Category Archives: 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. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

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. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

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. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

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

DELIVERANCE: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins is HERE!

Deliverance is a wildly amusing, in-the-trenches sort of guidebook to surviving Hell Week with twins—only Hell Week lasts for an entire year—the point at which most parents of multiples can finally come up for air. In a word, it is a candid and hilarious tale of survival—one that provides both advice and amusement for parents in desperate need of salvation (or sedatives). Quite literally, it is an essential field guide for those managing the madness of caring for two babies at once—a book that can be read in the thick of raising children, with its bite-sized chapters and undeniable readability.

 

As one mom put it, “Deliverance should be mandatory reading for all prospective parents of multiples.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

As a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Melinda L. Wentzel, aka Planet Mom, is an award winning slice-of-life/humor columnist and author whose primary objective is to keep mothering real on the page while maintaining some semblance of sanity on the home front. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Parent Magazine, the San Diego Family Magazine, the Kansas City Parent Magazine, Twins Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, A Cup of Comfort, the Khaleej Times Weekender, Dubai, UAE and a host of online publications to include Mamapedia, BetterWayMoms, MomStuff, HybridMom, MomBloggersClub and the Huffington Post.

 

For more than a decade, her newspaper column, Notes from Planet Mom, has appeared in Webb Weekly (Lycoming County, PA), where she offers parents who subsist at various stages of lunacy a sanity cocktail in the form of gloriously irreverent and, at times, surprisingly tender pieces about marriage and life with kids. She and her husband live in north central Pennsylvania with their twin daughters, two pampered dogs and a self-absorbed cat. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PlanetMom, find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom or subscribe to future posts via email (located in the sidebar on every page of this website).

 

Order your copy HERE: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692830014 and if you think Deliverance truly delivers (laughs and great advice, too), please write a review there and I will be eternally grateful.

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville, Twins

The Saint

Remembering Helen Godfrey today, a wonderful woman and our children’s school bus driver from the early days of kindergarten through much of middle school… Written in 2006 by Melinda L. Wentzel

 

Our school bus driver has a secret life—according to our vastly imaginative kindergarteners anyway. Who knew?

 

“Where’s your regular bus driver,” I probed one afternoon as they clambered down those Godzilla-sized steps—the ones better suited for Gulliver than for my ungainly Lilliputians. (But then again, I load them up like a couple of pack mules every morning and make them wear snappy new sneakers over which they trip roughly 14 times an hour. It’s no wonder they have trouble getting on and off that big, yellow beast of a thing).

 

As we crossed the road and began hiking through the lawn together, I inquired again, “So where is she? Do you know what happened to her?”

 

“She likes to go on dates,” Child #1 whispered with a smirk and a sidelong glance at the bus.

 

“Oh reeeeeeeeally,” I commented, stuffing a sleeve in my mouth so as to stifle the spillage of chortles. “Dates, huh?”

 

“Yeah, Mommy,” Child #2 added. “She said she had an outbreak.”

 

“An outbreak?!” I asked completely puzzled now, but more intrigued than ever. “What sort of outbreak did she have?” (I was afraid even to think.)

 

“Well, maybe it was a breakout, Mommy…yeah, it was a BREAKOUT,” she explained further.

 

Instantly I envisioned this poor woman revisiting adolescence, giddy and pimply all rolled into one.

 

“A breakout you say?” I pressed further, going for that staid and genuinely concerned look I’ve been honing ever since they started sharing with me really important stuff—like which six-year-olds they intend to marry and how soon they plan to visit the moon. “Wow, a breakout, huh? Sounds serious.”

 

“Yep, a breakout…I think…or maybe it was a break. Yeah, she said she needed a BREAK one time when we asked her why she wasn’t our bus driver that day that Bus Driver Bob forgot to stop at our stop and all the kids screamed and screamed until he finally stopped.” (A day which will live in infamy….)

 

“So your bus driver needed a break?” I offered tentatively.

 

“Yeah,” they both chimed in. “She gets tired of just sitting and sitting. Sometimes she needs a break so she goes home and does stuff and then Bus Driver Bob brings us home.”

 

“Well, that explains it,” I agreed, happy to have been enlightened for the 467th time that day. Who wouldn’t need a break from my two magpies now and then? The woman deserves a medal. Or at the very least, to be sainted. In my humble opinion, she possesses more patience than six people ought to. Translation: I could never drive a school bus. Never. She tolerates all sorts of weirdness too—like my propensity to videotape and photograph nearly every Kindergarten Moment involving my children and the silly bus. Climbing on the bus. Off the bus. Walking toward the bus. Away from the bus. And most recently…SLEEPING on the bus. Couldn’t resist that one. Of course, she kindly invited me aboard to preserve the moment for posterity. Or maybe she just wanted me to hurry up and haul my drooling, sweat soaked charges and their 80 pound backpacks away. Far away.

 

Further, she-who-should-be-sainted also graciously accepts each and every “gift” those gregarious creatures in question bestow upon her—to include rocks, handfuls of gravel, wet leaves, twigs and to date, a plethora of drawings and indecipherable notes. Like I said, the woman’s a saint. She just smiles and quietly tucks them away in a pocket or on the dash. Always grateful. Never rushed. Mindful at all times of their feelings. Forever interested in their beloved offerings—which is more than I can say much of the time. (There are just so many wilted dandelions and speckled leaves I can take in one lifetime).

 

But not her. Nope. My guess is that she’ll continue to warmly receive each and every useless bit of tripe and ridiculous hootenanny that my cherries hand her till doomsday—thereby brightening their days and making a difference in their world. A world in which many have forgotten how important it is just to “be nice.” How refreshing and comforting it is to know that one such individual is out there day in and day out, delivering that invaluable message to my beloved offerings—and, no doubt, to scores of others’.

 

Thanks, Helen.

 

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.notesfromplanetmom.com.

 

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

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 the Food Network, 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 Giada 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 Ghirardelli 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. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes