Category Archives: In the Trenches of Parentville

Beautiful Mess

Sometimes 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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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, In the Trenches of Parentville, Love and Other Drugs, motherhood

Hurry Up and Wait

My youngest kids are high school seniors, which, by extension, means that my husband and I have been tasked with the thankless job of hauling them hither and yon over the past two years so that they might ultimately find a college campus that “speaks to them.” Needless to say, we’ve spent countless hours on the road and in hotels as well as scheduling auditions, meeting with various professors and arranging shadowing dates ad infinitum. And let us not forget the days spent crawling over hill and dale, tolerating both the rain and snow of fall/winter and the searing heat of summer, in order to better determine the merit and overall appeal of each campus.

While I recognize the gravity of the decisions that face them, I’m sure I’ve muttered, “For the love of God, pick one already,” more than once in what has seemed like an eternal span of time. When all is said and done, I know they’ll make the right choices, but in the meantime my husband and I are losing our collective minds. I honestly don’t remember agonizing over schools the way they do. Who knows? Maybe things were simpler back then and it came down to whether or not the cafeteria food was decent.

I, for one, thought that was relatively important.

At any rate, aside from coordinating virtually every detail of each visit and tolerating a maze of parking garages in the process, we’ve been saddled with the issue of how to kill time while our progenies attend classes, etc. It’s the infamous hurry-up-and-wait syndrome. So far we’ve traipsed through courtyards peppered with trees, explored enormous and impressive facilities, took pictures of various mascots, used Google Maps to find the nearest Starbucks, made multiple trips to the car because we forgot something of vital importance and talked to umpteen college students and staff members about why they chose XYZ University. And because there is never a dull moment in our lives, one afternoon a fire drill went off at one of the aforementioned universities and another time my husband got stuck in a bathroom stall, where he frantically texted me for help. Eventually he got out on his own, but not before I was able to tweet about it to the amusement of many.

But mostly, the waiting involved hanging out in the libraries of each school. And by hanging out I mean we found a couple of comfy chairs and spent upwards of eight hours playing solitaire on our phones, surfing the Internet, snacking, watching students filter in and out, eavesdropping on their conversations, perusing daily newspapers and, of course, napping indiscriminately. Thank God we were smart enough to bring along a favorite book or two. I devoured several patently hilarious titles by David Sedaris and Jim Gaffigan while my husband read about politics and the Vietnam War. We wanted to at least appear productive and engaged.

Quite frankly, I don’t know how I would have survived even one of the ordeals without something substantial to read. Granted, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are entertaining, but I doubt I could spend hours doing that alone. For me, books made the time pass and allowed me to almost forget that I was stuck in a library surrounded by herds of 18 to 20-somethings. In a very real sense, books preserved what was left of my sanity.

Speaking of books, this Friday, February 8th will be my very first bookiversary (book anniversary)! Please order Deliverance: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins for just $8.99 on Amazon or pick up a signed copy at Otto Bookstore, the oldest independent bookstore in America. Keep in mind, you don’t need to be a parent of twins to appreciate the hilarity packed within every chapter. I promise. As an added bonus, having Deliverance on hand means you’ll never be without reading material if you happen to find yourself stuck somewhere—waiting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably holed up in another college library with my husband. But at least we’ll always have great books to read and we’re no longer enduring the misery of FAFSA forms. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2019 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Leaving the Nest

Dumpster Diving

My husband has never heard of Marie Kondo. Nor does he subscribe to her renowned KonMari Method of keeping only the possessions in one’s life that “spark joy.” It’s a wonder I convinced him to park a ginormous dumpster in our driveway for the better part of a month, hoping against hope that we’d somehow find the will to purge our home of the crap we’ve accumulated as a family for over 22 years.

I, for one, found it to be a cathartic experience—especially the part where I got to fling stuff into the air with wild abandon. It’s possible I may have even shouted something in triumph each time I tossed one of my husband’s college textbooks or a tangled mass of badminton netting into the giant metal bin. The only thing more liberating would have been to light it on fire.

But there were times I got a bit misty-eyed when faced with the matter of keeping or chucking an embarrassment of cap guns. They were a hallmark of my childhood after all. Never mind that several were jammed or in another way deemed nonfunctional. Not surprisingly, I had great difficulty parting with my kids’ toy machine guns, too, and felt compelled to squeeze the broken triggers multiple times before hurling them into oblivion.

I’m like a kindergartener, only less disciplined.

Needless to say, my excitement grew as the days passed and the dumpster became filled with more and more junk. There was a glut of the ugly-as-sin carpeting we just tore out of the living room. There were also boxes upon boxes of heavy books and lesson plans, circa 1974, that I hauled down from the attic, risking life and limb on a 17-foot ladder. There was an abundance of college notebooks that were spared from the trash for nearly five decades. For the love of God, who does that? A hoarder, that’s who. There was a gas grill, an office chair, three sets of antiquated golf clubs and a bug collecting kit of undetermined origin. Of course, there were still bugs inside it—dead as ever. Even my dust-covered treadmill found its way there, despite the challenge of dragging it all the way through the house and garage. At least we got some exercise in the process.

Even our neighbors got in on the fun when I gave them the go-ahead to deposit their gargantuan television set inside. I only wish I had witnessed its arrival. Instead I had to hear about several family members pushing and/or “riding” their 72” TV down the street and up our driveway. I can only imagine what it must have been like to then lift the stupid thing into the dumpster. Hopefully, no one got a hernia.

As one might expect, my hoard-happy husband and I had several heated debates while we attempted to clean out our garage—most of which involved dumpster diving (his) and emphatic arguments (mine) over the issue of whether or not something “brought joy” to one’s life.

“What do you mean ‘Does this bring me joy?’” he demanded to know as he held a bucket with no bottom in his hands. “I happen to like this bucket.”

“It has no bottom,” I reminded him.

“I don’t care,” he defended.

In hindsight, maybe I should have requested that a marriage counselor be included with the dumpster rental. Judging by our impassioned exchanges, I’m guessing a lot of couples would be interested in such a convenient arrangement. Better still, a copy of Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy could be presented to help the utterly hopeless.

Although we still have a lot of stuff to purge after filling an entire dumpster to the brim and it took two people with master’s degrees to open it, on the bright side, we found a buyer for my husband’s vintage (old-as-dirt) Schwinn bicycle and classic toy trucks. What’s more, we unearthed some marbles while sorting through a hodgepodge of items.

It’s good to know we still have some.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, anxiously awaiting the arrival of another dumpster for Round II of The Purge. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2019 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Home for Wayward Toys, In the Trenches of Parentville, Ode to Embarrassment, Welcome to My Disordered World

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