Tag Archives: loss

Life is Good…Mostly

IMG_7997I own a handful of trendy t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: LIFE IS GOOD. I wear them because they’re ridiculously soft, they feature stick figures with infectious smiles and, quite frankly, because I like the upbeat message they send to the big, bad world. Often times, people will stop me in the grocery store or post office, point at my shirt and nod in agreement: “Yeah, life is good, isn’t it!” which is great, because sometimes I’m the one that needs a reminder.

That said, sometimes life is downright ugly—like right now, as the wheels fly off this crazed election and increasingly hateful rhetoric spews from otherwise civilized and compassionate people. I am no exception. Life is not only ugly, it’s also heartbreaking and undeniably unjust because senseless violence continues to ravage the globe, hurricanes, floods and fires strike unmercifully and so many people I love grapple with cancer, or Alzheimer’s or any number of other devastating diseases. Neighbors move away. Parents and beloved pets die. Friends endure unspeakable adversity—including, but not limited to financial ruin, crippling addictions or, heaven forbid, having to bury a child. What’s more, marriages fail, suicides happen and people I care about become broken for a host of reasons.

I suppose that loss—sometimes more than people can bear—comes with the territory, an unwelcome side effect of this thing called life. Strangely enough, the more sorrow I experience, the more difficult it seems to manage on a personal level, each event affecting me more deeply than the last. You’d think that by now coping with it would be a walk in the park for me—something distinctly unpleasant, yet easy to accept because, if nothing else, it’s familiar. Admittedly, I sometimes stay in bed and hide from the world—especially on days when sadness and negativity threaten to consume me, convinced that by avoiding reality somehow it will cease to exist.

Of course, avoidance is only temporary. It does nothing to change what is real. So I shake my fist at God, infuriated by the fact that bad things happen to good people each and every day—despite denial, despite rage and despite prayers.

And then, as the sun rises, a funny thing happens. My dog ambles over to my bedside and shoves his head and warm muzzle into my hand, demanding to be petted, acknowledged, and eventually, fed since it’s time for breakfast. I then crawl on the floor and spend a few moments rubbing his impossibly soft ears and talking with him about all the important things in his life—the walk we’ll take later, his renowned affinity for squirrels and how great his scrambled eggs will taste. Yes, my dog eats scrambled eggs. Don’t judge.IMG_6206

At any rate, somewhere between hugging him and caressing the leathery pads on his feet my mind is flooded with what can only be described as gratitude. Indeed, I can’t imagine life without the rescue dog my family and I decided to adopt more than two years ago—our black lab-mix with the grizzled face and unsteady gait. Nor can I take for granted the other loveable beasts that reside here, never mind that our curly-haired, pint-sized yapper is decidedly neurotic and that our cat gives him plenty to be neurotic about.

From there, it mushrooms into recognizing all the good that has come into my life—all the people for whom I am thankful and all the experiences I’m glad to have had. I think of my husband, a man who has been my best friend for more than 20 years, the love of my life and my soft spot to land when the universe spirals out of control. I think of my three children who are talented, bright and most importantly, kind—ever so grateful that I get to be their mom. I think of all the people who touch their lives daily and I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of indebtedness. I think of my treasured friends, my church family and how fortunate I am to have the lot of them in my life.

Of course, I’m happy to have a roof overhead, food in my pantry and the sweet refuge of music and books, too. But mainly it’s the people that remind me that life is, indeed, good…mostly.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably wearing a LIFE IS GOOD t-shirt). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Depraved New World, Gratitude, Love and Loss

The Road Less Traveled

www.melindawentzel.comI remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment—the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilization it seemed. The place where a large and delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts—one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, swallowed whole by its quiet grandeur, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees that lapped at its fringes. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer—untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows, too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road and its deep, frozen furrows of mud, we’d barrel down the gully—half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks—eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there—foraging through the woods, hiding out in our ramshackle forts and letting our dog run free—were ravenously consumed, chapters of our lives that I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time almost seven years—the ones that have felt like seven minutes—I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late—a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift—only the leaves back then had long since burst with color, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favorite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to cleanly snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the road less traveled, and recognizing that it has made all the difference). Visit me there at www.melindawentzel.com and www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Love and Loss

Words Matter

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

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

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Love and Loss

A Stitch in Time

My mother-in-law once gave me a sewing kit as a gift—one whose contents she gathered herself and chose with great care. It was the size of a shoebox and was stuffed to the very brim with everything one might imagine using for the repair of clothing and whatnot. It was bulging actually, as if it might suddenly burst at the seams, spilling forth spools of colored thread and a hodgepodge of patches.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but dwell on how strange the whole thing was, given that I can’t sew to save myself. Maybe she was sending me a message. I didn’t measure up. Everyone OUGHT to know how to sew. Maybe she felt it would inspire me to delve deep into the wonderful world of thimbles and pincushions. With an arsenal of mending wares at my side, how could I POSSIBLY go wrong? Maybe she was just being nice and wanted her son and his family to have a wardrobe with something other than gaping holes about the knees and buttons that dangle perilously. Besides, who would see to it to fix things when she was gone?

Nevertheless, I resented said gift. Of course, I should have reminded myself that the woman was raised during an era in which dresses and slacks were made right at home with tissue paper patterns scattered about and the endless hum of sewing machines filling the air. Back then, people thought nothing of darning socks, of crafting their own curtains and costumes, of hemming and re-hemming pants, of resurrecting garb that might otherwise be forsaken. Indeed, it was a thoughtful—if not entirely practical—gesture to provide me with the means to remedy whatever garment-related woe might befall us.

But the whole idea of having something thrust upon me—something I have loathed since the dawn of eighth grade Home Economics—completely rankled me to the core. But I am not one to speak up in such matters. That said, I stewed in silence, dutifully fetching the sewing box whenever she visited so that she might mend what my brood had gathered since her last visit. Grandma’s To-Do Pile it was soon dubbed. The place where our favorite duds (read: hideously dilapidated things we should’ve been ashamed to wear) were resuscitated. The place where stuffed animals came to receive lifesaving (and sometimes, largely experimental) treatments—namely stitches to repair the gaping wounds through which stuffing and pellets poured. Needless to say, our dining room table served as more of a triage center than anything, with the most critically injured patients near the top of the mountainous heap that awaited Grandma and her renowned healing powers.

Amazingly enough (and as promised) she always delivered—no matter how tedious the task or how difficult the patient. There were monkeys in dire need of lips that would stay put, lizards whose tails had been all but detached, frogs with flesh wounds, snakes without tongues (forked or otherwise) and, of course, lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) with an array of serious injuries, all of which required a surgical solution. And Grandma had just the thing. What’s more, she gave play-by-play as she prepped and patched each creature, providing all interested parties and next-of-kin with gory details of the procedures performed as well as updates on vital signs and overall prognoses. Her bedside manner was stupendous to boot.

Grandma has been gone now for more than four years, leaving a void so great no one could have imagined the collective toll it would take. For a time (and against all logic and understanding), we continued to pile the clothing and wounded animals on the dining room table—a sad reminder of what was lost. Perhaps we did it out of sheer habit. Perhaps we thought it would inspire action. Perhaps it allowed us to hold on to the idea that the great and powerful repairer-of-fabric-y-things would return again, as promised.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (still mourning our loss). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Loss

Guilty as Sin

I felt terrible. Horrible. Guilty as sin. Responsible for a wicked and truly deplorable deed. A gruesome atrocity. Perhaps one of the worst in my ill-famed toy-wrecking career.

The victim: Ken (as in Barbie’s Ken). Mr. Mattel himself. Of course, there have been others that have gone before him—abused and slaughtered in cold plastic, at the hands of a madwoman bent on “cleansing and purging” the existing toy-scape. Secretly disposed of in a horrifically callous manner; their lifeless, twisted bodies and assorted appendages wedged and crammed in among spongy tomatoes and moldy cheese. Tuesday’s trash.

I don’t know what drives me to do it—to clandestinely rid my home of dilapidated Barbie dolls and other playthings that annoy the hell out of me.

They just push my buttons, I guess—the Barbies especially—scads of them littered across my living room floor, lounging around like they own the place, mocking me with their perfect little painted-on smiles. They don’t even dress half the time.

Heathens.

Maybe I need therapy. Something to help me cope with feeling as if I am suffocating beneath a mountain of toys, many of which happen to be those blasted Barbie dolls. Perhaps I should peruse the Yellow Pages for available services (like Inundated and Lovin’ It!).

The circumstances surrounding Ken’s grave injuries were quite unlike those surrounding all the others’. There was no motive. No anger. No fit of uncontrollable rage. I didn’t even curse—except for after the fact. Honestly, I had absolutely no intention of causing good ol’ hand-me-down Kensey-poo any undue harm when late one evening I lobbed him in the vicinity of his home in the drawer—where he would sleep for the night. Good grief; he had been a part of our family since my oldest was still undressing him—six years ago! It’s obvious, however, that I had caused irreversible and unconscionable damage. I’ll be the first to admit it.

No one on earth could have been more surprised to discover the severity of Ken’s condition, following what I considered to be a modest mid-air excursion—a mere puddle-jump. It was the length of our coffee table. Not an inch more. I swear. And it was an easy, underhanded pitch, a toss really—in marked contrast to the more typical frenzy-induced toy-launchings I so enjoy.

Imagine my utter shock—the abject horror—when I learned of Ken’s fate. His entire left leg, from hips to toes, was completely DETACHED from his body. It laid there next to him. Askew on the carpet. A separate entity. I felt as though it might come to life at any moment and hop around the room on its own. Strange but true.

The guilt I felt was beyond comprehension. The girls were sleeping peacefully upstairs, likely dreaming of all the skirts and stilettos with which they’d adorn Ken the next day. (What can I say—they’re easily amused). How would they handle his dismemberment? His lifelong handicap? The depression that would surely follow?

Perhaps we could get a group rate on therapy. The girls, Ken and myself, of course.

To be continued….

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home for Wayward Toys, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to October

September’s here—and almost gone. The kids are back at school now, merrily soaking up all the bookish stuff their impressionable little craniums can possibly hold, making friends, making adjustments and making sense of this nonsensical place. And they’re eager—oh-so-eager—to share that brimming cache of newfound information, to enlighten those of us who might not otherwise know that “Infinity’s the biggest number there is, Mommy; but you can’t count that high.” I’ve also been informed that a certain lad attempts to burp at least as many times before the school bell rings. Color me enlightened yet again.

Quite honestly, the best part of my day involves listening to their exciting exploits as first graders. There is a certain richness and innocence to it, and a quality of mystery and intrigue beyond being privy to all-that-is-meaningful and newsworthy to a six-year-old. In the past several weeks, I’ve learned about new additions to the playground. New faces on the bus. Automatic “water spencers” in the restrooms. Sightings of a beloved kindergarten teacher in the hallways. The cafeteria food and its ever-frenzied mass consumption. Usually our discussions take place over something meatloafy or potatoish at the dinner table. My husband chimes in, too, adding yet another element of adventure to the mix. Life as a high school principal is far from dull, I’ve been told; although nothing thus far has topped the Sir Burps-A-Lot blurbage. I doubt that anything will before June.

The highlights of my day, however, often pale in comparison. Tales of wading through Legos and laundry, both in dire need of being restored to their rightful places in the Universe, seem dreadfully uninteresting by contrast. Sprinkle in the vast array of irksome conversations I’ve held with telemarketers, the meltdowns I’ve had over computer difficulties and the countless tirade-like soliloquies I’ve delivered to the Barbies and plastic dinosaurs that reign supreme in this household and you have a rough estimate of just how stimulating my day truly is. The mornings I wrestle with writer’s block or the notion of dusting a piece of furniture or hauling the lost but not forgotten vacuum from the bowels of a closet (many times, just for show) are particularly exhilarating. Add to that my duties as Flip-Flop Finder and it’s hard to imagine I’d ever be bored.

But amidst the tedium I have reclaimed my freedom—that priceless commodity for which I longed all summer. Yes I have. And there is something to be said for that, despite the homework, the crammed-to-capacity after-school calendars and the impossible bedtime routines each school year brings. June, July and August—home 24/7 with my needy charges—serve to remind me that I love autumn. Oh yes I do. Crisp mornings, sun-baked afternoons, soccer games (a new wrinkle this year!) and children (mine especially) boarding that bright and shiny school bus each day are wondrous events. Off they go to the glorious Land of First Grade—situated conveniently near the Land of Kindergarten, to which we all grew so fond just a short time ago.

So for all intents and purposes, I am thrilled with what has transpired in the past month. Euphoric over my current liberated state. Reunited with my marbles—yet again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to October. As I trekked that familiar path, I discovered something quite remarkable—there is bitter amidst the sweet. Indeed, I am torn between feelings of sheer joy and elation over my newly bestowed chunk of non-mommy time and abject woe over the realization that I miss my kids beyond all words and understanding. There. I said it. I’m a guilt-ridden, mawkish piece of milquetoast who ought to remind herself of the times her children drove her to the brink of lunacy and despair—one gray hair at a time. But what I ought to do and what I can do are often two entirely different things.

Truth be told, I want the best of both worlds—to have in my possession unmitigated freedom from mommy duties AND the opportunity to be a mommy to my children at the same time. Unfortunately, that’s not an option in this world. Nor is rewinding September.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, School Schmool

The Learning Curve

Of course, the days of kindergarten are no more. My wily charges are soon-to-be fourth graders, bigger fish in the proverbial pond. But I remember well their grand entry into the Land of Books and Pencils…

Well, we made it through those first crucial weeks of kindergarten. Ten days. Two hours. And sixteen minutes. But who’s counting? No one was abandoned on the bus, abducted by aliens, locked in a closet or swallowed by a third grader. By all accounts, the transition proceeded quite smoothly (aside from our collective exhaustion). Although it could just be that their tiny bodies are still in a state of shock and their brains haven’t fully processed the information. Had the proper processing occurred, they might then realize that THEY SHOULD BE MISSING MOMMY MORE. Way more. Instead, they’re off each day merrily making friends, kibitzing in the hallways and doing all sorts of fun stuff with scissors, glue and “smelling-good markers”—three things I’d have banished from the curriculum till Jr. High if it were up to me.

In essence, I’m the one who has an array of adjustment issues. At times, I’m a pitiful creature who suffers needlessly and miserably with the pangs of separation—the I-miss-my-kids-even-though-they-make-me-crazy sort of malady. But I expected as much. At least in the beginning. I worry about this and that and the other stupid thing, driving myself batty in the process. My husband can readily attest. “Hey, don’t pack that hot dog in her lunch! Don’t you know one of her friends will make her laugh and she’ll choke to death!?” Like I said, he can attest to the ridiculous nature of my concerns.

Maybe the term ridiculous doesn’t quite cover it. I watch the clock more than I’d care to admit, flip through the television channels pausing wistfully on their favorite programs and wonder what they’re doing at noon and at one o’clock and again at two-thirty. Okay, I wonder what my little urchins are doing from the instant the bus rounds the bend and fades from view in the morning until it reappears in the afternoon with dozens of tiny faces pressed against the glass, wordlessly revealing what the day had brought to each and every rider.

Quite frankly, my curiosity gets the best of me. More than once I have fought the urge to stuff myself inside a backpack and tag along for the day. Safely tucked away, I could spy without ever being discovered—shamelessly satisfying my desire to know what really goes on in the life of a kindergartener. Oh, to eavesdrop on their conversations over the course of a day…. I can’t imagine anything more telling—or delicious. Of course, imagining is about all I can do at this point—because thus far they’ve been less than cooperative in the information sharing arena.

Maybe it’s because I’m viewed as an outsider now—a meddlesome mommy with a hidden agenda. Or maybe it’s because they’re veritable zombies when they first get home, stunned by the tsunami-sized day they probably had. “Mommy, you ask too many questions. I just don’t want to talk right now.” So we empty backpacks in the middle of the kitchen floor, together sifting through the day’s artifacts—my only clues as to what went on there in the Land of Kindergarten. And from what I can gather, most of it is good—which makes me feel good.

There are half-eaten lunches and prized drawings, books and crafty things galore “…that we made all by ourselves!” and strange-looking tidbits of memorabilia stashed away for keeps—like the pebble “…I tucked inside my sock so I could add it to my collection, Mommy” and “…the penny I found on the floor today!”

But there are tears, too, in the telling of “Mommy, I missed you so I cried a little bit,” and the bumps and bruises and behemoth-sized band-aids with which skinned knees were patched—lovingly, I might add. “The nurse is really nice and she gave me this be-U-tiful brown band-aid! I’m leaving it on for-EVER!” Three days certainly came close.

And there are warm remembrances too. “I love my bus driver…and the girl in the yellow shirt with blonde hair helped me find the nurse’s office…and the tall girl with purple butterflies on her shirt hugged me so I’d stop missing you at lunchtime…and my teacher always makes me feel all better, Mommy.”

Maybe this transition thing is going even better than I thought. As for me, I’m still on the learning curve wagon, trying to figure it all out and get over myself besides. What a sissy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Kid-Speak, Love and Loss, Me Myself and I, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool