Category Archives: 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 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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A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddI don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night ball games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of sneakers. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded eleven-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we pilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of basketball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no tablets in existence and not a single app had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer).

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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