Tag Archives: back to school

Dear Departed Summer

www.melindawentzel.comSeems like just yesterday…

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 summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. Despite 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 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 23 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.

But it was better than disappointing my progenies. And not even related to 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. Sadly, I failed 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 trading Pokémon cards and their inexplicable fascination with roadkill. 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. That said, fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. A symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. 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). 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

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer

From There to Here

www.melindawentzel.comSeems like yesterday………..

Just 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 Converse-wearing, backpack-toting third graders or, tragically, mauled by a rogue pencil sharpener.

Thing One and Thing Two 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. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Love and Other Drugs, School Schmool

Augustember

www.melindawentzel.com

Seems like only yesterday… #timeflies

As August wanes and September draws ever near, 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 giddified messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another 30-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. In the 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 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 Kool-aid 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 Hellmann’s 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. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/notesfromplanetmom.com.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, School Schmool

Augustember

www.melindawentzel.comWrote this seemingly yesterday… #timeflies

As August wanes and September draws ever near, 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 giddified messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another 30-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. In the 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 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 waffle 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 Kool-aid 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 Hellmann’s 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. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, School Schmool

The Sum of Summer

www.melindawentzel.comI’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 Pokémon 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 broach!) 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 if and when it qualifies as a bona fide Kodak moment. 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 10-year-old might be inclined to dream up—to include Photo Booth cameos and fanciful excursions to exotic places like the Canine Islands.

Some other summertime observations I made: Apparently those who wear Band-aids 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. Kids are fairly obsessed with their hodgepodge of injuries and insist that parents become equally fascinated for the duration of the healing process. Gak.

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). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, School Schmool

The Rogue Backpack

It was an interminable shopping excursion—a brutally exhausting back-to-school event that involved far too many fitting rooms with the suggestion of ventilation and, as one might expect, legions upon legions of petulant children, ones who were clearly more interested in setting off a medley of motion detectors and in being swallowed up by great forests of clothing racks than in trying on the armloads of garmentage that spoke to their parents unremittingly. Oddly enough, my dear progeny, a soon-to-be fifth grader completely thrilled with the prospect of buying that-which-is-tight-and-trendy, was uncharacteristically well-mannered throughout the entire ordeal. Go figure.

Naturally, I invited said fact to the forefront of my mind throughout the day so that I might be inspired to forge ahead despite the laborious nature of the task at hand. Translation: I needed something to psyche myself up in order to gather yet another armload of gotta-have-it-or-I’ll-surely-die Hello Kitty apparel, which I would then haul to the dressing room ad nauseam.

But I would do well to remember that there were lots of things that made the experience wholly tolerable—aside from the fact that my child actually wanted to be there. Firstly, my Mom not only orchestrated every minute detail of the aforementioned marathon event (to include clipping coupons, perusing last-minute newspaper advertisements and considering the alignment of the planets so that obscene savings would, indeed, be assured), she also convinced me to take just one daughter at a time—which was a slightly brilliant move. Okay, it was pure genius.

Admittedly, I can’t even take credit for the method employed by my brood to determine who earned the privilege of shopping first. True to form, Thing One and Thing Two settled the matter in a classic rock-paper-scissors fashion, the latter having emerged victorious. I merely served as a witness and as the official hander-outer of the consolation prize—the promise of an equally interminable joyous shopping excursion to the Land of Skinny Jeans and Profoundly Sarcastic T-Shirts, followed shortly thereafter by an epic quest for Converse All-Stars. Pepto Bismol-pink, of course.

The day was memorable if nothing else. Strangely enough, it became even more memorable, punctuated by the discovery of that which rendered me unable to move or speak, except for the tiny gasp that I’m fairly certain I emitted as I stood there, perfectly transfixed by what I saw. Truth be told, my daughter initially made the horrifying discovery and felt compelled to share it with me.

“Mom! Look at THIS!” she shrieked as if a mannequin had been juggling live kittens in the shoe department—which would have been a disturbing yet fascinating sight to behold. “You have to see this! There’s a backpack here for ONE HUNDRED TWENTY BUCKS!” Of course, I made her repeat the aforementioned string of heinousness as if she had uttered an obscenity and I needed to be sure it was, in reality, as impossibly foul as I had understood it to be. And it was.

To be clear, the rogue book bag in question was on sale, but that was beside the point. I couldn’t get past the egregious nature of its original ticketed price. The beauty of shock value had, indeed, been demonstrated as I gawked at the tag in stunned silence. Given to curiosity, I then studied it up close, tugging at its kryptonite-inspired zippers, spinning its endearing little wheels and peering within a multitude of hidden pouches and expandable compartments—frantically searching for that which justified its hideous expense.

Needless to say, I didn’t find it; but I fully expected to unearth a clone of the most remarkable teacher on the planet—one who lived inside that smallish space 24/7, crawling out on command. A pint-sized instructor capable of conveying a deep understanding of the Pythagorean theorem to my dog (never mind less-than-cooperative children). An educator extraordinaire, brimming with enough enthusiasm and patience for six people (and a collapsible Smart Board with tons of pretty markers, too).

Color me delusional, yet again (but not stupid enough to pay $120 for a damn backpack).

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (thoroughly consumed by back-to-school madness). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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