Seven Things Parenthood has Taught Me

www.melindawentzel.comI’ve been a parent for some 8,734 days. A stunningly imperfect parent, I hasten to add. During that period of time I learned more about sleep deprivation, sibling rivalry and teen angst than I previously considered humanly possible. However, the past decade has proven to be particularly edifying. Indeed, Thing One and Thing Two (my ten-year-old twin daughters) have provided me with a veritable feast of enlightenment. So, in the spirit of welcoming my next decade as a parent (and the vat of enlightenment sure to come), I thought it might be fitting to recap what the last 10 years have taught me—at least from the perspective of a stunningly imperfect parent.

  • Beauty is likely in the kitchen. Translation: Most of the masterpieces I’ve collected thus far in my parenting journey are proudly displayed upon my refrigerator, where I suspect they will remain for a very long time to come. That is not to say the face of the fridge is the only canvas upon which said prized artwork hangs in all its faded glory. My home is quite literally inundated with the fledgling, Picasso-esque efforts of my brood, serving as a constant reminder of their boundless generosity and artsy flair. As it should be, I suppose.
  • The word “sleepover” is a misnomer. No one actually sleeps at a sleepover—including the pitiable adults charged with the impossible duty of entertaining the gaggle of impressionable youths in attendance. Furthermore, the later slumber partygoers appear to crash, the earlier they will rise, demanding bacon and eggs. Moreover, it is inevitable that someone’s personal effects (i.e. an unclaimed pair of underpants, a lone sweat sock, an irreplaceable stuffed animal) will be tragically lost—only to surface months later in the oddest of places.
  • When taken out of context, that-which-parents-say-and-do is often appalling. Case in point: “Stop licking the dog.” “If you’re going to ride your scooter in the house, wear a damn helmet.” “Fight nice.” In a similar vein, I’ve fed my charges dinner and/or dessert in a bathtub more times than I’d care to admit, I’ve used a shameful quantity of saliva to clean smudges off faces, I’ve suggested a broad range of inappropriate responses to being bullied and I consider the unabashed bribe to be one of my most effective parenting tools.
  • On average, we parents spend an ungodly amount of time reading aloud books that we find unbearably tedious. We say unforgivably vile things about the so-called “new math” and, as a matter of course, we become unhinged by science projects and whatnot—especially those that require mad dashes to the craft store at all hours of the day and night in search of more paint, more modeling clay and perhaps a small team of marriage counselors.
  • Forget wedding day jitters, the parent/teacher conference is among the most stressful experiences in life—not to be confused with the anxiety-infused telephone call from the school nurse and that interminable lapse of time wedged between not knowing what’s wrong with one’s child and finding out.
  • A captive audience is the very best sort of audience. That said, some of the most enlightening conversations between parent and child occur when the likelihood of escape is at a minimum (i.e. at the dinner table, in a church pew, en route to the umpteenth sporting event/practice session/music lesson, within the confines of the ever-popular ER). Similarly, the discovery of a teensy-tiny wad of paper—one that has been painstakingly folded and carefully tucked within a pocket, wedged beneath a pillow or hidden inside dresser drawer—is akin to being granted psychic powers. Everything a parent needs to know about their child will likely be scrawled upon said scrap of paper.
  • Unanswerable questions never die—they simply migrate to more fertile regions of our homes where they mutate into hideous manifestations of their original forms, leaving us wringing our hands and damning our inadequate selves.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (getting schooled as we speak). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Ten Ways to Say Thank You, Dad

IMG_0232Fathers come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and talents. On the whole, I’d daresay they are a thankless lot—often underappreciated, largely misunderstood—an entire populace of men rarely acknowledged for the many and varied ways in which they contribute as parents. Mothers, deservedly or not, garner the lion’s share of recognition when it comes to the important business of raising a family. But Father’s Day, with its prominently marketed golf wares, grilling must-haves and sea of manly fragrances, forces us to shift our collective sentiment and pay homage to dear, old Dad.

And as I wander the aisles in search of the perfect greeting card for my father—one that I believe captures the essence of our relationship, keys on our shared allegiance to witticism and adequately gives thanks for the sacrifices he’s made and the wisdom he’s imparted, I find myself settling for that which falls disappointingly short. Hallmark, it seems, hasn’t stumbled upon the right assemblage of words just yet. Somehow their writers have missed the mark, along with all the other clever wordsmiths who’ve failed to deliver the sort of message my father needs to receive—the one that perhaps all fathers need to receive. So thank you, Dad, for so many things…

…for encouraging me to forge my own path instead of assuming that the paths of others would necessarily be right for me…for letting me climb to the tops of trees and to skateboard with wild abandon…for ferrying me to the ER when necessary.

…for teaching me how to throw a fastball, wield a mean golf club and sink a jump shot on command…for being my biggest advocate (even still) and for believing in me even before I believed in myself.

…for being oh-so-generous with your time…for listening intently to my wishes and worries…for considering me a worthy companion as we jogged over the back roads of town, watched doubleheaders into the wee hours and sat in scratchy lawn chairs together, completely mesmerized by the thunderstorms that rolled across the skies in the midst of July’s unbearable heat, summer after endless summer.

…for letting me date boys with mustaches and muscle cars…for traipsing around the kitchen in your underwear late at night, when said boys needed reminding that it was time to go home (an infinitely mortifying experience then, but absolutely hilarious now)…for walking me down the aisle—twice—and never once saying I told you so.

…for introducing me to the concept of balancing a checkbook, as well as finding balance in my life…for teaching me to accept failure when it comes to call and to learn from my missteps…to appreciate having grandparents, a roof overhead and acres of woods all around.

…for tolerating my teenage years (Oy!), for trusting me with your beloved cars even though the voices inside your head must have screamed, “Noooo!” and for resisting the overwhelming desire to share with my High School Yearbook Committee that hideous photo of me with the mumps. For that alone, I love you dearly.

…for navigating so many road trips—to distant airports, to a good number of college campuses I considered calling home, to my very first job interview in the city. Never mind that we got horribly lost in the process; but getting a glimpse of the White House at rush hour surely was grand.

…for inspiring me to be a responsible individual, to work hard and to strive to do good in this world…for illustrating the power of forgiveness, the refuge of one’s church and the necessary nature of grieving our losses…for reminding me that things usually work out in the end—even when they look entirely hopeless at the start.

…for underscoring the importance of finding time for one’s children, time for one’s marriage and time for oneself…for helping me recognize the inherent value of ice cream sundaes, the versatility of duct tape and the irreplaceable nature of a good friend.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for showing me the beauty of marrying one’s best friend.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks for my dad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Hands Upon My Heart

www.melindawentzel.comWhen I was nine or ten, I remember well my enthrallment with my mother’s hands. They were delicate and slender, sweetly scented and rose petal-soft—so completely unlike my own nicked and scraped, callused and chafed boy-like hands that were better suited for wielding a hammer and throwing a fastball than anything else. Mine were distinctively earthy, too, largely because remnants of dirt and grass simply refused to be removed. Or at least that was the sentiment I held for much of the summer. It was a byproduct of being a kid, I suppose, literally immersed in a world of sod and soil from sunup to sundown. Never mind my fondness of forests and rocky places, which typified a deep and abiding bond with nature—one that I’m not quite sure my mother ever completely understood.

At any rate, my hands told of who I was at the time—a tomboy given to tree climbing, stealing second base and collecting large and unwieldy rocks. Everyone’s hands, I’d daresay, depict them to a certain degree, having a story to tell and a role to play at every time and every place on the continuum of life. Traces of our journey remain there in the folds of our skin—from the flat of our palms and knobs of our knuckles to the very tips of our fingers. As it should be, I suppose.

For better or for worse, our hands are the tools with which we shape the world and to some extent they define us—as sons and daughters, providers and professionals, laborers and learners, movers and shakers. That said, I’m intrigued by people’s hands and the volumes they speak—whether they’re mottled with the tapestry of age, vibrant and fleshy or childlike and impossibly tender. Moreover, I find that which they whisper difficult to ignore.

Likewise, I’m fascinated by the notion that ordinary hands routinely perform extraordinary deeds day in and day out, ostensibly touching all that truly matters to me. Like the hands that steer the school bus each morning, the hands that maintain law and order throughout the land, the hands at the helm in the event of fire or anything else that smacks of unspeakable horribleness, the hands that deftly guide my children through the landscape of academia, the hands that bolster them on the soccer field, balance beam, court and poolside, the hands that bless them at the communion rail each week and the hands that brought immeasurable care and comfort to our family pet in his final hours. Strange as it sounds, I think it’s important to stop and think about such things. Things that I might otherwise overlook when the harried pace of the world threatens to consume me.

If nothing else, giving pause makes me mindful of the good that has come to pass and grateful to the countless individuals who continue to make a difference simply by putting their hands to good use. For whatever reason, this serves to ground me and helps me put into perspective how vastly interdependent and connected we are as a whole. Indeed, we all have a hand (as well as a stake) in what will be.

Equally important is the notion of remembering what was. More specifically, the uniqueness of those I’ve loved and lost. A favorite phrase. A special look. The warmth of a smile or the joy of their laughter. Further (and in keeping with the thrust of this piece), there’s nothing quite as memorable as the hands of those I’ve lost—like my grandfather’s. His were more like mitts, actually—large and leathery, weathered and warm. Working hands with an ever-present hint of grease beneath his hardened nails, and the distinctive scent of hay and horses that clung to him long after he left the barn. And although decades have passed, I can still see him pulling on his boots, shuffling a deck of cards and scooping tobacco from his pouch—his thick fingers diligently working a stringy wad into the bowl of his pipe, followed shortly thereafter by a series of gritty strikes of the lighter and wafts of sweet smoke mingling reluctantly with those from the kitchen.

Of course, my grandmothers’ hands were equally memorable. One had short, stubby fingers and a penchant for biting her nails to the nub. Always, it seemed, she was hanging wash out on the line, scrubbing dishes or stirring a pot brimming with macaroni—my favorite form of sustenance on the planet. By contrast, my other grandmother suffered the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis as evidenced by her hands. To this day I can picture a set of finely manicured nails at the tips of her smallish fingers—fingers that were gnarled and bent unmercifully, although they never seemed to be hampered when it came to knitting a wardrobe for my beloved Barbies.

Not surprisingly, I can still summon an image of my brother’s hands, too. Almost instantly. They were handsome, lean and mannish-looking—yet something suggestive of the little boy he had once been lingered there. Needless to say, I am grateful for such delicious memories—the ones indelibly etched upon my heart.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the hands that have touched my life).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Grass is Always Greener Somewhere Else

www.melindawentzel.comPractically every kid on the planet has done each of the following at some point during his or her tenure: marred something of immeasurable value with an impossible-to-remove substance, tried flushing something that’s decidedly unflushable and/or threatened to run away from home for one seemingly absurd reason or another. Of course, the world is full of overachievers in this particular realm, as many will attest to having surpassed the gold standard of misguided behavior. I am no exception.

My guess is that much of what kids do stems from an unquenchable thirst for information and a great longing for independence. Further, I’d surmise that much of their internal dialogue begins with phrases like, “I wonder what would happen if…” and includes impassioned statements like, “If I were king, there’d be no more…bedtimes, baths, rules, etc. like at so-and-so’s house.”

Indeed, the grass is always greener somewhere else.

Back in 1970, I for one believed it to be so—just two doors down, in fact. A lovely couple, whose children were long since grown, lived there in a quaint little brick house with a sprawling back yard and the most enormous shade trees I had ever known. That’s where my four-year-old brother and I found George and Bernice, in the haze of mid-summer—lolling in cavernous chairs when day was done, enjoying what breeze could be summoned as the sun inched toward the horizon, watching and waiting as the shadows lengthened and the crickets prepared for their nightly symphony.

Invariably, she’d wear a light, cottony dress with a floral pattern and generous pockets for clothespins and whatnot. He wore woolen pants, a plain, white t-shirt and work boots. Suspenders sometimes, too. Cookies were involved, as was lemonade. There were countless treks through their garage, their magnificent garden as well as their home because, of course, it was their pride and joy and they seemed genuinely pleased to show us every inch of the place—from the ceramic sink in the kitchen to its stiflingly hot attic.

All the while we learned where each knick-knack came from, who was pictured in the portraits on the walls, the make and model of their extraordinarily well-cared-for car (an Olds, I think) and how to keep rabbits from nibbling at lettuce. But mostly, we sat under the tall trees and talked. Their aging beagle, that hobbled even more than they did, stayed close. Cool grass and good company were precious commodities. Even my brother and I knew that. Especially on the days we packed our bags and ran away from home—frustrated beyond words with our parents, fed up completely with this or that perceived injustice, eager to find something better under someone else’s roof. George and Bernice’s seemed just fine.

Oddly enough, they tolerated our gripes and grumbles. They listened intently as we told of the insufferable nature of living in a home where an eight-year-old might be expected to take out the trash or set the table from time to time. They nodded understanding and offered quiet solace as we voiced our rage against the powers that be. But they had to have been laughing inside—remembering a time when their own children had run away, hauling lumpy sleeping bags and peanut butter sandwiches across the neighborhood.

Looking back now I see the tours and the talks for what they truly were—cleverly implemented diversionary tactics, designed to defuse our anger and redirect our attention. They were just neighbors being neighborly. Givers of guidance. An instrument of good.

Time and again, my tag-along brother and I wised up and headed home. Darkness was encroaching, mosquitoes had arrived and our dear companions, fear and worry, had come calling (Would those who had helped us pack actually search for us?!). Besides, I missed my dog and it was soon time for my favorite shows.

Indeed, it was time to admit defeat and return to the home we knew best—although it was fun to taste a bit of independence and to partake of the seemingly greener pastures just two doors down.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (bracing for the infamous I’m-gonna-run-away phase). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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From There to Here

www.melindawentzel.comJust a moment ago, my children were kindergarteners—spindly creatures with wee arms, knobby knees and tinny voices. I remember well our maiden voyage to the school’s open house one afternoon late in August—to the shores of Mrs. Morehart’s classroom, a warm and welcoming place at the end of the hall where my husband and I, like everyone else, crammed our oversized frames into impossibly small chairs eager to consume all that a parent of a kindergartener could possibly need to know about the year ahead. There was talk of cubbies and snow boots, art smocks and mittens. Bus schedules. Lunch lines. Recess and snacks.

Together, with our knees awkwardly pressed to our chests and our irrational fears lurking just beneath the surface, we learned about the magical nature of story time, the Puppet Lady who would come to call, the wealth of educational experiences our children were slated to have and, of course, the vastly important assurance of bathroom proximity. God knows how dearly we valued that. In any event, our concerns were adequately addressed as a collective sigh of relief wafted over the cozy grove of Lilliputian-inspired tables that filled the room and the brightly colored whateverness with which said room was adorned.

Indeed, Mrs. Morehart was a woman with whom we became enamored almost instantly. Her classroom promised to be a venue where impressionable minds would be nourished, creativity and curiosity would be duly celebrated and respect for others, as well as oneself, would be cultivated above all else. What’s more, surnames and bus numbers would be indelibly imprinted upon the forehead of each and every five-year-old and the aforementioned godsend-of-an-educator would refrain from passing judgment on those who were wholly incapable of enforcing bedtimes as well as those who might be inclined to serve dinner in the bathtub on a school night (to, of course, remedy the not-getting-the-kids-to-bed-at-a-reasonable-hour problem).

In truth, no one’s forehead was defiled in the plan to distinguish students or to ensure that the right child got on the right bus at dismissal. In any event, the curators of our precious cargo did, indeed, coordinate the logistics of transportation (and practically every other aspect of child management) seamlessly and with great aplomb. That said, the Land of Kindergarten was a place we parents could feel genuinely good about leaving our charges.

Never mind the wave of apprehension that literally consumed me the following week, when that big, yellow beast-of-a-school-bus groaned to a halt in my street and a certain couple of somebodies were expected to board and then traverse the uncertain path that would come to define their lives as kindergarteners—without me. Needless to say, a great deal of time has passed since then—despite the fact that it feels like mere seconds ago that I sat in one of those tiny plastic chairs, a red one I think, fretting over the exceedingly remote possibility that my children would be trampled by a herd of backpack-toting third graders or, tragically, mauled by a rogue pencil sharpener.

My charges are worldly fifth graders now—not-so-spindly creatures who positively thrive on the thrum of activity present in their school day. No longer are they overwhelmed by long lines in the cafeteria, the deafening roar of eco-friendly electric hand dryers in the restrooms or an oncoming herd of third graders for that matter. They know practically every nook and cranny of their beloved school—where favorite library books can be found, which teachers have a debilitating affinity for chocolate chip cookies and, not surprisingly, how to efficiently navigate to the nurse’s office from virtually anywhere in the building. What’s more, they’ve learned how to deal with unwieldy band instruments, lost book fair money and, occasionally, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

In that respect—yet ever so reluctantly—I acknowledge the vast chasm that exists between then and now, there and here, even though it has felt so completely fleeting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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