Category Archives: “S” is for Shame

Season’s Greetings

Sending out Christmas cards is an exercise in futility for me—mostly because I’m a poor tool. When it comes to choosing a family picture to include on one of those trendy postcards created online with favorite snapshots and heartfelt messages, I fall down on the job every time. Never mind that I’m the mom and supposed to have my shit together. Clearly, I don’t. Each year it seems to be a supreme challenge to find a recent photo in which everyone is smiling appropriately, having a good hair day and happens to be facing the camera. And since my husband is notorious for blinking in practically every picture we take, the struggle is undeniably real.

“Open your eyes!” I shout after the eleventy-seventh failed attempt to capture the moment.

“My eyes are open!” my husband invariably defends.

Then, of course, I’m forced to thrust my iPhone beneath his nose in order to prove that his eyes were indeed shut. The four of us then rearrange ourselves to fit within the frame of the camera once more and repeat the insanity until the kids flatly refuse to humor me by posing at all. They’re teenagers, so that goes with the territory, I suppose. But they’re also uniquely gifted in the selfie department. Me, not so much. So when they max out on the exasperation scale and thereby abandon the cause, the opportunity for preserving a treasured Kodak Moment dies yet again.

Thanks to Tish O’Connor and her incredible photographic talents, however, I was able to include some beautiful senior pictures of our daughters on our Christmas card. There were literally hundreds to choose from. I somehow managed to take a decent snapshot of our dog and included that, too. But, of course, I was reminded of my shortcomings, having forgotten to add our cat to the mix. A cardinal sin.

“How could you forget Binx, Mom?! He’s family.”

I honestly have no clue how I could have possibly forgotten the cat, given that he’s constantly underfoot or demanding that I share my Cheetos with him. Go figure.

And because the universe apparently hates me, only half my head shows in the photo I decided to use of our family this year. Confession: I did it last year, too. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to edit the stupid thing to perfectly fit within the constraints of the aforementioned trendy online greeting card company. I had one job—to adjust our photo appropriately so that each individual would be entirely contained within an eight sq. inch rectangle. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. What’s more, I failed to recognize that envelopes weren’t included in my order. So in a desperate attempt to remedy the situation and make it look as though I knew what I was doing all along, I purchased NINE boxes of holiday cards—ones that will house the photo card in question (with any luck).

No one ever said I was gifted, just crafty.

On the bright side, Elton John is pictured photobombing us. Well, he’s not actually photobombing us. His picture was plastered on the side of a truck that we happened to be standing in front of while attending one of his concerts this past fall. A good time was had by all so I felt it necessary to gather the whole crew together for a family snapshot to commemorate the event.

I’m not sure how Elton would feel about being on our holiday greeting card, but I’m guessing he’d be pleased—especially since I didn’t cut his head off with my pitiful editing skills.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably addressing Christmas cards. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Family Affair, Holiday Hokum, motherhood, Ode to Embarrassment

Refrigerator Art: The Sequel

Well the inevitable has happened. I’ve gone to the dark side of home décor once more and I can’t begin to express my deep regret over my failings. In sum, I’ve sullied the surface of my newish refrigerator with more pictures than I can reliably count and made it a veritable shrine to my favorite people and pets in the world. Granted, it’s taken me five long years to amass such an assortment and I’ve only added said pictures to one side of the fridge, but some would estimate that because of my actions, I am roughly six magnets short of reversing the polarity of the earth.

Truth be told, I can’t help myself. The urge to display inspiring quotes and adorable photos (especially of my new granddaughter) upon the aforementioned surface is simply too powerful. It’s more of a compulsion actually, a sickness for which there is no remedy—except maybe to add more pictures and magnets to the spaces where there are none.

I’m sure my family thought I was fairly deranged when I promised to remove every solitary photo as well as my kids’ fledgling artwork from our old fridge and put them into permanent storage as soon as we remodeled our kitchen and replaced that fridge with a sexier, stainless steel model—one that resists scratches and hides fingerprints. They knew how I loved what could only be described as a glorious 28 cubic foot canvas—a 3-D masterpiece that was undeniably the focal point of our kitchen for years. I remember when visitors stood in front of it in awe, marveling at our artistic flair—or maybe they were perfectly horrified. I can’t be sure.

At any rate, it was a sight to behold and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of what I had created, one memorable image at a time. Each time I walked into our kitchen, I was reminded of favorite vacations, beloved pets and people—ordinary moments frozen in time. Of course, there was also a giant calendar, photo booth zaniness, a handful of words that my kids had spelled with magnetic letters when they were preschoolers and pictures that depicted important milestones, tangibly marking the passage of time. In every sense of the phrase, it was a snapshot of our journey as a family.

Somehow I wanted to hold onto the special moments, if only until the images faded and curled at the edges. I liked looking back at my children cruising around the house in nothing but diapers, the early days of kindergarten, making snowballs with Grandma in the backyard, carving pumpkins on the deck, sitting on a swing with their big sister. In that way, I suppose I could relive history. Almost.

Not surprisingly, before I removed everything, I took several pictures of the old fridge in all its glory to preserve the memory for posterity’s sake. I then prominently displayed one of those photos on the new fridge, perhaps in an effort to tether the old to the new, bridging the gap between what was then and what is now. Some might say I have issues with letting go. When it comes to pictures, I suppose that’s true. I‘ve got a garage full of family photos to prove it—generations worth.

Maybe we should invest in more refrigerators so I have someplace to put them.

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

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Normal is Relative, Refrigerator Art, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Wild Thing

My dog has a problem and, by extension, I have a problem. Basically he’s too high-strung and could probably benefit from psychotherapy of some sort. Don’t laugh; our vet suggested that could be arranged. I realize that small, yappy dogs are characteristically excitable and, at times, unpredictable, but Jack is ridiculously so. Anyone who has met him knows the awful truth—he’s either Jekyll or Hyde. There is no in-between. Granted, he is loveable to us not to mention adorable—especially after he’s been groomed, his hair cottony soft and white as snow. Although he is a mere 14-pound ball of fluff our family has adored (and even spooned) for more than a decade, he has another side—one that is decidedly unhinged.

The trouble is, we never know which side of him will manifest when he meets someone out and about—thereby making me beyond the point of anxious when we go for walks. Naturally when he starts growling, barking and clawing at the pavement like a fool, I reel him in as if he were an oversized marlin, apologizing profusely to the passerby. Of course, he or she can’t possibly hear my apology over the incessant barking, snarling and gagging. So I just smile with embarrassment and attempt to drag the beast away as quickly as possible, knowing full well that we will encounter this very same person and have the very same experience in roughly three minutes when we meet on the other side of the neighborhood circle. Some days I simply don’t have the strength or patience to deal with his foolishness, so we skip our walk altogether which saddens me greatly.

It doesn’t seem to matter if my stupid dog encounters someone walking, jogging or whizzing by on a bike or scooter. Even baby strollers freak him out to some extent. Other dogs, too—except the ones he is fond of. He nuzzles those and in no time our leashes end up a tangled mess, which I’m sure he thinks is terrific because he gets to spend even more quality time with those dogs and the people attached to them—usually the ones bearing treats. Against all logic and understanding, there are certain people (with or without dogs) for whom he will immediately drop to the ground and roll over, demanding a belly rub. And I am astonished EVERY SINGLE TIME this happens.

I suspect part of my dog’s neurotic behavior may stem from being overly protective or perhaps territorial. By those standards, I suppose he is an overachiever, making perfectly composed dogs look like slackers. Even indoors he goes berserk, barking like a madman whenever someone knocks at the door or steps inside. Oddly enough, people who visit must pass some kind of strange muster. He sniffs them and looks them over as if determining whether they are “dog people,” thereby worthy of his admiration and affection. Once they have met with his approval, they are free to move about the house. If not, I have to scoop him up and carry him under my arm like a large and unwieldy purse—because the universe hates me.

Not surprisingly, he even acts insane when he gets a glimpse of people through a window—people who have the audacity to walk on HIS STREET—the one he must defend to the death. Needless to say, the barking makes my head throb, and I sometimes worry that he’ll topple off the back of the couch during one of his frenzied barking sessions.

I really wonder what goes on inside that pea brain of his. Clearly he is delusional in that he thinks he weighs 200 pounds and could eat a Rottweiler for lunch. But I suspect that down deep he may suffer from an inferiority complex—if a dog could, in fact, suffer from such a thing. It’s not as if we haven’t praised him for appropriate behavior. Lord knows I talk to him as if he were a tiny person, reassuring him that whatever happens to be freaking him out at the moment won’t result in the Apocalypse.

Who knows—maybe we just need to spoon more often.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, with a tiny, furry beast. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Doggie Diamonds, Normal is Relative, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Words Matter

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

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

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "S" is for Shame, Love and Loss

Half-Baked

I love clams. To the point of being dysfunctional, most might say. Those warm and wonderful nuggets of fleshy goodness have been the object of my affection for longer than I’d care to admit. But here I am, telling all.

They’re best bathed in butter. Plucked hot and steamy from a monstrous pot on the stove or from a metal garbage can resting atop a wood-fired pit—which is how my friends from Canton used to cook them each summer. It was tradition to gather there amidst friends and mosquitoes in their sprawling backyard, whacking at Whiffle balls, tossing Frisbees and crowding around that glorious can, the one that also housed corn-on-the-cob, foil-wrapped potatoes and other picnic-y items that didn’t matter much when clams were on the menu. In my mind, clams defined the menu.

Everything else was peripheral—an afterthought designed to woo non-serious clam eaters, or to serve as cover for people like me who planned to gorge exclusively on those brackish bits of joy with wild abandon. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easy to mask such gluttonous behavior. A carefully placed wedge of watermelon or scoop of potato salad can hide a mountain of shame. Bouncing around from table to table with a fresh plate throws off the casual observer, too, especially when coupled with idle chitchat. Gluttony becomes all too conspicuous, however, if you wear a path to the same spot to indulge, pausing only to breathe and to mop the embarrassment of schmutz from your chin. Apparently, I am not alone.

My friend Pat has admitted to consuming 22 dozen little neck clams in one sitting and estimates his lifetime consumption as “incalculable.” Some other friends have been known to fast until the big event in order to arrive primed for epic feasting of all-things-clam-ish. Of course, I admire these folks and recognize that I simply don’t possess that level of commitment. Not yet anyway. But there’s always hope. And always another clambake to pencil in on my calendar.

My husband said he once saw a guy eat 32 dozen. Throngs of people gathered around as if he were a sideshow freak. It’s no wonder as the man recklessly scooped them out of their shells, dumped them by the dozen into a Styrofoam cup brimming with melted butter and chugged them down like a beast. I don’t get it. Where’s the joy in that? The romance? To my mind, that sort of behavior qualifies as rash, dispassionate and superficial. Moreover, it smacks of casual dining.

Admittedly, I’ve been engrossed while eating the silly things. The world simply melts away and I become weak with pleasure, enabling me to block out the maddening blares of my clothes dryer and to silence the persistent demands and relentless bickering of my brood. What’s more, I’ve nearly perfected the art of appearing interested in discussions that float over the dinner table, nodding my head and contributing appropriately to conversations without ever really being present mentally. Of course, this frees all my senses for more important matters—like savoring my beloved clams.

One time I just stood at the counter, blissfully inhaling the freshly steamed batch my husband had so lovingly prepared for me, never once giving a thought to moving to a table like a more civilized individual might be inclined to do. Nor did I share, except maybe one or two. I can’t remember such details. Fifty or sixty clams later I came up for air and slipped back into the here and now. Back into being a mom and wife.

Apparently, the appeal of clams is not a new thing. A CNN.com article I once read adds credence and validation to my obsession. An archeological find in South Africa revealed evidence suggesting that humans living 164,000 years ago harvested seafood (including clams), cooked them over hot rocks and then perhaps gathered together to eat them. News like this makes my heart glad.

As does learning that we’ll be having clams for dinner. I get giddy just thinking about it.

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

Copyright 2013 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Endless Summer, Meat & Potatoes, Normal is Relative