Tag Archives: parenting

Apron Strings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Parents

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddSarcasm aside, Stephen Covey should have written a book with the abovementioned title. Not that he failed spectacularly as a father, but because people tend to more readily grasp what doesn’t work, as opposed to what does. Like tightrope walking, for instance—without a net. In a practical sense, Seven Habits would’ve been an invaluable guide for parents, highlighting the antithesis of good advice as it relates to the uncertain nature of raising children. Countless individuals, myself included, could’ve then avoided seven of the biggest pitfalls of child rearing—all of which I’ve shamelessly embraced since the advent of motherhood. So in the true spirit of generosity and irreverence, I’ve compiled a list of that which you would do well to eschew.

  • 1)  STOCKPILE EXACTLY NOTHING IN YOUR DISCIPLINARY ARSENAL, rendering you categorically ineffective (read: deplorable) when it comes to dealing with ill-mannered children and/or defiant teens. A sign that you’re on the right track in this regard can be clearly demonstrated if you lack any discernable ability to assign logical consequences to a wayward grocery cart, let alone an unruly child. Moreover, if you think “positive reinforcement” is just a bunch of psychobabble and you have absolutely no idea what will happen if and when you actually reach the count of three (i.e. at the climax of your hackneyed threat: “One…two…two-and-a-half…two-and-three-quarters…two-and-seven-eighths…”), you’re well on your way to becoming a highly defective parent. However, you’ve truly arrived in said capacity when you scream at your brood, “Stop screaming!” and it actually works.
  • 2)  DO EVERYTHING FOR YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN, lest they become discouraged, frustrated or palpably incensed as a result of their futile attempts to do for themselves. Heaven forbid you let them fail. At anything. Nor should your dear progenies be held accountable in this life. For anything. Never mind their longings for independence and ownership as they grow. Continue on the path to martyrdom by picking up their shoes, making their beds and triple-checking their homework day after day, right through college and into grad school. Fight their battles for them, too, paving the way on every imaginable front. In this manner, you can insure their dependency (and your sense of purpose as a slack-picker-upper) for a lifetime.
  • 3)  SAY “YES” TO YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN FAR TOO OFTEN, even if it spells emotional/financial ruin for you, or reckless endangerment for them. A happy upbringing is all about instant gratification and leniency, after all—not to mention, keeping the peace. Indulge them daily—hourly if need be, so that you might satisfy their every whim. Translation: Let your charges pitch a monstrosity-of-a-tent in the living room for weeks on end, perilously slide down staircases in sleeping bags and adopt more pets than the Animal Control Board thinks you can readily accommodate. Note: If your house doesn’t smell like hamsters or wet dog, you’re not trying hard enough.
  • 4)  COMPARE YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN TO OTHERS at every opportunity (especially those involving hyper-successful peers, siblings and well-mannered house plants)—a practice that serves to solidify feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Kids simply adore being held to an unattainable ideal, relishing the notion of not-measuring-up in all avenues of life.
  • 5)  MODEL IMPROPRIETY AT EVERY TURN. Launch tirades, throw shoes and by all means, refuse to share your sand shovel. Additionally, hold grudges, damn politicians and say incredibly vile things about the Everyday Math you’ve been expected to embrace since your oldest entered kindergarten. Better still, demonstrate the beauty of white lies, offer your brood an abundance of inappropriate ways to deal with bullies and hang up on a telemarketer at least as often as Rush Limbaugh says something stupid.
  • 6)  ALWAYS SPEAK BEFORE YOU THINK. Enough said.
  • 7)  INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT OF PANIC TO YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN BY ROUTINELY INVITING FEAR AND WORRY INTO YOUR COLLECTIVE CORNER OF THE WORLD. The more irrational the fear/worry the better. Histrionics are good, too, especially as they relate to obscure maladies involving parasites native to Tasmania, the horror of being struck by a sofa-sized chunk of space debris and, of course, the Mayan apocalypse.
  • Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in all my defective glory).
  • Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddI don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night ball games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of sneakers. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded eleven-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we pilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of basketball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no tablets in existence and not a single app had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer).

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Sometimes the Sidelines are Best

www.melindawentzel.comTwo years ago my kids swam like stones. Stones both dense and unwieldy in nature. Stones destined for the bottoms of lakes and ponds and pools. And yet, there was an uncanny barnacle-ness about them as well (i.e. they desperately clung to whatever floatation device or seemingly tallish torso that happened to be handy—namely my husband’s or mine). Said buoyancy-challenged individuals were largely comfortable in swimming pools, so long as we stayed in the shallow end and refrained from making any sort of unreasonable requests—like suggesting they loosen their death grips around our necks. Heaven forbid I tuck my hand beneath their bellies and let them kick and flop around in the water like everyone else on the planet.

That said, I’m not entirely sure that my kids even wanted to learn how to swim. Life was perfectly perfect coiled inextricably around someone’s head, neck and shoulders, their smallish bodies submerged just enough to enjoy a taste of refreshing coolness, while a goodly portion remained above the water’s surface, safe and sound from the abyss below.

For a time (read: an obscenely large chunk of our children’s lives), we allowed such an idiotic practice to continue, doing our level best to enable them and to accept the Island of Dependency we had inadvertently become. Of course, we fully expected a miracle to befall us. A miracle that would effectively save us from ourselves. Out of the blue, our charges would suddenly abandon their fears and start swimming like fish or, more correctly, like porpoises, plunging headlong into the murky depths in search of silvery prizes and whatever else they felt inclined to fetch from the deck of the Titanic. Through osmosis, our aquatic wonders would absorb every speck of knowledge and skill I had acquired as a lifeguard, and then some. They’d even be strangely adept at twirling whistles around their fingers and hauling greased watermelons across vast stretches of open water—talents that smack of impressiveness but have yet to be deemed useful.

But it was not to be. Eventually my husband and I faced the cold, hard truth. Hopes and dreams didn’t make good swimmers. Lessons did. Lessons involving a lot of hard work, a boatload of skilled instructors from whom praise flowed endlessly and a vat of courage—mostly of the parental variety. That said, it takes superhuman strength and nerves of steel to idly sit back and watch one’s beloved progeny flap and flounder as he or she goes about the important business of learning how to swim. It’s true: Kids panic. Kids swallow a disturbing amount of water. Kids stare at you from the deep end with horrified expressions of “How COULD you?!” and “Are you really my mother?!”

Not surprisingly, parents twist and turn uncomfortably in their seats, wearing nervous smiles and attempting to chat casually. Yet deep inside, awash with guilt and filled with doubt, they harbor pure and unadulterated torment. Or maybe that was just me, squirming in my lawn chair in a futile attempt to silence the voices in my head that relentlessly screamed, “Your child is DROWNING for Crissakes! And all you can do is swat flies and admire your tanned toes?! What kind of parent are you anyway?!” More than anything I felt helpless—completely beside myself with the idea of being on the sidelines.

And yet, that was where I needed to be—the place where I was, in fact, most effective. I needed to have faith in the process, faith in the instructors and faith in my children’s ability to succeed—in spite of the dearth of achievement I had witnessed thus far. And succeed they did. They’ve ditched the semblance of stones and barnacles for good and have since transformed into more guppy-like creatures, completely thrilled with their newfound ability to swim, “…even in the deep end, Mom!”

Aside from seeing actual results in the pool, I know this much is true because we’ve progressed from comments like, “I hope you know this is PURE TORTURE, Mom!” to “Can’t you just LEAVE ME HERE so I could SWIM ALL DAY, EVERYDAY?!”

Yep. Sometimes the sidelines are best.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (on the sidelines).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Juneuary

www.melindawentzel.comI love this time of the school year, as we straddle the delectable months of May and June—quite literally on the cusp of summer. Translation: The celebrated death of structure is nigh and I can almost taste the deliverance from order and obligation—especially as it relates to parenting a pair of wily fifth graders. Far and away, it’s my favorite wedge of weeks on the academic calendar; although September’s nice, too, with its bustling fleets of bright, yellow school buses, towers of textbooks and freshly sharpened pencils. Trendy backpacks and lunchboxes abound, too. Everything, it seems, is awash with newness come September, just as it was so very long ago when I headed back to grade school with the swarming masses.

But the present chunk of time is downright edible—a delicious string of days that meld together like the final pages of a good book. Needless to say, the sundrenched afternoons and scrumptious evenings filled with games of tag and the ever-present thrum of crickets woo me into thinking that nothing on earth could possibly be better—except maybe a moratorium on homework, which is pretty much what we’ve been granted of late. That said, there is no substitute for this season’s splendor—and the fireflies we are eager to chase at dusk. Nor is there any match for the grand finale my kids revere more than life itself (i.e. the culmination of school, with its patented swirl of delirium-inducing celebrations and jammed-to-capacity schedule of events). Indeed, it is a frenzied cluster of weeks that threatens to claim my sanity, but it passes all too quickly and I find myself pining for more.

If I had my druthers, another thirty-day chunk of time would be sandwiched between the fifth and sixth months, infusing the school calendar with that which is righteous and good (namely, science projects that don’t necessitate the summoning of a marriage counselor, sports schedules that are very nearly practicable and weather forecasts that typically include blue skies and balmy temperatures). Juneuary, I’d call it. Of course, it would contain a perfectly frivolous holiday during which people would pause for three consecutive days to pay homage to squirt guns or pet toads. Possibly both. You’re welcome, said the maniacal visionary and curator of whimsy.

Alas, there is no Juneuary, and a mere handful of days remain in my children’s school calendar—a woeful reality that is, of course, punctuated by the fact that this week will officially end their grade school years. That said, my brood is poised to enter middle school in the fall—where the likelihood of being trampled by a herd of eighth graders is nearly equivalent to that of being stuffed inside a locker (incidentally, a locker that no one will figure out how to reliably lock and unlock without divine intervention and/or the acquisition of at least one superpower).

Never mind the inevitability that I will fail to locate their classrooms on Back to School Night, at which time I will surely forego the opportunity to meet their new teachers because I’ll be too busy wandering aimlessly through the labyrinth of hallways that appear disturbingly similar. Make that COMPLETELY INDISTINGUISHABLE, except for the smallish numbers printed near the doors that I may or may not fully discern, given the addled state I expect to be in at that time.

Maybe I should just stow my kids somewhere in the bowels of the elementary school for the summer, so they might stay a bit longer, tethered to the people and things they know best. A place where an embarrassment of items were lost and subsequently found (read: library books, lunch money, a certain someone’s clarinet, eleventy-seven sweatshirts, a beloved rock and an errantly placed baby tooth). A place where scrapes were tended to, psyches were nurtured and curiosities were fed since the early days of kindergarten. A soft spot to land these past six years—a refuge that has made all the difference this June.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (searching desperately for the pause button).

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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