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Nightmare on Mom Street

Sunday afternoons are my respite in this harried place. The sanity cocktail from which I draw sweet sustenance. That said, I lounge around the house doing as little as humanly possible, embracing my inner sloth. Old movies, blanket forts and naps rule the day. That is not to say that I haven’t, on occasion, become inspired enough to throw something meaty in the crock-pot, to haul my sweeper from the bowels of its dusky lair or to plant my sorry self in the laundry room for a time despite my aversion to the insufferable place. Even on a Sunday afternoon. But for the most part, ambition is nowhere to be found in my house during that glorious wedge of downtime—sandwiched deliciously between the madness that was and the madness sure to come. Last Sunday, however, was decidedly different. Havoc rained down on my world, obliterating my precious corner of calm.

Oddly enough, what led to the aforementioned began weeks ago while traipsing through a store, my cart piled high with a bunch of schlock I didn’t need. At every turn, it seemed, I stumbled into EVEN MORE SCHLOCK and felt compelled to ogle it, to finger its veneer of worthiness and to toy with the notion of adding it to my ever-growing mound of that-which-I-would-one-day-regret-purchasing. And on the days during which I allow the guilt of motherhood to consume me, the mound is markedly higher. Needless to say, it was one of those days.

Indeed, the voices that drive much of my irrational behavior relevant to Thing One and Thing Two were especially persuasive that day, whispering words of admonishment in my ear and regaling in my grand ineptitude as a parent: “You’re a HORRIBLE MOTHER…you don’t SPEND ENOUGH TIME with your children…you MUST ACQUIRE this ten-dollar nugget of wonderfulness which promises to erase weeks of botched parenting.” All the while I considered said nugget of wonderfulness (i.e. a two-pound Chocolate Cookie Halloween House Kit, complete with 47 bats, dozens of little green candies I would later damn to hell, enough gumdrops to coat eleventy-seven teeth and an expander, a defective ghost—or rather, segments of insanely sweet candy, suggestive of something that was once intact and specter-like—and a cauldron full of powdery mixes that were sure to deliver hours of goo-inspired, edible fun and to yield the most perfect hues of orange and purple icing on the planet).

In the end, I was shamed into buying the box of foolishness. Because that’s what moms do. Just like all the other project-y stuff I haul home out of sheer guilt; never mind the games and books and techno-gadgetry thought to engender this or that brand of awe in my children. It’s all about the Is-it-as-remarkable-as-a-pony factor and Will-it-expunge-from-the-record-my-screw-ups-to-date?

So I shoved the stupid thing in our pantry (good intentions and all) and forgot about it till the Halloween craze struck with a vengeance. And since the celebrated costume drama in this household was officially over, a sinful quantity of sugary treats had been stockpiled already and virtually every corner of our home had been festooned with all-that-is-Halloweenish, there was but one thing left to do—build the stupid house. So that’s what we did—the three of us, while Dad cheered exuberantly from the sidelines.

Several hours, two meltdowns (both mine) and a hellacious mess later, we had our two-pound Chocolate Cookie Halloween House. Of course, the orange and purple mixes wound up adorning everything kitchen-ish but the inside of the refrigerator, those reprehensible, little candies rolled near and far much to my chagrin, fistfuls of trimmings were consumed with wild abandon and the icing was less than compliant as I shoveled and smeared gobs of it into pastry bags and then squeezed the reluctant mass onto the house as instructed. Translation: The cussed gloppage in question delighted in its schmutziness and its droopiness, defiantly sliding down walls, windows and slanted rooftops, leaving hideous-looking blobs everywhere. Even the spider webs I made sagged to the point of looking not-so-spider-webby. But because the gods of kitchen fiascos were smiling upon me, my brood took it all in stride, “…the droopiness makes it even SPOOKIER, Mom! You’re so AWESOME!”

Well, it certainly wasn’t as grand as a pony might have been; but the awe factor of this nightmarish project was evident to at least two somebodies on the planet. And perhaps that’s all that matters in the end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (admiring our droopified Halloween house).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Daily Chaos, Holiday Hokum, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

November’s Sweet Indulgence

I’m not particularly fond of November—that dreary block of time wedged between the fullness of fall and the magic of winter. As calendars go, it is the Dead Zone for me. Except for evergreens, the landscape will soon grow barren and its naked forests and fields will be nearly devoid of life. The arrival of spring seems all but impossible in the doom and gloom of November.

Not surprisingly, as the skies gray, the chill of winter looms large and wayward leaves of oak and maple gather en masse outside my doorstep, I find myself drawn to the warmth of a good book. Simply put, if it’s a solidly written work of nonfiction and a topic worthy of my time, I’m smitten from word one till the bitter end. Think: USA Today’s columnist, Craig Wilson (It’s the Little Things) and Betsy Lerner (The Forest for the Trees). A novel, however—especially one that is palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible—is a different animal altogether, tending to woo me for a host of reasons. Think: Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster).

Maybe I’m charmed to death by a particular narrative’s cast of characters, intrigued by its wealth of unpredictability or awed by the author’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales. Perhaps the language itself sings to me or more often than not, its message hits me squarely where I live.

Or maybe, just maybe, my passion for all-things-bookish stems plainly from this: for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments, solitude is mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world fades to black as I sink deeper and deeper into the pages of a literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before the house begins to stir, and in the quiet of night when day is done, I refuel and recondition, sipping the honeyed words of giants like Anna QuindlenMitch Albom and Anne Lamott. Indulgence like that is sinfully satisfying—yet in a good-for-me sort of way. After devouring as little as a passage or a page (never mind something as grand as an entire chapter) I often feel a tinge of guilt—as if I’ve stolen a nap or a head-clearing walk amidst the falling leaves and crisp air, thick with the scent of autumn—a walk completely devoid of meandering tricycles, tangled dog leashes and less-than-attentive-to-traffic children.

Better still, books transport me beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. Upon my return I’m refreshed, restored and genuinely grateful for having been granted a slice of time to collect my thoughts, to reflect on someone else’s or to simply dissolve into the woodwork of life. I’d like to think I emerge as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Admittedly, I savor the chunks of time spent in lounges and waiting rooms, even those littered with chintzy toys, wailing children and a hodgepodge of germ-ridden magazines. But only if I’ve remembered my own scrumptious reading material. Likewise, I’m happy to be huddled (half frozen) on a playground bench or stuffed behind my steering wheel at a soggy soccer field if armed with one of many delectable titles I have yet to complete (twenty-three and counting). Confession: I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness in one sitting. Not surprisingly, I’ve lingered more than once in the aforementioned venues, yielding to the power of a page-turner. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating.

In sum, books are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled…during my less-than-favorite month of November, or anytime.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where books beckon unremittingly).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Me Myself and I, Me Time, The Write Stuff

Bad Mood Munchers

Forever, it seems, my children have brought me newly created pieces of wonderment to ogle—eager for both praise and encouragement for their Picasso-esque efforts. I’d like to hope that I’ve always been mindful of their feelings as they bestow upon me their most prized offerings on the planet. It could be a self-portrait destined for the refrigerator, a dachshund or a duck, lovingly wrought from a dollop of Play-Doh, or an

impressive rendering of a dinosaur, hewn from a large and unwieldy sheet of poster board.

Likewise, I’ve been called upon to admire masterpieces that are nothing short of remarkable—like the tiny box turtle one of my progenies recently fashioned from an empty Nerds box, the Rapunzel-inspired 3-D tower (with a working drawbridge!) she made from a mere sheet of paper and a bit of tape and string, or the “songbird” she ingeniously crafted from an acorn and a couple of feathers harvested from the back yard, “…because I wanted a pet bird, Mom, to live in the birdcage Grandma gave us.”

Indeed, these are delicate matters and it is imperative that I handle the psyches of my fledgling artists with the utmost of care and sensitivity. God forbid I fail to ooh

and aah appropriately—providing that much anticipated glowing review of a certain someone’s work, or that I make the colossal error of misidentifying a beloved nugget of whateverness, placed in my hands for immediate appraisal. “It’s a…….malamute with three heads, right?”

Sometimes it’s best to simply shut up and wait for my brood to inadvertently tell me what this or that mystery item is, so that screw ups are minimal. Thankfully, the bulk of what comes home from school (i.e. that which hails from Mrs. Pagano’s exceedingly wonderful art class) is readily identifiable. Good thing.

Thus far in their academic journey Thing One and Thing Two have proffered the most endearing set of polar bears imaginable, some chunky caterpillars that I adore completely, a Canada goose whose precious neck has since been repaired, a robin redbreast that surely summoned the spring, a handsome set of Italian frescos that rendered me utterly speechless and a handful of gloriously ornate vessels for storing jewelry and whatnot—etched abundantly with love.

All I ever managed to churn out as a grade-schooler was a bunch of stupid ashtrays (which, by today’s standards, would be deemed slightly appalling). Oh, and a handful of dreadfully unimaginative pot-like thingies and a deranged-looking papier-mache rabbit for which I am hard pressed—even now—to suggest a legitimate purpose. Further, there was an embarrassment of highly unremarkable, kiln-fired blobs of clay I remember hauling home to join my shrine to bad art. At least my kids’ creations possess irrefutable aesthetic value if not a preponderance of practicality. Plus, I know what the stuff is—with the exception of the Bad Mood Munchers.

That said, I reached into their backpacks not long ago expecting to discover yet another pair of entities to marvel instantaneously. Instead I found two fist-sized, lumps of hardened clay—ones that were slathered profusely with vibrant blotches of color and warped and mangled beyond all recognition—absolutely reveling in the quality of nebulousness. But as I examined each mass a bit more closely, I began to discern a face of sorts—a distorted rage-filled visage with deep-set eyes that seemed to pierce my very soul, a fearsome set of eyebrows that I couldn’t help but trace with my finger and a maw that would forever remain agape, likely for the purpose of swallowing smallish children whole. In a word, it was hideous and begged the question, “What on earth IS it?”

“It’s Angry Man, Mom. My Bad Mood Muncher. Isn’t he AWESOME?! And look, I made him a castle to live in!” Thing Two crowed with delight.

As I stood in stunned silence, her cohort informed me that her infinitely weirdish clay creation had been dubbed Steve, which stumped me perhaps more than anything.

Steve?! Who names a monstrosity like THAT ‘Steve’ for crying out loud?! What’s it for, anyway?” I felt driven to ask.

“It’s for when I get angry, Mom. I’m supposed to find some paper and write down what I’m mad about then twist the paper and try to tear it in half, which uses up A LOT of energy and helps get my anger out. If I’m still angry after I try (and fail) to tear the twisted paper, I have to open it up and calmly shred it into little pieces. Then I put the pieces in his castle thingie and he EATS them. Then my bad mood is GONE! Isn’t that entirely kewl?!”

Well after being enlightened on the subject, I had to admit the idea of defusing anger was slightly brilliant. And as art projects go, it was probably wicked fun besides. That said, I now want a Bad Mood Muncher to call my very own—one that promises to devour all that I find completely irksome on this planet.

Indeed, I’m quite sure I could feed the beast with the best of them.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (fishing bits of paper from Angry Man’s mouth—some of which was twisted unmercifully, meticulously piecing the scraps together and, stupidly, reading the wrath-filled messages contained therein).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Refrigerator Art, School Schmool, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Augustember

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year…at once, savoring every drop of freedom now that my children have returned to the Land of Books and Pencils, while lamenting the passage of summer and all the goodness contained therein.

As August wanes and September draws ever near, I can’t help but dwell on the notion of my freedom—and how utterly delicious it will soon be. But by the same token, I am also reminded of how horribly unprepared I am for all that heading back to school entails. My charges are no more equipped for the first day of second grade than I was for the first hour of motherhood. It’s shameful really. To date, I have amassed next to nothing in the realm of kid gear and gotta-have-it-garmentage for that special square on our calendar. The square now gloriously bedecked with stickers and giddified messages like, “The BIG Day!” and “Yea! The first day of SCHOOOOOOL!!”

If I had my druthers, another 30-day chunk of time would be added to the year, smartly sandwiched between the eighth and ninth months. Say, “Augustember,” or “Pause” (which would be more of a directive than anything). We march into spring; why not pause before forging headlong into fall? Such a godsend would give people like me time to breathe, time to warm up to the idea of letting summer go, time to rummage around for the soccer cleats that by now probably don’t fit anyone anyway.

I’ve never been one to embrace change. More often than not (and if all is well), I like things just the way they are—the same. It’s simply too much work to adapt to something slathered with newness. That being said, I abhor drastic transformations. Dead asleep to total wakefulness. The mildness of spring to the oppressiveness of summer. At the lake. In the lake. Not pregnant. Pregnant. I need generous windows of transition for such things. Time to adjust. Time to switch gears. Time to brace myself for the tsunami-sized wave of change sure to thrust me forward—ready or not.

While it’s true we are on the cusp of yet another promising school year with its sharpened pencils, bright yellow buses and characteristic swirl of excitement enveloping virtually everything and everyone in its path, part of my joy is swallowed up because of what and whom I must become as a result. The bedtime enforcer. The tyrant of tuck-ins. It’s a brutal role of parenthood and one I hate with a passion.

I much prefer gathering my wily charges in from the great outdoors long after the brilliant clouds of pink, orange and crimson have faded to plum, gray and eventually an inky blue-black. There is much to relish between dusk and darkness, when the moon hangs clear and bright, begging to be plucked from the sky and the stars greet the earth one by one, gradually painting the heavens with a milky glow.

At once, the night air is filled with a symphony of crickets, peepers and barefoot children whacking at waffle balls, racing and chasing each other through the cool grass, already laden with dew. Shouts of “Marco…Polo! Marco…Polo!” emanate endlessly from the pool next door along with the muffled thwunks of cannonballs, instantly taking me back to my own youth—the one where Frisbees were thrown until no one could see, where nails were hammered in forts till the woods grew thick with darkness and alive with mosquitoes, where Kool-aid flowed freely, the pool beckoned and the rules for tag were rewritten more than once.

And all was well—much like this good night.

Fireflies are everywhere now, hugging the trees and the darkest spots in the lawn, blinking here…and a moment later, there—signaling would-be mates and captivating all who give chase with Hellmann’s jars in hand. Add the crackle of a campfire, the sweet aroma of toasted marshmallows and the thrill of eavesdropping on children in the midst of any number of conversations and I’m perfectly content. It pains me to put an end to their fun. To rain on their parade. To say goodnight to the Big Dipper and to our constant companions—the lightening bugs.

Naturally, my popularity wanes. Sleep, they must.

But in the end, all is forgiven. Tomorrow is a new day. And there will be more Augusts to savor and a lifetime of moments to give pause.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool

The Learning Curve

Of course, the days of kindergarten are no more. My wily charges are soon-to-be fourth graders, bigger fish in the proverbial pond. But I remember well their grand entry into the Land of Books and Pencils…

Well, we made it through those first crucial weeks of kindergarten. Ten days. Two hours. And sixteen minutes. But who’s counting? No one was abandoned on the bus, abducted by aliens, locked in a closet or swallowed by a third grader. By all accounts, the transition proceeded quite smoothly (aside from our collective exhaustion). Although it could just be that their tiny bodies are still in a state of shock and their brains haven’t fully processed the information. Had the proper processing occurred, they might then realize that THEY SHOULD BE MISSING MOMMY MORE. Way more. Instead, they’re off each day merrily making friends, kibitzing in the hallways and doing all sorts of fun stuff with scissors, glue and “smelling-good markers”—three things I’d have banished from the curriculum till Jr. High if it were up to me.

In essence, I’m the one who has an array of adjustment issues. At times, I’m a pitiful creature who suffers needlessly and miserably with the pangs of separation—the I-miss-my-kids-even-though-they-make-me-crazy sort of malady. But I expected as much. At least in the beginning. I worry about this and that and the other stupid thing, driving myself batty in the process. My husband can readily attest. “Hey, don’t pack that hot dog in her lunch! Don’t you know one of her friends will make her laugh and she’ll choke to death!?” Like I said, he can attest to the ridiculous nature of my concerns.

Maybe the term ridiculous doesn’t quite cover it. I watch the clock more than I’d care to admit, flip through the television channels pausing wistfully on their favorite programs and wonder what they’re doing at noon and at one o’clock and again at two-thirty. Okay, I wonder what my little urchins are doing from the instant the bus rounds the bend and fades from view in the morning until it reappears in the afternoon with dozens of tiny faces pressed against the glass, wordlessly revealing what the day had brought to each and every rider.

Quite frankly, my curiosity gets the best of me. More than once I have fought the urge to stuff myself inside a backpack and tag along for the day. Safely tucked away, I could spy without ever being discovered—shamelessly satisfying my desire to know what really goes on in the life of a kindergartener. Oh, to eavesdrop on their conversations over the course of a day…. I can’t imagine anything more telling—or delicious. Of course, imagining is about all I can do at this point—because thus far they’ve been less than cooperative in the information sharing arena.

Maybe it’s because I’m viewed as an outsider now—a meddlesome mommy with a hidden agenda. Or maybe it’s because they’re veritable zombies when they first get home, stunned by the tsunami-sized day they probably had. “Mommy, you ask too many questions. I just don’t want to talk right now.” So we empty backpacks in the middle of the kitchen floor, together sifting through the day’s artifacts—my only clues as to what went on there in the Land of Kindergarten. And from what I can gather, most of it is good—which makes me feel good.

There are half-eaten lunches and prized drawings, books and crafty things galore “…that we made all by ourselves!” and strange-looking tidbits of memorabilia stashed away for keeps—like the pebble “…I tucked inside my sock so I could add it to my collection, Mommy” and “…the penny I found on the floor today!”

But there are tears, too, in the telling of “Mommy, I missed you so I cried a little bit,” and the bumps and bruises and behemoth-sized band-aids with which skinned knees were patched—lovingly, I might add. “The nurse is really nice and she gave me this be-U-tiful brown band-aid! I’m leaving it on for-EVER!” Three days certainly came close.

And there are warm remembrances too. “I love my bus driver…and the girl in the yellow shirt with blonde hair helped me find the nurse’s office…and the tall girl with purple butterflies on her shirt hugged me so I’d stop missing you at lunchtime…and my teacher always makes me feel all better, Mommy.”

Maybe this transition thing is going even better than I thought. As for me, I’m still on the learning curve wagon, trying to figure it all out and get over myself besides. What a sissy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Kid-Speak, Love and Loss, Me Myself and I, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool

Child’s Play

(This post describes an event of 2009, as I fondly recall my children’s spring break/Easter holiday)…

Listen closely. That’s the sound of relief. A shameless sigh. A groan of gratitude. A wanton release of the pent up frustration I’ve felt as a mother ever since Frick and Frack (i.e. my wily second graders) made landfall for what seemed perpetuity. In truth, their recent spring break/Easter holiday lasted a mere seven days, but somehow it was suggestive of so much more.

Nevertheless, I survived and all is well. Routine has returned to this good house. Bedtimes and baths have been reinstated. A modicum of order has been restored. And much of my sanity, reclaimed. But even still, I stumble upon remnants of my children’s ever-widening sphere of influence—remnants for which I have been given specific instructions. “Don’t. Move. Anything. Mom.” The anything, of course, includes Easter baskets and eggs, Legos and Lincoln Logs, dominoes and dinosaurs, puzzles and Polly Pockets, Barbies and board games among other infinitely intrusive playthings that currently festoon my home. “We’re still playing with them.” It would also be inclusive of the masterfully created eggshell-soapsuds-coffee-cocoa-flour-splash-of-vanilla mixture (i.e. “our serious soup”) brewed in the kitchen sink during that infamous respite from the Land of Books and Pencils. Gak.

That said, in an extraordinarily weak moment I entered into an agreement with my daughters some time ago—one engineered specifically for the purpose of addressing the many and varied complaints I’ve voiced that involve their beloved toys and my complete and impassioned hatred of clutter. A binding-ish contract that also loosely defines the term “still” so that an obscene degree of latitude is then granted to the parties affected. More specifically, my charges could be asleep, on the soccer field, in the classroom or outside foraging for worms while technically described as “still playing” with whatever foolish tripe happens to be in the middle of my living room or sloshing around in the sink. So there it remains. Ad nauseam. Arrrrrg.

There is an upside, however. A bright side to my disaster-in-the-making. For seven glorious days and nights I was assigned a role other than Homework Nazi, Nag Queen and Merriment Wrecker—whose collective mission in life is to snuff out goodness and joy at every turn. Instead, I let my soon-to-be third graders lounge in PJ’s by day and linger outside in the dusk, long after the robins had disappeared into the thicket, dark and damp with approaching nightfall. I watched them dig in the dirt, climb trees and chase each other around in the cool grass, swords held high, exultant shouts filling the air. I tossed wiffle ball after wiffle ball until we could no longer track its blurred path and instead listened for the telltale crack of the bat and the familiar whir of the ball, reminding me of the vestiges of summer when we raced around the yard at sundown, deep into September, finally tucking away those precious bits of plastic in a corner of the garage—the place where they would winter seemingly forever.

What’s more, I spent some quality time indoors with my brood, allowing myself to become immersed within their imaginary world for a few delicious moments each day. Just for fun I assisted in the construction of countless works of genius (i.e. log homes with ramshackle roofs and rickety foundations). I learned the ins and outs of kid-logic for games like Guess Who and Concentration. Further, I eavesdropped on utterly priceless conversations featuring Littlest Pet Shop “people,” various stuffed animals and the sprawling harem of Barbies and Bratz dolls who reside here. Of course, this took me back to a time when my oldest made her shampoo bottles “talk” at the edge of the tub till her seemingly endless chatter dwindled, the water lost its warmth and her fingers and toes had grown whitish and wrinkled. Likewise, it made me smile to think the aforementioned dolls held similar discussions roughly 15 years ago, although no one had so much as envisioned those tawdry Bratz doll beasts. Perhaps it’s just as well.

Looking back on the week, I’m not so sure the death of structure was such a bad thing. There is something to be said for a less-than-jammed-to-the-hilt schedule, for a dearth of all-things-schoolish and for play that is free of boundaries and rife with spontaneity. Lounging around in PJ’s all day of course has its merit, too, giving rise to yet another great sigh of relief from this camp.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.notesfromplanetmom.com.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Holiday Hokum, Mushy Stuff

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). Visit me there at www.notesfromplanetmom.com and at www.zazzle.com/planetmom*, too, where you can buy your very own “Eggs, toast and a side of cynicism” apron. Just click on SNARKY STUFF. It most definitely qualifies as such.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

Also published on BetterWayMoms.com!

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