You Might Be a Band Parent…

12063727_1697752737122081_6648721571656694762_nFall is upon us. Time for corn mazes and jack o’ lanterns, flannel shirts and apple cider, football and marching bands. But let us not forget, ‘tis the season for band parents, too. In the spirit of identifying with the tireless role that they play in support of their music-loving, instrument-lugging progenies, I’ve made a handful of keen observations so that others might avoid entering the future ranks without first knowing what’s in store.

You might be a band parent if…

  • 1) You shop for vehicles based primarily on their capacity for cramming large and unwieldy musical instruments within a given square footage—as well as additional band members of varying size who may need a ride home on occasion. Having the extra cargo space for a six-foot color guard flag also comes in handy when your daughter announces she’d rather flip a flag than march around on a football field while playing a clarinet. Hello…that’s marching band, dear.
  • 2) You come to expect desperate phone calls and/or texts following drop offs, informing you that an item of vital importance was somehow forgotten (i.e. money, dot sheets, guard gloves, Under Armour, sweatshirt, socks, nude-colored strapless bra, etc.). Naturally, you’re expected to come to the rescue. Every. Single. Time.
  • 3) Your car knows the way to the band room, to every football stadium within 300-square miles and to the beloved concession stand—where you will spend an estimated quarter century of your life. Or maybe it just feels that way, since you emerge from each of your eternal shifts there totally spent, smelling much like a French fry and reflexively responding to dietary requests with, “Would you like cheese on that?”
  • 4) Forget singing along like a banshee to Sam Smith tunes on the radio. Instead, you find yourself drumming out the beat of Seven Nation Army on your steering wheel and chanting its hypnotic mantra because you’ve heard the band play it roughly SEVEN MILLION TIMES. Why do you engage in such foolishness while cruising around town? Because it now inhabits your subconscious mind. And you love it. Almost as much as you love the marching band as an entity and the kids who embody its spirit.
  • 5) On the eve of band competitions, you lose precious sleep and become all but consumed with performance anxiety—despite the fact that the performance in question isn’t even yours. Which makes no sense at all.
  • 6) Never mind your career, hobby or favorite sitcom. You now spend the bulk of your days and nights either engaging in or thinking about fundraising for the marching band. If you could train your dog to help you achieve your financial goals for the season you’d do it in a sixteenth note (translation: almost instantaneously).
  • 7) There have been great multitudes of discussions in your household that begin with the words, “One time, at band camp…” and not once have you freaked out. Well, maybe one time; but that’s because you couldn’t stop thinking about that line from American Pie and you were paralyzed with fear over the issue of having to discuss the topic of sex at the dinner table.
  • 8) It’s barely October and already you’ve spent enough money on the concession stand to fund a mediocre political campaign. But if you’re the one running for office (based on your track record of providing hot, nutritious meals for your family during marching band season), don’t bother. Everyone’s grabbing dinner featuring soft pretzels and chili dogs an average of two nights a week. At least it’s hot. Probably.
  • 9) You hate to admit it, but you don’t really care much about watching football anymore. The team is undoubtedly great, but now it’s all about THE BAND. And HALFTIME. Or the PREGAME SHOW that happens prior to kickoff. Heaven forbid you’re still in the parking lot loading up like a pack mule or stuck in line for cheese fries when your school performs. Your kid will NEVER forgive you. So if that happens, be sure to lie well and don’t miss it next time.
  • 10) You witness something special every single day—namely the warmth and acceptance with which the band welcomes one and all into the fold. You recognize the band director and his or her associates as gifts from above and you look on with wonder as your child blossoms in an atmosphere of positivity and inspiration, ever so grateful that you heard the words, “Mom, I joined the marching band!”

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, loving my experience as a second-year band parent at Loyalsock HS, despite all my whining. Visit me there at  www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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In Praise of September

www.melindawentzel.comI love this time of year—the wedge of weeks during which the succulent remnants of summer collide almost seamlessly with a taste of autumn. Aside from the perfect marriage of warm days and cool nights, I suppose it’s the patented swirl of excitement surrounding the start of school that I find so completely intoxicating. Call me crazy.

I blame the mechanical pencils, mostly, in all their steely glory, and the pink erasers that beckon to me unremittingly from the shelves of office supply stores and beyond. The three-ring binders sometimes get to me, too, shouting above the tumult with their palette of delicious hues and fancy-schmancy features. Never mind the throngs of rugged backpacks, endowed with a profusion of zippered compartments and pouches, fueling my quiet obsession with organization, or at least some semblance thereof. And now that my progenies have joined the ranks of middle-schoolers, there are cavernous lockers to adorn as well—with chandeliers, plush carpeting and wallpaper, apparently.

Oh. My. Hell.

Granted, the inherent madness of the back-to-school rush, with its deluge of frenzied purchases, fiscal misery and impossibly giddified children, threatens to consume me each and every August. But it adds a much-needed dose of structure to my life as well and a certain rhythm to mothering—one that I suspect I’ll lament when I no longer have school-aged children in my charge.

There is something quietly reassuring about restoring our routine come September—even if it involves unpleasantries like bedtimes, alarm clocks and the evils of homework. In a sense, I think it’s the predictable nature of things that grounds me, and hopefully my children. Knowing what’s expected and what’s to come, at least in theory, encourages preparedness and some measure of assurance. Like calendars with the tiny squares filled in, a table of contents with more than a mere fragment of clarity and sock drawers with the suggestion of order.

Okay, maybe not sock drawers, so much.

At any rate, swarms of yellow school buses now inhabit the land as if commanded by the tides—a cadence and pattern by which a great many lives are governed. Mine is no exception. Mornings are now filled with the hustle and bustle of shepherding my brood out into the world of books and pencils—with shoes tied (mostly), lunches in hand (occasionally) and backpacks clattering and jouncing as they dash across the dew-laden lawn to the bus stop they’ve frequented since the early days of kindergarten. Of course, it was only yesterday that we sat side by side on the curb together, reading Stuart Little while we waited for the bus to round the bend and groan to a halt. But I digress.

Mornings are slightly more hectic now, and by the same token, afternoons with my sixth-grade daughters are the embodiment of chaos—the latest news of the day spilling from their mouths in a flurry of words from the moment they make landfall until they pour themselves into bed each night—a collective heap of exhaustion. Which is not to say that is a bad thing necessarily. Part of me truly enjoys the debriefing process I have come to know and expect as a parent at the close of each school day, and as I ferry them (ad nauseam) here and there throughout the entire year. And no matter how many stories I hear (ranging from angsty to the bounds of absurdity), I’d daresay the gemlike commentary I’ve gathered and the genuine connections I’ve made with my daughters will never grow old.

But somehow, the harvest of September is special—perhaps because it smacks of newness, in sharp contrast to August’s comparatively uninspired crop of parent-child conversations. Perhaps because of the sense of possibility the celebrated season of new beginnings engenders within each of us. Or perhaps, very simply, it is the omnipresence of tall pencils and full erasers that makes the month so special, suggesting the notion of a clean slate and starting over, anew.

Or maybe that’s why I hold September so dear.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of September).

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Dear Departed Summer

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddDear Departed Summer,

I am a poster child for parenting ineptitude. And at no time does it become more painfully apparent than during the first few weeks of school—when I look back over the vast expanse of the summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. In spite of having the best of intentions in mid-June—with a host of events cleverly sandwiched between swim lessons, haircuts and camps galore—by the tail end of July I found myself desperately trying to cram every ounce of family fun and spontaneity into what was left of summer. The fun I promised we’d have before sliding headlong into September.

Inexcusably, it is the epitome of who I am and what I do when it comes down to the wire—when a finite number of squares remain on the calendar during which anything and everything deemed truly memorable and drool-worthy to a nine-year-old can, ostensibly, be orchestrated. In a perfect world, that is. So like a madwoman I schedule sleepovers and movie nights, plan picnics and pencil in parades, visit ball parks and theme parks and, of course, stumble over myself to accept gracious invitations to friends’ homes and pools and lakeside cottages oozing with wonderfulness.

Conversely, I’ve tolerated a tent in my back yard for twenty-three days running—one that promises to leave a hideous, yellow square where a lovely patch of green grass used to grow. A smallish tent in which I spent an interminable night embracing all that roughing it entails, from mosquito bites and cramped quarters to a lumpy earthen mattress and a less-than-endearing quality of dankness I feared would cling to me forevermore.

Eau de Musty Tent, methinks.

I suppose, however, that it was better than a) dealing with the monstrosity-of-a-teepee that monopolized my lawn last summer b) disappointing my progenies who insisted that I camp out with them and c) the insufferable conditions that my husband (aka: Father of the Year) endured while attempting to sleep on an impossibly narrow and horribly unyielding lounge chair parked squarely in front of the zippered door. As luck would have it, he was uniquely situated and perfectly qualified to shepherd those who felt compelled to visit the loo in the dead of night. Good thing. My only lament: failing to photograph him in all his glory—mouth agape, flashlight in hand, his body entombed within a sleeping bag, his head, poking out the top, completely enshrouded within a camouflage mask I had never before seen, arms entirely enveloped by a giant mesh sack he apparently dragged from the bowels of the garage in a moment of great inspiration (aka: makeshift mosquito netting).

That said, I think it’s safe to say that as parents we at least showed up for our kids this summer. Some of the time anyway. We took them places and did things together. We tolerated their abiding love of toads, their penchant for building forts, their overwhelming desire to climb to the tops of trees and their inexplicable fascination with road kill. Furthermore, we tried not to trouble our silly heads over the health and well-being of our lawn as well as the health and well-being of those who spent much of August snowboarding down our grassy front terrace. Nor did we dwell on the wanton fearlessness with which they careened hither and yon on their scooters. Barefooted, no less. So we can feel slightly good, I guess—having directly or indirectly contributed to the wellspring of memories gathered over the fleeting, albeit delicious, chunk of summer.

Looking back I now see why it was likely a success—not because of the fancy-schmanciness of this or that celebrated event, but because the extraordinary lives deep within the ordinary. It’s not the double play in the bottom of the ninth they’ll remember, it’s the delicious medley of peanuts and popcorn wafting through the air, the distinctive shade of blue on the tongues of all who drank icy-cold, blue raspberry drinks on that sweltering summer night and the tinny clang that echoed throughout the stadium as cheering fans beat upon the aluminum bleachers like drums. Similarly, it’s not the glorified picnic with throngs of people, platters of deviled eggs and eleventeen varieties of potato salad that necessarily makes a lasting impression. It’s the novelty, and perhaps spontaneity, of having cucumber sandwiches and slices of watermelon on a wobbly card table in the midst of summer fun. “Thanks, Mom, now we don’t have to stop playing!”

Moreover, I’d daresay that fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. That a symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. That a hammock is very nearly medicinal, as is the buttery succulence of sweet corn, the shade of an oak tree and the canopy of fog at sunrise as it hangs in the valley—silent and still.

Dear Departed Summer, it’s likely I’ll miss your fireflies most—and the barefoot children who give chase, drinking in the moment, alive with pleasure, racing across your cool, slick grasses without end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and desperately searching for the rewind button).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Sum of Summer

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddI’m fairly certain that my children hate me—mostly because of their workbooks. The ones that I insisted they complete this past summer, come hell or high water. And although there were vast stretches of time during which reprieves were granted from the toilsome task in question (because of vacations, because of friends who came to call, because I was plagued unmercifully with guilt), I still managed to clinch the Mommie Dearest nomination. That said, whenever I needed a reminder as to where I fit on the Tyrant Scale, I simply opened the aforementioned workbooks and read some of the asides my dear charges had scribbled in the margins (i.e. “I’m dying!” “This is horribly annoying and boring!” and “Once upon a time, two innocent children were forced to do big, stupid, unpleasant workbooks which were eternally evil. The end.”)

Naturally, this brand of condemnation called into question the wisdom behind my decision to sully the summer by thrusting academics upon individuals who clearly weren’t interested in the inherent beauty of word problems or in the quiet joy of crafting short stories. Looking back, I now see that it really didn’t matter—that making my brood exceedingly miserable for far too many days in June, July and August (no matter how fleeting or insignificant the time seemed to me), was of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Evidently, my heathens would have acquired a boatload of knowledge with or without the wretched workbooks. Real world knowledge that probably has more practical merit anyway. Indeed, my entire family benefited from that which summer seemed more than eager to impart. Together, the following pearls of wisdom represent our harvest.

Despite what may seem perfectly sensible to a child, snow boots don’t function particularly well in the rain. Nor do playing cards or peanut butter sandwiches. On a similar note, science experiments gone awry don’t belong on anyone’s kitchen counters, cicada carcasses have no business sitting on anyone’s sweater (Look, Mom! It’s a brooch!) and favorite stuffed animals should never, ever linger in the vicinity of an unoccupied, uncovered toilet.

Considering the coefficient of friction and the gravitational pull of the Earth, sleeping bags are ideally suited for sliding down carpeted staircases. Scooters, by contrast, are not. Furthermore, objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless and until they collide with solid matter—like oak trees, unsuspecting craniums and steel-clad doors, for instance.

In related field studies, Frick and Frack discovered that hamsters do not enjoy dental examinations—nor are they especially fond of massages. They will, however, tolerate being placed within the confines of a tiny plastic car. Frogs, on the other hand, will have no part of such foolishness. Dogs, conversely, have no shame and will therefore concede to virtually anything a ten-year-old might be inclined to dream up—to include video cameos and fanciful excursions to exotic places like the Canine Islands.

Some other summertime observations I made: Apparently those who wear bandages festooned with cutesy pictures are no longer cool. Who knew? Badminton and Frisbee injuries (of the parental variety) don’t garner nearly the sympathy that they deserve. However, kids are fairly obsessed with their hodgepodge of injuries and insist that parents become equally fascinated for the duration of the healing process.

Furthermore, Captain Vacation found that it’s easier to locate one’s lodgings if he actually remembers to jot down the name and address of the hotel where reservations have been made. I learned that the brackish scent of the sea, while deliciously intoxicating at the shore, isn’t nearly as pleasant when it fuses to clothing, resulting in a lovely eau de dead fish that will likely trigger fond memories of the beach coupled with an overwhelming desire to retch. Together, we ascertained that hotel shampoo smells better than it tastes, that some kids simply won’t share their shovels despite a deluge of diplomacy and that the warm sands of the shore are soothing beneath one’s feet, yet wholly unforgiving when wedged in one’s swimsuit. Moreover, seagulls are hostile creatures with a penchant for fresh pastries and fries—a point I duly noted for future reference.

Curiously, none of the abovementioned lessons of summer had anything to do with a workbook. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (summing up summer).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Augustember

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddAs August wanes and September draws ever nearer, I can’t help but dwell on the notion of my freedom—and how utterly delicious it will soon be. But by the same token, I am also reminded of how horribly unprepared I am for all that heading back to school entails. My charges are no more equipped for the first day of second grade than I was for the first hour of motherhood. It’s shameful, really. To date, I have amassed next to nothing in the realm of kid gear and gotta-have-it-garmentage for that special square on our calendar. The square now gloriously bedecked with stickers and messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another thirty-day chunk of time would be added to the year, smartly sandwiched between the eighth and ninth months. Say, “Augustember,” or “Pause” (which would be more of a directive than anything). We march into spring; why not pause before forging headlong into fall? Such a godsend would give people like me time to breathe, time to warm up to the idea of letting summer go, time to rummage around for the soccer cleats that by now probably don’t fit anyone anyway.

I’ve never been one to embrace change. More often than not (and if all is well), I like things just the way they are—the same. It’s simply too much work to adapt to something slathered with newness. That being said, I abhor drastic transformations. Dead asleep to total wakefulness. The mildness of spring to the oppressiveness of summer. At the lake. Inthe lake. Not pregnant. Pregnant. I need generous windows of transition for such things. Time to adjust. Time to switch gears. Time to brace myself for the tsunami-sized wave of change sure to thrust me forward—ready or not.

While it’s true we are on the cusp of yet another promising school year with its sharpened pencils, bright yellow buses and characteristic swirl of excitement enveloping virtually everything and everyone in its path, part of my joy is swallowed up because of what and whom I must become as a result. The bedtime enforcer. The tyrant of tuck-ins. It’s a brutal role of parenthood and one that I hate with a passion.

I much prefer gathering my wily charges in from the great outdoors long after the brilliant clouds of pink, orange and crimson have faded to plum, gray and eventually an inky blue-black. There is much to relish between dusk and darkness, when the moon hangs clear and bright, begging to be plucked from the sky and the stars greet the earth one by one, gradually painting the heavens with a milky glow.

At once, the night air is filled with a symphony of crickets, peepers and barefoot children whacking at Wiffle balls, racing and chasing each other through the cool grass, already laden with dew. Shouts of “Marco…Polo! Marco…Polo!” emanate endlessly from the pool next door along with the muffled thwunks of cannonballs, instantly taking me back to my own youth—the one where Frisbees were thrown until no one could see, where nails were hammered in forts till the woods grew thick with darkness and alive with mosquitoes, where lemonade flowed freely, the pool beckoned and the rules for tag were rewritten more than once.

And all was well—much like this good night.

Fireflies are everywhere now, hugging the trees and the darkest spots in the lawn, blinking here…and a moment later, there—signaling would-be mates and captivating all who give chase with mayonnaise jars in hand. Add the crackle of a campfire, the sweet aroma of toasted marshmallows and the thrill of eavesdropping on children in the midst of any number of conversations and I’m perfectly content. It pains me to put an end to their fun. To rain on their parade. To say goodnight to the Big Dipper and to our constant companions—the lightening bugs.

Naturally, my popularity wanes. Sleep, they must.

But in the end, all is forgiven. Tomorrow is a new day. And there will be more Augusts to savor and a lifetime of moments to give pause.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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