Tag Archives: parenting

In Cars

God apparently has a terrific sense of humor. I know this to be true because my husband and I are currently embroiled in one of the most intense parenting rites of passage known to man—teaching not one, but TWO teenagers to drive AT THE SAME TIME. Granted, Thing One and Thing Two didn’t get their permits on precisely the same day, but the point is moot since they’re both logging hours behind the wheel practically every waking moment. And because we’re horrible parents, we don’t let them use our pricey vehicles to log those hours. Instead we’ve insisted that they learn on a beater car—a 13-year-old Jeep that lacks both GPS and air-cooled seats. It doesn’t have a back-up camera either. Like I said, we’re horrible parents.

Truth be told, we chose this vehicle because it was the only one we could envision careening into a curb or grazing foliage without cringing. Confession: We’ve done a fair amount of cringing. Okay, a lot of cringing. And grabbing the wheel. And shoving our feet through the floorboards. And gripping the dashboard. And shouting indiscriminately. Despite having been down this path before with our oldest daughter, we’ve been thoroughly taxed by this particular event—perhaps because everything is multiplied by two. At any rate, I now know what my parents must have felt like when I reached the legal age to drive—equal parts panic and pride with a touch of exasperation thrown in for good measure. But in all fairness, our progenies have made marked progress in the months that have passed since they received their permits. Translation: It’s a lot less terrifying than it once was.

That is not to say that either teen has a death wish behind the wheel; it’s just that it appears as such whenever they back out of a driveway in the dark or attempt to merge into traffic on an expressway. On more than one occasion, we’ve used rock-paper-scissors to settle the issue of which one of us gets to ride shotgun and which one of us sits at home with crippling anxiety over the fate of our fledgling drivers on a road trip. The jury is still out on which experience is more unnerving. In my opinion, it’s a toss-up.

Admittedly, my husband is not one to worry himself to death or to fill his mind with thoughts of impending doom while one or both kids go driving with me. I, on the other hand, am a basket case since catastrophizing is what I do best. I imagine all that could go tragically wrong and then convince myself that it will indeed happen. So I’m always amazed when they pull in the driveway, completely unscathed. Of course, I try not to think about how it will be when they actually get their licenses and head out on the road alone. Thankfully, I can stalk them by using the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and at least “see” which ditch they’re in.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll continue to tolerate all the angst (mine) and the steep learning curve (theirs), keying on the fact that we’ll get through this somehow. That said, one of the most frustrating byproducts of the whole thing is the voluminous quantity of criticism our charges have spewed forth relative to OUR driving skills, or the lack thereof. Apparently we can’t do anything right—and even less than that ever since they’ve been enrolled in a Driver Training Course and know all there is to know about driving. What’s more, it has been suggested that they prefer driving with their instructor.

Evidently, we could yell less and praise more.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably nagging my kids about braking sooner, not crowding the centerline, yielding properly and/or checking that cussed blind spot we all know and loathe. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under In the Trenches of Parentville, Road Trip, Twins

So Long, Farewell

I heard the trucks rumbling in the street this morning, groaning to a halt as I peeked through the blinds to see. The movers were here, preparing to load the wares of two families in my neighborhood who are off to faraway places—one to the Delaware shoreline and the other to the mountains of Colorado. To say that they will be missed is an understatement. They were the salt of the earth type of people, always there when we needed them, whether it was in the form of kind words or kind actions. And their kids, OH MY, their kids were absolute gems. They, too, will leave an impossible-to-fill void.

Now that these particular families are starting a new chapter in their lives after living here for decades, I’m reminded of the importance of not taking good neighbors for granted. And although we’re surrounded by other terrific neighbors and I’m sure we’ll welcome with open arms the new families who will move in, the neighborhood will never be the same without the people who forged such lasting relationships with us. Lord knows, the experiences we’ve shared cannot possibly be replicated—especially those we’ve had with the family whose back lawn merged seamlessly with ours.

Who else could tolerate our errant Frisbees…or help conduct important research on the mysterious appearance of a blue thong in one’s hot tub while away on vacation…or lend a hand by installing an ungodly number of outdoor lights on an unbearably hot summer day…or offer to clear the snow in our driveway because our snowblower was on the fritz…or loan us a hand truck/dolly so that we might spare ourselves the agony of lugging heavy furniture, etc. from Point A to Point B? What’s more, WHO WILL I LIST AS AN EMERGENCY CONTACT ON THE SCHOOL FORMS THAT WILL ARRIVE IN SEPTEMBER? Beth and Shaun have always been the ones I trust with my children—and my dog, for that matter. WHO WILL TAKE MY DOG OUT WHEN I’M STUCK IN TRAFFIC MILES AWAY FROM HOME? Better still, who will tolerate his quirky behavior (i.e. spinning around in circles roughly 47 times before he poops)?

And although I’ve tried, I can’t begin to quantify the number of memorable get-togethers we’ve had over the years. The clambakes, New Year’s Eve parties, fireworks, picnics, nights spent by the firepit, or just sitting around our kitchen tables sharing the remains of the day have been virtually incalculable, and more importantly, cathartic—particularly the gatherings that have included an embarrassment of wine or collectively hoisting a 24-foot ladder up to a rooftop during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night to discover why there was a leak. Those were good times I won’t soon forget.

Needless to say, our kids grew up together right before our eyes, spending quality time playing in sandboxes and on swing sets, dribbling on our basketball court and learning to swim in their pool, pitching tents in the backyard, together welcoming new pets and mourning the losses of old ones. And let us not forget the exciting sled rides down our icy driveway in the thick of winter or the holiday lawn-decorating contests for which Clark Griswold (i.e. Shaun) lived.

There was something comforting about seeing their windows all lit at night while I walked the dog, the yellow squares spilling their light onto the lawn and into the inky black woods. Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of the people inside clearing the dishes from the dinner table—people I cared about, never once imagining they wouldn’t be there, occupying that space. I can’t even estimate the number of times I admired the trumpeting angel they had on display above the landing of their staircase. It could easily be viewed through the gaping front window and seemed to welcome all who had come to call—suiting their family perfectly.

The moving trucks are gone now, and the windows dark. Of course, we wish them well in their new homes, grateful that fate allowed our lives to have intersected so meaningfully.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting our friends’ faraway moves… Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Love and Loss, Won't You Be My Neighbor

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

Motherhood Anew

When I first became a mother, it felt as though time stood still, my days and nights never-ending, woven together into an unfamiliar tapestry that defined my upended world. I remember thinking the infant stage would endure forever and that I would surely be driven mad in the process. Sleep was a commodity I craved with fervor beyond all imagining, as were hot showers without the constant worry of being responsible for a tiny human 24/7.

My mother, of course, assured me that the sleepless nights, inconsolable crying and umbilical cord awfulness would eventually abate. Things would get better and my life could be reclaimed to a degree. A new normal would emerge in due time, largely contingent upon my child developing some level of independence. Turns out, she was right.

Granted, as my oldest daughter grew, my days were still filled to capacity and mostly blurred at the edges, although at the core they were remarkable and good, making me grateful to be a mother. Again and again this happened as another child joined the fold and I reminded myself that the inaugural stages only felt like a train wreck. I would muddle through, somehow. Motherhood would not consume me.

Eventually there would be sand castles and building blocks, baby dolls and baking cookies, blanket forts and, of course, endless summers in pursuit of the yellow-green flashes of fireflies. Days would be spent creating entire villages with sidewalk chalk and devouring favorite books together nestled on the couch—hours of being present with my children, moments that I now struggle to remember in perfect detail. If I sift through old photos and squint hard, however, I can often return to what was—tethered to a time and place when I was a different kind of mother.

At the time, I never imagined longing for those things, assuming they’d always be there—the books, the sandbox, the fireflies and so on. I hadn’t considered that a day would come when my children no longer crawled into my lap for a story or begged me to build a teetering tower with blocks or allowed me to rock them to sleep. Back then it almost seemed a bit inconvenient, having to stop what I was doing and be present with my daughters, never mindful that eventually there would be “a last time” for engaging with them in that way.

I often wonder which book was the last to be read aloud. I have no way of knowing, but I suspect it happened at the bus stop, a place where we turned hundreds of pages together as we sat on the curb waiting for the school bus to groan to a halt. And when did we last chase fireflies, our bare feet skimming the cool grass at dusk, mayonnaise jars in hand? I can’t reliably recall, although it might have been the same year I helped them climb trees or build a snow fort in the backyard.

By design I suppose, childhood has a season—an indeterminate yet finite number of days we get to watch our progenies move through the stages of development. If we’re lucky, we remember to etch upon our minds the moments of pure perfection immersed within the tumult, when time is suspended and we can drink in the joy we happen to experience. So many ordinary moments as a parent wind up being extraordinary because we remembered to actually live them—to savor the goodness in the midst of madness.

If nothing else, this is the advice I’d like to impart to my children—especially to my oldest, who just became a mother. And although she struggles to get enough sleep and spends far too much time doubting herself, I know she feels a wealth of gratitude and has embraced the concept of unconditional love, as has everyone who has ever nurtured something.

Needless to say, I am beyond grateful that I’ll get to relive so many of the moments that make motherhood special—even if I’m called Grandma.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, revisiting motherhood as a newly minted grandmother. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Gratitude, Leaving the Nest, motherhood

All the World’s a Stage

I have next to no talent when it comes to public speaking—or public anything, for that matter. Even group texts stress me out to a degree. It’s just not in my DNA—dealing with a live audience, large or small. I much prefer to express myself by sitting at my laptop and stabbing at the keys, hopeful that I will convey something meaningful to those who happen to be on the receiving end of my words.

That said, I am a ridiculously shy person who would do almost anything to avoid being in the spotlight. Crowds instill within me not a sense of excitement, but sheer panic. Call me crazy, but I’d be more inclined to endure a root canal than to set foot on stage in front of throngs of people. And for the record, I find little comfort in the old adage JUST IMAGINE THE AUDIENCE IN THEIR UNDERWEAR AND YOU’LL BE FINE AT THE PODIUM. I should know. I tried that during my high school commencement speech and it did nothing but fuel my anxiety. Plus there was the whole boxers vs. briefs issue and I didn’t know which I was supposed to envision.

By some strange twist of fate, my youngest daughters (one, a gifted actor and singer, and the other an incredibly accomplished musician) absolutely thrive in the limelight, having little or no reservations about performing in front of swarms of people and/or cameras. I have no idea how this happened. I only wish I had one iota of their courage and an ability to put one’s talents on full display—critics be damned. Even my husband has a special knack for public speaking, usually armed with a single index card on which he has scrawled roughly six words. I can’t even fathom how he generates an entire speech out of that.

By contrast, I fear I will wither and die whenever I must step out of my comfort zone and address a gathering of people—with or without an index card. I couldn’t even eulogize my own parents or say a few words when my brother passed. On a lighter note, it’s amazing I ever made it through the eighth grade since it was there that I was required to deliver a four-minute speech on how to hit a golf ball. Of course, I chose this topic because it was one of the few skills I possessed and if I had to talk about something, it might as well be something I felt relatively comfortable discussing.

Looking back, I’m quite sure I found the experience to be decidedly intolerable. I think the closest I ever came to enjoying myself on stage was when I played Chicken Little in elementary school. Granted I don’t recall having many lines, but I do remember being in love with my costume. My beak was comically oversized as were my feet, but the best part was getting hit in the head with a pine cone that someone offstage threw at me, because, of course, THE SKY WAS FALLING. Drama like that was beyond fun. Another time in grade school, I snagged the role of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and sang Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo in a small, but packed gymnasium/auditorium. In both instances, perhaps I was too young to care what people thought of me, or maybe I was patently obsessed with the idea of frolicking around on stage instead of sitting at a desk doing schoolwork.

At any rate, I’m still perplexed by the fact that I spent a number of years as a teacher—each day having to overcome at least some measure of performance anxiety. Thankfully the kids were terrific. Hopefully, they were none the wiser.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, gearing up for my book signing on First Friday at Otto Bookstore in Williamsport where there may be crowds, but happily, I’ll only have to speak to one person at a time. Please stop by between 6:00 and 8:00pm on June 1st and pick up a copy of DELIVERANCE: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins. Bear in mind that it’s not just for parents of twins. It’s a real hoot for anyone who has ever raised children. If you can’t make it, please visit me at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville, Me Myself and I, The Write Stuff, Twins

The Great Sock Abyss

Some time ago my daughter cleaned her bedroom, and in so doing resurrected an embarrassment of items that she had ostensibly given up for dead. Things that she hadn’t seen in such a long period of time that she forgot about them almost entirely. There was a pair of iPhone earbuds that had been MIA forever, more than a year’s worth of allowance and at least nine Starbucks cups, one of which still contained what could only be described as a fermented atrocity.

Lovely. Just lovely.

Most notably, she unearthed an ungodly number of socks. Tall ones. Short ones. Socks with stripes. Socks with dots. Socks that will never again be suggestive of clean and socks imprinted with teensy-tiny foxes. My personal favorite.

Admittedly, on more than one occasion I felt compelled to rummage around in her hovel, intent upon gathering all the lone socks in order to pair them appropriately—because it makes me insane to know that the socks in question are, for lack of a better term, estranged. Never mind wadded up, inside out and appearing as though they had been shot from a cannon.

How hard could it be? I remember thinking. You just look around, find the right patterns and put them together. It’s not rocket science. Truth be told, I found such an endeavor to be virtually impossible each time I tried—and subsequently failed—to locate matching pairs. It was as if her room had transformed into the Great Sock Abyss—the place where perfectly wonderful socks go to die, or, perhaps more tragically, become separated forevermore.

Like a fool, I had to ask my daughter the obvious question: WHERE DO THEY GO?

“I have no idea where the lost socks go, Mom. No clue.”

At any rate, when she cleaned her room (see paragraph one) I was patently euphoric over the news of her sock discovery, since their mates had been hanging on a rack in the laundry room since the dawn of time, in hopes of being reunited at long last. Imagine my surprise (read: PROFOUND GLEE) when she produced a dozen or more of the missing socks. It was categorically off the charts and almost as joyous an occasion as the time she found her favorite pair of dilapidated sneakers. Sneakers so pathetic, and yet so dear, she more affectionately refers to them as dead—as if the term “dead” were somehow a good thing. Technically speaking (she’s quick to remind me), they’re still functional. Sort of.

That said, in the past I’ve questioned her dead sneakers as well as the bizarre logic that would support a decision to NOT keep socks and their mates together. Who does that? And why on earth does it happen month after month?

“I don’t know, Mom. I guess I take them off and tell myself that I’ll put them together later, and then I don’t. Honestly, it’s just too much work.”

At that, I shook my head in disbelief and perhaps disappointment. Then I began to wonder if I had driven my mom crazy in much the same way. I couldn’t reliably recall my specific behavior as it relates to the pairing of socks, although all signs pointed to having been a neat freak, so they were probably ridiculously ordered. Perfectly aligned in neat and tidy little rows when clean. Turned right side out and paired properly when dirty.

Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that I drove my mother to distraction by spending an inordinate chunk of my teenage years organizing my closet and drawers. It’s also likely that my obsession with rearranging my bedroom furniture by myself at all hours made her nearly certifiable on occasion. In fact, I moved my dressers and bed around so often that their spindly legs were on the verge of snapping—something that would make any parent implode.

So maybe I should consider myself fortunate, only having to deal with lone socks for a decade or two. Not the annihilation of furniture. As an added bonus, my daughter’s bedroom gets cleaned. Occasionally.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably looking for missing socks. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, In the Trenches of Parentville, Welcome to My Disordered World

An Island of Misery

My kitchen island is a glorious beast—a massive, 34 square foot, 1,200-pound slab of quartz-y wonderfulness that seats six comfortably and houses a wealth of wares within its spacious cabinetry and drawers. It is all I dreamt of and more as our kitchen was renovated for months on end—the mother of all home improvement projects. But because the gods apparently hate me, its surface has been defiled in the years that have passed since its conception. I’m fairly certain that the man who built it (Tim Rosati) and the man who installed it (Ed Gair) would weep if they knew the awful truth—that it has become a home for wayward schlock that my family refuses to take care of and it’s entirely possible that I will die of disappointment.

On my headstone it will read: HERE LIES A WOMAN WHO APPRECIATED THE INHERENT BEAUTY OF A KITCHEN ISLAND WHOSE SURFACE SPARKLES IN THE SUN—A SPACE COMPLETELY DEVOID OF THE TRAPPINGS OF LIFE—A TESTAMENT TO ALL THAT IS UNSULLIED AND GOOD. LET IT BE KNOWN THAT SHE DIED TRYING TO RESTORE SAID ISLAND TO ITS ORIGINAL GLORY, A NOBLE AND WORTHY CAUSE INDEED.

At any rate, I have wasted precious time imploring my family to stop using my beautiful island as a dumping ground and I’ve made myself crazy attempting to return their stuff to its rightful place in the universe—like the cussed garage, or a dresser drawer, or a closet for Pete’s sake. Almost instantaneously, the wretched piles return, only larger and more offensive to my sensibilities. To illustrate, this is a partial listing of the items I found there today:

Party favors, props and programs from various musicals, phone chargers, checkbooks, out-of-date ticket stubs, gift cards, a dog leash and treats, someone’s watch (that may or may not keep accurate time), a hodgepodge of jewelry, a handful of cough drops, a half-eaten Rice Krispie treat, thank you notes (yet to be written), six jumbo paper clips, someone’s library card, a prescription drug box, PILES UPON PILES of mail in a sorry state of disarray, newspapers, the trappings of school, an honor roll clipping, tiny wads of unclaimed money, sweaters and sweatshirts, a discarded purse, marching band paraphernalia, field trip permission slips, as many as five coats hanging on the backs of chairs and eight pairs of shoes lying in a huddled mass at the foot of said chairs, a winter scarf, Bubble wrap and Judy Bernly’s bobby pins.

By all accounts, what I’ve described is tragic and I can’t begin to express how disheartened it makes me. It isn’t as if we haven’t had discussions as a family about the problem. Loud discussions, as I recall. Each time I argue my case, the logic I offer fails to inspire the parties in question to take lasting action. More specifically, to not only remove stuff from the island, but to KEEP IT FROM FINDING ITS WAY BACK. It’s almost as if my husband and kids are marking territory. Like dogs. Although I suspect that dogs know better.

To make matters worse, it appears as though the scourge is spreading—much like the plague. That said, the disordered mass has moved beyond the boundaries of the aforementioned island and currently affects a sizeable portion of a countertop and much of our dining room table. Sadly, the former has become a staging area for jewelry repair, featuring an embarrassment of ridiculously small tools, and the latter now functions as a place to pile things that have no business being piled there. Naturally, my husband argues they are things he is “working on.” If the past is any indication, he’ll be “working on” that stuff till doomsday. Maybe longer.

In order to deal with such a demoralizing set of circumstances, I suppose I’ll just have to ignore the surface and know that deep within beats the heart of my beloved island. Or I could ask for the unthinkable—that it be cleaned for Mother’s Day.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably standing in my kitchen, lamenting the sorry state of my island. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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