Tag Archives: children

Refrigerator Art: The Sequel

Well the inevitable has happened. I’ve gone to the dark side of home décor once more and I can’t begin to express my deep regret over my failings. In sum, I’ve sullied the surface of my newish refrigerator with more pictures than I can reliably count and made it a veritable shrine to my favorite people and pets in the world. Granted, it’s taken me five long years to amass such an assortment and I’ve only added said pictures to one side of the fridge, but some would estimate that because of my actions, I am roughly six magnets short of reversing the polarity of the earth.

Truth be told, I can’t help myself. The urge to display inspiring quotes and adorable photos (especially of my new granddaughter) upon the aforementioned surface is simply too powerful. It’s more of a compulsion actually, a sickness for which there is no remedy—except maybe to add more pictures and magnets to the spaces where there are none.

I’m sure my family thought I was fairly deranged when I promised to remove every solitary photo as well as my kids’ fledgling artwork from our old fridge and put them into permanent storage as soon as we remodeled our kitchen and replaced that fridge with a sexier, stainless steel model—one that resists scratches and hides fingerprints. They knew how I loved what could only be described as a glorious 28 cubic foot canvas—a 3-D masterpiece that was undeniably the focal point of our kitchen for years. I remember when visitors stood in front of it in awe, marveling at our artistic flair—or maybe they were perfectly horrified. I can’t be sure.

At any rate, it was a sight to behold and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of what I had created, one memorable image at a time. Each time I walked into our kitchen, I was reminded of favorite vacations, beloved pets and people—ordinary moments frozen in time. Of course, there was also a giant calendar, photo booth zaniness, a handful of words that my kids had spelled with magnetic letters when they were preschoolers and pictures that depicted important milestones, tangibly marking the passage of time. In every sense of the phrase, it was a snapshot of our journey as a family.

Somehow I wanted to hold onto the special moments, if only until the images faded and curled at the edges. I liked looking back at my children cruising around the house in nothing but diapers, the early days of kindergarten, making snowballs with Grandma in the backyard, carving pumpkins on the deck, sitting on a swing with their big sister. In that way, I suppose I could relive history. Almost.

Not surprisingly, before I removed everything, I took several pictures of the old fridge in all its glory to preserve the memory for posterity’s sake. I then prominently displayed one of those photos on the new fridge, perhaps in an effort to tether the old to the new, bridging the gap between what was then and what is now. Some might say I have issues with letting go. When it comes to pictures, I suppose that’s true. I‘ve got a garage full of family photos to prove it—generations worth.

Maybe we should invest in more refrigerators so I have someplace to put them.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably admiring my fridge. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Normal is Relative, Refrigerator Art, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

All Hallows Eve…The End is Near

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

I guess I was kidding myself to think my kids’ enthusiasm for harvesting gobs of chocolate and fistfuls of candy corn would last forever. I probably missed some important signs last October when they disguised themselves to the hilt, but dragged their feet when it came to traipsing over the neighborhood, treat bags in hand. Admittedly, I pushed it out of my mind.

Denial, as it were.

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

Needless to say, I was enlightened as to how “done with that” they were.

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

Egads. I wasn’t prepared for that response. I just want to hold on to the past a little longer. I liked it when my twin daughters were babies—mostly. They were pumpkins their first Halloween, kittens their second, and burly lumberjacks their third year. I remember dotting their cheeks with dark eyeliner, giving their faces the suggestion of stubble. Good times.

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

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

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

This year will be different. No more ambling from house to house. No more bags of loot to dump on the floor. No more little red wagon or mittens. At least they’ll still wear costumes, however. So there’s that. I guess I’ll have to embrace a new and different Halloween tradition—scary as that might be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the end of All Hallows Eve. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Growing Pains, motherhood

The Family Curse

Some families are afflicted with flat feet, male pattern baldness or an inability to dance. Our family curse, apparently, involves getting stuck in public restrooms. It all began when I was three years old, according to a story my mom liked to tell so that I might recall a time in my life when I was very small yet capable of causing a great deal of inconvenience—much to her amusement, at least in this instance.

Evidently I wasn’t fond of visiting the doctor’s office and upon my arrival I let it be known that I didn’t want to be there by promptly locking myself inside a tiny bathroom and refusing to come out. The office was actually an old house, so the bathroom in question had a wooden door with a metal lock that even a three-year-old could easily turn. Looking back, I suppose my situation could have wavered somewhat between being a deliberate act and an unintended circumstance—at once a defiant child and a prisoner of my own making.

At any rate, after a great deal of coaxing and a fair amount of instructing, my mother and the doctor together decided the only viable solution was to remove the door from its hinges. While I have no idea how much of an annoyance this must have been for all parties concerned, I can certainly imagine.

Although I can’t possibly quantify the number of times my twin daughters have been stuck inside a bathroom stall (and happily crawled beneath the door to escape), it’s clear they have continued the tradition of being jinxed. One of the pair, who was quite young at the time, managed to trap herself in yet another public restroom, this time at a hotel swimming pool where the heavy, metal door had become jammed. With all the commotion and noise that emanated from the pool (i.e. dozens of kids screaming and splashing), no one heard her shouting for help or banging on the door in an attempt to get someone’s attention. Eventually, my husband and I noticed a dull thud coming from across the room, one that had become louder and more frantic as time went on. So we got up to investigate and upon discovering that she had been stuck inside for God-knows-how-long, we were ashamed to have been so oblivious. I think she has since forgiven us, but probably still harbors a degree of resentment regarding the bathroom issues that have plagued our family forever.

True to form and later in life, I once again demonstrated my ineptitude as it relates to using public facilities. This time, however, I managed not to imprison myself within the confines of a lavatory stall, but rather I somehow dropped my cell phone in the toilet. Almost immediately I thought of how stupid I had to be in order for my phone to wind up there, immersed in all manner of filth. To make matters worse, I have a tendency to freak out about germs so this particular faux pas was considerably more than I could handle. Of course, I dashed to the sink and doused it with soap and water, hoping against hope that the blasted thing would work again. Amazingly enough, it did.

Public restrooms have apparently been the bane of my husband’s existence as well. Just recently while we were touring a university he called me from the men’s room to inform me that he was stuck inside a stall and needed me to fetch someone from maintenance to get him out. I wish I were kidding.

Not surprisingly, he spent an embarrassment of time jiggling the latch and banging on the door, to no avail. He then shook the entire metal frame that housed the door, but stopped for fear of tearing it off the wall. He also tried muscling the lock itself until it spun freely (never a good sign). Not once did he consider crawling beneath the door. That was out of the question.

As luck would have it, eventually the door simply fell open, mocking his efforts to escape. At least he didn’t suffer the added humiliation of having someone show up with a toolbox to save the day.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably rescuing someone from a bathroom stall). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Normal is Relative, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

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

Oh, Shuttlecock!

My husband and I have a badminton net in our backyard currently, which is terrific, except that it required two master’s degrees, a fair amount of duct tape and an afternoon of misery to set it up. Confession: We probably could have used a marriage counselor or two, but none were available at the time. Truth be told, the net that is now up is a new one we purchased because we gave up on the possibility of ever successfully assembling the old one—last year’s model, dredged from the depths of our pitifully disordered garage.

Naturally, we didn’t accept defeat immediately upon learning that things weren’t going well. No one ever said we were gifted. Instead, we soldiered on, struggling in the heat for what seemed like an eternity, wrestling with a tangled mass of string and a net that was evidently too heavy for our flimsy poles. Never mind our pathetic arsenal of metal stakes—the ones that warped irreparably as we attempted to hammer them into the impenetrable ground. But because the gods were smiling ever so slightly, no one smashed a finger. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

After a time, it became apparent that we would fail in our quest to set up the wretched net. I’m not sure if it was our collective realization that the plastic poles would continue to bow and eventually snap no matter how hard we tried to prevent that from happening or if it was the way the net kept sliding to the ground despite our best efforts to tie the aforementioned string into knots at the top of each post. Hence, our ill-conceived need for duct tape. Note to self: It’s always a bad sign when, in desperation, one resorts to using duct tape. When all was said and done, perhaps we acknowledged that our labors would ultimately fail when we discovered the ends of the segmented poles were damaged beyond repair after having hit them several dozen times with a 5-pound mallet. Again, I can’t emphasize the degree of idiocy that was on display that day. In a word, it was epic.

As our hope began to fade and our bodies literally baked in the sun on that fateful afternoon, I began to wonder just how many neighbors were witnessing our exercise in futility as it unfolded there in the lawn in all its glory. It had to be comical to watch, much like a circus governed by Murphy’s Law—only there was a lot less skill and far more cursing. I’m quite sure a number of people chuckled at our profound stupidity as we darted back and forth between the poles like fools, eventually throwing the mangled stakes and jumble of string to the ground in disgust.

I never remember my dad having such issues, although it’s likely he did given that he wasn’t especially mechanical and often relied on a hammer to fix just about everything. As a kid I suppose I didn’t worry much about how the badminton net would be set up—only that it would be set up. Magically, it seemed, the net would appear in the lawn each summer. And it didn’t matter to me that it might have been crooked or drooping in the middle, although I can’t reliably recall that bit of detail. I only remember being immersed in the game for hours on end, whacking at shuttlecocks with my brother as night fell, fireflies blinking all around us, the cool grass beneath our bare feet. It was our summertime ritual.

Every kid needs a summertime ritual like that—even if it requires parents to lose their collective minds in the process. Looking back, I can fully appreciate the sacrifice my parents must have made, as well as my husband’s since he not only toiled in the yard, but also spent an entire afternoon in search of a reasonably priced replacement for our misfit-of-a-badminton-set. Seventeen phone calls, four stores and one meltdown later, he succeeded.

But it was so worth it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably playing badminton. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

A Tree is Nice

We have a half-dead tree in our yard. Make that FIVE half-dead trees. A pine, an ash and three fruit-bearing ones, although they haven’t produced much of anything in a very long while. Hence, the time has come to take them down, which by almost anyone’s standards makes perfect sense. It’ll be safer, since the risk of toppling over during a windstorm will be reduced to zero. We’ll also likely get some ample firewood out of the deal and we’ll free up a sizeable portion of the lawn for Frisbee in the process.

Everything about the felling of said trees is good. Except that it isn’t. The sad part of it is that there are memories attached to the trees in question—especially the peach tree, whose blossoms burst forth each spring in a glorious explosion of pink. Likewise, in winter its snow-covered boughs make me want to fetch the camera to freeze the moment in time. I just know I’ll look out my window weeks from now and lament that we ever made the decision to cut it down and dig up its roots, erasing from my mind the notion that it ever existed.

For more than 20 years we’ve been harvesting peaches from that tree. My husband was the designated proper-upper of craggy branches, assigned with the task of placing boards beneath its heavy limbs, laden with bushels of ripened fruit. Together we picked them, sampled them and then hauled bucket after bucket into the garage—a staging area for figuring out what to do with them next. Fruit flies be damned.

I wish I could claim that I baked an impressive number of pies with what we reaped over the years, but that would be a lie. Many of my neighbors, however, probably did, as we were inclined to give away scads of the fuzzy fruit each September, knowing we’d never consume all that we had gathered.

Likewise, I’m sure I’ll recollect a time when I watched my twin toddlers from the very same window, perched upon their dad’s lap as he circled the peach, the apple and the pear tree with the riding lawn mower. Round and round they would go, ducking beneath the limbs, smiling in the sun. One year they even built a teepee of sorts by leaning leafy branches we had trimmed from other trees against it. For days on end that summer, it was the most wonderful fortress in all the land, providing a haven of shade and camouflage for all who were so fortunate to crawl inside.

The aforementioned peach tree was one of their first climbing trees, too, its mossy branches low to the ground, inviting gangly children to develop and hone their scaling skills. I remember hoisting them up, assuring them it was perfectly safe and that it would be worth the effort because of the view it afforded them. After they had mastered the peach tree, it was on to taller and more daring venues, like the maple in the back yard, and the massive oak out front.

It’s possible I’ll miss the dear trees we plan to chop down, as well as any others we might lose in the years to come, because they remind me so much of my childhood—a time during which I practically lived in the woods behind my house, building a plethora of forts and climbing to the tops of trees all summer long, carving my initials there as a way of marking territory and perhaps time. I often wonder if my carvings remain, or even if the trees are still standing straight and tall. Far above the ground, swaying in the breeze was one of my favorite places to be, enveloped by a canopy of verdant leaves, summer after delicious summer. From my lofty perch, time was suspended, after all, and all was right with the world.

I can only hope that my progenies have had enough time in their special trees to make memories that will last.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the fact that our peach tree will soon be history. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff

Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on the Food Network, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that Giada went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with Ghirardelli chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would indeed make me smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes