Category Archives: The Write Stuff

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: 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. 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 something Wally Lamb-ish, 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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Worms Fail Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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It’s All Relative

Tomorrow is Reconciliation Day–a special square on the calendar set aside to celebrate the fine art of patching up relationships. A day to make amends and to rekindle the bonds we share with family and friends.

So it’s only fitting that you march to your local book store and pick up a copy of Wade Rouse’s latest memoir, It’s All Relative, a brazenly amusing collection of essays cleverly arranged around 34 holidays (some of which border on the bizarre) and, of course, family (which, for most of us, is DECIDEDLY bizarre). Indeed, an inspiring read just in time for this strange and wonderful holiday.

That said, Rouse has an uncanny knack for sharing that-which-is-obscenely-funny, deeply personal and refreshingly genuine all in the same breath. Time and again, he embraces irreverence, pokes fun at his beloved clan and sprinkles a wealth of self-deprecating humor on nearly every page.

I, for one, will never view Secretary’s Day in the same way, having read the 16-page romp in which Rouse masterfully recounts his very first JOB FROM HELL. Nor will I wander the aisles of Home Depot on or around Arbor Day without conjuring an image of the priceless tree-drama he described so well. Furthermore, I’m quite certain that I will develop a debilitating obsession with Pez dispensers in the very near future. Oy.

But woven deep within the fabric of his tales lies something far greater than his patented wit and delicious delivery–a profound and inordinately palpable sense of his humanness, his hopes and fears, loves and losses, joys and regrets. It’s all there in black and white, catching us unawares on the fringe of literary brilliance. Perhaps most notably, Rouse not only makes us laugh uproariously, he also tackles topics that are far-from-neat-and-tidy. Ones that break our hearts and make us think about what matters most–family.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (enjoying It’s All Relative once more).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Write from the Heart

There is a special space in my children’s baby books devoted entirely to the development and delivery of a priceless collection of words. A place where parents are encouraged to share how having a baby—this baby, in particular—rocked their proverbial world. A sizeable square into which moms and dads pour a bit of themselves—giving thanks, chronicling ordinary and not-so-ordinary events, articulating hopes and dreams for the future and communicating, above all else, the infinite wonder said child has brought to this place simply by being born. With any luck, most will get a glimpse of it before they become parents themselves.

And it makes perfect sense—this opportunity for crafting a message of boundless love and gratitude—to be presented when parents are fairly awestruck by all that relates to their bundles of neediness. More specifically, before our infants morph into toddlers and tweens, and the urge to snap photographs every hour of every day dwindles to a fleeting desire to fetch the camera when something truly extraordinary happens. Guilty as charged. We all do it, though—we attend less and fall behind more with the passage of time and with each new addition to the family. Not because we become less enamored with our children and feel that documenting every nugget of minutia in their lives is no longer necessary. It’s just that we get caught up in the frenetic, nearly suffocating pace of life.

Well at least I do. And I feel slightly horrible about my failure to record, digitally or otherwise, a goodly portion of my children’s lives. Like the first time Thing One dared to fling her smallish body off a diving board and paddle to safety without a smidgeon of assistance from anyone or anything. Nor did I capture the priceless look on her face shortly thereafter, as she stood on the deck wrapped from head to toe in a beach towel, cheering on the others in her swim class. What’s more, I neglected to take a snapshot of Thing Two while she was missing both of her front teeth. Of course, I took dozens of pictures to preserve that memorable wedge of time for her sister, several of which are prominently displayed on the fridge. Let us just say that I’ve been reminded of said faux pas more than once. I suppose it’s a moot point now, however. The endearing little gaps along her pinkish gums have long since been filled. Indeed, there’s no going back.

Likewise, I failed to listen to the little voice inside my head that insisted I help my oldest move into her college dormitory. “Meet the roommates,” it cooed. “Take a pile of pictures and throw them together in a collage for her birthday,” it smartly suggested. Instead, like a fool, I honored my co-ed’s wishes for independence, allowing her to bridge the gap from home to campus life entirely on her own. In retrospect, the lugging of boxes teeming with all-that-is-vital-to-college-freshmen was a little thing that would have perhaps meant a lot to her—no matter how desperately she wanted to feel grown. No doubt, a do-over in this instance is a virtual impossibility and no one is more keenly aware of that than I. Shame on me.

As delusional as it sounds to suggest that my brood may feel slighted or even devalued as a result of the aforementioned transgressions (never mind those I failed to mention), I still lament owning them. But at least I have their baby books—and the personalized notes I scrawled therein. Better still, I have tomorrow—Absolutely Incredible Kid Day—a chance to formally redeem myself once more.

That said, this Thursday is a date set aside for the purpose of letting the impressionable youth in our charge know how truly remarkable they are. For years Camp Fire USA and Alpha Phi Omega have orchestrated a nationwide letter-writing campaign to do just that. It gives those who play an integral role in the lives of children (parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, as well as adults from all walks of life) a chance to say what they need to say. To put it on paper, as it were—a mere smattering (or a profusion) of words that speak directly to the heart, quietly, yet effectively, conveying the message: “You are special, and valued and loved unconditionally. You add sunshine and meaning and a wealth of good to this world. Ergo, you are an absolutely incredible kid. Please, never forget that.”

Tomorrow, make a pledge to say what you need to say to the children who matter most to you—and be sure to write from the heart.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (crafting three very special letters as we speak).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Dear Diary

Two years ago, when my youngest daughters turned seven, I gave them each a diary—a scrumptious chunk of blank space within which they would reveal their innermost hopes, fears and desires—to the world, or to no one. A place where thoughts could be poured onto paper without hesitation or shame. A 234-page sentinel-of-secrets, complete with its own tiny lock and key (a decidedly priceless feature I am told). A canvas upon which Thing One and Thing Two could portray Mommie Dearest in horrific detail.

Of course, I bought said diaries because I so greatly enjoy being maligned because I am perfectly incapable of resisting that which is certain to thrill my brood beyond all imagining. Translation: Anything thought to celebrate the notion of secrecy makes my kids drunk with joy. Further, I was shamed into buying them. That said, the silly things beckoned to me from the shelf where they sat, insisting that I act immediately—lest my dear progenies be robbed of happiness forever.

“Isn’t it about time you encouraged a little self-expression in your children?” whispered a diary infused with a beautiful medley of blue hues (Thing One’s favorite). As I wended my way through the stationary aisle, fumbling with calendars and whatnot, I heard more of the same—only a bit louder this time, seemingly emanating from an adorable little log that boasted a delicious shade of bubblegum-pink (Thing Two’s favorite). “Have you not thought about cultivating more introspection among your impressionable charges?” it probed with an air of haughtiness.

“Have you not felt the need to nurture your kids’ inner-Thoreau?!” both diaries chided in unison.

Slack mouthed and dumbfounded I just stood there, feeling slightly horrible about having deprived my children—staring back at the bookish entities that spoke the undeniable truth.

“Thoreau? Sweet Jesus, who’s Thoreau?” I muttered to myself.

“Put us in the stupid cart, you simpleton,” they ordered. And so I did. The medley of blue and bubblegum-pink. One for each child to voice all-that-is-deliciously-personal. One for each girl to revere more than Hello Kitty herself.

“This is so awesome! I get to keep secret stuff in here that no one else can see—even you, Mom,” I’ve been reminded again and again.

Indeed, everyone needs some sort of venue for chronicling life’s events, for reflecting upon everyday occurrences, for delving deep into the most intimate of affairs—like ensuring there’s a tangible record of current love interests as well as obscenely detailed accounts of classmates’ exceedingly annoying habits involving one’s nose (not that I’ve been privy to such information). It’s also a marvelous place to grouse about perceived injustices, to gather expletives by the bushel and to put into words how completely dreadful it is to be filled with angst. Even for third graders. Perhaps especially for third graders.

But said journal-ific wonders are also capable of capturing the essence of goodness—through sketches and prose filled with happiness, pride and gratitude for all that is right in one’s world. Keepers of diaries would be wise to dog-ear such pages and refer to them often. Even third graders. Perhaps especially third graders.

I, too, worshiped and glorified the notion of privacy, having stuffed a diary beneath my bed as a third grader and beyond. Better still, I had a top-secret clubhouse in the basement, a multitude of forts nestled deep in the woods and a cat with whom I shared classified information on a daily basis. Strange, but true. I hid notes in hollows, carved stuff in trees and scrawled upon rocks—although I’d be hard pressed to say whose initials were paired with mine and which particular grade school tragedy was spelled out in horrific detail on page 73 of my dear diary.

I suppose, it’s neither here nor there at this late date. The essential thing was having some sort of space within which I could voice what mattered to me at the time. As it should be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (wondering where I hid my damn diary—even still).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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A Depraved New World: A Mother’s Rant

Horrified is the only word I can summon to accurately describe how I feel about a book that was authored solely for the purpose of facilitating pedophilia. The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct was written by Colorado-based Phillip R. Greaves II who defends his self-published tome as “…my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian [sic] rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught.” He expressed further, “True pedophiles love children and would never hurt them.”

Apparently, Mr. Greaves never heard of Elizabeth Smart. Or Jaycee Dugard. Or Jennifer Schuett. Or 11-year-old Michaela Petit. Or 6-year-old Adam Walsh. Or the countless others who have been victimized at the hands of a depraved pedophile. Either that or he is somehow confused about the notion of what actually constitutes a sex crime. Or maybe he just wants the world to better understand people who would commit such heinous acts and to dig deeper to find the inherent good within their sorry souls—a concept I find wholly inconceivable.

More disturbingly, Greaves’ book (as of this writing) ranks among the top 100 of all Amazon.com Kindle sales. Due to an apparent explosion of public outrage (i.e. thousands of impassioned protests and threats of boycotts on the cusp of the holiday shopping season), the online giant removed the aforementioned title from its shelves, responding to concerned users by stating they “…do not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions. Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.”

Well that line of reasoning certainly makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (not!) with regard to protecting our right to free speech—regardless of the potential implications it may have, despite the grossly misguided message it sends humanity and notwithstanding the deeper moral issue that seems to have been sacrificed in the process of promoting said book. Needless to say, I don’t advocate censorship in every instance, but this piece of literary filth crossed the proverbial line and if ever there were justification for burning a book—this would be it. That said, I fear the tenet of social responsibility no longer means anything to anyone—least of all, to the industries that pay homage to the almighty dollar.

Clearly, it’s too late for Amazon to feign ignorance, or to having had a temporary lapse of good judgment. Honestly, how could ANYONE assigned to screen content for appropriateness possibly misconstrue the gist of this book? The title alone should have grabbed a reviewer by the throat and squeezed until its vileness was duly noted. In essence, it is an instruction manual for child molesters…a collection of dos and don’ts for would-be pedophiles (complete with legal advice)…a free pass to the Land of Exploitation—and until late Wednesday, it was available for download at the insanely affordable rate of $4.79.

Of course, The Pedophile’s Guide isn’t the only book of its ilk listed on Amazon’s site. Nor is Greaves the only author to delve into such topics. Until very recently, Greaves’ Gardens of Flesh could be purchased there. It’s likely that CNN’s Anderson Cooper (of AC 360) triggered its removal—and rightly so. However, others still remain. Join the LIVE CHAT to weigh in.

In sum, I am appalled by the audacity with which the guide was both created and promoted online—which is truly a reprehensible thing. Likewise, I am alarmed by the volume of demand and interest that evidently exists for such a product (an undisclosed number were sold). Moreover, I am saddened to think it would still be available had it not been for the voices of so many enraged individuals.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (thoroughly disgusted with this deplorable turn of events).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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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: 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 QuindlenMitch 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. 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 something Wally Lamb-ish, 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 books beckon unremittingly).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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