Tag Archives: children

Hands Upon My Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Grass is Always Greener Somewhere Else

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

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

Indeed, the grass is always greener somewhere else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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From There to Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Have You Hugged a Book Today?

We have a library in our house, which sounds slightly more impressive than it actually is. The area in question is far from a sprawling expanse littered with overstuffed chairs and an abundance of narrative gems. More correctly, our so-called library occupies a modest corner of our home—a place where a blue-checkered playpen once stood seemingly forever. Nevertheless, it is a space devoted to all-things-bookish. A small yet infinitely important enclave that exists for the sole purpose of fueling my children’s passion for reading. As it should be—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Almost a decade has passed since we began gathering a hodgepodge of titles and piling them into some semblance of order there upon the floor of our living room. Tallest to smallest. Favorites within easy reach. A perfect mélange of new and not-so-new tales—thanks to having traversed this parenting path once before.

Naturally, said books would spill out into the room after a certain couple of somebodies (read: Toddler One and Toddler Two) raided the cache, leaving a trail of literary goodness in their collective wake. Never mind that only yesterday pillows and great herds of stuffed animals were dragged there and commissioned for the purpose of building reading “nests” and whatnot. Only recently have we been able to place the prized entities elsewhere (i.e. upon the honey-colored bookshelf that now inhabits the aforementioned corner—the one that boasts a cavernous window through which the morning sun pours almost without fail).

It is perhaps a bit more special given that the shelf itself was one that my husband had designed and built back in 1969. It was the high school shop project that seemed destined never to be finished. Lo and behold, the four-tiered wonder was completed and for some 40 years it lived in his childhood home. That’s where I first ogled its glossy, maple finish—along with a handful of teakwood carvings that sat upon its top shelf. A one-humped camel and an Asian elephant with a missing tusk. Keepsakes that hailed from afar. Treasures with which my children were enamored each and every time we visited Grandma.

I guess I never really thought about the notion of my mother-in-law not being there to witness their growing curiosity. Nor did I entertain the possibility of adopting her wooden bookshelf when she died—complete with the coveted carvings. Of course, they still sit atop the shelf, nodding approval with each book selection my charges make. Grandma would be pleased, I’m sure.

Likewise, I think she’d be pleased to learn of the strides her granddaughters have made since kindergarten, and how their love of books has flourished during that same wedge of time. No longer do they reach for bedtime favorites like Goodnight Moon, the brilliantly penned Where the Wild Things Are, the infinitely tender Guess How Much I Love You and the exceedingly palpable Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. Even Dr. Seuss has fallen out of favor with my brood.

Indeed, the pure and simple joy of picture books has been replaced by the all-consuming nature of chapter books—ones that invite my progenies to dwell for a time, deliciously entangled within the words on a given page. Needless to say, their tastes have grown more sophisticated, as has their command of vocabulary. That said, Thing One is completely smitten with mysteries, all-things-Harry-Potter and that which is disturbingly terrifying while Thing Two is fond of cookbooks and craft books, although she went through an interminable phase during which she would read nothing unless its plot somehow involved a godforsaken dog, a horse blessed with the ability to speak or a wretched hamster. Of course, they both feast voraciously upon the celebrated Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, practically anything ever written by Roald Dahl, Barbara Park or Kate DiCamillo, and sadly, the idiocy that is Captain Underpants.

All things considered, I deem my children’s journey as emerging readers to have been nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t help but feel indebted to those who’ve helped cultivate their enduring love of books—during this National Reading Month of March, and always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an abundance of books worthy of hugging…and barely able to breathe ever since a request was made for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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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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