Category Archives: In the Trenches of Parentville

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

In Cars

God apparently has a terrific sense of humor. I know this to be true because my husband and I are currently embroiled in one of the most intense parenting rites of passage known to man—teaching not one, but TWO teenagers to drive AT THE SAME TIME. Granted, Thing One and Thing Two didn’t get their permits on precisely the same day, but the point is moot since they’re both logging hours behind the wheel practically every waking moment. And because we’re horrible parents, we don’t let them use our pricey vehicles to log those hours. Instead we’ve insisted that they learn on a beater car—a 13-year-old Jeep that lacks both GPS and air-cooled seats. It doesn’t have a back-up camera either. Like I said, we’re horrible parents.

Truth be told, we chose this vehicle because it was the only one we could envision careening into a curb or grazing foliage without cringing. Confession: We’ve done a fair amount of cringing. Okay, a lot of cringing. And grabbing the wheel. And shoving our feet through the floorboards. And gripping the dashboard. And shouting indiscriminately. Despite having been down this path before with our oldest daughter, we’ve been thoroughly taxed by this particular event—perhaps because everything is multiplied by two. At any rate, I now know what my parents must have felt like when I reached the legal age to drive—equal parts panic and pride with a touch of exasperation thrown in for good measure. But in all fairness, our progenies have made marked progress in the months that have passed since they received their permits. Translation: It’s a lot less terrifying than it once was.

That is not to say that either teen has a death wish behind the wheel; it’s just that it appears as such whenever they back out of a driveway in the dark or attempt to merge into traffic on an expressway. On more than one occasion, we’ve used rock-paper-scissors to settle the issue of which one of us gets to ride shotgun and which one of us sits at home with crippling anxiety over the fate of our fledgling drivers on a road trip. The jury is still out on which experience is more unnerving. In my opinion, it’s a toss-up.

Admittedly, my husband is not one to worry himself to death or to fill his mind with thoughts of impending doom while one or both kids go driving with me. I, on the other hand, am a basket case since catastrophizing is what I do best. I imagine all that could go tragically wrong and then convince myself that it will indeed happen. So I’m always amazed when they pull in the driveway, completely unscathed. Of course, I try not to think about how it will be when they actually get their licenses and head out on the road alone. Thankfully, I can stalk them by using the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and at least “see” which ditch they’re in.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll continue to tolerate all the angst (mine) and the steep learning curve (theirs), keying on the fact that we’ll get through this somehow. That said, one of the most frustrating byproducts of the whole thing is the voluminous quantity of criticism our charges have spewed forth relative to OUR driving skills, or the lack thereof. Apparently we can’t do anything right—and even less than that ever since they’ve been enrolled in a Driver Training Course and know all there is to know about driving. What’s more, it has been suggested that they prefer driving with their instructor.

Evidently, we could yell less and praise more.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably nagging my kids about braking sooner, not crowding the centerline, yielding properly and/or checking that cussed blind spot we all know and loathe. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, Road Trip, Twins

All the World’s a Stage

I have next to no talent when it comes to public speaking—or public anything, for that matter. Even group texts stress me out to a degree. It’s just not in my DNA—dealing with a live audience, large or small. I much prefer to express myself by sitting at my laptop and stabbing at the keys, hopeful that I will convey something meaningful to those who happen to be on the receiving end of my words.

That said, I am a ridiculously shy person who would do almost anything to avoid being in the spotlight. Crowds instill within me not a sense of excitement, but sheer panic. Call me crazy, but I’d be more inclined to endure a root canal than to set foot on stage in front of throngs of people. And for the record, I find little comfort in the old adage JUST IMAGINE THE AUDIENCE IN THEIR UNDERWEAR AND YOU’LL BE FINE AT THE PODIUM. I should know. I tried that during my high school commencement speech and it did nothing but fuel my anxiety. Plus there was the whole boxers vs. briefs issue and I didn’t know which I was supposed to envision.

By some strange twist of fate, my youngest daughters (one, a gifted actor and singer, and the other an incredibly accomplished musician) absolutely thrive in the limelight, having little or no reservations about performing in front of swarms of people and/or cameras. I have no idea how this happened. I only wish I had one iota of their courage and an ability to put one’s talents on full display—critics be damned. Even my husband has a special knack for public speaking, usually armed with a single index card on which he has scrawled roughly six words. I can’t even fathom how he generates an entire speech out of that.

By contrast, I fear I will wither and die whenever I must step out of my comfort zone and address a gathering of people—with or without an index card. I couldn’t even eulogize my own parents or say a few words when my brother passed. On a lighter note, it’s amazing I ever made it through the eighth grade since it was there that I was required to deliver a four-minute speech on how to hit a golf ball. Of course, I chose this topic because it was one of the few skills I possessed and if I had to talk about something, it might as well be something I felt relatively comfortable discussing.

Looking back, I’m quite sure I found the experience to be decidedly intolerable. I think the closest I ever came to enjoying myself on stage was when I played Chicken Little in elementary school. Granted I don’t recall having many lines, but I do remember being in love with my costume. My beak was comically oversized as were my feet, but the best part was getting hit in the head with a pine cone that someone offstage threw at me, because, of course, THE SKY WAS FALLING. Drama like that was beyond fun. Another time in grade school, I snagged the role of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and sang Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo in a small, but packed gymnasium/auditorium. In both instances, perhaps I was too young to care what people thought of me, or maybe I was patently obsessed with the idea of frolicking around on stage instead of sitting at a desk doing schoolwork.

At any rate, I’m still perplexed by the fact that I spent a number of years as a teacher—each day having to overcome at least some measure of performance anxiety. Thankfully the kids were terrific. Hopefully, they were none the wiser.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, gearing up for my book signing on First Friday at Otto Bookstore in Williamsport where there may be crowds, but happily, I’ll only have to speak to one person at a time. Please stop by between 6:00 and 8:00pm on June 1st and pick up a copy of DELIVERANCE: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins. Bear in mind that it’s not just for parents of twins. It’s a real hoot for anyone who has ever raised children. If you can’t make it, please visit me at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville, Me Myself and I, The Write Stuff, Twins

The Great Sock Abyss

Some time ago my daughter cleaned her bedroom, and in so doing resurrected an embarrassment of items that she had ostensibly given up for dead. Things that she hadn’t seen in such a long period of time that she forgot about them almost entirely. There was a pair of iPhone earbuds that had been MIA forever, more than a year’s worth of allowance and at least nine Starbucks cups, one of which still contained what could only be described as a fermented atrocity.

Lovely. Just lovely.

Most notably, she unearthed an ungodly number of socks. Tall ones. Short ones. Socks with stripes. Socks with dots. Socks that will never again be suggestive of clean and socks imprinted with teensy-tiny foxes. My personal favorite.

Admittedly, on more than one occasion I felt compelled to rummage around in her hovel, intent upon gathering all the lone socks in order to pair them appropriately—because it makes me insane to know that the socks in question are, for lack of a better term, estranged. Never mind wadded up, inside out and appearing as though they had been shot from a cannon.

How hard could it be? I remember thinking. You just look around, find the right patterns and put them together. It’s not rocket science. Truth be told, I found such an endeavor to be virtually impossible each time I tried—and subsequently failed—to locate matching pairs. It was as if her room had transformed into the Great Sock Abyss—the place where perfectly wonderful socks go to die, or, perhaps more tragically, become separated forevermore.

Like a fool, I had to ask my daughter the obvious question: WHERE DO THEY GO?

“I have no idea where the lost socks go, Mom. No clue.”

At any rate, when she cleaned her room (see paragraph one) I was patently euphoric over the news of her sock discovery, since their mates had been hanging on a rack in the laundry room since the dawn of time, in hopes of being reunited at long last. Imagine my surprise (read: PROFOUND GLEE) when she produced a dozen or more of the missing socks. It was categorically off the charts and almost as joyous an occasion as the time she found her favorite pair of dilapidated sneakers. Sneakers so pathetic, and yet so dear, she more affectionately refers to them as dead—as if the term “dead” were somehow a good thing. Technically speaking (she’s quick to remind me), they’re still functional. Sort of.

That said, in the past I’ve questioned her dead sneakers as well as the bizarre logic that would support a decision to NOT keep socks and their mates together. Who does that? And why on earth does it happen month after month?

“I don’t know, Mom. I guess I take them off and tell myself that I’ll put them together later, and then I don’t. Honestly, it’s just too much work.”

At that, I shook my head in disbelief and perhaps disappointment. Then I began to wonder if I had driven my mom crazy in much the same way. I couldn’t reliably recall my specific behavior as it relates to the pairing of socks, although all signs pointed to having been a neat freak, so they were probably ridiculously ordered. Perfectly aligned in neat and tidy little rows when clean. Turned right side out and paired properly when dirty.

Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that I drove my mother to distraction by spending an inordinate chunk of my teenage years organizing my closet and drawers. It’s also likely that my obsession with rearranging my bedroom furniture by myself at all hours made her nearly certifiable on occasion. In fact, I moved my dressers and bed around so often that their spindly legs were on the verge of snapping—something that would make any parent implode.

So maybe I should consider myself fortunate, only having to deal with lone socks for a decade or two. Not the annihilation of furniture. As an added bonus, my daughter’s bedroom gets cleaned. Occasionally.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably looking for missing socks. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, In the Trenches of Parentville, Welcome to My Disordered World

An Island of Misery

My kitchen island is a glorious beast—a massive, 34 square foot, 1,200-pound slab of quartz-y wonderfulness that seats six comfortably and houses a wealth of wares within its spacious cabinetry and drawers. It is all I dreamt of and more as our kitchen was renovated for months on end—the mother of all home improvement projects. But because the gods apparently hate me, its surface has been defiled in the years that have passed since its conception. I’m fairly certain that the man who built it (Tim Rosati) and the man who installed it (Ed Gair) would weep if they knew the awful truth—that it has become a home for wayward schlock that my family refuses to take care of and it’s entirely possible that I will die of disappointment.

On my headstone it will read: HERE LIES A WOMAN WHO APPRECIATED THE INHERENT BEAUTY OF A KITCHEN ISLAND WHOSE SURFACE SPARKLES IN THE SUN—A SPACE COMPLETELY DEVOID OF THE TRAPPINGS OF LIFE—A TESTAMENT TO ALL THAT IS UNSULLIED AND GOOD. LET IT BE KNOWN THAT SHE DIED TRYING TO RESTORE SAID ISLAND TO ITS ORIGINAL GLORY, A NOBLE AND WORTHY CAUSE INDEED.

At any rate, I have wasted precious time imploring my family to stop using my beautiful island as a dumping ground and I’ve made myself crazy attempting to return their stuff to its rightful place in the universe—like the cussed garage, or a dresser drawer, or a closet for Pete’s sake. Almost instantaneously, the wretched piles return, only larger and more offensive to my sensibilities. To illustrate, this is a partial listing of the items I found there today:

Party favors, props and programs from various musicals, phone chargers, checkbooks, out-of-date ticket stubs, gift cards, a dog leash and treats, someone’s watch (that may or may not keep accurate time), a hodgepodge of jewelry, a handful of cough drops, a half-eaten Rice Krispie treat, thank you notes (yet to be written), six jumbo paper clips, someone’s library card, a prescription drug box, PILES UPON PILES of mail in a sorry state of disarray, newspapers, the trappings of school, an honor roll clipping, tiny wads of unclaimed money, sweaters and sweatshirts, a discarded purse, marching band paraphernalia, field trip permission slips, as many as five coats hanging on the backs of chairs and eight pairs of shoes lying in a huddled mass at the foot of said chairs, a winter scarf, Bubble wrap and Judy Bernly’s bobby pins.

By all accounts, what I’ve described is tragic and I can’t begin to express how disheartened it makes me. It isn’t as if we haven’t had discussions as a family about the problem. Loud discussions, as I recall. Each time I argue my case, the logic I offer fails to inspire the parties in question to take lasting action. More specifically, to not only remove stuff from the island, but to KEEP IT FROM FINDING ITS WAY BACK. It’s almost as if my husband and kids are marking territory. Like dogs. Although I suspect that dogs know better.

To make matters worse, it appears as though the scourge is spreading—much like the plague. That said, the disordered mass has moved beyond the boundaries of the aforementioned island and currently affects a sizeable portion of a countertop and much of our dining room table. Sadly, the former has become a staging area for jewelry repair, featuring an embarrassment of ridiculously small tools, and the latter now functions as a place to pile things that have no business being piled there. Naturally, my husband argues they are things he is “working on.” If the past is any indication, he’ll be “working on” that stuff till doomsday. Maybe longer.

In order to deal with such a demoralizing set of circumstances, I suppose I’ll just have to ignore the surface and know that deep within beats the heart of my beloved island. Or I could ask for the unthinkable—that it be cleaned for Mother’s Day.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably standing in my kitchen, lamenting the sorry state of my island. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville, Rantings & Ravings, Welcome to My Disordered World