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Great Expectations

In the dark of predawn I lay in bed, tucked snugly beneath my downy comforter, sleet pinging against the windowpanes in soft yet fitful waves. Against all odds associated with parenthood, no one under the age of eight burst into the room to announce that the sky was falling. Translation: my husband and I had had the presence of mind to skip setting the kids’ alarm the night before, in anticipation of inclement weather almost certain to arrive by daybreak. So for a time, all was silent in this good house—except for the ticking of clocks and the tiny taps at the window.

As the not-so-surprising news of yet another school cancellation reached my ears in the wee hours that day, I was filled impossibly with hope. Hope that I would enjoy a morning devoid of the madness I had known all too well since September. Hope for a day abundant with hot cocoa, kindness and good cheer. Hope that I might finally summon the strength and ambition to take down the blasted Christmas tree. The one that has been standing very nearly straight in my living room for the past 63 days, mocking me on Inauguration Day as I addressed my cache of shamefully belated holiday cards.

The tree had to come down. It would come down. It was January 28th for Pete’s sake. Besides, I was tired of its condescending glare, as if it were looking down its boughs at me, judging my every deficiency. Shaming my inadequate core.

Moreover, with my army of helpers that would likely be at my disposal ALL DAY (since no one wanted to frolic in the freezing rain), I banked on being able to pack up and stow away each and every jingle bell, snowman, Santa likeness and string of garland-y foolishness in the entire house. To reclaim my space. At least until Easter.

Needless to say, lots of people here agreed that it was high time. “Mom, you know we’re going to get arrested, don’t you?”

“Arrested? For what?!”

“Because January’s almost over and we don’t even have our Christmas tree down yet! We’ll all be thrown in jail!”

“Whaaaaat?! Who’s going to throw us in jail?”

“The Holiday Police.”

“The Holiday Who?!”

“The Holiday Police. They arrest people who don’t do stuff right—like taking Christmas trees down BEFORE Groundhog Day. Helloooooooooo.”

She had a point.

All I had to do was glance at the calendar and then at the muddled mess surrounding me. Remnants of the holiday season were everywhere. The Christmas lights were (and still are!) completely shrouded with ice and fused impossibly to the trees and shrubs outside. The stockings were still hung—and shockingly, still laden with beloved items that had been tragically forgotten since Santa’s celebrated arrival. Gifts of every size, shape and hideous stage of disarray lay like carnage throughout the house and under the aforementioned evergreen, gloriously bedecked with enough ornament-age for a forest. Legions upon legions of festive-looking dishes, alarmingly bare except for the smarmy trail of cashews and the red and green fleckage of holiday M&Ms, still rested upon my tabletops, whispering without end, “Pleeeease cleeeean meeeee.” Santa’s cookie plate begged to be returned to the cupboard, the crèche longed to be back in the attic and quite frankly, the mistletoe was tired of hanging around.

What’s more, I noted that the kids had been swiping stuff from the tree for weeks—like the reindeer, now chummy with Barbie’s horses and sharing a corral, and the snowmen, warmly adopted by a family of Lego people. I even discovered a few sparkly ornaments dangling precariously from the rooftops of doll houses. Icicles maybe?

That said, it was way past time to begin the arduous process of un-decorating. Clearly, the snow day that had been bestowed upon us was a window of opportunity and perhaps the spark that would ignite my drive and determination to succeed in spite of myself. At least that was the plan.

But it was not to be. My great expectations for the day were shot by 10 am and my hopes for a tidier living room were all but dashed. For all intents and purposes, the thorny pine had become rooted there, a glaring reminder of my ineptitude as a putter-away-of-holiday-hoo-ha. Instead we frittered away the time, putting six puzzles together, littering the house with Barbie dolls and dresses, devouring books, stuffing ourselves with chocolate-chip pancakes and lounging in our pajamas till it was almost evening—at which time I sent my brood outdoors to play in the snow that had FINALLY begun to fall in big, feathery flakes. A consolation prize for my efforts.

Then again, maybe my reward was the delicious chunk of time I spent fishing for puzzle pieces with my kids, eavesdropping on their Barbie powwows, listening to the ice hit the windows—safe and sound in this good house.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and where the Holiday Police are destined to arrive).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, In the Trenches of Parentville, Welcome to My Disordered World

Countdown to Christmas

It was painful to stand there and simply watch. To idly witness, that is, a little boy, no more than three, seized by a desperate longing to ride on the horse-drawn wagon that had circled the park more times than we could readily count in the hour or so that we waited. Again and again the team of Belgians passed us in the frigid night, pausing ever so briefly along its winding path to load and unload hoards of people who had come to this festive event—to soak in some Christmas cheer, to perhaps get a glimpse of Santa in his red, velvety suit and to feast their eyes upon the spectacle of lights that blanketed the grounds, casting a warm glow upon the darkness that sought to swallow us whole.

The boy’s frustration was decidedly palpable as he wailed in vain to his mother and to the starry sky above, arching his back and clenching his tiny fists in indignation—hot, angry tears streaming down his baby face. Inconsolable, as it were. Aside from diverting his attention from this sorrowful reality (i.e. that he was NOT sitting in the aforementioned wagon, lulled by the gentle rhythm of the horses’ gait and the muted sound of their hooves as they hit the pavement), there wasn’t much anyone could do to comfort him.

So many times I’ve watched my own children suffer through the misery of waiting for that which promises to remedy all ills, to satisfy all desires and to deliver instantaneous joy. The interminable wait for Space Mountain at Disney World. The intolerable chasm between ordering a Happy Meal and wrapping one’s pudgy fingers around the cheap plastic toy contained within said Happy Meal. The insufferable gulf that exists between falling hard on the gritty sidewalk and being swooped up into a parent’s arms, where soothing assurances await.

And though they’ve grown immeasurably since that time, my children loathe the process of waiting even still—especially during this celebrated month of December, on the veritable cusp of Christmas. Over the years it has become tradition, shortly after Thanksgiving and perhaps before any other bit of holiday décor emerges from the depths of the attic, to haul out the handcrafted, Santa-inspired DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS thingy—the one that is cleverly outfitted with removable wooden blocks upon which numbers have been handily painted. We do this, of course, because we cannot find our Advent Calendar—the endearing square of felt-like fabric filled to capacity with a crop of tiny pockets and tethered to a small, cottony fir tree intended to mark the days until the 25th. Needless to say, I had a deep and abiding love for that calendar, but sadly it disappeared—along with my girlish figure, every intact set of tumblers I once owned and the stain-free carpeting I once enjoyed.

At any rate, Thing One and Thing Two are patently delirious over all that the Yuletide embodies, so thickly immersed are they in the important business of crafting gifts for friends and family, taking part in a good number of caroling excursions through school and church and (much to my dismay) quoting the lyrics of The 12 Pains of Christmas far too often. They’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time composing wish lists that appear to change with the wind, instilling me with a fair amount of panic as we inch ever nearer to Christmas Day. Indeed, the ratcheting effect of the official countdown has begun in earnest. “ELEVEN DAYS TILL CHRISTMAS!” the wooden blocks seem to shout—reminding me of both the joy this season brings and of my glaring ineptitude as it relates to the enormity of the task ahead.

Cleansing breaths and great volumes of prayer are in order at such times, which, with any luck, will serve to ground me and to give me pause—especially during this grand and glorious season of hopeful expectation.

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 Growing Pains, Holiday Hokum, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Jingle All the Way

It’s possible that I might be slightly smitten with jingle bells—more specifically, with the completely delicious and decidedly hypnotic sound they emit. A feast for the ears. A balm for the soul. A window into the past for people like me, who’ve harvested decades-old memories that involve horses, snow-covered cornfields and wintry afternoons spent on my grandfather’s farm. As a result, I am fairly incapable of resisting the allure of a store bin filled to capacity with sleigh bells. That said, I cannot walk by without reaching in to sample each and every melodic wonder. To pluck great hordes from the array, one after another, appraising each with regard to its heft, luster and, of course, the inherent splendor of its sound. Call it a weakness if you will. Perhaps even a debilitating fixation. I have no shame.

Needless to say, there is a profusion of jingle bells in this household—both brass and silver, embossed and etched—many of which adorn our tree, several that rest near our beloved crèche, all of which are patently adored. Additionally, at least two clusters of bells, ones that are tenuously affixed to braided strands of crimson and gold, dangle freely from doorknobs so that our comings and goings, as well as those of friends and family who visit, are joyfully announced. What’s more, there are bell necklaces and bell bracelets, bells on stockings and bells on sleighs. Even a pair of plump snowmen COMPOSED ENTIRELY OF BELLS are poised to welcome Christmas Day—as are the hand-painted variety that a favorite student teacher recently bestowed upon my brood.

As one might expect, I spend an inordinate amount of time each December perfectly enthralled by the chorus of ringing the aforementioned bells are capable of producing (i.e. I move from room to room, gently waggling each bell in succession, holding it to my ear so that I might savor the sound as it lingers deliciously). Some offer a mere tinkling and the suggestion of an echo, as if a tiny man were inside striking the walls with a hammer, while others resonate seemingly forever a sound so rich and so pure it can almost be tangibly held in one’s hands.

The latter is my favorite and the special sort that we resurrected from my mother-in-law’s estate several years ago, along with a host of ceramic centerpieces she crafted herself and a handful of wooden blocks that spell out MERRY CHRISTMAS when properly arranged. Not surprisingly, I’m drawn to the sleigh bell—a silver-plated, baseball-sized genuine collectible manufactured by Wallace more than 30 years ago. Naturally, it makes a distinctive sound. And whenever I want to revisit a time when my husband’s mother was here (which is often, since there are so many conversations I wish we could have), I pick up the bell—which, I suppose, is not unlike the days I find myself wandering around in search of the Carter’s slippers my children wore so many years ago. The ones with tiny jingle bells housed inside their wooly dog exteriors, triggering fond remembrances of a pair of pajama-clad, bedtime-story-toting toddlers at will. In an instant, I can see them shuffling about, their rounded bellies protruding ever so slightly, their smallish hands clutching a toy of some sort.

Come January, as I take down the tree and unceremoniously stow away the remnants of Christmas cheer, I simply cannot bring myself to box up the bells, banishing them to the attic for an entire year. Not yet anyway. I’m not ready to say goodbye. Long after the Moravian star is removed from its lofty perch, the garland is gathered and legions of ornaments are shrouded in newsprint for safekeeping, the sleigh bells remain. Perhaps in defiance of society’s urgings that the Yuletide is over. Perhaps in spite of my longing to restore order to my hopelessly disordered world. Perhaps because of the warmth they engender, during this holiest of seasons and always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (anxiously awaiting the sound of sleigh bells). Visit me there at  www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel 

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Holiday Hokum

Augustember

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.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Gratitude

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

I don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night Yankees games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of Converse All-Stars. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded 11-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we pilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of Wiffle ball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no iPads in existence and not a single app involving demonic monkeys or angry birds had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer). 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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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Unplugged