The Road Less Traveled

www.melindawentzel.comI remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment—the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilization it seemed. The place where a large and delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts—one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, swallowed whole by its quiet grandeur, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees that lapped at its fringes. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer—untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows, too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road and its deep, frozen furrows of mud, we’d barrel down the gully—half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks—eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there—foraging through the woods, hiding out in our ramshackle forts and letting our dog run free—were ravenously consumed, chapters of our lives that I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time almost six years—the ones that have felt like six minutes—I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late—a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift—only the leaves back then had long since burst with color, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favorite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to cleanly snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the road less traveled, and recognizing that it has made all the difference). 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 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

Advertisement

Comments Off on The Road Less Traveled

Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

All Hallows Eve…The End is Near

img_5003I’ve been informed it’s over—my brood’s love affair with trick-or-treating, that is. I knew it would happen eventually. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen now, seemingly minutes before Halloween. It’s possible I’ll need weeks of therapy in order to cope with such tragic news. Please send candy.

I guess I was kidding myself to think my kids’ enthusiasm for harvesting gobs of chocolate and fistfuls of candy corn would last forever. And I probably missed some important signs last October when my progenies disguised themselves to the nth degree (one wore a disturbingly realistic horsehead mask while the other donned a ginormous set of bat wings), but then sort of dragged their feet when it came to traipsing all over the neighborhood, treat bags in hand. At the time, I simply pushed it out of my mind. Denial, as it were.

As the stages of grief are classically defined, I suppose I haven’t progressed much since then. I still reject the idea that the fun is over, defending the fact that “…even adults like to dress up in ridiculous outfits and solicit candy. Who wouldn’t?”

Almost immediately, I learned how incredibly stupid that question was. In no uncertain terms, I was enlightened as to how “completely done with that” they were.

“We just want to stay home, answer the door and scare little kids to death.”

Egads. I wasn’t prepared for that sort of response. I guess I just want to hold on to the past, or maybe even live it a little longer if possible. I liked it when my twin daughters were just babies—most of the time anyway. They were pumpkins their first Halloween, kittens their second, and burly lumberjacks their third year I think. I remember dotting their cheeks with dark eyeliner, giving their faces the suggestion of stubble. I also fondly recall piling warm layers of clothing beneath red and black-checkered jackets to complete the look.

For the first several years, my husband and I lugged them around the neighborhood in their little, red wagon, using blankets and coats to prop them up and cushion the bumpy ride. Hats and mittens were a must, cleverly incorporated into the ensemble. At each house we visited, friends would crowd around the door to see how adorable our children looked, each year’s costume topping the last.

As they grew older they were able to walk with us, tightly gripping one of our hands while clutching their coveted treat bag with the other. Each year we journeyed further and further away from home, eventually canvassing the entire neighborhood in one night—which was no small feat.

More recently, they’ve met up with their friends on All Hallows Eve, eager to wander the streets of our close-knit community, a smallish herd of mask-toting teens and tweens in the dark of night, some carrying flashlights, some entirely too cool to carry a flashlight, their raucous laughter filling the autumn air. By evening’s end, they would return home, sweaty and utterly spent, usually hauling all or part of their costumes—either because they were too hot or they broke somewhere along the way. Treat bags bursting with candy. Smiles all around.

But this year will be different. No more ambling from house to house. No more bags of loot to dump on the kitchen floor to better sort and ogle. No more little, red wagon or mittens. At least my kids have assured me there will still be the wearing of costumes, however. So there’s that. I guess I’ll just have to accept reality and embrace a new and different Halloween tradition—as scary as that might be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live…lamenting the end of All Hallows Eve (sort of).

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

Comments Off on All Hallows Eve…The End is Near

Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

The Dog That Came to Stay

IMG_6064It was his eyes that got me. Deep pools of espresso dappled with specks that reminded me of caramel. I hadn’t even reached through the cage to caress his indescribably soft ears yet, a practice I would come to revere more than practically anything since it brought as much calm to me as it did to him. Never mind his sleek, black coat and grizzled eyebrows—the ones he could move independently, effectively conveying his mood, which was almost always agreeable.

The plan was to adopt a rescue dog for my dad, one that would serve as a loving companion for him as he grappled with Alzheimer’s disease. Something that would ground him as his world fell apart. The trouble was that I needed grounding, too.

Needless to say, I didn’t intend to fall in love with such a dog. Nor did I think I would be incapable of delivering on a promise I had made to my dad.

“I’ll find you the perfect dog. Just give me a little more time. I think you’ll love the one we end up with, but we have to be sure it meets all the criteria first.”

Unfortunately, none of the candidates we considered passed muster for a variety of reasons: Too lively, not lively enough, too disinterested in people, too apt to jump on people, too aggressive and so on. It seemed as though we were doomed to fail.

Then Jasper appeared as my husband and I meandered through the SPCA for the umteenth time, peering into cages in search of an answer to our prayers. Our eyes locked with the aforementioned black lab mix and the rest was history. Originally, he was supposed to stay with our family only until we felt he was ready to transition to my dad’s home. “We’ll keep him for a week or so—long enough to adjust to life outside a kennel,” I told my kids. “He’s old and needs some TLC,” I reasoned to myself.

Weeks stretched into a solid month and by then I was hopelessly smitten. Jasper had quietly wheedled his way into our family and had become a part of our lives we didn’t even know was missing. Indeed, there was no mistaking the bond that had formed between us and there simply was no turning back. That said, he stepped with ease into our crazed schedule and house filled with teenage drama, noise and angst, despite his dog years and inability to recognize his own name—the one the Rescue had fittingly assigned him.

Against all odds, he learned to love our yappy, 14-pound Bichon and in the process made the latter less prone to anxiety attacks and barking seizures involving delivery trucks and unsuspecting joggers. At every turn, he modeled good behavior for our not-so-compliant, curly-haired pooch—the one we thought was beyond hope for ever acting like a normal dog. Almost daily they now play together, tossing their sock monkey into the air and racing around the house like a couple of deranged squirrels—something that makes my heart smile. Every. Single. Time.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I discovered how comforting it was to have a big-ish dog place his head or warm muzzle in my hand as I awaken each morning. Or the soothing effect he has on all of us as he wedges his box-like body next to ours on the couch at the close of a long day, somehow sensing our need to decompress. By contrast, he embraces our clamor and chaos—celebrating both the disorder and the abundance of joy that resides within our home.

Needless to say, there’s something extraordinary about having this dog, in particular, around—and by “around” I mean that he has become my shadow, following me everywhere but into the shower. What’s more, he reluctantly bids me farewell when I have to leave and greets me in the doorway when I return, tail wagging wildly, reminding me that all dogs are inclined to smile. You just have to look for it.

As a result, I never feel unappreciated or truly alone no matter how empty my house happens to be—the kids running in 17 different directions and their dad expertly manning the taxi or holed up at his office. Looking back, I think it’s during those quiet times when I value his presence the most. He’s there for me day in and day out, keeping me from dwelling on the sadness that lies beneath the surface of every joy—the ever-present sorrow related to having lost my dad not in the physical sense, but by every other definition.

Somehow, I know my dog understands. It’s in his eyes.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

Comments Off on The Dog That Came to Stay

Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

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

Comments Off on You Might Be a Band Parent…

Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

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).

Comments Off on In Praise of September

Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville