Tag Archives: Bookish Stuff

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me, I Think I’ll Eat Worms

Purely for the sake of argument, let us just say that I have a difficult child. One that unwittingly, yet ever-so-skillfully, drives me to the brink of lunacy as a matter of course—or to the recesses of a closet, where the din cannot follow and some semblance of my sanity can be reclaimed.

Granted, I love this child—and for the past nine years I’ve appreciated her uniqueness, her special gifts and her uncanny ability to make my heart smile even on the darkest of days. Oddly enough, though, she has trouble finding her smile at times—which is the crux of what makes her difficult, methinks.

Indeed, the aforementioned child is periodically consumed by negativity, self-loathing and doubt—not to mention the belief that pretty much everything in her life is decidedly horrible. From hair that won’t remain perfectly parted and math facts that refuse to be summoned to the wrinkly socks and days of the week that ostensibly hate her, she is tormented by all that is even remotely frustrating to the average fourth grader. And although she hasn’t explicitly uttered the phrase, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…I think I’ll eat worms,” most assuredly, she has thought it.

Needless to say, the local worm populace and I have seriously entertained the notion of fleeing to a faraway place so as to escape from the torrent of intolerableness that lives and breathes here whenever PESSIMISM comes to call (i.e. the epic meltdowns during which the seething child in question stomps and shrieks and writhes about in a fit of rage—whenever failure and disappointment lurk, whenever flexibility is in desperate need, whenever the Homework Monster rears its ugly head, making demands and finding fault). Moreover, the above-mentioned creature is disturbingly obsessed with sameness, given to self-contempt, to catastrophizing and to hostility—practically imploding while tackling that which is deemed too difficult or smacks of change. And alas, much of the time I am unable to pull her from the wreckage—demonstrating (yet again) my woeful ineptitude as a parent.

To be sure, that is the point at which I feel like a failure, fumbling around in the dark for a perfectly hewn snippet of speech that promises to remedy all that is ailing. The right words, as it were, are elusive at best, buried beneath volumes of discourse and drivel that fail to deliver. Granted, I’m not the only parent on the planet faced with such a challenge, and I need only turn to Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to be reminded. Given the title’s enormous popularity, I know that I am not alone as I endure the doom-and-gloom assertions that riddle my child’s thinking: “My life is ENTIRELY HORRIBLE!”, “My socks ABSOLUTELY HATE ME!” and “I’ll NEVER, EVER understand math, Mom!”

But, I am happy to report, what I’ve spelled out in horrific detail exists only in the distant past. The meltdowns that occur beneath this roof in the here and now are very nearly manageable—mostly, I’d surmise, because the gods have been smiling upon me this past year. Indeed, so many individuals (near and far, through church, school and the like) have had a hand in leading us to a better place—so much so that I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for their efforts.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to employ the sage advice of Dr. Tamar E. Chansky, author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, which has been nothing short of a godsend. Translation: I devoured it three glorious times—gleaning something new and different with each successive read. In sum, it is a 295-page, 11-chapter gem-of-a-parental-resource jammed with a host of insightful observations, pragmatic strategies and user-friendly language that even I can exercise and understand. More specifically, my dog-eared copy (the one I keep at my bedside) has provided me with the tools necessary to better manage the daily barrage of “I’m stupid…my life is stupid…even my stupid hair is stupid” commentary to which I had grown far too accustomed. Further, Freeing Your Child has given me an abundance of skills—enough so that I might teach the smallish being I love so completely how to quell the angry beast within—even when I am not by her side, poised to pluck her from the unmerciful depths of negativity. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

That said, it’s likely the worms in this particular region are now safe—at least as it relates to human consumption.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks to the locals who’ve been indescribably helpful and revering Tamar Chansky and her invaluable book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

A Depraved New World: A Mother’s Rant

Horrified is the only word I can summon to accurately describe how I feel about a book that was authored solely for the purpose of facilitating pedophilia. The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct was written by Colorado-based Phillip R. Greaves II who defends his self-published tome as “…my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian [sic] rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught.” He expressed further, “True pedophiles love children and would never hurt them.”

Apparently, Mr. Greaves never heard of Elizabeth Smart. Or Jaycee Dugard. Or Jennifer Schuett. Or 11-year-old Michaela Petit. Or 6-year-old Adam Walsh. Or the countless others who have been victimized at the hands of a depraved pedophile. Either that or he is somehow confused about the notion of what actually constitutes a sex crime. Or maybe he just wants the world to better understand people who would commit such heinous acts and to dig deeper to find the inherent good within their sorry souls—a concept I find wholly inconceivable.

More disturbingly, Greaves’ book (as of this writing) ranks among the top 100 of all Amazon.com Kindle sales. Due to an apparent explosion of public outrage (i.e. thousands of impassioned protests and threats of boycotts on the cusp of the holiday shopping season), the online giant removed the aforementioned title from its shelves, responding to concerned users by stating they “…do not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions. Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.”

Well that line of reasoning certainly makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (not!) with regard to protecting our right to free speech—regardless of the potential implications it may have, despite the grossly misguided message it sends humanity and notwithstanding the deeper moral issue that seems to have been sacrificed in the process of promoting said book. Needless to say, I don’t advocate censorship in every instance, but this piece of literary filth crossed the proverbial line and if ever there were justification for burning a book—this would be it. That said, I fear the tenet of social responsibility no longer means anything to anyone—least of all, to the industries that pay homage to the almighty dollar.

Clearly, it’s too late for Amazon to feign ignorance, or to having had a temporary lapse of good judgment. Honestly, how could ANYONE assigned to screen content for appropriateness possibly misconstrue the gist of this book? The title alone should have grabbed a reviewer by the throat and squeezed until its vileness was duly noted. In essence, it is an instruction manual for child molesters…a collection of dos and don’ts for would-be pedophiles (complete with legal advice)…a free pass to the Land of Exploitation—and until late Wednesday, it was available for download at the insanely affordable rate of $4.79.

Of course, The Pedophile’s Guide isn’t the only book of its ilk listed on Amazon’s site. Nor is Greaves the only author to delve into such topics. Until very recently, Greaves’ Gardens of Flesh could be purchased there. It’s likely that CNN’s Anderson Cooper (of AC 360) triggered its removal—and rightly so. However, others still remain. Join the LIVE CHAT to weigh in.

In sum, I am appalled by the audacity with which the guide was both created and promoted online—which is truly a reprehensible thing. Likewise, I am alarmed by the volume of demand and interest that evidently exists for such a product (an undisclosed number were sold). Moreover, I am saddened to think it would still be available had it not been for the voices of so many enraged individuals.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (thoroughly disgusted with this deplorable turn of events).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, A Depraved New World, Bookish Stuff, I blog therefore I am, Rantings & Ravings, Sick-O Central, The Write Stuff

Ode to Embarrassment

It has been said that success as a parent isn’t fully realized unless and until you’ve become an embarrassment to your children. Apparently, my husband and I have been making remarkable progress toward that end—inadvertent though our efforts might have been. We sing in the car. We make snapdragons talk. We hurl wadded socks at one another. We scream at the TV during tennis matches. And we impersonate Jeff Dunham’s puppet people far too often. All of which, evidently, our brood finds fairly disturbing—especially when friends come to call.

I saw flashes of it a few years ago, when Thing One and Thing Two entered the second grade. It was subtle at first—the rumblings of their discontent barely audible amidst the tumult of motherhood. At the time, their muted protests against the many and varied ways we caused them unspeakable embarrassment seemed trivial and unfounded. So I dismissed them, perhaps wrongly. Over time, however, their grumblings have become progressively louder and more insistent, swiftly sliding into the realm of that-which-is-difficult-to-ignore.

“Mom, stop sticking NOTES inside my lunch box. People will SEE them, you know. We talked about this last year, didn’t we? Oh, and don’t pack any more open-faced, peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwiches. So-and-so gets grossed out whenever I take a bite and then THE WHOLE TABLE looks at my stupid sandwich. It’s entirely horrible.”

That said, I’m starting to empathize with the smallish beings in question—who, for whatever reason of late, have adopted the survivalist mentality of Greg Heffley, the middle-schooler of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame. Translation: DON’T raise your hand. DON’T use the bathroom. DON’T call attention to yourself in any way, shape or form. And most importantly, DON’T let your mother become the primary source of your embarrassment. Needless to say, there are clearly defined parameters within which I must operate so that I might be viewed as something other than the bane of someone’s existence.

Evidently, the rules apply at the bus stop, too, where (Gasp!) veritable throngs of kids might actually witness the unthinkable: handholding, goodbye kisses, a neatly folded Kleenex being stuffed inside someone’s pocket, a Band-Aid being hurriedly applied (with or without a dab of Neosporin), a sock monkey and/or a certain stuffed armadillo being relinquished—lest they become inadvertent stowaways for the duration of the school day.

Apparently, I’m not allowed to wave anymore either—although I’ve recently appealed that decision and my suggestion of “waving with a little less enthusiasm” is somewhat promising. For that, I suppose I should be thankful, and perhaps more understanding.

After all, I remember being completely mortified as a teenager when my dad would—almost inconceivably—traipse around in his underwear while my date and I sat on the couch in stunned silence. Shortly thereafter, he’d emerge from the kitchen with leftovers in hand and a Cheshire cat smile upon his face. Of course, he’d then amble, unabashed, down the hallway from whence he came while I very seriously considered the merits of dissolving into nothingness. It’s entirely likely I make my daughters feel much the same way, although I have yet to traipse anywhere in my underwear.

I have, however, been known to read books aloud at the aforementioned bus stop, the practice of which has been met with a fair degree of resistance even though it’s an ideal time and place to do so. Okay, it’s been met with unequivocal refusals to listen and ardent demands that I cease and desist. “Mom, we’re not babies anymore. Everyone on the bus will make fun of us if they see that book in your hand because they’ll KNOW you’ve been reading it to us. It’s embarrassing, you know.” Woe is me.

It’s not just any old book either. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so miserable. The book in question happens to be The BFG, a drool-worthy classic by Roald Dahl—a gift from a perfectly wonderful third grade teacher who knew I’d find it practically irresistible as a read aloud. Only it won’t be happening at our bus stop—the place where sulkiness periodically rears its ugly head. Nope. Perish the thought.

But lo and behold, I recently learned that another perfectly wonderful individual at that very same school will soon be reading aloud that very same book to my kids in the library—a place where reading of practically every sort is celebrated. As it should be, methinks. With any luck, Thing One and Thing Two will forget themselves and drink in every delicious syllable.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (embarrassing my children on a regular basis).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Ode to Embarrassment, School Schmool, Smother May I?, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

November’s Sweet Indulgence

I’m not particularly fond of November—that dreary block of time wedged between the fullness of fall and the magic of winter. As calendars go, it is the Dead Zone for me. Except for evergreens, the landscape will soon grow barren and its naked forests and fields will be nearly devoid of life. The arrival of spring seems all but impossible in the doom and gloom of November.

Not surprisingly, as the skies gray, the chill of winter looms large and wayward leaves of oak and maple gather en masse outside my doorstep, I find myself drawn to the warmth of a good book. Simply put, if it’s a solidly written work of nonfiction and a topic worthy of my time, I’m smitten from word one till the bitter end. Think: USA Today’s columnist, Craig Wilson (It’s the Little Things) and Betsy Lerner (The Forest for the Trees). A novel, however—especially one that is palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible—is a different animal altogether, tending to woo me for a host of reasons. Think: Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster).

Maybe I’m charmed to death by a particular narrative’s cast of characters, intrigued by its wealth of unpredictability or awed by the author’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales. Perhaps the language itself sings to me or more often than not, its message hits me squarely where I live.

Or maybe, just maybe, my passion for all-things-bookish stems plainly from this: for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments, solitude is mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world fades to black as I sink deeper and deeper into the pages of a literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before the house begins to stir, and in the quiet of night when day is done, I refuel and recondition, sipping the honeyed words of giants like Anna QuindlenMitch Albom and Anne Lamott. Indulgence like that is sinfully satisfying—yet in a good-for-me sort of way. After devouring as little as a passage or a page (never mind something as grand as an entire chapter) I often feel a tinge of guilt—as if I’ve stolen a nap or a head-clearing walk amidst the falling leaves and crisp air, thick with the scent of autumn—a walk completely devoid of meandering tricycles, tangled dog leashes and less-than-attentive-to-traffic children.

Better still, books transport me beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. Upon my return I’m refreshed, restored and genuinely grateful for having been granted a slice of time to collect my thoughts, to reflect on someone else’s or to simply dissolve into the woodwork of life. I’d like to think I emerge as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Admittedly, I savor the chunks of time spent in lounges and waiting rooms, even those littered with chintzy toys, wailing children and a hodgepodge of germ-ridden magazines. But only if I’ve remembered my own scrumptious reading material. Likewise, I’m happy to be huddled (half frozen) on a playground bench or stuffed behind my steering wheel at a soggy soccer field if armed with one of many delectable titles I have yet to complete (twenty-three and counting). Confession: I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness in one sitting. Not surprisingly, I’ve lingered more than once in the aforementioned venues, yielding to the power of a page-turner. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating.

In sum, books are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled…during my less-than-favorite month of November, or anytime.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where books beckon unremittingly).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Me Myself and I, Me Time, The Write Stuff

My Dog Ate My Homework and Other Tales of Woe

The afternoon began uneventfully enough. My motley crew leapt from the school bus like every other day and flung their backpacks into a crumpled heap at the curbside—a practice I’ve grown to tolerate over the years since it usually grants me a few delicious moments to myself. Moments during which my sole function on the planet is simply to watch them run circles around each other, screaming like a couple of banshees, weaving in and out of a grove of trees—ones that are routinely summoned to participate in their latest and greatest make-believe pirate or superhero drama. Indeed, it makes perfect sense to encourage said purging of the vat of pent up energy with which they seem to arrive home each day, and to be patient while they soak up every glee-filled ounce of childhood that is humanly possible. But on this particular day, it was all for naught.

Shortly after the beasts within were presumably tamed, the wheels flew off my Parenting Bus. Hubcaps and all. In perfect chorus, there were demands for snacks and demands for my attention, squabbles to settle and hostilities to halt, messes to manage and hurts to heal, slips to sign and studies to support. And all the while I tried to attend meaningfully to a conversation with a certain co-ed who decided to make landfall in this crazy place at this crazy hour—a hurried conversation about borrowing a sleeping bag due to the ridiculous prospect of driving hundreds of miles to a huge city where she’s never driven, to pitch a tent in Godknowswhatforest and CAMP IN THE FREEZING COLD with a bunch of like-minded bohemians she’s never met “…because it will be an adventure, Mom, and besides, I know at least one of them and I guess I’ll get to know the rest.”

Naturally, the toilet paper debate surfaced.

“You’ll need to pack some toilet paper, you know. And wool socks. Do you even have wool socks? How about long underwear? Have you thought about that?”

“No, Mom. I won’t need toilet paper. I have wool socks. And I won’t need long underwear in Virginia.”

“Yes you will.”

“No I won’t.”

And so the drama in our kitchen continued—until she had had enough of my former-resident-of-Virginia motherly advice and I had had enough of trying to deal with multiple crises of epic proportions. In retrospect, the crises themselves probably weren’t all that horrific or exceedingly unmanageable. But clustered together, into a consortium of tiny tragedies, they certainly felt genuinely oppressive—as if my world were collapsing all around me. Then the dog entered the fray (removing all doubt that my world had indeed collapsed), taking a sizeable chunk out of someone’s book—a book that belonged to the school—a book that I would ineptly try to resuscitate with massive quantities of tape and resourcefulness the next day. However, my resourcefulness met its match when I foolishly inquired as to where the rest of the gnawed upon morsels were.

“They’re in his belly, Mom. I was reading to him and then I went away and that’s when Jack decided to taste my book.” I only wish I had been present in school to witness the blow-by-blow explanation she surely offered her teacher, detailing the fate her hapless book had met. Clearly, any sentence that contains both the words dog and homework can’t hope to be well received by any teacher—even if those words happen to be delivered by a second grader with little or no expertise in the realm of conjuring lame excuses.

Unfortunately, the dog wasn’t alone in striving to complete his mission of destruction that afternoon. Apparently, my heathens were also bent on ruinous behavior. Case in point: while hurling their smallish bodies into oblivion (i.e. flinging themselves into an enormous leaf pile in the back yard again and again), not surprisingly, and horrendously, they collided. One cranium and one chin famously intersected in what appeared to be a valiant attempt to occupy the very same bit of earthly airspace. The laws of physics prevailed, however, resulting in equal and opposite reactions, largely manifested by an impressive-looking goose egg and a set of rattled teeth. After being smothered with kisses that were sure to cure all their ills, my sniveling combatants headed straight for the freezer to remedy their stupidity. Ice would be their companion for quite some time.

Even still as evening approached, said idiocy refused to leave our happy home. Our brood had settled nicely into what we assumed would be a civilized game of Jumpin’ Monkeys. But in a fit of rage, Thing One viciously stomped upon Thing Two’s brand spanking new glasses (that were lying on the floor AGAIN!)—twisting them hideously into a mangled mess, necessitating an immediate and gloriously lecture-filled trip to the eye doctor’s (read: our saving grace).

“She smooshed them, Mommy! On purpose! Just because I threw her stupid, stinking monkey!”

And so our tales of woe continued. Thankfully not every day is so abundantly eventful.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

 

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Doggie Diamonds, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, Smother May I?, The Woman-Child, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Everyone is Beautiful

Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago (as was the case with the Bright Side of Disaster), but this is a newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her second novel once more. On a side note, Get Lucky, Center’s third novel, hit stores just last week!

As I type these very words, I am hopelessly mired in a grievous state of mourning. My head is hung, my drapes are drawn and the sad reality that comes with turning the last page of an engaging and truly palpable read has settled deep within my soul. I may as well drag my sorry self into a corner and sulk while I wait for Katherine Center’s third novel to be released.

That said, Everyone is Beautiful is utterly fabulous in an I-can’t-put-it-down-to-save-my-life sort of way. And as was the case with The Bright Side of Disaster, Center’s first novel, I devoured its pages multiple times, hoping to sink again and again into the tangible existence she so vividly painted.

Not surprisingly, Center’s cast of characters and the remarkable web of relationships she crafted are as colorful as they are complex. And the crux of the narrative she serves up provides a meaty and satisfying meal for those fortunate enough to partake. Her depictions of parenthood, involving poop and Play-Doh and the glorious sacrifices we make for our children each and every day, are spot-on, making the tale that much more believable. Further, she skillfully employs a series of heartwarming flashbacks, giving readers a glimpse into the past and helping us piece together the whys and wherefores of everyone’s actions—especially relevant to the logic of love, if there is such an animal.

But what I found utterly delicious about this literary gem was the fact that I could identify with much of what Lanie, the main character, felt about motherhood. About marriage. About choices. About body image. About longing to reclaim and reconnect with the self I once knew—before the onslaught of life and love and the wonderful mess said “fork-in-the-road” journey so inevitably engendered. Now and forever.

As a mother of young children, I, too, felt almost driven to throw myself into something—anything—that I alone could own and tap into as a source of sustenance and salvation. To consume that which promised to define me (in some sense) as something other than a mother, gulp after glorious gulp.

For some, the garden calls. For others, it’s the kitchen or the gym. Still others are drawn to journaling or scrapbooking or knitting. Nevertheless, all serve as nourishment for the soul. For me, it was pencil sketching, then pastels and finally, photography. Naturally, the irresistible desire to write struck at that time as well—a compulsion that is perhaps as fervent today as it was on Day One of motherhood. Looking back, I’d surmise that such diversions helped to shape me and perhaps strengthened my ability to handle all that was on my plate—which is a good thing, I think. All moms should have something that shouts, “This is me!”

Center, of course, gets that and reminds us throughout the novel of the inherent worth and meaning we possess as parents, the deluge of precious gifts we receive as a result and of the beauty contained within each and every human being.

In the end, she is right—everyone is beautiful—much like the lovely gentleman I met in the grocery store who asked if I might read aloud a Mother’s Day card for him. He wanted to be sure the words intended for his wife possessed that perfect blend of romance and undying gratitude for all that she is and has been in years past. He could have selected just any old card in that section and hoped for the best with regard to its message, but instead swallowed his pride and approached me, banking on my ability to manage fine print.

Of course, I was happy to oblige and after stumbling upon “the” card, he thanked me profusely, smiled and turned to walk away, content with the symphony of poetry and prose contained within. Indeed, a beautiful thing.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (anxious to lock myself in a closet with Center’s third and destined-for-fame novel, Get Lucky).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Bright Side of Disaster

Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago…but hey, this is a relatively newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her first novel once more. Plus, her latest, Get Lucky, hits stores today!

Confession: I am a despicable creature. Despicable in the sense that I failed to fulfill a promise to Random House—the folks who believed I could, at the very least, string a few coherent sentences together in support of Katherine Center’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, within a timeframe that one would reasonably expect a one-armed Capuchin monkey to accomplish the same.

Let the flogging begin.

Needless to say, I’ve had said bookish wonder in my possession for 229 days (Gasp!) and until now have yet to utter so much as a syllable never mind an entire post regarding the worthiness of this extraordinary book.

Perhaps the monkey would have been a better bet.

Of course, I’ve been extremely busy harvesting all sorts of lame excuses to explain away my shameful behavior. The muse left me. Someone hid my thesaurus. The dog needed to be walked—some 700 times (a conservative estimate). I needed to buy some blue swirly stuff for the toilets (which I shall use one day soon). The children needed to be ferried to camp…to soccer…to dance…to swim lessons…to McDonald’s. Furthermore, 87 sidewalk chalk villages, 43 blanket forts and roughly a dozen worm cakes needed to be created.

You get the idea.

In any event, you need to buy this book. Immediately or sooner. Abandon your beloved computer this very instant, sprint to your local bookstore and demand that Center’s debut novel be placed within your hot little hands at once—lest you die not having savored this 225-page nugget of remarkableness. It is a positively scrumptious read, in every palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible sense of the word. Indeed, I was smitten from Paragraph One till the bitter end and completely wooed for a host of reasons: I was charmed to death by its cast of characters, intrigued by the narrative’s wealth of unpredictability and awed by Center’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales.

Perhaps more importantly, for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments solitude was mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world faded to black as I sank deeper and deeper into the pages of this literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before my house began to stir, and in the quiet of night when day was done, I dissolved into the woodwork of life—having been transported beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. I’d like to think I emerged as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Truth be told, I was physically incapable of putting the silly thing down once I started, although I had to lock myself in a closet a few times in order to fend off the barrage of distractions (i.e. needy children and pets) that periodically rain down on me like a scourge. Hence, the delay in providing the blurbages here before you. Confession: I read Bright Side two sinfully indulgent times. Okay three. It was that good.

At the risk of sounding completely cliché, I felt as though I knew the fictional people that Center created. I could hear them saying whatever it was they said. I could imagine them doing the sorts of things she had them doing and by all accounts, the trip to Breastfeeding Hell she so vividly described made my toes curl. By the same token, her portrayal of the warm and wonderful kisses her knight-in-shining-armor so passionately planted made me melt. Okay, I was a puddle upon the floor. A veritable pile of mush incapable of rational thought.

Jenny, the central figure in Bright Side, was a wholesome and impossibly optimistic creature, yet at her very core a womanchild whose raw and perilous journey to the banks of motherhood made all who have ever ventured there both pity her plight and celebrate her triumphs and joys. I loved her unconditionally and wanted so desperately to whisper some advice into her ear. By contrast, Dean, that slothful, smarmy bit-of-slime that Center painted as her match-made-in-hell, made my blood boil. Like Jenny, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to light him on fire. Many times over. But of course, she made us peek through our fingers to see the good in him, the part that she fell in love with, the part that helped her picture the family unit they would ostensibly become. Later, I came to understand she had merely fallen in love with the idea of being in love. Dean was convenient, but a fucking train wreck nonetheless. Reading Chapter Five was like buying a first class ticket to that train wreck.

Then in Chapter Seven, she introduced us to Dean’s mother, that feculent and oh-so-haughty beast filled to the very brim with evil. I wanted so badly to choke her. To death. Or very near death, but perhaps not so close that she couldn’t crawl away to a far corner of the earth. Where she would rot.

And then there was Gardner. Earthy. Solid. Nurturing. Downright edible. If a movie is ever spun from this tale, Hugh Jackman must play his role—and he positively must wield a deck of playing cards and a beloved dog like Herman. Likewise, someone Mel Gibson-ish ought to be in the running for Jenny’s dad. In my less-than-professional opinion, it all makes perfect sense.

Needless to say, Center did a marvelous job letting us get to know all the colorful characters woven throughout her story. Jenny’s stylish yet sensible mother, her adoring and infinitely charming father, her thick-and-thin friend, Meredith, her sounding board, Claudia, her nemesis, Tara, the entire cast and crew of her Mommy Group, Dr. Hale, Herman, Dr. Blandon and, of course, Maxie.

Not surprisingly, I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness like the aforementioned in one sitting. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating. I can now add Katherine Center’s material to my list of that which makes me drunk with joy. Then again, chocolate is equally redeeming.

In sum, books like Center’s are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled.

Perhaps the bright side of disaster here (pun intended) is that I’ve redeemed myself somewhat in the eyes of Random House. There’s a modicum of hope anyway that they will be kind and compassionate enough to overlook my ineptitude as a blogger and zip me a copy of Center’s soon-to-be-released second novel, Everyone is Beautiful.

Hint. Hint.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (sometimes hiding from my children deep within the bowels of a closet, devouring books, of course).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

P.S. Dear Random House Folks: For the record, you’ve already zipped me a copy of Everyone is Beautiful and I’ll likely re-post my review of that as well. Thanks again!

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