Category Archives: In the Trenches of Parentville

Countdown to Christmas

It was painful to stand there and simply watch. To idly witness, that is, a little boy, no more than three, seized by a desperate longing to ride on the horse-drawn wagon that had circled the park more times than we could readily count in the hour or so that we waited. Again and again the team of Belgians passed us in the frigid night, pausing ever so briefly along its winding path to load and unload hoards of people who had come to this festive event—to soak in some Christmas cheer, to perhaps get a glimpse of Santa in his red, velvety suit and to feast their eyes upon the spectacle of lights that blanketed the grounds, casting a warm glow upon the darkness that sought to swallow us whole.

The boy’s frustration was decidedly palpable as he wailed in vain to his mother and to the starry sky above, arching his back and clenching his tiny fists in indignation—hot, angry tears streaming down his baby face. Inconsolable, as it were. Aside from diverting his attention from this sorrowful reality (i.e. that he was NOT sitting in the aforementioned wagon, lulled by the gentle rhythm of the horses’ gait and the muted sound of their hooves as they hit the pavement), there wasn’t much anyone could do to comfort him.

So many times I’ve watched my own children suffer through the misery of waiting for that which promises to remedy all ills, to satisfy all desires and to deliver instantaneous joy. The interminable wait for Space Mountain at Disney World. The intolerable chasm between ordering a Happy Meal and wrapping one’s pudgy fingers around the cheap plastic toy contained within said Happy Meal. The insufferable gulf that exists between falling hard on the gritty sidewalk and being swooped up into a parent’s arms, where soothing assurances await.

And though they’ve grown immeasurably since that time, my children loathe the process of waiting even still—especially during this celebrated month of December, on the veritable cusp of Christmas. Over the years it has become tradition, shortly after Thanksgiving and perhaps before any other bit of holiday décor emerges from the depths of the attic, to haul out the handcrafted, Santa-inspired DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS thingy—the one that is cleverly outfitted with removable wooden blocks upon which numbers have been handily painted. We do this, of course, because we cannot find our Advent Calendar—the endearing square of felt-like fabric filled to capacity with a crop of tiny pockets and tethered to a small, cottony fir tree intended to mark the days until the 25th. Needless to say, I had a deep and abiding love for that calendar, but sadly it disappeared—along with my girlish figure, every intact set of tumblers I once owned and the stain-free carpeting I once enjoyed.

At any rate, Thing One and Thing Two are patently delirious over all that the Yuletide embodies, so thickly immersed are they in the important business of crafting gifts for friends and family, taking part in a good number of caroling excursions through school and church and (much to my dismay) quoting the lyrics of The 12 Pains of Christmas far too often. They’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time composing wish lists that appear to change with the wind, instilling me with a fair amount of panic as we inch ever nearer to Christmas Day. Indeed, the ratcheting effect of the official countdown has begun in earnest. “ELEVEN DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS!” the wooden blocks seem to shout—reminding me of both the joy this season brings and of my glaring ineptitude as it relates to the enormity of the task ahead.

Cleansing breaths and great volumes of prayer are in order at such times, which, with any luck, will serve to ground me and to give me pause—especially during this grand and glorious season of hopeful expectation.

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

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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November’s Sweet Indulgence

photoI’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 music, 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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No Parking

IMG_8594I hate to parallel park, so I avoid it at all costs. Sometimes that means I attempt to maneuver my car into what appears to be a ridiculously small space and shortly thereafter, drive away, defeated. Other times I opt for a traditional parking lot and convince myself that that’s not cheating—even when I pull through instead of backing in. And occasionally I choose to circle the block like a fool until I find two or more adjacent open spaces so I can simply drive in and park, headfirst. I realize that that, in effect, is a cop-out and makes me a namby-pamby by definition, but I don’t care. My cars understand, and I’m quite sure they appreciate the extra measures I take to protect them—from me.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m capable of parallel parking—when I’m desperate. But, of course, there are parameters that must first be met. The space in question has to be generous enough to accommodate an oversized woolly mammoth, there can be no traffic in either direction for miles and no one on the planet can witness my pitiful attempts to accomplish the impossible. Not even a dog lounging on a nearby porch can look on with disdain. Admittedly, it is performance anxiety gone awry. Oddly enough, I am deeply disappointed whenever I happen to successfully park my car between two others—because, of course, no one is there to shower me with praise or hand me a medal, thereby validating such a monumental achievement.

That said, I can’t even begin to describe my feelings of inadequacy as it relates to teaching my teenagers to parallel park. The word “hypocrite” comes to mind, although “fraud” might be more accurate. Maybe I feel like such a failure in this particular realm because I can’t effectively put my actions into words. Just as it’s hard to describe how to properly peel a hard-boiled egg without destroying it, it’s tough to convey how to wedge a 2-ton hunk of metal between two others without incident.

Confession: While we’re practicing said skill and attempting not to bump those ugly, orange barrels or gnome-inspired cones, I often feel compelled to grab the wheel so that we don’t smash into the curb or scrape the passenger-side door inadvertently. And no matter how hard I try not to shout directives at my daughters or frantically wave my arms in the process, never mind curse, I can’t help myself. Nor can I refrain from sighing in exasperation after the 17th failed attempt.

Teen: “Mom, you’re mad, aren’t you?”

Me: “No, I just wish your father were doing this. I hate to admit it, but he’s better at it than I am.”

T: “But he yells more.”

M: “He’s just more intense.”

T: “He YELLS more.”

M: “Okay, you have a point.”

Eventually I suggest that we give up and drive home, reminding myself to refrain from taking my blood pressure reading anytime soon. Tomorrow’s a new day after all, and represents yet another opportunity to fail miserably as a parent to experience glowing success. With any luck, my kids won’t need too much therapy down the road. Pun intended.

Despite my shortcomings with respect to parallel parking and my husband’s so-called intensity, both of our progenies passed their driver’s test on their very first attempt and are now flying solo. Translation: The gods were smiling upon my little corner of the world when we made the decision to enroll both kids in a local driver education course. Needless to say, we’ll be forever grateful to J.C. and Vince for their limitless expertise and undying patience this summer.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably circling the block. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Road Less Traveled

www.melindawentzel.comI remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment—the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilization it seemed. The place where a large and delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts—one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, swallowed whole by its quiet grandeur, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees that lapped at its fringes. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer—untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows, too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road and its deep, frozen furrows of mud, we’d barrel down the gully—half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks—eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there—foraging through the woods, hiding out in our ramshackle forts and letting our dog run free—were ravenously consumed, chapters of our lives that I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time almost six years—the ones that have felt like six minutes—I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late—a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift—only the leaves back then had long since burst with color, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favorite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to cleanly snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the road less traveled, and recognizing that it has made all the difference). 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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All Hallows Eve…The End is Near

img_5003I’ve been informed it’s over—my brood’s love affair with trick-or-treating, that is. I knew it would happen eventually. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen now, seemingly minutes before Halloween. It’s possible I’ll need weeks of therapy in order to cope with such tragic news. Please send candy.

I guess I was kidding myself to think my kids’ enthusiasm for harvesting gobs of chocolate and fistfuls of candy corn would last forever. And I probably missed some important signs last October when my progenies disguised themselves to the nth degree (one wore a disturbingly realistic horsehead mask while the other donned a ginormous set of bat wings), but then sort of dragged their feet when it came to traipsing all over the neighborhood, treat bags in hand. At the time, I simply pushed it out of my mind. Denial, as it were.

As the stages of grief are classically defined, I suppose I haven’t progressed much since then. I still reject the idea that the fun is over, defending the fact that “…even adults like to dress up in ridiculous outfits and solicit candy. Who wouldn’t?”

Almost immediately, I learned how incredibly stupid that question was. In no uncertain terms, I was enlightened as to how “completely done with that” they were.

“We just want to stay home, answer the door and scare little kids to death.”

Egads. I wasn’t prepared for that sort of response. I guess I just want to hold on to the past, or maybe even live it a little longer if possible. I liked it when my twin daughters were just babies—most of the time anyway. They were pumpkins their first Halloween, kittens their second, and burly lumberjacks their third year I think. I remember dotting their cheeks with dark eyeliner, giving their faces the suggestion of stubble. I also fondly recall piling warm layers of clothing beneath red and black-checkered jackets to complete the look.

For the first several years, my husband and I lugged them around the neighborhood in their little, red wagon, using blankets and coats to prop them up and cushion the bumpy ride. Hats and mittens were a must, cleverly incorporated into the ensemble. At each house we visited, friends would crowd around the door to see how adorable our children looked, each year’s costume topping the last.

As they grew older they were able to walk with us, tightly gripping one of our hands while clutching their coveted treat bag with the other. Each year we journeyed further and further away from home, eventually canvassing the entire neighborhood in one night—which was no small feat.

More recently, they’ve met up with their friends on All Hallows Eve, eager to wander the streets of our close-knit community, a smallish herd of mask-toting teens and tweens in the dark of night, some carrying flashlights, some entirely too cool to carry a flashlight, their raucous laughter filling the autumn air. By evening’s end, they would return home, sweaty and utterly spent, usually hauling all or part of their costumes—either because they were too hot or they broke somewhere along the way. Treat bags bursting with candy. Smiles all around.

But this year will be different. No more ambling from house to house. No more bags of loot to dump on the kitchen floor to better sort and ogle. No more little, red wagon or mittens. At least my kids have assured me there will still be the wearing of costumes, however. So there’s that. I guess I’ll just have to accept reality and embrace a new and different Halloween tradition—as scary as that might be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live…lamenting the end of All Hallows Eve (sort of).

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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