Category Archives: Road Trip

No Parking

I 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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Filed under Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Life is a Highway, Road Trip

In Cars

God apparently has a terrific sense of humor. I know this to be true because my husband and I are currently embroiled in one of the most intense parenting rites of passage known to man—teaching not one, but TWO teenagers to drive AT THE SAME TIME. Granted, Thing One and Thing Two didn’t get their permits on precisely the same day, but the point is moot since they’re both logging hours behind the wheel practically every waking moment. And because we’re horrible parents, we don’t let them use our pricey vehicles to log those hours. Instead we’ve insisted that they learn on a beater car—a 13-year-old Jeep that lacks both GPS and air-cooled seats. It doesn’t have a back-up camera either. Like I said, we’re horrible parents.

Truth be told, we chose this vehicle because it was the only one we could envision careening into a curb or grazing foliage without cringing. Confession: We’ve done a fair amount of cringing. Okay, a lot of cringing. And grabbing the wheel. And shoving our feet through the floorboards. And gripping the dashboard. And shouting indiscriminately. Despite having been down this path before with our oldest daughter, we’ve been thoroughly taxed by this particular event—perhaps because everything is multiplied by two. At any rate, I now know what my parents must have felt like when I reached the legal age to drive—equal parts panic and pride with a touch of exasperation thrown in for good measure. But in all fairness, our progenies have made marked progress in the months that have passed since they received their permits. Translation: It’s a lot less terrifying than it once was.

That is not to say that either teen has a death wish behind the wheel; it’s just that it appears as such whenever they back out of a driveway in the dark or attempt to merge into traffic on an expressway. On more than one occasion, we’ve used rock-paper-scissors to settle the issue of which one of us gets to ride shotgun and which one of us sits at home with crippling anxiety over the fate of our fledgling drivers on a road trip. The jury is still out on which experience is more unnerving. In my opinion, it’s a toss-up.

Admittedly, my husband is not one to worry himself to death or to fill his mind with thoughts of impending doom while one or both kids go driving with me. I, on the other hand, am a basket case since catastrophizing is what I do best. I imagine all that could go tragically wrong and then convince myself that it will indeed happen. So I’m always amazed when they pull in the driveway, completely unscathed. Of course, I try not to think about how it will be when they actually get their licenses and head out on the road alone. Thankfully, I can stalk them by using the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and at least “see” which ditch they’re in.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll continue to tolerate all the angst (mine) and the steep learning curve (theirs), keying on the fact that we’ll get through this somehow. That said, one of the most frustrating byproducts of the whole thing is the voluminous quantity of criticism our charges have spewed forth relative to OUR driving skills, or the lack thereof. Apparently we can’t do anything right—and even less than that ever since they’ve been enrolled in a Driver Training Course and know all there is to know about driving. What’s more, it has been suggested that they prefer driving with their instructor.

Evidently, we could yell less and praise more.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably nagging my kids about braking sooner, not crowding the centerline, yielding properly and/or checking that cussed blind spot we all know and loathe. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, Road Trip, Twins

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

Vacation Schmacation

I didn’t even want to go on a stupid cruise. People get seasick on cruises. Agoraphobic. Claustrophobic. Aquaphobic. Lilapsophobic. At times, they suffer the unmerciful wrath of foodborne illnesses, they become preoccupied with rogue sharks and ill-mannered pirates and they often lament a dearth of trees. At least I did. Miss the trees, that is. Worse yet, seafarers fall victim to that special brand of withdrawal—the one associated with not being able to send text messages obsessively or to check one’s email ad nauseam without shelling out obscene sums for Internet connectivity. Never mind the very real possibility of hitting an iceberg while sailing the ocean blue or, God forbid, capsizing in waters that are disturbingly deep.

Of course, we know the waters are disturbingly deep because the nifty little televisions in everyone’s impossibly small staterooms conveniently display the current depth (measured in thousands of feet!) in a continuous loop, along with a relief map of the western hemisphere illustrating how godawful far from land said ship is presently situated. After Day Two of our eight-night Bahamian cruise, I simply stopped dwelling upon such foolishness and tried to imagine Sponge Bob reposing in his pineapple under the sea, poised to save me lest I fall overboard. Naturally, I was convinced that someone in our party of six would fall overboard during the course of our epic journey to the tropics, or that my directionally-challenged children would at some point vanish inside the 14-story, 964 ft. vessel or that my husband would fall for an insanely gorgeous redhead with little or no neurotic tendencies. Who could blame him?

Aside from the voyage itself, I had no idea how involved preparing for a cruise could be. There were on-shore excursions to plan well in advance of the trip, most of which I stupidly accomplished in the wee hours of a hellacious night, a mere handful of days before we left. There was also the matter of transporting our motley crew (to include my parents, our youngest children and an embarrassment of luggage) through the uber-congested Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan’s 88th pier, a place where Conestoga wagons and horse manure would surely be frowned upon.

This, of course, led my dear husband to the pure genius of renting a 15-passenger van, heretofore known as our $832 carcass on wheels, the dilapidated nature of which cannot be overstated. As I recall, three of us might have been properly belted in, there was a mere suggestion of shock absorption present for the teeth-jarring journey and a repulsive pair of safety glasses beckoned to my brood from the backseat. Gak! But because the gods were smiling upon us, the air conditioner functioned flawlessly and each time we skittered across an exit ramp, we somehow failed to collide with a guardrail. And while the circus-like event of obtaining passports and the tirade-infused meltdown associated with my packing frenzy on the eve of our departure very nearly necessitated a small team of marriage counselors, my husband and I remain very much in love.

It’s true; I didn’t want any part of the cruise my parents so graciously bestowed upon us Christmas Day 2011. But somewhere, between the lazy catamaran ride to our dolphin encounter on Blue Lagoon Island and lolling in the pristine waters of the Caribbean at Castaway Cay with my family, I surrendered to the notion of leisure. No longer would my irrational fears about our summer vacation consume me. From that moment on, I refrained from inviting worry and dread into my otherwise harried world. Instead I let the warm embrace and gentle caress of the surf erase every trace of anxiety I had harbored since we boarded the Disney Magic in New York.

Granted, some of us did, indeed, become lost on that behemoth-sized boat. Reading glasses and hearing aids were misplaced, too (the latter of which were recovered), a tooth was broken at dinner, a seagull wreaked havoc at the beach and a rollercoaster at Disney went on the blink. But for the most part, our time together was imbued with goodness and punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances—many of which involve being pampered beyond all imagining.

I miss the chocolates on my pillow each night, the towel origami and crisp linens that awaited us as we returned from a myriad of daily exploits, the live entertainment, indescribably attentive servers and meals that qualified as delectable if not superb, the inimitable wedge of time I spent with my family that I will treasure forever and ever.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a wonderful vacation.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (channeling Sponge Bob). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Road Trip, Vacation Schmacation

Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Lessons from the Road

So much of parenthood is impossibly edifying—not the least of which involves taking interminable road trips with one’s brood. That said, I harvested volumes of information in the first ten days of August while traveling over hill and dale (read: EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTY-SEVEN MILES) through four states and the District of Columbia with kids in tow. If nothing else, the event was memorable—and, as I might have mentioned, wholly instructive.

What follows is an assemblage of cynical keen observations I made as we wended our way to and from various points of interest—the main purpose of which was to ravenously consume all manner of fascinating information in museums and whatnot, to relax on the shores of the Atlantic for a time and to reconnect as a family. Never mind that I felt the overwhelming desire to climb atop the roof of our hideously overloaded Jeep (which promised both solitude and serenity) more times than I’d care to admit. But I digress.

Lesson #1:  Occasionally the man I married (heretofore known as the Keeper of All Things Unnecessary and/or Captain Vacation) is actually right. Not only does he possess an uncanny knack for cramming more suitcases, sand buckets and breakfast cereal within the confines of a seven-passenger SUV than I previously considered possible, he also, apparently, can produce a fairly impressive number of essentials upon demand—things that I, stupidly, assumed we’d never need. Like bricks of jack cheese and a behemoth-sized jar of creamy peanut butter, a vat of aloe vera and the cushiest toilet paper in all the world. What’s more, he cleverly stowed away a functional nightlight, enough batteries for six people and legions upon legions of anti-boredom devices for Thing One and Thing Two. As if ennui would rear its ugly head on vacation. That’s just crazy talk.

Lesson #2:  Children will retain for future reference each and every snippet of colorful language (i.e. the entirety of shameless tirades, wholly inspired by road rage and the prevalence of idiot drivers), no matter how short-lived, inadvertent or completely warranted said utterances happen to have been. And despite a parent’s Herculean efforts to retrieve from the atmosphere what he or she shouldn’t have said, the point is largely moot. Fortunately, kids can and will dispense astonishingly sage advice in such instances: “Dad, it’s in the past now…it’s history. Move on.”

Lesson #3: Unless the gods are smiling, accord will not be reached with respect to radio stations for the duration of one’s trip. Youths will, however, become delirious with joy when they discover that a Michael Jackson CD has been purchased specifically for the occasion and clandestinely loaded into the player. After a dozen titles we continued to hear, “Wow, Dad! It must be Michael Jackson Day!! This station keeps playing his songs!!” Lesson #3A: Contrary to popular belief, parents don’t actually implode upon listening to Thriller 17 times in succession. Lesson #3B: Children don’t actually implode upon listening to their dads sing.

Lesson #4:  The number of pit stops a typical family of four will make on an excursion of the sort depicted above is directly proportional to the number of times someone demands to know if we’re there yet. Additionally, the license plate game, when played ad infinitum, can and will lead to threats of bodily harm. (i.e. “I’m going to make a HOOD ORNAMENT out of you if you even think of mentioning another cussed state…”) Furthermore, the frequency with which marital discord will erupt over frenzied searches for toll booth coinage and/or edible food is equivalent to the number of wrong turns lovely detours on any given journey.

Lesson #5:  Children will be completely mesmerized by that which they witness—to include goat sightings, roadkill (in various stages of decomposition), exceedingly inappropriate bumper stickers (which they will then feel compelled to read aloud) and a host of billboards that, among other things, inspire people to eat pickles. Seriously.

Lesson #6:  GPS navigation devices (i.e. the lady in the little box who talks to Dad and tells him where to go) will likely terrify children who stare at the screen in horror as the road appears to have been completely swallowed by water (i.e. as we pass through the largest bridge-tunnel in the world—one that spans 17 miles across the Chesapeake Bay). Distractions are golden in such instances: “Let’s estimate how many dolphins are pooping right now!”

Lesson #7:  Kids are duly fascinated by the notion that “GPS Lady knows exactly where we are!”, eventually morphing into Navigation Police—calling attention to the disturbing frequency with which “she” was right over the course of one’s vacation. Oy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (glad to be back in Billtown). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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It’s a Jeep Thing

The stuff over which my husband and I argue has reached an unprecedented level of absurdity in recent weeks. It used to be that such idiocy revolved primarily around domestic issues—like the cubic circumference of the vegetable chunks in our meatloaf, how one restores order (or doesn’t) to the Sunday newspaper and whether or not bed linens ought to be tucked beneath one’s mattress. Never mind becoming embroiled over small potatoes at home; evidently, we can’t even find accord within the confines of our cussed cars. More specifically, the contentious matter of windows up vs. windows down reared its ugly head for the first time in a long while—which is sort of surprising given that we own several vehicles equipped with windows and that we’ve been inclined to ride in the aforementioned vehicles together.

That said, I prefer having the stupid windows down when it’s roughly 8,000 degrees outside—the torrid wind whipping my hair and the sun baking my skin to a fine bronze hue, warming me to the pithy core of my soul. My counterpart, on the other hand, prefers to be encapsulated within a climate controlled sanctuary (read: a tundra-like holding-cell-on-wheels) for those who, apparently, are averse to fresh air and the freedom it embodies. Needless to say, this robs me of a brief, yet delicious, pleasure—because, of course, we can’t have it both ways. I can only imagine the sort of arguments we’d have if either of our Jeeps had roofs that could be removed altogether. Oy.

All things considered, it’s likely that I’m related to my dog who, given the opportunity (and opposable thumbs), would strap himself to the hood so that he might enjoy an even BREEZIER ride. It’s also entirely likely that I was the sort of kid who would foolishly shove her head outside a school bus window come June, delirious with joy over the prospect of summer. It’s also quite possible that I like roller coasters. And scooters. And those tomb-like boxes at the mall that produce hurricane force winds. But I digress.Of course, I can’t be sure from whence my affinity for traveling alfresco came, although I’d surmise that it has something to do with my childhood and the delectable summertime hours spent riding in the back of pickup trucks and boats, as well as atop my grandfather’s tractor across his 87-acre farm. And although I understand the reasoning behind the legislature that put an end to the era of transporting children in this manner (namely by means of pickup trucks), it saddens me to think of the generations upon generations who won’t get a chance to harvest fond memories like mine. Not to mention, it may breed colonies who, like my dear husband, worship and glorify air conditioning in cars. Ugh.

Much to my chagrin, it appears that my brood already identifies to some extent with the windows up mentality described above in horrific detail. That said, Thing One is fairly convinced that Frank, her beloved armadillo, will somehow sail out the window when we reach the expressway, while Thing Two has made it known to one and all that she completely loathes how the wind “wrecks” her hair and makes her cold. Good grief.

Making converts out of them now will be a supreme challenge and I may have to resort to a fiendish plan wherein I inform our children that their father once owned a Jeep CJ-7 Renegade AND LOVED IT, or better still—one involving the arrangement of a joy ride in a certain friend’s soft-top Jeep Wrangler. Not to worry, all interested parties will have ponytails if need be, sunscreen most definitely and the assurance that no disaster will befall their dear Frank, who will be buckled safely in the seat between them.

If the plan does, indeed, come to fruition, Mister I-Prefer-Air-Conditioning-and-Being-Comfortably-Numb will either have to overcome his disdain for touring in the open-air, or perhaps forego what promises to be an unspeakably enjoyable event—a Jeep Thing, as it were.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (tooling along on the road of life with my windows down and sunroof agape). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Road Trip, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction