Category Archives: In the Trenches of Parentville

Beautiful Mess

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324Sometimes the stuff we need to hear from our children is muddled or falls to the ground, silent as snowflakes. Other times, those gems of communiqué are deafening, delivering messages that are both unfiltered and unapologetic. Still other times, the meat of the message is sandwiched in-between layers of fluff, artfully disguised as something unimportant. As a stunningly imperfect parent, I’ve been on the receiving end of each of these, although the sandwich-y variety is especially popular with my motley crew.

“Mom, please don’t sing in the car. You’re ruining Ed Sheeran for me. And by the way, I had a horrible day at school. Don’t even ask. Now you’re ruining Adele. Please stop.”

Occasionally, I’m thrown off course by such commentary (i.e. harsh critiques of my musical abilities, or the lack thereof) and, consequently, fail to attend to the nugget of truth nestled within the statement: “I had a bad day, ergo I will pummel anything and everything in my path to relieve my pain and angst.”

Thankfully though, messages of that ilk usually snake their way through the tangle of thoughts crowding my mind and I actually address what’s bothering the daughter in question. It’s only taken me 27 years of parenting to figure that out.

If I’ve learned anything at this post, however, it’s that the learning never ends. And that more often than not, the most valuable lessons are the ones taught by the children I’m attempting to raise.

Case in point: Not long ago, at the close of a very long day, I was in the thick of admonishing one of my teenagers for the disgraceful state of her bedroom—which is more like a burrow than anything. Over the past few years, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping her door shut in order to avoid a rage-induced tirade, since it’s a battle I’d rather not have.

That said, her clothes are nearly always strewn like carnage, the dirty ones rarely making it to the hamper, the clean ones arranged in tired heaps on the floor, almost never finding the drawers or closet because that would make entirely too much sense. In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time her bed was made, nor can I accurately recall what the top of her dresser looks like without the hodgepodge of stuff piled on it—an avalanche in the making.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been known to unearth remnants beneath her bed such as discarded bowls, Starbucks cups and the earbuds that had been MIA forever. Admittedly, and on occasion, I break down and mate the socks I stumble across and pair the shoes that I might have hurled into the aforementioned hovel because I simply can’t stand that they aren’t together, let alone in their rightful place in the universe.

So when I discovered her rain soaked hoodie, balled up in the corner of the dining room AGAIN, I began to seethe, marching upstairs to deliver it in person. And since she was standing in the doorway of her lair-turned-shrine-to-epic-disorder I couldn’t resist the urge to chide her about that, too.

“Your room is a DISASTER,” I spat, completely fed up with having to have the same conversation. Again.

“Yes, but I’m not,” she answered as she looked me straight in the eye—then hugged me tight and headed off to bed for the night.

It’s what I needed to hear—a tiny reminder that the really important things in life aren’t disastrous, one of whom was standing squarely before me, growing into a remarkable human being, one who is loving and kind, joyful and generous, hopeful and bright. It was a message both loud and clear that helped me remember that the ultimate goal (mine anyway) is to embrace parenthood and to recognize it as the beautiful mess that it is.

One day, not long from now, she’ll leave that room behind, box up her favorite treasures and cart them someplace new. And I’ll help her pack—sure to salvage a lone sock or something to remind me of the days that were filled with chaos but with joy as well.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, mastering the art of defective parenting. Spectacularly. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on television, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that one of those celebrity cooks went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults, I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would, indeed, make me smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Parents

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddSarcasm aside, Stephen Covey should have written a book with the abovementioned title. Not that he failed spectacularly as a father, but because people tend to more readily grasp what doesn’t work, as opposed to what does. Like tightrope walking, for instance—without a net. In a practical sense, Seven Habits would’ve been an invaluable guide for parents, highlighting the antithesis of good advice as it relates to the uncertain nature of raising children. Countless individuals, myself included, could’ve then avoided seven of the biggest pitfalls of child rearing—all of which I’ve shamelessly embraced since the advent of motherhood. So in the true spirit of generosity and irreverence, I’ve compiled a list of that which you would do well to eschew.

  • 1)  STOCKPILE EXACTLY NOTHING IN YOUR DISCIPLINARY ARSENAL, rendering you categorically ineffective (read: deplorable) when it comes to dealing with ill-mannered children and/or defiant teens. A sign that you’re on the right track in this regard can be clearly demonstrated if you lack any discernable ability to assign logical consequences to a wayward grocery cart, let alone an unruly child. Moreover, if you think “positive reinforcement” is just a bunch of psychobabble and you have absolutely no idea what will happen if and when you actually reach the count of three (i.e. at the climax of your hackneyed threat: “One…two…two-and-a-half…two-and-three-quarters…two-and-seven-eighths…”), you’re well on your way to becoming a highly defective parent. However, you’ve truly arrived in said capacity when you scream at your brood, “Stop screaming!” and it actually works.
  • 2)  DO EVERYTHING FOR YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN, lest they become discouraged, frustrated or palpably incensed as a result of their futile attempts to do for themselves. Heaven forbid you let them fail. At anything. Nor should your dear progenies be held accountable in this life. For anything. Never mind their longings for independence and ownership as they grow. Continue on the path to martyrdom by picking up their shoes, making their beds and triple-checking their homework day after day, right through college and into grad school. Fight their battles for them, too, paving the way on every imaginable front. In this manner, you can insure their dependency (and your sense of purpose as a slack-picker-upper) for a lifetime.
  • 3)  SAY “YES” TO YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN FAR TOO OFTEN, even if it spells emotional/financial ruin for you, or reckless endangerment for them. A happy upbringing is all about instant gratification and leniency, after all—not to mention, keeping the peace. Indulge them daily—hourly if need be, so that you might satisfy their every whim. Translation: Let your charges pitch a monstrosity-of-a-tent in the living room for weeks on end, perilously slide down staircases in sleeping bags and adopt more pets than the Animal Control Board thinks you can readily accommodate. Note: If your house doesn’t smell like hamsters or wet dog, you’re not trying hard enough.
  • 4)  COMPARE YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN TO OTHERS at every opportunity (especially those involving hyper-successful peers, siblings and well-mannered house plants)—a practice that serves to solidify feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Kids simply adore being held to an unattainable ideal, relishing the notion of not-measuring-up in all avenues of life.
  • 5)  MODEL IMPROPRIETY AT EVERY TURN. Launch tirades, throw shoes and by all means, refuse to share your sand shovel. Additionally, hold grudges, damn politicians and say incredibly vile things about the Everyday Math you’ve been expected to embrace since your oldest entered kindergarten. Better still, demonstrate the beauty of white lies, offer your brood an abundance of inappropriate ways to deal with bullies and hang up on a telemarketer at least as often as Rush Limbaugh says something stupid.
  • 6)  ALWAYS SPEAK BEFORE YOU THINK. Enough said.
  • 7)  INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT OF PANIC TO YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN BY ROUTINELY INVITING FEAR AND WORRY INTO YOUR COLLECTIVE CORNER OF THE WORLD. The more irrational the fear/worry the better. Histrionics are good, too, especially as they relate to obscure maladies involving parasites native to Tasmania, the horror of being struck by a sofa-sized chunk of space debris and, of course, the Mayan apocalypse.
  • Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in all my defective glory).
  • Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Vacation Schmacation

376269_396176567110697_609201044_nI didn’t even want to go on a stupid cruise. People get seasick on cruises. Agoraphobic. Claustrophobic. Aquaphobic. Lilapsophobic. At times, they suffer the unmerciful wrath of foodborne illnesses, they become preoccupied with rogue sharks and ill-mannered pirates and they often lament a dearth of trees. At least I did. Miss the trees, that is. Worse yet, seafarers fall victim to that special brand of withdrawal—the one associated with not being able to send text messages obsessively or to check one’s email ad nauseam without shelling out obscene sums for Internet connectivity. Never mind the very real possibility of hitting an iceberg while sailing the ocean blue or, God forbid, capsizing in waters that are disturbingly deep.

Of course, we know the waters are disturbingly deep because the nifty little televisions in everyone’s impossibly small staterooms conveniently display the current depth (measured in thousands of feet!) in a continuous loop, along with a relief map of the western hemisphere illustrating how godawful far from land said ship is presently situated. After Day Two of our eight-night Bahamian cruise, I simply stopped dwelling upon such foolishness and tried to imagine a scenario in which Poseidon would save me if I fell overboard. Naturally, I was convinced that someone in our party of six would fall overboard during the course of our epic journey to the tropics, or that my directionally-challenged children would at some point vanish inside the fourteen-story, 964 ft. vessel or that my husband would fall for an insanely gorgeous redhead with little or no neurotic tendencies. Who could blame him?

Aside from the voyage itself, I had no idea how involved preparing for a cruise would be. There were on-shore excursions to plan well in advance of the trip, most of which I stupidly accomplished in the wee hours of a hellacious night, a mere handful of days before we left. There was also the matter of transporting our motley crew (to include my parents, our youngest children and an embarrassment of luggage) through the uber-congested Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan’s 88th pier, a place where Conestoga wagons and horse manure would surely be frowned upon.

This, of course, led my dear husband to the pure genius of renting a fifteen-passenger van, heretofore known as our $832 carcass on wheels, the dilapidated nature of which cannot be overstated. As I recall, three of us might have been properly belted in, there was a mere suggestion of shock absorption present for the teeth-jarring journey and a repulsive pair of safety glasses beckoned to my brood from the backseat. Gak! But because the gods were smiling upon us, the air conditioner functioned flawlessly and each time we skittered across an exit ramp, we somehow failed to collide with a guardrail. And while the circus-like event of obtaining passports and the tirade-infused meltdown associated with my packing frenzy on the eve of our departure very nearly necessitated a small team of marriage counselors, my husband and I remain very much in love.

It’s true; I didn’t want any part of the cruise my parents so graciously bestowed upon us on Christmas Day. But somewhere, between the lazy catamaran ride to our dolphin encounter on Blue Lagoon Island and lolling in the pristine waters of the Caribbean at Castaway Cay with my family, I surrendered to the notion of leisure. No longer would my irrational fears about our summer vacation consume me. From that moment on, I refrained from inviting worry and dread into my otherwise harried world. Instead I let the warm embrace and gentle caress of the surf erase every trace of anxiety I had harbored since we boarded the ship in New York.

Granted, some of us did, indeed, become lost on that behemoth-sized boat. Reading glasses and hearing aids were misplaced, too (the latter of which were recovered), a tooth was broken at dinner, a seagull wreaked havoc at the beach and a rollercoaster at the park went on the blink. But for the most part, our time together was imbued with goodness and punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances—many of which involve being pampered beyond all imagining.

I miss the chocolates on my pillow each night, the towel origami and crisp linens that awaited us as we returned from a myriad of daily exploits, the live entertainment, indescribably attentive servers and meals that qualified as delectable if not superb, the inimitable wedge of time I spent with my family that I will treasure forever and ever.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a wonderful vacation.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (joining the ranks of cruisers).

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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It’s in the Bag

custom_embroidered_bag-p232878628872203477sltn1_216I have a love-hate relationship with my purse—every purse I’ve ever owned, actually. My current bag-of-choice is ridiculously overloaded, unwieldy on its best day and represents just one more thing in my life that I need to haul around as a glorified grown-up. However, there are times when I can truly appreciate how practical it is. Moreover, its cavernous interior and zippered compartments thrill me beyond compare, and its impossibly soft exterior makes me weak with pleasure. Besides, who has enough pants pockets to accommodate the embarrassment of stuff we routinely jam in our purses? Not me.

Of course, I’m part of the problem. Years ago I fell in love with a tri-fold wallet that is roughly the size and heft of a cheesesteak sandwich. And because I couldn’t possibly say no, it’s something that must be housed within the confines of my crammed-to-capacity pocketbook—along with an inhaler, eleventy-seven Band-Aids and a nail file I can’t find to save myself. Such is life. Naturally, there is an abundance of tripe in there as well—a penlight I never use, snapshots I rarely sift through, wads of paper I’ve scrawled upon that are no longer relevant, gum that lost its elasticity eons ago and a tiny, leather-bound calendar, circa 2013. I’m stumped as to why it’s still in there. It defies all logic and understanding.

Apparently (and perhaps sadly) my habits are wearing off on at least one of my daughters. Not long ago, her purse resembled a lumpy throw pillow on the verge of bursting. After weeks of nagging, I finally convinced her of the wisdom behind purging it. Among other things, she discovered her long-lost earbuds, a rock the size of a small potato and a pair of dirty socks that, presumably, belong to someone in the marching band. What’s more, the socks don’t match. Go figure.

Admittedly, instead of lugging my purse around, forever contorting my body to prevent the insufferable slide off my shoulder, I wish it would trail behind me like a small, obedient dog so I wouldn’t have to cart it anymore, invariably winding up with a stiff neck. Nor would I have to keep track of its whereabouts, a burden with which I’ve struggled mightily since the days of adolescence. What’s more, there’s always the dilemma of where to put it when I get to where I’m going. Cautiously I shove it beneath my seat in waiting rooms and movie theaters, hoping against hope that no one spilled soda there or left behind a wad of germy tissues.

That said, public restrooms pose the greatest challenge for me as it relates to stowing my purse. It seems there’s never a hook on the door or a suitable shelf to set it on, and I REFUSE to wear it around my neck like a cussed cowbell. As a last resort, I set it on the floor, although it pains me greatly. Shortly thereafter, I obsess about the microbes of horribleness now fused to the bottom of my bag.

On those rare occasions when I choose to forgo carrying a purse altogether “…because I just can’t deal with the wretched thing today,” I turn to my husband to remedy my dearth-of-pockets problem, beseeching him to cram hispockets with whatever it is that I cannot live without. And because he is a Boy Scout in the truest sense, he obliges. Likewise, he comes to the rescue when I can’t find something in particular within the murky depths of my bag by suggesting that I “…stir it with a stick until it comes to the surface and then grab it before it disappears again.” Smart man.

If all else fails, I dump its contents onto the floor and rummage around until I locate the elusive item. Like a fool, I shove the hideous mass back inside instead of seizing the opportunity to rid my world of all that is unwanted or unnecessary. Without question, it’s in the bag.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, purse-severing with a purse that brings both misery and joy to my life. 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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