Category Archives: “N” is for Nostalgia

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

I 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 Yankees 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 Converse All-Stars. 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 11-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 Wiffle ball 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 iPads in existence and not a single app involving demonic monkeys or angry birds 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). 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 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer

Oh, Shuttlecock!

My husband and I have a badminton net in our backyard currently, which is terrific, except that it required two master’s degrees, a fair amount of duct tape and an afternoon of misery to set it up. Confession: We probably could have used a marriage counselor or two, but none were available at the time. Truth be told, the net that is now up is a new one we purchased because we gave up on the possibility of ever successfully assembling the old one—last year’s model, dredged from the depths of our pitifully disordered garage.

Naturally, we didn’t accept defeat immediately upon learning that things weren’t going well. No one ever said we were gifted. Instead, we soldiered on, struggling in the heat for what seemed like an eternity, wrestling with a tangled mass of string and a net that was evidently too heavy for our flimsy poles. Never mind our pathetic arsenal of metal stakes—the ones that warped irreparably as we attempted to hammer them into the impenetrable ground. But because the gods were smiling ever so slightly, no one smashed a finger. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

After a time, it became apparent that we would fail in our quest to set up the wretched net. I’m not sure if it was our collective realization that the plastic poles would continue to bow and eventually snap no matter how hard we tried to prevent that from happening or if it was the way the net kept sliding to the ground despite our best efforts to tie the aforementioned string into knots at the top of each post. Hence, our ill-conceived need for duct tape. Note to self: It’s always a bad sign when, in desperation, one resorts to using duct tape. When all was said and done, perhaps we acknowledged that our labors would ultimately fail when we discovered the ends of the segmented poles were damaged beyond repair after having hit them several dozen times with a 5-pound mallet. Again, I can’t emphasize the degree of idiocy that was on display that day. In a word, it was epic.

As our hope began to fade and our bodies literally baked in the sun on that fateful afternoon, I began to wonder just how many neighbors were witnessing our exercise in futility as it unfolded there in the lawn in all its glory. It had to be comical to watch, much like a circus governed by Murphy’s Law—only there was a lot less skill and far more cursing. I’m quite sure a number of people chuckled at our profound stupidity as we darted back and forth between the poles like fools, eventually throwing the mangled stakes and jumble of string to the ground in disgust.

I never remember my dad having such issues, although it’s likely he did given that he wasn’t especially mechanical and often relied on a hammer to fix just about everything. As a kid I suppose I didn’t worry much about how the badminton net would be set up—only that it would be set up. Magically, it seemed, the net would appear in the lawn each summer. And it didn’t matter to me that it might have been crooked or drooping in the middle, although I can’t reliably recall that bit of detail. I only remember being immersed in the game for hours on end, whacking at shuttlecocks with my brother as night fell, fireflies blinking all around us, the cool grass beneath our bare feet. It was our summertime ritual.

Every kid needs a summertime ritual like that—even if it requires parents to lose their collective minds in the process. Looking back, I can fully appreciate the sacrifice my parents must have made, as well as my husband’s since he not only toiled in the yard, but also spent an entire afternoon in search of a reasonably priced replacement for our misfit-of-a-badminton-set. Seventeen phone calls, four stores and one meltdown later, he succeeded.

But it was so worth it.

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

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Summer’s Hot Mess

Never once have I fantasized about the dead of winter—until the summer became intolerable, that is. Time and again, I found myself yearning for the brutal cold of the Arctic, a frostbitten appendage or, at the very least, vicariously catapulting myself forward to the misery of January in Pennsylvania, snow shovel in hand. Usually such asinine ideas struck me first thing in the morning, when I left my beloved ceiling fan behind and stepped from an air conditioned haven into the soupy atmosphere that described much of June and July. To my mind, visiting the great outdoors this summer was like taking an extended vacation to the tropics, minus the margaritas or anything remotely fun.

That said, the suffocating heat that plagued the Northeast for what seemed like an eternity made me seriously consider relocating to the far reaches of Saskatchewan. The fact that I’d be a world away from the current political circus made the idea of moving to Canada even more appealing than avoiding the inevitability of heatstroke.

I could come back to the States when the climate and the country, collectively, returned to its senses. In all likelihood.

Aside from pipe dreams that involved vacating the region, on more than one occasion in the past 100 or more days I actually entertained the notion of crawling inside my freezer, where I could comfortably nestle within the confines of the ice cube bin or perhaps curl up next to the frozen Delmonicos—anything to avoid sweating like a beast 24/7. As I recall, just standing outside doing absolutely nothing (except trying to draw breath) was unbearable, let alone attempting to mow the lawn or lug the trash to the curb. Forget the scorching sun on my skin as I walked around the block with my dogs—their meaty tongues limp, their pitiful feet dragging in protest. Even standing beneath shade trees, venting to the neighbors about the godawful weather, was insufferable. Perhaps even more unnerving was my inability to tell whether I was feeling a wave of heat rising from the asphalt or just another hot flash.

Menopause is GREAT, and so is this summer—said no middle-aged woman in the northern hemisphere.

And the PURE AGONY that crawling inside a hot car at midday brought me—I can’t begin to describe that fresh hell, except to say that baking to my core inside a kiln might have been a more pleasurable experience. Nor can I adequately express how uncomfortable it was to wilt in a church pew or crowded stadium, surrounded by people desperately fanning themselves and doing everything in their power to avoid touching anyone else—because, of course, touching someone else would lead to spontaneous combustion. Probably.

In all honesty, I can’t remember a summer so horrendous. We had bona fide heat waves that lasted for a few weeks when I was a kid. And they were downright brutal—especially without any air conditioning ANYWHERE. It’s true. But month after month of feeling as if I were a mile from the sun—day into night, night into day? Not so much. No stretch of weather back then made me wish I could spend all afternoon making snow angels in the tundra. My brother and I wiled away the hours at the creek or poolside, riding bikes or in the bed of a pickup truck, the sun on our faces and wind in our hair. Or better still, we planted ourselves in front of a raspy box fan, perfectly entranced by its ability to distort our voices into something decidedly alien.

Back then, summer was fun—not something to be endured or wished away. With any luck, next summer will be like those of my youth—one to remember with a smile.

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

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Rantings & Ravings, Vacation Schmacation

Motherhood Anew

When I first became a mother, it felt as though time stood still, my days and nights never-ending, woven together into an unfamiliar tapestry that defined my upended world. I remember thinking the infant stage would endure forever and that I would surely be driven mad in the process. Sleep was a commodity I craved with fervor beyond all imagining, as were hot showers without the constant worry of being responsible for a tiny human 24/7.

My mother, of course, assured me that the sleepless nights, inconsolable crying and umbilical cord awfulness would eventually abate. Things would get better and my life could be reclaimed to a degree. A new normal would emerge in due time, largely contingent upon my child developing some level of independence. Turns out, she was right.

Granted, as my oldest daughter grew, my days were still filled to capacity and mostly blurred at the edges, although at the core they were remarkable and good, making me grateful to be a mother. Again and again this happened as another child joined the fold and I reminded myself that the inaugural stages only felt like a train wreck. I would muddle through, somehow. Motherhood would not consume me.

Eventually there would be sand castles and building blocks, baby dolls and baking cookies, blanket forts and, of course, endless summers in pursuit of the yellow-green flashes of fireflies. Days would be spent creating entire villages with sidewalk chalk and devouring favorite books together nestled on the couch—hours of being present with my children, moments that I now struggle to remember in perfect detail. If I sift through old photos and squint hard, however, I can often return to what was—tethered to a time and place when I was a different kind of mother.

At the time, I never imagined longing for those things, assuming they’d always be there—the books, the sandbox, the fireflies and so on. I hadn’t considered that a day would come when my children no longer crawled into my lap for a story or begged me to build a teetering tower with blocks or allowed me to rock them to sleep. Back then it almost seemed a bit inconvenient, having to stop what I was doing and be present with my daughters, never mindful that eventually there would be “a last time” for engaging with them in that way.

I often wonder which book was the last to be read aloud. I have no way of knowing, but I suspect it happened at the bus stop, a place where we turned hundreds of pages together as we sat on the curb waiting for the school bus to groan to a halt. And when did we last chase fireflies, our bare feet skimming the cool grass at dusk, mayonnaise jars in hand? I can’t reliably recall, although it might have been the same year I helped them climb trees or build a snow fort in the backyard.

By design I suppose, childhood has a season—an indeterminate yet finite number of days we get to watch our progenies move through the stages of development. If we’re lucky, we remember to etch upon our minds the moments of pure perfection immersed within the tumult, when time is suspended and we can drink in the joy we happen to experience. So many ordinary moments as a parent wind up being extraordinary because we remembered to actually live them—to savor the goodness in the midst of madness.

If nothing else, this is the advice I’d like to impart to my children—especially to my oldest, who just became a mother. And although she struggles to get enough sleep and spends far too much time doubting herself, I know she feels a wealth of gratitude and has embraced the concept of unconditional love, as has everyone who has ever nurtured something.

Needless to say, I am beyond grateful that I’ll get to relive so many of the moments that make motherhood special—even if I’m called Grandma.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, revisiting motherhood as a newly minted grandmother. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Gratitude, Leaving the Nest, motherhood

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It’s possible my husband wept when we sold our 11-year-old Jeep recently. I’m not sure if it was because he regrets no longer having third-row seating or because he misses the French fries that the new owners will surely find beneath said seating. At any rate, he had what could only be described as an unhealthy fixation with that particular SUV. It’s been like that with all his vehicles, actually. Mine, too, for that matter. I don’t know why, but I get attached to my cars as if they’re people. Call me crazy, but I miss them when I trade them in or sell them outright—even if the vehicle in question is older than dirt and makes a roaring sound that no mechanic on the planet could successfully remedy. That said, there is a certain sadness associated with letting go, although it often makes little sense.

Sometimes it’s the intangible things that I miss most—like personality, charm or a degree of sex appeal. Case in point, my Mini Cooper always looked as if it wore a smile, just for me. And I thought its black rims and racing stripes were slimming, if nothing else. Other times I long for tangible features my cars exemplified, such as its handling or color. Lord knows I loved the fact that three out of the last five vehicles I’ve owned have taken corners like a dream and have been members of the beige family—a hue perfectly suited to hide months of road grime and mud. Oddly enough, my kids were thrilled to learn that the majority of our vehicles had deep cup holders in which they were inclined to deposit an embarrassment of rocks they harvested from all over the East Coast. They were also quite fond of moonroofs and, more recently, seating that could accommodate half the marching band.

On occasion, I suppose people become attached to their cars because of sheer frugality. My husband, for instance, absolutely adored his 1960 Chevy Bel Air because it was a good beater car and he only paid $200 for it. Of course, he lovingly patched rusty holes in its side and fender with masking tape and a vat of Bondo to lengthen its life and, by extension, to continue their bromance. Apparently, there were also gaping holes in the floorboard and his baseball bats were known to have fallen through on more than one occasion. Steel plates were welded into place so they could ride off into the sunset for over 100,000 miles. True story.

In fact, several of his cars logged more than 100,000 miles—a testament to his undying love for the vehicles in question and an unwillingness to let go. Like so many people, we get comfortable in our marriages to our 4-wheeled darlings. They “fit us” like no other and we come to know their souls—or so it’s rumored. Tiny dings or scratches in the paint get overlooked, as does fading and wear and tear of the upholstery. As the years go by, I can only hope that my husband continues to overlook my flaws as readily as he does his dear vehicles’. The jury is still out on that one.

As strange as it sounds, my heart skips a beat when I happen to pass a vehicle that resembles one of mine I recently sold or traded. I wonder how its new owner is treating it and whether or not he or she avoids potholes and brakes for squirrels. If it was a stick shift, I worry about the state of its clutch and gears. If it was a 4X4, I imagine it plowing through snowdrifts—without me.

When all is said and done, I suppose I have to learn to cope with the fact that I can’t keep every vehicle I’ve ever owned. At some point the relationship has to die. But on the bright side, I look forward to bonding with the new cars I adopt—recognizing that eventually we’ll slip into the comfortable phase of knowing each other, inside and out.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, missing my beloved cars—except for the minivan I loathed with all my being. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Captain Quirk, Road Trip

The Cardboard Box: A Primal Refuge

www.melindawentzel.comSome days I just want to crawl inside a cardboard box fort and hide from the rest of the world—like I did when I was nine or ten. Prince and David Bowie are dead. Harper Lee and Alan Rickman, too. Also disturbing, at least on some level: Donald Trump is running for president and McDonald’s chocolate chip frappés are officially extinct. These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures—like curling up in the fetal position within the comfort and safety of a cardboard-walled fortress, effectively separated and insulated from the madness outside that might otherwise devour us. At least that’s what I feel compelled to do when times get tough—revisit the glorious cocoon of my youth.

Back then, the only thing that came close to the impressive nature of a fort crafted from a discarded cardboard box was a fort whose roof was built with an embarrassment of blankets—a sprawling haven that encompassed an entire room, incorporating clothespins, stacks of books, heavy ashtrays and every available piece of furniture that would further the effort—that of making it somehow more expansive, inspired largely by a Manifest Destiny of sorts. But I digress.

I remember the birth of many a cardboard refuge as if it were yesterday. Once in a great while, there would be a sizeable purchase in our household, like a new refrigerator, washer or dryer. Naturally, this produced as a side benefit a most enormous box—a gift from the gods to my brother and me. Somehow said box made its way down the narrow staircase and into the middle of our basement rec room. Like maniacal hunters we circled the beast—scrutinizing every inch of its carcass, celebrating our good fortune and anticipating the ritualistic carving that would soon take place.

This, of course, meant that our mother would allow us to use steak knives to transform the aforementioned box into a masterpiece, making us drunk with joy while effectively violating one of the prime tenets of parenthood—the one involving sharp objects and underdeveloped motor skills. Inherently she understood that using a table knife was decidedly futile, and that scissors were pretty much worthless as a tool for such an undertaking. So we’d hack and saw through the cardboard with glee, inch-by-inch, completely unsupervised—the ever-present element of danger adding exponentially to our collective delight.

Not surprisingly, we were fatigued by the enormity of the task yet thrilled to be making progress toward our shared vision. Never mind that blisters formed on our fingers, cardboard dust particles filled the air and jagged scraps littered the floor. It was a small price to pay in the name of creating something larger than ourselves. There in the musty cellar, whiling away the hours, we carved windows of every shape and size, escape hatches and skylights galore, doors that would actually swing open and shut and at least one rectangular slot for assorted mail and other important deliveries—like Mister Salty pretzel sticks and wads of Monopoly money. Also essential, a pathetic-looking doorbell we sketched with a big, fat Magic Marker.

Adding to the nest-like quality of our creation, we sometimes hauled blankets and pillows inside or fashioned curtains out of dishcloths we swiped from the kitchen. Likewise, a slew of books and LOOK Magazines would find their way to the interior, dropping to the floor one by one, having been shoved through the mail slot in rapid succession.

Indeed, our fort was a beautiful thing and there was as much joy in constructing it as there was in playing with it—especially when pets were coaxed within. Much like the mountain of dirt in our backyard—the one that occupied my brother and me for the better part of our summers, inundated with more plastic Army men and Matchbox cars than we could reliably count—our cardboard box forts were semi-permanent fixtures that would live in our memories forever.

Looking back, I can’t imagine surviving childhood without either.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, tempted to resurrect the cardboard box fort of my youth. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, In the Trenches of Parentville

Say Yes to the Dress. Maybe.

www.melindawentzel.comI have not-so-fond memories of my high school prom, most of which stem from having worn a dress that felt as if it were lined with burlap. It was a white, floor-length eyelet gown, cinched unmercifully at the waist, making the thought of dancing almost unbearable. Never mind walking, talking and breathing. However, not going to the dance was out of the question. I went because all my friends would be there. I went because the hype leading up to the event was intoxicating. I went because prom night was a rite of passage—apparently, so was wearing obscenely uncomfortable shoes and stuffing myself in a dress that was two sizes too small.

Cutoffs and Converse sneakers were more my speed. If only I could have convinced the Prom Committee to allow everyone to dress as if they were going to a backyard barbecue, not a stodgy affair where herds of adolescents would spend much of the evening shuffling around in stiff formalwear, feeling both awkward and insecure. Or maybe that was just me.

The only thing less enjoyable than the prom itself was the gown-shopping marathon my mom and I endured beforehand, my angst superseded only by my negativity. I remember thinking I would never find the perfect dress, because it didn’t exist. Designers, it seemed, didn’t have flat-chested prom-goers in mind when they created styles for the masses. Instead, the racks were spilling over with plunging necklines and slinky, strapless numbers I couldn’t wear on a bet—not without hours of alterations and/or divine intervention. Lo and behold, we stumbled upon a gown that would work. Besides, I reasoned, I only had to endure it for a few hours. Then I could ditch it for jeans and a t-shirt—my garb of choice. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what I did.

So when my youngest daughter announced that she would need a prom dress this year I was speechless, my mind swimming with enough pessimism for six people. But, I reminded myself, she is a different kind of creature—a fun-loving free spirit, one who thrives on adventure and feels comfortable in her own skin, worlds away from me. That much I know.

That said, virtually everything about our shopping excursion was unlike my own of decades ago. For starters, we found heels long before we looked for a gown and she systematically broke them in over a period of weeks. On the day we finally set out to find a dress, my daughter brought the aforementioned shoes along so she could put them on to see how they looked with each gown she tried. Brilliant.

We then proceeded to haul massive amounts of silky, sequined whateverness into the dressing room, banking on the premise that more was better. Itchy tags and tangled hangers be damned. Despite the fact that we both fell in love with the very first gown (in which she looked stunning), she soldiered on—just in case she would discover something even more irresistible. There were black ones and red ones. Dresses without straps. Dresses without backs. Each one distinctively elegant. Each one with its own special charm, making the decision-making process fairly impossible.

After what seemed like forever, we were able to narrow it down to two favorites. And when I say “we” I mean my daughter and myself, an exceedingly helpful sales woman, a handful of patrons who happened to be in the vicinity and hordes of my daughter’s friends who offered instantaneous feedback via social media. Who knew that shopping for a prom dress would necessitate input from one’s Snapchat tribe, which apparently was present in the dressing room? I kid you not.

Needless to say, it’s a different world than it was some 30 odd years ago. Stranger still, we actually had fun searching for the perfect dress—so much fun, that we bought BOTH of her favorites. And because the gods were smiling, they were remarkably affordable, surprisingly comfortable and oh-so-beautiful.

Already it’s looking as if she won’t need decades of prom-related therapy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, gearing up for Prom Night. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Spring Fling