Category Archives: Kid-Speak

Worms Fail Me

www.melindawentzel.comThere is a routine by which my children leave the house each school day. It is a fairly logical succession of events that usually culminates with a mad dash to the bus stop, backpacks and jackets flapping as they run, their unruly manes trailing behind them. Of all the memories of motherhood I am sure to harvest, the one that features their early morning race across the lawn, a blur of gangly legs and unbridled enthusiasm, will be a favorite. It is likely, too, that I will remember the many times they paused in the street, still blackened and slick from the unending rains of spring, to rescue untold numbers of earthworms from what would appear to be certain death (i.e. either from being drowned right there on the pavement or crushed by the bus that would soon round the bend).

Quickly, yet gingerly, they scoop them up and place them where it is safe, pleased to have made a difference in a small yet meaningful way. And as I witness this determined albeit futile effort to “…rescue them all, Mom,” morning after morning I am moved, inspired almost, to join in their worthy deeds. Of course, it would be cruel to utter the obvious truth: “You can’t possibly save them all.” So instead I bite my tongue and agree that worms, too, have a purpose. “They aerate and enrich the soil, Mom.” Again I am reminded of the exuberance of youth and of the remarkable capacity children have for storing data sure to wow me. A decade from now, if either of them announces a plan to become somehow involved in a lifelong pursuit to save beached whales, I will not be surprised. Nor will I be disappointed.

At any rate, it goes without saying that worms lack the ability to communicate their needs and desires—no matter how compelling or dire they might be. Granted, they couldn’t deliver any sort of message that anyone could ever hope to interpret. Crazy as it sounds, there are times that I can relate to such hapless creatures—especially as I struggle to connect with my brood via meaningful discourse. Indeed, sometimes words fail me—when weighty subjects arise, when unanswerable questions surface, when reflective listening falls flat, when my children’s growing allegiance to privacy begins to rear its ugly head. But since June is Effective Communications Month, I am determined to improve the way in which we connect over the stuff that matters—as well as the stuff that doesn’t particularly.

For starters (and as completely simplistic as it sounds), I’ve made a solemn pledge to find time on a daily basis to engage each of my daughters in conversation—to stop whatever it is I happen to be doing and tune in to their respective worlds. To find out who has a crush on whom, which item on the lunch menu is to die for these days and just how many Pokémon cards it truly takes to be complete. (The jury is still out on that one). For my oldest, my curiosities would be more akin to: which D.C. restaurant is her new fave, what, exactly, does one do with a graphic design degree anyway and when (oh when!) will the boyfriend be getting a haircut. And although I make light of it here, I understand how important it is to have these conversations with my children. Somehow over the last decade or so I’ve allowed life’s harried pace to take precedence over bonding in this manner—even over the seemingly insignificant happenings of life. That is precisely what I wish to change.

So aside from vowing to carve out more one-on-one “face time” with my co-ed daughter (who is still away at college), I plan to call more, and TEXT more, which the people at Verizon will undoubtedly be delighted to hear. Strangely enough, I suspect I’ll even utilize Facebook’s messaging system on a more regular basis—a concept I never once imagined myself embracing.

As for my two youngest charges, I’ve taken a big step forward on the path to opening the lines of communication by purchasing each of them Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Mothers by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs (Chronicle Books). So in addition to the aforementioned “face time,” we now have this wonderfully interactive, perfectly confidential, writing prompt-infused means of communicating with one another—a tool that encourages us to “talk” about everything from boys and bands to wishes and worries, all within the confines of a tangible journal that we conveniently pass back and forth. Of course, it doesn’t replace or devalue our customary method of conversing, but instead offers another, perhaps deeper, layer of connecting—which is a good thing, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where worms, I mean words sometimes fail me). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Kid-Speak, The Write Stuff

In the Eye of the Beholder

Contrary to what I’ve alluded to in the past, my kids are not monsters. And although I might have actually used that term on occasion to describe them, they’re not the unruly beasts I’ve made them out to be. They don’t howl at the moon, froth at the mouth or frantically paw the refrigerator when I forget to feed them.

Nor do they growl, unless provoked.

But apparently I know not of which I speak. Evidently some high and mighty prude who has seen my act begs to differ regarding the matter of my having or not having fiendish little children. Further, she’d likely argue the point if given the opportunity. Vehemently, I might add. All I’d have to do is invite Her Haughtiness to return to that happy place where she witnessed (i.e. heard, but could only imagine the scene that unfolded behind the flimsy partition that separated us) the mayhem with which I had to deal just four days before Christmas, crammed and jammed impossibly inside a restroom stall which was clearly ill-equipped to accommodate a mom and two cranky six-year-olds itching for Happy Meals.

I have no doubt the woman in question would be more than willing to sprinkle me with her wealth of sagacity, to dazzle me with her bells and whistles regarding behavior management and child rearing, to enlighten me with a report of everything I’ve done wrong as a parent thus far in my thankless journey—to spell it out for me on the terracotta tiles with French fries: YOUR PARENTING SKILLS SUCK AND YOU’D BE BETTER OFF RAISING CHICKENS, YOU DUMB CLUCK!

She might have a legitimate point. But probably not enough fries to say so.

Everyone knows that McDonald’s isn’t the ideal place to change clothes. Nor is it wise to instruct ungainly children to do so there—demanding from them a degree of perfection that is at best, unachievable. But there I was—parading my little waifs through the joint like some transient-sorry-excuse-for-a-mother, en route to the bathroom to supervise (oh-so-incompetently) the changing-out-of-pajamas-and-into-real-clothes gig. Make that abundantly muddied PJs. “I fell down on the playground today, but I didn’t get hurt, Mom—the mud was FUN!”

“Lovely. Just lovely,” I thought. “We now appear even MORE pathetic than I previously considered conceivable.”

Granted, it had been Pajama Day at school and it made perfect sense for my kids to be dressed as such (as well as still jacked from all the sugar they had consumed during the pre-holiday festivities). But no one else knew that. Most of the patrons I passed probably pegged me as someone who lives in squalor and who makes a habit of hauling her brood there to wash up and whatnot. In reality, however, we were simply using the loo as a staging area for a meltdown, which qualified as a performance of a lifetime as I recall. Prude Lady could testify to that at least.

Incessantly, it seemed, we bickered about who would get to stand where, who would go first, who would hold coats and bags and sneakers, who would get to flush (and when said flushing would take place), what did or didn’t happen during the Polar Express movie and whether or not a certain someone blew a kiss to a boy earlier in the day (“…because that’s not allowed, Mom; only hugs are okay!”).

Ostensibly, this meddlesome witch witnessed the entire routine, likely pressing her ear to the wall so as not to miss a single syllable. As expected, the debate continued within that tiny theater and escalated until it became a pushing and shoving match, spiraling out of control with each combatant furiously shrieking “YOU!!” while shoving a finger in the other’s face.

“She LICKED my finger, Mom!”

“She called me ‘YOU’ first!”

And so the battle raged. Throughout the ordeal, I was painfully aware of a disapproving audience hovering just inches away, and I felt the familiar sting of humiliation and frustration. All the while I snapped and snarled through clenched teeth, “Get your sleeve off the stinking floor!” “Don’t drop that into the toilet!” “Stop hitting your sister!” “Hurry up already with those pajamas and keep your socks ON YOUR FEET!” “Your father’s waiting, you know!”

How could I possibly explain myself, justify my children’s behavior or even show my face once I stepped outside the stall that had become my personal shield from the world? Miss Holier-Than-Thou would be waiting there for me, wagging her finger. Demanding answers. Chiding. Judging.

“Little monsters,” she’d also likely spit.

Oddly enough though, she had few (albeit barbed) words for me when I finally braved it. “GOOD LUCK!” she huffed condescendingly, as I hoisted my heathens to the sink to wash—their anger all but diffused and differences long since forgotten.

I couldn’t help but think she doesn’t get it. She only saw a tiny slice of my day and a mere shadow of the relationship I share with my children. She thinks my kids hate each other and that I must completely loathe my lot in life as their mom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s important to take time to view the picture in its entirety. Snapshots don’t always tell the whole story.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Holiday Hokum, Kid-Speak, Normal is Relative, Ode to Embarrassment, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, Vat of Complete Irreverence, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Please believe me, oh great giver-of-gifts, I know you love my children dearly and that you’d do almost anything to make them happy this Christmas. You’re a kind and generous soul. And make no mistake about it; I’ve recognized (with the help of countless reminders) how hard my heathens have tried to be good and grateful and well-mannered these past 351 days. But in the interest of preserving what remains of my sanity, would you please give some consideration to the following bit of information?

1)    For the record, I don’t need any lizards or llamas, bats or birds, real live chicks or even eggs that will hatch. Nor do I have any desire whatsoever for an ant farm and an accompanying anteater (“…in case it breaks open and ants are crawling EVERYWHERE, Mom!”). Furthermore, I have absolutely no use for a potbellied pig or a goat for that matter. Are we perfectly clear on that? NO POTBELLIED PIG. NO GOAT. Period. Also, please ignore all future requests—maddeningly incessant as they might be—for another cat. Seriously. Perish the thought.

2)    Additionally, please take note: it is totally unnecessary to spoil my charges by spending $54 (EACH!) on flimsy pajamas that happen to match those worn by the very dolls they begged for last year. That’s simply ludicrous. Get a grip, Santa. Give Mrs. Claus a new nightie or something instead.

3)    Moreover, bear in mind that I have yet to summon the strength necessary to parent those who thirst for danger. More specifically, those who would willfully and gleefully ride a skateboard, a motorcycle or roller skates down an impossibly sheer slope. Blindfolded. On fire. During an earthquake. I have enough trouble tolerating the wretched scooters they so adore. Perhaps by next year I will have purged from memory my own horrific skateboarding disaster (i.e. the face plant I made one summer afternoon on a gravelly patch of pavement at an inordinately high rate of speed). But who could forget eight stitches? They were purple. And stubbly. And infinitely intriguing to all my friends who wanted to touch the freakish goatee I had seemingly sprouted from my chin. That being said, please refrain from delivering any of the aforementioned instruments of evil.

4)    Bratz, begone! I trust this emphatic petition is self-explanatory, oh Jolly One. Barbies, by contrast, are perfectly acceptable in this household. Besides, I find it largely disturbing that many among our sprawling Barbie community have lost heads and limbs for whatever reason. Intactness would be a welcome change.

5)    Also, if you must darken my door with all-that-makes-noise (I mean music), I beg of you that each sinful device (read: trumpet-kazoo-recorder-drum-keyboard-microphone-guitar-tambourine-maraca-like piece of idiocy) be suitably equipped with soundproofing, some sort of on/off switch or at the very least a volume control thingy. Thank you, in advance.

6)    Also, kindly be advised that my humble abode lacks the space necessary to house the grand and glorious, five-story kitty hotel that my kids have been whining about since the middle of summer. Honestly, it is outlandishly opulent, highly impractical and offensively massive. If you so much as think about bestowing such a monstrosity upon us, I will have no choice but to forego the cookies next year. You can count on broccoli instead, you silly little elfin man.

7)    What’s more, I would be immeasurably displeased to discover a pile of pretend dog poop in anyone’s stocking, never mind those repugnant Walter the Farting Dog creatures. Egads!

8)    Furthermore, Santa, read my lips: NO MORE SILLY@$$ ELECTRONIC GADGETRY. I am appallingly inept when it comes to programming any and all gizmos of a technological nature. I hereby resign from said post effective today.

9)    And for the love of God, NO MORE WATER BALLOONS, GLITTER GLUE OR BATHTUB TOYS. They are the bane of my existence. Enough said.

10) And sweet Jesus, please, please, please don’t bless us with another puppy this Christmas—at least not one that routinely gnaws on furniture, pees indiscriminately, consumes chew toys, destroys leashes (four and counting), eats holes in the carpet, nibbles on Frisbees, plastic Army men and Barbie stilettos, considers deer droppings a delicacy and is entirely bent on causing bodily harm during jaunts in the great outdoors—via our garrote-like tether coupled with a frenzied demeanor and the pirouette dance I have grown to know and loathe. I simply cannot handle another floppy-eared bundle of joy. Not now. Not ever.

11) I would, however, be thrilled to receive an indestructible dog leash dipped in Kevlar, perhaps, and maybe a ridiculously huge cardboard box. Empty, of course. The one you so graciously left for my brood three years ago was far and away the most fabulous item under the tree. It was the gift that kept on giving—till early spring, as I recall.

Sincerely,

Planet Mom

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Cat Chronicles, Doggie Diamonds, Holiday Hokum, Home for Wayward Toys, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Normal is Relative, Rantings & Ravings, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me, I Think I’ll Eat Worms

Purely for the sake of argument, let us just say that I have a difficult child. One that unwittingly, yet ever-so-skillfully, drives me to the brink of lunacy as a matter of course—or to the recesses of a closet, where the din cannot follow and some semblance of my sanity can be reclaimed.

Granted, I love this child—and for the past nine years I’ve appreciated her uniqueness, her special gifts and her uncanny ability to make my heart smile even on the darkest of days. Oddly enough, though, she has trouble finding her smile at times—which is the crux of what makes her difficult, methinks.

Indeed, the aforementioned child is periodically consumed by negativity, self-loathing and doubt—not to mention the belief that pretty much everything in her life is decidedly horrible. From hair that won’t remain perfectly parted and math facts that refuse to be summoned to the wrinkly socks and days of the week that ostensibly hate her, she is tormented by all that is even remotely frustrating to the average fourth grader. And although she hasn’t explicitly uttered the phrase, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…I think I’ll eat worms,” most assuredly, she has thought it.

Needless to say, the local worm populace and I have seriously entertained the notion of fleeing to a faraway place so as to escape from the torrent of intolerableness that lives and breathes here whenever PESSIMISM comes to call (i.e. the epic meltdowns during which the seething child in question stomps and shrieks and writhes about in a fit of rage—whenever failure and disappointment lurk, whenever flexibility is in desperate need, whenever the Homework Monster rears its ugly head, making demands and finding fault). Moreover, the above-mentioned creature is disturbingly obsessed with sameness, given to self-contempt, to catastrophizing and to hostility—practically imploding while tackling that which is deemed too difficult or smacks of change. And alas, much of the time I am unable to pull her from the wreckage—demonstrating (yet again) my woeful ineptitude as a parent.

To be sure, that is the point at which I feel like a failure, fumbling around in the dark for a perfectly hewn snippet of speech that promises to remedy all that is ailing. The right words, as it were, are elusive at best, buried beneath volumes of discourse and drivel that fail to deliver. Granted, I’m not the only parent on the planet faced with such a challenge, and I need only turn to Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to be reminded. Given the title’s enormous popularity, I know that I am not alone as I endure the doom-and-gloom assertions that riddle my child’s thinking: “My life is ENTIRELY HORRIBLE!”, “My socks ABSOLUTELY HATE ME!” and “I’ll NEVER, EVER understand math, Mom!”

But, I am happy to report, what I’ve spelled out in horrific detail exists only in the distant past. The meltdowns that occur beneath this roof in the here and now are very nearly manageable—mostly, I’d surmise, because the gods have been smiling upon me this past year. Indeed, so many individuals (near and far, through church, school and the like) have had a hand in leading us to a better place—so much so that I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for their efforts.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to employ the sage advice of Dr. Tamar E. Chansky, author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, which has been nothing short of a godsend. Translation: I devoured it three glorious times—gleaning something new and different with each successive read. In sum, it is a 295-page, 11-chapter gem-of-a-parental-resource jammed with a host of insightful observations, pragmatic strategies and user-friendly language that even I can exercise and understand. More specifically, my dog-eared copy (the one I keep at my bedside) has provided me with the tools necessary to better manage the daily barrage of “I’m stupid…my life is stupid…even my stupid hair is stupid” commentary to which I had grown far too accustomed. Further, Freeing Your Child has given me an abundance of skills—enough so that I might teach the smallish being I love so completely how to quell the angry beast within—even when I am not by her side, poised to pluck her from the unmerciful depths of negativity. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

That said, it’s likely the worms in this particular region are now safe—at least as it relates to human consumption.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks to the locals who’ve been indescribably helpful and revering Tamar Chansky and her invaluable book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Ode to Embarrassment

It has been said that success as a parent isn’t fully realized unless and until you’ve become an embarrassment to your children. Apparently, my husband and I have been making remarkable progress toward that end—inadvertent though our efforts might have been. We sing in the car. We make snapdragons talk. We hurl wadded socks at one another. We scream at the TV during tennis matches. And we impersonate Jeff Dunham’s puppet people far too often. All of which, evidently, our brood finds fairly disturbing—especially when friends come to call.

I saw flashes of it a few years ago, when Thing One and Thing Two entered the second grade. It was subtle at first—the rumblings of their discontent barely audible amidst the tumult of motherhood. At the time, their muted protests against the many and varied ways we caused them unspeakable embarrassment seemed trivial and unfounded. So I dismissed them, perhaps wrongly. Over time, however, their grumblings have become progressively louder and more insistent, swiftly sliding into the realm of that-which-is-difficult-to-ignore.

“Mom, stop sticking NOTES inside my lunch box. People will SEE them, you know. We talked about this last year, didn’t we? Oh, and don’t pack any more open-faced, peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwiches. So-and-so gets grossed out whenever I take a bite and then THE WHOLE TABLE looks at my stupid sandwich. It’s entirely horrible.”

That said, I’m starting to empathize with the smallish beings in question—who, for whatever reason of late, have adopted the survivalist mentality of Greg Heffley, the middle-schooler of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame. Translation: DON’T raise your hand. DON’T use the bathroom. DON’T call attention to yourself in any way, shape or form. And most importantly, DON’T let your mother become the primary source of your embarrassment. Needless to say, there are clearly defined parameters within which I must operate so that I might be viewed as something other than the bane of someone’s existence.

Evidently, the rules apply at the bus stop, too, where (Gasp!) veritable throngs of kids might actually witness the unthinkable: handholding, goodbye kisses, a neatly folded Kleenex being stuffed inside someone’s pocket, a Band-Aid being hurriedly applied (with or without a dab of Neosporin), a sock monkey and/or a certain stuffed armadillo being relinquished—lest they become inadvertent stowaways for the duration of the school day.

Apparently, I’m not allowed to wave anymore either—although I’ve recently appealed that decision and my suggestion of “waving with a little less enthusiasm” is somewhat promising. For that, I suppose I should be thankful, and perhaps more understanding.

After all, I remember being completely mortified as a teenager when my dad would—almost inconceivably—traipse around in his underwear while my date and I sat on the couch in stunned silence. Shortly thereafter, he’d emerge from the kitchen with leftovers in hand and a Cheshire cat smile upon his face. Of course, he’d then amble, unabashed, down the hallway from whence he came while I very seriously considered the merits of dissolving into nothingness. It’s entirely likely I make my daughters feel much the same way, although I have yet to traipse anywhere in my underwear.

I have, however, been known to read books aloud at the aforementioned bus stop, the practice of which has been met with a fair degree of resistance even though it’s an ideal time and place to do so. Okay, it’s been met with unequivocal refusals to listen and ardent demands that I cease and desist. “Mom, we’re not babies anymore. Everyone on the bus will make fun of us if they see that book in your hand because they’ll KNOW you’ve been reading it to us. It’s embarrassing, you know.” Woe is me.

It’s not just any old book either. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so miserable. The book in question happens to be The BFG, a drool-worthy classic by Roald Dahl—a gift from a perfectly wonderful third grade teacher who knew I’d find it practically irresistible as a read aloud. Only it won’t be happening at our bus stop—the place where sulkiness periodically rears its ugly head. Nope. Perish the thought.

But lo and behold, I recently learned that another perfectly wonderful individual at that very same school will soon be reading aloud that very same book to my kids in the library—a place where reading of practically every sort is celebrated. As it should be, methinks. With any luck, Thing One and Thing Two will forget themselves and drink in every delicious syllable.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (embarrassing my children on a regular basis).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Ode to Embarrassment, School Schmool, Smother May I?, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction