Category Archives: motherhood

Dear Departed Summer

I am a poster child for parenting ineptitude. And at no time does it become more painfully apparent than during the first few weeks of school—when I look back over the vast expanse of the summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. In spite of having the best of intentions in mid-June—with a host of events cleverly sandwiched between swim lessons, haircuts and camps galore—by the tail end of July I found myself desperately trying to cram every ounce of family fun and spontaneity into what was left of summer. The fun I promised we’d have before sliding headlong into September.

Inexcusably, it is the epitome of who I am and what I do when it comes down to the wire—when a finite number of squares remain on the calendar during which anything and everything deemed truly memorable and drool-worthy to a nine-year-old can, ostensibly, be orchestrated. In a perfect world, that is. So like a madwoman I schedule sleepovers and movie nights, plan picnics and pencil in parades, visit ball parks and theme parks and, of course, stumble over myself to accept gracious invitations to friends’ homes and pools and lakeside cottages oozing with wonderfulness.

Conversely, I’ve tolerated a tent in my back yard for twenty-three days running—one that promises to leave a hideous, yellow square where a lovely patch of green grass used to grow. A smallish tent in which I spent an interminable night embracing all that roughing it entails, from mosquito bites and cramped quarters to a lumpy earthen mattress and a less-than-endearing quality of dankness I feared would cling to me forevermore.

Eau de Musty Tent, methinks.

I suppose, however, that it was better than a) dealing with the monstrosity-of-a-teepee that monopolized my lawn last summer b) disappointing my progenies who insisted that I camp out with them and c) the insufferable conditions that my husband (aka: Father of the Year) endured while attempting to sleep on an impossibly narrow and horribly unyielding lounge chair parked squarely in front of the zippered door. As luck would have it, he was uniquely situated and perfectly qualified to shepherd those who felt compelled to visit the loo in the dead of night. Good thing. My only lament: failing to photograph him in all his glory—mouth agape, flashlight in hand, his body entombed within a sleeping bag, his head, poking out the top, completely enshrouded within a camouflage mask I had never before seen, arms entirely enveloped by a giant mesh sack he apparently dragged from the bowels of the garage in a moment of great inspiration (aka: makeshift mosquito netting).

That said, I think it’s safe to say that as parents we at least showed up for our kids this summer. Some of the time anyway. We took them places and did things together. We tolerated their abiding love of toads, their penchant for building forts, their overwhelming desire to climb to the tops of trees and their inexplicable fascination with road kill. Furthermore, we tried not to trouble our silly heads over the health and well-being of our lawn as well as the health and well-being of those who spent much of August snowboarding down our grassy front terrace. Nor did we dwell on the wanton fearlessness with which they careened hither and yon on their scooters. Barefooted, no less. So we can feel slightly good, I guess—having directly or indirectly contributed to the wellspring of memories gathered over the fleeting, albeit delicious, chunk of summer.

Looking back I now see why it was likely a success—not because of the fancy-schmanciness of this or that celebrated event, but because the extraordinary lives deep within the ordinary. It’s not the double play in the bottom of the ninth they’ll remember, it’s the delicious medley of peanuts and popcorn wafting through the air, the distinctive shade of blue on the tongues of all who drank icy-cold, blue raspberry drinks on that sweltering summer night and the tinny clang that echoed throughout the stadium as cheering fans beat upon the aluminum bleachers like drums. Similarly, it’s not the glorified picnic with throngs of people, platters of deviled eggs and eleventeen varieties of potato salad that necessarily makes a lasting impression. It’s the novelty, and perhaps spontaneity, of having cucumber sandwiches and slices of watermelon on a wobbly card table in the midst of summer fun. “Thanks, Mom, now we don’t have to stop playing!”

Moreover, I’d daresay that fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. That a symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. That a hammock is very nearly medicinal, as is the buttery succulence of sweet corn, the shade of an oak tree and the canopy of fog at sunrise as it hangs in the valley—silent and still.

Dear Departed Summer, it’s likely I’ll miss your fireflies most—and the barefoot children who give chase, drinking in the moment, alive with pleasure, racing across your cool, slick grasses without end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and desperately searching for the rewind button).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, motherhood, School Schmool

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 Twitter feed 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 with 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 artificial 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).

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood, Welcome to My Disordered World

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, Gratitude, Me Time, motherhood, Unplugged

Ban on Boredom

Seems like just yesterday that my youngest kids were devouring their eleventh summer…

There is a curious bit of art that sits upon my friend’s kitchen windowsill, poised, I assume, to oversee the rinsing of casserole dishes and the occasional filling of a vase for wildflowers that were simply too beautiful not to be plucked from the earth and brought indoors. The art in question, a tiny square of paper featuring the word BORED rendered variously in ink roughly 197 times, was never intended as such. Instead, it served as a perfectly respectable outlet for my child’s not-so-respectable rage that stemmed from having to endure that which she deemed tiresome if not intolerable.

Naturally, I shared this quietly defiant act with my friend. Because that’s what friends do; they spread the joy that can only be appreciated by those who have worn similar shoes. Confession: On occasion, I am summarily amused when my children wrestle with frustration—like when the lid on the pickle jar won’t budge, the dog refuses to relinquish Barbie doll whateverness from his insatiable maw, the 437th dive into the pool is still a cussed bellyflop. Of course, I know it’s wrong to laugh at the expense of my brood, but I have no shame. The endearing allegiance to the misery of boredom that now rests upon the aforementioned windowsill—a beacon of impassioned self-expression, as it were—is no exception.

What makes the story more compelling, however, is the fact that the child who created said homage to indignation is almost never bored, let alone angry about being bored. Indeed, her wrath was such a rarity, I desperately sought to preserve it—with a perfectly ornate little frame. One for my friend. One for myself. So that I might revisit that anomaly-of-a-moment during which my dear progeny succumbed to the evils of ennui, lashing out at the universe, or at anyone who might be inclined to glance over her shoulder as she stewed in silence, wielding a poison pen. Thankfully, said resentment was short-lived. Soon she was back to her old self again, unearthing fun and fascination at every turn.

Even still, I can appreciate the sentiment shared by so many of our impressionable youth—their collective and decidedly whiny mantra forever emblazoned upon their minds if not upon their lips. However, I identify more closely with what that means for moms and dads in the trenches. “I’m bored” is perhaps one of the most dreaded phrases a parent can encounter in the thick of July, or anytime for that matter, inviting panic into an otherwise delicious wedge of life.

So I suppose I should consider myself fortunate, as my charges rarely utter the phrase. I credit my ability to convince all three daughters, early on, that “bored” was a bad word. In fact, using it in a sentence was expressly forbidden in our household for a very long time. As a result, Thing One and Thing Two are currently devouring their eleventh summer, as if every waking moment was imbued with rainbow sprinkles (with the exception of time spent on their math workbooks—the ones my uber-parent psyche demanded they complete by September).

At any rate, the thrum of midsummer now rings in our ears. Squirt guns and sprinklers. Fireflies and Frisbees. Hammocks and hot dogs.

Boredom-schmoredom.

Never mind the ever-present nature of barefoot children, lemonade and laughter. Treks to Grandma’s house, too—the place where we ditch our electronics and discover the simple joy of checkers, the allure of sundrenched decks and sleepy porches, not to mention the inherent beauty of being still, if only for a time.

That said, a recent trip to our friends’ lake house epitomized July’s ban on boredom. The kids in question had at their disposal a wealth of toys and sailing opportunities, but instead chose to frolic around in the lake, dig in the sand and harvest more freshwater clams than I’ve ever seen, completely absorbed in their own little world, long after darkness fell and the embers of the fire turned to ash.

Much to my delight, boredom never once reared its ugly head.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (devouring every scrumptious bit of July, National Anti-Boredom Month). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

The Graduates

Seems like only yesterday that they were graduating from third grade…

As a parent, I love this particular wedge of time—the infinitely delicious weeks of May during which I savor the end of the school year because I’ve finally gotten the hang of the wretched routine and have come to grips with the academic expectations—even those involving the dreaded partial-products algorithm that made me feel woefully inadequate. For me (this year especially), it’s been a perfectly scrumptious segment of the calendar, nestled comfortably between the Land of Third Grade, during which fond memories have been gathered like seashells since the early part of September, and the celebrated Death of Structure (i.e. the warmth and wonderfulness that is summer). We’re on the cusp of something grand and glorious after all, and in the name of preparing for the season of suntans and sweet corn, things have loosened up considerably—or maybe it’s just me.

Come Memorial Day, I feel like less of a tyrant and more like someone who takes the inordinately-asinine-compulsion-to-stress-over-homework mantra and sets it on a shelf for a time, allowing her brood to linger outside long after the sun has set and the crickets have begun their nightly serenade. Bedtimes have been stretched to a shameful degree for weeks on end and an embarrassment of S’mores have already been consumed while crouched on the deck around a crackling fire. The only thing missing is the intermittent flashes of fireflies along the thickets and darkish places in the lawn.

Indeed, June is calling—and the long-awaited season of graduation is nigh. Time for looking forward to what the next chapter might bring. Time to reflect upon the wealth of knowledge and skill acquired while leading up to said monumental event. Time to swell with pride over the many and varied accomplishments that have been realized throughout the journey to fruition.

By the same token, ourresident “graduates” have embraced the very same notion, boldly stepping into the realm of that which is decidedly new and different—although it has nothing whatsoever to do with progressing to the fourth grade. Oddly enough, it involves bathing—or, more correctly, showering. Because that’s what they do now. They shower, “…like big kids, Mom,” having renounced completely the less-than-appealing, wholly contemptible idea of washing up in anything suggestive of a tub. “Baths are for babies, Mom. Don’t you know anything?!”

Ironically, their collective sentiment has failed to fill me with a sense of gratification, joy or the heady rush of deliverance I fully expected. I thought I’d be beside myself with glee, having no more deluges with which to deal (read: a profusion of ungainly elbows paired with WAY too many water-filled cups and saucers and bottle-like vessels poised to fall upon ill fated floors—despite the delivery of impassioned lectures on such topics). I assumed I’d be thrilled, having been relieved of the loathsome duty of fishing the remnants of broken balloons and gobs of Barbie hair from the drain. What’s more, I was fairly certain there would no longer be a need to curb tub-related hostilities among the aforementioned warring factions—which would have made me slightly euphoric on any other day.

Although on this day I find myself lamenting the change. Wishing things were as they used to be. Mourning the passage of time and the birth of independence as it relates to that inexorable desire to be grown. Stupidly, I miss the rubber duckies. And the obscene quantities of suds. And the mermaids with their lithesome tails. And the gnarly dinosaurs, frozen hideously in mid-pose, their mouths agape, now languishing next to a half-empty bottle of lavender-scented whateverness. I long for a chance to eavesdrop as they sail ships hither and yon and sip tea with lizards and lions, completely engrossed in another world. Part of me regrets that I ever grew tired of washing their tangled manes and scrubbing their soiled bodies. That said, I wish I could lather their bushy heads once more—shaping and molding foamy peaks and Washingtonian-inspired dos. “Soon, they’ll want to return to the bath,” I reasoned. “The boats and bubbles and fish that squirt will call to them unremittingly.”

But that day never came. Smitten are they with the almighty shower—the shower that from the very start promised to be a dreadful mistake (said the optimist).

I worried first about the water—as any good fusspot would. Were my children capable of remembering (and applying!) the 643 crucial bits of information I had given them about the big, scary on/off knob, adjusting the temperature (Gasp!) and shutting the damn door so as not to flood the place? Had they fully comprehended the horribleness of getting water up one’s nose or soap in one’s eyes? WOULD THEY EVEN KNOW HOW TO BREATHE BENEATH SAID TORRENTS?! And what of the hazards of slipping and choking on water droplets and being swallowed up by the soul-sucking monstrosity-of-a-drain?! Had any of my sage advice (and crazed thoughts) resonated?!

In hindsight, there were other things with which I should have concerned myself. Namely: Showers that would never end, showers that involved sinful quantities of soap (upon floors and walls and every inch of the fools in question), showers during which people would forget to wash, showers that included doodles and notes and high-fives upon glass doors, showers that became tandem in the name of saving the planet, showers that incorporated spirited games of soap hockey (don’t ask), showers that featured tiny wads of toilet tissue that became fused to the ceiling forevermore.

Indeed, they’ve graduated. Ugh.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the passage of time).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood