Category Archives: In the Trenches of Parentville

Fitness for Dummies

It has been said that dogs are the best brand of exercise equipment on the market. Given my penchant for failure as it relates to fitness, I guess I’m glad I own a dog. However, this leads me to question the wisdom behind a lot of my past purchases. Lately I’ve been wrestling with the notion of parting with my beloved treadmill—the one that has lived in my home for an eternity. And before that, in a shoebox-of-an-apartment I shared with my brother. And before that, in a house I shared with my first husband. Needless to say, the treadmill in question was far more impressive than the aforementioned apartment could’ve ever hoped to be. It also outlasted the abovementioned marriage and, in fact, wooed me enough to demand that it become part of my divorce settlement—so great was its ability to convince me that I couldn’t possibly function without it.

More often than not, said nugget of wonderfulness was situated near a window. A practical move based upon my perfectly undocumented belief that a view of the great outdoors would somehow inspire me to exercise with more fervor and regularity. Never mind that I can’t readily recall when I last used it. Or that my brood masterfully adorned it with a makeshift tightrope, time and again—designating it as a staging area for death defying Barbie trapeze acts, as well as for storing an embarrassment of toys. Maybe that’s why I find it so completely endearing even now. It holds a wealth of memories—albeit ones that remind me of my inundated-with-Legos way of life. Or maybe it’s because I became enamored with the idea that the embodiment of fitness, both attainable and discreet, could be neatly tucked into a corner of my home—affording me at least some semblance of control over my vastly disordered environment and scheduled-to-the-hilt sort of existence.

Proving that I had learned next to nothing about myself as it related to ambition (or the lack thereof), years later I whined for yet another piece of fitness equipment—a recumbent bicycle. My current husband, dutiful and sweet that he is, ordered me one. A fancy-schmancy, mondo-programmable, ergonomically designed, totally unaffordable slice of Schwinn heaven. A bike that promised I would look like a Greek goddess in six minutes or less—all in the comfort and convenience of my home. Or maybe it was six weeks of grueling workouts I’d have to endure in order to achieve such a feat. I can’t be sure.

Shortly before it arrived, however, I remember relishing the thought that it would soon be MINE—to pore over and ogle to the point of delirium, to pedal and program with unbridled enthusiasm, to become hopelessly fixated with its profusion of bells and whistles which, of course, included an adjustable fan, a nifty little pair of transport wheels and comfort-fit handlebars. What’s more, there was a reading rack gizmo and an ideally positioned nook for stowing one’s remote control and/or wine goblet—so thoughtful and intuitive were the makers of my latest and greatest obsession.

As one might expect, we plunked said glorious piece of machinery near a window and angled it to face the television—lest I become bored while peering at the tired lawn and less-than-inspiring shrubbery outside. Sadly, tedium rained down like a scourge and the bike has since joined the ranks of every other hunk of fitness-related hype with which I allowed myself to become shamelessly infatuated (i.e. the legions of dumbbells now gathering dust beneath my couch, the gym membership I failed to use—EVER, the perfectly coiled yoga mats currently housed in a closet, unceremoniously sandwiched between someone’s snow boots and a forgotten bowling ball, the Tae Bo tapes).

Despite all logic and understanding, however, part of me holds out hope that one day I’ll redeem myself by becoming consumed with the notion that the abovementioned items can, indeed, be resurrected. Even by someone who fails spectacularly to will herself to do much of anything—aside from walk the cussed dog.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably walking the dog). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home for Wayward Toys, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood

New Year, Same Old Resolutions

It’s January—time to make a comprehensive list of all the areas in our daily lives that desperately need improvement, or at the very least, tweaking. For many of us, that means dusting off the list we made LAST year. I for one have taken an inventory of my shortcomings these past few weeks and pledge to keep at least a handful of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve made AGAIN, despite the unlikely nature of lasting success. Here are the highlights.

For starters, I’ll be kinder. More specifically, I’ll stop harboring ill will toward the people who seem to take an eternity to put air in their tires at the gas station. No longer will I wish that a chunk of space debris would fall upon their heads, effectively ending their stint at the pump, making my wait that much shorter. Perhaps instead I’ll use the time to meditate or make a grocery list. Who am I kidding? I’ll play the bazillionth game of solitaire on my smartphone or count the appalling number of Trump for President bumper stickers I see in the vicinity.

Secondly, I’ll stop enabling my kids. Even though it pains me greatly, I’ll refrain from harvesting gobs of toothpaste from their bathroom sink each morning, followed by removing wads of hair from their shower because, quite frankly, this practice has done nothing but teach them how to be unaccountable in life, not to mention, horrible at housekeeping. Instead, I’ll ignore their domestic failings (as intolerable as that might be) and bank on the notion that eventually they’ll become SO GROSSED OUT they can’t help but be inspired to do the job themselves. Probably.

Related: I’ll try to be a better parent. Translation: I vow to stop yelling: “THE YELLING IN THIS HOUSE HAS GOT TO STOP!” Please reference my Twitterfeed or the previous paragraph for insight as to why such behavior might be warranted (i.e. my teens DRIVE me to it and my parenting tools are decidedly defective). Needless to say, the irony here isn’t lost on me and I recognize fully that I won’t be nominated for Mother of the Year anytime soon. However, I’d be thrilled if I could simply spend less time yelling about the yelling I do.

In addition, I resolve to spend less time using my iPhone and more time interacting with humans. More specifically, I’ll curb my penchant for texting and sending Facebook messages to those who happen to be in the same room with me, sometimes within arm’s length. In lieu of that, I’ll engage in actual face-to-face conversations with the people I love, allowing words and phrases to fall from my lips in a cascade of spontaneity. Technology be damned.

What’s more, in the new year I’ll attempt to rid my world of unnecessary stress. No longer will I feel guilty about sleeping in or taking a mental health day on occasion, which, of course, will be defined by watching an embarrassment of HGTV while spooning my dog on the couch. All day, if circumstances warrant. Don’t judge.

Furthermore, I promise to finish at least some of the projects I start, beginning, of course, with hauling our Christmas tree and outdoor lights to the attic. With any luck, that will transpire before Groundhog Day. The most challenging project I’ll likely tackle in the coming year, however, will be indoctrinating my dear husband on the finer points of organization. Pray for me.

And because no one’s list of New Year’s resolutions would be complete without referencing the pathetic nature of a diet and exercise routine gone awry, I pledge to walk more in the new year as well as add more greens to my plate. I won’t give up my peanut M&M fix or my frappés, however.

I haven’t gone COMPLETELY mad.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (welcoming a brand new year, striving to achieve the same wretched resolutions). Join me there, at the corner of Irreverence and Over-Sharing at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, In the Trenches of Parentville, Welcome to My Disordered World

Gift Wrapping for Dummies

I’m not especially fond of gift-wrapping—mostly because I stink at it and I find it to be one of the most laborious tasks known to man. It’s no wonder I put it off until the LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT each and every Christmas. That said, I don’t remember signing on as the designated wrapper in this household, but somehow I ended up being saddled with such a commission. Woe is me.

While it’s true that I possess a pair of opposable thumbs, sharp scissors and half a brain, that in no way qualifies me as remotely capable of wrapping gifts at least as well as my dog could. Lord knows the furry little beast has tried to assist me by gnawing on the curling ribbon and spreading his entire body across seven varieties of paper splayed out on the floor—mocking me all the while by suggesting how beautiful the gifts would look if I broke down and hired someone to wrap them. Needless to say, my dog’s antics are less-than-amusing, even the antics that are imaginary.

But I digress.

Admittedly, when it comes to making packages look pretty, or at least presentable, I’m a poor tool. No matter how many times I measure, I can never seem to figure out how much paper to cut. Nor can I manage to fold the ends so the corners wind up looking crisp—not torn—or lumpy—or wrinkled. What’s more, I misplace the tape as well as the scissors roughly six times an hour even though I never leave the nine-square foot space I inhabit for the duration. Further, bows that won’t stick and presents I forget to label, collectively, are the bane of my existence—as are the impossible-to-wrap items, like tubas and Jell-O. Thankfully, neither of those things made anyone’s wish list. A set of Hula Hoops and the aforementioned dog provided enough of a challenge.

Confession: I sometimes shop for gifts based on the ease with which they could be wrapped—or, better still, I shop in stores that offer to do it for me. Thank you, Otto’s Bookstore, ever so much!

In any event, I end up doing much of it myself. To lessen the pain while I wrap, I usually plant myself in front of a television so I can watch Elf on a continuous loop, or sometimes, for a little variety, I add Christmas music, hoping like crazy it’ll inspire me to continue into the wee hours. Strangely enough, positioning myself near a window when it’s lightly snowing outside is especially motivating. So much for that.

Every so often, in a moment of great weakness, I’ll surrender to the little voice in my head that tells me to buy gift bags INSTEAD of wrapping paper, much to my husband’s chagrin. Heaven forbid I present him with any sort of gift that is not entirely enshrouded in paper of some sort, since he loathes the idea of receiving a gift bag—even the ones that include pictures of patently adorable snowmen or penguins. “Where’s the fun in that?” he’ll ask me, referring to the process of removing the pretty tissue paper and opening said bag.

It’s possible he’s still channeling his inner child.

At any rate, I’m hoping that all who receive a personally wrapped gift from me this year, including my dear husband, recognize the supreme sacrifices I’ve made and the embarrassment of limitations I clearly possess. I’m also hoping they won’t judge me too harshly if and when they discover tufts of dog fur beneath the tape.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (toying with the idea of starting my Christmas wrapping). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum, In the Trenches of Parentville, Ode to Embarrassment

November’s Sweet Indulgence

I’m not particularly fond of November—that dreary block of time wedged between the fullness of fall and the magic of winter. As calendars go, it is the Dead Zone for me. Except for evergreens, the landscape will soon grow barren and its naked forests and fields will be nearly devoid of life. The arrival of spring seems all but impossible in the doom and gloom of November.

Not surprisingly, as the skies gray, the chill of winter looms large and wayward leaves of oak and maple gather en masse outside my doorstep, I find myself drawn to the warmth of a good book. Simply put, if it’s a solidly written work of nonfiction and a topic worthy of my time, I’m smitten from word one till the bitter end. Think: USA Today’s columnist, Craig Wilson (It’s the Little Things) and Betsy Lerner (The Forest for the Trees). A novel, however—especially one that is palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible—is a different animal altogether, tending to woo me for a host of reasons. Think: Jennifer Weiner (All Fall Down) and Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster).

Maybe I’m charmed to death by a particular narrative’s cast of characters, intrigued by its wealth of unpredictability or awed by the author’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales. Perhaps the language itself sings to me or more often than not, its message hits me squarely where I live.

Or maybe, just maybe, my passion for all-things-bookish stems plainly from this: for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments, solitude is mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world fades to black as I sink deeper and deeper into the pages of a literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before the house begins to stir, and in the quiet of night when day is done, I refuel and recondition, sipping the honeyed words of giants like Anna Quindlen, Mitch Albom and Anne Lamott. Indulgence like that is sinfully satisfying—yet in a good-for-me sort of way. After devouring as little as a passage or a page (never mind something as grand as an entire chapter) I often feel a tinge of guilt—as if I’ve stolen a nap or a head-clearing walk amidst the falling leaves and crisp air, thick with the scent of autumn—a walk completely devoid of meandering tricycles, tangled dog leashes and less-than-attentive-to-traffic children.

Better still, books transport me beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. Upon my return I’m refreshed, restored and genuinely grateful for having been granted a slice of time to collect my thoughts, to reflect on someone else’s or to simply dissolve into the woodwork of life. I’d like to think I emerge as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Admittedly, I savor the chunks of time spent in lounges and waiting rooms, even those littered with chintzy toys, wailing children and a hodgepodge of germ-ridden magazines. But only if I’ve remembered my own scrumptious reading material—such as Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson) or Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (David Sedaris). Likewise, I’m happy to be huddled (half frozen) on a playground bench or stuffed behind my steering wheel at a soggy soccer field if armed with one of many delectable titles I have yet to complete (twenty-three and counting). Confession: I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness in one sitting. Not surprisingly, I’ve lingered more than once in the aforementioned venues, yielding to the power of a page-turner. That being said, the notion of consuming a memoir like Dry (Augusten Burroughs), curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating.

In sum, books are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled…during my less-than-favorite month of November, or anytime.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where both books and Halloween candy beckon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville, Me Time, motherhood, The Write Stuff, Unplugged

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

The Laundry Blues

It’s possible I made a horrible mistake when I decided to make my kids responsible for their own laundry. In theory, it was a wonderful idea as it relieved me of the dreaded chore and saved me from spending countless hours in what may be the smallest and most depressing room on earth. What’s more, I thought it would help prepare them for college and eventually adulthood, giving them the tools necessary to ruin their own stupid laundry. Let’s face it. It’s just a matter of time before someone combines lights with darks or shrinks a favorite pair of jeans beyond all repair. I figured they might as well get started on the path to one of life’s crippling disappointments—ahead of the curve, so to speak.

The problem with my plan is that it backfired. Ever since delegating said task, my charges have monopolized every square inch of the laundry room, compromising my ability to so much as enter without tripping over a tangled mass of bras or heaps of socks, turned inside out—naturally. Never mind their hampers that overflow and practically vomit clothing onto the floor, effectively blocking the door and keeping me from hauling my own hamper inside. Further, the detergent, stain removers and dryer sheets never get returned to the cabinets “correctly” and the drying racks are almost always filled to capacity, leaving no room for anyone else’s clothing. Forget trying to do the rest of the family’s laundry. That’s virtually impossible.

I guess I should be happy that they’re doing laundry at all. I just wish they’d REMEMBER that they’re doing laundry and actually finish the job. For days on end their clean clothing hangs on the drying racks while their dirty laundry waits patiently nearby, at times, stacked more than three feet high. Related: I’ve watched them pluck a number of items from their hampers as well as the racks so they could wear them immediately, skipping crucial steps in the laundry process. And let us not overlook the crumpled masses of sweatshirts, etc. in the dryer, all but forgotten. On occasion, I also make horrifying discoveries—wads of partially dried, yet decidedly damp clothing INSIDE the washer. Gak. The longer the abandonment, the more foul the odor.

As one might expect, I often cave by rewashing the aforementioned items, folding their clean clothes and carrying the towering piles all the way upstairs—something they promised they’d have no trouble doing. Sadly, after this happens the cycle begins again and my window of opportunity for completing any of MY laundry is gone. To say that this is frustrating is an understatement.

I suppose it goes with the territory of being a parent, however. I’m quite sure my mom was fairly exasperated when I came home from college during a semester break or an occasional weekend, hauling with me an embarrassment of dirty laundry. Giant garbage bags worked best as I recall, because I could stuff them beyond the point that a reasonable person would, deeming those particular trash bags as overachievers forevermore.

At any rate, I spent an eternity doing my laundry at home. Marathon sessions as I recall—especially after Thanksgiving and Christmas. No doubt, I enlisted the help of my mother, who probably felt a little sorry for me since I had obviously lost my way to the campus laundry facility and had almost no clean clothes left by the end of the semester. Looking back, it’s more than a little likely that I failed to return the detergent et al. to its proper place in our basement and I probably exploited the washer and dryer for a period of time that was unbearable to my mother, never once considering that she might want to use them, too.

With any luck, we’ll get the kinks worked out before my kids head off to college. Lord knows I’ve let them know what a terrible idea it would be to boycott doing laundry FOR AN ENTIRE SEMESTER. Then again, my mom probably made the very same speech.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, suffering from the laundry blues. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, In the Trenches of Parentville, Leaving the Nest, Rantings & Ravings

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