Tag Archives: essays

Dances with Carts

www.melindawentzel.comShopping carts are the bane of my existence. It seems I have an uncanny knack for choosing ones that are both germ-ridden and hideously deficient in some unforeseen manner (i.e. equipped with a smarmy handle or a pathetic set of wheels that lurch and rattle—seemingly driven to move me in any direction but straight).

For whatever reason, I initially dismiss the many and varied imperfections, foolishly thinking that they won’t be terribly bothersome in the end. Moreover, the truly vexing nature of most of the rogues I choose doesn’t become readily apparent until I’ve already journeyed halfway through the produce aisle, mindlessly fingering the fruit and considering whether we need more carrots or romaine. By then I’m committed to the match made in hell, at least until I manage to shove the aforementioned misfit-of-a-cart through the checkout line or muscle it to my car where I can finally ditch it for a better life.

To add insult to injury, I often have to endure such hardships with my brood in tow—the heathens who strive to make each and every shopping excursion more memorable. And they do—whining incessantly about this or that item (the one that the mean and horrible tyrant won’t let them have), wrestling over the matter of who gets to man the cart first, showering me with pleas for sugary cereals and those gooey snack-a-ma-call-its that ought to be removed from the planet altogether.

Apparently it is not enough to be blessed with a wayward cart.

And once I make that regrettable and irrevocable decision to allow one of my miscreants to navigate the treacherous trail ahead, my fate is sealed. Someone’s ankles will indeed pay the price. Likely, mine. Despite the innumerable lectures I’ve delivered, the live demonstrations I’ve provided and the vat of instructional guidance I’ve offered on the subject, my two charges, though well intended, are physically incapable of maneuvering from Point A to Point B without smashing into someone or something. Granted, the gunked-up wheels do little to further their cause.

Not surprisingly, at some point during each supermarket tour of duty my patience wanes with the pushing-of-the-cart ludicrousness, climaxing shamefully somewhere between the toothpaste aisle and frozen foods. As I return to the helm, attempting to pilot that which refuses to be piloted, I am met with yet another challenge: that of effectively communicating the notion of walking single file. My futile commands typically go something like this: “Okay, someone is coming toward us now. Let’s walk single file.”

“Hellooooooo… the aisle isn’t WIDE enough for the three of us AND another cart to pass. Is any of that registering with you two?!”

Of course, neither child of mine responds, so engrossed are they with hanging on the sides of my cart and eyeing the shelves for more of that which is forbidden. I must then stop the cart and clumsily move them—as if they were a couple of small boulders, smiling apologetically to the patron now upon us. Aisle after aisle, I repeat this cart dance—this utter lunacy—both stunned and amazed that creatures capable of telling me anything and everything I might want to know about a Euoplocephalus dinosaur cannot grasp the concept of getting somewhere single file.

And let us not forget the times in the past when one or both daughters insisted upon RIDING INSIDE the cart. Naturally, there were people who found this slightly disturbing—especially when they detected a hint of movement somewhere beneath the rubble.

“Do you know there are children inside your cart?” they asked, alarmed by the possibility that I could have, in fact, been so clueless as to not notice a couple of stowaways.

“Yes. They’re with me, otherwise known as Dances with Carts.”

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (forever dodging those ankle-biting menaces in the grocery store).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

The Dog That Came to Stay

It was his eyes that got me. Deep pools of espresso dappled with specks that reminded me of caramel. I hadn’t even reached through the cage to caress his indescribably soft ears yet, a practice I would come to revere more than practically anything since it brought as much calm to me as it did to him. Never mind his sleek, black coat and grizzled eyebrows—the ones he could move independently, effectively conveying his mood, which was almost always agreeable.

The plan was to adopt a rescue dog for my dad, one that would serve as a loving companion for him as he grappled with Alzheimer’s disease. Something that would ground him as his world fell apart. The trouble was that I needed grounding, too.

Needless to say, I didn’t intend to fall in love with such a dog. Nor did I think I would be incapable of delivering on a promise I had made to my dad.

“I’ll find you the perfect dog. Just give me a little more time. I think you’ll love the one we end up with, but we have to be sure it meets all the criteria first.”

Unfortunately, none of the candidates we considered passed muster for a variety of reasons: Too lively, not lively enough, too disinterested in people, too apt to jump on people, too aggressive and so on. It seemed as though we were doomed to fail.

Then Jasper appeared as my husband and I meandered through the SPCA for the umteenth time, peering into cages in search of an answer to our prayers. Our eyes locked with the aforementioned black lab mix and the rest was history. Originally, he was supposed to stay with our family only until we felt he was ready to transition to my dad’s home. “We’ll keep him for a week or so—long enough to adjust to life outside a kennel,” I told my kids. “He’s old and needs some TLC,” I reasoned to myself.

Weeks stretched into a solid month and by then I was hopelessly smitten. Jasper had quietly wheedled his way into our family and had become a part of our lives we didn’t even know was missing. Indeed, there was no mistaking the bond that had formed between us and there simply was no turning back. That said, he stepped with ease into our crazed schedule and house filled with teenage drama, noise and angst, despite his dog years and inability to recognize his own name—the one the Rescue had fittingly assigned him.

Against all odds, he learned to love our yappy, 14-pound Bichon and in the process made the latter less prone to anxiety attacks and barking seizures involving delivery trucks and unsuspecting joggers. At every turn, he modeled good behavior for our not-so-compliant, curly-haired pooch—the one we thought was beyond hope for ever acting like a normal dog. Almost daily they now play together, tossing their sock monkey into the air and racing around the house like a couple of deranged squirrels—something that makes my heart smile. Every. Single. Time.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I discovered how comforting it was to have a big-ish dog place his head or warm muzzle in my hand as I awaken each morning. Or the soothing effect he has on all of us as he wedges his box-like body next to ours on the couch at the close of a long day, somehow sensing our need to decompress. By contrast, he embraces our clamor and chaos—celebrating both the disorder and the abundance of joy that resides within our home.

Needless to say, there’s something extraordinary about having this dog, in particular, around—and by “around” I mean that he has become my shadow, following me everywhere but into the shower. What’s more, he reluctantly bids me farewell when I have to leave and greets me in the doorway when I return, tail wagging wildly, reminding me that all dogs are inclined to smile. You just have to look for it.

As a result, I never feel unappreciated or truly alone no matter how empty my house happens to be—the kids running in 17 different directions and their dad expertly manning the taxi or holed up at his office. Looking back, I think it’s during those quiet times when I value his presence the most. He’s there for me day in and day out, keeping me from dwelling on the sadness that lies beneath the surface of every joy—the ever-present sorrow related to having lost my dad not in the physical sense, but by every other definition.

Somehow, I know my dog understands. It’s in his eyes.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Family Affair, Gratitude, Sandwich Generation

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It’s possible my husband wept when we sold our 11-year-old Jeep recently. I’m not sure if it was because he regrets no longer having third-row seating or because he misses the French fries that the new owners will surely find beneath said seating. At any rate, he had what could only be described as an unhealthy fixation with that particular SUV. It’s been like that with all his vehicles, actually. Mine, too, for that matter. I don’t know why, but I get attached to my cars as if they’re people. Call me crazy, but I miss them when I trade them in or sell them outright—even if the vehicle in question is older than dirt and makes a roaring sound that no mechanic on the planet could successfully remedy. That said, there is a certain sadness associated with letting go, although it often makes little sense.

Sometimes it’s the intangible things that I miss most—like personality, charm or a degree of sex appeal. Case in point, my Mini Cooper always looked as if it wore a smile, just for me. And I thought its black rims and racing stripes were slimming, if nothing else. Other times I long for tangible features my cars exemplified, such as its handling or color. Lord knows I loved the fact that three out of the last five vehicles I’ve owned have taken corners like a dream and have been members of the beige family—a hue perfectly suited to hide months of road grime and mud. Oddly enough, my kids were thrilled to learn that the majority of our vehicles had deep cup holders in which they were inclined to deposit an embarrassment of rocks they harvested from all over the East Coast. They were also quite fond of moonroofs and, more recently, seating that could accommodate half the marching band.

On occasion, I suppose people become attached to their cars because of sheer frugality. My husband, for instance, absolutely adored his 1960 Chevy Bel Air because it was a good beater car and he only paid $200 for it. Of course, he lovingly patched rusty holes in its side and fender with masking tape and a vat of Bondo to lengthen its life and, by extension, to continue their bromance. Apparently, there were also gaping holes in the floorboard and his baseball bats were known to have fallen through on more than one occasion. Steel plates were welded into place so they could ride off into the sunset for over 100,000 miles. True story.

In fact, several of his cars logged more than 100,000 miles—a testament to his undying love for the vehicles in question and an unwillingness to let go. Like so many people, we get comfortable in our marriages to our 4-wheeled darlings. They “fit us” like no other and we come to know their souls—or so it’s rumored. Tiny dings or scratches in the paint get overlooked, as does fading and wear and tear of the upholstery. As the years go by, I can only hope that my husband continues to overlook my flaws as readily as he does his dear vehicles’. The jury is still out on that one.

As strange as it sounds, my heart skips a beat when I happen to pass a vehicle that resembles one of mine I recently sold or traded. I wonder how its new owner is treating it and whether or not he or she avoids potholes and brakes for squirrels. If it was a stick shift, I worry about the state of its clutch and gears. If it was a 4X4, I imagine it plowing through snowdrifts—without me.

When all is said and done, I suppose I have to learn to cope with the fact that I can’t keep every vehicle I’ve ever owned. At some point the relationship has to die. But on the bright side, I look forward to bonding with the new cars I adopt—recognizing that eventually we’ll slip into the comfortable phase of knowing each other, inside and out.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, missing my beloved cars—except for the minivan I loathed with all my being. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Life is a Highway, Love and Loss, Road Trip

Merry and Bright. Sort Of.

I love indoor Christmas lights. Tiny white ones, more specifically—the sort that cast a soft glow at dusk, filling a darkened room with ambient warmth, reminding me that it was totally worth risking life and limb to hang them atop windows and French doors as I foolishly balanced on a step stool, the meaty arm of a sofa and once, even upon a tall stack of pillows that were strategically placed upon said sofa. Yep. Totally worth it.

My husband, by contrast, adores such festive trappings, but is less than enamored with the idea of wrestling with them for more than 27 minutes—the average time it takes to retrieve the tangled masses from the attic, arrange them in clumps on the floor and then wrap them around a Christmas tree in a manner that is both geometrically and aesthetically pleasing. What’s more, he can’t stand it when he makes the inevitable discovery in the thick of decorating madness (i.e. lights that won’t light, bulbs that are broken or flicker with the slightest bit of movement and entire strands of lights that are sporadically lit at best, a far cry from merry and bright).

Of course, these are the very same lights that functioned perfectly last year—the ones we tested before boxing them up and shoving them into the deep recesses of the attic. I’m convinced that something criminal happens in there between New Year’s and Thanksgiving. Something that can probably be traced to Elf on a Shelf, or an equally reprehensible little creature inclined to tamper with our trimmings. However, we don’t own any of the aforementioned elves, nor would I feel compelled to put them on a shelf or anywhere else because they creep the cranberries out of me. Nevertheless, it’s clear that something goes on in that attic that would explain our less-than-functional lights.

Yes, it’s possible they’re just chintzy, and that we’re too cheap to care.

At any rate, we are then faced with a dilemma—the one my husband and I experience each and every year. Do we ditch the strands of lights that refuse to cooperate completely, effectively ridding ourselves of the headache that is defined by tightening and checking ALL of the bulbs individually? Or do we stuff the dysfunctional segments of strands into the tree, where we hope no one will notice and subsequently judge our character?

And let us not forget the problem of what to do with the strands that won’t light at all. If you’re anything like my husband, you’ll keep plugging them into the wall socket and jiggling the wires, repeating the idiocy that is wrapped in denial. Admittedly, I am slightly amused by his antics, so I encourage him to continue trying. Again. And again. Eventually, though, he decides to part with the wretched strands, leaving them for dead. Meanwhile, I cram yard upon yard of half-functioning light strings into the tree, doing my level best to disguise the ones we’ve determined to be misfits this Christmas—because a) I’m too lazy to go to the store to buy more and b) I’m too stubborn to unravel what I worked so hard to position on the boughs in the first place.

“It’s fine,” I rationalize. “We’ll manage with the ones that DO work and no one will be the wiser.”

I have to wonder, as I cruise around town at dusk, peering into yellow squares of windows at fir trees and mantles aglow with twinkly, white lights—do rogue trimmings plague their households with the same ferocity as ours? Maybe we’re an anomaly. Or maybe the universe hates us. Or maybe, just maybe, our Christmas spirit is being tested. I suppose it stands to reason that we continue to pass since we rise to the occasion each year, making our home merry and bright in spite of the intolerable struggle that has become familiar if nothing else.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably messing with Christmas lights. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Normal is Relative

In Praise of Turkey and Tradition

We make pot pie at our house each Thanksgiving—a savory Pennsylvania Dutch meal that features the most perfect blend of onions, potatoes, thick squares of doughy goodness and meaty strands of chicken. Only we use turkey on this festive occasion. Six-and-a-half pounds of succulent dark meat to be exact, bathing in a vat of broth that most would find fairly intoxicating. It’s tradition. Or more correctly, a slight variation on tradition that serves to remind our family of the delectable dish my mother-in-law made not so long ago.

That said, in the four years since Grandma Ella’s been gone, I’ve tried at least three times to marry the flavors of the aforementioned dish as well as she did. And although I doubt I’ve managed to achieve that level of culinary success, I’m guessing I’ve come close—which is saying a lot given my proclivity for food related disasters, making me heady with the notion that my skills are no longer thought to be among the most deplorable on record.

Tomorrow will be yet another attempt at pot pie mastery, and, of course, an opportunity for all of us to close our eyes, to breathe in the deliciousness that will hang heavy in the air and in doing so, to revisit a time when Grandma stood at the stove peering into a steamy pot, summoning her special brand of kitchen wizardry. I’ll wear her rumpled apron for good measure—a speckled and storied bit of fabric flecked with tiny green leaves, now wan and threadbare from decades of use. I’ll wear it because I cannot imagine surviving the ordeal without splattering inordinate quantities of the soupy potage upon myself, but also because it’s tradition—or at least that is what it has become over time. Heaven forbid I disturb the delicate balance of good luck and a great recipe by offending the gods of tradition and/or flawless feasts.

With any further good fortune, I’ll be able to lure my charges away from the colorful swell of parades on television, from their beloved books in the den and from the pervasive yet somehow endearing skies of gray and barren woodlands long enough to enlist their help in the kitchen. Never mind that Child One completely abhors turkey. Or that Child Two will feign interest unless and until I permit her to stand atop a chair to drop wedges of dough into a boiling sea of broth. Grandma would’ve let her do such a thing, mindful to teach her the importance of placing each wedge, carefully and singularly, atop a bubble as it surfaces within an impossibly brief window of time. Just as she taught me—just as I hope and envision all three of my children will one day teach their children. Handing it down from one generation to the next.

Again, with the tangible and treasured notion of tradition—on this Thanksgiving Day and, perhaps more importantly, on perfectly ordinary days—the ones I routinely fill to capacity with obligations of one kind or another, dismissing all too often the mundane slivers of time with my family as opportunities to connect and share that which I value. Of course, I kick myself for doing so, recognizing that it is the harvest of tiny moments that matter most. Like the delicious time I spent with my grandparents, especially my grandfather in his workshop—a place that reeked gloriously of motor oil and sawdust—a place where I became inextricably consumed time and again with saws and sandpaper, two-by-fours and tape measures. A handful of seemingly insignificant pages of childhood that somehow clung to the corners of my mind, filling me with the warmth that comes from having lived them.

I’d like to think that simple traditions (like making pot pie) are like that, too.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of turkey…and tradition). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Meat & Potatoes, motherhood