co-directing a series of disjointed skits (which our children demanded that we film!) involving a gaggle of giddified fifth graders, I now know WAY more about the Native Americans of the Woodlands Region than I ever aspired to. And for a fleeting moment (shortly after we resorted to using duct tape and just before the pizza arrived), I felt a compelling desire to shrink myself manyfold—so that I could crawl inside the tiny wigwam we had built and hide from the oppressiveness of it all. Never mind the endless evenings crafting math whateverness and the weeks upon weeks that were spent overseeing the creation of TWO freakishly large and painstakingly elaborate board games—not to be confused with last year’s planetary beast-of-a-project (i.e. my brood’s beloved Styrofoam models of Venus, Saturn and more moons than I care to recall) that we somehow endured without the benefit of a marriage counselor.

Needless to say (and crazy as it sounds), we’ve lost sleep over such foolishness, and a fair amount of patience and sanity besides—which is wrong on so many levels I can’t begin to adequately express it. Truth be told, I fear that society has lost sight of the overall goal of education and that the fundamentals have somehow become an afterthought in this age of the almighty project.

That said, Pennsylvania’s education gurus would do well to note that bells and whistles are only as good as the clarity of their sound and the integrity of their message.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (like my friend, Ruth, wondering how many damned dioramas the Duggars have built). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Homework Hell, Rantings & Ravings, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Food for Thought

www.melindawentzel.comI’m pretty sure June Cleaver’s head would explode if she knew of my pitiful and often failed attempts to gather my brood at the dinner table for a real sit-down meal—Leave it to Beaver style. In a word, I am woefully inept when it comes to planning, preparing and placing said meal upon the table in a timely and aesthetically pleasing manner. So much so that my kids have apparently forgotten what it’s like to dine as a family within the confines of this particular circus-inspired, scheduled-to-the-max sort of establishment. Never mind that we did so for much of the summer, sweet corn having been shamelessly utilized as bait. But I digress.

“You want us to sit here? Together? And talk about our day?” my incredulous kids ask, clearly taken aback by the prospect of stopping whatever it is they’re doing to plunk themselves at the kitchen table for twenty to thirty minutes of food and not-so-idle conversation. Of course, my gentle demands are often met with a healthy dose of eye rolling coupled with I-can’t-possibly-set-the-table-if-I’m-tying-my-soccer-cleats-AND-doing-my-homework brand of snarky commentary. Par for the course in the trenches of Parentville, methinks.

Needless to say, the Gods of After School Madness rarely smile upon me and may, in fact, revel in my ineptitude, mocking my efforts to deal with the deluge of mini-crises that routinely befall our happy home at that critical juncture—that impossibly brief and patently crazed window of time wedged between the instant my charges make landfall and the race to the 437th extracurricular event of the week. As a less-than-composed parent, and seemingly without fail, this is the time when the wheels fly off and the bottom falls out.

That said, the phone typically rings just as the pots on the stove begin to boil over and shortly before godknowswho knocks at the door, sending the dog into an apoplectic barking seizure. Moments later, my dear progenies demand that I flit from the stove to hover nearby while they wrestle, by turns, with the concept of divisibility and the large and unwieldy vocabulary words that may or may not appear in a book I, stupidly, suggested. Granted, the experience itself is decidedly intolerable. Furthermore, it’s rumored that I may know next to nothing about math and even less about adverbs. However, the ceaseless petitions for my help continue—in the midst of meal preparation, listening to a certain French horn and clarinet, answering the door and phone, conducting backpack search and rescue missions for decomposing food with disturbing regularity, frantically gathering whatever paraphernalia will be needed for this or that nightly venture and dealing with the occasional cat vomit surprise and/or dog-poo-on-the-bed bit of hideousness. (For the record, I’m not particularly interested in learning how the latter occurred).

At any rate, when and if I finally succeed in shepherding one and all to the celebrated table to feast on what (hopefully) will qualify as a palatable meal, I immediately remember why I went to such lengths at all.  Firstly, there’s compelling data that links sit-down meals with a child’s success, especially with respect to at-risk behaviors—so saith a team of researchers at Columbia University and Dan Harris of ABC News. Secondly, Anderson Cooper of CNN desperately wants “…to bring back the family dinner, one meal at a time” through his Sunday Supper Club and I, most assuredly, don’t want to disappoint him. Thirdly, and perhaps most notably, the discussion that takes place over peas and potatoes (or whatever I managed not to burn beyond recognition) is invaluable. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Often there is talk of “bad actors” on the school bus and goose poop on the soccer field, who vomited profusely in the cafeteria and which dweeb dared to drink the “mystery brew” that a host of classmates lovingly prepared. Not to be outdone, my husband brings his own brand of bizarreness to the conversation, opening a tiny window into his day as well. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (occasionally at the dinner table with my inimitable cast and crew). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom to share your in-the-trenches parenting moments.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

On a side note, I was completely thrilled to learn that I had been selected to receive the highly coveted Versatile Blogger Award last week! And in acceptance of said award, I’d like to personally thank the woman responsible for nominating me, Lisa Tognola of Main Street Musings. Please do take a moment out of your harried day to visit her site. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

And in the spirit of celebrating some of the most versatile bloggers on the planet I know (and in passing along the award to each of them in turn), I’d like to invite you to visit their sites as well. Whether their voices have been irreverent and snarky, thought-provoking and informative or palpable and heart-rending, they’ve spoken to me in a manner that’s been most memorable. Here’s hoping they’ll speak to you, too.

http://julia.typepad.com/

http://anymommyoutthere.com/

http://stoopmama.com/

http://www.wendiaarons.com/

http://sarahandthegoonsquad.com/

http://annalefler.com/2011/08/frankenwhat/

http://thebloggess.com/

http://www.whiskeyinmysippycup.com/

http://www.goodybastos.blogspot.com/

http://mommasaid.net/

http://www.andrea-stanley.com/

http://toddlerplanet.wordpress.com/

http://www.alittlepregnant.com/

http://neanderdad.com/

http://www.finslippy.com/blog/

Welcome to My World…

In keeping with the Versatile Blogger Award tradition, here are seven random facts about me that hopefully won’t result in damnation, divorce or an inordinate degree of shame.

1)  I am not EVEN REMOTELY RELATED to a morning person. Make a note.

2)  Laundry is the bane of my existence. I’m fairly certain that’s where they’ll find me when I buy the farm, surrounded by behemoth-sized heaps of fetid-smelling clothes and mumbling something about “…a cruel, cruel world,” wishing I had simply been “…run over by a fucking truck.”

3)  My husband and I once stayed in a Honeymoon Suite (for a much-needed respite from parenthood—and for the sole purpose of drinking to excess and engaging in wanton sex in a hot tub) only to fall dead asleep for 12 straight hours instead. Oy.

4)  It’s rumored that my lips have touched a 2-quart plastic milk bottle on more than one occasion.

5)  I only pretend to understand Pokémon whateverness, and on a related note, I only pretend to understand my dog, in all his neurotic glory.

6)  I was once sneezed upon by a reindeer in North Pole, New York (aka Santa’s Workshop). It was ugly and I don’t want to talk about it.

7)  I once broke my hand in a less-than-composed parenting moment (read: a fit of rage involving glitter glue, lip gloss and my children’s bedroom carpeting). I once broke a toe in the shower. Don’t ask.

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Filed under Homework Hell, Meat & Potatoes, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

The Accidental Parent

When it comes to the uncertain journey of parenting, I tend to believe that success has less to do with the desperate search for a one-size-fits-all prescriptive guide (that may or may not exist) and more to do with perceiving nuances in the landscape of our children’s lives, gathering information much like rain and trying ever so madly to adapt to the shifting terrain and impossible demands placed upon us day in and day out. To show up, to invest ourselves wholly in the process of nurturance and to do our level best—imperfect as that most assuredly is. And while I feel fairly certain of my many and varied failings as a parent, there are times during which the gods smile upon me—and I get it right, often in spite of myself. Indeed, much of what works in terms of child rearing I’ve either conveniently borrowed or stumbled into purely by happenstance.

Such was the case with the celebrated Math Hat, so named for its astonishing ability to impart both mathematical competence and never-before-seen composure in the face of frustration (i.e. that which is prompted by the inherent evil of math-related homework—or so it is perceived at times by a certain couple of somebodies presently in the fourth grade). Imagine my surprise (read: unspeakable joy) upon witnessing nothing short of a garden-variety miracle in my living room as Thing Two donned said hat in the throes of an epic meltdown (over something as asinine as arithmetic) only to emerge as a capable, composed pupil who willingly—almost gleefully—tackled the remaining problems without the suggestion of protest. It’s rumored she was smiling as well.

I’m quite sure I stood there like a buffoon, slack-mouthed and completely baffled by this seemingly fortuitous turn of events. Of course, I felt compelled to snatch the silly thing from her head in an effort to demystify that which was fairly incomprehensible to me, but I resisted. Instead I hurled a torrent of questions in her direction. “What on earth just happened?! Why aren’t you bothered PROFOUNDLY EXASPERATED by your math homework anymore?! Who are you and what have you done with my belligerent child?!” She then grinned, shrugged her shoulders and adjusted her newfound talisman. “I don’t know, Mom, but it helps me and I’m gonna call it my Math Hat (pronounced in the spirit of Aflac). Weird, isn’t it?”

Weird doesn’t begin to describe it,” I mused. Four-leaf clovers…I get. Amulets…I vaguely appreciate. The whole Feng-Shui-Chi-Yin-and-Yang thing makes a fair amount of sense to me. But the freakishly magical nature of that stupid, thrift store-inspired hat bordered on the bizarre. Clearly, it was far more impressive than any thinking cap could ever hope to be, and I was convinced that there had to be a cheerleading squad somehow stuffed inside said knitted wonder, likely shouting encouragement, praise AND ANSWERS into the waiting ears of my dear child.

Granted, I had offered the hat as a diversion—to take her mind off the dreaded task of rounding numbers and whatnot: “Stop thinking of stabbing me with your pencil…Put your pencil down and check out the funky-looking hat I picked up today for the Christmas play.” Who knew something so simple would serve as the sanity cocktail we both so desperately needed.

Logically, I was then driven to delve deeper into the notion of accidental successes, eager to lend credence to my curious findings. Translation: I Googled the tar out of the topic, uncovering a host of interesting and important discoveries that were unintentionally made. Like Post-It Notes and Super Glue, Velcro and Vaseline, blue jeans and the microwave oven. Let us not forget penicillin. Furthermore, I came across Greg Pincus, founder of The Happy Accident, another individual who embraces the serendipity effect—using social media to help create the right conditions for unexpected benefits in a variety of areas. Only then did I come to the realization that so many of my important discoveries as a parent qualify as happy accidents—including the aforementioned Math Hat.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (fetching the Math Hat on a regular basis).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "S" is for Shame, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Homework Hell, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction