Tag Archives: school

In Praise of September

www.melindawentzel.comI love this time of year—the wedge of weeks during which the succulent remnants of summer collide almost seamlessly with a taste of autumn. Aside from the perfect marriage of warm days and cool nights, I suppose it’s the patented swirl of excitement surrounding the start of school that I find so completely intoxicating. Call me crazy.

I blame the mechanical pencils, mostly, in all their steely glory, and the pink erasers that beckon to me unremittingly from the shelves of office supply stores and beyond. The three-ring binders sometimes get to me, too, shouting above the tumult with their palette of delicious hues and fancy-schmancy features. Never mind the throngs of rugged backpacks, endowed with a profusion of zippered compartments and pouches, fueling my quiet obsession with organization, or at least some semblance thereof. And now that my progenies have joined the ranks of middle-schoolers, there are cavernous lockers to adorn as well—with chandeliers, plush carpeting and wallpaper, apparently.

Oh. My. Hell.

Granted, the inherent madness of the back-to-school rush, with its deluge of frenzied purchases, fiscal misery and impossibly giddified children, threatens to consume me each and every August. But it adds a much-needed dose of structure to my life as well and a certain rhythm to mothering—one that I suspect I’ll lament when I no longer have school-aged children in my charge.

There is something quietly reassuring about restoring our routine come September—even if it involves unpleasantries like bedtimes, alarm clocks and the evils of homework. In a sense, I think it’s the predictable nature of things that grounds me, and hopefully my children. Knowing what’s expected and what’s to come, at least in theory, encourages preparedness and some measure of assurance. Like calendars with the tiny squares filled in, a table of contents with more than a mere fragment of clarity and sock drawers with the suggestion of order.

Okay, maybe not sock drawers, so much.

At any rate, swarms of yellow school buses now inhabit the land as if commanded by the tides—a cadence and pattern by which a great many lives are governed. Mine is no exception. Mornings are now filled with the hustle and bustle of shepherding my brood out into the world of books and pencils—with shoes tied (mostly), lunches in hand (occasionally) and backpacks clattering and jouncing as they dash across the dew-laden lawn to the bus stop they’ve frequented since the early days of kindergarten. Of course, it was only yesterday that we sat side by side on the curb together, reading Stuart Little while we waited for the bus to round the bend and groan to a halt. But I digress.

Mornings are slightly more hectic now, and by the same token, afternoons with my sixth-grade daughters are the embodiment of chaos—the latest news of the day spilling from their mouths in a flurry of words from the moment they make landfall until they pour themselves into bed each night—a collective heap of exhaustion. Which is not to say that is a bad thing necessarily. Part of me truly enjoys the debriefing process I have come to know and expect as a parent at the close of each school day, and as I ferry them (ad nauseam) here and there throughout the entire year. And no matter how many stories I hear (ranging from angsty to the bounds of absurdity), I’d daresay the gemlike commentary I’ve gathered and the genuine connections I’ve made with my daughters will never grow old.

But somehow, the harvest of September is special—perhaps because it smacks of newness, in sharp contrast to August’s comparatively uninspired crop of parent-child conversations. Perhaps because of the sense of possibility the celebrated season of new beginnings engenders within each of us. Or perhaps, very simply, it is the omnipresence of tall pencils and full erasers that makes the month so special, suggesting the notion of a clean slate and starting over, anew.

Or maybe that’s why I hold September so dear.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of September).

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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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From There to Here

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddJust a moment ago, my children were kindergarteners—spindly creatures with wee arms, knobby knees and tinny voices. I remember well our maiden voyage to the school’s Open House one afternoon late in August—to the shores of Mrs. Morehart’s classroom, a warm and welcoming place at the end of the hall where my husband and I, like everyone else, crammed our oversized frames into impossibly small chairs eager to consume all that a parent of a kindergartener could possibly need to know about the year ahead. There was talk of cubbies and snow boots, art smocks and mittens. Bus schedules. Lunch lines. Recess and snacks.

Together, with our knees awkwardly pressed to our chests and our irrational fears lurking just beneath the surface, we learned about the magical nature of story time, the Puppet Lady who would come to call, the wealth of educational experiences our children were slated to have and, of course, the vastly important assurance of bathroom proximity. God knows how dearly we valued that. In any event, our concerns were adequately addressed as a collective sigh of relief wafted over the cozy grove of Lilliputian-inspired tables that filled the room and the brightly colored whateverness with which said room was adorned.

Indeed, Mrs. Morehart was a woman with whom we became enamored almost instantly. Her classroom promised to be a venue where impressionable minds would be nourished, creativity and curiosity would be duly celebrated and respect for others, as well as oneself, would be cultivated above all else. What’s more, surnames and bus numbers would be indelibly imprinted upon the forehead of each and every five-year-old and the aforementioned godsend-of-an-educator would refrain from passing judgment on those who were wholly incapable of enforcing bedtimes as well as those who might be inclined to serve dinner in the bathtub on a school night (to, of course, remedy the not-getting-the-kids-to-bed-at-a-reasonable-hour problem).

In truth, no one’s forehead was defiled in the plan to distinguish students or to ensure that the right child got on the right bus at dismissal. In any event, the curators of our precious cargo did, indeed, coordinate the logistics of transportation (and practically every other aspect of child management) seamlessly and with great aplomb. That said, the Land of Kindergarten was a place we parents could feel genuinely good about leaving our charges.

Never mind the wave of apprehension that literally consumed me the following week, when that big, yellow beast-of-a-school-bus groaned to a halt in my street and a certain couple of somebodies were expected to board and then traverse the uncertain path that would come to define their lives as kindergarteners—without me. Needless to say, a great deal of time has passed since then—despite the fact that it feels like mere seconds ago that I sat in one of those tiny plastic chairs, a red one I think, fretting over the exceedingly remote possibility that my children would be trampled by a herd of Converse-wearing, backpack-toting third graders or, tragically, mauled by a rogue pencil sharpener.

Thing One and Thing Two are worldly fifth graders now—not-so-spindly creatures who positively thrive on the thrum of activity present in their school day. No longer are they overwhelmed by long lines in the cafeteria, the deafening roar of eco-friendly electric hand dryers in the restrooms or an oncoming herd of third graders for that matter. They know practically every nook and cranny of their beloved school—where favorite library books can be found, which teachers have a debilitating affinity for chocolate chip cookies and, not surprisingly, how to efficiently navigate to the nurse’s office from virtually anywhere in the building. What’s more, they’ve learned how to deal with unwieldy band instruments, lost book fair money and, occasionally, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

In that respect—yet ever so reluctantly—I acknowledge the vast chasm that exists between then and now, there and here, even though it has felt so completely fleeting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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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

Juneuary

Seems like only yesterday that my brood was finishing up grade school, poised to devour the summer months…

I 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 (and a newfangled Scooby-Doo thermos).

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 Frisbees 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 30-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 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 8th 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 Pokémon card 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). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, Love and Other Drugs, School Schmool