Have You Hugged a Book Today?

We have a library in our house, which sounds slightly more impressive than it actually is. The area in question is far from a sprawling expanse littered with overstuffed chairs and an abundance of narrative gems. More correctly, our so-called library occupies a modest corner of our home—a place where a blue-checkered playpen once stood seemingly forever. Nevertheless, it is a space devoted to all-things-bookish. A small yet infinitely important enclave that exists for the sole purpose of fueling my children’s passion for reading. As it should be—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Almost a decade has passed since we began gathering a hodgepodge of titles and piling them into some semblance of order there upon the floor of our living room. Tallest to smallest. Favorites within easy reach. A perfect mélange of new and not-so-new tales—thanks to having traversed this parenting path once before.

Naturally, said books would spill out into the room after a certain couple of somebodies (read: Toddler One and Toddler Two) raided the cache, leaving a trail of literary goodness in their collective wake. Never mind that only yesterday pillows and great herds of stuffed animals were dragged there and commissioned for the purpose of building reading “nests” and whatnot. Only recently have we been able to place the prized entities elsewhere (i.e. upon the honey-colored bookshelf that now inhabits the aforementioned corner—the one that boasts a cavernous window through which the morning sun pours almost without fail).

It is perhaps a bit more special given that the shelf itself was one that my husband had designed and built back in 1969. It was the high school shop project that seemed destined never to be finished. Lo and behold, the four-tiered wonder was completed and for some 40 years it lived in his childhood home. That’s where I first ogled its glossy, maple finish—along with a handful of teakwood carvings that sat upon its top shelf. A one-humped camel and an Asian elephant with a missing tusk. Keepsakes that hailed from afar. Treasures with which my children were enamored each and every time we visited Grandma.

I guess I never really thought about the notion of my mother-in-law not being there to witness their growing curiosity. Nor did I entertain the possibility of adopting her wooden bookshelf when she died—complete with the coveted carvings. Of course, they still sit atop the shelf, nodding approval with each book selection my charges make. Grandma would be pleased, I’m sure.

Likewise, I think she’d be pleased to learn of the strides her granddaughters have made since kindergarten, and how their love of books has flourished during that same wedge of time. No longer do they reach for bedtime favorites like Goodnight Moon, the brilliantly penned Where the Wild Things Are, the infinitely tender Guess How Much I Love You and the exceedingly palpable Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. Even Dr. Seuss has fallen out of favor with my brood.

Indeed, the pure and simple joy of picture books has been replaced by the all-consuming nature of chapter books—ones that invite my progenies to dwell for a time, deliciously entangled within the words on a given page. Needless to say, their tastes have grown more sophisticated, as has their command of vocabulary. That said, Thing One is completely smitten with mysteries, all-things-Harry-Potter and that which is disturbingly terrifying while Thing Two is fond of cookbooks and craft books, although she went through an interminable phase during which she would read nothing unless its plot somehow involved a godforsaken dog, a horse blessed with the ability to speak or a wretched hamster. Of course, they both feast voraciously upon the celebrated Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, practically anything ever written by Roald Dahl, Barbara Park or Kate DiCamillo, and sadly, the idiocy that is Captain Underpants.

All things considered, I deem my children’s journey as emerging readers to have been nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t help but feel indebted to those who’ve helped cultivate their enduring love of books—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an abundance of books worthy of hugging…and barely able to breathe ever since a request was made for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Gratitude

20 Things I Never Imagined I’d Say to My Dog

 

  1. It’s really cold outside and it’s not time for a walk yet. I just want to spoon you and watch Hallmark movies. All day.
  2. I know the FedEx truck looks tasty, but YOU CAN’T EAT IT. Stop barking as if you’re possessed. Please try to act like a normal dog.
  3. Must you INHALE your food? CHEW already, you maniacal little beast.
  4. Yes, the doorbell is ringing. On television. That doesn’t mean you need to freak out or work your stupid self into a barking frenzy.
  5. Stop licking yourself…your 7 million plush toys…the stuff I spilled on the floor…the strange dog you just met…the leather couch…the carpet…the dishwasher…my feet…the road kill you love more than life itself… JUST. STOP. LICKING.
  6. Why do you feel compelled to eviscerate your stuffed animal toys? Isn’t it enough to pluck out their eyes and dismember them 15 minutes after I present you with a new one? FYI, the squeaky thing inside IS NOT the devil.
  7. Stop dragging dirty socks and underwear into the living room like a frat boy on a panty raid. You disgust me. Also, please note that the foul matter in the trash can IS NOT FOOD. Please stop gnawing on it and strewing it all over the house.
  8. DO NOT pee on your brother’s head. No, it’s not at all like marking territory. He’s another dog. Just a shorter version. And by the way, marking territory INSIDE the house is a VERY, VERY BAD thing to do. I will stop loving you if you do it again. No I won’t. I love you unconditionally, against all logic and understanding.
  9. Why did you eat AN ENTIRE LOAF OF BREAD (and/or leftover pizza, Halloween candy, et al.) while we were gone? You glutton.
  10. The crows and defenseless squirrels we see on our walks are not secretly mocking you; therefore, you needn’t chase or lunge at them like some sort of savage, effectively dislocating my shoulder in the process.
  11. Must you torment the cat? I realize that he is mocking you every minute of every day, but is it necessary to hunt him down like a dog? I understand that you are, in fact, a dog. It’s a rhetorical question.
  12. You don’t own the couch. Please share the space in this house with the humans who live here—as much as it pains you.
  13. For the love of God, STOP EATING POO, or anything that resembles poo. Deer droppings are not Skittles. Neither is bear dung or rabbit pellets. Have we not taught you anything?
  14. If you walk directly in front of me or trail me closer than my shadow, we WILL collide. It’s basic physics. Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Google it.
  15. Please refrain from doing your business in the neighbor’s beautifully manicured lawn if you can help it. If you could circle back and instead utilize the vast expanse of woods and weeds we just passed I’d be eternally grateful, you never-ending poop factory.
  16. Back up, please, so I can actually open the door for you. I know you’re beyond excited to go for a walk, but it won’t be possible unless and until you back up.
  17. You most certainly CANNOT EAT THE JOGGER, the kid on the scooter, the woman pushing the stroller, or the adorable toddler inside the stroller who desperately wants to pet you because you look like a cute little dog, only deranged. Oh, and here’s a newsflash: YOU’RE MAKING YOURSELF HACK AND CHOKE by pulling on the leash. Not me.
  18. Did you seriously startle yourself with your own fart? You crack me up, you weird little dog.
  19. What’s with the poop ritual—the one where you practically screw yourself into the ground before you actually go? Should I hire an excrement coach?
  20. Must you shame me into giving you food during dinner? Don’t give me those eyes. I simply can’t handle it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, uttering the most ridiculous things to my dogs.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Eggs, Toast and a Side of Cynicism

For whatever reason, the gods of morning madness have been smiling upon me these past few weeks. And like any good cynic, I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out. With every ounce of my being, I fully expect my petulant children to return, brimming with an abundance of snarky commentary regarding breakfast cereal choices (or the lack thereof), eager to display the alarm clock-inspired rage to which I’ve grown so accustomed and to bring to the fore their lovely penchant for bickering with one another at dark-thirty. Joy. Likewise, I presume the frenzied packing-of-lunches-and-backpacks thing coupled with shrieks involving the very real possibility of missing the bus will resume shortly as well.

If nothing else, it would feel familiar. Quite frankly, I am suspect of the degree of calm that has befallen my home of late. Mornings are no longer intolerably hectic, which I find fairly disturbing since it’s all I’ve known since the days of kindergarten. There are no shouting matches to speak of, no monumental crises related to bedhead or perceived fashion offenses and, incredibly, no one has become enraged over wrinkles in socks or the gunkiness of toothpaste for days on end. Gasp!

It’s all so alarmingly alien—this death of disorder and dissent. So naturally, I greet it with cool skepticism, assuming that a conspirator has somehow snatched my ill-tempered brood and left me with a delightful pair of third graders who get up on time, dress for school without complaint and exhibit an obscene amount of good cheer all morning long. Imposters, I am sure, are among us.

Or perhaps my fortuitous situation has arisen as a direct result of the plan my husband so shrewdly devised and skillfully implemented. Translation: The man is a genius. That said, he pulled our charges aside one day and explained how our shameless bribe new morning routine would work. The seed was planted thusly.

“If you get up and get dressed as soon as your alarm goes off,” he purred with Grinch-like finesse, “and haul your sorry selves to the kitchen by 6:30, I’ll make you WHATEVER HOT BREAKFAST YOUR LITTLE HEARTS DESIRE. And,” he sweetened the pot, “I’ll even let you crack eggs and stir stuff.” To date, the immaculately prepared entrées have included pancakes (with faces!), French toast and waffles (to die for!), eggs (infinitely varied!), bacon (impossibly crisp!) and a vat of drool-worthy, bathed-in-olive-oil fried potatoes I felt compelled to appraise. Again. And again.

In sum, he made a deal with the unwitting pair. A wickedly clever, painfully simple, non-negotiable agreement—one that is likely responsible for the glowing success we’ve experienced thus far on our journey to the Land of Hassle-free School Mornings. Note to self: Cold cereal nourishes the body, but hot cakes (and other breakfasty-type foods with irresistibly enticing aromas) inspire action of the bounding-out-of-bed variety.

But perhaps the motivation runs deeper than that. Part of me suspects that under the surface lies a host of benefits aside from the obvious. Like the delicious sliver of time in which we snuggle together before anyone heads to the kitchen. All four of us, looking as much like sardines as anything, burrow beneath a sea of blankets in our big, oak bed—the place where toes are warmed and whispers are shared in the waning moments of still and darkness.

“Here I am, your little alarm clock,” they each announce as they crawl in with us, a different stuffed animal tucked under their arms each morning. To my utter amazement, both kids have already dressed, fulfilling their end of the bargain. I shake my head in disbelief.

The plan is working.

A few minutes later, they clamber downstairs to the kitchen and confirm with the cook their menu choices for the day. Chairs are then shoved against counters, eggs are cracked and batter is stirred—fulfilling the other end of the bargain.

As the sun crests over the hillside and begins pouring into the house, a steaming, hot breakfast is served—as promised. Syrup and cinnamon, juice and jam look on as chatter fills the room. There is talk of disjointed dreams, of library books and of plans for playing with a favorite friend at the bus stop. Everything that follows is sunny-side up.

Once again, I shake my head in disbelief. The plan is still working—despite my side of cynicism.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (wondering when the novelty will wear off and hoping like crazy that’s never). A variation of this article appeared previously in the Khaleej Times, UAE, Dubai.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Gratitude, Meat & Potatoes, School Schmool

Great Expectations

In the dark of predawn I lay in bed, tucked snugly beneath my downy comforter, sleet pinging against the windowpanes in soft yet fitful waves. Against all odds associated with parenthood, no one under the age of eight burst into the room to announce that the sky was falling. Translation: my husband and I had had the presence of mind to skip setting the kids’ alarm the night before, in anticipation of inclement weather almost certain to arrive by daybreak. So for a time, all was silent in this good house—except for the ticking of clocks and the tiny taps at the window.

As the not-so-surprising news of yet another school cancellation reached my ears in the wee hours that day, I was filled impossibly with hope. Hope that I would enjoy a morning devoid of the madness I had known all too well since September. Hope for a day abundant with hot cocoa, kindness and good cheer. Hope that I might finally summon the strength and ambition to take down the blasted Christmas tree. The one that has been standing very nearly straight in my living room for the past 63 days, mocking me on Inauguration Day as I addressed my cache of shamefully belated holiday cards.

The tree had to come down. It would come down. It was January 28th for Pete’s sake. Besides, I was tired of its condescending glare, as if it were looking down its boughs at me, judging my every deficiency. Shaming my inadequate core.

Moreover, with my army of helpers that would likely be at my disposal ALL DAY (since no one wanted to frolic in the freezing rain), I banked on being able to pack up and stow away each and every jingle bell, snowman, Santa likeness and string of garland-y foolishness in the entire house. To reclaim my space. At least until Easter.

Needless to say, lots of people here agreed that it was high time. “Mom, you know we’re going to get arrested, don’t you?”

“Arrested? For what?!”

“Because January’s almost over and we don’t even have our Christmas tree down yet! We’ll all be thrown in jail!”

“Whaaaaat?! Who’s going to throw us in jail?”

“The Holiday Police.”

“The Holiday Who?!”

“The Holiday Police. They arrest people who don’t do stuff right—like taking Christmas trees down BEFORE Groundhog Day. Helloooooooooo.”

She had a point.

All I had to do was glance at the calendar and then at the muddled mess surrounding me. Remnants of the holiday season were everywhere. The Christmas lights were (and still are!) completely shrouded with ice and fused impossibly to the trees and shrubs outside. The stockings were still hung—and shockingly, still laden with beloved items that had been tragically forgotten since Santa’s celebrated arrival. Gifts of every size, shape and hideous stage of disarray lay like carnage throughout the house and under the aforementioned evergreen, gloriously bedecked with enough ornament-age for a forest. Legions upon legions of festive-looking dishes, alarmingly bare except for the smarmy trail of cashews and the red and green fleckage of holiday M&Ms, still rested upon my tabletops, whispering without end, “Pleeeease cleeeean meeeee.” Santa’s cookie plate begged to be returned to the cupboard, the crèche longed to be back in the attic and quite frankly, the mistletoe was tired of hanging around.

What’s more, I noted that the kids had been swiping stuff from the tree for weeks—like the reindeer, now chummy with Barbie’s horses and sharing a corral, and the snowmen, warmly adopted by a family of Lego people. I even discovered a few sparkly ornaments dangling precariously from the rooftops of doll houses. Icicles maybe?

That said, it was way past time to begin the arduous process of un-decorating. Clearly, the snow day that had been bestowed upon us was a window of opportunity and perhaps the spark that would ignite my drive and determination to succeed in spite of myself. At least that was the plan.

But it was not to be. My great expectations for the day were shot by 10 am and my hopes for a tidier living room were all but dashed. For all intents and purposes, the thorny pine had become rooted there, a glaring reminder of my ineptitude as a putter-away-of-holiday-hoo-ha. Instead we frittered away the time, putting six puzzles together, littering the house with Barbie dolls and dresses, devouring books, stuffing ourselves with chocolate-chip pancakes and lounging in our pajamas till it was almost evening—at which time I sent my brood outdoors to play in the snow that had FINALLY begun to fall in big, feathery flakes. A consolation prize for my efforts.

Then again, maybe my reward was the delicious chunk of time I spent fishing for puzzle pieces with my kids, eavesdropping on their Barbie powwows, listening to the ice hit the windows—safe and sound in this good house.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and where the Holiday Police are destined to arrive).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville, Welcome to My Disordered World

Still is the Night: The Beauty of Unplugging

Shortly after the big, yellow school bus groaned to a halt and deposited Planet Mom’s brood at the curb, the skies grew angry and the winds began to whip, swirling all manner of leaves and debris about the place. The heavens rumbled in the distance and massive clouds moved swiftly as she and her children hurried up the grassy knoll to the safety and comfort of their home. Together they sat, perched at the northernmost bank of windows, and watched with amazement as a monstrous wall of gray swallowed the September sun as if it were a mere lemon drop. A raging storm was indeed very nearly upon them.

A sudden shroud of darkness then descended upon the land whilst towering pines swayed in the yard and lawn chairs skittered like spiders across the wooden deck, tumbling into the bushes and startling the children and their curly-haired dog. Shortly thereafter, lightning lit the skies and thunder shook the house unmercifully, causing the dog to cower in a corner—its springy, white tail hidden between its legs. Lights flickered ON and OFF and ON again while rain began to pelt the roof in fitful waves, thwarting all efforts to keep the smallish creatures in question focused on their homework. It was a school night after all.

“Are the lights going to GO OFF and STAY OFF, Mom?” one of the pair asked, a hint of apprehension in her voice. “What’ll we do then?”

Their mother, not being particularly gifted in the realm of meteorological topics, shrugged her shoulders and tried desperately to think of something that might divert her daughters’ attention away from the impending doom that seemed all but certain to strike.

“Get back to your schoolwork,” she instructed, all the while pretending to ignore the deafening cracks of thunder and the sirens that wailed in the distance. “It’s just a thunderstorm.”

“But how will we see to do our homework if the lights STAY OFF?” the wisp of a child probed further.

“Yeah,” her infinitely inquisitive counterpart added. “And how will we watch TV tonight?”

“I’ll think of something,” the mother asserted and then silently lamented the notion of being without television (and the computer and the microwave and so on) for what would surely seem an eternity.

Lo and behold, at some point during the ferocity of the storm, the power did, in fact, fail and legions of flashlights (many without functional batteries) were summoned from beneath beds and forgotten drawers. Cleverly, the woman lit scented candles; however it was soon determined that her progenies had mysteriously developed an incapacitating aversion to being near an open flame—despite having enjoyed countless marshmallow toasting events during the summer involving (gasp!) campfires and whatnot. “My homework will catch on fire, Mom!” So out the candles went directly, along with any bit of cinnamon-y goodness that might have emanated from said waxen devices.

Dozens of minutes elapsed and darkness fell. Soon the woman’s mate returned from work and joined the anxious bunch, eager to instill calm and assurance where fear had begun to creep. Savory snacks and a multitude of shadow puppets were instantly produced to the delight of many. Needless to say, the man’s offspring were mightily impressed with his skills and mesmerized by the uncommon and authentic nature of the railroad lanterns he managed to unearth from their pitifully disordered garage. His wife was equally impressed with the aforementioned feats and in return promised never to divulge the number of times he flicked light switches like a fool—because she, too, stupidly flicked switches.

Eventually, the punishing storm passed and the winds subsided, although the power outage continued. Nevertheless, an abundance of laughs were shared as were stories of parental hardship involving crippling snow storms and great floods during which both heat and electricity were lost for days on end. “Wow! That must have been horrible, Dad!” (Translation: “How did you survive without the Disney Channel, Dad?!”) More importantly, the family reconnected in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. Everyone took turns recounting the day’s ordinary and not-so-ordinary events. The dog’s ears were gently stroked and beloved books were read within the soft glow of the lanterns as the children nestled upon their mother’s lap.

At the close of each chapter, just before she began reading the next, she paused ever-so-slightly—and that was the moment during which a strange and wonderful thing befell them. All was perfectly still—aside from the crickets outside calling to would-be mates, the dozing dog and the breathy whispers of children completely engrossed in the deliciousness of literature. As it should be. No ever-present drone of the air conditioner could be heard. No television blared in the background. Not even the familiar hum of the refrigerator or a solitary screen saver could be detected. The sacred wedge of silence was magical, entrancing and wholly alien to those huddled upon the floor and sofa.

Just then the power returned—an abrupt and unwelcome guest. The household whirred and lurched back to life, removing all but the vestiges of ambiance and intimacy. The children blinked as if snapping out of a trance. Their squinty-eyed mother closed the book and used it to shield herself from the brightness, now everywhere. Her mate sat up suddenly, forcing himself to process the transformation. The dog awoke with a start. Shortly thereafter, everyone went their separate ways—back to the tired and the familiar. The spell had been broken, irreparably so. Or had it?

“We should do this again, Mom! We should have a fake power outage every week!” the children insisted at breakfast the next morning.

And so it was. Fake Power Outage Night was thereby established as a new family tradition and it was duly noted that batteries should be abundantly stockpiled.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (paying tribute to the ever-masterful Garrett Rice, aka Neanderdad, and his patented writing style). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville, Unplugged