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Dear Departed Summer

I am a poster child for parenting ineptitude. And at no time does it become more painfully apparent than during the first few weeks of school—when I look back over the vast expanse of the summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. In spite of having the best of intentions in mid-June—with a host of events cleverly sandwiched between swim lessons, haircuts and camps galore—by the tail end of July I found myself desperately trying to cram every ounce of family fun and spontaneity into what was left of summer. The fun I promised we’d have before sliding headlong into September.

Inexcusably, it is the epitome of who I am and what I do when it comes down to the wire—when a finite number of squares remain on the calendar during which anything and everything deemed truly memorable and drool-worthy to a nine-year-old can, ostensibly, be orchestrated. In a perfect world, that is. So like a madwoman I schedule sleepovers and movie nights, plan picnics and pencil in parades, visit ball parks and theme parks and, of course, stumble over myself to accept gracious invitations to friends’ homes and pools and lakeside cottages oozing with wonderfulness.

Conversely, I’ve tolerated a tent in my back yard for twenty-three days running—one that promises to leave a hideous, yellow square where a lovely patch of green grass used to grow. A smallish tent in which I spent an interminable night embracing all that roughing it entails, from mosquito bites and cramped quarters to a lumpy earthen mattress and a less-than-endearing quality of dankness I feared would cling to me forevermore.

Eau de Musty Tent, methinks.

I suppose, however, that it was better than a) dealing with the monstrosity-of-a-teepee that monopolized my lawn last summer b) disappointing my progenies who insisted that I camp out with them and c) the insufferable conditions that my husband (aka: Father of the Year) endured while attempting to sleep on an impossibly narrow and horribly unyielding lounge chair parked squarely in front of the zippered door. As luck would have it, he was uniquely situated and perfectly qualified to shepherd those who felt compelled to visit the loo in the dead of night. Good thing. My only lament: failing to photograph him in all his glory—mouth agape, flashlight in hand, his body entombed within a sleeping bag, his head, poking out the top, completely enshrouded within a camouflage mask I had never before seen, arms entirely enveloped by a giant mesh sack he apparently dragged from the bowels of the garage in a moment of great inspiration (aka: makeshift mosquito netting).

That said, I think it’s safe to say that as parents we at least showed up for our kids this summer. Some of the time anyway. We took them places and did things together. We tolerated their abiding love of toads, their penchant for building forts, their overwhelming desire to climb to the tops of trees and their inexplicable fascination with road kill. Furthermore, we tried not to trouble our silly heads over the health and well-being of our lawn as well as the health and well-being of those who spent much of August snowboarding down our grassy front terrace. Nor did we dwell on the wanton fearlessness with which they careened hither and yon on their scooters. Barefooted, no less. So we can feel slightly good, I guess—having directly or indirectly contributed to the wellspring of memories gathered over the fleeting, albeit delicious, chunk of summer.

Looking back I now see why it was likely a success—not because of the fancy-schmanciness of this or that celebrated event, but because the extraordinary lives deep within the ordinary. It’s not the double play in the bottom of the ninth they’ll remember, it’s the delicious medley of peanuts and popcorn wafting through the air, the distinctive shade of blue on the tongues of all who drank icy-cold, blue raspberry drinks on that sweltering summer night and the tinny clang that echoed throughout the stadium as cheering fans beat upon the aluminum bleachers like drums. Similarly, it’s not the glorified picnic with throngs of people, platters of deviled eggs and eleventeen varieties of potato salad that necessarily makes a lasting impression. It’s the novelty, and perhaps spontaneity, of having cucumber sandwiches and slices of watermelon on a wobbly card table in the midst of summer fun. “Thanks, Mom, now we don’t have to stop playing!”

Moreover, I’d daresay that fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. That a symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. That a hammock is very nearly medicinal, as is the buttery succulence of sweet corn, the shade of an oak tree and the canopy of fog at sunrise as it hangs in the valley—silent and still.

Dear Departed Summer, it’s likely I’ll miss your fireflies most—and the barefoot children who give chase, drinking in the moment, alive with pleasure, racing across your cool, slick grasses without end.Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and desperately searching for the rewind button).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

Ten Ways to Say Thank You, Dad

IMG_0232Fathers come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and talents. On the whole, I’d daresay they are a thankless lot—often underappreciated, largely misunderstood—an entire populace of men rarely acknowledged for the many and varied ways in which they contribute as parents. Mothers, deservedly or not, garner the lion’s share of recognition when it comes to the important business of raising a family. But Father’s Day, with its prominently marketed golf wares, grilling must-haves and sea of manly fragrances, forces us to shift our collective sentiment and pay homage to dear, old Dad.

And as I wander the aisles in search of the perfect greeting card for my father—one that I believe captures the essence of our relationship, keys on our shared allegiance to witticism and adequately gives thanks for the sacrifices he’s made and the wisdom he’s imparted, I find myself settling for that which falls disappointingly short. Hallmark, it seems, hasn’t stumbled upon the right assemblage of words just yet. Somehow their writers have missed the mark, along with all the other clever wordsmiths who’ve failed to deliver the sort of message my father needs to receive—the one that perhaps all fathers need to receive. So thank you, Dad, for so many things…

…for encouraging me to forge my own path instead of assuming that the paths of others would necessarily be right for me…for letting me climb to the tops of trees and to skateboard with wild abandon…for ferrying me to the ER when necessary.

…for teaching me how to throw a fastball, wield a mean golf club and sink a jump shot on command…for being my biggest advocate (even still) and for believing in me even before I believed in myself.

…for being oh-so-generous with your time…for listening intently to my wishes and worries…for considering me a worthy companion as we jogged over the back roads of town, watched doubleheaders into the wee hours and sat in scratchy lawn chairs together, completely mesmerized by the thunderstorms that rolled across the skies in the midst of July’s unbearable heat, summer after endless summer.

…for letting me date boys with mustaches and muscle cars…for traipsing around the kitchen in your underwear late at night, when said boys needed reminding that it was time to go home (an infinitely mortifying experience then, but absolutely hilarious now)…for walking me down the aisle—twice—and never once saying I told you so.

…for introducing me to the concept of balancing a checkbook, as well as finding balance in my life…for teaching me to accept failure when it comes to call and to learn from my missteps…to appreciate having grandparents, a roof overhead and acres of woods all around.

…for tolerating my teenage years (Oy!), for trusting me with your beloved cars even though the voices inside your head must have screamed, “Noooo!” and for resisting the overwhelming desire to share with my High School Yearbook Committee that hideous photo of me with the mumps. For that alone, I love you dearly.

…for navigating so many road trips—to distant airports, to a good number of college campuses I considered calling home, to my very first job interview in the city. Never mind that we got horribly lost in the process; but getting a glimpse of the White House at rush hour surely was grand.

…for inspiring me to be a responsible individual, to work hard and to strive to do good in this world…for illustrating the power of forgiveness, the refuge of one’s church and the necessary nature of grieving our losses…for reminding me that things usually work out in the end—even when they look entirely hopeless at the start.

…for underscoring the importance of finding time for one’s children, time for one’s marriage and time for oneself…for helping me recognize the inherent value of ice cream sundaes, the versatility of duct tape and the irreplaceable nature of a good friend.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for showing me the beauty of marrying one’s best friend.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks for my dad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville

20 Things I Never Imagined I’d Say to My Dog

 

  1. It’s really cold outside and it’s not time for a walk yet. I just want to spoon you and watch Hallmark movies. All day.
  2. I know the FedEx truck looks tasty, but YOU CAN’T EAT IT. Stop barking as if you’re possessed. Please try to act like a normal dog.
  3. Must you INHALE your food? CHEW already, you maniacal little beast.
  4. Yes, the doorbell is ringing. On television. That doesn’t mean you need to freak out or work your stupid self into a barking frenzy.
  5. Stop licking yourself…your 7 million plush toys…the stuff I spilled on the floor…the strange dog you just met…the leather couch…the carpet…the dishwasher…my feet…the road kill you love more than life itself… JUST. STOP. LICKING.
  6. Why do you feel compelled to eviscerate your stuffed animal toys? Isn’t it enough to pluck out their eyes and dismember them 15 minutes after I present you with a new one? FYI, the squeaky thing inside IS NOT the devil.
  7. Stop dragging dirty socks and underwear into the living room like a frat boy on a panty raid. You disgust me. Also, please note that the foul matter in the trash can IS NOT FOOD. Please stop gnawing on it and strewing it all over the house.
  8. DO NOT pee on your brother’s head. No, it’s not at all like marking territory. He’s another dog. Just a shorter version. And by the way, marking territory INSIDE the house is a VERY, VERY BAD thing to do. I will stop loving you if you do it again. No I won’t. I love you unconditionally, against all logic and understanding.
  9. Why did you eat AN ENTIRE LOAF OF BREAD (and/or leftover pizza, Halloween candy, et al.) while we were gone? You glutton.
  10. The crows and defenseless squirrels we see on our walks are not secretly mocking you; therefore, you needn’t chase or lunge at them like some sort of savage, effectively dislocating my shoulder in the process.
  11. Must you torment the cat? I realize that he is mocking you every minute of every day, but is it necessary to hunt him down like a dog? I understand that you are, in fact, a dog. It’s a rhetorical question.
  12. You don’t own the couch. Please share the space in this house with the humans who live here—as much as it pains you.
  13. For the love of God, STOP EATING POO, or anything that resembles poo. Deer droppings are not Skittles. Neither is bear dung or rabbit pellets. Have we not taught you anything?
  14. If you walk directly in front of me or trail me closer than my shadow, we WILL collide. It’s basic physics. Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Google it.
  15. Please refrain from doing your business in the neighbor’s beautifully manicured lawn if you can help it. If you could circle back and instead utilize the vast expanse of woods and weeds we just passed I’d be eternally grateful, you never-ending poop factory.
  16. Back up, please, so I can actually open the door for you. I know you’re beyond excited to go for a walk, but it won’t be possible unless and until you back up.
  17. You most certainly CANNOT EAT THE JOGGER, the kid on the scooter, the woman pushing the stroller, or the adorable toddler inside the stroller who desperately wants to pet you because you look like a cute little dog, only deranged. Oh, and here’s a newsflash: YOU’RE MAKING YOURSELF HACK AND CHOKE by pulling on the leash. Not me.
  18. Did you seriously startle yourself with your own fart? You crack me up, you weird little dog.
  19. What’s with the poop ritual—the one where you practically screw yourself into the ground before you actually go? Should I hire an excrement coach?
  20. Must you shame me into giving you food during dinner? Don’t give me those eyes. I simply can’t handle it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, uttering the most ridiculous things to my dogs.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Eggs, Toast and a Side of Cynicism

For whatever reason, the gods of morning madness have been smiling upon me these past few weeks. And like any good cynic, I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out. With every ounce of my being, I fully expect my petulant children to return, brimming with an abundance of snarky commentary regarding breakfast cereal choices (or the lack thereof), eager to display the alarm clock-inspired rage to which I’ve grown so accustomed and to bring to the fore their lovely penchant for bickering with one another at dark-thirty. Joy. Likewise, I presume the frenzied packing-of-lunches-and-backpacks thing coupled with shrieks involving the very real possibility of missing the bus will resume shortly as well.

If nothing else, it would feel familiar. Quite frankly, I am suspect of the degree of calm that has befallen my home of late. Mornings are no longer intolerably hectic, which I find fairly disturbing since it’s all I’ve known since the days of kindergarten. There are no shouting matches to speak of, no monumental crises related to bedhead or perceived fashion offenses and, incredibly, no one has become enraged over wrinkles in socks or the gunkiness of toothpaste for days on end. Gasp!

It’s all so alarmingly alien—this death of disorder and dissent. So naturally, I greet it with cool skepticism, assuming that a conspirator has somehow snatched my ill-tempered brood and left me with a delightful pair of third graders who get up on time, dress for school without complaint and exhibit an obscene amount of good cheer all morning long. Imposters, I am sure, are among us.

Or perhaps my fortuitous situation has arisen as a direct result of the plan my husband so shrewdly devised and skillfully implemented. Translation: The man is a genius. That said, he pulled our charges aside one day and explained how our shameless bribe new morning routine would work. The seed was planted thusly.

“If you get up and get dressed as soon as your alarm goes off,” he purred with Grinch-like finesse, “and haul your sorry selves to the kitchen by 6:30, I’ll make you WHATEVER HOT BREAKFAST YOUR LITTLE HEARTS DESIRE. And,” he sweetened the pot, “I’ll even let you crack eggs and stir stuff.” To date, the immaculately prepared entrées have included pancakes (with faces!), French toast and waffles (to die for!), eggs (infinitely varied!), bacon (impossibly crisp!) and a vat of drool-worthy, bathed-in-olive-oil fried potatoes I felt compelled to appraise. Again. And again.

In sum, he made a deal with the unwitting pair. A wickedly clever, painfully simple, non-negotiable agreement—one that is likely responsible for the glowing success we’ve experienced thus far on our journey to the Land of Hassle-free School Mornings. Note to self: Cold cereal nourishes the body, but hot cakes (and other breakfasty-type foods with irresistibly enticing aromas) inspire action of the bounding-out-of-bed variety.

But perhaps the motivation runs deeper than that. Part of me suspects that under the surface lies a host of benefits aside from the obvious. Like the delicious sliver of time in which we snuggle together before anyone heads to the kitchen. All four of us, looking as much like sardines as anything, burrow beneath a sea of blankets in our big, oak bed—the place where toes are warmed and whispers are shared in the waning moments of still and darkness.

“Here I am, your little alarm clock,” they each announce as they crawl in with us, a different stuffed animal tucked under their arms each morning. To my utter amazement, both kids have already dressed, fulfilling their end of the bargain. I shake my head in disbelief.

The plan is working.

A few minutes later, they clamber downstairs to the kitchen and confirm with the cook their menu choices for the day. Chairs are then shoved against counters, eggs are cracked and batter is stirred—fulfilling the other end of the bargain.

As the sun crests over the hillside and begins pouring into the house, a steaming, hot breakfast is served—as promised. Syrup and cinnamon, juice and jam look on as chatter fills the room. There is talk of disjointed dreams, of library books and of plans for playing with a favorite friend at the bus stop. Everything that follows is sunny-side up.

Once again, I shake my head in disbelief. The plan is still working—despite my side of cynicism.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (wondering when the novelty will wear off and hoping like crazy that’s never). A variation of this article appeared previously in the Khaleej Times, UAE, Dubai.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Gratitude, Meat & Potatoes, School Schmool

Great Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

“Arrested? For what?!”

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

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

“The Holiday Police.”

“The Holiday Who?!”

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

She had a point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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