Tag Archives: quirks

The Accidental Parent

When it comes to the uncertain journey of parenting, I tend to believe that success has less to do with the desperate search for a one-size-fits-all prescriptive guide (that may or may not exist) and more to do with perceiving nuances in the landscape of our children’s lives, gathering information much like rain and trying ever so madly to adapt to the shifting terrain and impossible demands placed upon us day in and day out. To show up, to invest ourselves wholly in the process of nurturance and to do our level best—imperfect as that most assuredly is. And while I feel fairly certain of my many and varied failings as a parent, there are times during which the gods smile upon me—and I get it right, often in spite of myself. Indeed, much of what works in terms of child rearing I’ve either conveniently borrowed or stumbled into purely by happenstance.

Such was the case with the celebrated Math Hat, so named for its astonishing ability to impart both mathematical competence and never-before-seen composure in the face of frustration (i.e. that which is prompted by the inherent evil of math-related homework—or so it is perceived at times by a certain couple of somebodies presently in the fourth grade). Imagine my surprise (read: unspeakable joy) upon witnessing nothing short of a garden-variety miracle in my living room as Thing Two donned said hat in the throes of an epic meltdown (over something as asinine as arithmetic) only to emerge as a capable, composed pupil who willingly—almost gleefully—tackled the remaining problems without the suggestion of protest. It’s rumored she was smiling as well.

I’m quite sure I stood there like a buffoon, slack-mouthed and completely baffled by this seemingly fortuitous turn of events. Of course, I felt compelled to snatch the silly thing from her head in an effort to demystify that which was fairly incomprehensible to me, but I resisted. Instead I hurled a torrent of questions in her direction. “What on earth just happened?! Why aren’t you bothered PROFOUNDLY EXASPERATED by your math homework anymore?! Who are you and what have you done with my belligerent child?!” She then grinned, shrugged her shoulders and adjusted her newfound talisman. “I don’t know, Mom, but it helps me and I’m gonna call it my Math Hat (pronounced in the spirit of Aflac). Weird, isn’t it?”

Weird doesn’t begin to describe it,” I mused. Four-leaf clovers…I get. Amulets…I vaguely appreciate. The whole Feng-Shui-Chi-Yin-and-Yang thing makes a fair amount of sense to me. But the freakishly magical nature of that stupid, thrift store-inspired hat bordered on the bizarre. Clearly, it was far more impressive than any thinking cap could ever hope to be, and I was convinced that there had to be a cheerleading squad somehow stuffed inside said knitted wonder, likely shouting encouragement, praise AND ANSWERS into the waiting ears of my dear child.

Granted, I had offered the hat as a diversion—to take her mind off the dreaded task of rounding numbers and whatnot: “Stop thinking of stabbing me with your pencil…Put your pencil down and check out the funky-looking hat I picked up today for the Christmas play.” Who knew something so simple would serve as the sanity cocktail we both so desperately needed.

Logically, I was then driven to delve deeper into the notion of accidental successes, eager to lend credence to my curious findings. Translation: I Googled the tar out of the topic, uncovering a host of interesting and important discoveries that were unintentionally made. Like Post-It Notes and Super Glue, Velcro and Vaseline, blue jeans and the microwave oven. Let us not forget penicillin. Furthermore, I came across Greg Pincus, founder of The Happy Accident, another individual who embraces the serendipity effect—using social media to help create the right conditions for unexpected benefits in a variety of areas. Only then did I come to the realization that so many of my important discoveries as a parent qualify as happy accidents—including the aforementioned Math Hat.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (fetching the Math Hat on a regular basis).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "S" is for Shame, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Homework Hell, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me, I Think I’ll Eat Worms

Purely for the sake of argument, let us just say that I have a difficult child. One that unwittingly, yet ever-so-skillfully, drives me to the brink of lunacy as a matter of course—or to the recesses of a closet, where the din cannot follow and some semblance of my sanity can be reclaimed.

Granted, I love this child—and for the past nine years I’ve appreciated her uniqueness, her special gifts and her uncanny ability to make my heart smile even on the darkest of days. Oddly enough, though, she has trouble finding her smile at times—which is the crux of what makes her difficult, methinks.

Indeed, the aforementioned child is periodically consumed by negativity, self-loathing and doubt—not to mention the belief that pretty much everything in her life is decidedly horrible. From hair that won’t remain perfectly parted and math facts that refuse to be summoned to the wrinkly socks and days of the week that ostensibly hate her, she is tormented by all that is even remotely frustrating to the average fourth grader. And although she hasn’t explicitly uttered the phrase, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…I think I’ll eat worms,” most assuredly, she has thought it.

Needless to say, the local worm populace and I have seriously entertained the notion of fleeing to a faraway place so as to escape from the torrent of intolerableness that lives and breathes here whenever PESSIMISM comes to call (i.e. the epic meltdowns during which the seething child in question stomps and shrieks and writhes about in a fit of rage—whenever failure and disappointment lurk, whenever flexibility is in desperate need, whenever the Homework Monster rears its ugly head, making demands and finding fault). Moreover, the above-mentioned creature is disturbingly obsessed with sameness, given to self-contempt, to catastrophizing and to hostility—practically imploding while tackling that which is deemed too difficult or smacks of change. And alas, much of the time I am unable to pull her from the wreckage—demonstrating (yet again) my woeful ineptitude as a parent.

To be sure, that is the point at which I feel like a failure, fumbling around in the dark for a perfectly hewn snippet of speech that promises to remedy all that is ailing. The right words, as it were, are elusive at best, buried beneath volumes of discourse and drivel that fail to deliver. Granted, I’m not the only parent on the planet faced with such a challenge, and I need only turn to Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to be reminded. Given the title’s enormous popularity, I know that I am not alone as I endure the doom-and-gloom assertions that riddle my child’s thinking: “My life is ENTIRELY HORRIBLE!”, “My socks ABSOLUTELY HATE ME!” and “I’ll NEVER, EVER understand math, Mom!”

But, I am happy to report, what I’ve spelled out in horrific detail exists only in the distant past. The meltdowns that occur beneath this roof in the here and now are very nearly manageable—mostly, I’d surmise, because the gods have been smiling upon me this past year. Indeed, so many individuals (near and far, through church, school and the like) have had a hand in leading us to a better place—so much so that I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for their efforts.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to employ the sage advice of Dr. Tamar E. Chansky, author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, which has been nothing short of a godsend. Translation: I devoured it three glorious times—gleaning something new and different with each successive read. In sum, it is a 295-page, 11-chapter gem-of-a-parental-resource jammed with a host of insightful observations, pragmatic strategies and user-friendly language that even I can exercise and understand. More specifically, my dog-eared copy (the one I keep at my bedside) has provided me with the tools necessary to better manage the daily barrage of “I’m stupid…my life is stupid…even my stupid hair is stupid” commentary to which I had grown far too accustomed. Further, Freeing Your Child has given me an abundance of skills—enough so that I might teach the smallish being I love so completely how to quell the angry beast within—even when I am not by her side, poised to pluck her from the unmerciful depths of negativity. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

That said, it’s likely the worms in this particular region are now safe—at least as it relates to human consumption.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks to the locals who’ve been indescribably helpful and revering Tamar Chansky and her invaluable book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Call Me Quirky

Contrary to popular belief, no one on earth is immune. Evvvvvverybody’s got ‘em. Quirks, that is. Some stranger than others. Some stranger than fiction.

Personally, I find the whole topic of idiosyncrasies remarkably intriguing. They fascinate me. What can I say—I’m easily amused. Good grief, I found being hurried to death in a restaurant so incredibly amusing that I was moved to write about it. So to be humored by good old-fashioned oddities almost makes sense. Almost. Call me quirky.

Perhaps my biggest curiosity stems from wondering where they come from in the first place. Do we arrive on the planet pre-wired for the development of certain eccentricities? “Okay, let’s see…this one will have blue eyes and will forever dot her i’s with little curlicues.” Is it somehow genetic? (Weirdness simply breeds weirdness). Or is it mostly influenced by our environment? (Monkey see, monkey do).

Who knows where such peculiarities originate? I don’t pretend to know. But what I can say for certain is that quirks are very real and are utterly brimming with entertainment potential. Think: “Felix Unger” (The Odd Couple) or “Monk” (of Monk). These guys have literally defined (and some would even argue, “glamorized”) the concept of quirkiness. Popularized it to a degree.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe each of us is eager for the limelight—striving for a slice of uniqueness that will set us apart from the throngs of ordinaries. Public bizarreness—that’ll definitely do it—famously, if done right. The next time you carpool for instance, try holding your breath and raising your knees to your chin whenever you cross a bridge WITHOUT anyone noticing. That’s just plain strange—quirkiness at its finest; but it’ll surely get you noticed. Or try this one: While standing at a busy checkout, lovingly ogle your stash of wheat-backed pennies and painstakingly organize all your bills, so that those stoic-looking characters you cart around in your wallet are all right-side-up and facing the same direction—not one-another. No doubt, you’ll get some queer stares—with or without a three-dollar bill.

Another one that gets me is when people meticulously wipe their silverware while dining out—which goes WAY beyond checking for dried food particles. If you ask me, it borders on the obsessive; as does the practice of methodically arranging individual lunch items in the same manner day in and day out…sandwich at six-o’clock, carrot and celery sticks at three and nine-o’clock respectively and Red Delicious at high noon. And how about those who can’t bear to consume anything “out of order?” Or those who won’t tolerate the peas and potatoes touching at dinnertime? We can’t have chummy vegetables now, can we? I suppose it’s no different than refusing to allow the blues and browns to mingle in a sock drawer. People would talk.

I especially enjoy watching individuals like my husband, who are absolutely compelled to “erase” a mid-air sketch, lest someone bump into it later—just hanging there in all its imaginary glory. It cracks me up each and every time I see him do it. Just for fun, I’ll scribble a “note” on this so-called canvas merely to watch him squirm when I leave it there. It kills him. I know it’s cruel, but I can’t help myself. Nor can I resist the temptation to hand Captain Quirk a plain, old ordinary pencil every so often—just to watch him cringe in disgust. You’d think I had offered a bucket of spiders or something. The man won’t go near one (mechanical variety excluded), since he finds them positively repulsive. Sharp, dull, freshly gnawed or in mint condition. Doesn’t matter. Won’t touch ‘em. In my opinion, it simply defies logic. Welcome to Quirkville.

Even dogs and cats suffer. Poor things. Ever watch them settle down for a nap or try to poo? Can’t do it unless they spin themselves into the ground first. Idiots. Even my kids have begun to show signs of budding peculiarities. One won’t run. Only gallops. Another didn’t blow her nose till she was 10. And the third strange child of mine refuses to eat sandwiches—period. Until yesterday, that is. Captain Quirk apparently offered up something so tasty even She-Who-Thrives-On-Rebellion couldn’t resist. Potato chip and jelly, in case you wondered.

I just HAD to snap a photo. It’s a quirk of mine.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (quirks and all).

Copyright 2005 Melinda L. Wentzel

 

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

How to Win Friends and Influence Children

Dale Carnegie might have made his New York Times bestseller even more successful had he known what I now know about motivating others—especially the mulish imps with whom I reside. He could have rocked the world with the groundbreaking information I’ve painstakingly gathered from the field (i.e. the Mommy R & D Laboratory).

The beauty of said discovery is that, in essence, it is ridiculously simple—my kids will do anything for a chicken nugget. Homework standing on their heads. Soccer drills during a monsoon. Strep tests with glee. They’ll even take a bath and clean their room on a Saturday, which elevates the validity of positive reinforcement to an unprecedented level of acceptance. Without question, if a savory nugget is the prize (warmed to perfection or stone cold), I can consider the unpleasant task at hand done. And if the esteemed chunk of meaty goodness came from Tony’s Deli—all the better.

Case in point (as I tucked one of my cherubs into bed recently): “I’m afraid you probably won’t be going to school tomorrow, Hon. Not with that fever.” A pall then fell over her face—as if I had announced the sun didn’t like us anymore, so it would be moving to another galaxy, ending life as we know it.

“But we’re having chicken nuggets for lunch tomorrow, Mom,” a tiny voice whimpered from beneath the covers, the hovel where the smallish being in question shivered and shook thanks to that wretched sister-to-malaria she had undoubtedly contracted.

“Nuggets?” I thought to myself, completely baffled by the inane notion that a piece of poultry could wield such power—enough to inspire a sickish child to drag her sorry self to school. I expected a far different plea; one that perhaps involved the cute boy with the Sponge Bob lunchbox or gym class with those beloved scooterish devices or a library full of “…my favorite horse books!” all of which would have been sacrificed on a day home from school. Not once did I hear, “But Mom, I’d miss my friends and my teacher and the best bus driver in all the world!”

Nope. Chicken nuggets ruled. Go figure.

“And anyway, I’d miss soccer practice, and all that sloshing around in the mud…and my coach…and my team…and I wouldn’t be able to look for worms afterward to add to my collection! It’s not fair, Mom; I have to go to school. I just have to. Besides, it’s the last time the cafeteria ladies will make chicken nuggets for me this month and I’d have to wait until December to have them again!”

Given that this strange child of mine likes a grand total of two meals on the school lunch menu (fish sticks and chicken nuggets, but not chicken tenders or poppers because dear God, they’re INFINITELY DIFFERENT than nuggets!), I understand her dilemma. Completely.

“Okay, you can go to school tomorrow if you don’t wake up feeling absolutely horrible. But just for the record, it’s against my better judgment,” I said grudgingly, having caved yet again. But part of me cheered the news, comforted in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be saddled with a whiny child all day, longing for her precious chicken nuggets, enraged with me for having deprived her of that which she adores. I have enough trouble being labeled Meanest Mom on the Planet.

At that, she breathed a great sigh of relief and snuggled deeper into the sea of blankets. All was right with the world. “Thanks, Mom.”

“So what’s the big deal with chicken nuggets anyway? It seems as if that’s all you ever like to eat.”

She then reminded me of the note she had scrawled some time ago, highlighting for my benefit (as well as for the cafeteria personnel’s future reference) what specific menu items currently meet with her approval. Among a host of other things she considers tasty, the list included chicken nuggets (or more affectionately, cicen nuggets).

I stand corrected.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Meat & Potatoes, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool, Sick-O Central, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

My Dog Ate My Homework and Other Tales of Woe

The afternoon began uneventfully enough. My motley crew leapt from the school bus like every other day and flung their backpacks into a crumpled heap at the curbside—a practice I’ve grown to tolerate over the years since it usually grants me a few delicious moments to myself. Moments during which my sole function on the planet is simply to watch them run circles around each other, screaming like a couple of banshees, weaving in and out of a grove of trees—ones that are routinely summoned to participate in their latest and greatest make-believe pirate or superhero drama. Indeed, it makes perfect sense to encourage said purging of the vat of pent up energy with which they seem to arrive home each day, and to be patient while they soak up every glee-filled ounce of childhood that is humanly possible. But on this particular day, it was all for naught.

Shortly after the beasts within were presumably tamed, the wheels flew off my Parenting Bus. Hubcaps and all. In perfect chorus, there were demands for snacks and demands for my attention, squabbles to settle and hostilities to halt, messes to manage and hurts to heal, slips to sign and studies to support. And all the while I tried to attend meaningfully to a conversation with a certain co-ed who decided to make landfall in this crazy place at this crazy hour—a hurried conversation about borrowing a sleeping bag due to the ridiculous prospect of driving hundreds of miles to a huge city where she’s never driven, to pitch a tent in Godknowswhatforest and CAMP IN THE FREEZING COLD with a bunch of like-minded bohemians she’s never met “…because it will be an adventure, Mom, and besides, I know at least one of them and I guess I’ll get to know the rest.”

Naturally, the toilet paper debate surfaced.

“You’ll need to pack some toilet paper, you know. And wool socks. Do you even have wool socks? How about long underwear? Have you thought about that?”

“No, Mom. I won’t need toilet paper. I have wool socks. And I won’t need long underwear in Virginia.”

“Yes you will.”

“No I won’t.”

And so the drama in our kitchen continued—until she had had enough of my former-resident-of-Virginia motherly advice and I had had enough of trying to deal with multiple crises of epic proportions. In retrospect, the crises themselves probably weren’t all that horrific or exceedingly unmanageable. But clustered together, into a consortium of tiny tragedies, they certainly felt genuinely oppressive—as if my world were collapsing all around me. Then the dog entered the fray (removing all doubt that my world had indeed collapsed), taking a sizeable chunk out of someone’s book—a book that belonged to the school—a book that I would ineptly try to resuscitate with massive quantities of tape and resourcefulness the next day. However, my resourcefulness met its match when I foolishly inquired as to where the rest of the gnawed upon morsels were.

“They’re in his belly, Mom. I was reading to him and then I went away and that’s when Jack decided to taste my book.” I only wish I had been present in school to witness the blow-by-blow explanation she surely offered her teacher, detailing the fate her hapless book had met. Clearly, any sentence that contains both the words dog and homework can’t hope to be well received by any teacher—even if those words happen to be delivered by a second grader with little or no expertise in the realm of conjuring lame excuses.

Unfortunately, the dog wasn’t alone in striving to complete his mission of destruction that afternoon. Apparently, my heathens were also bent on ruinous behavior. Case in point: while hurling their smallish bodies into oblivion (i.e. flinging themselves into an enormous leaf pile in the back yard again and again), not surprisingly, and horrendously, they collided. One cranium and one chin famously intersected in what appeared to be a valiant attempt to occupy the very same bit of earthly airspace. The laws of physics prevailed, however, resulting in equal and opposite reactions, largely manifested by an impressive-looking goose egg and a set of rattled teeth. After being smothered with kisses that were sure to cure all their ills, my sniveling combatants headed straight for the freezer to remedy their stupidity. Ice would be their companion for quite some time.

Even still as evening approached, said idiocy refused to leave our happy home. Our brood had settled nicely into what we assumed would be a civilized game of Jumpin’ Monkeys. But in a fit of rage, Thing One viciously stomped upon Thing Two’s brand spanking new glasses (that were lying on the floor AGAIN!)—twisting them hideously into a mangled mess, necessitating an immediate and gloriously lecture-filled trip to the eye doctor’s (read: our saving grace).

“She smooshed them, Mommy! On purpose! Just because I threw her stupid, stinking monkey!”

And so our tales of woe continued. Thankfully not every day is so abundantly eventful.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

 

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Daily Chaos, Doggie Diamonds, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Rantings & Ravings, Smother May I?, The Woman-Child, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction